The movement is all that matters.
For as long as Samantha can remember, she’s wanted to be a professional ballerina. She’s lived for perfect pirouettes, sky-high extensions, and soaring leaps across the stage. Then her body betrayed her.
The change was gradual. Stealthy.
Failed diets. Disapproving looks. Whispers behind her back. The result: crippling anxiety about her appearance, which threatens to crush her dancing dreams entirely. On her dance teacher’s recommendation, Sam is sent to a summer treatment camp for teen artists and athletes who are struggling with mental and emotional obstacles. If she can make progress, she’ll be allowed to attend a crucial ballet intensive. But when asked to open up about her deepest insecurities, secret behaviors, and paralyzing fears to complete strangers, Sam can’t cope.
What I really need is a whole new body.
Sam forms an unlikely bond with Andrew, a former college football player who’s one of her camp counselors. As they grow closer, Andrew helps Sam see herself as he does—beautiful. But just as she starts to believe that there’s more between them than friendship, disappointing news from home sends her into a tailspin. With her future uncertain and her body against her, will Sam give in to the anxiety that imprisons her?
First off, a huge welcome to Rhea’s Neon Journal! It has been an absolute joy to read How It feels To Fly, and I’m sure that every one who has read the book already will agree!
INTERVIEW with Kathryn Holmes
- What inspired you to write How It Feels To Fly? Was there a moment, a person, a specific performance that made you think that this book needed to be written?
I’ve been a dancer since I was three, and when I was a teen, I struggled with body image. (I recently wrote a little about this for Epic Reads: http://www.epicreads.com/blog/kathryn-holmes-hating-the-girl-in-the-mirror/) So, when I started writing YA fiction, the idea of crafting a story around a girl like me—wrong body type, but talented and passionate—was always in the back of my mind. But it took a while for me to figure out the exact story I needed to tell.
Everything came together thanks to one of my freelance jobs: writing articles for dance magazines. The teen magazine Dance Spirit (where I used to be a full-time editor) assigned me a series of articles on mental/emotional issues young dancers face: food guilt, perfectionism, preperformance anxiety, body dysmorphia, etc. In interviewing dancers who’d dealt with these problems and psychologists who treated them, I came to realize that I wanted my dancer-character, Sam, to go on this type of healing journey. I wanted her to be yanked out of her dance studio comfort zone and to have to confront her fear and anxiety and self-hatred head-on. That concept gave me a chance to write about this girl who was, in some form, teen me—while also putting a new spin on the ballet book idea.
- While I read the book, I noticed how toxic and self-depreciating Samantha’s inner monologue was. Many, many teens suffer from a similar situation, unable to accept that they matter, and that their achievements matter. What advice would you give to such young people?
This is one of the biggest things Sam has to learn over the course of the book: how to turn off that nasty inner voice. So here is advice that doesn’t come straight from me, but rather from a couple of the psychologists I interviewed, both for my freelance articles and for this book.
1) Ask, would I ever talk to my best friend the way I’m talking to myself right now? You probably wouldn’t tell your BFF that they’re horrible at what they do and need to give up, or that they don’t matter. You’d probably be encouraging, even if you’re also giving constructive feedback. So why are you telling yourself those awful things? What would happen if you encouraged yourself the way you’d encourage someone else? Thinking about this can give you some perspective.
2) Ask two other questions: Is this true? Is this helpful?
Let’s say the voice in your head is saying you’ll never be a professional in your field because you had a really rough day at practice or in school. First, is it true that every person who is a professional in the thing you want to do never ever had a bad day? Or is this maybe part of the learning curve on the way to achieving your goals? Second, does beating yourself up help you perform better the next time? Or could you help yourself out by being kinder?
Basically, nitpicking at your negative thoughts like this can help take away some of their power.
- How has your sophomore writing experience differed from your debut last year?
Wow, writing the second book was so different! And not just because this was my first time writing with a publishing deadline looming—although that was certainly a challenge. I also struggled with this book because I was working on it with readers’ voices in my head. If someone liked my debut, The Distance Between Lost and Found, would they also like this new book? If they hated Distance, would this book be able to bring them around? Distance got good reviews—was I a one-hit wonder? All of those thoughts swirled around in my brain as I crafted How It Feels to Fly. (Good thing I was writing a book about therapy! Ha.)
However, as it approached release, it was actually a little easier. I know more about how everything works now. I know what promotional things to focus on and what’s not really worth my time or effort or money. I have experience interacting with readers online and at events. I know that sometimes it takes months and months for people to find your book, and that they can still be touched by it even if it isn’t a bestseller out of the gate. Basically, I was a lot more zen about book two after I turned in my final edits.
- Can you tell us about what you have in store for us next year? 😉
I am working on two projects with my agent: a YA ghost story and a contemporary fantasy MG. Both are in the revision phase and aren’t yet under contract, so I don’t want to say too much more! Sorry to be coy…
- For readers looking for books similar to How It Feels To Fly, what would you recommend?
If you love ballet books: Tiny Pretty Things and its sequel, Shiny Broken Pieces, by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton, and Up to This Pointe by Jennifer Longo.
If you’re interested in the psychology/mental health side of things: OCD Love Story by Corey Ann Haydu (about obsessive compulsive disorder/therapy), Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson (about eating disorders), Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman (schizophrenia/treatment), and Made You Up by Francesca Zappia (also schizophrenia). Two I haven’t read yet but have on my TBR: Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes and Underwater by Marisa Reichardt.
Also! You may enjoy Caela Carter’s Tumbling, which is a multiple-POV YA set in the world of elite gymnastics, at the US Olympic Trials. Several of the characters face similar issues and obstacles as How It Feels to Fly’s supporting characters—and one of the narrators in Tumbling also has eating issues similar to my character Sam’s.
There are certain categories of books that take you by surprise. You read them, you connect with them, you understand them, but only after you have closed those books do you realise how much they’re going to affect you, and how you’re never quite going to forget about them. Those are the books of your heart, and How It Feels To Fly was one of those for me.
The story begins in a camp for teenage artists and athletes, where like Samantha, other teens who struggle, both physically and mentally, try to make progress in terms of how they think about their bodies, and what they feel about themselves. How It Feels To Fly is the story of Samantha, as she learns to love herself again. Sam learns how to deal with her anxiety, her eating issues, and most importantly, realises that friendships can go a long way in healing just about anything.
Samantha was a character I rooted for from the beginning. Her inner monologue is toxic—she’s in a constant state of battle with her mind about everything she does—and that makes the book difficult to read. But what’s interesting is that Sam has learnt to fight everything that comes her way with a smile on her face. No matter what she feels inside of her, all the reader sees is her determination to show nothing on the surface. It was heart-breaking, just as it endeared her to me all the more. I learnt to respect her struggle and found myself cheering for every little piece of progress she made.
The other kids at camp were an integral part of the story, and I loved seeing the progress they made as well. It was very easy to connect with them, and watching them change in their small ways because of the camp was so good! Sam was surprisingly brilliant with them, helping them get over their fears, and being the adorable older sister to particular camper. Sam’s sessions with Dr Lancaster, the woman who ran the camp, were also so well done! It was a refreshing read in terms of how mental health issues were dealt with, but How It Feels To Fly was also a kind of read that makes you question what exactly you know about other peoples’ struggles.
I loved the writing in the book. It was to the point and evocative, and it painted a clear picture of everything that the characters were going through. There were no secrets or layers or mystery, just sharp, smart writing, and I adored it all the more for it. If you are a fan of books like Tumbling and Tiny Pretty Things, How It Feels To Fly may just be the read for you!