Fall 2016 Publishers' Preview: Five Questions for Jennifer Mathieu

Publishers' Previews

This interview originally appeared in the September/October 2016 Horn Book Magazine as part of the Fall Publishers’ Preview, a semiannual advertising supplement that allows participating publishers a chance to each highlight a book from its current list. They choose the books; we ask the questions.

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mathieu_jennifer Photo: Pablo Gamez

In Jennifer Mathieu’s Afterward, Ethan, now fifteen, was kidnapped by a stranger four years ago. Then the same man abducted Caroline’s little brother, eleven-year-old Dylan (who is on the autism spectrum), and held him less than a week before both boys were rescued. What happens now that they are back home?

1. Which boy was the starting point for this novel?

JM: Ethan, without a doubt. He jumped into my mind almost fully formed.

2. Did you consider having them meet again?

JM: Briefly, but I felt that a meeting between Ethan and Dylan would take place outside of the scope of Afterward’s story. If Ethan and Caroline’s friendship continues — and I believe it will — the two boys will meet again. But it might not happen for some time, especially because I don’t think either boy is ready for that yet.

mathieu_afterward3. Autism has become a subject of interest in YA fiction. What challenges did creating Dylan offer you?

JM: It offered me the opportunity to do lots of research — something I actually enjoy doing! (What can I say? I’m a former journalist.) Fellow young adult author Cammie McGovern, whose son has autism, reviewed the manuscript, and I also hired an expert in ABA [Applied Behavior Analysis] therapy and nonverbal autism to ensure I was portraying Dylan accurately and with sensitivity.

4. You’re a teacher. What has the classroom taught you about being a writer?

JM: Above all, it has taught me that teenagers are far more sophisticated readers than we often give them credit for. Teaching teenagers has given me permission to write complex stories about difficult topics because I know teenage readers crave real stories with nuance and shades of gray.

5. The story before the story is horrific. Was it hard to think about?

JM: Absolutely — especially as a mother. I found myself writing the flashback scenes very quickly because they were too difficult to think about for too long, and while they were necessary for the story, I did not want them to be the focus. At its core the book is about recovery and healing.

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It's interesting that "member checking" for authenticity in Autism included speaking to a PARENT of an Autistic (not "person with autism") and an ABA practitioner. #Actually Autistic people do speak in various ways (plenty of nonverbal Autistics online to check in with) and ABA is considered abuse by many Autistics. In the very same issue with the Magoon piece about real voices, this advertisement suggests that we have far to go in not perpetuating misinformation about the lived life of Autistics.

Posted : Sep 22, 2016 10:35



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