Q: What inspired you to write Repairing the World, and how did you create your character Daisy?
A: I didn’t start out writing this book. I started out writing a book about a girl who felt like she and her family didn’t fit in the community in which they lived. But the essence of Daisy as a character was always there.
Then a critique partner asked me, “But why is Daisy the way she is?” So I did an exploratory writing exercise where I looked back at formative events in Daisy’s past and ended up writing a series of vignettes.
I had leaned in to some things that had happened in my own childhood, and one of those was losing a good friend when I was a little girl. That one vignette ended up being the heart of my story and the key to writing Daisy. Then when I really knew my character, a new story emerged.
Q: The Kirkus Review of the book says, “With incredible specificity and heart, Epstein carries Daisy through her grief, demystifying the experience of tragedy for her middle-grade audience.” What do you think of that assessment?
A: To be honest, reading the Kirkus review brought me to tears. If there’s one thing I wish for my book, it’s that it will land in the hands of readers of any age to whom it might be helpful.
I don’t know if the experience of tragedy can ever be demystified. I do believe, though, that reading about tragedy––and in this case about grief––can be cathartic to those who are experiencing it.
Especially now, with so many people experiencing the effects of the pandemic, it is my hope Repairing the World might help some readers navigate some of the accompanying trauma and grief.
Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?
A: About halfway through writing the novel I knew how I wanted it to end. That’s when I wrote that last chapter. Once I did then everything fell into place, and it felt like an inevitable ending to me. Daisy doesn’t end up not sad, but she does end up with friends who love her, see her, support her, and together they have the capacity to see magic in the world.
Q: The title refers to the Jewish concept of tikkun olam, repairing the world. How was this title chosen, and what does it signify for you?
A: I didn’t know when I started writing it that my book would include Jewish content. But once I found the heart of my story the Jewish content poured out of me onto the page. I could only write what I know, and when it came to loss and grieving what I knew was inextricably tied to my Judaism.
It was important to me that the title of my novel was strongly Jewish, because I want readers to know they will find a story being told through a Jewish lens.
My personal understanding of tikkun olam is informed by social action and activism. And, as a feminist I believe there are strong connections between our personal experiences and larger social and political structures. I feel that the work of repairing the world starts with healing ourselves, and that’s what Daisy’s story is about.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Besides writing fiction for kids, I also write poetry for adults, so I’ve been writing a lot of that. I’m also fiddling with a young adult novel set in the summer of 1979.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Yes! You can order Repairing the World at all the usual places (Bookshop, Indiebound, Amazon, Barnes & Noble), and for signed copies, you can order directly from The Golden Notebook in Woodstock, New York.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb