Saturday, January 11, 2020

Q&A with Erin Yun

Erin Yun is the author of Pippa Park Raises Her Game, a new middle grade novel for kids that's based on the Charles Dickens classic Great Expectations. She lives in New York City.

Q: Why did you decide to write a modern-day retelling of Great Expectations for kids?

A: The creative director of Fabled Films, Tracey Hecht, put out a call for submissions for books inspired by Great Expectations, as part of a broader initiative to reimagine classic literature from different perspectives. Immediately, ideas started churning in my mind. 

One of the big ideas of Great Expectations is figuring out what self-improvement means. During middle school it’s easy to confuse improving yourself with being cool, so I thought reimagining Great Expectations from the point of view of a young girl would be a great way to update this story to modern times.

Q: What did you see as the right balance of the original Dickens classic and your own fictional take on the story?

A: While writing the outline, it was important to me that Pippa Park Raises Her Game would be equally loved by fans of Great Expectations as well as those who had never heard of Dickens before.

So, rather than a direct retelling, I focused on the elements I enjoyed most from the original. 

In Great Expectations, the main character, Pip, has a mysterious benefactor who helps him become a gentleman. In Pippa Park Raises Her Game, Pippa receives a strange scholarship to an elite private school. Both books have themes of ambition and class, and in both cases, the main character pines after a cold, aloof love interest. 

However, while there are plenty of parallels, my book really does take its own direction. Yes, it’s a book inspired by Great Expectations. But it’s also a book about first crushes, family and school pressures, basketball, friendship, and the balance between fitting in and standing out.  

Q: What do you think accounts for the ongoing interest in Dickens’s work, and have you always been a fan?

A: I think that Dickens’s works have stood the test of time simply because his themes are timeless. 

From A Christmas Carol to David Copperfield to Oliver Twist, readers connect to his work in all sorts of different ways, and the subjects that Dickens explores, such as class, greed, and morality, translate well to new eras and perspectives. 

Plus, his words and works have permeated society to the point where, even without reading any of his novels, you still know him. 

I didn’t start reading Dickens until college, but I still grew up rewatching Mickey’s Christmas Carol every year, quoting A Tale of Two Cities’ “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” and using words he either created or popularized, from “Scrooge” to “the creeps.”

Q: What do you hope kids take away from the story?

A: When I wrote the book, I didn’t have a pre-set moral or lesson that I wanted kids to take away. 

Instead, I wrote Pippa to be a real person—someone whose choices are both good and bad, and someone who makes mistakes but tries to own up to them. 

I think kids will relate to her in different ways, but overall, I hope that if they do take away something from the story, it’s the ability to be kinder to themselves. 

We say, “treat others how you want to be treated,” but we rarely treat ourselves the way we deserve. 

Pippa struggles with continually trying to keep up with her new friends, but in the process she internalizes shame for everything, from not knowing how to wear makeup to not being able to keep up with her friends’ expenditures.

It takes a while for her to learn to accept herself fully, but—and this might sound strange since I was the one writing her character—when she really does learn to embrace herself, I felt so happy. Because she deserves it. Because all kids deserve that.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: It’s still in the hush-hush stage for the most part, but I’m working on a second book for Fabled Films Press. Can’t wait until I can share more details!

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Just that I’m so excited for the release of Pippa Park Raises Her Game that I can hardly stop smiling! 

This is my debut book, and I’m so proud to have the main character share a big chunk of my life growing up—from eating kimchi-jjigae and watermelon-shaped popsicles to loving K-dramas like Boys Over Flowers

When I was a kid, I almost never read books with Korean American protagonists, because there just weren’t that many books like that to be found. 

So it’s been really gratifying to see the amount of MG and YA books with Asian girls on the cover that are being released right now. It makes me immensely excited to see that Pippa Park Raises Her Game is in such good company.  

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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