By Anna Rose Johnson
ISBN: 978-0-8234-5040-4 $17.99
July 12, 2022
I was delighted to hear that the author of THE STAR THAT ALWAYS STAYS, Anna Rose Johnson, was willing to reply to some interview questions. I reviewed it earlier in 2022, but it merits another round of praise for its compelling characters, distinctive setting and perspectives, and much-needed authentic voices from Indigenous history in this country. If you missed my review, you can learn more about my thoughts about the book HERE, and the thoughts of other reviewers HERE with a Kirkus review HERE.
Then check out Anna Rose’s replies to my questions below.
SB: Welcome, and thank you for spending some time with readers here, Anna Rose. And congratulations on your debut novel, especially one that is so close to your heart and reaches readers’ hearts so effectively.
SB: A main interest of mine in requesting this interview was to clarify how much of Norvia’s family’s stories were floating through your youth and earlier life. In other words, when you discovered those papers and details as an adult (described in back matter) did they “click” with various things you had heard in bits of family lore, or was it nearly all new and stunning to you?
ARJ: I already knew quite a bit about Norvia when I began to write the first draft of the novel, but my further research deepened my knowledge of her family and details about her life. It was indeed quite stunning to dig deeper and come to know her better as a person while looking through her photo albums and finding newspaper articles about her.
SB: I can hardly imagine how excited you must have been at various points in this journey. It must have felt like “meeting” family members from your past!
Which brings me to my next question: The named children and family members are so vividly developed and each has individual appeal (and roles) throughout the story. How did you land on their distinct personalities? Were there hints among those discoveries? From personal experiences with siblings and parents that you wove into these new characters? Or?
ARJ: This book went through many drafts, so I came to know the characters better as I refined the story. Dicta evolved a great deal from the first draft to the book that readers can now hold in their hands, as did Vernon. Basically, I knew I needed to have an array of distinctive characters around Norvia, especially as a contrast to her shy, introverted self. I wanted her siblings to be a bit more talkative, if only to keep moving the story forward! I definitely found hints for their personalities while learning more about Norvia’s siblings. (Judging from Dicta’s high school yearbook, she was a very vivacious person!)
SB: Again, these insights and discoveries must have run the gamut of emotional reactions. I’ll admit that Dicta’s energy was very appealing and did work very effectively to keep the pace going throughout! You’re siblings are often foils, but she rose to her own identity with much appeal.
I was so pleased to read about your Ojibwe heritage, and admire how it served as such a rich resource for writing this book, including Anishinaabemowin: Ojibwe Language. Have you heard from children and families who are gratified to find your book incorporates language and culture so rarely represented? (Those may be native heritage folk or not? I (as a non-Native) am very happy to have this book to share with kids and family.)
ARJ: I’ve definitely heard from readers who were delighted to find this representation in the book—people are very interested in reading more stories with Native characters, and I’m happy to be able to deliver that.
SB: I so enjoyed reading about native families in (then) contemporary times, living in urban settings, immersed in the dominant culture (with all its challenges and prejudices) rather than in an isolated or stereotypical community.
Your admiration of and familiarity with classic novels and compelling young women characters who were coming of age is clear. I loved the literary references throughout your story and recognized that as an authentic form of “pop culture” of its time. Did you ever, in your real life, draw on those literary inspirations in dealing with your own actual adolescent challenges? Anything you would share?
Related… Are there characters in books with contemporary stories who inspire you, too?
ARJ: I deeply dislike change, and I recall a time when I was a teenager that I drew inspiration from What Katy Did at School in order to embrace a change in my life. Contemporary stories have definitely inspired my own writing, particularly the marvelous Penderwicks series by Jeanne Birdsall.
SB: Yay, PENDERWICKS series! I was not familiar with WHAT KATY DID AT SCHOOL. (Both are actively linked in your response for readers to learn more). I plan to check out KATY!
Now that this story of your heart is an actual book, one that MANY young readers will find, thanks to being a Junior Literary Guild Selection (congratulations!) what are your deepest hopes for it?
ARJ: My hope is that young readers come away feeling joyful, regardless of what’s happening in their life at the moment!
SB: Thank you, Anna Rose, and my hope is that many readers will find it enjoy it, wanting to tell friends and encourage others to read it, too. It entertains, which is always the essential requirement, but it also engages the heart and informs the mind and our ssnse of commonly-assumed history.
Anna Rose, I simply must move your book from my TBR pile and into my hands!