Author Rebecca Stead collects ideas before she sits down to write, even from the smallest encounters — like this one:
"The idea came from a girl — she was wearing cat ears, and I said 'nice ears,'" she tells NPR's Melissa Block. "And she said, 'Thanks! I've been wearing them for a year! I don't know why!' And then she ran away."
That girl and her cat ears helped inspire the central character of Stead's new book, Goodbye Stranger. She says it's about love, and how that helps three girls stay strong and stay friends through the difficulties of seventh grade. "They're challenged a little bit, but it's not one of those stories where the kids break up and come back together. They're always there for one another ... I think there's a lot of comfort in reading a book like that."
On her characters and body image
One of the few things I knew when I started writing was that one of the characters would send a picture of herself to a boy, which would bring her a lot of unwanted attention. And I quickly figured out that this girl was actually going to feel good about herself. And what's sort of gotten into the mix is this idea that if you are a girl who is, you know maybe 13 — as Emily in the story is — who is feeling pretty terrific about herself, that you almost have a responsibility to protect the world from yourself, or from your body.
And I think there's also a lot of discussion about school dress codes in the story, and I think that there is a relationship between Emily's feelings in sending the picture, and the dress code and the way the school responds to what she's done in the story. I personally find the ideas that girls need to cover their shoulders in school a little bit strange ... when we're telling girls, you know, you have to cover your shoulders because otherwise you're a distraction to other people in your class, probably something is wrong.
On the way friendships shift and fade for an older character
It's sad ... in part, this story — which is a much smaller story that's kind of woven into the story about the seventh-grade girls and their friendship — is a kind of echo and just acknowledgement of other ways that friendships can go. And in the end, I think it's a story about a girl who is figuring out, over the course of one day, that a friendship that has always been her most central, kind of deepest friendship, is over. And that what she needs to do is say goodbye. And I know that there are times when the person that you loved is gone, and you have to acknowledge that.
I think we must all feel that there are people out there who know things about our young selves, you know, our early early lives, that no one else can ever know. And so there's this instinct to carry those people with you through life. But I think sometimes you can't.