In your most recent book, The Dirt Diary, Rachel deals with a lot of issues that tweens can relate to, but is there a specific message that you hope readers will take away from this story?
For me, at least, the story is really about insecurity. I was unbelievably insecure when I was young and still struggle with those feelings as an adult. When I started writing about Rachel, I realized she had my insecurities times ten! Through the course of the book, those insecurities lead her to make a lot of bad decisions, but in the end, she starts to trust herself a little bit more. I think having confidence in yourself is so hard—especially when you’re a tween girl!—so it’s important to be reminded to trust yourself.
Rachel’s dessert choices seem to reflect her moods and her feelings. Why did you choose baking to play such an important role in the book?
Since Rachel is dealing with so many negatives in her life (her parents getting divorced, her crush dating her arch nemesis, etc.) I wanted to give her something positive to strive for. At first baking was just Rachel’s hobby, but when the school bake sale developed as a plot thread, it became a goal for her throughout the book.
What’s next for Rachel? Will this series be a trilogy?
You’ll be seeing lots more of Rachel in the next year. The sequel, The Prank List, is due out in July, and the third book in the series, tentatively titled The Gossip File, will be out in January 2015.
What made you want to be a writer?
I’ve loved stories for as long as I can remember. When I started reading books on my own, I couldn’t stop, and soon I was writing all the time, too. I think storytelling is just something I have to do, and luckily books give me the perfect way to do it.
How do you get your ideas? Do you do any research?
My ideas come from all sorts of places. The inspiration behind The Dirt Diary, for example, came from a story I heard on NPR about teen mortification that mentioned a girl who had to work for her mom’s cleaning business. When I started imagining how horrible it would be to scrub the popular kids’ toilets, I knew I had to write that story!
Where do you prefer to do your writing? What time of day?
I used to be an early morning writer, but these days I find that my brain works best in the afternoon. Even if I don’t have a lot of writing time on a given day because of other commitments, I try to curl up on the couch with my laptop and dedicate at least an hour of solid writing so I can stay connected to my story.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
If you love writing then always make it a priority. Life gets so busy that it can be easy to neglect your writing. Try to work it into your day, even just a few minutes here and there, so that you never get out of the writing habit.
What would you be if you weren't a writer?
When I was young, I was determined to be three things: a writer, a teacher, and a ballerina. Amazingly, two of those (writer and teacher) worked out! I love teaching writing and literature and would happily keep doing it. As for being a ballerina….well, maybe in my next lifetime.
WOULD YOU RATHER...
Read or write?
It depends on the day!
Call or text?
Email. I’m not a big phone person.
Fly or drive?
Beach or ski?
Time travel back or time travel forward?
Ooh, that’s so hard! Can I do both?
E-book or traditional book?
Traditional book because I love to sniff them, but ebooks can be really handy.
TELL US YOUR FAVORITE...
Eek! This one is too hard. How about I give you one of my favorites from when I was young: A Little Princess.
The Red Sox (Go Sox!)
San Francisco is one of my favorite cities to visit.
Wonder Woman (I mean, she has an invisible plane!)
Flying would be the best.
We are Sweet on Books, so we have to ask – what is your favorite sweet treat?
I’m a chocolate fiend, so anything with dark chocolate is my favorite!
Born in Poland and raised in the United States, Anna Staniszewski grew up loving stories in both Polish and English. When she’s not writing, Anna spends her time teaching, reading, and challenging unicorns to games of hopscotch. She is the author of the My Very UnFairy Tale Life series, published by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky. Look for the first book in Anna’s next tween series, The Dirt Diary, in January 2014, and visit her at www.annastan.com.
What You Need to Know:|
• When her parents split up, Rachel Lee is determined to find a way to get them back together, no matter what it
takes - even lying, spying and stealing.
• Rachel finds comfort in her love of baking.
• The sequel, The Prank List, will be released in July 2014 and the third book, The Gossip File, will be out in 2015.
• There's mention that Rachel is half Asian, but her heritage doesn't play a big role in the story except that she's
aware that she looks more like her dad (whose parents are from Korea) than her blond mom.
• Rachel definitely has an interest in boys, but it's all very innocent.
Middle school can be filled with challenges, and Rachel Lee, an eighth grader, seems to be facing quite a few of them. She's extremely insecure, or as she says, "freakishly shy" and only feels comfortable around her dad and her best friend Marisol or when she's baking. Her lack of confidence has made her a target for mean girls Briana and Caitlin. Unfortunately, as she says, "...when the popular girls finally learned my name, it was only so they could make fun of me." When her dad abandons their little family to start a scuba-diving business, Rachel is devastated and determined to stop the divorce. She comes up with a "Get-My-Parents-Back-Together Plan" that includes stealing money from her college fund, lying to her parents, and secretly buying a ticket to Florida so she can talk some sense into her dad.
Rachel figures she can pay back the college fund with the prize money she wins for creating the best recipe at her school bake sale, but things aren't going very smoothly. Her recipes seem to reflect her moods, and they haven't been so good lately. When her mom starts a cleaning business, Rachel decides to help out to make more money, but she finds that being a maid for kids in her school can be complicated. On top of that, the money isn't adding up fast enough so she agrees to spy on Briana in exchange for cash. Rachel knows she's out of control, but even when Marisol confronts her, she still can't accept it. They end up in a huge fight, and Rachel finds herself truly alone. Now she only finds comfort in her "Dirt Diary" where she writes about her housekeeping mishaps. It helps to put her thoughts onto paper, but how will she use that information and what will happen if all that "dirt" ever gets out?
Readers will relate to the friendship drama, first crushes, bullying, and middle school angst that Rachel experiences. They will sympathize with her when she's embarrassed or feels like a loser or thinks she's invisible. Whether or not they have experienced divorce themselves, or perhaps know someone who has, readers will understand the pain and concern that result from any change in a comfortable family situation. Although Rachel often feels like her mom doesn't understand her, their relationship improves, and their communication is much better by the end of the story. Things tie up nicely as Rachel gains confidence and realizes that lying is not the solution to her problems. The Dirt Diary captures the roller coaster of emotions that epitomizes middle school, and in this case it is well worth the ride!
2014, 256 pages
Bullying, Cliques/Popularity, Cooking, Ethics, Divorce, Friendship, Self-Awareness/Discovery
• Do you agree with Rachel's behavior? What would you advise her to do differently?
• Why did Briana target Rachel? What can Rachel do to change Briana's behavior and her own?
• What makes Marisol a good friend?
• Why does baking help Rachel get through some difficult moments in the story?
• Why does Rachel lie to her mom and also occasionally to her friends?
• When and why do you keep secrets from your friends and family?
• Is it ever OK to lie or steal?
• How could Rachel's mom have handled the divorce differently in terms of its impact on Rachel?
• Rachel often claims to "have no choice" in what she's doing. Does she have a choice? What are her options?
• Is Marisol being a good friend when she tells Rachel that she's tired of her acting like a "victim"?
• When Rachel lies about finding a note in Briana's room, she justifies it by saying Briana deserves it? Do you agree?
• How else can parents be helpful if their kids don't want them to just come in and try to fix everything?
• Would you have turned Angela in for cheating in the bake contest?
• How would it make you feel to work as a maid in your friends' houses?
• If you could rewrite the ending, how would you do it?
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