Author Spotlight: Alyson Gerber
Alyson Gerber is the critically acclaimed author of books BRACED, FOCUSED, and now TAKING UP SPACE, which are all Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selections. Her novels follow middle-grade heroines adapting to scoliosis, ADHD, disordered eating, and more. Her books have created a safe haven for millions of readers - young and old - who see reflections of themselves within the pages.
Alyson Gerber's newest book, TAKING UP SPACE, is a powerful novel about Sarah, a middle school girl, and Sarah's experiences with disordered eating.
Sarah has always found confidence in basketball: draining shots and charging across the court. She felt strong beating other basketball teams with her best friends by her side. But recently, Sarah's body has begun to feel like it's not her own. She doesn't feel in control of movement and worries about letting her team down.
Attempting to control the out-of-body feeling, Sarah begins to restrict her eating habits, slowing down her food intake and trying to stick to only healthy foods. She also feels like this will please her mom, who is "weird about food" and often forgets to buy groceries for Sarah.
Sarah's plan falters when Sarah becomes too weak to play basketball. Her friends are frustrated with her seemingly unexplainable eating habits. Sarah struggles with how to speak to her mom about eating and how her mom's habits affect her. To become confident, Sarah has to discover how to take up space and stand up for herself in every part of her life.
TAKING UP SPACE is touching and deeply relatable, challenging generations of readers to have the confidence to take up space. Alyson Gerber discusses the many complexities that come with writing about disordered eating, describing it as "really challenging."
She says, "Disordered eating is definitely a topic that I avoided. I knew it would be very hard for me to face how I felt about myself. I also knew that it would take a lot of work to tell this story in a powerful way. But I'm really glad I wrote TAKING UP SPACE. I'm so proud of this story and excited by the response to the book so far!"
Alyson Gerber goes on to speak about her personal experiences with disordered eating and the decision to write about it.
"It was really challenging to write a book about disordered eating. For readers who aren't familiar with this term, disordered eating is a way to describe a pattern of irregular eating behaviors, such as a preoccupation with food and body image, compulsive dieting, restricting, and binging.
"I avoided writing TAKING UP SPACE for a long time, because I was ashamed of how I felt about myself and embarrassed by what I'd been through. The biggest hurdle I faced in writing this book was accepting that my struggles with body image, food, and self-worth were valid and acknowledging how much my disordered eating had impacted my mental and physical health."
She cites the motivation for writing TAKING UP SPACE, saying, "Ultimately, I got to a place where I realized that a lot of people, including at least half of kids, were... hurting and managing disordered eating in silence. I wanted to give a voice to this story and open up the conversation, because I want my readers to know that they count."
Alyson Gerber has a young daughter, to whom she dedicated TAKING UP SPACE. Speaking about how a new generation needs this story, she says, "Young people need to have space to feel and talk about their feelings. I wrote TAKING UP SPACE to give kids tools in their toolbox to navigate food and body image. I also wrote this book because I want my readers to know they matter and they aren't alone."
TAKING UP SPACE navigates the topic of disordered eating gracefully and empathetically. It's difficult to write about an issue so deeply personal. Gerber addresses this, saying, "Writing this book required me to truly value myself. It required me to take up space and stand behind my story."
She recollects the personal challenge of writing TAKING UP SPACE. "About halfway through drafting TAKING UP SPACE, I was in a lot of pain revisiting the way I saw myself growing up, and someone on my team said, "You can stop writing this book if it's too hard." It was very reassuring. It gave me permission to take care of myself and prioritize my needs. There were many days after that when I did walk away, or when I woke up feeling like I couldn't keep going and that advice allowed me to take a break."
To authors navigating writing about personal experiences, Alyson Gerber advises to "Write like no one is going to read your words, so you can let yourself be honest and really feel everything."
However, she believes that authors are not necessarily indebted to write about personal experiences that may be painful for them. "I love writing about my experience. I've grown a lot from sharing my story, and I've also had the chance to help a lot of people, but that was my choice. I feel very strongly that authors should never be required to write about themselves or share their personal experience in a book or to market a book."
The act of taking up space in the world is sometimes uncomfortable and requires confidence. Alyson Gerber discusses how she titled TAKING UP SPACE and the meaning behind the name.
"For readers who aren't familiar with my other books, my first two middle grade novels are BRACED and FOCUSED. As obvious as it is now, I actually had a really hard time coming up with the title for my debut novel BRACED, which is the story of a middle school soccer star who gets a back brace to treat her scoliosis. With FOCUSED, the story of a chess playing seventh grader with undiagnosed ADHD, the title came to me before I finished the first three chapters.
"After I wrote the first draft of TAKING UP SPACE, I knew I wanted to break with the one-word title for this book. I didn't know the title at that point, but I remember thinking that I wanted it to take up a lot of space on the cover! For me, TAKING UP SPACE was always about more than food and body image. This story is about a girl who is trying to feel good in the world and in her family and with her friends and in her own body. It's about changing and growing up and learning to stand up for yourself and for your needs."
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You can read more about Alyson Gerber and order her other books at http://alysongerber.com/. Find her everywhere else at @alysongerber.