Ava feels torn between several worlds: she’s a black-wearing, ironic, school-hating lesbian for her girlfriend Chloe; she’s pink-wearing, boy-crazy, ambitious and studious for her “pastel” friends at her new transfer high school; she’s a sarcastic sci-fi nerd for her stage crew buddies; and a black-wearing intellectual for her parents, who seem to have more in common with Chloe than with her. Like most teens, she wants to fit in, but since the different groups she belongs to have opposite expectations, she winds up walking a precarious tightrope of conflicting roles, impeding her ability to know and understand herself. Her juggling act cant last forever and is in danger of coming down like a house of cards, as her worlds get closer and closer to a collision course.
What inspired you to address the topic of bisexuality in your novel, Pink? And what made you want to address it in a YA (young adult) book?
It started with a speech that writer/publisher David Levithan gave at a conference in Melbourne, Australia. He talked about the importance of making sure every teenager could find a book in their school or public library that reflected who they were. David talked about growing up as a gay teenager, and not seeing himself in any of the books he read. I thought about all of the books out there now about gay teenagers (still not enough, in my opinion), and realized that most of them were about coming out, and that there were very few books about bisexual teens. I wanted to write a book for the teenagers who weren’t sure which box they fit into.
What messages are you hoping to convey about being bisexual for bi teens and for those around them?
You don’t really ever have to pick a box. You don’t ever have to be Definitely Straight or Definitely Gay or even Definitely Bi. But you REALLY don’t have to do it when you’re sixteen. And that doesn’t just apply to sexuality – the book is about many different facets of identity. I suppose it’s a plea to everyone (not just teenagers) to embrace a more fluid, honest (sometimes contradictory) model of identity, where you don’t limit yourself with boxes and cliques and labels.
You seem to understand a lot about what it’s like to be a bisexual teen trying to figure out their own feelings while feeling pressured by the sometimes vastly different expectations of everyone in their life. What life experiences have you had that prepared you to advise people about coming to terms with their romantic/sexual orientation? Or did you borrow from other people’s experiences?
A bit of both, I suppose. I think most teenagers question their sexuality at some point, and I was certainly no exception. I fell in love with a girl when I was fourteen, and we had an intense relationship that lasted a year. From the end of high school onwards, I’ve identified as straight, although I tend not to talk about it in relation to Pink, mostly because I’m loathe to send the message that “it’s okay to ‘experiment’ as long as you end up straight in the end.’
I was lucky to go to a high school where the student body was very open and accepting of different sexualities, but I think all teenagers feel like they’re under pressure to conform (or rebel), regardless of sexuality, and it’s impossible to meet everyone’s expectations. Falling in love is terrifying for everyone – particularly when you’re not used to it, and especially when you’re falling in love with someone who might have a different sexual orientation to you. When writing the book, I talked a lot to my friends about their high school experiences, and I also chatted with some real live teenagers and got lots of feedback on the book from them.
Which of your characters were you the most like as a teen and why?
I had the overachieving nature of Ava, the nerdiness of Jen and the sarcasm of Jules. There’s probably a little bit of me in all the characters, but I suppose overall I’m the most like Ava.
What other issues have you addressed in your books?
I like to write books that are funny, romantic and nerdy, without being insubstantial. My latest book out here in Australia (A Pocketful of Eyes) is a murder mystery set in the taxidermy department of a Natural History Museum. But of course it’s also about science and intellectual property and friendship and sacrifice, and being comfortable with who you are. Next year I have a book coming out called Love-Shy, which is about journalism, mental illness, and being comfortable with who you are. Do you notice a theme?
I’ve also written two historical novels, one, Scatterheart about a convict girl being sent to Australia in 1814, and one, Angel Fish, about the Children’s Crusade of 1212. In some ways, Angel Fish is probably my most “issuey” book – it’s about belief and the dangers of blind faith.
Note: Pink has been nominated for the 2011 Bisexual Fiction Lammy Award.
Pink by Lili Wilkinson, HarperTeen