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April 28, 2016

An Evening with Julie Buxbaum, Author of TELL ME THREE THINGS

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TELL ME THREE THINGS, Julie Buxbaum's young adult debut, is a powerful story about a teenage girl who, while grieving the loss of her mother, is forced to uproot her cozy midwestern life for a move to ritzy LA when her father remarries. Once she's there, she learns a lot about the various ways teens --- and adults --- handle grief and about herself as a daughter and friend.  TELL ME THREE THINGS is easily one of the best young adult books I've read this year, so you can imagine how excited I was when I learned that Buxbaum would be speaking at a bookstore not too far from my office.

Although I arrived early, Buxbaum drew a full crowd, so I wasn't able to take any decent photographs, but the night was a total blast. I highly recommend seeing Buxbaum speak if she's in your area, as she is witty, personal and extremely approachable.

In TELL ME THREE THINGS, the main character, Jessie, receives a message from an anonymous stranger after a disastrous first day at her new school. The stranger, who calls himself S/N (somebody/nobody), volunteers to act as her guide through her glamorous new school, offering tips and tricks about teachers, assignments and friends along the way. As the two chat throughout the year, they begin a ritual of telling each other three things they may not know about one another. To start her talk, Buxbaum told us three things about herself:

  1. TELL ME THREE THINGS was a scary book to write, not only because it was her first book in six years, but because it was her first young adult book.
  2. This book was also Buxbaum's most personal yet, as she, too, lost her mother at fourteen. She dealt with her grief very similarly to her protagonist and found the writing process extremely helpful, even though it had been 24 years since her mother's death.
  3. Even though Buxbaum was dressed to the nines in a lovely pantsuit, she made a point to shave her legs. Talk about dedication to your fans!

Obivously writing TELL ME THREE THINGS was an extremely personal project, but a deceased mother was not the only thing Buxbaum shared with her protagonist. She also told us about an anonymous letter she received while in law school. In her letter, the sender told her she was beautiful and that he wished he could talk to her, but he couldn't. Although nothing ever came of it, it totally changed the way she thought about herself.

When asked about her writing process, Buxbaum explained that writing as a teen felt no different than writing as an adult, as her process always involves getting inside a character's head, no matter their age, gender or social status. I was delighted when she stated that "teenagers are incredibly sophisticated and can handle all the same things as adults, so it was no different." Buxbaum supplies an interesting perspective as a writer as she never wrote in her youth. She studied political science and ethics and college, then went on to law school. She was working 80-hour weeks as a lawyer and was totally miserable, so she made a New Year's resolution to quit her job and try something new. Within a week of starting her first book she knew she had found her calling.

As far as the "three things" construct goes, Buxbaum told us that she wanted to explore the written word to see if it was stronger than speech. She thought shorthand provided an excellent way for her characters to share themselves. Although she knew who S/N was from the start, this allowed her to sneak in little clues for her readers without dropping any major hints.  As a reader, I can confirm that this was an excellent idea.

So what's next for Buxbaum? She's currently working on her second YA novel, which will be called WHAT TO SAY NEXT --- and she says it's her favorite book yet.