Me (and) Me

Alice Kuipers - Me and MeIt’s Lark’s seventeenth birthday, and although she’s hated to be reminded of the day ever since her mom’s death three years ago, it’s off to a great start. Lark has written a killer song to perform with her band, the weather is stunning and she’s got a date with gorgeous Alec. The two take a canoe out on the lake, and everything is perfect—until Lark hears the screams. Annabelle, a little girl she used to babysit, is drowning in the nearby reeds while Annabelle’s mom tries desperately to reach her. Lark and Alec are closer, and they both dive in. But Alec hits his head on a rock in the water and begins to flail.

Alec and Annabelle are drowning. And Lark can save only one of them.

Lark chooses, and in that moment her world splits into two distinct lives. She must live with the consequences of both choices. As Lark finds herself going down more than one path, she has to decide: Which life is the right one?

Alice Kuipers, the award-winning author of 40 Things I Want to Tell You and Life on the Refrigerator Door, is an expert chronicler of the teenage heart, and she takes her work to new heights here. A riveting, high-concept novel with heart, Me and Me is about what it feels like to be torn in pieces, and about finally finding out who you really are.

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Author, author: Alice Kuipers on her latest, Me (and) Me

By Cam Fuller, Saskatoon Starphoenix

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A canoe ride at Pike Lake has grave consequences for Lark, the teen protagonist in Alice Kuipers’ new novel, Me (and) Me.

A little girl is drowning. Lark’s boyfriend dives in but hits his head on a rock.

“I’m halfway between Annabelle and Alec. I have to save them. Alec is going under. Annabelle is face down. I can’t breathe. Pain radiates through my chest. I tread water, frantically looking one way and then the other.

“I don’t know who to choose.”

That gripping moment evolves into something quite mysterious in the novel. The book idea goes back to one Kuipers had when she wasn’t much older than Lark.

“I was really interested in what would happen if you met yourself and you could talk to yourself in the other life that you’d not been able to live.”

She tried to turn the idea of split lives into a novel, but it was too soon.

“It didn’t really work as a book, partly just because I didn’t know how to write a book and partly because it was a really, really complicated book to try and write as a first book.”

Now, however, Kuipers is the award-winning author of four young-adult novels and her publisher, HarperCollins, is calling Me (and) Me “a riveting, high-concept novel with heart.”

Kuipers explores the idea of parallel lives and “infinity point” in the book. It is sophisticated, but grounded in the character of Lark, a cool girl who longboards, who writes and plays music with her band, who has a big gig coming up and yet who still mourns the death of her mother three years before and is worried about her dad’s health.

In the book, Lark gets texts messages on her phone, from whom she doesn’t know, that seem to come from another world.

“I’m interested in how Lark deals with the mysterious thing that happens to her,” says Kuipers. “I’m interested in how we as people cope with what life throws at us when it’s weird and strange. I ask myself the question, ‘What if?’ I’m interested in who we are when we’re put in difficult, strange situations.”

Kuipers likes writing about teenagers because it’s an age when our choices make us who we are.

“As a teenager, what’s exciting and interesting is trying out the different people we could be. Are we the social justice side of ourselves? Are we the creative side of ourselves? Are we the responsible, pragmatic side of ourselves? Then we take on that mantle, we live it.”

As for her audience, Kuipers doesn’t see herself as writing specifically for teens. In fact, thinking about that can be counterproductive.

“When I am writing, if I’m worried about whether my publisher is going to like it or a reader is going to like it, that’s a surefire way to get me to stop writing anything at all.

“That’s stuff I don’t really think about. I hope that people who enjoy the book are people who are interested in what it’s like to be a teenager, so teen readers. And people who love reading teen fiction. I’m one of those people. There’s some really, really good teen fiction out there.”

As far as getting it right when looking at the world through the point of view of teenagers today, Kuipers looks for the universal and concentrates on story.

“There are differences being a teenager now and 20 years ago, but “we still fall in love, we still have to find out who we are, we still are excited about creative ambitions, we still want to find our place in the world. That’s all the same. So I just try and tell a story that’s interesting to me.”

With four children under the age of seven, writing at all can be challenging. Kuipers has a basement office where she works when she can.

“When the children discover I’m in there, they’re like police dogs, they just know. Within about 15 minutes of going in my studio they come in, they sit on the floor or they colour, or walk on the treadmill desk or want to see what I’m doing or want to change the music, or write their own book.”

For that reason, she also seeks refuge in coffee shops like D’Lish, headphones on, to do some writing. D’Lish makes it into the book by name, as do other Saskatoon and area past and present landmarks like Lydia’s. The setting, however, is a small city called Edenville. The writer likes the feel of the weather there, and “I like the space that a smaller city affords a character to exist and not be swamped by all the other people who live in the city.”

Kuipers and her partner Yann Martel share early drafts of each other’s books, conscious of the perils.

“I read High Mountains (of Portugal) early on and gave him some fairly rigorous editorial feedback and he read Me (and) Me early on and gave me some very rigorous feedback.

“The difficult thing when you’re both writers and you’re trying to edit each other is that there is a tendency to want to write it yourself,” Kuipers smiles.

“We’re both quite good now, after 14 years, saying thank-you, stop now, thank-you for your feedback — as a reader.”

Kuipers is already almost finished the first draft of her next book, tentatively titled The Girl from Somewhere Else, about a girl who suddenly appears one day, saying she’s from the future. Me (and) Me is brand new to readers but to Kuipers, it’s already her previous book.

“It’s nice to have the distance of knowing I worked really hard to make it the best I could. But also, it’s in other people’s hands now. If people like it, it’s great and if they don’t that’s their choice, too. I can’t undo it now.”

Alice Kuipers listens to music when she writes — often just one or two songs, over and over. For Me and Me, her soundtrack included Alaska by Maggie Rogers and Crazy by Ria Mae. “It was those two songs that I had on repeat constantly.”

Kuipers isn’t just a writer and voracious reader, she is also a writing instructor. On she offers her Secrets of a Writing Life newsletter, a writing course, video tips, workshops for teachers, librarians and writers and thoughts on her blog. She also has writing prompts on Instagram and an iPhone app.

Alec passes me a paddle, and I dip it into the water. The sound of the splash makes me think of ice cream, of summer, of holidays on the lake when I was a kid. In mutual but not uncomfortable quiet, we head along the side of the lake. When I glance back at Alec, he smiles languidly. My heart does a pancake flip. Alec points out a beaver that glides by in the shallows.

A little while later, he interrupts the silence to say, “My dad used to take me on the water. He thought fishing was good for, I don’t know, turning me into a man. ‘Cept I hated it, which drove him insane. I couldn’t stand being cooped up in a small space — I wanted to swim, kept jumping in. Disturbing the fish. He used to yell at me, which was … well, not exactly relaxing.” He steers the canoe toward a small inlet, where the reeds hide us. His voice floats forward to me. “We don’t go on the water together anymore. And it’s weird, but without him around, I don’t mind the small space. Maybe that’s because you’re here.”

We both stop paddling and let the canoe drift. My paddle drips freezing water over my knees. I swivel so I can see him. He leans his head to one side and smiles. His paddle is still in the water, and he occasionally re-angles it, making a deep ripple.

I point at the piercing in his lip. “Did it hurt?”

“I was, like, thirteen. I got into trouble. Big trouble. Call it rebellion.”

“You seem like a good student. Into nature and stuff, not drugs and parties.”

“Not that sort of rebellious.” He has placed his paddle across the canoe and now rests both arms on it. “So, have you canoed much before?”

“We canoed and camped every weekend during the summer when I was little. Dad doesn’t look like it now.” Alec stays quiet while I speak. “He has a heart thing, so he can’t really exercise now. He means he’s put on some weight, and he isn’t so outdoorsy anymore, although he loves yardwork.”

“What sort of a heart thing?”

“They don’t really know. If he runs or gets his pulse up, I guess, his heart kinda skips.”

My heart is skipping now. I don’t want to talk about this. But I say, “It sucks. Some sort of scarring, maybe. I always think it’s a broken heart ’cause of my mom.” I lean back into paddling. My arms feel the pull of the water, and I fill my body with the sensation. Alec seems to get the topic isn’t my favourite, because he doesn’t push; everyone at school knows what happened to my mom. Instead, as he paddles he shifts to a new subject.

“How long have you played guitar?”

“Since before I can remember. Dad got me a ukulele when I was tiny, because I wanted a guitar so badly, but a ukulele is smaller, easier to start with. But tell me about you. I mean, stuff I don’t know from class.”

“What do you know from class?”

I lift my oar and turn back to him. Boy, he’s cute when he looks at me like that. I say, “Um, you’ve been living in Edenville as long as me. Like, forever. You live with your parents. You work at Eb’s Outdoors. You aren’t good at math. You are super good at history.”

“I am too good at math.”

“Whatever.” Smiling, I tilt my face up to the sun. It means I’m not looking when Alec stands up. The lurching of the canoe makes me grab the sides. “What are you doing?”

“Fancy a swim?”

“Sure. But I don’t have a swimsuit.” “Neither do I.” His eyes are alight.

“Ah. The amazing thing you promised,” I deadpan. “Alec Sandcross gets naked and goes for a swim.”

“No, that’s not it.” He pulls off his shirt. My eyes travel over his tanned muscular arms and six-pack. “There maybe isn’t anything amazing … ”

I splash water at him. “You lied to stop me writing. I thought that might be the deal.”

The canoe tips but rights itself as I wobble to my feet. “Okay then, the amazing thing … is that you’re going to take your clothes off too,” he says.

I unzip my life jacket. I hesitate and check around. The Fields family can’t be seen, and the water is glassy quiet. Alec smiles his lazy smile. Then I do it. I pull off my shirt. Thank God I’m wearing a decent bra.

Faltering and goofing off, suddenly we’re giggling as he crouches and tugs off his jeans and I do the same-tricky in a canoe. We’re stripped down to our underwear. The sun is amazing-warm against my skin. He steps closer along the canoe, causing it to wobble again. I bet he’s gonna come up to me and kiss me.

Instead he turns to the water. “Come on.”

A shout stops us. “Help! Oh my God, someone help me!”

It’s Suzanne. I thought we were far from everyone, but I catch a glimpse of her flailing in the water just through the reeds.

And a red life jacket. Annabelle!

She’s floating face down on the other side of the canoe from Suzanne. Alec and I glance at each other. Alec dives and I jump. The water is as cold as death. I lift my face to orient myself, pushing hair out of my eyes, and then, focused, I knife through the water.

Now Annabelle is about ten metres away from me. Suzanne still flounders in the reeds.

“Help her!”

Just then, Alec cries out. I glance back. He’s about ten metres behind me, blood pouring from his temple. His eyes are glassy.

“I banged my … I … ”

He’s sinking. “Alec!”

“I can’t get to her!” Suzanne fights the reeds that have entangled her.

I turn back. I’m halfway between Annabelle and Alec. I have to save them. Alec is going under. Annabelle is face down. I can’t breathe. Pain radiates through my chest. I tread water, frantically looking one way and then the other.

I do not know who to choose.

Suzanne screams, “Lark! DO SOMETHING!” But I can’t.

Same Time, Different Worlds: Alice Kuipers’ Alternate Realities

By Anita Daher, The Winnipeg Review

Quill and Quire ReviewMulti-award-winning author Alice Kuipers has a knack for whisking readers into the lives and loves of her characters, who are always believable, and often with unique gifts. In her latest novel we travel even further—to a place where we not only agonize with her protagonist’s difficulties, but also explore an unexpected and fascinating elsewhere. Two of them, actually. Me and Me (HarperCollins Canada, April 2017) is a novel with a world-splintering take on the consequence of choice. While canoeing with a friend on her birthday, Lark hears a mother cry out. Her child is drowning. Lark’s friend dives in the water to save the young girl but hits his head. Lark is now faced with the choice of saving the child or the friend.

In that moment, Lark’s world is split in two parallel realities. In both timelines she is filled with regret over the life she didn’t save, while her own lives in each timeline are shaped by the one she did. We toggle chapter by chapter between these alternate lives while elements are feathered in, adding detail and filaments of plot, and we feel Lark’s growing desperation and sense of urgency, as the one she didn’t save nears certain death.

Kuipers builds each reality with dynamic characters, and a use of language breathtaking in its grace. After reading, you may forever walk into a chill evening looking for your breath to “ghost” in front of you, under the “bowl of milk” moon.

Born and raised in the UK, since 2003 Alice Kuipers has made her home in Saskatoon, with her partner, fellow author Yann Martel, and (now) four children. Though the book is set in a fictional town, those familiar with Saskatoon will delight in familiar street and place names. She also has a web home that shows a tech-savvy her characters would appreciate. Amongst usual bio and book information it includes details about a writing-tip app she co-created, a blog, and even a free online writer’s workshop.

I caught up with her shortly before her April 10 launch of Me and Me.

Events in Me and Me are triggered by a traumatic circumstance which occurs on your main character’s seventeenth birthday. Why Lark’s birthday, and why seventeen?

I like thinking about birthdays. There’s something interesting about moving into a new year of life. But for Lark it’s completely the opposite. She hates her birthday because it reminds her of the death of her mother. I wanted Lark to be at an age where she was almost an adult herself, but for her to still have that energy of being a young adult with the world at her fingertips. Seventeen seemed like the right age for a character struggling to figure out which future was the right one for her.

When you were eighteen, you spent a year travelling. How has this influenced the adult and writer you are now? 

I left the UK on my own when I was eighteen and didn’t come back for nine months. I spent a lot of that time looking out at the world. I read a lot, I wrote a journal. But after keeping the journal regularly, I found myself turning to fiction. I wrote stories and poems during the trip—somehow making stories up helps me understand my world and my place in it. The books I read and the experiences I had shaped me as an adult, absolutely. They made me recognize that I exist in a huge, complicated planet, full of stories and other lives. During the trip, I learned that everyone has a story to tell, and that if I listen carefully, those stories bloom inside me into new and wonderful ideas.

If you could time travel in a hot air balloon, and look out on all of the wheres and whens you have been, is there one you might like to revisit?

I love the idea of time travelling in a hot air balloon! I’m sure that would be dangerous, and scary. And very weird. A moment I would like to revisit in my life would be the birth of my first child. He was rushed into intensive care as a baby, and he spent the next six weeks of his life there. If I could whisper to my younger self that my son was going to be okay, it might have helped my transition into motherhood. I was so afraid for my son and so much was happening in my body at the time that a tiny reassurance from the future could have soothed me.

Your more scientifically-inclined readers may thrill on the quantum mechanic elements of Me and Me—the idea that choice can create parallel realities. Fascinating stuff, also a potential research rabbit hole. How difficult was it for you to establish the parameters of Lark’s dual realities? How fun?

You’re right. It was a rabbit hole, but it was a lot of fun to read about Infinity Points. I enjoyed the research into parallel lives too. There are some great books and movies out there, and—as I’m sure happens to you when you’re writing—suddenly everything I heard or read seemed to connect with the theme of parallel lives. The parameters were difficult to clarify as I was writing the book and it took a long time for me to figure out how Lark should move from one life to the other. It was during a conversation with my partner, who is a writer too, that I figured out the idea of water spilling could signify the shift between lives. I loved the glitches in her phone—the idea that the other life was just there, within reach, but also terribly far away, was very appealing to me.

Do you ever ponder moments in your own life where a divergence might have occurred? Do you think moments like these must be significant, or might these splits be continuous and infinite? 

I think all of us consider what life might have been like if we’d made a different choice along the way. Our imaginations pull us to ask ‘what if’ and when we ask that, the possibilities spill open. When I was 24, I moved to Canada to live with the man who is now the father of my four children. That jump to a different country felt like a significant choice in my life. If I hadn’t come to Canada, what would my life be like? But smaller moments when life diverges happen all the time, and I think that by considering how these moments are significant we can be made to look at our lives and not take them for granted.

This novel is also about passions. In each reality, Lark is a gifted musician, but in one her pursuit is more driven, more explosively creative and satisfying than the other. Do you feel it is possible to pursue two passions at once? Why or why not?

I’m the sort of writer who writes lots of books all at once, and who teaches, and volunteers, and takes courses, etc., etc. I’m scattered, but my passion always comes back to reading and writing. Lark is fuelled by her music, but in one of her lives she makes the mistake of pushing her musical creativity to one side. Like a lot of us who have dormant creative ambitions, she neglects her ideas and doesn’t let her songwriting into her life. I do think it’s possible to pursue two passions at once, or three, but I think each passion needs time. If trying to do two things just becomes an excuse for not doing either, then it might be time to step back from one passion and focus on the other. For me, if I’m not reading enough, I’m miserable. So even if that means writing has to take a back seat, I have to make time to read. I’m the mother of four children. Like any parent, I want to spend time with my children. Juggling work and time with my children makes me ask questions about what I’m most passionate about in the limited moments I have left.

The way in which Lark refers to music might also be applied to prose: “I was working with a song, playing with it, sitting with the words, hearing the band riff on it, making it fuller.” As Lark plays, feels and hears her music, fully, completely, so does the reader. Are you also a musician? If not, did you need to spend any time “dancing” with your character and this element of her life before writing? 

I am most definitely not a musician. This question goes back to research. While I enjoyed researching parallel lives, I loved researching songwriting (and parkour!) I asked musicians about their lives, I read books about songwriting, I listened to tons of bands, went to concerts, and I wrote a lot of songs, which I asked a music-teacher friend in the UK to review. I did indeed dance with Lark in this way, and I also danced with her by discovering more about the world of parkour, which is a fascinating world.

If you and Lark were to sit in D’Lish and have a conversation about music, is there a song you might argue over? 

If Lark and I were talking about music, I would just shut up. I would feel on wobbly ground if I had to talk about music with anyone. Despite all the research, the world of music and musicians feels hallowed and very cool. So I’d listen to her. I’d ask which singers I should listen to next. Although I’d probably tell her that I just started listening to Laura Marling. I think Lark would like her stuff. Maybe.

Regret, indecision explored in Saskatoon author’s upcoming novel

Kuipers is launching her book at McNally Robinson in Saskatoon at 7 p.m. CST Monday
CBC News

me-and-me-by-alice-kuipersThe central character in Alice Kuipers’ new book finds herself in an unenviable situation: two lives hang in the balance and she can only save one.

In Me (and) Me, 17-year-old Lark must choose between saving the life of a little girl or a handsome, young man she was on a date with.

Unable to make such a difficult, her life splits in two and she starts to see what would happen if she chose the man, or the girl.

A paralyzing choice

Kuipers said the story explores the tendency to wonder “what if.”

“I think that feeling of wondering what life would be like if we’d made a different choice is there with all of us and what interested me was how to make that come alive in a vivid way on the page,” Kuipers told CBC Radio’s Saskatchewan Weekend on Sunday.

“So Lark has to make a really difficult choice and, like a lot of us, she just becomes paralyzed in the face of the options before her.”

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The possible consequences of Lark’s decisions are revealed to her through glitches and messages in her phone.

Stuck and confused, Lark begins to think she is losing her mind.

‘Jump in, both feet’

Kuipers said her personal feeling about these types of decisions is that it’s best to make a choice and commit to it fully.

“That is what Lark really has to discover, this endless dithering between ‘I can’t make a choice so I’m just not going to [is unhelpful],'” said Kuipers.

“So I guess I say jump in, both feet.”

Kuipers said she believes young people are sophisticated readers living in a complicated world that seems darker than when she was a teenager.

She added that stories were a way to navigate that world by understanding the experiences of others.

“I think having tools to understand our world comes from experiencing other people’s stories,” said Kuipers.

“We can’t make this world the best it can be until we understand what it’s like to be someone else.”

Me (and) Me will be released on April 11. Kuipers is launching her book at McNally Robinson in Saskatoon at 7 p.m. CST on Monday.

“Showering her intense text with astounding lyrics, Alice Kuipers brings both Larks together to juxtapose the parallel lives they lead after the near drowning at the lake.”
CanLit for LittleCanadaians

“A mesmerizing and mysterious ride through parallel worlds. Me and Me is absolutely irresistible.”
– Teresa Toten

“Haunting and mysterious, this is a powerful book about love, life and choices. Both page-turning and thought-provoking, Kuipers deftly tells a lyrical tale that’ll keep you questioning reality right up to the very end.”
– Arthur Slade

“Another intriguing, high-stakes tale from Alice Kuipers, consummate risk-taker, inimitable story-maker.”
– Hadley Dyer, author of Johnny Kellock Died Today

“Alice Kuipers has a way of drawing me under, drowning me in so many layers of emotion, that I hold my breath while I read Me and Me. I loved this intense and wonderful book! My hero in the book, the rad, long-boarding, parkour ingénue/traceuse, and band girl, seventeen year-old Lark Hardy, is much cooler than I was at seventeen (and maybe even now), and Lark is graciously trying to navigate not falling to pieces despite unimaginable circumstances. Lark is a gifted musician and has a songwriting mind that helps weave back together her shattered heart, as she must navigate loss and trauma, all while trying to remain supportive for her devoted dad, for her band, for her beloved mom, and for the passionate Alec, who may actually turn out to be the architect of her undoing. Caught in what feels like a parallel life, Lark experiences the inevitable, and finds her true self somewhere in between.”
– Bif Naked, musician

©2018 Alice Kuipers | Bestselling YA and Picture Book Author. Design by Janine Stoll Media.
Illustration by Julie Larocque.