The first book of the Parenting Tweens and Teens Book Club is Perfect Happiness by Kristyn Kusek Lewis. This novel has several interesting storylines, but one of them deals with parenting a 14-year old daughter through the pressures of sports, academics, social media, and relationships. You can view and respond to the discussion questions on the @pttbookclub Instagram account post on 1/31.
Interview with Kristyn Kusek Lewis
Me: What is the biggest difference between how your characters handle a parenting situation in the book versus how you would handle it as a parent.
Kristyn: Well, Charlotte’s a bit of a mess so I hope I don’t handle parenting situations the same way at all. 🙂 That said, my daughters are a bit younger, and hers is in high school, so I’m not grappling with the same issues (yet!). Her daughter Birdie has her first serious boyfriend and he’s not the greatest, and Charlotte spends a fair amount of time snooping on his social media accounts instead of speaking with her directly about him. She’s dealing with the push-and-pull of her child wanting more independence when she’s not necessarily ready for her to grow up, and while I’m sure it would be tempting to do reconnaissance on your kids’ significant others online, I would hope that when the time comes, I’ll have a more open conversation with my kids about how their lives are changing as they become teenagers.
Me: Were there any notable changes made in the parenting scenes based on feedback from editors or beta readers who were parents. If so, what were they?
Kristyn: Birdie, the daughter in the book, is an accomplished student-athlete, so I did talk to a few parents with high school athletes about the pressure their kids feel to perform, and how important it is to let their kids know that how far they go with their sport is really up to the kids. But I got the most interesting parenting info for the book from a couple of teens, who taught me a lot about how kids use social media, how it makes them feel (generally awful), and how much their parents know about what they post. The biggest takeaway? Nearly every kid I spoke to had a secret account their parents didn’t know about! This terrifies me as a parent, especially given all of the research on girls and social media and self-esteem, but I also think it’s something families should tackle together, because social media use and how it impacts our happiness is as much an issue for adults as it is for teens. This is something my main character Charlotte really has to grapple with in the book.
Me: What inspired you to write this story?
Kristyn: I was a magazine journalist for many years before I started writing novels, and I often wrote pop psychology articles for women’s magazines about topics like happiness and stress reduction. I loved interviewing positive psychology experts about the science of happiness, so when I was reading the Washington Post one morning, an article about the most popular class in Yale’s history—an Intro to Happiness class—caught my eye. I started to wonder what it would be like to be a so-called happiness expert, and whether you would feel constant pressure to project a happy image, and what would happen if that image was actually covering up a deeply unhappy life. The novel’s main character, Charlotte, is a happiness guru with a huge following, both IRL and online, but her home life is in shambles. Her marriage is falling apart, her teen daughter is slipping away from her, and she copes with it all in unhealthy ways like drinking lots of wine and looking for validation in her social media accounts.