Today’s interview is with Halley Bondy, author of Speak Up! A Guide to Having Your Say and Speaking Your Mind.
Middle school is a tough time for nearly everyone, but it can be especially hard on girls. Between social and cultural pressures, academic challenges, family dynamics, changing hormones, and a growing awareness of the world around them, middle school girls often end up feeling voiceless and powerless. They can struggle with speaking in class, standing up for their beliefs, navigating complicated social situations, and getting their voices heard. By presenting real issues and scenarios that girls will recognize from their own day-to-day lives, as well as exploring the negative thoughts and feelings that can hold them back, Speak Up supplies girls with the tools they need to understand their feelings and speak up in any situation
“[A] well-organized and well-rounded self-help book that addresses the difficulties of being a girl in middle school.”–VOYA
“Bondy clearly undestands the struggles young girls face, and provides timely and easy-to-understand advice for each. As the title implies, Bondy helps young girls find their voices and express themselves in constructive ways.”–School Library Connection
Middle Grade Mafia: Your bio is so interesting – news reporter, editor at MTV World, editor for Oxygen, playwright, comedian, and author! Why this book, now?
Halley Bondy: Thanks! I have a great relationship with the publisher Zest Books. I’d written two books for them in the past: one about babysitting, and one about surviving college. Both were assignments from the publisher. I’d been somewhat lucky in that I’d been essentially recruited to write the books based on my previous work.
In the wake of the success of Lean In, Zest wanted to publish a middle school girl empowerment book written by someone who would be frank, fun, and accessible to them. They asked me to write an outline and discuss some ideas, and in the end, they picked me. I was beyond excited about this idea. More excited than any other book. Like many women, I remember middle school as being the toughest time in my life. I couldn’t wait to dive in and help girls do middle school way better than I did.
MGM: Can you tell me a bit about the research you did? Did you learn anything that surprised you?
HB: I interviewed a dozen diverse middle school girls in the northeast. I was pretty surprised to learn how forthcoming so many young girls were with me, and how excited they were to share their inner lives. I thought there would be a lot more pulling teeth. Turns out, when given permission, girls love to speak up after all.
I also did a fair amount of reading when it comes to the middle school mind and social behavior. Not Much Just Chillin was a great book, as well as Sticks & Stones. I scoured countless resources that are available to middle school students, including bullying resources, or resources for kids who may be suicidal. I was unfortunately not shocked to learn that LGBT kids are the most vulnerable.
I also learned a lot from science journals that the middle school brain is completely different than any other phase, neurologically speaking. Their brains are sort of in a swimmy phase, with pleasure receptors firing off like crazy while reason and consequences are only just starting to congeal. That, coupled with puberty hormone surges — you’ve got a very unique brain that accounts for a lot of struggles, but also a lot of imagination. I learned that it isn’t all gloom and doom. Middle school girls know how to be all-out happy like no one else, even if in hindsight, we can’t believe we survived.
MGM: How did your personal experience in Middle School inform the book?
HB: Man, you name it. I was bullied, I engaged in bullying, I thought that boys and popularity were everything, I had mean girl friends, I was overly concerned with my weight and my clothes, I got into tons of trouble, I didn’t talk to my parents, who were totally overwhelmed. I also had an eating disorder that almost killed me. I was ushered me into therapy, which provided me with some unique insight into what was going on. I tell some of those personal stories in the book.
Basically to write this book, I became the voice I wish I had back then: compassionate, young, unflappable, funny, present, and optimistic.
MGM: Finally, a lot of pre-published authors read this blog. What is the best piece of advice you ever received about writing?
HB: Work. Work work work. There are no shortcuts. You get what you put into this trade. Take opportunities, learn, be open to improving. I wrote my books while maintaining a full-time job, which people think is nuts. But It’s really not nuts. I don’t have superpowers. Anyone can write if they make it a priority.
MGM: Thanks, Halley!
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