This month, we’re interviewing Amber McBride, author of debut novel-in-verse Me (Moth)! The novel is about a teen girl who is grieving the deaths of her family and a teen boy who crosses her path. The book publishes this August and has just earned its first star from Booklist, who described the story as being “hauntingly romantic.”
Amber shares more about her inspiration for the story and what she hopes young readers will learn here.
When describing Me (Moth), what’s your elevator pitch?
Amber McBride: Me (Moth) is a novel in verse about Moth and Sani, two marginalized teens (Black and Navajo), who feel invisible and misunderstood in their primarily white suburban community. Once they meet, they realize that in witnessing each other they can heal in infinite ways. They decide to go on a road trip to the Navajo Nation and during their journey they share creation stories, Rootwork and hope.
What inspired you to write Me (Moth)?
Amber: The idea for Me (Moth) slowly came to me after my grandfather, William McBride, passed away on February 12, 2019. My grandfather was from South Carolina where Hoodoo, also known as Conjure or Rootwork, is still practiced widely. The question I asked myself when I started drafting this book was—can death, hope and healing exists in the same space at once? Afterall, living is a litany of death, hope and healing. The road trip mirrors the journey I was also going through moving through grief towards healing.
My extended family is diverse, my aunt and cousins are Navajo, and I wanted to craft a story about two marginalized people who feel invisible in different ways deciding to see each other and in witnessing each other they are both able to heal and grow. It’s about being seen.
Sani and Moth’s road trip to the Navajo Nation is almost the same path I took when my family went to visit my uncle, aunt and cousins. This choice was also deliberate, I didn’t want the healing to happen on “American” soil—I wanted it to happen on land that is loved. In many ways Me (Moth) rejects fitting into a box and Sani and Moth craft a world of stories to heal in.
Tell us about a librarian or educator who made an impact on you.
Amber: I was the kid in the public library getting ten books and sitting at a table and reading them all at the same time. My parents instilled a love of reading in me at a young age and in general, I am forever grateful to every librarian who smiled when I came in with my list of books I wanted to find and helped me locate each one on the bookshelf. In school, I had a harder time. I remember being aware that all the classics had no one that looked like me and if they did, they were enslaved. The first Black educator I ever had was in college, Dr. Joanne Gabbin, she literally changed the trajectory of my life. Dr. Joanne Gabbin is a professor at James Madison University but is also the director of the Furious Flower Poetry Center. I took her life-writing class and all of her assigned books were by people of color. Her guidance and mentorship has been priceless.
What is the first step in your creative process?
Amber: Step one, always make a playlist. As a ballet/contemporary dancer for 17 years, I really can’t do anything without music. I don’t know my characters; I don’t know my story until I have a playlist.
What advice would you give to young writers?
Amber: Read widely, vastly and furiously. Read intentionally— outside of your favorite genre and read diverse books. Realize there is something to learn in every book, even from books you don’t like. Last, give yourself time and space to write/practice your craft badly. You must make mistakes so in the future you can make better mistakes. Be curious, there is always something new to learn.
What was your favorite book when you were 10 years old?
Amber: Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold and Mama Do You Love Me? by Barbara M. Joosse and Barbara Lavallee. The last one is how I got my nickname that many people still call me, little wolf—the main character asks if her Mama would still love her if, I stayed away and sang with the wolves and slept in a cave? That was my favorite page of the book.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Amber McBride is an English professor at the University of Virginia and holds an MFA in poetry from Emerson College. Her poetry has been published in several literary magazines including Ploughshares and The Rumpus. She lives in Charlottesville, Virginia with her dog, Shiloh. Me (Moth) is her young adult debut.
ABOUT THE BOOK:
Me (Moth) by Amber McBride
On Sale 8/17/21
A debut YA novel-in-verse by Amber McBride, Me (Moth) is about a teen girl who is grieving the deaths of her family, and a teen boy who crosses her path.
Moth has lost her family in an accident. Though she lives with her aunt, she feels alone and uprooted.
Until she meets Sani, a boy who is also searching for his roots. If he knows more about where he comes from, maybe he’ll be able to understand his ongoing depression. And if Moth can help him feel grounded, then perhaps she too will discover the history she carries in her bones.
Moth and Sani take a road trip that has them chasing ghosts and searching for ancestors. The way each moves forward is surprising, powerful, and unforgettable.
Here is an exquisite and uplifting novel about identity, first love, and the ways that our memories and our roots steer us through the universe.
Praise for Me (Moth):
“McBride artfully weaves Black Southern Hoodoo traditions with those of the Navajo/Diné people, creating a beautiful and cross-cultural reverence for the earth, its inhabitants, and our ancestors. Readers will be consumed with the weight of McBride’s intentionality from road trip stops to the nuance of everything that goes unsaid. Written in verse, this novel is hauntingly romantic, refusing to be rushed or put down without deep contemplation of what it means to accept the tragedies of our lives and to reckon with the ways we metamorphosize as a result of them. An excellent choice for lovers of poetry and for those who see the beauty in sadness.” —Booklist, starred review
“This searing debut novel-in-verse is told from the perspective of Moth, a Black teen whose life changed forever the day a car crash killed her family. … Each free verse poem is tightly composed, leading into the next for a poignant and richly layered narrative. The story builds softly and subtly to a perfect, bittersweet ending. Fans of Jacqueline Woodson won’t be able to put this one down.”—School Library Journal, starred review
“If you think you know where this story is going, think again. Me (Moth) will surprise you.” —BookPage, starred review
“With unmatched lyrical writing and a powerful plot, McBride is an absolute must-read author.”—Buzzfeed