When noted poet Carrie Fountain announced her YA debut, some fans didn’t know what to do.
“I was naïve about how people perceive YA,” says Fountain, who hosts NPR’s “This Is Just To Say,” a radio show and podcast on contemporary poetry. Her first collection, Burn Lake, won the 2009 National Poetry Series Award, and her poems have appeared in the New Yorker.
“Somebody, very kindly and sweetly, after my book deal was announced, tweeted, ‘Oh my gosh! Is Carrie Fountain going to start making me like YA?’ ” she says. “Which really seemed sort of patronizing, like, ‘Oh! Is she going to make me start eating garbage?’ ”
One fan’s trash is another fan’s treasure: Fountain, who Kirkus calls “a beautiful new voice to watch” in YA fiction, is poised to please legions of new readers.
“Poetry, people perceive as being very political and politically active,” she says. “But to me, there’s no more political gesture than to write stories for teenage girls that present ways of wanting to speak to them.”
Set in Las Cruces, New Mexico, I’m Not Missing is the gorgeous story of Miranda Black, a high-achieving, half-Latina, half-white high school student whose best friend, Syd, mysteriously disappears.
“She was a force of nature,” Fountain writes. “A boss bitch. But was that the way she saw herself? Had the pressure she’d been placing on herself the last four years gotten to be too much? It seemed impossible. But everything seemed impossible. Maybe Syd had been sending me hints for years. Maybe she’d been asking for help. And maybe I was simply the world’s worst friend, unable or unwilling to allow her to be anything less than the bulletproof superstar I’d come to rely on, and to emulate.”
Nevertheless, Miranda is left “suddenly standing next to myself, examining the weird little details that made up my life,” Fountain writes.
“I think of adolescence almost as a physical, a geographic location,” says Fountain, who was born and raised in Mesilla, New Mexico. “[It’s] the perfect setting for a story full of contradictions and realizations. Everything is heightened. You come to understand you’re not the center of the universe, and you have to find your way.”
Without Syd’s guidance, Miranda is forced to grapple with old hurts and new—her mother’s persistent absence and a complicated first romance, for starters.
“It felt like I was driving into a golden convergence of all my crap,” she writes, “a swirling accumulation of unanswered questions and bad ideas, lost causes and mysteries and desires with no end, all those wounds, healed and unhealed and unhealable, the big griefs and the little griefs, the great truths lying just outside the reach of my understanding...”
Fountain is a visiting professor at the James A. Michener Center for Writing at the University of Texas at Austin, where she earned her MFA, and writer-in-residence at St. Edward’s University. She lives in Austin with her husband and their two children.
“All YA is coming of age,” she says. “I’m wary of the phrase ‘finding out who you are’—I’m in my forties and I’m finding out, still changing all the time—so I hate this simplistic way of saying it, but it really is about someone who is forced, by circumstance, to figure out where she’s going.
“I’m Not Missing is the story of a girl who thought her life was one way,” she says, “but, it turns out, she was facing in the wrong direction. It’s about turning to face your own life.”
Megan Labrise is a staff writer and co-host of the Fully Booked podcast.