Christine Day’s latest middle-grade book, We Still Belong (Heartdrum, Aug. 1) underlines the importance of Indigenous Peoples’ Day and the communities it honors through a day in the life of Wesley, an Upper Skagit girl navigating seventh grade. In June, We Still Belong was placed “under review” by a school district in Florida, the state with the highest rate of book banning, according to PEN America. The novel made our list of the Best Middle-Grade Books of 2023; Day answered some questions about it by email.
In We Still Belong, Wesley recalls her grandfather telling her, “The things that scare us the most in this world are usually the most worthwhile things in our lives.” To what degree does this piece of guidance reflect your perspective on writing?
I think it’s very relevant. Writing for publication can be so daunting, especially these days, as people aim to remove books from schools and public libraries. But no matter what, I feel I have to keep going. Because if I were to stop, or if I were to avoid certain topics or ideas out of fear of being censored—well, I just can’t. I refuse to cede my creative sovereignty. I refuse to give in to fear.
What was the original idea or character or scene that started you working on the book?
The single-day structure of the story! I wanted to plot an entire novel over the course of 24 hours, because it seemed like a fun creative challenge, and because I love what other authors have achieved with their own single-day books. The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon and Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly are two great examples.
Who is the ideal reader for your book, and where would they be reading it?
A student in the Pinellas County School District in Florida, preferably in a very public place, where the person(s) who challenged We Still Belong might see them reading it!
Were you able to do live events for the book this year? Any memorable highlights?
I had a belated launch party for We Still Belong at the Everett Public Library in Everett, Washington, which is where the book is set! I also had an event at Brick & Mortar Books [in Redmond, Washington] on Indigenous Peoples Day.
What book (or books) published in 2023 were among your favorites?
Those Pink Mountain Nights by Jen Ferguson, The Stolen Heir by Holly Black, and Vampires of El Norte by Isabel Cañas.
Are there any books you read during your middle-grade years that especially influenced you?
If you could choose one section or scene in We Still Belong for readers to spend extra time with, which would it be?
I would love for readers to slow down and spend time with the last chapter of the book, especially the final few paragraphs of Wesley’s narration.
Katherine King is an editorial intern.