Jen Ferguson is an award-winning writer, professor, and activist. Her debut young adult novel, The Summer of Bitter and Sweet (Heartdrum, May 10), follows Métis 18-year-old Lou as she grapples with spending the summer working alongside her recent ex-boyfriend at her family’s ice cream shack in her Canadian prairie town. To make matters worse, her abusive father has been released from prison and is trying to contact her. Kirkus called the novel “heart-rending and healing; a winning blend that will leave readers satisfied,” and it found its place on our list of best YA books of 2022. Ferguson answered some questions by email.

What was the original scene that started you working on the book?

I always have a scene in mind when I start a novel—it’s the scene I’m writing toward, and for this book, I always knew that I would have Lou in a purple tent somewhere out on her family’s property, and she wouldn’t have a rain fly on the tent, and eventually King [her best friend] would show up. Even before Lou had a name, this was the image living in my head: a Métis teen girl in a purple tent out on the Alberta prairies.

Who is the ideal reader for your book?

I don’t think too much about ideal readers; I think more about ideal books for specific readers. Some of us come to books to escape, and some of us come to books to go through the hard things life has to offer, with the book acting as guide or friend. I’m pretty sure I write for that second group.

Were you able to do live events for the book this year? Any memorable highlights?

Oh, yes! I’ve been to Canada twice (Niagara Falls, Ontario, and Whistler, British Columbia), and I’ve done some cool things in the U.S. as well. I’ll tell you about one of them: DivBookFest, a diverse kid-lit festival that was held for the first time this September. It was so much fun! Co-founders Jennie Magiera and Kat Cho did an amazing job bringing a star-studded list of MG and YA authors to Chicago. I was the least famous person there and spent the day in total and complete fangirl mode! It was delightful.

What book (or books) published in 2022 were among your favorites?

Can I tell you a secret? Reading is the only thing keeping me alive during these long pandemic years, but all I’m reading these days are Kindle Unlimited romance novels. Really, truly. It’s all my brain will process. If that’s your jam, I have recs. But if your reading tastes are wider, may I introduce you to my TBR list. The #22Debuts are a group of super talented humans—and I bet you’ll find your next favorite read among these authors.

Community plays a large role in the story. How does your community influence your writing?

I think it’s a lie we’ve been told that writers write alone. I also think that there’s something about modern life, especially modern life in the U.S., and increasingly in Canada, too, where we focus on individuals too much and where we forget that we are always in community, always in many communities.

The other thing about community: It’s about reciprocal relations. So your communities should affect everything.

Maybe the easiest way to answer your question is that I’m always thinking about my many communities when I write, and I’m always writing for them, but also, when writing, I write knowing that I am responsible to them. It’s a lot to be responsible to your communities in everything that you do, to balance competing needs of your many communities, because their needs don’t always align perfectly. But it’s very important to remember this responsibility and to keep it at the heart of your actions.

Costa B. Pappas is an editorial intern.