Congratulations to author Holly McGhee on her new book MATYLDA,BRIGHT & TENDER, published by Candlewick Press. They have agreed to participate in our book giveaways. All you have to do to get in the running is to leave a comment. Reblog, tweet, or talk about it on Facebook with a link and you will get additional chances to win. Just let me know the other things you did to share the good news, so I can put in the right amount of tickets in my basket for you. Check back to discover the winner.
In a courageous debut novel, Holly M. McGhee explores the loss that shakes one girl’s world — and the unexpected consequences of the things we do for love.
Sussy and Guy are best friends, fourth-graders who share their silliest thoughts and deepest hopes. One afternoon, the two of them decide they must have something of their very own to love. After a trip to the pet store, they bring home a spotted lizard, the one with the ancient face and starfish toes, and they name her Matylda (with a y so it’s all her own). With Guy leading the way, they feed her and give her an origin story fit for a warrior lizard. A few weeks later, on a simple bike ride, there is a terrible accident. As hard as it is, Sussy is sure she can hold on to Guy if she can find a way to love Matylda enough. But in a startling turn of events, Sussy reconsiders what it means to grieve and heal and hope and go on, for her own sake and Matylda’s. By turns both devastating and buoyant, this story is a brave one, showing how far we can justify going for a real and true friend.
I began writing my debut middle-grade novel, the book that would become Matylda, Bright & Tender, in the summer of 2012. But around page twenty-five, I had to put it down. Because I knew that one of my main characters was going to die, and I couldn’t bear it. Here were these two nine-year-old best friends, in fourth grade, Sussy Reed and Guy Hose, whose parents call them spaghetti and meatballs because they’re usually found together, and one of them was going to have to go on without the other. I didn’t touch the story for an entire year.
I needed that time to get ready. Because Sussy’s story of surviving without Guy has a plum line straight to my heart, and I knew that in order to write it, I’d have to revisit a terrible, fatal car accident I was in when I first got my license, an accident that was my fault. I’d carried my grief around like a rock in my pocket for decades, and it was finally time to try to make something beautiful from it.
During my time away from the story, my son had a birthday, and he received a check for fifty dollars from his grandparents—all he wanted was a leopard gecko. At the pet store, he chose one and named him Speedy. That summer I was left in charge of Speedy for a week, which meant I had to catch live crickets, so Speedy could stalk his prey. I’m squeamish around insects (and anything that jumps really) but I did it for Speedy and I did it for my son—and I fell totally in love with our gecko . . . there hadn’t been a lizard in those first 25 pages I wrote . . but my time with Speedy must have paved the way for Matylda . . .
I still wasn’t writing though, until the fall of 2013, when I had a dream, in which my fingernails were blue, my body temperature was low, and the world was coming to an end. I understood the dream to be an urgent message—my fingertips are what I use for typing, and they weren’t getting any oxygen . . . if I didn’t start writing again . . . a creative part of me would die. I was scared. And that’s when I renewed my commitment to Sussy Reed and Guy Hose. I began typing every morning on NJ Transit during my commute to New York where I work as a literary agent, and I also typed at night, after everybody had gone to bed, often with my eyes closed. I never looked at what I typed until the next day; the words came from a place so far down inside of me that I had to wait for the morning to see what I got.
And as I walked back through my own grief, with Sussy Reed on one side and Matylda on the other, that rock in my pocket began to dissolve—as the worst thing that ever happened to me became a love story. . . a love story of nine year old best friends that doesn’t end when one of them dies, a love story of a great warrior lizard who is granted her only wish—to have her broken heart mended, a love story of a family who are there for each other during the most difficult time, and a love story of a little girl, who learns to love herself by loving the lizard she is left with.
It became my love story too, as I saved myself by allowing my imagination to take me where I needed to go, as I let my fingers type my way out of deep grief and into joy, as I learned that just like my characters, it’s possible to be sad and happy at the same time.
I wrote this book for myself, in part because I wish I had had someone like Guy’s mom to fold me in when this terrible thing happened. But I also wrote it for my readers; and my deepest wish is that this story helps them through whatever they might encounter in life, just as it helped me. And that even more, that they know that when they’re ready, they can dig deep and find the promise of joy in the very thing that made them sad . . . and that they can make something beautiful from it.
Holly M. McGhee grew up in the Steuben Valley of upstate New York. Her aspirations varied over the years, from wanting to be a gas-station attendant (she liked the big roll of dollars they usually carried and the smell of gas), to meteorologist (she spent many hours watching the weather channel on her grandmother’s television) to gymnastics. She was especially passionate about being a gymnast, and she built a balance beam in her backyard, from a 4 X 4 piece of lumber and two sawhorses. She eventually gave up that dream, after growing too tall and getting too many splinters.
She started writing in 2007 under pen name Hallie Durand when the character Dessert Schneider barged into her life one morning while she was pleasantly reading on New Jersey transit. Dessert demanded that her story be told, in her own words, and so Holly obliged. She has written three chapter books about her in all (Dessert First, Just Desserts, and No Room for Dessert). Under her pen name, she has also written three picture books, two about a boy named Mitchell who likes to drive and knock things down (Mitchell’s License and Mitchell Goes Bowling) and one about her son Marshall who believes that gingerbread men can run (Catch That Cookie!).
When her first middle-grade novel was sold, she decided to integrate both sides of her publishing life, as a writer and literary agent and founder of Pippin, and from here on you can find her books under her given name Holly M. McGhee. Matylda, Bright and Tender in Spring 2017 from Candlewick Press and Come with Me, a picture book for all ages, illustrated by Pascal Lemaitre, on September 5, 2017 from G. P. Putnam’s.
Thank you Holly for sharing your book and journey with us. Can’t wait to read MATYLDA,BRIGHT & TENDER.