Five questions for Jenny Downham

We ask Jenny Downham, author of Unbecoming (David Fickling Books), about her novel and YA.

What is Unbecoming about?

Identity, family, secrets and love.

Katie's life is a mess - her best friend thinks she’s a freak, her mum's controlling, her dad's run off, she's in love with someone whose identity she can't reveal and now her estranged grandmother's turned up on the doorstep and Katie's expected to care for her.

As she spends time with Mary, an elderly woman she's never known, Katie discovers she's not the only one hiding the truth. In fact, nothing in her family is what it seems. Turning detective and unraveling a history that spreads back 50 years, Katie realises that if she's going to get her life back together, she’s going to have to expose everyone’s deepest secrets - including her own.

What does it mean to be on the YA Book Prize shortlist?

It's entirely amazing! Have you seen the shortlist? Have you seen the brilliance of the other authors? I'm humbled to be listed among them.

Why do you think your book should win?

We should all win! But if only one if us can, then okay, yes - I’d like it to be me please! Why? Mmm… because it’s the most personal book I’ve written and I truly struggled to get each word out and it took nearly five years? Oh, and also because one of the main characters, Mary, is nearly 80 and YA should have space for cool older people in the mix. Oh, and lastly - because so many young people feel inadequate and this book is saying "you are allowed to be yourself"!

What is special about YA in the UK and Ireland?

It’s a happening gig! There are so many books being published in the UK and Ireland that wouldn't have seen the light of day in past years and would still not be published in many other places in the world. More readers are seeing their own lives represented within stories and this enables them to think not only "what would I do if that happened to me?" but also to think "that’s happening to me". Books can sometimes give you the very thing you need - the clue to solve a problem, the strength to keep going, the laughter that makes things more manageable and, perhaps most importantly - the feeling you’re not alone.  

What kind of YA books do you like to read?

The kind that have been written with passion. The kind that crack the world open a little. The kind that care for each and every word alongside the galloping horse of the narrative.

Jenny Downham took part in a Twitter chat on Wednesday 6th April , hosted by @yabookprize. Read a recap of the #TeamDownham chat here.