These things I've done by Rebecca Phillips

Q&A with Rebecca Phillips: Author of These Things I’ve Done

I could not be more honored to be part of the blog tour for These Things I’ve Done by Rebecca Phillips!

The release date was the first of August, so go get the book! You need the book!

I love These Things I’ve Done, y’all. Here’s my review if you haven’t read it, where I say things like:

My favorite contemporary of 2017.

It is really special when a book tells you from the very beginning exactly what’s going to happen, and still makes you cry when it happens.

…it killed me. In the best way possible.

So, needless to say, I’m THRILLED to have a Q&A with Rebecca on Off-Color Literature today!

These Things I've Done by Rebecca Phillips

These Things I've Done by Rebecca Phillips

Dara and Aubrey have been inseparable since they became best friends in sixth grade. However, as they begin their sophomore year of high school, cracks in their friendship begin to form, testing the bond they always thought was unbreakable.

It’s been fifteen months since the accident that killed Aubrey, and not a day goes by that Dara isn’t racked with guilt over her role in her best friend’s death. Dara thought nothing could be worse than confronting the memories of Aubrey that relentlessly haunt her, but she soon realizes it isn’t half as difficult as seeing Ethan, Aubrey’s brother, every day. Not just because he’s a walking reminder of what she did, but because the more her feelings for him change, the more she knows she’s betraying her best friend one final time.


So without further adieu, here’s my Q&A with Rebecca!

I was so, immediately intrigued by the idea of your book. What inspired you to write These Things I’ve Done? Which part of the story came to you first?

The idea actually came from my lovely author friend, Cara Bertrand. She was driving one day and came across two girls playfully scuffling on the sidewalk next to her. She had a horrifying flash of “OMG, what if one of those girls ended up under my car?” She thought it would make for a powerful story—a girl accidently causing the death of her friend. She suggested I write it because I already had experience writing guilt and grief in my book Out of Nowhere. But this idea was a lot heavier, and at first I was against it. Too disturbing for me. But after a few days I started coming around and the next thing I knew, I had an outline.

Writing always has its difficulties, of course, but do you think it’s harder to write difficult/dark subject matter?

For me, absolutely. It’s hard for me to get into such a difficult headspace. I’m a mom, and the thought of one of my teens going through something so traumatic tears me up.

I cried reading your book, which is one of the best compliments I could give. Did you cry while writing it?

Thank you! It’s one of the best compliments I can receive. Yes, I cried while writing it, which was a first for me. I also cried when I finished, because it was so hard and because I got very attached to the characters.

Since These Things I’ve Done is written in alternate timelines, did you write it the way we read it? Or did you write each timeline separately?

I wrote it the way you read it. It was really challenging to switch tenses and tones with each chapter, but that was the only way I could see myself doing it.

Did this book go through any significant changes while you were writing? 

While I was writing, no. I pounded out the draft in 3-4 months and didn’t change anything during that time. It didn’t go through significant revisions until it reached Catherine, my HarperTeen editor. We went through two big revisions, and I think it’s so much better now. Catherine is amazing.

Do you base your characters on people you know?

Sometimes, but always very loosely. Aubrey’s character was sort of based on one of my daughter’s friends. Ethan’s band was loosely based off a band my husband played guitar for in high school. As for Dara, I was binging Friday Night Lights while writing the first draft, so she started to look like Julie Taylor in my head. And I was going for a gruff, quiet type like Coach Taylor for Dara’s dad.

I think everyone has a special book they remember as the first that emotionally devastated them. What was the first book that you cried over?

It was a middle grade book called With You and Without You by Ann M. Martin. I used to read it every year when I was a kid, and I cried every time. I read it recently and cried again. It’s incredibly touching and well-written.

Does writing exhilarate or exhaust you? Does that change depending on what you’re writing?

Both, and it definitely depends on what I’m writing. There’s a particular scene near the end of These Things I’ve Done (you probably know the one) that emotionally drained me so much that it took me hours to feel happy again after writing it.

Do you go through writing slumps? If so, what do you do to get out of them?

Oh God, yes. I don’t really do anything to get out of them. I basically just wait for them to pass, which they always do (knock on wood). I was extremely burnt out after finishing These Things I’ve Done and wondered if I’d ever write another book. Well, I did write another book (which comes out in 2018 with HarperTeen), and I can’t wait to get started on my ninth book this fall.

I read that you have been writing since you yourself were a teenager! Has your writing process changed over time? 

It got less sucky? I hope? I read stuff I wrote back then and cringe. It was so, so bad.

There are so many great books that sadly don’t get the attention they deserve. Do you have a favorite lesser-known or under-appreciated novel? 

I agree! My answer to this question is always Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas. I have (sometimes literally) shoved this amazing, twisty book on everyone I know. It honestly boggles my mind that it hasn’t sold a zillion copies and been made into an amazing, twisty movie.

So exciting that These Things I’ve Done has such great reviews already! Do you read reviews on all your novels? How well do you deal with any negative feedback?

I read all my reviews, good and bad. The good ones (like yours!) make my day. The negative ones sometimes hurt, but I still learn from them. Not everyone is going to like my books, and that’s fine. I appreciate every review.


Rebecca Phillips

Rebecca Phillips has been writing YA since she was a YA herself. She’s the author of:

The JUST YOU series
ANY OTHER GIRL (Kensington)

Rebecca lives in beautiful Nova Scotia, Canada with her husband, two children, and one spoiled rotten cat. None of them say “eh” or “aboot.”

Visit Rebecca on her website and on Twitter @RebeccaWritesYA


Thanks so much to Rebecca Phillips, her agent Eric Smith, and HarperTeen for access to this book and the chance to be a part of this blog tour!



Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Starfish: You Have to Read It

Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Published by Simon Pulse: scheduled for Sept. 2017

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary

Pages: 320

OH MY GOD. I’m honestly still freaking out. I love this book so. Effing. Much. There are hardly words to describe how much it means to me, so let’s get started and I hope I can do it justice.

Starfish Novel

All the Wrong Chords Book

Kiko Himura has always had a hard time saying exactly what she’s thinking. With a mother who makes her feel unremarkable and a half-Japanese heritage she doesn’t quite understand, Kiko prefers to keep her head down, certain that once she makes it into her dream art school, Prism, her real life will begin.

But then Kiko doesn’t get into Prism, at the same time her abusive uncle moves back in with her family. So when she receives an invitation from her childhood friend to leave her small town and tour art schools on the west coast, Kiko jumps at the opportunity in spite of the anxieties and fears that attempt to hold her back. And now that she is finally free to be her own person outside the constricting walls of her home life, Kiko learns life-changing truths about herself, her past, and how to be brave.

The Characters

I could write an entire essay just on how much I love Kiko, our narrator. But let’s start with those around her.

For a little while, we get a really great female friendship between Kiko and her best friend, Emery. I love it for a lot of reasons, but especially because though Kiko has issues with her own appearance, she never takes it out on Emery. It’s so, SO rare that I see a book with two female characters where “I’m mad because she’s prettier than me” isn’t a main plot point. None of that here, though. Their friendship is so loving and beautiful.

Jamie, Kiko’s other best friend, is so wonderful. He’s such a perfect example of how a guy can be supportive and helpful and still incredibly sexy, no “boring nice guy” trope here.

Hiroshi, Kiko’s mentor, is AMAZING. I love his whole family. I love young girl – old man friendship, and I am obsessed with this one. They made me cry more than once.

And then there’s Kiko’s family. I cannot describe to you how happy it makes me when I thoroughly despise a character. There’s nothing I hate more than a lackluster antagonist. Kiko’s mom kills me, because she is so awful and so perfectly well-written that you can’t help but loathe her. I won’t ruin it, but I bawled my eyes out when I read the starfish metaphor, because EVERYONE HAS A FUCKING STARFISH IN THEIR LIFE. You will feel it so hard.

And then we have Kiko! I love Kiko. I love her so much. I love her art, I love her character. I even love her inability to stand up for herself because I completely get it. Kiko’s journey as an artist and a victim and a Japanese woman is so gorgeous. I cried so many times watching her grow, and that is the best compliment I could ever give. I can, occasionally, find timidity exhausting, but I understand and empathize with Kiko at every step though we couldn’t be more different.

The Writing

Is gorgeous! The pacing is on point, I was never bored for even a second. I love contemporary that keeps you going as easily as a suspense does. The tension is so palpable, and I had to know what would happen to Kiko. I had to keep reading.

I’m a painter, so I may be biased, but I LOVE the art in this! I’ve read stories about painters where we know the character is an artist but we don’t see or feel it. We feel Kiko’s art. We know exactly how she feels, we’re tuned into her drawings and paintings and I just adore that art is such a major part of this.

I don’t know Akemi, the author, but I’d be willing to bet she’s a feminist. And I love that. I love YA with feminist ideas peppered throughout; we need young people to see it.

So here’s what I thought about the representation in it:

We get this amazing story about a half-Japanese girl whose (white) mother seemingly hates the Asian parts of her. She doesn’t know a lot about her culture, she’s upset about not fitting in, not looking like the people around her, etc. I think this is beautiful, SO great for young Asian people to see the progression in Kiko, and any mixed-race people can, I believe, empathize. It is so hard to not feel like part of any culture.

Miss Akemi is on Twitter and you should most definitely follow her <3

Thanks to NetGalley for advanced access to this book in exchange for an honest review!

These Things I've Done by Rebecca Phillips

These Things I’ve Done: My Favorite Contemporary of 2017

These Things I’ve Done by Rebecca Phillips

Published by HarperTeen; scheduled for August 2017

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary

Pages: 352

So much of how I feel can be summarized into one thought:

It is really special when a book tells you from the very beginning exactly what’s going to happen, and still makes you cry when it happens.

These Things I’ve Done ends the first chapter by telling you exactly what part Dara played in Aubrey’s death, and still, reading about it killed me. In the best way possible.

This book is so. Damn. Good. Y’all!

These Things I've Done by Rebecca Phillips

All the Wrong Chords Book

Dara and Aubrey have been inseparable since they became best friends in sixth grade. However, as they begin their sophomore year of high school, cracks in their friendship begin to form, testing the bond they always thought was unbreakable.

It’s been fifteen months since the accident that killed Aubrey, and not a day goes by that Dara isn’t racked with guilt over her role in her best friend’s death. Dara thought nothing could be worse than confronting the memories of Aubrey that relentlessly haunt her, but she soon realizes it isn’t half as difficult as seeing Ethan, Aubrey’s brother, every day. Not just because he’s a walking reminder of what she did, but because the more her feelings for him change, the more she knows she’s betraying her best friend one final time.

All the Wrong Chords Book

One thing I find happening more and more as I read more YA is that I shout a lot. Seriously. I yell, probably two or three times a week, “TEENAGERS DON’T ACT LIKE THIS!”

Part of the magic of These Things I’ve Done is that Dara, our narrator, acts exactly how a kid in her position would. Now, I haven’t been in her situation. But her grief feels so real and natural and I was pulled right in. I felt it with her, and that’s what I need from a narrator. Dara isn’t always exactly likable, which to me is perfect, because who the hell would be? It’s just such a perfect depiction of pain and regret.

Ethan, Aubrey’s brother, is so great. He’s a perfect balance to Dara, because while he’s suffering the same loss, he chooses to handle it the exact opposite way. Their interactions are beautiful, in both the After and Before timelines.

We also get a lot of fun secondary characters like the members of Ethan’s band, who provide some lighter pages, which I love. I love a book that’s sad and then funny and then oh now it’s sad again but then look some comic relief and oh now I’m crying. Dara’s parents and brother, both together and individually, have their own character arcs so that’s wonderful.

I will say between Dara and Aubrey there’s some of that thing I hate where two main female characters deal with jealousy because one is prettier than the other, but it didn’t drive me nearly as crazy here because Dara isn’t particularly annoying about it.

All the Wrong Chords Book

Is gorgeous! I don’t say this often, but I feel here that every word is necessary. It’s never overly flowery, never the kind of rambling that makes me accidentally skip lines. It’s clear and concise but totally beautiful.

The chapters alternate between a current and past timeline. In the current, Dara has just moved back home after a year away following Aubrey’s death. In the past timeline, we watch the relationship between Dara and Aubrey adjust to Aubrey’s new boyfriend. We also get to get a feel for the dynamics between Aubrey and Ethan, and Dara and Ethan, before the incident. I tend to be really critical of alternating timelines, as it can go horribly awry, but it works here. We’re way more affected by Dara and Ethan’s grief because we’ve seen the Before picture.

It starts with a slow burn, building and acclimating you to the world. But about halfway through, it becomes irresistible. At the halfway point, I had to keep reading. The best compliment I can give a book (and its author)!

Me, for most of my free time today ^

Thanks so much to HarperTeen for advanced access to this book in exchange for an honest review!

*Note: My reviews are full of opinions. I may love a book. May want to marry it like the kid in the commercial for Peanut Butter Crunch (1999 was a great year for cereal and commercials, look it up). I may say a book is the best thing to happen to me since I started shaving my big toe. None of these things mean it is objectively good. I recognize that. Many times throughout my life, I have given a book I swore to be a life-changer to a friend/girlfriend/boyfriend/lumberjack. Shaking, quietly weeping, I’d hand it (and my heart) over. Only to find out several weeks later that for them the book was good, maybe even great, but not the life-giving, soul-renewing magic I’d purported. You may not like a book I recommend. Sue me.

**Please don’t sue me, I just write here.

All The Wrong Chords book

All the Wrong Chords

All The Wrong Chords by Christine Hurley Deriso

Published by Flux; scheduled for December, 2017

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary

Pages: 204 (ebook)

Wellll I broke my streak of super happy reviews, but that’s okay! Three in a row was great, and I’m thankful, and this one is not the end of the world. I think it’s time for another pro/con list!

All the Wrong Chords book

All the Wrong Chords Book

Scarlett Stiles is desperate for a change of scenery after her older brother, Liam, dies of a drug overdose. But spending the summer with her grandfather wasn’t exactly what she had in mind. Luckily, Scarlett finds something to keep her busy–a local rock band looking for a guitarist. Even though playing guitar has been hard since Liam died, Scarlett can’t pass on an opportunity like this, and she can’t take her eyes off the band’s hot lead singer either. Is real happiness just around the corner? Or will she always be haunted by her brother’s death?


All the Wrong Chords Book

I really liked every secondary character! Scarlett’s grandpa is awesome. Her best friend, Varun, is hilarious and I love their texting throughout the book. Her sister is great, the band members are great. You get it. Everyone is awesome. Except Scarlett, but we’ll get to that in the cons.

All the Wrong Chords Book

Is really easy to get through. It’s not a super long book, and it doesn’t feel like it. It’s a very quick, simple read.

All the Wrong Chords Book

I love any story that works music into it. I really like that Scarlett uses the band to help her with her feelings about her deceased brother.

All the Wrong Chords Book

I think it is portrayed very realistically, though, that said, I haven’t lost anyone as close as a brother to death. Everything associated with grief, like the sense of guilt and the “what if” and the heartbreak, that all felt very natural and realistic to me.


All the Wrong Chords Book

Ohhhh Scarlett. I am conflicted, because Scarlett does get better as the book progresses, and her decisions become much better toward the end also. Scarlett has some of my least favorite fiction “girl behavior” though.

  1. Scarlett is endlessly jealous of her sister’s looks/way with guys, though it’s mentioned several times that they’re often mistaken for identical twins?
  2. Scarlett ignores everyone and alienates her friend/sister to try to get closer to a guy who is clearly garbage.
  3. She treats the other band members poorly with the shitty guy, in order to establish some sense of camaraderie.

Her entire relationship (using the term loosely) with Declan is awful and painful and full of red flags she chooses to ignore. Now, I know, teenagers do this. We all choose people who are wrong for us (see 90% of everyone I’ve ever been involved with) but she becomes obsessed with Declan despite his ignoring her to hit on her sister, his constant dgaf attitude about their band, his actively treating her poorly, and his trying to get her to move faster physically than she wants to. NOT OKAY.

Again, people do this. We like the wrong people. But I thought back while reading this to some of my worse relationships, when I was my least rational, and I could at least always say things like:

“Well he’s a really charming alcoholic.”

“I know she’s mean but she’s really funny!”

“Okay yeah he lies a lot but he’s also really brilliant.”

My point is, they had good qualities. I’m sorry, but Declan has zero good qualities. She’s obsessed with him based solely on his looks, and lets it mess up everything for her for more than half the book. I can’t say that I’ve ever been so attracted to someone’s appearance that I’ve been willing to overlook character flaws in EVERY OTHER CATEGORY. Is this a thing? Maybe it’s just me, and please let me know if you’ve ever been so hot for someone that you didn’t care that they had nothing else going for them.

This made it really unrealistic for me, as you can see, and it made it hard for me to connect to Scarlett.

All the Wrong Chords book

So, this quote from Scarlett really upset me:

“I’m being overly critical, right? Of course any normal guy is going to try to push things physically as far as he can. How many dudes are dying to “talk” in the middle of a make out session?”

Ooooookay. So, we have our narrator asserting the idea that a lot of young women have: “normal guys” can’t help themselves around us. They cannot control their impulses. They are mindless, vagina-seeking zombies, who want us for sex and only sex. This line of thinking disrespects everyone. That she attributes his fucked up behavior to his being male infuriates and disgusts me.

Even if she comes around to eventually seeing that Declan was a shit show, she doesn’t ever acknowledge that he put her in a bad situation, where she felt uncomfortable. She made this excuse and many others for the behavior, but never addressed it as a legitimate problem.

We. Cannot. Have. Narrators. We. Like. And. Want. To. Root. For. Contributing. To. Rape. Culture.

This makes me crazy.