While it always seems as if finding a standout novel in a saturated genre of realistic YA can feel discouragingly difficult, sometimes our hands are graced with a magnificent book to hold. Sometimes we find books like Lindsey Rosin’s Cherry, that tells a hilarious and lively story of four girls who make a pact to lose their virginities before their high school graduation. Rosin, a Los Angeles-based screenwriter, playwright, producer and director, has written a debut novel that will make you grin, chuckle and maybe shed a few tears in public. Here at Lumière, Lindsey answers a few questions about feminism, the importance of diversity in YA literature, and the process behind creating a novel that portrays female adolescence authentically.
LET’S TALK ABOUT SEX
There’s something to be said about the way Cherry illustrates teenage sexuality so exceptionally. While the protagonists (aka “the girls”) have plenty of sexual encounters, their stories don’t align with the trite romantic drama of other contemporary YA novels that claim to explore sexual desire with transparency.
Cherry may be an unsexy read, but it’s an authentic one that mirrors the frequent and hilarious discomfort of adolescence and all its raging hormones. It also prompts younger readers to question social conventions regarding sex — for instance, that romance and sex are necessarily related, that sex without romance is bad, and that sex involving romance is good. In a modern market where so many authors are open to writing about teens as sexual beings, how conscious of a decision was your making of Cherry into a novel that not only acknowledges teenage sexuality, but explores it as a multifaceted concept?
I am very conscious of the fact that teenage sexuality is complicated and multifaceted. I wanted to make sure that was properly depicted in Cherry. I’m glad to see that mission seems to have been accomplished. Overall, I kept thinking about the words “authentic” and “honest” — and those were my touchstones while I was writing, so I appreciate your picking up on that. I was also appreciative of the fact that I had four distinct main characters to work with and write about because it allowed me to explore four distinct stories and follow four different journeys. I know there are many other kinds of stories about sexuality and sexual discovery that could’ve been told as well — and I hope to get the chance to tell more of them in the future – but for now I did my best to be true to these four girls and not judge them for their choices. Instead I attempted to understand their motivations and their feelings and write from there. Looking at it now, I am proud of the way it all came together, and hope more readers respond as positively as you did.
Although it’s never explicitly said that the girls are feminists, their interactions and contemplations are enough for readers to discern Layla, Alex, Zoe and Emma as advocates of female empowerment, particularly regarding women’s sexual pleasure — an undervalued notion. Whether the girls are obnoxiously laughing or whisper-yelling about masturbation, oral sex or “fireworks,” the air is empty of judgment or shaming. We love Cherry for this reason precisely, and we’re wondering: did you find it difficult to write a novel centered on feminist principles without seeming overtly tactical or ‘preachy?’
I didn’t find it difficult because, again, I was just trying to be authentic about what these four characters were thinking and feeling – and did my best to present them without judgment. I whole-heartedly agree that The Crew are all feminists and advocates of female empowerment, which aligns with my personal philosophy. I’m so glad to hear that it didn’t feel overly tactical or preachy and would probably attribute that to the fact that I think feminism is just so obvious. By that I mean I think it is a fact, or a given — or at least it should be. I realize not everyone everywhere feels the same way, but I think that’s shame for those small-minded people, and I look forward to the day when being a feminist and believing in female empowerment is a universally accepted point of view and not a novel opinion or an outlier in any way.
Cherry is a novel that recognizes marginalized groups other than women, such as people of color, queer folks, and individuals with disabilities. Not only does your writing acknowledge these oppressed groups, but it intersects them through themes of friendship, siblinghood, and romantic curiosity. And because Cherry is written in a limited omniscient point of view that focuses on each of the four girls equally, readers are able to experience the diversity more closely than they would if there was a single protagonist or first-person point of view. How did you go about the process of creating a diverse set of characters, and why do you believe it’s important for YA literature to represent individuals of various social communities?
I knew from the beginning that the omniscient point of view was going to be important to the storytelling. As you articulated (better than I could’ve!), it allows for the reader to experience multi-points of view as if it were their own — and I love that. Honestly, I didn’t set out to create diverse characters, but I did make it a priority to create a story that would be engaging for as many readers as possible, and I think it’d be possible to end up at that point without incorporating as much diversity as possible. I didn’t sit down and say, “okay I need someone of this race or someone with this sexual orientation” and then plug them into the novel. Instead, I started with the character and their mindset and their hopes and dreams and went from there. The diversity came organically through that train of thought and I think it’s what makes the world feel organic. That being said, I think it’s incredibly important for YA literature to represent as many individuals as possible because anything else is just small-minded. We don’t have time for that in our world or in our storytelling. We must make time and space for everyone.
It’s physically impossible to flip through more than a few pages in Cherry without breaking into a fit of laughter, and the book’s dialogue is comedy gold. Still, the face-to-face comments and cringe-worthy text messages exchanged between the girls and their peers are natural and reflect the generational dialect that belong to today’s teens. This is no surprise, since your writing, directing and producing credits (Cruel Intentions, TeenNick’s South of Nowhere, The OC Musical) revolve around the fictional (but deliciously scandalous) lives of teenagers. While writing Cherry, did you ever find yourself questioning if your characters and their interactions were accurate depictions of the 17 and 18-year-olds of today? When in doubt, how did you correct the issue?
Thank you! I think there’s always a bit of questioning in anything that I write, and, as I’ve said, authenticity was very important to me while I was writing Cherry, so I focused quite a bit of my energy on how the teenagers were depicted, but it was more exciting than anything else. As you mentioned, I’ve spent quite a bit of time writing teenage characters, so this wasn’t my first crack at that. Of course, slang changes over the years and technology and social media certainly change the way teenagers interact today, but I do believe that people are people and feelings are universal. Even though it’s been a bit of time since I was a teenager, I still remember what it felt like, and I draw on all those memories quite frequently. If my characters are being honest, I have faith that their interactions will feel real and accurate.
It’s time for some less serious questions. All artists have sources of inspiration, and writers are no exception. What (or who) sparked the initial idea behind Cherry, and was that original synopsis considerably different than the one the novel encapsulates?
I wrote the first draft of the novel by hand in a green polka dot notebook — that I have in my possession — and the first page, in particularly the first few paragraphs, is almost exactly the same as it is in the published book. The original idea stayed very consistent from conception to publication. I met with an editor from Simon Pulse before writing the proposal for Cherry, and she told me that they were looking for a story about teenage sexuality. I think part of the reason the story stayed so consistent along the way is because Simon Pulse, to their credit, was looking for this kind of story and was very support of it and extremely nurturing. I came back to them with a “female American Pie” book proposal — but with more feelings and frozen yogurt, of course — and that original spark of an idea stayed consist all the way through the writing process. I’m always looking for ways to tell female-driven stories and am so thrilled to have been given such an incredible platform with which to do so.
Regardless of age, everyone who falls in love with Cherry will find they identify with at least one girls to some extent — maybe they understand Zoe’s timidity, Emma’s habit of overanalyzing to insanity, Alex’s perseverance to succeed, or Layla’s big heart and perfectionism. Although you’ve stated you can’t pick a favorite character, which girl’s personality would most resonate with a 17-year-old Lindsey?
Thank you! This is a great question. I think 17-year-old Lindsey might say Alex or maybe Emma, which is funny because I think I’m more naturally and obviously a Layla or a Zoe. Maybe that’s what happens when you get older? You know yourself better. But, then again, I don’t think 17-year-old me would’ve had enough distance or appreciation from these moments in my real life to be able to write about them. I think I needed the distance from that time in my life to write the story the way that I did, without regret or judgment.
Every group of friends has their own signature hang-out spot that’s unofficially theirs. For the girls in Cherry, that place is The Bigg Chill (which is a real frozen yogurt place in west Los Angeles). Every girl from The Crew has their go-to fro-yo orders, so we want to know — what’s yours?
I’m more consistent about my topping choices than my flavor choices. I always get at least two of the following: yogurt chips, Sno-Caps, rainbow sprinkles or vegan cookie dough. I usually get one or two of the toppings on the actual froyo and then the cookie dough on the side. I love that the Bigg Chill always mixes up their flavors, so I usually try a bunch of them before deciding. A lot of times I end up with something traditional like a chocolate/vanilla swirl. Or peanut butter. And their Honey Greek Yogurt is really incredible.