Interview with Rachel Dewoskin by Rochelle Jewel Shapiro
Rachel Dewoskin’s brilliant novel about Judy Lohden, a sixteen-year-old with a huge singing voice at a high school for performing arts who just happens to be three foot tall, sets us into the darkly comic, but risky world of adolescence where something horrific happens.
From the gut-prose you can tell Rachel is comfortablein the world of teens. This comes from having been around teens long before she was one herself. Her mother is a high school English teacher who filled the house with her students. Now Rachel teaches at the University of Chicago and although most of her students are no longer teenagers, they have that same kind of eagerness to “connect-the-dots” intellectually that makes them a pleasure for her to teach. She spends a lot of time reading their work and is intrigued by the way they express themselves.
Through her mother-in-law, a children’s rights law professor who also has a clinic to defend children, Rachel has become fascinated with how America responds to kids, what it means to be a zero tolerance society. “Kids should be forgiven,” Rachel says, “even when they make mistakes.” Her novel asks the serious question of whether or not children should be defined by their worst moments and if so, for how long?
Rachel says that the goal for a novelist is empathy, which helps you get into characters minds. “Hopefully,” she says, “some of the empathy you use in your fiction can bleed over into your life.”