Holiday House sat down with author Jennifer Ziegler to discuss Worser, her latest middle grade novel.
Please give us a one-paragraph synopsis of your book.
Twelve-year-old William Wyatt Orser (a.k.a. Worser) only loves three things in life: his mother, his classmate Donya Khoury, and his Masterwork—a binder of words he’s carefully collected over several years. When his mother suffers a debilitating stroke that leaves her unable to speak, Worser’s world is completely upended. His aunt moves in along with her cats, art projects, loud music, and loud clothes, and home is not the refuge it once was. As he attempts to recreate a sense of normalcy, he discovers a community centered on Donya and his Masterwork. But when change threatens his new normal and Worser, in his grief and frustration, reacts in an extreme and destructive way, he must make peace with the fact that nothing stays the same forever. In the end, Worser can finally move forward, recreating both his lost Masterwork and himself.
What makes this book special to you? What impression do you hope it will leave with young readers?
This story is special for many reasons. The character, Worser, came to me as I was working on a four-book series. I asked him to please hang around until I was done writing those books, and he did! He and I are very different, but we both love finding new words, playing with words, collecting words.
The themes of the book are also important to me. There is a certain type of grief that comes from change—suddenly realizing a person or place or routine is different and will never be the same. For example, when it hits you that your child is no longer a baby, or that your dog is now too old to do certain things, or that you and your school-age friend have outgrown pastimes you used to love doing. These relationships remain in your lives, and you love them the same as always, but you still mourn what is gone. This heartbreak comes with the passage of time and is something we all go through.
I hope that readers leave with a greater appreciation for words and the fun you can have with them. I hope they come away with a better understanding of the importance of community. I hope it also makes them stop and appreciate what they cherish about their lives right now—understanding that nothing lasts forever. But mainly, I hope the story makes them think. And laugh.
What was your favorite book growing up?
Too many to name—sorry! Books were among my friends. I loved many.
What is your favorite memory from childhood?
Also too many to name. I come from a very close-knit and hilarious family, and we love to tell stories about our past antics (slightly embellished, perhaps). Give me a subject and I’ll give you a tale.
Did/do you have any pets? If so, which one was/is your favorite?
My childhood home in Round Rock, Texas, had a pack of feral cats that came with the half-acre property. We named many of them and loved them all, but they weren’t pets necessarily. My current pet is a very smart dog named Ernie who will be in a book!
Name three of your favorite authors/children’s book authors of all time.
Again—so sorry—too many to name. I can say that I was highly influenced by Judy Blume, Jane Austen, and Nora Ephron.
What book(s) have you most wanted to read, but haven’t yet?
Beloved by Toni Morrison (I absolutely love her writing, but I am a weenie. I know about something that happens in the book, and I worry I’m too sensitive to handle it. Someday….)
What book from your childhood changed your life? Adulthood?
Argh. Again—so sorry—too many.
If you could have a magical talent (e.g., becoming invisible, or the ability to fly), what would it be?
I would love to be able to stop or slow down time—for everything and everyone except me. Then I could do all the things I never seem to find time to do (read all the books, watch all the shows, travel, catch up on sleep). But also, I could just pause those particularly special moments, take them in, savor them completely.
What is your favorite food?
I love all the foods my abuela would make, like homemade tortillas, carne guisada, arroz con pollo, fideo, and homemade salsa.
Has it changed since childhood?
No. It reminds me of my childhood.
What food did you hate growing up but came to love in adulthood?
Menudo—a Mexican stew. I hated it as a kiddo but love it now. In fact, I craved it when I was pregnant.