Review of Never Fear, Meena's Here and interview with author Karla Manternach
A little over one year ago, we were introduced to Meena the main character in Meena Meets Her Match by Karla Manternach. Now, Meena is back in Never Fear, Meena’s Here!
Again, I can’t say enough great things about this story and this character. Meena’s a third grader with quirky traits that make her instantly likeable, but Meena also has some challenges. In the first book she is diagnosed with epilepsy and in book two she continues to deal with her diagnosis in a very real and honest way that will appeal to readers of all ages. But these stories aren’t all about her medical condition, and that’s what why I suspect Meena’s stories are gaining attention. These stories are about Meena, a girl navigating the perils of grade school who wants to be a superhero and is frequently annoyed by her little sister, AND, who happens to have epilepsy. It’s a part of her life, and most definitely an unwanted part, but she’s much, much more than her diagnosis. I love this! Manternach’s ability to pen a funny, fast-paced, sweet story is evident. She continues to give us vividly described scenes that resonate with all young readers and take older readers right back to childhood. This series is simply lovely and ought to be in every library and grade school classroom.
Meena discovers the secret to being a good friend and big sister in this superpower-filled sequel to Meena Meets Her Match that’s perfect “for Junie B. graduates” (Kirkus Reviews).
Meena’s life is more colorful than ever. When she finds a mysterious ring that seems to give her powers, Meena sets out to prove that she’s a superhero. The trouble is, her best friends might not believe her, Meena’s little sister wants to be more than just a sidekick, and worst of all, an incident at school makes everyone think Meena is the one who needs to be saved.
But even heroes need help from their friends sometimes. If Meena can figure that out, she might just discover her true powers…and theirs!
Never Fear, Meena’s Here! releases on March 24, 2020!
Order your copy HERE.
I’m pleased Author Karla Manternach is able to join us again. (She previously hung out here and answered a bunch of my nosy questions last year. You can catch up with that interview HERE.)
Q. Karla, Congratulations on the upcoming release of Never Fear, Meena’s Here!
I’m so curious what your year has been like. I’m sure you’ve been busy promoting book one and getting book two ready for release. Tell us all about it!
A. Thanks, Valerie! I learned so much about publishing this year and met a lot of other authors, mostly through an online group for debuts. Making those connections was definitely one of the highlights, as was working on a new Meena story.
When I started daydreaming about a new adventure for her, I thought a lot about her sense of grandiosity. Meena has big ideas and a big personality. She loves to be the center of attention. In Never Fear, Meena’s Here!, I wanted to explore that quality, and I found myself thinking, “What would Meena be like if she thought she were a superhero?” The idea made me laugh out loud, so I knew I’d enjoy playing with it. Meena’s grandiosity is one of the qualities I love most about her. It makes her fun and funny, but it can also make her inconsiderate of other people’s feelings. In that sense, it’s a huge growth area for her. My challenge in exploring that was figuring out how Meena could grow in humility and compassion without taking away her “bigness” and her spark.
A. I get a kick out of how often adult readers tell me that they teared up while reading the book. They say it sort of apologetically, like they’re embarrassed, but I take it as a great compliment. I’m not interested in writing a story that’s emotionally manipulative, but I do want readers to identify with Meena. She’s a character who feels highs and lows very deeply, so I’m glad that even adults connect with her on that level.
My favorite responses come from kids, though. I love this kid’s video review. My favorite review, though, is probably this one, by a child who lives with medical conditions of her own: “Meena is creative just like me and she’s been through a lot like me.” That made my whole year.
Q. You’ve mentioned before that your daughter has had seizures and that inspired your stories. I’m curious if she read your books as you were writing and what her reaction was? How was your book received by those who deal with epilepsy and other seizure disorders on a regular basis?
A. I got some nice responses from people who live with epilepsy or who love someone who does. That meant a lot to me. They’re the people I had in mind when I was writing the book. As for my daughter, she did read an early version of the book. I’d only written a few chapters at that point, but I didn’t want to pursue it without her blessing. The story was based on her experience, and if she didn’t want it out there—even a fictionalized version of it—I would have set it aside. She did ask for some changes. There were aspects of her own experience that she found too upsetting and didn’t want to see in print, so I took them out. For the most part, though, she was super excited that I was writing it. My daughter likes the limelight as much as Meena does. She was thrilled to be at the center of a book…and impatient with how long it took to see it on shelves!
Q. Characters with different medical diagnoses and varying abilities are an integral part of the We Need Diverse Books movement. How has it been being part of such an important effort?
A. I strongly support the mission of the We Need Diverse Books movement. I make choices every day in my reading, writing, purchasing, and activism that I hope are in harmony with their goals. In writing Meena, I tried to be very mindful that I was not writing an #ownvoices story. There’s a big difference between writing from your own experience and writing from your observation of someone else’s experience, no matter how close you are to that person. I had a front-row seat to my daughter’s experience of epilepsy, but I am not epileptic. I can imagine my way into that experience, but responsible fiction is more than just imagination. It’s research and consultation and listening. It’s being scrupulous about authenticity in how you represent your characters. I checked often with my daughter to see where the story I was writing overlapped with hers and where it diverged. I sought feedback from epilepsy experts and worked hard to make sure the medical and experiential details of the story were accurate. I approached the work with humility, openness, and a sense of responsibility to the people I was writing for and about. That’s important in any writing, but especially when stepping outside your own experience.
Q. I love Meena so much! Is there any chance we’ll see more stories from you in the future?
A. I hope so! I spent most of last year writing a brand new middle grade novel, and it took me a little while to find my way into it. The main character is a withdrawn seventh grader who is not at all like Meena in her interests or personality. The story is more serious, too, and intended for upper middle grade readers. Meena’s voice is first person, present tense. That feels exactly right for her, but my new story is in a completely different voice, tense, and person, and it took me a little while to transition. It’s finished now and on submission, so fingers crossed!
Q. How can readers discover more about you and you work?
Thanks so much, Karla!!
Now, to everyone else, go order these books today!
ORDER BOOK ONE: MEENA MEETS HER MATCH
ORDER BOOK TWO: NEVER FEAR, MEENA'S HERE