Author-illustrator Victoria Jamieson’s first novel, 2015’s Roller Girl, was an award-winning smash, detailing the adventures of Astrid, who navigates friendships, junior high, and roller derby camp. Roller Derby veteran Jamieson has released her follow-up, All’s Faire in Middle School, once again returning to the middle-grade market (ages 9-12), the graphic novel format, and a beloved setting from her past: a Renaissance Faire. In her new book, readers meet 11-year-old Imogene, who spends weekends at a Renaissance Faire with her family and weekdays trying to figure out how to fit in at her new school.
How did you decide that your next book would focus on a Renaissance Faire?
It was tough. After Roller Girl I wasn’t exactly sure what to write. I tend to base most of my books on personal experiences. I was a little bit older than middle grade when I worked at a Ren Faire, I was in high school, but I remember having such a good time with my friends. I thought there might be good parallels you could draw between a Ren Faire and middle school.
How much of Imogene is you?
I’m a lot more like Imogene than I was Astrid. People always told me with Roller Girl they liked that Astrid was so independent and fierce, but I was a lot like Imogene, in that I was really self-conscious, cared what other people thought about me, and didn’t really know how to make friends.
The book rings so true in terms of the reality of middle school and the experiences of the characters: trying to fit in, wanting to be popular, wanting to wear the “right” clothes. It takes adults right back to that time.
I’ve heard from a lot of people that they’ve had the same experiences: wanting the real jeans, but their parents wouldn’t buy them. I think that happened for everybody. It’s easy to feel ashamed about that as a grown-up, or tell kids, “You don’t need to wear the same jeans as everyone else,” but whenever I talked to anybody about middle school they’re, like, “Oh, yeah, I wanted to wear exactly the same jeans, the same brand of shoes.” It was really important at that age.
It’s easy to tell kids to be themselves and not follow along with the cool kids, but we adults forget how hard it was at that age. Imogene was really torn in terms of what to do.
Social constructs in middle school can be really complicated; it’s not always cut and dry. Nobody’s 100% evil and nobody’s all good, there’s always some gray area you’re trying to navigate, and you’re not sure what the right thing is to do.
You didn’t resolve Imogene’s problem right away. She had to deal with the repercussions of her decisions, and the conflict didn’t resolve quickly, which seemed very true to life, more than most youth fiction.
That’s something else I tried to take from real life. I feel like if I did something bad and I apologized to my parents, there was always some sort of weird cooling-off period where I felt they were still mad at me, but I didn’t quite know how to get out of being in trouble because I had already said I was sorry. When I’m writing books, I go back to what it was actually like for me at that age.
How did you get involved in Renaissance Faires?
When I was in high school, we had to do volunteer hours for school, and a friend of mine, her mom owned a shop at the Ren Faire for six weeks during the year. And for some reason, the school said that was alright for our volunteer hours. She had a shop and we would help sell items, but really we just went and ate lots of sugar, goofed around, and had a great time. I was surprised the school fell for it!
Did you parents support your love of art?
My parents definitely encouraged me a lot. My mom was an art teacher and a librarian. She always had art supplies for us to use; we were always drawing and painting. Especially when I was trying to decide on college, my mom was instrumental in saying, ‘Maybe you should think about art school. You’ve always liked to draw.’ I don’t think I would have considered it, I always thought it was too scary to be an artist: You can’t make a living like that. But she helped me get over my fears.
What’s the message you hope readers get from the book?
I wasn’t really trying to get a message across. I was trying to say: Middle school can be terrible, and a lot of people have a terrible time in middle school. You’re not alone in feeling like you’re all alone.