Author Q&A: Kathryn Berla - The House at 758
Sixteen-year-old Krista is still grieving the untimely death of her mother when her father's new girlfriend, Marie, moves into their home. Krista's father has already moved on and wants Krista to do the same, but she's not ready to resume a normal life yet. To make matters worse, her best and only remaining friend, Lyla, is heading to Maine for the summer to spend time with her grandparents. Distancing herself from everyone around her, Krista spends all of her time sitting or sleeping in a tent on her roof, shoplifting just for the thrill, and obsessively watching a mysterious house, the house at 758. When a fellow classmate, Jake, takes a sudden interest in her, Krista feels excited for the first time in two years, but after their first date, feelings of guilt consume her, and she ends up pushing Jake away. It isn't until her grandfather makes a surprise visit from Venezuela that Krista finally comes out of her shell. As her grandfather tells her stories about his past during the Holocaust, Krista learns to confront her grief and begin to let things go. This story of loss and renewal is sure to keep readers rooting for Krista from the first to the very last page.
The House at 758, from author Kathryn Berla, is our newest YA release. Kirkus Review calls it “A moving, mysterious coming-of-age story.” This story follows main character Krista as she deals with the aftermath of her mother's death and expertly explores the relationship Krista builds with her grandfather, who is visiting from Venezuela. In this Q&A, Kathryn shares how she pulled inspiration from friends and family to better tell Krista's story.
AJ: You have said that your father-in-law inspired the writing of this book. Could you tell us more about that?
KB: My father-in-law was a wonderful, kind man full of the spirit of living and I never heard him say an unkind word about another person. When he learned he was ill with a potentially fatal disease, he said, "Well, I've been lucky my whole life so now it's my turn for a little bad luck." I was flabbergasted because, of course, he'd lost most of his family in the Holocaust and had survived only through happenstance himself, buying his life on more than one occasion with a pack of cigarettes and surviving with nothing but his own wits. But he felt lucky to have survived and he felt lucky every morning when he woke to a new day. Nothing that we might stress over in our daily lives ever phased him because he had faced the worst. So, I was blessed to have him in my life and I wanted to honor his memory. He was so far from being a bitter man when he had every right to be. That's what moved me the most about him. AJ: Would you be willing to share what experiences you drew on to develop Krista’s character and the way she was grieving? KB: I've been close to several individuals who were faced with the worst kind of grief (the loss of a parent when they were children). I've seen first-hand the conflicting feelings of anger, sadness, and even guilt. Loss of a loved one is, unfortunately, a universal experience we all go through at one time or another but young people have less context to help them gain perspective on loss. AJ: One of our favorite things about all your stories is the variety of relationships you build between the main character and supporting characters. Which relationship was your favorite to explore?
KB: I'd have to say that Krista's relationship with her grandfather was my favorite to explore. I've always been interested in relationships that cross over generations because it seems to me that we've gotten too far away from a life where people of different generations spend quality time with each other, each one being enriched by the other. The older generations have much to offer in terms of accumulated wisdom and life experience. And the younger generations are so vital when it comes to reminding older folks about living in the moment and fully experiencing feelings whatever they might be—good or bad. AJ: The House at 758 was originally published in Spain. Can you tell us about your experience going through the editing process twice in two different languages? KB: It was quite an experience to have a Spanish editor, especially because The House at 758 was written in English and translated by Penguin Random House into Spanish. I was never able to read my first published book because I don't speak or read Spanish. There were some cultural idiosyncrasies that I had to explain in order to keep them in the story. For example (just a minor one) my editor didn't believe that a house would have a flat roof that someone could pitch a tent on. But I had actually done that myself for a summer when I was younger, so I drove around my town taking pictures of houses with flat roofs to prove to my editor that such a thing was possible. Eventually, we made it the garage instead of the house. AJ: What do you most hope readers will take away from this book? KB: For me the most important theme of the book is forgiveness. Forgiving ourselves as well as others. I don't harbor hate in my heart for anyone or anything because I know that hate is a destructive force that can eat a person from the inside out. I also hope that there will be an underlying message of acceptance of others who don't share our background or culture. We all equally borrow our time on this planet and we never know the tribulations of another regardless of what we think we see on the surface.