Polly Greene has always been considered strange, a girl who can see a person's true colors, a thirteen-year-old more comfortable foraging in the woods with her eccentric grandmother than hanging out with friends. But all that is about to change when Polly's older sister, Bree, vanishes into the woods. Polly, the only one who thinks Bree can survive, begins to leave food in the woods for her sister and finds a hidden grove where she believes Bree is burning a fire each night. Along with an odd but endearing group of friends, Polly clings to the hope that she can see her sister through the harsh, snowy winter. And in the process she discovers the cruelty, bounty, and magic of the woods.
Claire Dean writes from a bright green house behind an ever-growing garden in Idaho. She was inspired to write Girlwood for her daughter, who asked for a story about good stuff. “When I asked her what that meant, she said, ‘You know, about hope and magic and fairies and girls.’ Good stuff, indeed.” Next up is a story for the author’s son. To learn more about Girlwood and to find out what color aura you have, visit Claire Dean at www.clairedean.net.
Q. Did writing Girlwood require any special research? There is a lot
of information about edible and medicinal plants, for example. Was
that information you already knew?
A. I’ve been interested in foraging for wild food ever since my
husband and I found our rustic retreat in the Idaho mountains. Our
cabin is off the grid and so remote that it’s hard to bring in all the
food we need to eat, so I try to add any wild greens or berries I can
find on my hikes. When it came to writing Girlwood, I was able to
use my own experiences, but I was also more than happy to expand
my knowledge of the plants that grow in the Idaho wilderness. I
turned to books, field guides, and Native American lore.
Q. You have written for adults before, but this is your first work for young adults. What, if anything, was
different about writing for a younger audience?
A. Everything was different. Have you ever seen an adult who is shy and awkward with grownups but
perfectly at ease with children and teenagers? That’s me. I still feel like a teenager myself half the time,
so writing Girlwood was like telling a story to my friends—comfortable, cathartic, and surprisingly
joyful. The people who publish young adult fiction are different, too. More hopeful about publishing and
the world and exceptionally passionate about putting out quality books.
Q. Your website (www.clairedean.net) includes an aura quiz—what color are you? Do you feel that fits?
A. I’m violet, which fits me perfectly. Violets have vivid imaginations, are artistic and empathic, and
believe in the goodness of the world. Violets are often seen as odd or different, descriptions that I’ve
learned to take as compliments. Violets are also extremely sensitive—not exactly the best attribute for
someone who puts her work in the public eye, but something I’ve had to learn to live with.
Q. The book revolves around some complicated but loving family relationships. Do these reflect your
own experiences growing up?
A. Absolutely. Love is complicated, particularly between parents and children. My parents divorced when
I was seven, and my father, who had always guided and protected me, moved to another state the next
year. Left alone with my alcoholic, emotionally abusive mother, I found my childhood deteriorating fast.
For me, the two greatest things about being a grownup are that I won’t let people hurt me anymore and
that I have the distance and wisdom to realize that my mom did the best she could. Polly is learning to
forgive her mom for her mistakes, and Faith is doing the same for Baba. We are who we are because of
our mothers or, perhaps more accurately, in spite of them.
Q. Polly is smart, intuitive, loving. In what ways are you and she similar? Different?
A. It was my daughter who said, “Mom, Polly’s just like you!” I think the truth is that Polly is like me
now, when I’m in my forties and have had a bit of practice with life. Back when I was twelve or thirteen, I
was a very different character—more of a valley girl than a naturalist, still living in the concrete suburbs
of Southern California, embarrassed by my glasses, and strikingly lonely and insecure. Polly is the girl I
wish I’d been: strong, hopeful, compassionate, and all right on her own.
Q. You wrote this book for your daughter. Did your relationship with her change after you finished it?
A. In more ways that I can say. Since I was no longer writing adult fiction and wasn’t sure if I would ever
publish Girlwood, for a long time the story was a precious secret between my daughter and me—our own
hidden larch grove behind a wall of thorns. But, just like Polly’s grove, it became much more powerful
when it was shared. I had no idea how the whole Girlwood thing would take off around me and,
particularly, how it would become so much more than a book. Girlwood was a story, but it was also the
grove where I walked with my daughter and we swore we saw fairies; Girlwood was a code word for my
daughter’s strong, nature-loving friends (the Girlwood girls); our Girlwood weekend was last June, when
my daughter, her friends, and their mothers came to our cabin for a coming-of-age celebration—two days
of the girls building their own huts, foraging for food, and sitting under the full moon with their mothers,
sharing stories and wisdom and laughter and tears. As my husband would say, Girlwood has taken over
our household, where seeds now litter the bottom of every drawer, natural teas sit bubbling on the stove,
and girls are always dropping by to ask about our next Girlwood adventure. But luckily I’ve just finished
a book for my son, so hopefully there will soon be dirt and boys in the house as well.