Q&A with Farrah Penn, Author of Twelve Steps to Normal

Interested in learning more about Farrah Penn and her debut novel, Twelve Steps to Normal? RKR chats with her below! 

Congratulations on your debut novel, TWELVE STEPS TO NORMAL! How did you come up with the story?

Thank you! TWELVE STEPS TO NORMAL was the book I started writing after receiving multiple rejections on other YA books I’d gone on submission with over the course of a few years. I think every author can relate to the fact that rejections are disheartening, but I wasn’t going to let myself give up, so I started writing this with the idea of creating a contemporary story about a father/daughter relationship that was broken and needed to be mended. Everything else fell into place from there.

Using Alcoholic’s Anonymous’ well-known 12 Steps to Recovery as a model of Kira’s own steps to try and make her life normal again was such a unique and effective tool to make the recovery process relatable and easy to understand. Why did you decide to incorporate this model as a central part of Kira’s story?

Kira’s steps were one of the most challenging things to nail down. I think the heart of the twelve- steps recovery program is learning to live life in a new way so you don’t revert back to old behaviors, but Kira’s problem is wanting her old life back exactly how it was. That provided to be an interesting part of her experience, and incorporating her own twelve steps helped guide her in her own journey.

All of Kira’s different relationships help influence her choices as she deals with returning to her old life, but they also make her self-aware, acting as mirrors for her throughout the book. Which relationship of Kira’s was your favorite to write?

Oh, this is tough! The romantic side of me enjoyed writing about the dynamic between Alex and Kira, but I also really loved taking a closer look at the complexity of Kira’s female friendships with Whitney, Raegan, and Lin. Some of my favorite father/daughter relationships exist in THE IMPOSSIBLE KNIFE OF MEMORY by Laurie Halse Anderson and LOLA AND THE BOY NEXT DOOR by Stephanie Perkins, so I also enjoyed creating Kira and her father’s story and writing those scenes.

You tackle several issues in the book, such as recovery, lose, change and growing up. Was there one issue that was more difficult to write about than others?

Yes, absolutely. Forgiveness was the hardest, I think. Like Kira, I’m also the child of an alcoholic. When someone you love is struggling, you feel SO many emotions: Hurt, anger, selfishness, sadness, betrayal, guilt. This isn’t my story, but there are elements I’m familiar with on a personal level.  There’s one scene in particular toward the end of the book that takes place in a garage, and I remember it was so, so challenging to add more emotional depth to it because it hit close to home. 

Kira receives several pieces of poignant advice from the people around her throughout the story, often from unexpected sources. Which do you think is most meaningful and important?

I think there are two pieces I’d consider the most meaningful. Toward the end a character tells Kira, “you don’t have to go through the tough and terrible things alone.” There’s always someone out there who is willing to help you, even if you find it’s hard to ask. Also, another character mentions how it’s important to forgive your own mistakes. Everyone is flawed, and we’ll continue to make mistakes, but we don’t have to constantly beat ourselves up for them.

In your Author’s Note, you mentioned that your father, like Kira’s, suffered from alcoholism. What was it like writing from your own experience?

When I first started writing this book, I didn’t fully see how much of it connected to me. Because I was writing fiction, it was like, “okay, this is Kira’s story.” And it is one thousand percent. But the strong emotions Kira feels and goes through stemmed from not only my own life, but also from reading forums and forums of other experience from children of alcoholics. At the end of the day, I tried to create an authentic character in Kira and an authentic story as possible.

Did you learn anything about alcoholism and recovery during the writing process of this book that you didn’t know before?

Absolutely. Because I’ve never been through the twelve-steps program, I learned so much talking to those who have. There’s a statistic from AACAP that says 1 in 5 adult Americans has lived with an alcoholic relative while growing up, and it’s still pretty uncommon to talk openly about it whether out of embarrassment, guilt, or confusion. I hope this book can open those doors to conversation.

What’s next for you?

I won’t reveal TOO much, but I've been working on another YA contemporary that centers around sisters and — I hope — contains a lot of female empowerment!

Click here to buy Twelve Steps to Normal