I may or may not have started jumping up and down when Mariko said she would love to be interviewed on here. I got to read her book for a tour, loved it, and then I emailed her separately asking for an interview. Read on for the interview!
The Other Side of Perfect
Alina Keeler was destined to dance, but one terrifying fall shatters her leg–and her dreams of a professional ballet career along with it.
After a summer healing (translation: eating vast amounts of Cool Ranch Doritos and binging ballet videos on YouTube), she is forced to trade her pre-professional dance classes for normal high school, where she reluctantly joins the school musical. However, rehearsals offer more than she expected–namely Jude, her annoyingly attractive cast mate she just might be falling for.
But to move forward, Alina must make peace with her past and face the racism she had grown to accept in the dance industry. She wonders what it means to yearn for ballet–something so beautiful, yet so broken. And as broken as she feels, can she ever open her heart to someone else?
Touching, romantic, and peppered with humor, this debut novel explores the tenuousness of perfectionism, the possibilities of change, and the importance of raising your voice.
Me: Hi Mariko! Thank you so much for being here! My first question for you is; what inspired you to write this book, and what did you do when you were stuck?
THE OTHER SIDE OF PERFECT was inspired by me breaking my leg doing ballet right after college.
It was also inspired by my complicated feelings about ballet. I love ballet, but I know it has its
share of harmful aspects—like its lack of diversity and its reliance on racial stereotypes in many
classical pieces. So I started wondering, if ballet perpetuates these negative things, does that
mean I shouldn’t love it? And if I do still love and support it, what does that mean about me?
When I decided to try writing a YA novel, I imagined what would happen if a 16-year-old half-
Japanese girl who dreamed of dancing professionally had a career-ending injury and had to deal
with losing something she loved with all her heart and with wondering if she ever should have
loved it in the first place.
When I got stuck, I asked friends—and then later, my agent and editor—for advice. Having lots
of good, thoughtful readers on your side is so important when writing a book!
Me: If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
I would tell myself that starting but not finishing books isn’t a waste of time because it’s great
writing practice. I didn’t finish a book until THE OTHER SIDE OF PERFECT, but I learned a lot from
all of those previous “failed” attempts.
Me: How do you balance making demands on the reader with taking care of the reader?
I wanted THE OTHER SIDE OF PERFECT to both challenge and entertain readers, so I tried
to balance out the sad, serious moments with humor, friendship, and romance. I think using
the familiar framework of many contemporary YA novels (the main character is thrown into a
new situation, opens herself up to new friends, and falls in love) helped. Readers know what
to expect in those kinds of stories, which might make them more able to grapple with some
of the more difficult scenes or themes in the book.
Me: The Other Side of Perfect has a lot of diversity. Why/how is that important to you?
I think it’s so important for all young people to be able to see themselves in stories. And not just
in one book a year, but in many. Young people deserve multiple stories that they relate to and
that speak to them and their experiences in various ways. So I hope that THE OTHER SIDE OF
PERFECT is one among many books that diverse young readers will read and relate to.
Me: Alina in The Other Side of Perfect goes has a lot of character development. How did you decide that that was where you wanted her to end up?
I knew that Alina had to go through a major change in the book, and that the journey to get
there would often be painful and have lots of setbacks. But I knew her final moment would be
triumphant and hopeful. Deciding that was the easy part. Figuring out how to get Alina from
broken and sad to whole and happy took a lot more work!
Me: Was there a specific character you related to? Why?
I relate a lot to Alina. I’m a nice, polite person most of the time, but when I’m anxious or
grumpy, my inner monologue sounds a lot like Alina’s. I love that she’s messy and that she
feels her feelings to the fullest extent. I also like that she’s unlikeable sometimes, because
aren’t we all?
Me: Any book recommendations for readers who loved The Other Side of Perfect?
If you liked the big, gradual change Alina goes through over the course of the novel, I’d
recommend THE WAY YOU MAKE ME FEEL by Maurene Goo. If you liked cinnamon roll
Jude as the love interest, try FOOLISH HEARTS by Emma Mills. If you want to read about
another ballerina heroine who falls in love, check out I WANNA BE WHERE YOU ARE by
Me: And finally, do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
Read more! I really believe that good writing comes from lots and lots of good reading. Read
in the genre you want to write in. Pay attention to what made you laugh, cry, swoon, or think.
Note what character arcs really hit home for you and how the author made them happen.
Then try some of those techniques out in your own writing.
About the Author
Mariko Turk grew up in Pennsylvania and graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a BA in creative writing. She received her PhD in English from the University of Florida, with a concentration in children’s literature. Currently, she works as a Writing Center consultant at the University of Colorado Boulder.
She lives in Colorado with her husband and baby daughter, where she enjoys tea, walks, and stories of all kinds.