The Boyfriend List (15 guys, 11 shrink appointments, 4 ceramic frogs and me, ruby oliver) by E. Lockhart (Delacorte, 2005)(Listening Library, 2005). Everybody’s dumped Ruby–her boyfriend, her best friend, and all of the rest of her friends. She’s a leper at Tate Prep and the subject of unflattering scribbles on the bathroom wall. After a few panic attacks, Ruby’s parents whisk her to Dr. Z. Their visits prompt Ruby to compile a boyfriend list, the first draft of which falls into the wrong hands. Ages 12-up. Highly recommended. See more thoughts on The Boyfriend List, and read my boyfriend list.
What was your inspiration for creating this book?
I was sorting through a box of old high school memorabilia – yearbooks, school papers, picture, play programs – and I remembered this list I used to keep of all the boys I had ever kissed. (Sadly, it was not that long). Anyway, I couldn’t find the list, but I felt that lovely spark one feels when an idea appears. The Boyfriend List.
I decided on the concept for the book first – the whole thing is structured as a giant list – every boy Ruby Oliver (prep-school scholarship kid, thrift-store-fishnet-eyeglass girl) has ever had a crush on, a kiss, anything.
I really wanted to write about heartbreak. There are many wonderful novels about first love – but first love so often ends badly, and I hadn’t really seen a novel for teenagers about that. Having been repeatedly heartbroken in my day, I felt that I could write one honestly.
What was the timeline from spark to publication, and what were the major challenges along the way?
The Boyfriend List was a fast thing. I wrote a proposal, and it sold immediately. I was shocked. I plunged into writing the manuscript, and realized that I had been an absolute lunatic to propose a book structured like a list – because a novel is not a list at all. A novel that is genuinely structured like a list is a bad novel.
So I had to really work on the structure, which contains a ton of flashbacks and flash forwards. I kept a highly detailed chronology of all Ruby’s boyfriends, her every shrink appointment, the day-to-day chronology of her breakup and each key event in her transformation from popular girl to leper to famous slut.
Besides the structure, I worked on the slang. I wanted a believable prep school sound — but not one that dated the book to any particular time, and I wanted Roo to sound like a teenager with a very specific vocabulary, grounded in her school’s culture but also a little different from it. I did a lot of search and replace actions before I settled on certain words she uses – “shattered,” “completely,” “debacle,” “Ag,” and so on.
What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing it to life?
There are footnotes in The Boyfriend List – sometimes copious one – that explain either Roo’s emotional life or some reference she’s just made. Once I had finished the novel, I had a group of teenagers (via email – my sister’s friends) take the “Freddy Krueger Quiz”– a test of their pop-culture knowledge. Do you know who Freddy Krueger is, and if so, who (or what) is he? What is AC/DC? What would a “Stephen King moment” be? That kind of thing, to make sure that the footnotes were entertaining and not annoying for my intended audience.
We cut about half of them – I had way over-written. I did the same thing for the sequel, The Boy Book. But the test was called “The John Belushi quiz.” The most entertaining answers were to the question: “Who was Freud and what was some stuff he thought?”
Check cynsations tomorrow for an interview with E. Lockhart on her new book, Fly On The Wall (Delacorte, 2006).
When I was on the eighth grade drill team at Hillcrest Junior High (home of the Hillcrest Highlanders; now Westridge Middle School) in Overland Park, Kansas; our colors were black and blue (vaguely bruised looking) and we marched into the home gym to “Back In Black” by AC/DC during basketball season.
Cynsational News & Links
Bimonthly Showcase: Holidays and the Winter Season from CBC Magazine.
Interview with Korean American author Haemi Balgassi from papertigers.org. This is a reprint (with permission) of an interview I did with Haemi for the Web site. Also from papertigers, learn about: Saelee Oh in the illustrators gallery; the book of the month (Korean Children’s Favorite Stories (Tuttle Publishing, 2004); “A Peek at Korean Culture Through Children’s Books” by Aline Pereira; and more.
Snicket, Potter Publishers Find New Ways to Reach Children Online from Authorlink.