Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Justina Chen Author Interview

Photo Content from Justina Chen

Justina Chen is an award-winning novelist for young adults whose most recent book, Return to Me, was called an “uplifting story” by Publishers Weekly. North of Beautiful was named a Best Book of the Year by Kirkus and Barnes & Noble. Her other novels include Girl Overboard (a Junior Library Guild premiere selections) and Nothing but the Truth (and a few white lies), which won the Asian Pacific American Award for Literature. Additionally, she co-founded readergirlz, a cutting-edge literacy and social media project for teens, which won the National Book Award for Innovations in Reading.

When she isn’t writing for teens, Justina is a communications strategist for executives and was the speechwriter and executive communications manager for a president of Microsoft.
She conducts popular corporate storytelling workshops and has presented at prestigious organizations ranging from the Mayo Clinic to NASDAQ and AT+T to SAS.


Was there a defining moment during your youth when you realized you wanted to be a writer?
In second grade, I wrote my first 50-page YA novel about two teens named Kitty and Dot. What I would give to have that manuscript now…

What’s one thing that readers would be surprised to find out about you?
I’m afraid of water! Chalk that up to nearly drowning three times in my life. Scary!

What was the greatest thing you learned at school?
The resident fellow, Professor Kennell Jackson, in my dorm at Stanford impressed upon me the importance of being curious all the time. He had no compunction about asking questions of anybody—even perfect strangers at the gas station. But as Kennell said, we’ve got to ask if we hope to learn.

What is the best piece of advice you ever received from another author?
Embrace the discovery draft. Just write the entire story down, get the first draft out, and then you’ll know what you’re trying to say. Then start over. If you keep tinkering with the first chapter, that’s all you’ll ever have.

In your new novel; Return to Me, can you tell my Book Nerd community a little about it?
Return to Me is a Valentine to every person who’s ever been betrayed by his / her boyfriend, best friend, or parent. It follows Rebecca, an aspiring architect, immediately after she finds out that her dad’s leaving the family, which forces her to reassess everything she’s known…right down to her own career dreams. Most of all, the book is about becoming better, not bitter after an ordeal.

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating Rebecca?
Reb’s passion for tiny, intimate spaces, especially treehouses opened my eyes to how space could shape our emotions. Her appreciation of design made me view buildings, structures, and rooms with a much more sensitive and appreciative eye.

For those who are unfamiliar with Jackson, how would you introduce him?
Jackson drives at one speed: sexy. Need I say more?

You have the chance to give one piece of advice to your readers. What would it be?
Nothing is ever wasted in life. Nothing, not even the hard and horrible experiences. If you are open to it and you are willing to do the work, you can become such a much better, much stronger and much more authentic person. Better, not bitter: remember that!

If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
Actually, Terra from North of Beautiful makes a cameo appearance in Return to Me. So Terra, please meet Reb from Return to Me. I think you two would have a lot to say to each other about overcoming hardship, whether it’s a birthmark or a lost dream. So pull up a couple of coconut caramel macchiatos and block out a few hours. You might become besties.

When asked, what’s the one question you always answer with a lie?
Might I cite one of the best YA titles ever in answer to this question? If I Told You, I’d Have to Kill You.

What decade during the last century would you have chosen to be a teenager?
The ‘80s were such a fun time to be a teenager. I mean, look at the movies of my era: Pretty in Pink! Sixteen Candles! The Breakfast Club! Say Anything! I wouldn’t change the time, place, and especially my posse of friends. Nope, not even if you dangled porcelain, acne-free skin.

What's the most memorable summer job you've ever had?
Well. I had the most chiseled biceps after working for a high-end department store, thanks to all the rich ladies who hauled armloads of merchandise into the dressing room for their own private fashion shows. Truly, my arms have never looked as good. But my biggest adventure happened over a summer internship at an ad agency in New York. Living in the city was a shock to my suburban system—in a great way. I learned that I could navigate a city on my own and find a community of friends wherever I went. Plus, my love affair with lox began that summer, thanks to a traumatic shopping expedition at Zabar’s.

Who is the first person you call when you have a bad day?

When was the last time you told someone you loved them?
Just now—to my daughter who’s home sick with the flu. (It’s a nice treat for me to be able to baby my teens.)

Do you remember your favorite teacher?
Not only do I remember my favorite teacher, but I based a wonderful character on her in my first novel, NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH (AND A FEW WHITE LIES). Mrs. Nina Myers from Kennedy Junior High School in Cupertino, California: you were a transformative force in my life, somehow seeing potential in a gawky, bespectacled, brace face of a girl. Thank you.

When was the last time you cried?
This morning when I opened a letter from the media director at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools where I had spoken to hundreds of students back in October. As a speaker, I never really know if my words have made a difference. But this is what she wrote: “It was wonderful hearing from someone who has raised her voice in the struggle for justice, compassion, and humanity.” And then she included some feedback from students. And that’s when I began to cry good, happy, grateful tears.

Most horrifying dream you have ever had?
I cannot even begin to put the nightmare into words. Suffice it to say, I will never write horror.

Where can readers find you?
Come visit me anytime on my website: Or on Facebook ( or Twitter (@justinaychen).

Nothing is going as planned for Rebecca Muir. She's weeks away from starting college--at a school chosen specifically to put a few thousand miles of freedom between Reb and her parents. But her dad's last-minute job opportunity has her entire family moving all those miles with her! And then there's the matter of her unexpected, amazing boyfriend, Jackson, who is staying behind on the exact opposite coast.
And if that isn't enough to deal with, mere days after moving cross-country, Reb's dad drops shocking, life-changing news. With her mother and brother overwhelmed and confused, Reb is left alone to pick up the pieces of her former life. But how can she do that when everything can change in an instant? How can she trust her "perfect" boyfriend when her own dad let her down? Reb started the year knowing exactly what her future would hold, but now that her world has turned upside down, will she discover what she really wants?

Justina Chen, the acclaimed author of North of Beautiful, has created a moving and powerful novel about the struggles that arise from betrayal, the uncertainty of life after high school, and the joy that ultimately comes from discovering what's truly in your heart.

Praise for RETURN TO ME

"The author sensitively writes of the heartbreak involved in a betrayal of family without skipping any of the more gritty parts. Readers will feel the characters' pain as they are carried along with the engaging plot line." ―School Library Journal

"Chen (North of Beautiful) delivers an uplifting story of a teen whose sixth sense proves to be a blessing, not the curse she thinks...Celebrating the healing power of positive environments (exemplified by Reb's passion for tree houses and other special spaces that can foster healing), Chen's novel has a soothing aura that grows stronger as family members reunite and their hopes are realized." ―Publishers Weekly

"I loved it! It's the best book you've written so far. Definitely my favorite one yet." ―Nancy Pearl, author of Book Lust and Book Crush

Justina Chen’s Return to Me takes a look at a time when most teens are excited about looking towards the future and live on their own. For Rebecca “Reb” Muir, things seemed to be going into the right direction. Although she’ll be apart from her boyfriend Jackson, she’s put plenty of miles between her and her family for her college life in New York’s Columbia University. But as soon as she arrives, her dad, whom she adores so much, tells the family he’s taken a highly paid executive job in nearby New Jersey and already bought a home there for the family to move into. Although Reb will be in her college dorm, she can’t help but think of her nearby mom trying to control and organize her life, the one thing that she tried to escape from initially. Soon after her dad is off on a business trip, things turn to the worse when her dad tells her mother he is seeing another woman and decided to leave the family for her. Now Reb must pick up the shattered pieces of her former life and desperately tries to heal it. A chapter of her life that she has been waiting for a long time takes a drastic halt and now she must reassess it to discover what she really wants.

Rebecca’s journey is one that most can relate to. This aspect of the story truly made this book engrossing and moving. Author Justina manages to capture all of the deep emotions Reb goes through with each expected and unexpected turn of events. I enjoyed that she provided a touch of paranormal as the women in Reb’s family get premonitions and visions about the future. With no hints of this book encompassing this, I was thoroughly surprised and entertained. Although the main character is a teenager who is trying to figure out her life, the storyline had more of an adult feel. The voice for Reb is mature for YA with her life transformations being more established than what is expected from a teenager. Even in the state of feeling betrayed, by someone who she really loves, these life-changing events cause her to learn a lot from forgiveness. The way she handles these trying times in her life were done in a very mature way. Justina’s writing style will captivate readers and directly place them into Reb’s shoes where each drop of emotion is felt. Return to Me is an amazing story about pain, understanding, and discovery.

You can purchase Return to Me at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you JUSTINA CHEN for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a copy of Return to Me by Justina Chen.


  1. That's a hard one. But maybe friends of Shakespear? Would love to talk to him.

  2. Abraham Lincoln-he was a great president and put an end to a horrible thing

  3. Neil Armstrong :) What I wouldn't do to go to the moon...

  4. I'd have to say Shakespeare.

    Thanks for the giveaway!

  5. Jane Austen! She's an amazing writer as well as an amazing woman.

  6. Thomas Edison. He is a genius, who invented many things that are so crucial to living life today. To be that smart..

  7. There are so many lol I guess I'll say Jane Austen

  8. Wow... good question. Priscilla Presley? Marie Antoinette? Anne Boleyn? Man... all of mine are tragic.

    mestith at gmail dot com

  9. John Maynard Keynes.. even though I'm a girl!
    I really admire this man. He was just a great economist and discovered a lot of things.

  10. Eh I don't know, can I steal one of the answer here? Jane Austen?

  11. I would be an English prince. :D Idk, I'd like to be royal.

  12. I'd want to be Audrey Hepburn :) She just seemed to be such a wonderful person:)

  13. I would want to be Princess Diana. I just loved that she really got involved in the important issues regarding children all over the world. When she was visiting a country, which I can't remember the name of it right now, that had fields of mines that were injuring and even killing children. And she actually walked in those fields that others wouldn't even think about doing themselves. She spent her time with sick children with Aids. She was and will always be an incredible woman/Princess. I would be honored to be her if I could.
    Thank you so much for a chance at winning in your awesome giveaway!!

  14. J.K. Rowling because she has a big story behind her. And she's so talented. But maybe Rick Riordan too, he has a big creativity.

  15. Marie Antoinette!! :)

    Thanks a lot! Awesome Giveaway!

    rafflecopter name: Joss A.

  16. Shakespear:)) I really like him:X! Thank you for the giveaway!

  17. For me I always loved Tudor times, think it was drummed into us during Primary school! Thank you for the giveaway xx

  18. I have no idea, but I really want to be born into the 60's or 70's so I could listen to 80's music in my teens or early twenties. And perhaps work as a musician or something. (Although I'd probably miss the Wi-Fi here . . .)

  19. Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt! She was amazing

  20. Can I pick someone rather recent (as opposed to Shakespeare and queens etc)? Because I'd really love to be Juliette Gordon Low! Founder of Girl Scouts for the win!

    Thanks for the giveaway!

  21. I would like to come back as Jane Austen because she is just so amazing and I love her writing. Thank you for the giveaway and have a wonderful day!!!