The co-authors of Tessa Masterson Will Go to Prom say their book is about a platonic love story between best friends — and the challenges that arise when one of them comes out.
Tessa Masterson Will Go to Prom is loosely based on Constance McMillen’s case in Mississippi in which her school cancelled the prom rather than have Constance and her female date show up together.
Brendan and I had written together before (our novel The Half-Life of Planets is about a boy with Asperger’s and girl with a tragic past) and the best part of co-writing was not being alone. The job of writing is creative, fun, and I cannot imagine anything more artistically fulfilling, but it’s also lonely-making—being around imagined characters all day who have no community.
This is how most of my friends before college felt. Alone. Marginalized. Nicole’s a lesbian. Eden was bi and now is married to a woman. Jess’s partner is more gender fluid. Andre’s single and searching for the right man. Then we found our lunch table (or the Italian table where I met Nicole). ”Are all your friends gay?” my mother asked when she visited. She wasn’t judging, just wondering. “Um…no. Just most.” Why is that? I can’t tell you because I don’t know. A sense of otherness, perhaps, a sense of partial belonging, of questioning.
Tessa Masterson is part coming-out-in-a-small-midwestern-town story and part love story. But the love isn’t between Tessa and her girlfriend, Josie. It’s about Luke and Tessa — best friends for years — actually falling into platonic love when she finally is honest with him. And with herself.
I take pride in being a good friend. I actively talk to my four children about being true to themselves, being a strong friend, dealing with adversity not only for themselves, but for all of their friends, gay or otherwise. Maybe my daughter’s a lesbian. Maybe she’s not. Maybe my son will marry a man. Maybe he won’t. I hope they have diverse cast of real people in their lives.
The YA I’m writing now has three main characters: a biracial girl with two dads, an Orthodox Jewish boy, and the person who changes everything for them (who happens to be transgender). Again, that’s just the world I live in, and certainly the world that is most interesting for me to explore in writing.
“Lucas is such a jerk.” This is a pretty common reaction to the character whose chapters I wrote for Tessa Masterson Will Go to Prom. It makes me happy to read this because it means I’ve done my job well.
I think it’s really important to write people that act like real people, and when Lucas’s best friend Tessa reveals that she’s not romantically attracted to him, or indeed, any boy, he reacts that way a lot of people do: badly. He thinks more about how the situation impacts him than about how it impacts his friend, he shoots off his mouth, and by the time he realizes what a jerk he’s been, he’s already caused pretty significant damage.
In short, he fails his friend when she needs him most, which is pretty much the definition of bad friend. Which is something most of us have been at one point or another in our lives. I think unlearning our prejudices and learning to see other people as full human beings deserving of respect and empathy no matter how they differ from us is, for most of us, a rocky road. We stumble sometimes. We do and say things that, looking back, we feel awful about. And yet, hopefully, we grow toward being something a little better than we were before.
That’s why I wanted Lucas to be a jerk for a while. It’s awesome when people act exactly the right way and do and say the right things, but most of us are just more fallible than that. Most of us, like Lucas, are going to screw up. And then we have to get past not only our own prejudices, but also the knowledge that we’ve failed to be the kind of people we want to be.
But that’s being human. We’re going to fail to be as accepting and empathetic as we want to be; fortunately, though, the more we practice, the better we get.
Emily Franklin is the author of more than one dozen young adult novels including the 7-book series The Principles of Love, The Half-Life of Planets (nominated for YALSA’s Best Book of the Year), The Other Half of Me (about donor insemination, an ALA Popular Paperback Pick), and Tessa Masterson Will Go to Prom (named to the 2013 Rainbow List). Her next novel, Last Night at the Circle Cinema, will be published in 2015. Be in touch at http://www.emilyfranklin.com or find her on Facebook.
Brendan Halpin is the author of fourteen published novels, including (with Emily Franklin) Tessa Masterson Will Go to Prom and (with Trish Cook) A Really Awesome Mess. He also teaches English and Writing. He lives in Boston with his wife Suzanne, their three children, and a dog.