Trust Me, I'm Trouble (Trust Me #2)
by Mary Elizabeth Summer
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Release Date: October 13th 2015
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Mystery, Thriller, Fiction
The sequel to TRUST ME, I’M LYING
Staying out of trouble isn’t possible for Julep Dupree. She has managed not to get kicked out of her private school, even though everyone knows she’s responsible for taking down a human-trafficking mob boss—and getting St. Agatha’s golden-boy Tyler killed in the process. Running cons holds her guilty conscience at bay, but unfortunately, someone wants Julep to pay for her mistakes . . . with her life.
Against her better judgment, Julep takes a shady case that requires her to infiltrate a secretive organization that her long-gone mother and the enigmatic blue fairy may be connected to. Her best friend, Sam, isn’t around to stop her, and Dani, her one true confidante, happens to be a nineteen-year-old mob enforcer whose moral compass is as questionable as Julep’s. But there’s not much time to worry about right and wrong—or to save your falling heart—when there’s a contract on your head.
Murders, heists, secrets and lies, hit men and hidden identities . . . If Julep doesn’t watch her back, it’s her funeral. No lie.
The conversation around diversity in kids books has taken center stage over the last couple of years with the formation of the We Need Diverse Books campaign and all the excellent work they (and other groups such as Diversity in YA) have done. And though books with minority characters have gotten a lot of buzz recently, there is still a long, long, long way to go.
Diversity is important for so many reasons, it's hard to even start to list them. In my opinion, the two most essential outcomes of including diverse characters and relationships in books for kids (and adults!) are empathy and validation.
Reading about others not like ourselves gives us the opportunity to sympathize with the otherness of someone else. The more opportunities we have to root for characters unlike us, the more we understand that experience outside our own is valuable and something to be protected, and the more compassionate we become in general.
On the flip side of the coin, minority readers who have long felt ostracized or isolated often find comfort and validation in books where they see themselves accurately reflected. Especially for kids who feel they have no one to turn to, books with diverse characters can be a safe harbor and can even save lives.
I started writing the Trust Me series a few years prior to the rise of the We Need Diverse Books campaign. But even before I started hearing about the demand for diverse books, I knew I wanted to include more diversity in my writing. I'd written gay characters into all my stories up to that point (being gay myself gave me the confidence to write from their perspectives), but I wanted to include more ethnic and racial diversity. Which is how Sam came to be half-black, half-South American; how Ralph became Korean; how Dani became Ukrainian; how Mike and Angela became Latino; etc. etc.
But I never wanted to fall into the traditional stereotype traps that writers sometimes fall into when writing characters from a different ethnicity or race. I tried to flip their backgrounds, interests, and life experiences into something unexpected. Sam, for example, is a brilliant, nerdy hacker from a wealthy family. Ralph has a few secrets up his sleeve that I won't reveal here, but he's not at all what you might expect. Mike is a high-level FBI agent. And Dani may be a mob enforcer with a tragic past, but she is gay gay gay. Even Julep, who at first glance seems to be a privileged white girl, turns out to be living in the poorest section of town, struggling to help her father make ends meet.
My goal is not to represent these diverse groups or the issues they face in their entirety. My books are not about those issues, so they only come up tangentially. Nor do I have the credentials or the life experience to thoroughly and accurately depict what members of these minority groups experience. I do the best I can to portray them fairly, researching facts and asking my racially and ethnically diverse friends for help, but I don't pretend to be an expert. For the Trust Me series, I subscribed to the oxygen approach to diversity—it's everywhere and it's necessary for life, but it's not something you have to focus your lens on all the time. It just is.
Nowhere is this more in evidence than in my approach to Dani and Julep's relationship. In this book, Julep realizes she's developed romantic feelings for Dani. I had planned this relationship dynamic from the moment I introduced Dani in the first book. In fact, the creation of Dani as a character came down to exactly this conversation in my head:
ME: Okay, this random scary person has just run Julep and Sam off the road and is getting out of the car to confront them.
ME: Who the heck is this scary person anyway? Why did he run them off the road?
ME: Ooo, what if it seems like he's a bad guy, but he actually turns out to be helping Julep? Yeeeahh, I like that. Good twist. Maybe he's a bad-ass enforcer from the syndicate holding Julep’s dad hostage. Maybe he's secretly trying to help her dad.
ME: Hmm. How can I make it even twistier? Oooo, wait! What if this BAMF is actually a girl??? … Oh, crap. I think I just figured out a huge part of book two.
I contented myself with weaving in a few subtle hints about Dani's feelings into the first book, knowing that I'd have a bit of an uphill battle with them both in the second book. Not just with writing them believably falling in love, but also with convincing the Powers That Be to publish it. After all, not only were they two girls, but one of those girls was over 18 and a mob enforcer. So, I just kept it to myself that that's where the story was going.
Fast forward to me drafting the second book. One of the biggest dilemmas I faced when developing their love story was figuring out how Julep felt about being attracted to a girl. I went round and round about it, but I kept coming back to the same, somewhat controversial conclusion—Julep wouldn't care. She just wouldn't. She doesn't give a crap what other people think, and she's not religious herself, nor does she come from a conservative background. It wouldn't make any difference to her what gender a person was. She'd have the same hang-ups about her feelings either way.
This bothered me a bit, though, because I didn't want to not address the identity aspect if it would hurt young readers struggling to come out of the closet themselves. I asked my critique group about it, I even posted about it on my debut-author group forum. Everyone's answers were the same—follow your character's lead. If it's not in character for her to address it, if it doesn't make sense in context of the plot, then don't force it.
So I didn't. And after I went through the revision process (several times), I came to trust the decision, realizing that there's probably a whole group of young readers out there who never had to come out of the closet. They've just known and accepted their identity their whole lives. Maybe this version of events makes sense to them.
That realization actually opened up a whole new idea of what this one creative choice might mean for the world at large. What if someday, in the not-so-distant future, a person's sexual identity isn't an identity at all, but just a collection of choices over one's lifetime of who to be in love with at any given moment? What if orientation could be a choice, and no one would even think to question it, let alone judge it? What would that world be like?
That's how I wrote this book. In fact, in the first few drafts of the story, not even one character brought up Dani's gender when talking to Julep about their relationship. Not one. They brought up her being a mob enforcer, for sure. But they didn't discuss her gender at all. I felt this was important to the world I was trying to create.
But as I revised the story, my editor convinced me to address it outright at least once. And after thinking about it, I agreed. I realized I could mention it in such a way as to underscore Julep's view on sexual identity even more, by having Julep dismiss the concern out of hand.
At the end of the day, I'm proud of how that aspect of the book turned out. The whole experience taught me that there is diversity even within diversity, and that as long as you care about the group you're portraying and try hard to portray them well, then you're headed in the right direction.
Mary Elizabeth Summer is an instructional designer, a mom, a champion of the serial comma, and a pie junkie. Oh, and she sometimes writes books about teenage delinquents saving the day. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her daughter, her partner, and her evil overlor–er, cat. TRUST ME, I'M LYING, a YA mystery, will be released by Delacorte in Fall 2014.