#MMGM: Unstuck by Barbara Dee w/ AUTHOR INTERVIEW


From critically acclaimed author Barbara Dee comes a middle grade novel about a girl whose struggles with writer’s block set off unexpected twists and turns, both on and off the page.

Lyla is thrilled when her seventh-grade English language arts class begins a daily creative writing project. For the past year, she’s been writing a brilliant fantasy novel in her head, and here’s her chance to get it on paper! The plot to Lyla’s novel is super complicated, with battle scenes and witches and a mysterious one-toed-beast, but at its core, it’s about an overlooked girl who has to rescue her beautiful, highly accomplished older sister.

But writing a fantasy novel turns out to be harder than simply imagining one, and pretty soon Lyla finds herself stuck, experiencing a panic she realizes is writer’s block. Part of the problem is that she’s trying to impress certain people—like Rania, her best friend who’s pulling away, and Ms. Bowman, the coolest teacher at school. Plus, there’s the pressure of meeting the deadline for the town writing contest. A few years ago, Lyla’s superstar teen sister Dahlia came in second, and this time, Lyla is determined to win first prize.

Finally, Lyla confides about her writing problems to Dahlia, who is dealing with her own academic stress as she applies to college. That’s when she learns Dahlia’s secret, which is causing a very different type of writer’s block. Can Lyla rescue a surprisingly vulnerable big sister, both on the page and in real life?


Barbara Dee is the author of fourteen middle grade novels including Unstuck, Haven Jacobs Saves the Planet, Violets Are Blue, My Life in the Fish Tank, Maybe He Just Likes You, Everything I Know About You, Halfway Normal, and Star-Crossed. Her books have earned several starred reviews and have been named to many best-of lists, including The Washington Post’s Best Children’s Books, the ALA Notable Children’s Books, the ALA Rise: A Feminist Book Project List, the NCSS-CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People, and the ALA Rainbow List Top Ten. Barbara lives with her family, including a naughty cat named Luna and a sweet rescue hound named Ripley, in Westchester County, New York.


Thanks to Barbara Dee for taking the time to answer some questions.

What is the "story behind the story"? 

During school visits, many kids kept asking me how I dealt with writer’s block. Kids also sent me emails: “I’m writing a fantasy novel, but I’m stuck on page six. Do you have any advice about how to keep going?” So I decided to answer by writing Unstuck.

What is your favorite thing about writing? 

Getting lost inside my main character’s head. I’m also a big fan of words. I love playing with them, and inventing new ones.

What are you currently working on? 

My next middle grade novel, Tear This Down, will publish February 2025. It’s about a middle school activist who discovers that the namesake of her town didn’t believe women should vote, so she wants to tear down his public statue and replace it with one of a suffragette. As we head into the next election, with voting rights and women’s rights on the ballot, I hope this book will spark some important conversations.

What, to you, are the most important elements of good writing? 

To me it’s all about voice. If you can’t nail the character’s voice, you can’t nail the character. So when you’re writing a middle grade novel, especially if you’re writing in the first person, you absolutely can’t sound like an adult, with an adult’s sensibility. And you can’t sound like an adult’s concept of a kid;
you have to sound like an actual kid. This means you can’t be too wise or self-aware; you have
to be willing to get things wrong, and use the wrong words. If you’re at all inauthentic, kid
readers won’t read past Chapter One.

When did you first call yourself a writer? 

When I was five! You can see a photo of my first book on my website. It’s about a boy and his robot; the funny thing is that it has dialogue, which even back then was my favorite thing to write. When people would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d always answer “authoress.” Somehow I got the idea that women weren’t just plain old “authors,” and nobody bothered to correct me!


Lyla's struggle with writer's block highlights an issue that many young people must overcome. Lyla's excitement when her class starts a creative writing unit shines through clearly, as does her voice. She's full of ideas about what to write about the fantasy story that resides in her imagination. What she doesn't expect though is how hard it becomes to get those ideas down on paper. As the days and weeks pass she finds herself writing almost nothing despite all her ideas. Even worse, Lyla's determined to enter a writing contest that has a rapidly approaching deadline. Conflicts with her best friend and her sister's fights with their parents don't help her become 'unstuck' at all.  Luckily, Lyla's newish friend, who has no interest in writing at all, provides some much needed perspective, as does Lyla's teacher, Ms. Bowman. 

One might not expect a book with such 'in the character's mind' problems to be so compelling. But Lyla's voice is so distinct and believable that she comes alive on the page. Her enthusiasm that turns into frustration and confusion is so relatable. Few readers will come away from the story without empathy for Lyla's struggles. The writing flows smoothly and the snippets of story that Lyla does write leave the reader wanting to know more about Lyla's fantasy world. Those snippets also parallel Lyla's own struggles with family and friends. All in all, a book that will be an easy sell to middle grade readers with it's winning heroine and relatable plot.


Popular posts from this blog


Happily Ever After Giveaway Hop

My Favorite Reads Giveaway Hop