What’s going on…
Today I’ve got a treat for you all! A few months ago I read a wonderful novel, The Astonishing Thing by Sandi Ward. After I’d read it, I got in contact with Sandi and she was gracious enough to do an author Q&A with me! Sandi is a very sweet lady and I encourage you to check out her Twitter @sandiwardbooks and her website https://www.sandiwardbooks.com/
Lately, she’s done a great section on her blog called Authors With Cats. I love reading about the authors she features and their feline companions!
About the book:
The Astonishing Thing is absolutely adorable. It’s told from the point of view of a family cat named Boo and this makes the story incredibly unique. We learn all about Boo and her family through such a genuine perspective, and it lends a whimsical note to the novel. It’s also an interesting point of view by which we learn about the family and their struggles. Boo is a cat after all, and her observations are simplistic but also surprisingly insightful at times.
Anyone who has a cat will attest to the fact that each cat has their person and Carrie is Boo’s person. Carrie cherishes Boo above everyone else in the family, and Boo relishes the fact that she’s the important one to her mother.
Suddenly, Carrie disappears from the family and Boo can’t figure out why her beloved mother would leave her. Maybe she can understand why Carrie chooses to leave the father and her human siblings, but surely there is a mistake and Carrie has not abandoned her too!
As the story progresses, we learn that Carrie struggles with mental illness. It’s a big subject to tackle and Sandi does it well. Tommy is Carrie’s husband and not Boo’s biggest fan. The feelings are mutual, however, through Tommy the reader gets an up close reality in living with, and loving, someone who suffers from mental illness. Tommy’s character is complex and it’s impossible not to both dislike and love him. His emotions are real and raw and he brings the story such life.
Boo’s character felt very much like Nick from The Great Gatsby. She starts out idolizing her Mother and is then faced with a harsh reality when her eyes are opened to who Carrie really is. Boo’s character experiences a heart-wrenching journey as she learns to love and appreciate the rest of her family after Carrie disappears.
I’ll add a personal note here that Boo felt very real to me, as a cat lover. She’s quirky and fits so many cat stereotypes. She’s a bit selfish and aloof, but she’s also very sweet and loving – a true feline! Sandi absolutely made Boo real. One of my favorite things was how the family always teases Boo about being a chunky girl, however they continually feed her table food and pats of butter -Boo’s favorite. These little nuggets of humor are what made The Astonishing Thing so lovable.
I highly recommend this delightful and charismatic novel.
Question and Answers with Sandi:
Most authors are also avid readers. Have you been a reader your whole life or is reading something you started to enjoy as an adult? What category of books do you read most often?
I’ve always been a big reader. My grandmother owned a used bookstore on Cape Cod (in Massachusetts). She collected all of the Wizard of Oz books—the originals and then subsequent Oz books written by different authors—so I can officially say I’m a third-generation fangirl of great books. But while she preferred fantasy, I mostly read contemporary fiction.
Obviously you’re a cat person, did you set out with an idea to write a story from a feline perspective or was that something that evolved with the idea for your novel?
I was experimenting with the idea of using an unconventional narrator, because I’d recently read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon and I loved the autistic teen’s voice and viewpoint. So I started writing a story from a cat’s point of view, with no idea where it was going to end up.
All of the characters in The Astonishing Thing experience a kind of transformation over the course of the novel. Which characters’ change was most important for you?
I suppose Boo’s change is most important, because the reader must go on a journey with Boo, figuring things out as she does. It’s almost a coming-of-age story as Boo loses her innocence about her world, but comes away with a deeper understanding of how humans work.
In the beginning of the story, Boo sees Mother in a way that is very different from reality. Do you think that this is a flaw?
I think it’s a flaw that many children have about their parents! A child might idolize her mother or father until one day she starts to realize that those adults aren’t as perfect as she thought. And it’s a flaw in the sense that at the start of the story, Boo thinks that if she’s happy, all must be right with the world. Boo can be self-absorbed and doesn’t quite “see” or understand how Mother/Carrie is suffering.
What part of this novel was the most difficult to write?
Tommy’s scenes weren’t tough to write in the sense of getting it down on paper, but they were emotionally draining because he really beats himself up. He inhabits a state of panic and stress during much of the book.
Carrie’s illness is sort of the elephant in the room—no one seems to want to openly discuss it. Do you think that society needs to be more open about mental illness? Do you see Tom as victim or villain?
These are great questions. There is definitely a stigma surrounding mental illness. Yet chances are most of us have someone in our immediate or extended family with some sort of mental health challenge, whether it is ADHD, anxiety or something more severe. And this stigma prevents people from getting the help they need.
I don’t see Tom as victim or villain. I feel tremendous empathy for his situation—he’s in a small town, he’s not educated, he doesn’t trust doctors, and even his own mother doesn’t understand his situation. He has almost no support system. I imagine there are many people who are caretakers for people with illnesses who feel alone and end up isolating themselves further. So Tom makes mistakes and blames himself, which I think is common.
Boo is a rescue kitten, is this by coincidence or did you specifically want Boo to have been rescued vs. purchased from a breeder? Do you think that being a rescued cat influenced her personality?
I suppose I was just thinking about my own experience, adopting our cat from the local SPCA. They house hundreds of cats at any one time, and so choosing one is about making a connection. Boo and Carrie had an instant connection! It probably did make Boo feel special, knowing she was selected as a “perfect fit” for the family.
Your next novel is also about a family and a cat. Tell us what to look forward to in Something Worth Saving.
I’d love to share a preview!
Lily and Charlie are best friends: a boy and his cat. So when Lily sees Charlie’s bruises and realizes someone is hurting him, she is determined to get to the bottom of things. Who would do something so terrible?
But Lily is up against many challenges in trying to get her family to focus on Charlie.
Mother kicked Father out months ago. Lily thinks Mother’s new boyfriend is charming, but he’s also a stranger. Kevin, the oldest boy, is falling apart because he misses his father. Victoria, the middle child, has a cruel boyfriend who Lily despises and suspects may be Charlie’s bully.
And, Lily wonders, why is Father carrying his gun, even when he’s off-duty?
Sometimes, in a family, it’s hard to know where the danger really lies.
Something Worth Saving will be available November 2018.