I'm so thrilled to be part of the blog tour for Blues for Zoey. This book was wonderful, so focused on Kaz and his troubles and the different people in his life. Right after I finished it I described it as sort of like a Canadian version of The Beginning of Everything by Robin Schneider. Of course, Kaz is not Ezra, and there are no severed heads, but it's very much a teen guy trying to figure out the world kind of book.
And this is what Rob wrote. :)
Although Blues for Zoey may feel like a consummately Canadian book (and at nearly every level, it is), I made the setting deliberately ambiguous. There’s no such place as Evandale, no such corner as Steinway and Emerson, no such park as DeWinter Hills. These are just as imaginary as Shain Cope or “somnitis,” the sleep-swelling illness afflicting Kaz’s mother. I did this because I wanted the setting to reflect both the ghostliness of Cope and the otherworldliness of the disease. Once I had these aspects of the story in mind, I set out to write something I hoped would feel tangible and real in spite of them. I was attracted to the juxtaposition.
All of that said, however, I was clearly inspired by places I’ve lived in Toronto. When my wife read an early draft, she told me she recognised “Evandale” as our own neighbourhood. At the time, we were living in an apartment without a washing machine, so once a week we dragged our clothes through the snow in a rolling suitcase to do our laundry. We always entered the laundromat from the rear, ducking under a set of wooden stairs that led up to a residential balcony. I freely admit those afternoons, waiting in the cafe down the street for the dryers to stop drying, were the inspiration for the Sit’N’Spin.
As for the ethnicity of the characters, it’s what makes Blues for Zoey my most personal book. (Of course, every book is personal and although I’ve slipped distinctly personal bits and bobs into my other novels, it can be difficult to pick them out underneath the dragons and rocket ships and other fantastical things). Blues for Zoey, on the other hand, is very much a reflection of my experience as someone like Kaz, someone with a mixed ethnicity. Roughly speaking, I have a white father and a black mother, but both of them are mixed as well. My father is half-British, half-Turkish, while my mother is half-Grenadian, half-Indian. The experiences Kaz has with respect to his mixed heritage are all fictionalised accounts of things that have happened to me (yes, even the thing about dog shows).
Apart from my own background, I also wanted to write a book that showed the world as I know it, filled with Ivorian friends who love The Clash, or Japanese friends who are studying Brazilian Portuguese. They don’t do these things to make a point, or for any moral or political reason, but simply because the world is an interesting place. I suppose my life has given me the gift of a complex relationship with ethnicity, which is something I rarely see in young adult novels, apart from ones that are explicitly about ethnic issues. In this way, it’s simply a story set in the world I see around me.
Thanks so much to Rob for answering my slightly rambling question/statement, and thanks to Penguin Canada for the ARC and setting up the blog tour. :)