A story of grief and growing up, a road trip with many fleeting characters and a story deeply rooted in landscape: all three describe Kathleen Xue's ambitious first novel, "It is You."
The Gunn High School junior has just published her work through the New Jersey-based Alternative Book Press. "It is You" blends a tale of travel with reflections on how to cope when loved ones are ill. A busy student, Xue is also the editor-in-chief of Gunn's political magazine, "The Chariot," as well as the forum editor and a writer for Gunn's newspaper, "The Oracle," and a member of the school's Model United Nations.
"It is You" is set in the 1990s and tells the story of Skylar: a teenager dealing with her mother's illness. As Xue explained in a recent interview:
"Her mother, who has had HIV throughout her entire life, suddenly advances to AIDS when Skylar is sixteen. And then, a year or two later, her Mom dies. This prompts Skylar to embark on a road trip to figure out exactly what her past is, what her family history is and ultimately who she is."
Xue said she began writing the novel casually during the summer before her sophomore year. Before she knew it, she had 100 pages. Her parents encouraged her to find a publisher. In the process, she learned of the importance of obtaining a literary agent, since most publishers do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. Eventually, Xue decided not to pursue an agent, and instead submitted her novel to 20 publishers who accept work directly from the author. Alternative Book Press published the novel online on March 31; the book will soon come out in print.
Xue has been writing seriously since middle school, though she did not foresee writing and publishing a novel. From sixth to eighth grade, while attending Jane Lathrop Stanford Middle School, she wrote an online blog titled, "The Evolution of Me." It was also in middle school that her interest in fiction writing was sparked during the creative writing unit in her English class. Upon entering high school, Xue began a new blog titled, "Spattered Plaint." She also became involved in journalism and remains an avid follower of current events. Xue said she sees a helpful intersection between her journalism and her fiction writing, though she acknowledged there are obvious differences to the two disciplines.
"In journalism and non-fiction, you have to base everything off of hard facts," she said. "You're just reporting what has happened, and even if you're writing opinion, you're only stating your opinion based on things that have actually happened. In fiction writing, on the other hand, you're writing a story of a person who doesn't exist, but at the same time everything has to be based on reality ... there always has to be some tie back to reality, even if it's fantasy."
The young novelist said she wants to continue her writing into college, though she is unsure whether she'd like to focus more on journalism or creative writing. She currently aims to write a little every day in her journal and to publish on her blog once or twice a month as well as writing and editing for the Gunn publications. Asked what her favorite books were, Xue named "Tuesdays with Morrie" by Mitch Albom, "The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald, "Wuthering Heights" by Emily Brontë and "The Fountainhead" and "Atlas Shrugged" by Ayn Rand.
"I never thought that I would actually ever do anything with writing," Xue said, "because I thought that there were good writers and then there were people who just wrote for fun."
Maev Lowe is an editorial intern with Palo Alto Weekly