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Alyson Gerber: On Writing Difficult Topics for Young Readers

Critically acclaimed author Alyson Gerber discusses how she tackled the topic of disordered eating in her latest middle-grade novel, Taking Up Space.

Alyson Gerber is the author of the critically acclaimed, own-voices novels Braced and Focused published by Scholastic. Her third novel, Taking Up Space, will be in stores on May 18, 2021. She has an MFA from The New School in Writing for Children and lives in New York City with her family. Visit her at AlysonGerber.com and find her everywhere else @alysongerber.

Alyson Gerber

Alyson Gerber

In this post, Gerber discusses how she tackled the topic of disordered eating in her latest middle-grade novel, Taking Up Space, and much more!

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Name: Alyson Gerber
Literary agent: Kate McKean
Book title: Taking Up Space
Publisher: Scholastic
Release date: May 18, 2021
Genre: Middle Grade, Contemporary Fiction
Elevator pitch for the book: From beloved author Alyson Gerber comes another realistic contemporary novel perfect for fans of Judy Blume. Taking Up Space is a compelling story about struggling with body image and learning that true self-esteem comes from within.
Previous titles by the author: Focused and Braced

Taking Up Space by Alyson Gerber

Taking Up Space by Alyson Gerber

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What prompted you to write this book?

Taking Up Space is based on my struggles with body image, food, and self-worth. Growing up, what I ate and how I felt in my body took up all the space in my mind. Only I didn’t think that what I was going through was bad enough to deserve support. I wrongly believed I was making a big deal out of nothing and talked myself out of getting professional help when, in reality, everyone deserves to get the help they need.

It’s really hard to talk about disordered eating, puberty, and body changes, but it’s also very important. I know firsthand that when you have a problem that never gets talked about, it doesn’t go away. It gets worse. And at the same time, you start to wonder if maybe it’s not actually a problem. Once you stop trusting your instincts on something as central to your life as food, it’s hard to know if you can believe you’re right about anything—even yourself.

How long did it take to go from idea to publication? 

It took me three years to get from the first spark of Taking Up Space to the final version that will be in stores on May 18. When I started writing, I knew I wanted to tell a story about disordered eating and how diet culture can get passed down from one generation to the next. As I wrote and researched—mining my experience and interviewing social workers, psychiatrists, teachers, and people in recovery—I found this story was really about how we learn to value ourselves. And how for many of us that journey is complicated and hard.

(The Key Differences Between Middle Grade vs Young Adult)

Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?

When I started doing research for Taking Up Space, I found alarming statistics—half of all American kids want to be thinner, and more than half feel better when they’re restricting food. This isn’t just a problem in the U.S. It’s happening to a lot of kids around the world and studies show these numbers keep increasing—61 percent of adolescents in the Czech Republic have body dissatisfaction, 82 percent in Brazil, 43 percent in Turkey, and at least 50 percent in Germany, Romania, Taiwan, Mexico, Israel, France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal. There is so much shame and secrecy in struggling with food and body image. Taking Up Space brings this pain out into the open and gives readers the chance to feel seen, heard, and validated.

What do you hope readers will get out of your book?

My hope is that Taking Up Space ignites an honest conversation between parents and kids, students and teachers, and among friends of all ages about just how hard it is for most of us to feel good in our bodies. A lot of people, including young people, are hurting and confused about food. We need to confront this pain and start talking openly about it with our kids. Taking Up Space will help readers recognize how much they matter and give them the chance to see that if something negative is taking up space in their minds, even if there isn’t a name for it, they should ask for help. Now, more than ever, we all need empathy and support.

Alyson Gerber: On Writing Difficult Topics for Young Readers

If you could share one piece of advice with other authors, what would it be?

When I first started writing, I heard an author at a local bookstore event say they were never the best writer, but they were the most persistent. I think about that all the time now. So much of writing is being willing to try again and reimagine and revise. No matter where you are in the publishing process, take time to acknowledge and celebrate that at every stage writing books is hard work and requires resilience.

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