It was my thrill and privilege to read an ARC for author RAJANI LAROCCA’s newest middle grade novel in verse MIRROR TO MIRROR. Rajani won the Newbury Medal Honorable Mention for her previous verse novel RED, WHITE, AND WHOLE. In her new book, she explores the connection between identical twins, not only in the physical sense, but the emotional connections as well.
Here is my review of this amazing and timely book:
This lyrical novel in verse captures the pressure and anxiety of striving to be perfect in order to live up to the expectations of others. Raw and spare verse cuts to the heart of alternating voices of the twin sisters who despite their love and devotion to one another, grow further apart as they try to give each other space to shine.
This story will open up dialogue regarding mental health and the importance of speaking up and sharing feelings with someone so we don’t feel alone. Silence can often hurt and do more damage than words shared in love and understanding. Highly recommended.
I asked Rajani some questions about MIRROR TO MIRROR . Here is the interview.
I love the idea of twins telling the story in alternating voices. How did you settle on this format and the title for the book?
I knew this book would be dual POV from the very beginning. Dual POV is challenging to pull off, especially with identical twin characters, because it’s important to keep the characters’ voices distinct and make sure that each POV moves the story forward. In my first draft, I wrote Maya’s voice in verse and Chaya’s in prose, but I felt jarred going back and forth, and found myself writing chunks of the story at a time rather than alternating the voices as I wrote.
In revision, my editor suggested that I write both POV’s in poetry . . . and she was right. I still had to work hard to make the voices different from one another using the content and attitude in the poems, as well as structure, imagery, and word choice. The book starts with a couple of short paired poems, each titled “She’s the One,” where the twins express how they think about each other. These poems were drafted during that first revision, and I thought they vividly set the tone of the book and established the viewpoints of each twin.
The name of this book changed while I was revising! It was originally called Switch, but the story isn’t only about the twins switching places. Given the importance of mirrors in the book, my editor suggested Mirror to Mirror, and I thought that title worked really well.
How did you decide the time was right for a story like this?
It’s not easy to write about anxiety and mental health. But given the events of the past several years, anxiety is something that many people, including children, have had to contend with. As a doctor, I’ve seen my patients with anxiety and depression have worsening symptoms in recent years, and even some of my patients without a prior history of anxiety have developed it. And rates of anxiety and depression among young people have skyrocketed.
I wanted to explore anxiety and mental health in a poetic way. I wanted to show that people can struggle not only with symptoms, but also with telling others that they are struggling. I wanted to depict the helplessness that comes with seeing someone you love going through something difficult.
I love the emotional contrast between the girls and their parents, how each seems to take after one even though they begin the story doing everything together/the same. What kind of research/reflection did you have to do in order to make Maya and Chaya’s voices ring true?
Thank you! I did a lot of research for Mirror to Mirror. I interviewed several sets of identical twin sisters, and it was fascinating! Not only were they closer than other siblings, but some described each other as “soulmates.” They told me stories about eerie connections they had, and how no matter what else was going on in their lives, their bond was unshakable.
But there is room for misunderstanding even in the closest relationships. I tried to create a story where each twin thinks she’s doing something to help the other, but instead drives a wedge between them.
What do you want young readers to understand about these complex and often scary emotional experiences we all have and you so artfully portrayed in this story?
I hope that young readers understand that we all go through difficult times, even when we are surrounded by friends and family. I hope they learn that although we may sometimes struggle with anxiety and depression, we don’t have to deal with these feelings alone, and it’s important to share with those we love and trust, because only through sharing can we start to get help.
What is one of the ways this book can be used in the classroom?
I have some ideas for using poetry in a classroom:
- Take someone you know well — a real person, or a character from a book or a movie — and write a poem about a secret or hidden side to that person
- Write a poem about a secret or hidden side to yourself
I also hope educators can use the story to start a discussion about mental health and self-care.
Anything else we should know about MIRROR TO MIRROR?
Music plays a prominent role in many of my books, including this one. I used the titles of some real pieces of classical music in the story, and I also made up my own musical—and had a great time doing so.
Rajani has agreed to give a signed copy of her amazing new book to one lucky reader of this post chosen at random. To enter, leave a comment. USA only.
Rajani LaRocca was born in India, raised in Kentucky, and now lives in the Boston area, where she practices medicine and writes award-winning books for young people, including Red, White, and Whole, which won a 2022 Newbery Honor, the Walter Dean Myers Award, Golden Kite Award, and New England Book Award. Her other books include: Midsummer’s Mayhem (2019), Seven Golden Rings (2020), Bracelets for Bina’s Brothers (2021), Much Ado About Baseball (2021), Where Three Oceans Meet (2021), My Little Golden Book About Kamala Harris (2021), The Secret Code Inside You (2021), I’ll Go and Come Back (2022), and more. She’s always been an omnivorous reader, and now she is an omnivorous writer of fiction and nonfiction, novels and picture books, prose and poetry. She finds inspiration in her family, her childhood, the natural world, math, science, and just about everywhere she looks. To connect with Rajani and learn more about her and her books visit her at http://www.RajaniLaRocca.com and on Twitter and Instagram @rajanilarocca.