Rose has changed. She still lives in the same neighborhood and goes to the same high school with the same group of kids, but when she woke up today, something was a little different. Her clothes and hair don’t suit her anymore. The dogs who live upstairs are no longer a terror. She wants to throw a party—this from a girl who hardly ever spoke to her classmates before. There’s no more sadness in her life; she’s bursting with happiness.
But something still feels wrong to Rose. Because until very recently, she was an entirely different person—a person who’s still there inside her, just beneath the thinnest layer of skin.
Top 10 Inspirations for Change Places With Me
One night I had a dream that I was standing at my bedroom window, looking out at the building across the way. That building was on fire. Inside was a girl standing there, looking at me. I couldn’t understand why she wasn’t running away from that burning building. Then I realized that what I was seeing was a reflection—it was my house that was in flames, and I was the girl. The girl in my book has this same dream and it scares her as much as it scared me.
“The song of the mourning dove is a melancholy counterpoint to the dazzling chorus of migrant bird calls now just beginning to fill the earliest spring air”—from “The Mourning Dove, a Melancholy Crooner” by Dave Taft in The New York Times, March 18, 2016. The high-pitched “hoo, hoo” of the mourning dove has haunted me since childhood. In my book the girl, who has been closed off from the world, hears one for the first time one morning, and is shocked to find out they’ve been coming back to her building every year to nest.
“Where or When”
I’m not sure where I was (or when it happened) but the first time I heard “Where or When” I was stunned by this beautiful love song from the 1930s. It’s about two people who see each other for the first time but somehow know, deep down, they’ve always been in love—“It seems we stood and talked like this before, we looked at each other in the same way then, but I can’t remember where or when.” The girl in my book is drawn to this song because she, too, is living in a kind of “where or when” universe, doing things that have echoes of having done them before. The lyrics are by Lorenz Hart and the melody is by Richard Rodgers; this song-writing team also wrote dozens of other great songs that have lasted and lasted.
Working in a vet’s office
I volunteered in a vet’s office years ago, fascinated by all the different breeds of cats and dogs. I learned some things that were kind of private and not for the customers—for instance, if you see a red star on your pet’s card, it means the animal acts up and the doctor has to be careful. (Btw, the cat I own now has TWO red stars.) The girl in my book takes an after-school job in a vet’s office and meets a cocker spaniel (who has a red star).
My Queens neighborhood
The book takes place in the fictional neighborhood of Belle Heights, Queens, in New York City, which is a combination of the places where I grew up—Flushing, Kew Gardens Hills, Forest Hills. The “Belle” comes from Belle Boulevard, a real expressway in Queens (and not very “belle”), and the “Heights” from Jackson Heights. I set most of my novels in Belle Heights, which is deliberately more boring than any real neighborhood so that my characters can stand out.
The girl in the book shares my preoccupation with infomercials. They get you thinking you have a problem with something when you had absolutely no idea you had such a problem or even that it existed at all. Like the girl in the book, I wonder about other people up in the middle of the night, watching these things.
Australian cattle dogs
These mid-sized dogs are compact and muscular, with a short, bristly, silver, black-and-brown coat, upright ears, and an alert expression. They were bred from collies and from dingoes, the wild dogs of Australia, and they have a kind of ancient look about them. The girl in the book sees an Australian cattle dog and feels a kinship with it because it’s still part wild—like her, “it probably had a lot of conflicting stuff going on.”
A friend of mine is very good at stage make-up, and she showed me how you can very convincingly transform a young person into an old one. I borrowed my friend’s skills for the book, where the girl, who’s 15, has a very strange and unsettling experience, seeing her reflection in the mirror as an old, old woman whose life has passed her by.
“We Can Remember It for You Wholesale,” short story by Philip K. Dick
In this classic science-fiction story (the basis for the “Total Recall” movies), a bored, restless man wants to buy an exciting memory from Rekal, Inc., that of having been an undercover agent on Mars. When technicians at Rekal try to implant the false memory, the truth comes out—the man really was an undercover agent on Mars and his memory had been suppressed for a very good reason. The girl in the book also finds out her memory has been tampered with—and for a very good, if very different, reason.
I set out to write a book that dealt with grief but wasn’t grief-stricken, a book about loss that didn’t feel empty, a book about sadness that wasn’t depressing. I want it to be a “fun” read about things that are not fun at all.
Lois Metzger was born in Queens and has always written for young adults. She is the author of five novels and two nonfiction books about the Holocaust, and she has edited five anthologies. Her short stories have appeared in collections all over the world. Her writing has also appeared in The New Yorker, The Nation, and The Huffington Post. She lives in New York City with her husband and son.
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Giving away Three (3) finished copies of CHANGE PLACES WITH ME (US Only)
6/23: Literary Lover – Review