In her debut novel, Beyond the Point (Morrow, Apr.), Gibson delves into life at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and three young women who stand at the precipice of great change.
How did you decide on your three central characters?
I wanted the book to focus on these three very different characters, forced into a friendship, because it set up conflict and drove the story. And I had met and interviewed many women who became friends with teammates through athletics at West Point. I cut a fourth character in order to give these three the space they needed. In the end, losing her helped me get to know these three and bring them to life.
This book doesn’t really have an antagonist. Did you find it challenging to steer away from that “mean girl” trope?
Absolutely not. I found when I interviewed women at West Point that mean girls truly didn’t exist there. Maybe it’s the way the Army sets up their training. In other settings, Avery might have ended up as the mean girl. But West Point doesn’t offer any space for pettiness. So her friends had to keep her honest. In my experience with women that are ambitious and focused, they don’t really have time for infighting. The women I interviewed had focused on friendships with other women who could bring something to the table.
In your characters’ lives, technology is as harmful and isolating as it’s helpful in connecting them.
Maintaining a friendship across long distances has always been hard. Social media, the internet, and constant communication makes us feel like we’re doing a good job of keeping in touch all while maintaining a sense of low-lying guilt that we’re not. These forms of communication are shallow, and the best form of friendship happens when you are face-to-face. Proximity really does matter. I hope this book encourages people to put their phones down and buy a plane ticket. Sometimes you have to be that dramatic and put in the hard work to get to someone’s side.
What do you hope readers take away from the book?
Women in the service are doing amazing things now, and we don’t have to wait 50 years to tell their stories as retrospectives. I also wanted to depict military women as more than the rough, masculine, two-dimensional stereotypes that you see most often in media. And they’re not simply victims of sexual assault, either. I hope readers walk away thinking “I’d be okay if my daughter chose to be in the service. I would trust that she’d find friends, support, and community.” Because that does exist in the military, and friendships built there are really strong.