If Rosie Colored Glasses, Brianna Wolfson's debut novel, feels intensely real and moving to readers, it's because it comes from a very personal place for the author. "Rosie's story is very close to my heart," says Wolfson. "It is, in many ways, my own story."
Rosie Colored Glasses begins with the magnetic attraction between two opposites: the free-spirited, whimsical Rosie and the no-nonsense Rex. The two meet after Rosie, who is working in a flower shop, chooses to include an E.E. Cummings poem with the flowers that Rex orders for his girlfriend. Rex, who likes to be in control, is initially furious with Rosie but then falls for her.
The novel then jumps ahead in time to follow Rosie's and Rex's 11-year-old daughter, Willow, and their six-year-old son, Asher, and back to Rosie's and Rex's marriage and divorce. Willow, who wears the same leggings and t-shirt to school every day and still wets the bed, is fundamentally scarred by her parents' divorce and by Rosie's increasingly volatile behavior, which has to do with secrets that Willow only begins to understand as she gets older.
"I grew up with a very Rosielike mother," Wolfson says. "She tragically passed away in a car accident when I was nine, and it wasn't until long after, when I learned the ‘real' story of her death, that I began exploring some of her shortcomings."
Wolfson was able to begin writing Rosie Colored Glasses when she moved from New York to San Francisco. "Being far away from home gave me space I never had before from the people and events intertwined in the story of my childhood and the story of my mother," says Wolfson. "It gave me more freedom to think about and unravel my past."
Wolfson began telling personal stories at the Moth and other live storytelling venues such as Fireside Storytelling. She says her first time onstage at the Moth was "life-changing" because she had never before attempted to weave together her experiences, let alone share them in front of a room full of people.
"As I wrote and shared more on platforms like the Moth and Medium and got featured on Upworthy, I was blown away by the responses from thousands and thousands of friends and strangers about how my experiences helped them to think about and share their own. It made me want to write more—something deeper," Wolfson says. "Six months and many, many cups of coffee later, I had completed Rosie's story."
Wolfson says she wanted to her novel to delve into the different ways people give and receive love. "At the beginning of the book, Willow has what I view as a very juvenile and immature view of love," says Wolfson. "She suffers a lot of heartache by looking for only one kind of love from her father. By the end of the novel, Willow understands her father and the love he gives a lot better."
Another theme that Wolfson explores through Willow's story is the loss of innocence: "In talking with many friends and fellow writers on the topic, I found most people can point to a specific moment in time when they became aware of their loss of innocence. For me, this was understanding both of my parents' fallibility. I think Willow has that same flavor of loss of innocence."
Wolfson calls her experience of writing the novel "an extreme form of catharsis that ultimately made me feel very strong and empowered." The process of getting words onto the page was easy, she says, because she had a solid understanding of the beginning, middle, and end. But during the process, certain thoughts and feelings she had "locked away for a long time" came out. "Writing this book was the easiest hard thing I ever had to do," says Wolfson.
Wolfson has already heard from readers who have told her Rosie Colored Glasses has helped them think about their own family members in new ways. "I hope readers just get lost in the story," says Wolfson. "I hope their hearts break a little bit but also that they feel fuller after they turn the last page."