Ashley Woodfolk is the author of several books for young readers including The Beauty That Remains, When You Were Everything, and the Flyy Girls series. Lexi Underwood is an actor, singer, filmmaker, and activist, best known for her roles in Little Fires Everywhere, The First Lady, and Sneakerella. Their new YA novel, Louder Than Words, tells a story about the transformative power of art as protest. We asked the duo to discuss their collaboration, high school memories, and second chances.

Ashley Woodfolk: Lexi, I’m excited to be talking to you. Let’s start with what the book is about.

Lexi Underwood: For me, growing up, I felt like we all tried to excel in some way—to be good or even perfect in the eyes of others. But the problem with being perfect is that it is quite literally impossible. If you’ve tied perfection to your identity, to your worthiness, and to who [you are] and how you think, making even small mistakes can be absolutely devastating. And that is exactly Jordyn’s story.

Woodfolk: I couldn’t have said it better myself. The message behind this book was super important to both of us because we’ve both dealt with perfectionism. We’re both artsy and we both have that background and that fear of someone finding out that we’re not perfect.

Underwood: Ashley, what do you usually look for when collaborating with other authors, since I know that this wasn’t your first time collaborating on a book?

Woodfolk: Collaborations are some of my favorite things! I feel like writing can be such a solitary experience, so any opportunity I have to make it a little less lonely, I jump at it. When I’m looking for someone to collaborate with, I’m really just looking for someone who’s like-minded, who is bright and interesting and who has a lot of ideas, because I also have a lot of ideas. I love that the writing is not purely your own creation, because you have so much more opportunity to expand a story to be bigger and better.

And so when Maya Marlette, our editor, first approached me to work with you, it was a no-brainer. Why did you first start writing and working with Maya? How did the idea come about?

Underwood: I always dreamed about being an author, but because my main job is being an actor, I put it off to the side. I became involved with Reese’s Book Club after working with Reese Witherspoon. I was able to moderate a virtual panel with Leah Johnson for her Reese’s Book Club pick, You Should See Me in a Crown. Maya is also Leah’s editor, and in my conversations with Maya, she could tell that I was really passionate about books and reading. I knew I wanted to write a redemption story about a girl in D.C. And then when I first met you, and we immediately clicked, it all aligned. I did not expect for this to have been the journey, but I’m really grateful that it all unfolded the way that it did.

Woodfolk: I’m thinking about the fact that you are a little bit closer to high school where this book is set. What were you like in high school? Were you super artsy in the same way that Jordyn is as an aspiring artist using art for activism?

Underwood: I was very artsy. When it came to my art classes specifically, I really found myself using art with activism. I remember taking stickers from marches I went to and then tying that into whatever project that I had to turn in for art that next Monday. I definitely can relate to Jordyn in a sense where you’re taking something you loved so much and using it as a force to fight back.

Woodfolk: I feel like this book is very timely in that way. Art as activism is, if anything, growing in popularity, and it has this other layer that is actually present in our book of sharing that art on social media. You were ahead of the time!

Underwood: Speaking of high school, what experiences from your own high school years did you incorporate into the book?

Woodfolk: I was definitely an artsy kid too. I was in the poetry club. I was on the newspaper. I was part of the prom committee. I feel like the part of my high school years that I’m always incorporating into all of my books is the emotional experience: you know, liking a boy or having a conflict with a teacher. And so when I’m writing a character, that is what I’m really leaning into.

Thinking of how our own experiences informed our writing, is there a reason you wanted to write about second chances and redemption? What do you want people to take away from the story?

Underwood: At the end of the day, this is a story about a girl who’s made mistakes and fallen down a few times but is determined to get up. Jordyn allows herself the space to be messy and complex, but she’s also kind and recognizes she’s in a space of growth. I hope that readers see that no matter who they are or what they’ve done, there’s always time to change and space to heal.

Woodfolk: I feel the same way. The thing that I hope people take away is that you are worthy of love and acceptance because you exist. As long as people finish the book and they have that feeling that, okay, I can make a mistake and it can be really messy and it can be really, really bad—because things with Jordyn are bad—but eventually it can be okay.

Louder Than Words by Ashley Woodfolk and Lexi Underwood. Scholastic Press, $19.99 June 4 ISBN 978-1-338-87557-7