The first teen readers of Carolyn Mackler’s highly decorated 2003 novel could be married and raising their own kids by now. And yet in the 14 years since the publication of her memorably titled The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things, the drumbeat from those fans has been steady: “When are you going to write a sequel?”
Now Mackler can finally answer: “I have.”
In a pre-empt, Bloomsbury has acquired world English rights to The Universe Is Expanding and So Am I, which will continue the story of 15-year-old Virginia Shreves, a New York City teen fighting her own family’s definition of what a healthy body looks like. Publication is planned for spring 2018.
“I still hear from a lot of contemporary teens who have the same reaction to Virginia’s story: ‘I have always felt awful about my body and this book has helped me feel better about myself as I am, that I am not an unworthy person,” Mackler said.
The two-book deal, brokered by Jodi Reamer of Writers House, includes rights to the first book, which Mackler will update and Bloomsbury will repackage in a 15th-anniversary edition for publication in winter 2018.
The original book, a Printz Honor winner published by Candlewick, is still in print. But after Mackler decided to write the sequel, “my dream was the two books would be published as a set and packaged similarly, and Bloomsbury was excited to do that.” Cindy Loh, v-p and U.S. publishing director at Bloomsbury Consumer Publishing, will edit.
The new edition will include a list of resources for some of the issues raised in the book about body image, self-harm, and sexual violence. Mackler is revising the entire text to align with current technological trends. “All of the issues Virginia faces are still so relevant today so I’m absolutely thrilled to reissue a modernized version of the novel so it doesn’t seem like something from a time capsule,” she said.
Mackler found rewriting to be easy but at times a bit startling. “Virginia is reading Teen People, which has folded. Her dad has a beeper. She talks about getting a high speed connection so I had to change that to wireless,” she said. In one scene, Virginia and her best friend agree to hang up and redial halfway through a long-distance telephone conversation in order to share the cost of the call. “I don’t think people even think about the idea of long distance calls costing money anymore,” Mackler said.
The most notable difference in the 15 years since the original is, indeed, in the way teens communicate, mostly through social media apps that didn’t exist in 2003. In the sequel, Virginia gets a smart phone.
“The first book ends in January of Virginia’s sophomore year and the sequel begins in June of that year,” Mackler said. “Teenagers nowadays live with a phone in their hand, so if I want the story to flow naturally from the first book to the sequel, she can’t just have acquired a phone. My only choice was to give her a phone in the first book. ”
Though the sequel took more than a decade to percolate, Mackler has not been idle, producing five other stand-alone titles and co-writing The Future of Us with Jay Asher, author of 13 Reasons Why. She was actually intent on writing a different novel during a writer’s retreat two years ago, but instead, the next chapter in Virginia’s life showed up in her imagination. The first book ends with Virginia kissing her good-enough boyfriend, Froggy, in public for the first time, a declaration of sorts about her right to lead a typical teenage life despite condemnation from fat-shamers. But Mackler wanted more for her plus-size heroine.
“I wanted Virginia to meet someone with whom she would have so much chemistry and would really experience love,” she said. “I wanted to continue her story so readers could see more of her path to empowerment.”