Marieke Nijkamp credits books with shaping her worldview, how she relates to herself, and even saving her life. “I am so thankful for booksellers and everyone else who gets books into the hands of kids who need them,” she says. She is committed to paying back by writing novels that include diverse characters and deal with difficult issues.
Nijkamp’s debut novel, This Is Where It Ends (2016), tells the story of a high school shooting that lasts for 54 minutes. Four people with various connections to the shooter, including his sister and his ex-girlfriend, tell the story.
The inspiration for the book came during Nijkamp’s first visit to the U.S., six weeks after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Having grown up riding a bicycle to school in her native Netherlands, Nijkamp recalls seeing school buses for the first time. It made her reflect on cultural differences between the U.S. and Europe in terms of school experiences and student safety, she says. The idea of a school shooter being “probably somebody you know,” perhaps a classmate, intrigued her.
While Nijkamp has never lived in the U.S. and never visited Alabama, where her book is set, she thinks that her perspective as an outsider made for a stronger story. Because she approached the story without the political or cultural biases an American writer might have, she says, she asked more probing questions. Her American friends, she adds, helped her understand the quirks of public high school culture.
Nijkamp seems to be moving alphabetically down the list of U.S. states for settings for her fiction: her next novel, Before I Let Go (Sourcebooks Fire, Jan. 2018), is set in Alaska, another state she has never visited. Like This Is Where It Ends, she says, her sophomore effort explores themes of “friendship and grief and isolation and the stories that shape us.” Before I Let Go tells the story of a young woman who returns to her hometown for her childhood best friend’s funeral, only to discover that the town and its residents are nothing like she remembers. There is a mystery surrounding her friend’s death, with townspeople saying only that it was meant to be.
Nijkamp, a former member of the board of directors of We Need Diverse Books, plans to inject politics into her talk. It’s not just President Trump’s administration demonizing Muslims: Europeans also are discriminating against refugees and others, she notes. “It’s easier to [demonize] something if it’s distant, faceless, if it’s entirely strange to you,”she adds. Reading books, especially those that contain characters with diverse perspectives, can only help in understanding each other.
Today, 8–9:30 a.m. Marieke Nijkamp will speak at the Children’s Book and Author Breakfast, Special Events Hall.
Today, 10–11 a.m. Nijkamp will sign at the ABA Member Lounge (720).
Today, 11–noon. Nijkamp will sign at the Sourcebooks booth (2521).