Before trying her hand at middle grade fiction, Julie Murphy published four young adult novels with body-positive messages, including her 2015 bestselling Dumplin’, which was adapted into a Netflix feature film. Her upcoming middle grade debut, Dear Sweet Pea (Harper/Balzer+Bray, Oct.), follows seventh-grader Sweet Pea as she deals with her parents’ untraditional divorce, a painful ex-friendship, and a favor that unexpectedly turns her into the town’s advice columnist.
Murphy says that she was inspired to write for a younger age group because of the reception she received for Dumplin’, which is about what it’s like to exist in a fatter body. “I don’t think my books are like these huge powerful things,” she says, “but that made me wonder what it would mean to start that conversation even sooner. If these conversations that people were having with their teens and people in their lives—if we could just have them a few years earlier—what impact might that make?”
In addition, says Murphy, writing Dumplin’ gave her “a little bit of personal license to write a book like Dear Sweet Pea, where the main character is fat, but it’s not the main thing she’s contending with. I got to write this fat character who is just trying to figure out how to exist as a seventh-grade girl.”
Dear Sweet Pea was also inspired by Murphy’s nieces, to whom she dedicates the novel. “They’re in kindergarten and second grade and hearing them talk about my body and their bodies really made me realize what a great advantage it was to be able to talk to them at an early age about how all bodies are good bodies,” she says. “Smaller doesn’t mean better, bigger doesn’t mean better, it’s just a neutral thing. They’ve really given me a lot of insight.”
Although Murphy says that writing for middle grade came easily, she had to “reframe” her perspective. “It wasn’t like I just unplugged the YA part of my brain and plugged into the middle grade part,” she adds. “It wasn’t that easy. I think that part of me foolishly hoped that it would be.”
While she’s hoping to return to middle grade, Murphy says that her next two novels will be for a YA audience. But today, it’s all about Dear Sweet Pea.
Today, 1:30–2:30 p.m. Julie Murphy will sign galleys at Table 3 in a ticketed event.