Credit card debt plagues a modern American family in Gabrielle Zevin’s The Hole We’re In, a witty, frightening look at how we spend now.

The issues of the Pomeroy family go way beyond owing too much money to too many banks. What exactly is the “hole” they’re in?

It’s debt, yes, but even more, it’s what the debt does to the family—all the holes that are created in their relationships to each other and even to their country and their gods. The hole is always in the process of transforming itself into something else, and when the characters fill one, they usually end up creating another.

Daughter Patsy joins the army when there’s no money left for education. Are you playing with a connection between the economy and the army?

If you put a lot of people in debt—because of record unemployment, the mortgage crisis, etc.—and make it so that student loans are increasingly difficult to come by, what do you think happens? People sign up for the military. And this is true, by the way. Enlistment levels are up. There’s an economic draft.

The adult children in the book fight to escape the legacy of their parents. Do you see this as a universal problem?

In America, birth is destiny. There are exceptions to this, but I’m not sure they aren’t just the rule-proving kind. Educated adults have educated children. Poor adults have poor children. I am a writer because I lived in a house where books were valued. On the other hand, I do find that some people—and these people are the rare birds—live in opposition to their parents.

You’ve written two young adult novels and two books aimed for an older audience. Is your creative process different for each genre?

For a long time, I said there was no difference, but that was a lie, born from a futile desire to convince people that writing for youth wasn’t something I did when my brain was on vacation. Essentially though, when I am writing for children, I feel a certain responsibility toward them and the kinds of stories I find myself wanting to tell them likely reflect that. When I’m writing for adults, the characters are old and seem to curse a lot.

Britney Spears’s “Oops I Did It Again” is the musical refrain of the book, haunting the characters throughout. What’s the theme song of today’s national ills?

I’m going with “It Ain’t Gonna Save Me” by Jay Reatard. I think a lot of people thought that if we managed to get Obama elected, everything would just get solved; we’d done our parts. But it’s not up to him to save us. He’s not Jesus, and we need to keep being loud.