Welcome to our Saturday Spotlight, here on Alternative-Read.com – Today we are really pleased to welcome NYT bestselling author, Joshilyn Jackson.
Never Have I Ever: “Like DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES meets KILLING EVE” by Joshilyn Jackson
Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson is an entertaining tale of betrayal, deception, temptation, and love. Although the story starts out a bit slowly, after the third chapter it takes off and soars, never descending.
With secrets, lies, betrayals, and the sins of someone’s youth, Jackson pits two women against each other. It begins when a new neighbor, Angelica Roux, invites herself to a book club. She takes over the book club and shifts the focus to playing a scandalous version of “Never Have I Ever,” a game of spilling secrets after drinking too much. Some think the game is fun, some refuse to play and leave, while Amy Whey realizes that Roux knows her darkest youthful secret.
Roux intends to blackmail Amy and tells her for the sum of a quarter of a million dollars, she will quietly go away. But Amy has no intention of giving her anything and tries to beat Roux at her own game, hoping Roux has underestimated her. Matching wits with her in an escalating war of hidden pasts and unearthed secrets, Amy knows she will lose her family, friends, and even her freedom, if she can’t beat Roux.
Amy has settled into an ordinary life and the simple pleasures that come with it: teaching diving lessons, baking cookies for new neighbors, and helping her best friend, Charlotte, run their local book club. Her greatest joy is her family: her devoted professor husband, her spirited fifteen-year-old stepdaughter, and her adorable infant son. She is a character readers will root for despite her flaws. Contrast her with Roux, a diabolical character who is nasty, calculating, smart, devious, and takes pleasure in being cruel. Together they play a cat and mouse game and the mystery is who will come out with a win.
This story has an exciting plot, great writing, unexpected twists, and memorable characters. A word of warning, do not plan on sleeping because this book is one that no one can put down.
Elise Cooper: How did you get the idea for the story?
Joshilyn Jackson: A scene in the book before this, The Almost Sisters, had a ninety-year-old woman saying, ‘you can’t go around staring at the worst thing in your hand. It is not a way to live.’ I knew then it was the plot for the next book I was going to write. Also, I teach college level courses at Georgia’s Facility for Women, a maximum-security prison. One of my students has been there for thirty years and will likely be paroled soon. She told me, ‘I have done my time and am a changed person.’ She has almost finished her AA college degree. Her worry is that an employer, someone at her Church, or a friend, will look at her and see that one act she had done all those years ago as defining her. What she said knocked around with me and it all came together in this book.
EC: What do you do at the woman’s prison?
JJ: I volunteer for the Reforming Arts Program. The mission is to provide opportunity to lower recidivism and allow people to build livable lives post incarceration. We want them to express themselves in writing that includes their anger, hopes, and fears so that they have access to their own narrative. If someone can control their narrative they can change it. This is a liberal arts program. We teach everything from grammar and writing skills to composition, literature, and creative writing. Students need a high school degree and certain behavioral skills.
EC: In this book there is a scene where each book club member tells of their “spirit animal;” what is yours?
JJ: I am very cat like. I hate to be laughed at. I can trip over dust mounds and I always spill stuff. Cats can leap off a wall gracefully and slide down it. They have dignity when they make mistakes.
EC: How would you describe Roux?
JJ: Amoral, a terrible human being, a predator who likes to intimidate and manipulate. She is an instigator and provocateur. What I find interesting about her is that she believes her narrative, and does not think she is a bad guy. She has this innate ability to justify whatever she wants to do. She baby steps into it. For example, you are happily married and then decide to just have coffee with this interesting guy at work, then just having lunch, and then six months later you think how did that just happen?
EC: How would you describe Amy?
JJ: She wants to be a good person. She is invested in her family and they are the center of her life. Independent, smart, disciplined, has some control issues and a natural facility for lying including to herself. Amy is fierce, determined, warm, supportive, loving, and kind.
EC: Motherhood is at the heart of the story?
JJ: I thought of my mother who told me that once she was a mother she would think ‘what would my parents do,’ and then she would do the opposite. Amy did not have good supportive parents. Yet, my mom and Amy are exceptional mothers. Motherhood is a transformative experience. Amy goes down a dark road, but it isn’t for money or her own convenience. I thought how I am not a person to my daughter yet, but just a mom. First I am a Super Hero, and then a fence that keeps the bad things out. I think once children become independent that is when mother and child can become friends. My mom and I are really good friends.
EC: Amy also draws a line in the sand regarding her children?
JJ: I thought of the classic story where someone fights evil without becoming evil. Roux and Amy are separated by their moral choices. When Amy decides to play she finds herself heading into morally grey territory to fight Roux. She makes a moral choice when she decides not to use her stepdaughter Maddy to help her win. Amy will sacrifice a lot to win but there is one thing she will not sacrifice, her children.
EC: Scuba diving plays a role?
JJ: I did not scuba dive until I wrote this book. I looked at videos and interviewed some people. But then I decided to pick it up with my husband. Over Thanksgiving we are going to scuba dive with my whole family. I learned, which I put in the book, how the ocean is a vast living system that can be silent and huge. There are so many metaphors for a thriller. I thought it would be fun to have action scenes under water. The ocean is large enough to hide everything. There is also the ability when scuba diving to meditate. It is like yoga plus, plus. You move your body using your breath. Everything Amy says about diving is how I feel about it.
EC: Did you experience something like the scene in the book when a shark shows up?
JJ: I would not dive with the Great Whites. We do not dive during shark feeding times or on shark grounds. Besides, they hate the sounds of regulators. I used in the book the big bull sharks because where they were diving that is the type of sharks they would see. Most sharks are not harmful and there are types which are actually cute like what is at the Atlanta Aquarium where children can pet.
EC: What do you want people to get out of the book?
JJ: It is a story of secrets that come out. This book as with all my books are character driven, and ask who are these people and what do they care most about? I am always interested in writing about violence and its aftermath. My plots are centered around a murder mystery. The blackmail shows how someone can use people’s secrets as a sword against them. As a reader, I don’t want to be tricked for most of the book and then at the end have a big single reveal. I prefer books that layer twists and reversals all the way through.
EC: Your next book?
JJ: Just like this book it will be in the domestic noir, psychological suspense genre with a much faster pace than my other books. It is titled Two Truths and A Liar. It comes out in about a year and a half. The first line is “The day my baby disappeared, I woke up to a witch appearing in my bedroom window.”
Never Have I Ever: “Like DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES meets KILLING EVE” by Joshilyn Jackson
Sunday Times Thriller of the Month
‘Wonderful – suspense and surprises, real characters and a scary, ominous backbeat’
‘Absolutely immaculately done, to be read in one breathless sitting’
‘I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough’
It starts as a game at a book group one night. Never Have I Ever… done something I shouldn’t.
But Amy Whey has done something she shouldn’t. And Roux, the glamorous newcomer to Amy’s suburban neighbourhood, knows exactly what that is.
Roux promises she will go away – if Amy plays by her rules.
But Amy isn’t prepared to lose everything. She’s going to fight back, and in this escalating game of cat and mouse, there can be only one winner.
What readers and booksellers are saying about Never Have I Ever:
‘Sizzles with suspense and delicious darkness from start to finish’
‘Never have I ever read a book that is such a rollercoaster of a ride’
‘A seriously addictive, fast-paced thriller’
‘Very well written and totally terrifying at times…be careful who you invite to book club!’
‘The book of the summer’
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