About the Book: Fourteen-year-old Tessa has never had a normal life. Her mother, a frustrated hippie with awful taste in men, has seen to that. But when her mom pulls her out of school to live at an ashram in the Catskills, Tessa goes from being a freak among normal people to being an outcast among freaks. Freaks who worship an orange robe-wearing guru. And while her mom is buzzing with spiritual energy, and finding a little too much favor with the guru, all Tessa feels are weird vibes.
Unless she's with Colin, the gorgeous boy who fixes trucks for the ashram. The connection they share is the most spiritual thing Tessa has ever felt. But he's older-like illegally older-and Tessa's taking dangerous risks to spend time with him. Soon her life is blooming into a psychedelic web of secrets and lies and it's clear that something's about to give way. When it does, will she have anyone to hold on to? Will she even know herself?
What Jessica Has to Say: My new YA book, "Karma for Beginners" isn't exactly autobiographical, but it's definitely more so than my last YA book "Almost Home" (about a group of homeless teenagers in LA) or my playwriting (the last two documentary plays I wrote with my husband, Erik Jensen, are based on interviews we did with exonerated death row inmates and Iraqi civilian refugees). And in another life, I'm an actor, and so I'm always playing characters different from myself. So when I started working on "Karma for Beginners," I wanted to write something a little closer to my own experiences as a teenager, and also something funny! Tessa, the main character in "Karma" starts out shyer and quieter than I was---I was definitely a rebellious kid--but her introspectiveness is definitely something I remember feeling as a teenager. Her mom--also a main character in the book--is different from my mom, and the actual story isn't based on my life (Tessa's hippie single mom takes her to live on an ashram in upstate New York, where Tessa falls in love with an older guy). But my parents (still happily married) did take me to VISIT an ashram kind of like the one in the book a bunch of times, and I did have an older boyfriend my freshman year of high school, and some of the other things Tessa goes through (ahem) are similar to things I experienced as a teenager. Tessa's discovery of bands and music for the first time, her questioning of her spirituality and ideas about the world, her discovery of the power that rebellion gives her--and her experience getting in a little over her head with that rebellion--are all things that I can definitely relate to my own teenage experiences, even if they're not literally taken from my life.
When I wrote "Almost Home" (the one about homeless teenagers in LA, which Erik and I are now adapting as a movie for Jon Bon Jovi's production company) I used my imagination a LOT to get inside the kids' heads; to think through everything they'd been through and work out how that would affect everything they thought and did. I also did a lot of research. With "Karma for Beginners" I didn't have to stretch so far---though Tessa and I aren't the same, her personality and the circumstances of her life are a little closer to home, so I spent more time remembering who I was when I was 14 and 15 and thinking about how I would've responded to the situations she finds herself in. The new YA book I'm working on right now is somewhere in-between---the protagonist is more like me than the kids in "Almost Home" are, but a little less than Tessa. It's a balancing act to try to figure out when to draw on my own teenage experiences and when it's better to imagine something totally different!
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