I am super excited to present to you today my review of The Way the Light Bends and an interview with its author, Cordelia Jensen! I am over the moon to be sharing this amazing book with you all.
A powerful novel in verse about fitting in, standing out, defining your own self-worth, and what it takes to keep a fracturing family whole.
Virtual twins Linc and Holly were once extremely close. But while artistic, creative Linc is her parents’ daughter biologically, it’s smart, popular Holly, adopted from Ghana as a baby, who exemplifies the family’s high-achieving model of academic success.
Linc is desperate to pursue photography, to find a place of belonging, and for her family to accept her for who she is, despite her surgeon mother’s constant disapproval and her growing distance from Holly. So when she comes up with a plan to use her photography interests and skills to do better in school–via a project based on Seneca Village, a long-gone village in the space that now holds Central Park, where all inhabitants, regardless of race, lived together harmoniously–Linc is excited and determined to prove that her differences are assets, that she has what it takes to make her mother proud. But when a long-buried family secret comes to light, Linc must decide whether her mother’s love is worth obtaining.
A novel in verse that challenges the way we think about family and belonging.
Annie: Hi Cordelia! Thanks for joining us. The Way the Light Bends is your second novel to be published. How did your writing process change now that you already have a book under your belt?
Cordelia: Something that was very different about this time is that The Way the Light Bends was sold on proposal. Meaning, I wrote 50 pages of the story and a detailed outline and that was what we sold to Philomel. So, this changed the writing process quite a bit. My editor and I essentially began working together on the first draft of this book. With Skyscraping, I had already worked on the book for two years in graduate school with four different teachers. That being said, I did many (8?) revisions of both books. Verse novels are a tricky form and it takes a long time to revise them—you revise for the language and lose the story, you revise for story and lose the language. It is a dance.
Annie: What are your top three things you can’t live without while working on a book?
- Definitely coffee.
- I like to have a notebook and pen by my computer to write notes to myself while I type.
- And usually my little dog Zoey or my big cat Calvin are both there to keep me company.
Annie: Aww. What does a typical work day look like for you?
Cordelia: I drop my kids at school and do some errands. Usually, I am working at my laptop from about 9-3pm, breaking for exercise sometimes and lunch…About weekly, I write with friend authors Laurie Morrison and Laura Sibson and sometimes Lisa Graff. I also help with the Parent Association at the kids’ school, some semesters I am teaching and also working on Mt. Airy Musers, the kids’ literary journal I run for the Big Blue Marble Bookstore. So, I keep pretty busy!
Annie: How did The Way the Light Bends change throughout the writing process? Do you plan your stories in detail before writing or jump right in?
Cordelia: Generally, I write the first 25-50 pages of the story without planning and then I get stuck and do some planning but not in much detail. I almost always know emotionally how I want the main character to feel in the final scene. However, because this book was sold on proposal, I did a lot more outlining and planning for The Way the Light Bends. Although actually a lot of that initial planning changed through the revision process.
Annie: Linc’s sister, Holly, was adopted. What was it like to write about adoptive siblings, and what sort of research did you do?
I first heard about “virtual” twins, when I was writing articles for Twins magazine when my kids were young. I interviewed lots of families who had one adopted child and one biological child who were very close in age. I think their stories always stuck with me and seemed like a really interesting dynamic to write about. I watched a lot of videos on transracial adoption and read some books and had a sensitivity reader who was closer to the experience.
Annie: Speaking of sensitivity readers, how did having sensitivity readers help shape the final product?
Cordelia: What a great question! The first draft of this story included Holly’s POV. Since I am not African-American and I was writing her story in first person I felt like it was imperative to have sensitivity readers. I learned a lot from these readers, one thing that really stuck with me is that I would never name a character’s skin tone before unless they weren’t white. In other words, if they were white I didn’t say anything. My sensitivity readers, Dhonielle Clayton and Sarah Hannah Gómez, also had me think more about Holly’s hair, her relationship to her boyfriend and how I could add more micro-aggressions into the story. My editor and I ended up deciding that the story was more Linc’s than Holly’s so we let go of her point of view. I felt more comfortable doing so as well because I wasn’t sure I could write it authentically. That being said, I am glad I tried. Namely, because I am sure Holly is a more well-rounded character because I spent so much time thinking about her and what was going on for her while Linc was doing her photography, hanging out with Silas, etc.
I also had an expert reader (Dr. Diana Wall) for the Seneca Village sub-plot and this was immensely helpful in terms of fact-checking. To learn more about her work with the Seneca Village project click here.
Annie: Linc’s passion for photography is a major part of the story. Do you have experience with photography? If not, how did you go about doing research?
Cordelia: I am not a photographer but my mother, Mariette Pathy Allen, is so I grew up thinking a lot about what she was thinking as a person who is almost always taking pictures. I read a lot of photography terms and she gave me a photography lesson. Then, she read it as an expert reader as well as my friend Sarah Zwerling who is a photographer and photography teacher. I am a visual artist, I paint and draw, but I now think of photographs in new ways even when I am just posting to Instagram.
Annie: You co-wrote a middle grade book recently, which is set to release in April. What are some similarities and differences between writing for teens and for a younger audience?
Cordelia: In terms of character development and the writing process, it feels the same. The main difference is cultivating a younger voice. Every Shiny Thing, the book Laurie Morrison and I wrote that comes out this April, is an Upper Middle Grade book; in terms of content, it deals with some heavy issues, like shoplifting and addiction. However, there is a bit more humor in the book and a bit more emphasis on lessons in friendship than my two Young Adult novels. I think because I have mostly written YA it was helpful to write alongside Laurie, who is a Middle Grade book expert and taught Middle School English for many years. She has a strong sense of how 12 and 13 year olds sound.
Annie: What was your favorite book when you were a teen, and what’s your favorite book now?
Cordelia: My favorite book was The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy when I was a teen. My favorite book now is probably I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson.
Annie: I’ll Give You the Sun is one of my favorites too! If you could tell your young writer self one thing, what would it be?
Cordelia: Thank you young writer self for writing so much in your diary! This has been endlessly helpful to me as a writer in capturing the voice of a teen and tween. Thank you for watching so carefully and listening to the people and world around you. Thank you young writer self for being so sensitive—this is more of a gift, than a burden.
And thank you Annie for your fantastic questions!
Annie: Thank you for your answers Cordelia, and congrats on the publication of your second novel!
You can read my full review on Goodreads, here.
I really loved The Way the Light Bends! I really connected with the story and I loved the writing (it’s written in verse!) and the artistic vibes.
- CHARACTERS: The characters are all so complex and flawed and real. I felt so bad for both Linc and Holly, and I loved watching their relationship evolve. Linc and Holly’s mom was another very interesting character. She was super frustrating, but unlike some books, she isn’t painted as the one-dimensional evil parent character—she was multifaceted.
- WRITING: The Way the Light Bends is told completely in verse. The writing is beautiful; it feels raw and real. I also loved how a lot of the poems were like snapshots; there were little details about unrelated things placed throughout some of the descriptions that made reading feel sort of like looking at a photograph, which is definitely fitting for the story, since Linc is a photographer.
“My mind //whirls// and clicks.
The erasers clap.
The door bursts open.
An idea doesn’t just flutter in—
it f l i e s.”
Note: Quote is from an uncorrected galley and may appear differently in the final copy.
- PLOT: I loved following Linc as she tried to pursue her dreams as an artist and navigated her home and school lives. As someone who has siblings who were adopted, I found it easy to relate to some of the things that she and Holly experienced, like how people would look at them funny in public or not believe that they were sisters. I loved reading about another family with adopted kids. The author also touches on issues of racism and white privilege, which is really awesome.
Long story short, I loved The Way the Light Bends! It’s sure to touch readers with its powerful verse and complex, raw characterization. I would definitely recommend it.
I received a digital galley of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you so much to the people at Penguin Teen and to Cordelia Jensen for including me on the blog tour and providing me with a review copy!
Will you be picking up a copy of The Way the Light Bends? Do you like reading novels written in verse? What was your favorite book when you were younger? Talk to me in the comments!