Kay Kerr made a splash in 2020 with her YA debut novel Please Don’t Hug Me and I interviewed her then at PaperbarkWords.
Kerr has a new YA novel, Social Queue (clever title), published this month. Both novels are from Text Publishing. She tells us about it here:
I started writing Social Queue, my new YA romance novel, because I wanted to escape. Firstly, it was the stress of climate change, exacerbated by the Australian bushfires of summer 2019. Then a pandemic hit and there was a whole new level of fear, grief, and uncertainty to contend with. The manuscript tucked away on my computer became my reprieve.
I thought I would write my way into one of the books or movies I love so much. The ones I pick up or put on when things feel especially difficult. There aren’t many of those stories with an autistic character at the heart of them, and I wanted to write one. Writing my debut novel, Please Don’t Hug Me, had taken an emotional toll, as I got my autism diagnosis while I was writing it, and processed a lot of pain from my teenage years through those pages. The second book is going to be different, I told myself.
It started off with a cute premise: my protagonist Zoe is an 18-year-old intern at an online media company, whose first article, about her lack of romantic experience, goes viral. Zoe is overwhelmed and more than a little surprised by the response, including the people from her past who come forward to say they did have feelings for her, but she must have missed the signs. So, with a deadline and a list of potential suitors, Zoe goes back to reconnect with each one, hoping to learn a little more about the confusing signals of attraction, and navigate a path to love.
It was fun to dream up awkward moments, cute connections, bad dates, and first kisses. It was even more fun to give my protagonist, Zoe, the opportunity to realise her worth right at the start of her dating life (something that took me a lot longer to learn).
But the further I delved into the story, the more emotional truth spilled out on to the pages. I began to explore the ways Zoe was vulnerable in the dating world, and how I had been too. Leaning back into my experiences as a journalism student, intern, and then cadet reporter, I unpacked the messaging around autism in the media, and what that tells autistic people about themselves every day. I wrote about bullying, self-esteem, autonomy, ableism, burnout, loneliness, and identity. Not being a planner, I was initially caught by surprise when these ideas and themes came out. My escapism project got very real. But, then, it wasn’t really a huge surprise. These are the issues I was thinking about, grappling with, talking about with other autistic people, and learning from advocates and activists both online and in-person.
Social Queue feels true to what I set out wanting to write – a heartfelt autistic coming-of-age and love story. It is still a joyous read, and one that I hope readers will connect with and appreciate at this moment in time.