Sadie Starr’s Guide to Starting Over by Miranda Luby

Sadie Starr’s Guide to Starting Over by Miranda Luby

As the title Sadie Starr’s Guide to Starting Over forewarns, Sadie Starr is trying to turn her life around and do things differently when she leaves her best friend Daniel and her life in Sydney and begins again in Melbourne. Of course, it will not be as easy as she hopes.

Miranda Luby is a journalist and fresh, intelligent new voice in Australian YA. In this article for Joy in Books at PaperbarkWords, Miranda introduces 16-year-old Sadie and some of the difficulties that she encounters starting year eleven in a new school and city.

Sadie Starr’s Guide to Starting Over is published by Text Publishing.

Miranda Luby on Sadie Starr’s Guide to Starting Over:

As a lifestyle journalist, I’ve always found the writing of mine that resonates most with readers is my columns. Pieces that allow me to ask questions about a relatable aspect of life and explore what it means for me personally or what it says about our culture. Is it ever okay to touch up Instagram selfies? Are we actually entitled to our own opinions? I don’t always have answers, but I feel like I get closer to some kind of truth. As late American writer Mary Flannery O’Connor said, ‘I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.’

So that’s where Sadie Starr’s Guide to Starting Over began for me—with a question that’s interested me ever since I was fourteen, when my family moved country and a friend excitedly told me, ‘You can be anyone you want now. You can totally reinvent yourself!’ Is it ever possible to start over and leave your ‘old self’ behind?

I’m fascinated with this idea of starting over—of somehow magically and instantly becoming an exciting, new (and, if I’m honest, better) version of myself—in both dramatic, life-overhauling ways, such as moving school, state or country, but also in subtle, everyday ways like a new notebook, a new haircut, or even just the start of a new week. I know it’s a relatable desire, and the promise of ‘a whole new you’ is rife in our self-improvement discourse, so I thought a teenager who’s obsessed with starting over would make a good premise for a YA novel.

I began writing about a sixteen-year-old girl named Sadie whose family moves from Sydney to Melbourne, and she decides to use it as a chance to reinvent herself. The novel started out as something light-hearted and funny, chronicling the ways her ‘old self’ would reappear as she tried to find her ‘new self’ in different friendship groups. But while I was writing I was personally struggling with perfectionism’s classic black and white thinking, particularly when it came to diet and exercise. For me, it was all or nothing: a strict, planned week of calorie counting and spin classes, or a week of inertia and overeating. I soon realised that Sadie’s obsession with ‘starting over’ stemmed from the same perfectionist thought pattern, and it was a lot more problematic and damaging than I’d initially realised.

At the same time, I’d also noticed a similar black and white thought patten causing division in our cultural discourse, particularly in discussions around social issues online. There seems to be less and less nuance in many of our conversations. You’re either on the right side or the wrong side of an issue. If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. And anyone who dares to challenge the approved narrative is often judged harshly. As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says in this fascinating essay, we’re told to ‘parrot what I say, flatten all nuance, wish away complexity.’ I became interested in this mindset, which I believe is generally based in good intentions but isn’t productive or sustainable if we want to make lasting change in the world.

So, after much pantsing and eventual plotting, a deal with Text Publishing, and a lot of invaluable guidance from my incredible editor Jane Pearson, my novel finally came together. 

Sadie Starr’s Guide to Starting Over is about sixteen-year-old Sadie who is obsessed with starting over. A new year, a new diet, a new social media identity. Anything that gives her a chance to be a better version of herself. Her family moves states at the beginning of Year 11 and at her new school she befriends Alexa, the ringleader of a popular, feminist girl gang who wear pink ‘women’s-support badges’. At the school, social approval comes from endorsing the right opinion and punishing those who disagree. The gang is ‘cancelling’ a male student because they believe he has been stalking another female student, but the truth, as is sometimes the case, is a lot more complicated than that. When Sadie discovers what really happened, she wrestles with how to make things right. But it all gets very messy, something she does not deal well with, and when things begin to devolve at school to the point where she becomes a social outcast it causes a depressive spiral of binge eating. While Sadie is not clinically diagnosed in the book, I intended her struggles to shine a light on Binge Eating Disorder. This is Australia’s most common eating disorder, but due to shame and stigma it’s not spoken about much. In the end, Sadie must find a way to stand up for what she believes in and accept herself, imperfections and all.

In essence, this novel is about the downsides of black and white thinking, both personally and in our culture. I wanted to write a book in which both the personal and the cultural manifestations of this all-or-nothing thinking collide, so young people could see the dangers it poses and look to find a more complex and healthy way of viewing themselves, others and the world.

For me, Sadie Starr’s Guide to Starting Over is kind of like a long, fictional, column. While Sadie is not me, she and her friends allow me to explore some topics I think are timely and important and might just help someone struggling with the same things to realise they’re not alone.

Miranda Luby (credit Cormac Hanrahan, Text Publishing website)

Sadie Starr’s Guide to Starting Over at Text Publishing

Miranda Luby’s website

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