February 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

1980s Heartthrob Andrew McCarthy Now an Accidental YA Author

When actor and director Andrew McCarthy began his latest book, he had no intention of writing a YA story. However, during the process, the voice of one of the characters, 15-year-old Lucy Willows, began to dominate the story, one of family secrets and intrigue. The result is Just Fly Away (Algonquin, 2017), a tale of a girl whose sense of stability is shaken after discovering that she has an eight-year-old brother living just a few blocks away. He is the product of a brief affair that her father had had.

McCarthy is no stranger to teen angst. His acting career was built on such iconic coming-of-age movies as Pretty in Pink, St. Elmo’s Fire, and Less Than Zero. He believes that these films were the precursor of today’s popular YA genre. “They took young people’s problems seriously,” McCarthy told School Library Journal from San Francisco, where he was on a multicity tour to promote his book. “Those films respected young people.” In particular, Pretty in Pink, which starred Molly Ringwald as Andie, a working-class girl taunted by the preppy popular crowd, is still a cult favorite 30 years later. McCarthy portrayed Blaine, the rich kid who reneges on his prom invite to Andie.

Although the main character of his book is female, McCarthy does not feel that Just Fly Away is a “girls’ book.” It can actually be viewed as a father/son book, since it is that particular relationship that spurs Lucy to take a road trip from New York through New England to get to the bottom of her father and brother’s secrets. The effect of that father-son relationship leads to the brash and sassy Lucy finding that “by running away from your problems, you are running into your answers,” explains McCarthy.

Unsurprisingly, women who were coming of age themselves when McCarthy’s films were in theaters and fondly remember him as a “Brat Packer,” have been flocking to his book tour appearances. Some are librarians who are adding Just Fly Away to their collections. SLJ asked McCarthy if he had any recommendations for them before they introduced it to students. He urged them to remember that when all teens eventually discover that a parent’s life doesn’t center around them after all, that the realization can make them feel unsafe. “This book may show teens that they are not alone in feeling this way, or alone in the world.” After writing the novel, he turned to a teen neighbor to provide feedback on the manuscript, as his teenage son opted to “wait for the audiobook.”

While Just Fly Away is his first foray into YA, McCarthy is not a novice author. His travel memoir, The Longest Way Home (Free Press, 2012), became a New York Times best seller, and the Financial Times of London named it one of their Best Books. Travel is still a passion of his; he is heading to Easter Island after his book tour is complete.

In addition to his writing career, McCarthy has also found success as a director, most notably of Orange Is the New Black. However, he has no plans to be involved in a film adaptation of Just Fly Away. When asked why he wouldn’t consider playing the dad in a movie version, he chuckled and replied, “I’m too old!”

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Rocco Staino About Rocco Staino

Rocco Staino @RoccoA is the retired director of the Keefe Library of the North Salem School District in New York. He is now a contributing editor for School Library Journal and also writes for the Huffington Post.

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