And for the grand finale of our week of all things LOONEY, we caught up with Zonderkidz Senior Editor Jacque Alberta about Luke Reynolds’s debut middle-grade novel THE LOONEY EXPERIMENT.
Here’s a little reminder about this wonderful story, from Luke’s web site:
Atticus Hobart couldn’t feel lower. He’s in love with a girl who doesn’t know he exists, he is the class bully’s personal punching bag, and to top it all off, his dad has just left the family. Into this drama steps Mr. Looney, a 77-year-old substitute English teacher with uncanny insight and a most unconventional approach to teaching. But Atticus soon discovers there’s more to Mr. Looney’s methods than he’d first thought. And as Atticus begins to unlock the truths within his own name, he finds that his hyper-imagination can help him forge his own voice, and maybe—just maybe—discover that the power to face his problems was inside him all along.
And without further ado, here’s Jacque!
Tam: What was it about THE LOONEY EXPERIMENT that made you want to acquire it?
Jacque: It hooked me in the first chapter. Atticus’s character felt so relatable and real—a kid who is very withdrawn publically, but has this amazing internal voice and humor. And the journey of finding the courage to be who he really is—to risk putting himself out there—is done so well. I immediately felt like this was a character and a story I needed on my list, because Luke’s story is not only really entertaining, it also has a storyline that can help readers see how they too can overcome what feels impossible to face in their own lives.
Tam: What do you love most about Mr. Looney?
Jacque: He is that teacher we all wished we had. He’s a substitute, but he puts all of himself into the job, and even takes the time to notice what Atticus needs—something no one teacher has ever done before. His giving Atticus his signed copy of To Kill a Mockingbird remains one of my favorite things about Mr. Looney—helping Atticus really see who he is and what he can do means more than a book that is likely worth a lot sentimentally and monetarily.
Tam: And then of course I need to ask, what do you love most about Atticus?
Jacque: Atticus has a great voice, and is such an appropriately wise soul. He is insightful in many ways, but still a teenage boy who probably secretly still likes fart noises a little bit too. And his journey from a kid who can barely speak in class to becoming the spokesperson for a group of students at the end is a fantastic one. I also loved that even though he does mature a lot in the book, he never totally loses the humor he had at the start—his fart-noise contest with Adrian toward the end was great!
Also, I loved Atticus’s list of what guys should and shouldn’t do in middle school!
Tam: It is always so inspiring and enlightening to learn a little about the behind-the-scenes editing process. Can you give us some insight into how you approached editing this book? What was it like to work with Luke?
Jacque: Actually, the editing on this was one of the easiest processes I’ve had in a long time! The manuscript that was submitted was quite clean—and Luke was fantastic with revisions and rewrites. Most of what we worked on was making sure Atticus’s journey toward courage felt natural, so that the reader can see the gradual awakening after meeting Mr. Looney, and then how Atticus regained that confidence after Danny’s attack. And also debating over fart jokes and the like …
We also tried to keep up with the developing news over Go Set a Watchman, as To Kill a Mockingbird is so central to the storyline. When it was announced the precursor to To Kill a Mockingbird would be coming out, we had to scramble to change references to Harper Lee’s publishing story in real time, knowing our book was going to the printer before Go Set a Watchman would be in stores and the storyline known.
Tam: Who do you see this book appealing to?
Jacque: My hope is that middle-school boys will find the book and enjoy the story, and see some of themselves in Atticus. And I think girls will enjoy it as well, as Atticus is just a wonderful character—and there’s a nice love story of sorts with Audrey Higgins to help balance the fart jokes JI also hope all readers leave with a sense that what is inside you matters … even if middle-school you feels like only other’s outside perceptions matter.
I think adults will love it too, as there’s something about middle school that never leaves us. And the journey Atticus takes is one that everyone has to take at some point—deciding who we are, what we want to become, and taking the brave leap to make that us known.
Tam: And, finally, is there anything else you would like to add?
Jacque: Hmmm … Only that I loved working with Luke, and hope this book becomes a huge bestseller for him, because it’s a fantastic story by a fantastic person and author.
Well, that’s just about the truest truth ever spoken. Luke Reynolds is SUCH a fantastic person and THE LOONEY EXPERIMENT is SUCH a fantastic story! Comment below and you’ll have a chance to win a signed copy of Luke’s debut middle-grade novel!
Or, if you just can’t wait for your copy (we definitely can’t!), click any of these links to purchase THE LOONEY EXPERIMENT now:
Amazon, Books A Million, Barnes and Noble, IndieBound
Jacque Alberta is a Senior Editor for Zonderkidz as well as Blink, the general market YA imprint of Zondervan—and while she loves reading and editing new books, her favorite part of the job by far is interaction with authors. Jacque joined Zondervan in 2004, and over the years has worked on a variety of kids’ products, from picture books to storybook Bibles and juvenile fiction, but YA is one of her true passions. A graduate of Calvin College (with an English major, naturally), she lives in Grand Rapids surrounded by piles of good books, as well as a very cute (and equally naughty) wire fox terrier named Tucker.