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Lit chat with Miranda Luby

Miranda Luby’s debut novel, Sadie Starr’s Guide to Starting Overis one we think every teen (14+) should read. It tackles some big topics – such as anxiety, ideology, disordered eating, and manipulation – but in a clever, non-preachy way. Miranda is a Torquay-based writer who was kind enough to chat to us about her young adult novel and all the ideas contained within its pages. We now also have signed copies in store for you to enjoy. Read on, reader!

Sadie Starr’s Guide to Starting Over follows sixteen-year-old Sadie as she relocates with her family from Sydney to Melbourne and attempts to reinvent her life (and herself!). Can you introduce us to your protagonist and tell us a little bit about why she might want to start everything – her life, her friends, her fashion style, identity, everything! – again?When we meet Sadie, she’s really unhappy with how her life’s working out. Her school marks are inconsistent, she’s always on a new diet, and she has completely messed up her relationship with her one close friend (and secret crush), Daniel. So, when her family relocates, she sees it as a chance to become a ‘better’ version of herself.Sadie is a pretty all-or-nothing girl, so to start over she throws out her old wardrobe (an epic collection of cat-themed t-shirts), she deletes all her social media and her philosophy-inspired blog, and she stops being the person she was with Daniel—funny, nerdy and weird. She becomes a blank slate and has to find a whole new identity (cue manipulative mean girls telling her who she should be).

In reality, Sadie’s life before the move was just that—life. Complicated and messy and challenging. But, being a perfectionist, Sadie’s not good at coping with messiness. She wants to instantly rid herself of all her ‘bad’ habits and be magically reborn into someone who doesn’t ‘screw up’. In that way, I feel like there’s a bit of Sadie in all of us (or most of us, anyway). Hello New Year’s Resolutions, new diets and that fresh notebook that’s going to get our lives together.In the end, of course, Sadie’s messy life comes creeping back in.Sadie’s obsession with starting things over seeps into her daily life in ways that aren’t entirely healthy. Can you talk us through the kind of thinking patterns and behaviours Sadie struggles with throughout the book? Why did you want to explore these issues for a teenage audience?Sadie is a really black-and-white, all-or-nothing thinker. If things aren’t going ‘perfectly’ in a certain aspect of her life, she swings to the other extreme to cope with her feelings of perceived failure. This plays out most harmfully in her diet. Sadie severely restricts her diet (and overexercises) because being thin and in control of what she eats makes her feel ‘worthy’ and like she’s achieving something. But her standards for herself are so high that she inevitably can’t live up to them. When she feels like she’s ‘screwed up’ her diet, she secretively binges. Not just half a block of chocolate. Sadie eats until she feels sick, trying to momentarily silence the voice in her brain that tells her she’s not good enough. This whole thing is a real rollercoaster for Sadie and causes her a lot of distress.

I wanted to explore this flip side of perfectionism, and in particular binge eating, because binge eating is so common in our society—it’s just not spoken about a lot because of shame and stigma. I wanted anyone who reads the book who might be struggling with the same things Sadie is to know they’re not alone and to realise that binge eating is not a lack of control or a love of ‘junk food’. It’s a mental health issue that should be treated as such.One of the other big themes of the book is morality and feminism, and the difference between genuine and performative ethics. Can you talk about how you explored this complex topic in the narrative?At Sadie’s new school, she befriends a popular, all-girls, feminist group who are ‘cancelling’ a male student for allegedly stalking another female student. While some of the girls mean well and just want to ‘support women’, there’s also a lot of virtue signalling going on, as well as black and white ideas about what feminism is, how it should be ‘performed’ and who should be allowed into this group. I wanted to explore this issue without it being too didactic or heavy-handed, and also in a way that didn’t put too much blame on any individual—they’re just teenagers after all, learning about their feminism and activism, and most of them are trying to do the right thing.

I think exploring it in the context of a mean girls trope, where the girls could give and take away pink badges, helped keep the issue grounded and relatable and hopefully really engaging for the reader! Entertainment first, message second, I reckon.Sadie Starr’s Guide to Starting Over is your debut novel, and we understand you’re working on your second book for young adults. What made you want to write for a teenage audience? Do you have certain memories or associations attached to what you were reading when you were that age?I think the YA voice just comes naturally to me. It’s often first person, it’s emotive, it’s curious about the world, it’s relatable (we’ve all been teens!). So, the choice was less about wanting to write for teens and more about writing stories that work for my style—which happen to be teen-focused stories. I don’t write what I read at that age, funnily enough. I liked fantasy and sci-fi, mostly. But those genres don’t suit my style of writing, so I stick to contemporary—and now that’s almost all I read, in YA and adult novels.Sadie Starr was shortlisted for the Text Prize in 2020 as a manuscript, which is a huge achievement (we love the Text Prize!). What did it mean for you to be shortlisted for this award and how did it lead to launching your writing career?It was such a wonderful moment! To have that kind of reassurance that your work is good, that somebody loves it, is everything to an emerging writer. It felt like winning the lottery. I definitely cried. And fortunately for me, although my book didn’t win the Text Prize, they offered me a book deal for it anyway. Text has been so wonderful to work with in every way so I would love to publish more books with them—fingers crossed!