A view months back, in a Writing Community Twitter thread, I stumbled upon Sarah Sutton's Twitter account and her incredible writing. At the time, she was a few months into promoting her first novel, What Are Friends For? and the reactions were mind-blowing. Not only did Sarah make her story so appealing, but readers were loving it. This Friends-to-Lovers Young Adult Romance took the internet by storm and captured the hearts of Sutton's audience, instantly.
Being a lover of all things Young Adult, I knew I had to add this newly published story (January 2020) to my reading list. Let's just say, I expected to love it, but I didn't know what exactly Sarah was hiding in the pages of this novel. For example, as I told Sarah via Instagram Messages concerning what the book's description alludes to, "I was like somethings coming something coming. But I love that I also didn't expect it to go down like that. THAT KISS!"
"...She thinks she’s kissing Jeremy, the totally hot basketball player she’s been crushing on. And the kiss…it’s amazing. Heart-stopping, world-changing, toe-curling. The kiss makes her forget about her overbearing mother, the next-door neighbor’s drama, and the probability that she’ll fail her senior year. The best kiss of her life makes all that fall away.
Until her blindfold falls off, and she realizes that instead of kissing her crush, she’s kissing Elijah, her best friend since third grade..."
Not one Young Adult novel is the same, but they allude to heartfelt stories that make your heart beat faster and nerves grow stronger for the main character's fate. That is just the case with What Are Friends For? which has the perfect amount of teenage struggles, family dynamics, and unforgettable moments that any reader would love. As an author, I found myself wanting to pick Sarah's brain on her title, characters, and plot while I read. Nope, I don't wait until I am finished reading to start asking questions. I was eager to know just how some of the storylines came about and how her writing process went - I am a nerd like that. I absolutely adored her writing style and storytelling techniques. So along with my reactions and thoughts on her debut release, I sent Sarah some questions as well. If you love Young Adult elements, romance, best friends, and writing, stick with me as I discuss all things Remi and Eli, along with secondary characters and key scenes with Young Adult Author, Sarah Sutton.
Emily: Titles are sometimes hard to come by, how did you settle on What Are Friends For and did you have other choices? If so, what was your novel almost called?
Sarah: I knew I wanted something fun, something related to friendship. It was actually almost called What Friends Are For (which is suuuuuper similar, haha!) but I quickly realized I liked interjecting a question mark at the end. It felt quirky and fun!
With only a chapter in, I was already finding myself loving Sutton's characters and funny dialogue sequences. She doesn't shy away from making her lead characters, Remi and Elijah, have those rather uncomfortable conversations. By doing this, Sutton gives their friendship depth from page one.
E: Concerning Elijah and Remi's friendship, how did you translate their connection to the page? What inspired you to craft their light-hearted connection?
S: I had so many guy friends in high school, and I definitely channeled the closeness and lightheartedness from that friendship and put it toward Elijah and Remi’s. It was really fun to play around with!
Sutton has no problem keeping me hooked as I read deeper into her YA Romance. Her descriptions and anticipation through her central character, Remi, tells the story as if a friend is retelling an unexpected romance. In my personal opinion, this technique makes the novel very intriguing. This story format also allows Sutton to really shape Remi's character and how she is handling all the events in her life. As a writer, I was really drawn to the first-person type of writing. In her early chapters, it is evident that Sutton has a unique grasp on this writing style. Telling the story effortfully - flowing in and out of scenes with no trouble.
E: I love your writing style. It is simple, yet catchy. Tell me about your thought process while crafting your story.
S: Oh, thank you so much! I think it’s really important to keep flow in mind, and I try to keep that lighthearted mood. I feel like my mindset changes with each novel, so it's a bit different each time, but I love focusing on the raw emotions of teens, and that's one of my favorite parts about writing YA!
E: The high school dynamic can sometimes be overdone or written terribly. But in What Are Friends For?, you keep the plot interesting and weave in and out of school scenes effortlessly. Tell me about your writing process towards the school scenes (principal, parties, art class, etc).
S: So I think where I benefit a bit from writing YA is that I’m only 21 (I was 19 when I first wrote this story), so the high school scenes were so fresh for me. Granted, I never got into any trouble and I never went to any parties, but I think I just tried to stay focused on what all of that would feel like. What would it feel like if I was failing art? Oh, I’d be desperate for some extra credit. What would it feel like if I were blamed for something I didn’t do? I’d no doubt be snarky, angry, and very, very upset. I had an absolute leg up when it came to it, since I’d only been out of high school for a year when I started the first draft, but keeping in mind how all the experiences might’ve felt was so helpful.
A kiss can change everything unless you keep it a secret as Remi does. Sutton left me wanting more as I desperately tried to figure out how the biggest scene of the novel would change the future events for the characters.
E: I know I'm not the only one eager to learn about all the secondary characters. Was it easy or hard to incorporate your wide cast of characters into each scene?
S: I actually found it pretty easy, strangely enough! It was easier to have a cast of characters to bounce ideas off of. If Jeremy can’t say this line, maybe Savannah can. I actually cut a few characters from the final manuscript just because they didn’t have any relevancy, but having a wider cast of characters can make something feel much more real. Of course it’s not going to be just Remi and Elijah in this world—there’s other people in it, too. :)
One of the best ways to grab a reader's attention is when an author puts their main character in a high tension situation. In this case, Remi gets herself into a lot of tense situations. As it is mentioned in the book, she deals with anxiety from fears of failing her senior year, losing her best friend, and struggling with all the decisions of a 17-year-old girl - yet Sutton crafts all of these scenes beautifully. At one point, towards the end of the book, I found myself just as anxiety-ridden as Remi. My eyes began to move faster than my mind could read the words. I was desperately trying to get to the bottom of what was happening because by then, Remi had become my favorite. I was rooting for her like a best friend. I was rooting for her as if she was actually telling the story to me and I was hoping the outcome was good.
E: I love how Elijah thinks he kissed Savannah, who just happens to have a head injury like Remi. The information of Remi having a head injury doesn't phase him at all. How did you create that so well? Was it easy or difficult to keep him in the dark?
S: Oh, so difficult! In the earlier drafts, I couldn’t figure out a believable way for it to work. There were so many beta readers giving me believable arguments as to why it couldn’t work, so it was stressful. But I think the way it is now makes it believable, a bit quirky, and totally fun!
E: Remi develops a bit of anxiety after she realizes she is falling for her best friend. I noticed how you wrote it in such a relatable and realistic manner. What was your process with capturing the shift in Remi's feelings?
S: I struggle with anxiety, so it’s a bit easy for me to feel the shift. Going from a happy moment to a "oh, shoot, this is happening" moment. It was hard because I’ve never been in her shoes about falling for a best friend, but I tried to pick something that could be similar in experience. Change can always be scary, and I wanted to really point out that Remi was so afraid of this change. Focusing on what aspects of change were scary to her. It was very interesting to dive into!
I was knee-deep in crap. - Remi
One of my favorite parts about reading is connecting with the characters' emotions. Even though I am no longer a teenager, I can really relate to the anger Remi and Eli feel towards each other when tension grows stronger. I found my eyes moving incredibly fast trying to figure out how the fight would play out. I didn't realize just how closely I related to Remi until that scene. Like me, when she wants to work things out, she is set and determined to get to the bottom of the problem. Sutton did an excellent job of keeping the tension high and showing how one small thing can become a big thing.
Speaking of keeping the tension high, Sarah has no problem keeping Remi guessing about what Eli is thinking. In fact, I am wondering the same thing. Strapped along for the ride, I am a passenger in Eli's truck on this snowy adventure.
Then, as the reader, I shift to eavesdropping on Remi's conversation with her dad. Honestly, this conversation is so deep and lighthearted as some parental advice is given by her dear old dad, "You're young, and this is just a season in time." To round out the parental love in the middle of the book, Remi makes me gush as she opens up to her mom about her true feelings. I think Sutton does an excellent job of weaving in gushy and serious moments to show how much Remi's parents love her even when they have to discipline her.
"I kissed him," I said. "We were at a party and blindfolded, so he doesn't know that it was me, but I kissed him. And I realized that even if he loves Savannah for the rest of his life, it'll be okay." I loosen my grip, allowing space to form between us, my stomach starting to ease. "You can still love them even if they're with someone else. As long as they're happy." - Remi to her mom.
E: I loved the family involvement and the years of closeness. Not only do readers get to see Eli and Remi's friendship, but also their families, specifically their moms. What was your thought process like when crafting that history between the two families?
S: I didn’t want the history to be just with Remi and Eli, mostly because I wanted it to have a deeper connection. I wanted there to be no doubt that these two have been BFFs for a long time. I think showing the parent relationship really helped that, because it makes that friendship even more personal. If the parents are involved, it adds a whole new layer!
Ah! Ah! The reveal scene is perfectly done. Every girl's dream moment with their number one guy is unveiled before the reader's eyes. Sutton lays it all out. All the emotion is on the page. I could feel the emotions as if I was the third wheel in the backseat of Terry's truck. The momentum that Sutton brings with her simple, quirky, and unique dialogue and descriptions makes the scene outstanding in all the best ways and worth the wait!
E: How did you keep the anticipation of the plot going? Meaning did you ever have any trouble knowing how to keep your readers guessing?
S: There was a time that I was a little concerned about the momentum. The middles are always scary, because those are so easy to drag on. And with Remi doing a task as repetitive as making paper snowflakes, it was hard to figure out what exactly to do to keep things interesting. I definitely struggled with figuring that out for sure, but I think it turned out okay! :)
E: Did you have any alternative scenes in mind for your ending or was there just one? Can you dish on any details (without revealing your ending)?
S: haha, OH! There was an alternate ending, and it was so cringy. So at the end of the novel, there’s a winter dance held at the school. Instead of the ending that does happen, Remi actually goes to the dance! I think there were a few good and bad parts about that alternate ending (no doubt more bad parts), but I did like that Remi got to see her snowflakes hung up in action. However, that ending wasn’t true to her character, or Elijah’s character, once he comes into play in that scene. I absolutely prefer the way things end in the final version!
Sarah Sutton's Young Adult Romance, What Are Friends For?, lives well-above the hyped-up promotion, in my opinion, because it creates the perfect mix of high school romance with a dash of drama. Not only does she give depth and growth to her two main characters, Remi and Eli, but she also comes full circle with her secondary players, as well. As a reader, I appreciate the attention to detail with each storyline, leaving no one behind as the story came to a close and Remi found peace in all her anxious thoughts. Overall, I absolutely fell in love with this story and the catchy one-liners that best friends love to make with each other. I definitely think this YA Romance stands out with its unique characters and heartfelt story making it reach new heights in the genre. Are you intrigued yet?
If you loved Sarah's debut release, you'll want to check out her second novel, "Out of My League."
It is on my To-Read-List, is it on yours?
"It is all fun and games until someone catches feelings." - Sarah Sutton tweets as she announced the release of her second novel on Twitter back in June 2020.
"When the Bayview High school board cuts her newspaper program, Sophia is convinced life is over. Without the journalism elective, she loses her chance to intern at the biggest newspaper company in the county, all because the stupid baseball team wants new equipment..."
What Are Friends For:
Out of My League: