In Concord-native Meredith Tate’s new novel, a young woman is kidnapped after a drug deal goes badly. To summon help, she has an out-of-body experience. Her quest to give her sister clues about where she is and how she got there serves as the central action of the book, which is called The Last Confession of Autumn Casterly. Tate spoke about it with NHPR's Peter Biello.
Editor's note: This interview includes discussion of sensitive subjects that may make some listeners feel uncomfortable, such as rape and sexual assault.
Meredith Tate's Top Five Reading Recommendations:
1. Fireborne by Rosaria Munda. "This YA fantasy novel is packed with political intrigue, dragons, and extremely complex character dynamics. As children, Annie and Lee both experienced trauma on opposite sides of a revolution they were too young to understand, stranding them completely alone until they grew to become best friends. Now older, they find themselves rivals for a single leadership position in the dragon riding fleet. This is a must-read for anyone who is intrigued by the politics of Ancient Rome. I cried while reading."
2. When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon. "This YA romcom is so swoon-worthy and fun. It’s the type of book that will immediately brighten your day. Two polar opposite Indian American teens, Dimple and Rishi, meet while attending the same STEM-focused summer program, only to discover their meeting wasn’t so random after all — their parents are hoping to arrange their marriage. I laughed out loud, and ended the book with a huge smile on my face."
3. House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin Craig. "This spooky and atmospheric YA fantasy-horror is one to read with the lights on. Annaleigh was once one of twelve sisters, before her older sisters began dying one by one in increasingly odd circumstances. When a mysterious stranger invites her and her remaining sisters to attend a series of glamorous balls, Annaleigh starts having ghostly visions, leading her to believe everything is connected — and she must find out why her sisters are dying, before she becomes the next girl in a coffin. I read it all in one sitting."
4. You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone by Rachel Lynn Solomon. "This YA contemporary is a great story of the complex relationships between sisters and families. Twins Adina and Tovah have watched their mother’s health slowly deteriorate with Huntington’s Disease. Despite their tumultuous relationship with one another, Type-A Tovah and musician Adina decide to get tested, only to learn that while one of the twins does not carry the Huntington’s gene, the other will soon develop the disease. This character-driven, heartfelt family story kept me glued to the page."
5. How To Be Brave by E Katherine Kottaras. "I recommend this beautiful, quiet YA contemporary to almost everyone I meet. As someone who lost my mother at a young age, I related so strongly to this story of living with grief. Still coming to terms with her mother’s recent death, Georgia makes a bucket list of all the things she’s afraid to do and decides to face her fears. I read this five years ago and I still find myself thinking about it a lot."
This character, Autumn Casterly, goes through some awful things. She's been beaten, bound, held captive. You say this book is a metaphor for rape culture. What made you want to take on this topic?
I think it was so much pent-up frustration and anger and this overwhelming feeling of hopelessness following a few high-profile cases in the media during which rapists were given egregiously light sentences. As a woman, it's so frustrating to me to constantly feel like it's just this sense of hopelessness when you see this over and over, and I kind of just wanted to channel that into my writing and just show what you don't see when you turn on the news. What you don't see is what's actually happening in these young women's lives and what it's actually like to deal with gaslighting and a culture that just does not prioritize the futures of the victims.
With respect to Autumn Casterly, the premise of this novel is that she is in the middle of a drug deal and something goes wrong and she is beaten and held captive. The premise here is that she's able to have an out of body experience, almost like a ghost, even though she's not dead. Her ghost can go to her sister, Ivy, and try to guide her sister towards finding her. How did you connect that idea with the idea of what you were just talking about--rape culture, gaslighting, that kind of thing?
There's a scene in the book specifically when Autumn is trying to get her sister's attention and she sees a clue and Ivy does not see it because Ivy is just kind of hanging out with her friends and Autumn is shouting at the top of her lungs. "Look over here! Listen to me!" And Ivy can't hear her. I want to show that so often victims and women are just--their voices are taken away in these scenarios. I wanted to show that and show how awful it is when that happens. The reason I wanted to show it with Autumn specifically is because Autumn is not necessarily a good person at the beginning of the book. She does a lot of bad things. She does a lot of questionable things. I know in chapter three she's bullying another student. She's a mean girl. But what I wanted to show is that, all of that aside, she's still a human being and deserves to be listened to and believed and respected.
One of the hurdles Autumn faces is coming to grips with what happened in her past. When you were talking about Autumn screaming into the void and not being heard, I was thinking of one of the things she can't say to herself until late in the book is the "R" word. She can't say until late, "I was raped." This happened in the distant past, before the action of the novel starts, but the action of the novel helps her say that. And that seems important.
In the book, she needs to be physically found to be saved but also emotionally, Ivy is finding her, learning about her sister. I think in that process Autumn kind of finds herself, too. As Autumn and Ivy learn more about one another, they're also finding strength within themselves.
This book takes place in Concord. There are lots of Concord landmarks. And Concord has had its own high-profile sexual assault cases in the past few years. To what extent were those on your mind when you were writing this?
To be honest, I wrote the book before any of that came to light. Those stories made me very angry when I read them. I was no longer living in Concord when I saw them, but I just think it's another example of--for example, the young woman who was suspended for bringing up troubling feelings--
You're referring to Concord High School?
I think that's another example of how women are not believed. The book takes place in Concord, but it's a theme that I think happens too often everywhere. I mean, I went to Concord High. I loved Concord High. I will always love Concord, but these things happen everywhere. No place is immune to them.
What do you hope readers take away from this book?
I want readers to think about the fact that everyone, regardless of who they are, regardless of you know, maybe the bad things they've done, that they still deserve to be listened to and respected. I want people to think about the fact that this is really prevalent in our culture.
According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, which is the network I quoted in the back of the book, they said, "Every 73 seconds, another American is sexually assaulted. And one of every six American women is a victim of attempted or completed rape." I just think that's an egregious statistic. I really just wanted to bring to light that issue from the perspective of the victim. I wanted to show the human side of the people who are suffering from this.
Meredith Tate will be holding a launch event for her book, The Last Confession of Autumn Casterly, on Saturday, February 15th at Gibson's Bookstore in Concord.
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