You know we love a Colorado author. We’ve recently met a brand new one from Steamboat Springs! Jessica Speer has written a middle grade book about friendship that just came out this week! Packed with fun quizzes, illustrations, and stories, BFF or NRF (Not Really Friends): A Girl’s Guide to Happy Friendships is the ultimate guidebook to help readers learn the ins and outs of friendship.
We chatted with Jessica via email about BFF or NRF? and asked her questions about the inspiration for the book, her writing process, and more! Check out her responses below! and watch the book trailer here!
What was the inspiration for BFF or NRF?
When my two daughters entered the preteen years, friendship struggles started to emerge. This reminded me of my experience as well as the stories of so many others. So I got curious.
I’ve got a background in social sciences and have always been fascinated with human relationships. I dove into books and research on the subject. I also started a friendship program for elementary school girls. This program and the stories of girls shaped this book from start to finish.
Can you tell us a little bit about that friendship program, what it does, and why it’s important?
Pre-COVID, I ran my friendship program in elementary school as an after-school program. Friendship struggles tend to intensify for girls in late elementary school and into middle school. Often girls feel alone at these times and unsure of how to handle struggles. My program brought a group of kids together to share their insights and experiences. In addition to helping girls realize that they are not alone (most girls experience social struggles) the program shared hidden friendship truths and tools to help them navigate the bumps in the road.
Why are friendship and social struggles common in the preteen years, especially for girls?
When we explore everything going during this phase of life, it’s not surprising that social struggles happen. Girls’ confidence drops between the ages of 8-14. Some studies find that confidence dips as much as 30% in girls, leading to self-doubt, social anxiety, and risk avoidance. At the same time, preteens are becoming more reliant on peers. Friendships begin to replace family as tweens’ primary source of identity and support. Preteens also start exploring their own identity. Who their friends are, what they wear, what activities they do.
All of this happens alongside the physiological changes of adolescence. So yeah, social changes and struggles are common in the preteen years! In my friendship programs, the notion that change and struggle are normal was a huge relief to girls. This is emphasized in the book too.
What is the most important/your favorite bit of advice to give to girls struggling with friendship?
It’s helpful for girls (and everyone) to know that friendships struggles are normal, especially during the preteen years. We are all perfectly imperfect humans. There is nothing wrong with them. I encourage girls to stay open to change and new friendships.
The pandemic and social isolation added even more change to our social lives. Did this impact your writing or your book?
Yes, for sure. My book was initially scheduled for release in 2020. It was delayed due to the pandemic, which allowed me to edit it one more time. I’m grateful for these final edits because I was able to add additional content that I hope will support girls as they reenter their in-person social worlds. Many girls are feeling isolated and unsure of where their friendships stand. I hope that BFF or NRF serves as a supportive guide as girls rebuild relationships.
BFF or NRF has interactive components, like quizzes and fill-in-the-blanks. Why is that important?
It can be tough to navigate social issues the moment they happen. The book’s interactive nature gives readers a chance to reflect when they are not right in the moment. The activities help girls learn more about themselves as well as others. Something magic happens when we put words on paper or on screen. Quizzes and activities give girls a chance to think about who they are, how they want to behave, and how they might respond in challenging situations.
What did the writing/editing process for the book look like? Was it difficult to write the interactive parts of the book, or were the quizzes, etc the easy part?
I’ve heard from other writers that you know when you are onto something when your book flows out of you. That was my experience with BFF or NRF. After working with girls, I knew this book had to be written. I loved writing the interactive parts (quizzes, activities, etc) so that was easy and fun for me. I slowed down when writing the stories as I wanted the book to be as inclusive, respectful, and honest as possible.
Your degree is in social sciences, so you had some idea of what you were diving into when you started writing. What was the research process for the book? Did you draw from knowledge you already had, dig into a lot of book research, or was it a combination of both?
It was a combination of both. I have a solid understanding of human relationships and behavior but needed to dive deeper into adolescence. Luckily there’s a lot of research and books on the topic. Some of my favorite authors and experts on preteen and teen girls are Rosiland Wiseman, Lisa Damour, Trudy Ludwig and Rachel Simmons.
BFF or NRF? is such a clever title! Can you talk about how you came up with it?
I was actually on a hike, which is often when I get my best ideas. I knew I needed an engaging title to pique girls’ interest. BFF or NRF (Not Really Friends) also sums up what many girls experience during this phase.
What’s up next for you?
I’m excited to share that my second book, Dissecting Middle School – Understanding the Awesome and Surviving the Weird Stuff releases next August 2022. Like BFF or NRF, this middle-grade book is filled with stories, humor and activities, including choose-your-own-ending adventures.
Colorado authors are our favorite authors (we admit, we’re biased). What’s your favorite thing about Colorado?
The views, open spaces and hiking trails. (Oops, that’s three things.) I love to hike. As mentioned earlier, I seem to get my best ideas when hiking alone. I also hike regularly with friends where we connect with each other and nature.
What author, dead or alive, would you most want to have dinner with?
I’d love to dine with Elizabeth Gilbert. I love her books and her commitment to exploring the human experience in an honest, compassionate and relatable way.
Can you tell us where to find out more about you and your writing, please?
Absolutely! For updates, you can find me on @jessica_speer_author on Instagram and @speerauthor on Twitter. For book-related news, resources and articles on social-emotional topics, you can visit my website, www.JessicaSpeer.com.
Thank you so much, Jessica! BFF or NRF sounds like a super fun and important book! Thanks for sharing it with us!
You can order BFF or NRF on our website, or stop by the store between 10am and 6pm to find it on the shelf!