Ask the Author: Nicole Melleby
What would you like readers to know about you?
Hi! My name is Nicole Melleby and I write LGBTQ+ middle grade books. I was born and raised in New Jersey and spend a lot of time on the boardwalk and at the beach–I set all of my books in the same area I grew up in. I have a film degree and cat named Gillian. When I’m not writing, I can be found reading comic books or watching soap operas with copious amounts of coffee by my side.
What is your book about for those who haven’t read it?
For Pluto, summer has always started with a trip to the planetarium. It’s the launch to her favorite season, which also includes visits to the boardwalk arcade, working in her mom’s pizzeria, and her best friend Meredith’s birthday party. But this summer, none of that feels possible.
A month before the end of the school year, Pluto’s frightened mom broke down Pluto’s bedroom door. What came next were doctor’s appointments, a diagnosis of depression, and a big black hole that still sits on Pluto’s chest, making it too hard to do anything.
Pluto can’t explain to her mom why she can’t do the things she used to love. And it isn’t until Pluto’s dad threatens to make her move with him to the city—where he believes his money, in particular, could help—that Pluto becomes desperate enough to do whatever it takes to be the old Pluto again.
She develops a plan and a checklist: If she takes her medication, if she goes to the planetarium with her mom for her birthday, if she successfully finishes her summer school work with her tutor, if she goes to Meredith’s birthday party . . . if she does all the things that “normal” Pluto would do, she can stay with her mom in Jersey. But it takes a new therapist, a new tutor, and a new (and cute) friend with a checklist and plan of her own for Pluto to learn that there is no old and new Pluto. There’s just her.
What has been your inspiration for writing it?
As a queer individual, it’s important for me to tell stories that I would have needed. That’s pretty much the question that every queer kidlit author is asked: Do you write the stories you needed? Of course I do! But also, the answer is a little more complicated than that. The middle grade readers of now are different than when I was a middle grader—what they needed is different than what I needed, or wanted. So, I try and think about what it would be like to be queer in today’s world, and mix that with the stories I wish I had when I was younger, and then just tell the most honest story I can about that journey. On top of that, young readers deal with mental illness, that’s just a fact. Mental illness isn’t just an adult issue, and I wanted to write a story for them.
What was your favorite scene or part of your book to write?
I got to do a LOT of research about astronomy, which was really fun for me, since I really didn’t know much before writing this book. I got to take a trip to the Hayden Planetarium, and I got to call up astrophysicists and ask them questions, just like Pluto does in the book!
What books or authors inspired you to become a writer?
Growing up, Harriet the Spy was a huge big of inspiration for me that made me want to be a writer. That, and Little Women were the two most important books to me growing up. Later in life, queer YA and MG authors, like Robin Talley and Ashley Herring Blake made me realize that I could–and should–write queer middle grade books.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors who want to write a book?
Resilience is key! There’s a lot of rejection involved in publishing, and a lot of the times you’re putting your work and your own vulnerabilities out there, and it can be hard. But keep at it, and don’t give up.