A Star of David from her mama starts Sonya on a journey to learning what it means to be Jewish. For a Russian Jew, that is a lot to learn. She begins to discover more about her people and their religion, along with its history. She sees the way they can be tormented by others in their daily lives. On her journey, she makes a connection with Misha Aizerman, a Jewish boy who helps her in Chemistry class, and teaches her guitar, life lessons, and so much more.
When she was a child, Katia Raina played at construction sites and believed in magic mirrors. During her childhood and early adolescence, Russia was going through a tumultuous time. As the communist regime crumbled, the Russian people rose up against political oppression. Sometimes their anger turned on those in their midst, those they considered different -- like the Jews. Like her family. Katia emigrated to the U.S. from Russia at the age of almost sixteen. A former journalist and currently a middle school English teacher in Washington, D.C., she has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives with her family just outside of D.C., and still believes in magic. Castle of Concrete is Katia Raina’s debut novel.
Connect with Katia Raina:
Castle of Concrete is your debut novel, how has the experience compared with your expectations and were there any surprises along the way that you didn’t anticipate?
Real life is never quite like we expect, but so much more complex, so much richer, more flavorful, and in my experience, somehow, always better. The same has definitely been true of the publishing experience. I haven’t quite expected how nerve-wracking it would be as well. Before, all my creative struggles were private. Now, suddenly everything is magnified. It feels very much like stage fright, which, as long as you don’t let the nerves paralyze you, can be the best kind of tension.
As a writer, I’ve shared the manuscripts for my works in progress plenty of times. But those were works in progress, which meant you could always make changes. Now suddenly, this is it, and there is something especially scary and exciting about that. There is nothing I can do to this story anymore. Just hold my breath, rock on my toes, and wait to hear what more of my readers think, understanding that not everyone might love this story. That too is perfectly okay!
What do you hope readers will take away from reading Castle of Concrete?
I love books with deeper meaning and substance. As a passionate English teacher, I am a big fan of profound themes. But when I wrote and revised this story, I didn’t really have a moral or a lesson in mind. I just followed Sonya on her journey. Sure, Sonya had a lot to learn in these pages: facing the truth, courage, self-acceptance. But I started this story with questions, not answers. Questions like: what does it mean to be a Jew? Why do people hate and judge those they had never even met? Where does hate come from? Can love be the bridge and the solution to everything? Or is it not that simple? How do we make our way to freedom?
From reading Castle of Concrete, I hope you take away hope. And magic. Beyond that, I’d love to hear what you get out of it. This story is in your hands now! You are the one with the answers, not me!
In general, what inspires your writing/where do you get your ideas?
First, let me tell you that there is not one right place to get your ideas. And there is no wrong place. I’ve just read Ann Patchett’s book of essays and musings, and I love how she talks there about this concept that ideas don’t even matter that much. You could get a story idea from a road sign, a wish, a question.
For me story ideas often start with...well, me. For Castle of Concrete, it all actually started with a memory of a boy I liked. I was thirteen years old and we went out for a very thrilling bike ride. The thrill ended for me when the boy used an anti-Semitic slur against a stranger. I never asked him about it. We continued going out. I never learned whether that word was just a careless curse, or if it went deeper. Over the years, I’ve often wondered, what would have happened if I’d confronted him? What if I’d explained how his use of the slur made me feel dirty? It was too late for me to answer these questions in real life, so I answered them in the story that became my debut novel.
Some of my other stories were inspired by childhood settings, composites of people I knew. For example, one character in one of my stories was inspired by someone I never got to be friends with in real life. But oh how I enjoyed creating that friendship on the page! I’ve also written stories inspired by my own kids, and the things they were dealing with or interested in, at various points in their lives. Sometimes, I might set a story in a fantasy world, but give the character just one thing in common with me. It could be that they were boy-crazy like I used to be as a teen. Or that they loved their grandmother like I did. I just zero in on the memory of that one part of myself, then have the best time letting it play out in outrageously different circumstances.
What kinds of books were you drawn to when you were in middle school or high school? Please share a few of your favorite books (including any classics) from childhood and why they resonated for you.
My love for reading really took off with fairytales, which I continued to read well into my adolescence. Well, really I never stopped. I still remember those thick Hans Christian Andersen tomes that I just had to devour: there is so much more to him than The Ugly Duckling and The Little Mermaid, guys! I also very quickly fell in love with Ray Bradbury, both his short stories and The Martial Chronicles took hold of my imagination and I was gone. Pushing the limits of what was possible in my mind, these stories promised tantalizing possibilities.
But I wasn’t just drawn to the fantastical or the supernatural. I loved French romance. I devoured Georges Sand, though today all the details of her stories are hazy, sadly. I just know they kept me engrossed and hopeful for days. At the age of 11, I re-read Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers six times and wept every single time. What can I say? Love has always been a big deal!
Buy it Now/Pre-Order-
Castle of Concrete: A Novel
Katia Raina – Debut YA Author
Young Europe Books, an imprint of New Europe Books
On Sale June 11, 2019 // $15.95-Paperback // ISBN: 978-09995416-3-0
Ages 12-16 // 304 Pages