I loved Skulk, by Rosie Best. There are no two ways about it: this book was excellent. There was something about Skulk that made it stand out from the crowd, something that made me really grow to love every single character. With such a varied cast, it’s only natural that Rosie has some views on identity, which, coupled with my handy questions/headings, she’s sharing on the blog today!
That’s a hard one to start off with! I think that someone’s identity is a huge mishmash of all sorts of things – nature and nurture and the people they know and the things they are exposed to and their genetic makeup and a hefty dose of luck and chance. I do find it quite fascinating to think about what makes a person who they are.
– How much of an impact does how we are treated by those around us have on forging our own personal sense of identity? How different might Meg be without her abusive mother and nonplussed father?
Family is just one of the things that affect us and change our identities, and Meg’s family is a major influence on her sense of self. She would probably be happier if she’d grown up in a more loving, less critical household – but at the same time, something within her refused to crack under that pressure and she ended up fighting hard to retain a sense of self. That fight has never gone out of Meg, and it’s given her the courage to do things like become a graffiti artist and eventually stand up for the Skulk when they’re threatened. She’s used to people in power making cruel and unreasonable decisions and she’s not going to be cowed by displays of wealth or authority.
– Meg relishes her new freedom when she becomes one of the Skulk. Does this change her own sense of identity; how she considers herself in and of herself as a person, and subsequently as part of a new “community”?
I don’t think it really changes how she sees herself at first – she was hoping that being in this new community would mean a fresh start and a more welcoming environment, when actually it’s initially not all that different from interacting with the other people in her life. But she does quite quickly fold ‘shapeshifter’ in to her sense of self, even if she’s still working out exactly what that means,
– In this vein, is singular identity different to social identity? Are we the same people alone as in the company of others? Does Meg act and consider herself differently before and after joining the Skulk?
There’s a thing called code switching, which is when people act and talk in completely different ways when they’re in the company of different people. The Meg who hangs out with Jewel and Ameera at school is a very different person from the Meg who talks to her mother, and different again from the Meg who goes out in the middle of the night and talks about graffiti on the internet. None of them are the whole person. I think Meg feels a bit lost in between all those different identities, before she joins the Skulk, and she’s actually more herself afterwards because she’s constantly on her toes! She tends to react honestly when she’s under pressure, so when she’s running around as a shapeshifting fox, reacting to completely new types of people and saving the world, she’s more like her ‘real self’ than at any other time. If she stopped to think about it, I think she would be pleasantly surprised with the person she is, post-Skulk.
– How important do you feel it is to address the issue of identity in YA fiction? How much of a commentary on identity do you think Skulk is?
Your teen years are an important time when it comes to figuring out who you are and who you want to be, so it’s an important theme in a lot of YA fiction and I definitely think it helps for teen readers to have the opportunity to read about lots of different identities, and about characters who don’t have it all figured out yet. (Although what they rarely tell you is that even after you’ve made it out of the other side of school and all the hormonal changes to your brain that are going on when you’re a teenager, you never stop wondering who you are or trying to be a better version of you – I know I haven’t got a handle on it, and I’m turning thirty a few days after Skulk comes out). I wouldn’t say I intended Skulk to be a commentary on identity when I was writing it, but there is definitely some of that in there.
– How much of an impact on identity does ethnicity, social context or sexuality and gender have? The shapeshifters are quite literally all different: how much do these differences shape their individual identities?
I think all of these are huge contributors to people’s identity and personality, although they affect people in wildly different ways depending on personality and how they combine. I tried to make the shapeshifters seem like what you’d get if you took a completely random selection of Londoners, so there are a good variety of ethnicities, sexualities and gender identities and social backgrounds in there! The individual identities of the Skulk shifters came from a mixture of the role I wanted them to play in the story plus the various semi-random elements I wanted to throw in from real life. We’re all shaped by our background, so I tried to suggest that the same is true for the characters in Skulk. I hope that I succeeded in fitting the elements together and writing believable characters with all these different identities!
Thank you, Rosie, for your thoughtful responses! It’s been an absolute pleasure. Now, if you want to connect more with Rosie, you can check out her website and her Twitter. In addition, you can preorder Skulk now, or dig in and wait until its release on 1st – 3rd October (US/UK). Skulk is an utterly brilliant novel and it needs to be read. You need this book in your life! ∩( ・ω・)∩