Francine Prose's latest young adult novel, Touch, chronicles one girl's difficult passage from childhood to maturity.
The novel's protagonist, 14-year-old Maisie Willard, returns home to her father and stepmother noticeably changed after spending her eighth-grade year living with her mother in another state. Maisie is going through puberty, and her developing body attracts a different kind of attention from boys who used to be just playmates.
"The book is about — as much as it is about anything — the shock of finding yourself suddenly a different person, even though you think of yourself as the same person," Prose tells Melissa Block, "and how startling it is to realize you're living in a different body than you had six months before."
At the novel's center is an incident that takes place in the back of a school bus. Three of Maisie's male friends grope her, and soon enough, the whole school finds out. Administrators and psychologists join in the fray, and Maisie's stepmother wants to initiate legal action. But as the story spreads, different versions of the event multiply with every retelling, until even Maisie loses her grip on the truth.
Prose explains that she wanted to capture the way stories change in the retelling: "I was thinking about the way in which, if you tell a story that is not exactly true ... that lie or half-truth takes on a life of its own until, eventually, after years or after months or after weeks, it's hard to tell the difference."
The way Prose tells the story of her own childhood, puberty, as much as it increased her independence, in some ways diminished it.
"I remember, when I was a little kid, I was good at sports, and I could jump off the high board," Prose says. "And then puberty hit, and suddenly I was looking to boys for direction. I remember that as a great loss. I still have to work my way back to where I was at 13."
Prose says her own experiences informed the novel's ambivalence toward the process of growing up.
"I think that when you're that age, you're confronted with what you've lost before you can realize what you've gained," Prose says.