Oliver Phommavanh has just released a new novel for kids “The Other Christy” and I had the privilege of reading an Advanced Review Copy and interviewing Oliver for our blog – he’s awesome btw – before we get to the interview, here’s some light on “The Other Christy”. Highly recommended to a younger reading audience aged 8-12 years old, I still enjoyed this book as an adult. Christy Ung, a quiet, reserved girl has always been known as “The Other Christy” while being in the same class as the “loud-mouthed” Christie Owens – the most popular girl in school.
Christy Ung migrated to Australia from Cambodia and struggles with daily life as she is still a loner at school. Adjusting to Aussie life is hard enough especially when living with her traditional and clean freak Grandpa however with the help of her Aunt Mayly, Christy soon discovers when baking a cake to share with her class on her birthday, you can exhibit a positive charge to win in a negative field when you feel the world is against you. A cute, heart warming and funny read that is suitable and recommended for a younger audience. A great story about a girl called Christy – the other Christy as there are 2 in her class. A story of friendship and great lessons – highly recommended as a light hearted fun filled read that I rated 5 stars!!! Thankyou Penguin Random House Publishers for sending me an Advanced Review Copy in exchange for my review.
– Exclusive Blog Interview with Author Oliver Phommavanh –
- Who is your target audience for “The Other Christy”?
Kids aged 9 and up, but anybody will enjoy this book.
- As an adult, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I recommend it to all readers of all ages as it really brought back memories of primary school. What was your inspiration to write this book?
As a teacher, I’ve taught shy students in my class who don’t have many friends, but when they do come of out of their shells, they attract like-minded people. So I wanted to write a story for the shy kids out there, to speak up and be heard!
- I felt there were nice lessons to be learnt in this book, for one – I learnt that exhibiting a positive charge in a negative field can help you win in difficult situations. What do you want your readers to get out of this story?
It sounds like a cliché but being yourself is the best way to make friends, or more importantly to keep friendships strong. If you’re just pretending, chances are, you’ll be found out and it won’t last.
- Why did you call your main characters ‘Christie and Christy?’
True story, I had the title in my head ten years ago. I had a crush on a girl named Christy back at university, and there was another girl with the same name that hung out in the same group. The Christy that I liked was never around, so I’d always ask, ‘where is the other Christy?’ When it came to writing the story, two girls with the exactly the same name was never going to work, so I tweaked one of the names.
- Christy appears to have trouble fitting in, in her class – do you see much of yourself or your childhood in Christy?
Christy and I share the same weird slant on life. While I was a class clown at school, I wasn’t popular. I was just that loud random kid who said funny stuff. So I found making real friends kind of hard. There were people that I would talk to at school, but that was it. Just like Christy, I wanted a friend outside of school, hanging out.
- This is clearly a story about self-discovery, growing up and friendship. Would you yourself have adopted Christy’s methods in her efforts in trying to make friends?
I think I would. Auntie Mayly offers Christy some heartfelt advice that I would gladly give to anybody who feels like they don’t fit in. I think about all the friends I’ve made, and they were simply by one or two common interests and some kindness. A smile here and there. Just being grouped together in a class isn’t enough, there needs to be some chemistry to spark friendships.
- Christy’s Grandpa is hilarious, in a story it’s funny how he’s such a clean freak and over protective although in real life, I think I would find him overbearing (lol) but I also felt sorry for him as he was burdened with a task of raising his granddaughter in a world that is foreign to his Cambodian traditions. I am wondering, what was the inspiration for “Grandpa’s” character in this story and whether he is anything like your own Grandpa?
He is very much based on my father in law! My grandpa passed away when I was five, but I’d imagine he’d also be as steely and stubborn when it comes to family traditions. My father in law’s quirks and weird habits were priceless material, but I also wanted to show his funny and sensitive side. He really does cherish his daughter (my wife) and wants to protect her, especially when they’ve just settled in a new country.
- Why was cake the means to ‘win people over’?
Food brings people together and it’s the currency used in Christy’s class. I remember teaching a class where kids would try to outdo each other with their birthday cakes that were brought in. I put on six kilos haha. It’s particularly more important for Christy because baking is her passion, so her talent and self-worth is on the line. She really is serving a slice of herself to others.
- Do you feel the reason why Christy was an outcast in her class was due to her ethnicity or cultural difference or was it more of a personality difference?
I wanted to make sure it was personality, because Christy used to be in an ESL class with other migrant kids, and they all made friends except for her.
- If ‘The Other Christy’ was going to be turned into an adaptation – would you prefer TV or film? Why?
We are living in another golden age of television, so I’d love to see it as a mini-series, where each key moment is built up over every episode. Plus there’s more scope to throw in a few other side stories too.
- When you’re not writing – what would you be doing?
Playing video games. I’ve sunk 100 hours in Xenoblade Chronicles X on the Wii U and my 3DS is my travel buddy.
- What other books have you written?
Thai-riffic!, Con-nerd, Punchlines, Thai-no-mite and Stuff Happens: Ethan
- What is your favourite restaurant and why?
I love burgers (check out my Instagram @oliverwinfree) and my favourite burger chain is Grill’d at the moment. Just wholesome burgers with some great chips on the side.
- Cast your mind to 10 years ago, would you have pictured yourself publishing your first novel back then?
Funnily enough, it was exactly 10 years ago since I quit full-time teaching. I gave myself five years to publish my first novel, so yeah I was determined to make it.
- Do you like reading? What is your favourite genre?
I’ve always been a lifelong reader, my favourite genre is contemporary stories, especially with comedy thrown in.
- Can you remember the first book you ever read? What was it?
I think it may have been a Dr Seuss or Golden Book, but just can’t make out the title.
- If you could be a character in a video game, who would you be and why?
My hero is Sonic the Hedgehog, because he’s cool, blue and fast. Three things I’m not in real life haha.
- Where is your ultimate holiday destination?
It was Japan for awhile, but now it’s America, for the food, the oversized shopping malls and American brands.
- My all-time favourite artist is Michael Jackson and my favourite song ever is Black or White – yes I still listen to this song on my iPod. What is your favourite type of music/who is your favourite singer?
I still listen to my cassette Walkman and have over 100 albums on cassette. I thought StarLord from Guardians from the Galaxy would start a revival but anyway, I do still have an i-pod classic too. I love pop music, boy bands have always filled my playlist from the Bee Gees to the Backstreet Boys and ID. My favourite singers include John Mayer, Eninem, Justin Bieber and Drake.
- As an author, what was the best piece of advice you were ever given?
Just write. Don’t wait for inspiration. Just write!
The top 10: This or That
Ice cream or Ice Block? Ice cream for sure.
Library or Bookstore? Library because I can write in there
Chicken or Beef? Chicken for the variety
Winter or Summer? Winter because I love snuggling up at night
Tea or Coffee? Tea. I don’t drink coffee
Bungee Jump or Sky Dive? Haha, I’m scared of heights. I suppose sky dive because at least I have a parachute.
Favourite Colour: Purple
Ultimate Holiday Destination: America.
Famous last words: Whatever man, I’m just doing this for the lols.
Review and Interview by Annie