By JENNIFER K. BAUER
There she meets a cast of females with a range of issues, from drinking to arson. The relationships that develop are just as thorny.
Saldin, 36, grew up in Boise and lives in Missoula, Mont., where she teaches writing at the University of Montana. Starting Monday, she’ll tour the region speaking about the importance of wilderness, both internal and external in writing. Her visit is part of the Everybody Reads program sponsored by area libraries. Inland 360 caught up with her for an interview before her visit.
Inland 360: You were a Peace Corps volunteer for two years in Togo, West Africa. How did that experience shape your writing?
Saldin: I had just graduated from college and had little to no life experience and was living in, really, the middle of nowhere. I hadn’t counted on having so much time to be by myself. In hot countries, everybody takes three hours off in the afternoon, like a siesta. I would read anything at that point — all of Charles Dickens, mystery novels, cookbooks, instruction manuals. I would read anything. I read the letters my friends sent to me 20 or 30 times and could quote them back two or three years later. I think it was so important to experience that diversity of writing, the styles and forms that were out there. I think that really freed me up.
Inland 360: In your novel you touch on difficult issues many teenage girls face, even if they don’t end up in a reform school. Why did you want to write about this period in a girl’s life?
Saldin: I think part of it was I’ve always found myself drawn to books with messy plots, where things don’t tie together neatly in the end. The characters are confused and messy, in a way. There wasn’t a lot of young adult fiction that I was reading that reflected that state of confusion and discomfort. … There’s something about these characters that speaks to me and my own high school experience — the emotional disconnect and searching for relationships with other people. Searching for that one friend that I could relate to quite strongly.
Inland 360: What have the reactions to the novel been like?
Saldin: What I’ve heard is that people are happy to have a book that doesn’t have a clean ending. That was certainly my goal when I started out. I don’t think events in high school have clean and tidy endings. That’s not how it works in life, and I resist that in literature. Teenagers have responded to that.
If You Go
WHAT: Everybody Reads: A Conversation with Erin Saldin, author of “The Girls of No Return”
WHEN and WHERE:
Monday, Nov. 10
9:30 a.m., Lewiston High School
6:30 p.m., Lewiston City Library
Wednesday, Nov. 12
Noon, Asotin County Library, Clarkston
7 p.m., Nezperce Library
Thursday, Nov. 13
10:10 a.m., Colfax High School
12:12 p.m., Tekoa High School
Friday, Nov. 14
Noon, 1912 Center, Moscow
COST: All events are free.