Rated as an Entertainment Weekly Best Book of the Summer, “The Better Half” written by Alli Frank and Asha Youmans has captivated the eye of Mindy Kaling who said the novel “celebrates the absurdity and joy in life, and does so with an enviable grace and good heart.”
Nina Morgan Clarke is a smart and talented driven woman who feels she’s arrived at the pinnacle of her success at the age of 43. Her problematic ex-husband has relocated across the country, her teenage daughter Xandra is thriving in boarding school and she’s about to start her dream job: being the first Black female first-generation head of the Royal-Hawkins School in Pasadena, CA.
To mark the moment, Nina and her best friend, Marisol, take a long-overdue girls’ trip to celebrate the second half of Nina’s life—which is shaping up to be the best part of her life. On the first night of their getaway, Nina meets a white man named Leo and their unexpected encounter blossoms into a summer romance.
Before long, Jared Jones, two hundred pounds of Harvard-educated ego, relentlessly pushes Nina to her ethical limits. Not to mention, Nina’s pregnant and Leo is living 5,000 miles away. Even the dutiful Xandra accuses one of her teachers of misconduct. And most alarming, the repercussions of her trip with Marisol force Nina into a life-altering choice. Time is of the essence, and Nina must decide if she will embrace a future she never could have predicted.
Alli Frank and Asha Youmans found literary soulmates in each other after working as teacher and school administrator in Seattle, WA. They discovered a shared mission as educators and as authors: to use humor, joy and compassion to write stories that encourage candid conversations about race, religion, culture, class, privilege, parenting and education.
What message do you wish to send to your readers with the publication of “The Better Half”?
Alli and Asha: There is a heavy emphasis in modern American culture that if you work hard and strive you will “arrive” at your chosen personal and professional destination. And then you are set, for life. The truth is that there is no such thing as “arriving.” Life is always reforming, changing, advancing in unexpected ways. Once a person thinks they have achieved their desired success, the hoax is revealed, and twists and turns come along to knock them off their perceived pinnacle. However, that derailment, if you allow it to, can result in some of the best opportunities life has to offer.
How does Nina and Leo’s races in the relationship compare to your own experiences as Black and white authors who are blending their own culture and views into this book?
Alli and Asha: It’s about compromise. Leo is seeking out avenues to navigate obstacles that obscure his privilege and Nina is working to find middle ground without sacrificing her treasured cultural ideals. As authors of difference races, religions and life experiences trying to write one book in one voice, both of us go through times when we too are in each of those roles.
In the Acknowledgments, you mention “The Better Half”was written before the overturning of Roe v. Wade and was finished after the court case was overturned. How do you hope writing about Nina’s own experience when it comes to her body will influence the Post-Roe generation?
Alli and Asha: When the pro/anti-abortion debate circles through American society it is most often framed by the experience of young, under-resourced, single women. Rarely, if ever, is there a discussion about the women who are older and find themselves unexpectedly pregnant, but do not want more children or have made the decision not to have children. Though perhaps these older women are better situated to have a child, they should still have dominion over their bodies and their futures. We hope the post-Roe generation will cease demanding esoteric, personally sanctioned explanations from women who make decisions about their own best interests.
What was something you learned, or a new perspective you gained, from your co-author when writing your third book together?
Asha: There are many ways to feel “other” in this world. Some of them obvious, some hidden to the eyes of observers, but they are there none-the-less. Alli occupies this space as a white woman who is also Jewish, and in relationship with her I have developed a sense of empathy that goes beyond what I can readily see. I have gained an appreciation for hidden “otherness,” and I am committed to honoring it.
Alli: Despite thirty years of being a dedicated tea drinker, after working with Asha, I actually like lattes.
How did the both of you jump from working together as teacher and school administrator in Seattle, WA to publishing novels together? Any fun stories to share that will give readers a sense of who the both of you are as friends and writers?
Alli and Asha: We worked together in the same PreK-5th grade private school in Seattle, Washington, where our children were also educated. Every winter we worked closely on the admissions team for the school determining which three-, four- and five-year-olds would thrive at our school and which might not. In this yearly cycle of absurd fun, we found we had similar senses of humor. At the end of ten-hour sessions observing Saturday “admissions playdates” with prospective young kids and their parents, we would lay down on Asha’s classroom floor, laugh at all the antics of the day and dream that “one day when we write a book…” we would put something from the day in that story. It is not a coincidence that at forty-three, Nina is unexpectedly starting the better half of her life. We began our writing journey, each of us at forty-three years old, and what has unfolded for us both is the better half of our lives.
Huge thanks to Alli and Asha for answering my questions. “The Better Half” is different than the books and authors I typically cover so it was a great change of pace jumping into something new! I’d like to also thank Stephanie Elliot from MB Communications who offered me the opportunity to interview both Alli and Asha along with sending me a finished copy of “The Better Half.” Excited to see what the next book and author blog interview post will be!