Winner of the 2022 Acheven Book Award
Jen grew up in New Jersey (save the jokes, 9 million people can’t be wrong!), where Sundays were all about reading the comics aloud to anyone who would listen, much to the chagrin of her parents and younger sister, and gathering for early pasta dinners at her grandmother’s house, where the dining room became the stage for her family of storytellers. Her summers were spent “down the shore,” dreaming of a career as a marine biologist while reading books, Sun-In in hair, toes in the sand. Jen doesn’t remember wanting to become a writer when she was pouring over the pages of A Bear Called Paddington, Little Women, or a Wrinkle in Time, but she does recall wanting to be the type of adult who never forgot what it was like to be a kid. She also wanted to make people laugh.
Flashforward to college where she majored in English with a writing concentration at Penn State University, but told anyone who asked she was “prelaw” to pre-empt the inevitable question, “What are you going to do with an English degree?” She found out her junior year when she landed her first paid writing gig at the Herald & News, where she wrote obituaries, developed her lifelong love of coffee and news, and collected enough material for her first novel Famous Last Words, a Bank Street College Best Book of the Year, published by Henry Holt and Co. (BFY) in 2013.
After college, Jen, still in denial about how much she wanted to be an author, was a journalist, public affairs specialist, speechwriter, music zine editor, freelance writer, and bookkeeper at a lampshade factory. It wasn’t until she became a mom that she had the confidence to purse her latent dream of writing books for young people. So she joined SCBWI and several critique groups, wrote while her daughter slept, and racked up rejections in the double digits before landing an agent.
Her second YA novel How My Summer Went Up in Flames was actually published a few months before her first novel by Simon Pulse. (The publishing world can be a wild ride.) For her third and fourth books YA novels, companion books published by Sourcebooks Fire, Jen channeled her love of sea life, music, and the Jersey Shore. Published in 2015, The Summer After You and Me was YALSA Teens’ Top Ten nominee that Kirkus called “A thoughtful tale of forgiveness, growth, and the importance of learning to adapt to changes large and small.” Named for one of her favorite albums, August and Everything After was published in 2018. (As of this writing, Jen’s still hoping the Counting Crows will return her emails.)
She’s thrilled that her fifth novel, Finding Normal, has been selected for the 2022 Acheven Book Award and found a home a Fitzroy Books.