Every month, the FFL book club picks a book that we know our readers are going to devour, and one of the treats of the job is talking to the book’s author and letting them know that all of you are going to be reading it with us this month! This month, we were so excited to share the news with Sheena Boekweg, the author of A Sisterhood of Secret Ambitions, and she was generous of her time and willing to talk with us about what inspired the novel, some of the choices she made, and her favorite first lady.


What inspired you to write this novel? What came to you first–the plot, or the characters? How did you decide to make it YA versus adult?

I developed this society that valued men’s contributions more than women’s because that’s how much of the world functions, and I wanted to poke holes in that lie. What came first was the theme—that a girl’s dream matters as much as her brother’s. It was inspired by my grandmother’s funeral, where we only talked about my grandfather. It was inspired by teen girls I know today who have to justify wanting to go to college because they might need to have it to fall back on if something happened to their husband. It’s inspired by my ambitious selfish heart, and my need to tell as many girls as I can that they are enough, and that their dreams are possible, and worth fighting for.

 I personally love how constrained the timeline feels in this novel–we don’t have to worry about time jumps or seeing Elsie or Bea or Greta or Mira become first lady or…something else. What is one future moment, though, that you wish you could have written for one of these characters?

There’s a moment in my head where Elsie and Andrew are shaking hands before a big televised debate and the camera’s are shining and Elsies nerves are buzzing, and her friends are beaming.

What sort of history research did you do for this novel? Was it more based in First Lady history, or the 1920s? What’s your favorite kind of source to work with?

I had to do an immense amount of research for this book. I researched the time of the societies founding, extensive reading on Abigail Addams and the women of the revolutionary times, as well as researching the 1920s, the world where Elsie and her friends grew up, and how world war one and the 1918 pandemic would affect the world to come, as well as researching first ladies. My favorite thing to research though had to be researching early female politicians, researching those first women who broke those barriers, and what influences got them to the ballot.  I worked primarily through books, especially the book Abigail Adams Witness to a Revolution by Natalie S. Bober. I’m also really grateful for google.

Who is your favorite first lady to read about and why?

Mamie Eisenhower. No question. I researched her life the most, because she’s probably the closest in generation to the girls in ASOSA. She changed so much of the view of the first lady, especially when it came to fame and status. And I think it was really hard for her when her husband didn’t run again, and she was replaced by a young beauty like Jackie Kennedy. Jackie had just given birth a few weeks before Mamie gave her a tour of the white house, and Mamie made her walk up and down the stairs, and made the tour far too long and strenuous, and when asked why she didn’t have this newly postpartum first lady use the elevators, she said, “ Because she never asked.” That’s so horrid and so human and relatable. It reminds me that these icons are just people, selfish, and lonely, powerful, and powerless.

I really enjoyed the subtle conversion of “femininity” into tools of the trade for the Society–such as flowers and recipes, etc. 

Thank you! I felt it was important not to insult femininity, or to say that the only way to be powerful is to present the way men in power present. I love the idea of using female coded things to show the ways that women leaders are different in happy ways from male leaders.

The ending of this book is so powerful—I love what Elsie is able to do with her voice, and the support she ultimately gets. What is one thing you want your readers to take away from Elsie’s story? 

That they are enough, that their voice and dreams matter, and that if we all worked together, we could make the world more inclusive and welcoming.

You’re a pretty influential author–if I do say so myself–in the body positivity movement. Can you talk briefly about how you’ve seen YA novels change over time to become more body positive? You’re featured in the Everybody Shines anthology, correct? What is your story in that anthology about? 

For a long time all the characters I saw myself as were thin, and it made it so even when I dreamed, I dreamed in a thin body. And then I read Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, and seeing a girl centered in a body that looked like my own, literally changed the way I dream. Fat positive books change lives. It’s a privilege to write these characters. It’s a privilege to tell these readers who look like them that they are enough, as they are now, in the body’s they have. They can absolutely be the hero. I’m so proud to be a part of the Every Body Shines anthology. My story is a YA scifi short about a brilliant plus size math genius who is her planet’s only chance for survival.

One of the book club questions you have on your website is about imagining the book from the point of view of another character. Did you ever consider doing that–or making it a multi POV novel? 

My debut Glitch Kingdom is a multi POV novel, and for this one I really wanted to focus on one story, especially since so much of Elsie’s journey felt so personal to me, that I wanted to really give it as much time and focus as I could. I do think there’s a lot going on that would have been interesting to explore more from another perspective, and Elsie is so selfish and focused on her own goals, that there’s a lot about the society itself that  more POV’s would have been so much fun to explore. One POV I wish I could have told is the POV of the eleven year old girl Jane who is in the first chapter of the book. After she and her family are rescued, I’ve often wondered about what her journey would have been like, and what title she would have been given. But ultimately the more I picked at the society, the more flawed the society became, so I had to focus the story on a positive message that women working together can do anything 

 In your leisure time, what sort of books are you drawn to? What are you reading right now?

I love books where the female characters don’t have to be perfect, and I absolutely love when they get to be horrid (this is why Margaret Owen is one of my favorite authors.)  I am currently reading about five books, Redemptor by Jordan Ifueko, For the Wolf by Hannah Whitten, Beyond the Mapped Stars by Roselyn Eves, Harrow the Ninth by Tamsin Muir, and Eat Your Heart Out by Kelly Devos. You might be asking yourself, why are you reading five books at the same time, and the answer is one is the audio book I’m listening to, one is my read in the car while I wait for my kids book, one is my read at work book, one is my purse book, and one is my nightstand book. I prefer to read one book at a time, I’ll be honest, but life has suddenly become so busy that I have to read in the corners of it.

What’s next for you? Do you have another novel in the works?

Yes! I can’t say much because it’s still secret, but I’m working on a plus size YA Fantasy novel with a romance that makes my heart flutter.

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Aryssa D
FFL Cabinet Member