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Jamie Sumner: In TUNE IT OUT, Sensory Processing Gets a Voice


Note: There's a TWITTER GIVEAWAY!

Jamie is kindly offering a free copy of TUNE IT OUT!

Details at the end of this interview.


Jamie, welcome to A Novel Mind! As someone with sensory processing disorder who is also musical, I got very excited when I heard about your new book, TUNE IT OUT. Thank you for writing it and shedding light on this for kids and families. Can you tell us what the story is about?

TUNE IT OUT follows twelve-year-old Lou Montgomery who has the voice of an angel and a mother who wants to make her a star. However, Lou also has an undiagnosed sensory processing disorder that makes performing nearly impossible. Those crowds and that applause undo her. But she lives and breathes for music and her mother has been her whole world until Child Protective Services separates them. Lou travels from California to Tennessee to live with her aunt and uncle. She begins to attend school regularly. She makes her first real friend in a wonderfully eccentric boy named Well who convinces her to join the theater class. And she finally begins to understand her SPD. TUNE IT OUT is Lou’s journey to find her own voice.

- Tell us more about the character of Lou. (I love that she sings.) What inspired her?

Lou actually came from an idea I had when writing a secondary character, Coralee, in my first middle grade novel, ROLL WITH IT. In that book, Coralee is a force of nature. She travels around to country fairs and beauty pageants and aims to get out of the trailer park where she lives so that she can be a triple-threat star (sing, act, dance). She is tough and fiery and basically the opposite of Lou when it comes to embracing the spotlight. After ROLL WITH IT came out, I couldn’t let go of this paradox between our circumstance and our human nature.

Coralee’s circumstances hold her back when all she wants to do is hurl forward into a brilliantly successful future. She doesn’t have the support and maybe not even the talent to go much farther. But in Lou’s situation, her talent and circumstance seem to line up for all the success in the world, but her heart’s desire is elsewhere. She doesn’t want to be a star. She wants to be herself – whatever that looks like.

For Lou, the music is the through line – it is both the thing she fears (when it comes to performing), but also the thing she deeply loves. Music can speak for us in so many ways that we can’t. And ultimately for Lou, it is part of what heals her heart as she travels a rough road to understanding herself.

-- Sensory processing disorder can be very different for different people. What is it like, particularly, for Lou?

Thank you for asking this and highlighting the fact that it is different for everyone! Both Lou and my son share the same triggers. Loud or unexpected sounds are Lou’s biggest sensitivity, like the blender her aunt mistakenly turns on the first morning she arrives which sends Lou diving under the table. She also reacts strongly to soft or unexpected touch. Her friend Well is always trying to high five her or hug her before she explains her SPD to him. The only other thing Lou struggles with are fabrics – new, stiff clothing can be distracting and uncomfortable. It’s why she wears the same clothes for days when she arrives in her new home after Child Services separates her from her mom. In the new private school she attends, they wear uniforms and you see her thoughts continually drawn back to the itchy material, the zipper, the unfamiliar collar. These are not just discomforts for Lou, they send her into a sensory overload.

-- Your last book for middle graders, ROLL WITH IT, is a wonderful story about a girl with cerebral palsy. You have also written some inspiring parenting books. Do you want to speak to your experience in parenting a child with disabilities, and how that plays into what and how you write for young people?

My son, Charlie, is the reason I became a storyteller. He opened up a part of me in the same way music opens Lou up. Charlie is eight and uses a wheelchair to get around and a speaking device to communicate and also has SPD. Watching him navigate the world with such curiosity and fierce hope makes me both curious and hopeful, which I believe are fundamental traits of any good writer (and human). He taught me that I could never know everything about anything and that is not only okay, but awesome.

-- Why do kids with disabilities (physical, neurodivergent, or mental-health-related) need to see themselves in stories?

Everyone deserves to feel seen, especially those currently underrepresented in fiction, and that’s my mission in each story I tell. There is something magical about recognizing yourself in a story -- that feeling of Yes, someone gets me. I am not alone in this universe! These kids should get to feel that!


-- Why do kids without these issues need to have and read such stories?

I believe stories should encourage empathy in a way that holds up a mirror to the reader and also a window to the unknown. I want readers to wonder at the people in their lives and reconsider what they believe to be true about them, because you really can’t tell much from looking at a person. It takes practice to learn to see the world this way and books are the best at it. Also, kids at this age are wonderfully brave explorers. They want to own their own opinions and I hope stories like TUNE IT OUT can help them practice open-mindedness and acceptance.

--What are you working on next?


I’m wrapping up edits on a new middle grade novel coming out next fall called ONE KID’S TRASH, which I’m really excited about! It’s about a kid named Hugo who has been bullied in all his former schools, but when his dad goes through a mid-life crisis and moves the family to the mountains, Hugo gets a chance to reinvent himself as “the Garbologist.” He makes a name for himself by reading people’s trash and providing clues to the owner’s deepest desires and vulnerabilities. But of course, Hugo abuses this new trick and the celebrity that comes along with it and gets into quite bit of trouble. Trouble is so much fun to write.

-- Wild-card question! Please, tell us something else you'd like us to know!

I was a theatre kid like Lou! I did all the plays in high school and even wrote my own my senior year that I directed and put on for the school. Theatre kids are good people and its where I’ve always felt most at home. (Don’t ask me how many times I’ve seen Hamilton.)

-- Thank you so much for sharing with us today, Jamie! We can't wait to read TUNE IT OUT!

Twitter Giveaway! Hop on over to Twitter for a chance to win a copy of TUNE IT OUT. Just:

A winner will be chosen in about a week. Good luck!


Jamie Sumner is the author of the acclaimed middle-grade novel, ROLL WITH IT (Atheneum/Simon & Schuster, October 2019) and TUNE IT OUT (Atheneum/Simon & Schuster, September 2020), which has received starred reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly and the School Library Journal.

She has written for the New York Times and the Washington Post as well as other publications, and is the reviews editor at Literary Mama. She loves stories that celebrate the grit and beauty in all kids. She and her family live in Nashville, Tennessee. Connect with her at www.jamie-sumner.com Facebook: @jamiesumner.org

Instagram: @jamiesumner_author

Twitter: @jamiesumner_