I was lucky enough to read an ARC of A Thousand Perfect Notes last year and fell deeply in love with the writing of C.G. Drews, better known in the book community as rainbow bookstagrammer, PaperFury. I once again had my wishes granted by the Team BKMRK fairies and received an ARC of Cait’s second novel, The Boy Who Steals Houses which is out next week.
To do something a bit different for this review, I thought I’d intersperse my thoughts with a Q&A I had the opportunity to do with Cait. Let me know what you think of the format in the comments and I’ll see if I can do this more often!
First off, to introduce Cait into this, can you tell us a bit about your writing process?
CAIT: My writing process is definitely a combination of madly long hours of typing, lots of toast crumbs and sleepless nights, and intense outlines that can go over 20,000-words themselves! I generally have no chill when I get into the zone. I just want to write.
I know you use NaNoWriMo quite a lot as a springboard for your work and you tend to write first drafts very quickly before fleshing them out and tidying them up in edits. Were there any big differences between writing ATPN to TBWSH?
CAIT: I’ve been doing NaNo for nearly five years now and definitely gotten faster each year. I drafted The Boy Who Steals Houses for NaNo in 2016 and finished in just 3 days. However when I wrote my debut, A Thousand Perfect Notes, it took me about 10 days and it was a project that happened in June. I was always pretty stoked that I wrote the book in June 2015 and it came out in June 2018. Very satisfying!
“He doesn’t break into houses because he enjoys stealing. He stalks vacant windows and tricks locks and sleeps in stolen beds because he just wants to be home.”
Can two broken boys find their perfect home?
Sam is only fifteen but he and his autistic older brother, Avery, have been abandoned by every relative he’s ever known. Now Sam’s trying to build a new life for them. He survives by breaking into empty houses when their owners are away, until one day he’s caught out when a family returns home. To his amazement this large, chaotic family takes him under their wing – each teenager assuming Sam is a friend of another sibling. Sam finds himself inextricably caught up in their life, and falling for the beautiful Moxie.
But Sam has a secret, and his past is about to catch up with him.
I received an uncorrected proof copy for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Any quotes used in this review are subject to change upon release.
Cait’s writing style – I adore Cait’s prose, it has an easy-reading feel to it that keeps you turning pages over and over again. I remember devouring A Thousand Perfect Notes in just two sittings last year and The Boy Who Steals Houses was no different. I sat down after work last Wednesday and didn’t stop until I finished because Cait has a way of drawing you in without harsh cliffhangers and typical tropes. I can’t explain it, but her writing isn’t generic. There’s something different about what she does, and I love it.
Cait, while I found similarities between the writing of both books (obviously, the same person wrote them), the prose felt different. In A Thousand Perfect Notes it was lyrical and flowing, like Beck’s music, whereas The Boy Who Steals Houses doesn’t have the same lyrical quality, but is equally as intriguing. Was this a conscious choice to fit the narration to the protagonists, despite it being third person?
CAIT: I feel I do have a distinctive style and there are still quite a few lyrical moments in The Boy Who Steals Houses!
Definitely, I didn’t mean to suggest there wasn’t, but the writing does have a different quality to it. Can you talk about that?
CAIT: I love and crave sensory writing. But I also am conscious of my narrator’s personalities and how they see the world. Since Beck was very artistic, he often viewed the world from a musical perspective and described things in beautiful ways to contrast with the drab and violent home-life he truly lived in. That was his escape. But in The Boy Who Steals Houses, Sam lives a very fast life — always on the go, homeless and alone a lot of the time. So he’s less introspective than Beck and very focused on where he is and what he’s doing, while Beck was always dreaming.
“He puts his wishes into small metal keys and tucks them in his pocket to keep him breathing.”
Own Voices Autism Rep – I always like to talk in my reviews about representation, but I don’t like to say what is good or bad representation of a particular marginalised community that I am not part of. Own voices autism representation seems like quite a rare own voices category and it’s very refreshing to see. Avery is the elder brother of our protagonist Sammy Lou and plays a very central role in the story.
Like I said, I can’t really talk about this representation, but Cait can. What was it like to write a character like Avery, someone you would have liked to see in literature when you were younger?
CAIT: I was actually diagnosed with autism when I was 21, so I didn’t consciously look for autistic books as a kid. I barely knew what it was. However, in my late teens, when I was learning more about autism and myself? I definitely craved stories with good rep. It always gutted me when I found books where the autistic kid had to “change” in the end to be properly loved. I wanted stories where autism was part of the character but not a roadblock to their life.
In The Boy Who Steals Houses, Avery’s autism definitely affects Sam and Avery in a big way. Avery is vulnerable and naive and Sam, though the younger brother, takes it wholly upon himself to protect Avery. Usually with violence towards bullies. No matter the price. And though the brothers fight a lot, Sam never asks Avery to change. And I loved being able to write that!
“We’re stealing a house, because you know what we need? We are the kings of nowhere. We only need us.”
Family dynamics – Leading on from that, I wanted to talk about the way you heavily feature families and the different dynamics between different families in your books. As you said, this book is very much about the relationship between the brothers, Sammy and Avery Lou. For some background, circumstances have led the boys to fend and fight for themselves from a young age, searching for a family and ‘home’ of their own, but their relationship as a family unit themselves is strong. Naturally they have their ups and downs, but the unconditional love they have for each other is amazing. Did a particularly strong relationship with your own siblings inspire this?
CAIT: I did grow up very close to my younger sister! We weren’t as tight as I wrote Sam and Avery to be, because they’re driven together from desperation of having nothing else. On the other hand, I could crack an egg on my sister’s head and wait out the storm I’d get after that… (shhh, we were young. It was an interesting thing to do).
“Jack, you’re growing bacteria with all those filthy plates in your room!”
“Don’t be insensitive, bro. Growing bacteria is the only social life he can hold onto.”
Beyond the Lous, we also have the De Laineys, the opposite of Sam and Avery in every way. A large, effervescent family full of diverse individuals with prominent personalities of their own, despite the large cast of characters. Was it difficult to write such a large number of fully formed characters, as there was a much small cast in ATPN?
CAIT: It was actually really fun and I loved writing every single De Lainey! I also have a large family (5 siblings) so writing the dynamics was familiar and homey.
Finally, the dynamic within the De Lainey family of sniping, loving jests, poking fun, bickering, everything was just brilliant and it left me with such a huge smile on my face. Do you have any favourite moments of the De Laineys’ that you particularly enjoyed the most?
CAIT: Basically every scene where there is sibling banter = is my favourite. Particularly Chapter Twenty-Six, ok?! Look out for it.
Romance – Both books feature a romance prominently without them being the central narrative. It isn’t overwhelming or excessive. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not slamming romances, I love a romance, but this is just really well done in terms of balancing the romance with the social issues which Cait is clearly passionate about.
A more fun question this time, what were you favourite parts about each relationship and what was the most fun things to write?
CAIT: I do love writing romance as a subplot instead of the main plot! And I’m so glad you enjoyed how the romances went in both my books. I did love writing how Sam was madly besotted with Moxie, but she took a long time to lower her guard and actually acknowledge his feelings. Aw they are so cute and awkward and shy.
“Sam tries to put the pieces of himself together. Tries, with cotton and screws and wishes.”
Parental abuse – And now things take a serious turn. These books both need some pretty serious content warnings for physical and emotional abuse, particularly by parents or parental figures. I don’t want to detail this too much but the treatment of Beck (ATPN), Sam and Avery by their parents is atrocious. What drove you to write these narratives of broken, soft boys dealing with this horrific home life?
CAIT: Since both of my stories come from fairy tale origins, having evil parents sort of stemmed from the “wicked witch” vibe fairy tales often have. I also needed a reason for Sam and Avery to be homeless — thus sparking writing them with a terrible home life they wanted to escape. I also love the trope of: found family. I think a lot of readers crave that too… finding people who will fight for you and never leave you, so it’s a relatable and heart-tugging theme to write about. If someone who is struggling with feeling alone in the world, I hope my books will leave them with the whisper that they are always loved and valued. No matter what.
These books are incredibly powerful, both of them broke me apart and put me back together. If you haven’t had a chance to get your hands on either A Thousand Perfect Notes or placed a pre-order yet for The Boy Who Steals Houses then I thoroughly recommend getting on it immediately. Cait, thank you so much for discussing your books with me and maybe I’ll do this again soon!
CAIT: Thanks so much for having me on your blog, Imi! It was so much fun to chat with you. ❤
TL;DR – Once again, Cait does not disappoint: a beautiful tale of sibling love, found family and finding yourself a home in the world.
Representation: Autistic secondary character, LGBTQIA+ minor character.
Content Warning: Abuse (specifically by parental figures), abandonment, bullying, violence, . Please research for more if you think this book may be triggering.
C.G. Drews lives in Australia with her piano and the goal of reading every book in existence. Consequently, her brain has overflowed with words and she spends her days writing novels to make you laugh or cry (or both). She never sleeps and believes in cake for breakfast.
She blogs at paperfury.com.
Have you read A Thousand Perfect Notes? Are you excited for The Boy Who Steals Houses? Let me know in the comments.