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Book Club: 7 takeaways from the ‘Something Wild’ discussion with author Hanna Halperin

"I think I wrote it in every possible point of view."

On Wednesday, the Boston.com Book Club hosted a virtual discussion with author Hanna Halperin on her debut novel, “Something Wild.” Moderated by Gillian Kohli, co-owner of Wellesley Books, our conversation covered the author’s past as a domestic violence counselor, how she gets to know her characters, and what she hopes readers take away from her novel.

Ahead, we share our top takeaways from the event, and you can also watch the full recording here.

Halperin worked as a domestic violence counselor before she became a writer

She worked five years in the field, spending much of her time focused on intimate partner abuse education. Over the course of her work, she became aware of just how prevalent violence against women is in the world.

Boston.com Book Club pick ‘Something Wild’ by Hanna Halperin

The book was inspired by the stories of women who experienced domestic violence — but the characters are fictional

Halperin has kept the stories of her clients completely confidential, but they still served as the catalyst behind “Something Wild.” Though, she did seek to capture the varied reactions to abuse she witnessed during her tenure as a counselor and made that a central focus in the novel. Once the two sisters find out their mother is being abused by their step father during a visit home, one sister is adamant about filing a restraining order, while the other feels conflicted—grappling with lingering feelings of love toward her step father.

The story explores the ‘sixth sense of danger’ that is deeply intertwined with girlhood

“I ended up opening the novel with this feeling — particularly girls having this almost sixth sense of danger,” she said. In the book, the two sisters refer to this innate feeling of sensing another woman or their self is in trouble and in need of protection as “the wild thing.” “These two young girls, even when they’re quite young, know that without having the language to talk about it, so they make up their own language. And part of what this story is about is how that gets complicated when they get pitted against one another.”

‘Something Wild’ was written multiple times before settling on a winning draft

The author describes her experience writing the novel as messy and chaotic — switching narrators and cutting almost 300 pages about the sisters’ childhood. “I think I wrote it in every possible point of view,” Halperin said. “When I first started writing it, I wrote almost the entire thing from just Nessa’s point of view, the older sister, and then I realized that I wanted to have it be from both sisters’ points of view…I had to find my bearings of what story do I want to tell and whose story do I want to tell…ultimately, I was like ‘this is a story about two sisters.’”

“Something Wild” author Hanna Halperin – Sharona Jacobs

Why the novel is set in Arlington, Mass.

Halperin used to work on Winter Street in Arlington, so she felt she could paint the picture of the area easily. But the setting was originally nonexistent until Halperin’s editor pushed for depicting the meaning behind different towns in New England and how that plays into the story. The author feels that adding a specific setting made a great difference in the novel, bringing out details about characters in interesting ways, showing how and where they live and spend time adds context to who they are.

How she gets to know her characters, and the one that has a special significance

“Usually when I’m writing, I follow the details,” said the author. “I will write a detail about a character or put a character in a situation. The exciting thing about writing a scene is figuring out how that character would react and then I’m sort of getting to know my characters through writing that scene and then I have these little nuggets about the character.”

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One of the main character’s names has special significance to the author. A late friend of Halperin’s gave her the idea to use the name Nessa for one of her characters, and felt including it was a way to honor her life.

Halperin hopes readers will gain some insight on how to navigate conversations about abuse

“It’s hard to navigate conversations where someone comes to you and discloses that they’re in an abusive relationship,” said the author. “I think the characters in the novel have a hard time with it. So I hope the book opens up conversations about how to have those conversations. I think there’s this pressure to say the right thing and, if someone’s coming to you and telling you that, just listening and believing them is huge.”


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