The moment you open the cover of Haley Jakobson’s Old Enough, chances are you’ll Recognize protagonist Savannah Henry; not because you’re necessarily queer, or a college student, or a survivor of sexual assault, or someone with a complicated relationship with your lifelong best friend, It’s because Jacobson writes Saff with enough humor, sincerity, and nuance to make her feel gracious and unique at the same time.
Sexual assault is the specter that haunts the pages of Old Enough. But in Jacobson’s hands, it’s clear that the violence Saf suffered in high school is by no means the sum of who she is or her journey. In the novel, the journey pulls her into her new circle of LGBTQ+ friends in college and the wedding prep festivities of her best friend of many years, Izzy. Watching her develop a sense of self and learn to separate her self-worth from the world’s expectations of how survivors should live, love, and heal has been gratifying.
Recently, Vogue spoke with Jacobson about focusing queer joy in fiction , and recognize that there is no single survivor story. Read the full interview below.
What has your life been like since Old Enough launched?
This is good! I’m trying to hold two things at the same time, one is that my book is selling well and I’m happy, and the other is that I’m going through that weird low of going, “Oh, it’s been years and now I’m kind of on the other side ’ I think my body was like, you just need to hang out for a while. But it’s never just one thing, right? I really appreciate the response so far. Do you have any favorite reactions to this book?
I’ve heard a lot of people say they wish they had it sooner, and I’m sure there are college students who have read it and said it feels right for what they’re going through, it’s heartbreaking encouraged. Overall, though, it’s definitely people saying they wish they had it when they were young, which makes perfect sense to me because that’s why I wrote it.
What motivated you to write this book?
I really wanted to explore the difference between justice and healing for survivors. When I started writing it, I knew the point was actually healing and not justice because I simply didn’t believe in that. Or rather, I have mixed feelings about justice. I was like, “Okay, what’s the best way for my character to experience healing? What’s the best way for me to experience healing?” My first thought was community; I learned from this author, AE Osworth He was a fantastic teacher and a writer for this class. It’s a course for queer and trans fiction writers called Writing Pleasure First. I read fragments of the book, or so far, most of the chapters I wrote when I was sixteen. I don’t really know what the connective tissue between them is. I knew I needed a bigger plot to lead me through the novel, so this class really centered around joy and the joy of your writing. All of a sudden, I found myself writing about this fictional university and these characters in the gender and sexuality studies class, and it came to life in this way that was really rooted in joy. It goes from there. Are there any other books that you have referenced in your writing, or that you feel would be available to you?
Yes, I think it’s definitely a mix of three different authors. Julie Buntin wrote the Marina , a messy, addictive, beautiful and heartbreaking book about friendship Essentially, her book made me feel like, “Oh, I could write this book really centered around platonic heartbreak.” It gave me a lot of license; The dark and stormy older sister in Enough. “. In terms of ultra-contemporary writing style, still gives a lot of weight to young people. Everyone, I was inspired by Mary HK Choi. Her book Emergency Contact, which also has a survivor’s approach to healing. I absolutely love her voice and it really allows me to write in a very vocal way while still touching on deep and resonant truths. It gave me a lot of freedom because I did have a lot of imposter syndrome in the literary world because I didn’t have an MFA and I didn’t want to have an MFA. Finally, Casey McQuiston wrote queer joys like no other; I’m obsessed with them, and I always feel like my characters can really blend in with theirs. How did you take care of yourself in the process of writing a book with such heavy themes of aggression and survival?
I have to make myself laugh a lot. Funny moments from Old Enough, I write about these because making myself laugh out loud at my computer can be intentional and therapeutic. I don’t remember when or where I learned it, but it stayed with me; people listen better when they laugh. All I knew was that in order to wade through a book that contained so many parts of my own identity and was unruly, I needed to take care of myself beyond the page. I don’t believe your art suffers in any way, form or form, I think that’s laziness. But in the process of writing, I reward myself with a fun light chapter after writing heavy stuff. I had the pleasure of writing this love story, and Saff’s friendship with Vera and Candice and their constant ping pong banter. I think my whole trick as a human being is to get between the superficial parts of life (like, you know, materialistic stuff or gossip or pop culture or whatever my Gemini brain is attached to) and the deep stuff you’re engaged in A lifetime of digging to find balance. It’s always mixed, but I think it’s really important as a writer to remember that you have to take care of yourself, and sometimes it can seem boring. I don’t think I could have written about it if I didn’t have some things in my life that are boring so often because they are so steady and down to earth.
Is there anything about this book that you wish more people would ask you about, or that you would particularly like to know about?
You know, one of the things that a lot of readers have turned to me for, but not necessarily talked about in a lot of interviews, is the arc of the character of Laura. Honestly, I don’t even know if it stands out that much, but I just really wanted to write a character that represented what Saf was most afraid of. But I also want to embrace the stereotype of the ignorant sorority girl and give her a voice and give her nuance and complexity because this is certainly not a book that vilifies women in any way, shape or form, and I never wanted to write one The characters are there and you don’t see what makes them fully human.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.