In Kassy O’Roarke, Cub Reporter, Kelly Oliver has written a magnificent middle-grade story that will captivate readers with an exciting plot, relatable narrator, plenty of laughs and a sprinkling of lessons. She not only nails the voice of her 12-year-old heroine but also hits on so many issues, phobias and difficulties of young adolescence.

Kassy O’Roarke is a great role model: smart, thoughtful, clever, ambitious, motivated, curious and vulnerable. She even understands it’s okay to cry now and then. But above all, Kassy is real.

Kassy vows to write the investigative story of the year for the school newspaper and win the prestigious Thompson Award for Journalism. Part of her motivation is so “everyone will know I exist.”

So how has author Oliver, a college philosophy professor in her day job, managed to capture the persona of her young protagonist?

Once you’ve been an angst-filled 12-year-old girl, it leaves its mark on you,” she said in a recent Q&A. “Given that’s such an intense time of life, it is possible to put yourself back there. It helps that I wrote the book in first person. First person puts the reader (and me) closer to Kassy.”

We gathered more insights into her work:

Q: What was your inspiration for the characters?

A: It is important for me to present strong, diverse characters, especially girls and women, who defy stereotypes. Girl power is a prime message of the Kassy O’Roarke mysteries. She is a girl struggling with issues of friendship and family, and she is vulnerable, but she is also whip-smart, funny and tenacious.

Q: How have you managed to capture the perfect brand of humor for a middle-grader?

A: To tell the truth, I think I’m stuck at the level of middle-grade humor. And, I took the advice of middle-grade author extraordinaire, Chris Grabenstein, who said every middle-grade book needs a few farts and at least one pair of underpants. 

Q: What part of the book was the most fun to write?

A: The riddles [that help lead Kassy to solve her investigation] were fun. Kids seem to love those. And Freddie the flatulent ferret is a kick. I also adore Spittoon, the camel who is allergic to cats. All of the animals are super fun to write. 

Q: While the story is fun and has its twists, what lessons are you trying to instill in the reader?

A: The main theme of the book — as Crispy (Kassy’s little brother) says in chapter one — is: It’s not what you have but what you share that matters. Along the way, Kassy learns a lot of other lessons, too. Like any kid, she doesn’t always heed them, but they’re there. And while there are lessons along the way, my main point was to make the story fun, and to empower girls, especially smart, socially awkward girls, because I was there once myself.

Kassy O’Roarke, Cub Reporter is available for purchase. Read our full review of the book here.

Kelly Oliver is the award-winning author of several fiction series: the middle-grade Pet Detective series, of which book two, Kassy O’Roarke, Treasure Hunter, will be out in May; the Jessica James Mysteries, which are adult suspense with a twenty-something protagonist; and the Fiona Figg Mysteries series, of which book two, Betrayal at Ravenswick, A Fiona Figg Mystery, will be out in March. When she’s not writing novels, Kelly is a distinguished professor of philosophy at Vanderbilt University, and the author of 15 nonfiction books and more than 100 articles on issues such as the refugee crisis, women and the media, animals and the environment. Her latest nonfiction book, Hunting Girls: Sexual Violence from The Hunger Games to Campus Rape, won a Choice Magazine Award for Outstanding Title. Learn more at www.kellyoliverbooks.com.