Allie and Bea have both lost everything.
Now they have nothing to lose.
Allie and Bea
by Catherine Ryan Hyde
On Sale: 23rd May 2017
About the Author:
Catherine Ryan Hyde is the author of 32 published books. Her bestselling 1999 novel, Pay It Forward, was adapted into a major Warner Bros. motion picture starring Kevin Spacey and Helen Hunt, made the American Library Association’s Best Books for Young Adults list, and has been translated into more than two dozen languages in 30 countries. More than 50 of her short stories have been published in journals, and her short fiction received honorable mention in the Raymond Carver Short Story Contest, a second-place win for the Tobias Wolff Award, and nominations for Best American Short Stories, the O. Henry Award, and the Pushcart Prize. Three have also been cited in Best American Short Stories. Hyde is the founder and former president of the Pay It Forward Foundation. As a professional public speaker, she has addressed the National Conference on Education, twice spoken at Cornell University, met with
AmeriCorps members at the White House, and shared a dais with Bill Clinton.
A Conversation with the Author: (taken from the official press release).
Q: When readers are first introduced to Bea and Allie, both characters are at a point where they
have lost everything. Bea has fallen prey to a telephone scam and has nothing left but her cat and
her van, while Allie has been forced to live in a juvenile group home after her wealthy parents
are arrested for tax fraud. There is a quote in the book about this that is particularly striking:
“All her life Bea had felt fear, especially fear of the lack that seemed to hide around every
corner, and all her life she’d been ruled by it. But now she had a new secret weapon: nothing to
lose. And that was a freedom the likes of which Bea had never known.” In a way, it isn’t until
they hit their respective rock bottoms that Bea and Allie are truly free. What do they each gain
by losing seemingly everything?
A: It’s an interesting phenomenon, the freedom that comes from losing everything. It remains largely
theoretical because no one wants to test it out if they can possibly avoid it. But I’ve had little glimpses
into the feeling. I think most of us have. Our fear seems to stem from the idea that we have something
that could be lost, and that we are nothing without it. But once we are in that “lack situation,” the one
we once thought was nearly akin to death, we realize we’re still alive and our life goes on. And in
some very basic way we continue to be “okay,” though the definition of that word might shift. I do
think it changes us. Having faced our worst fears, the timidity we carried with us through the world
tends to fall away. It’s one of those odd aspects of the human condition that are a novelist’s life blood.
Q: As the income gap between America’s rich and poor continues to widen, many experts
suggest that we now live in an era of drastic economic inequality. Your novel brings together two
individuals who come from either end of the economic spectrum: Bea, who was already living
from Social Security check to Social Security check, is now penniless, while Allie is a teenager
who is accustomed to a life of affluence and luxury until her parents are arrested. What made
you want to pair these two characters together, and what were you hoping they could learn from
A: Some of these themes were not as premeditated as people might think. I made Bea economically
strained because the plot needed her to be. I knew I wanted a—well, I hate to say “dishonest” because
I’m not sure that’s true in Bea’s heart of hearts—but let’s say an “honesty challenged” character. Then
I wanted to throw that character together with a scrupulously honest one. Allie I chose to be more
affluent, probably because that helped create the contrasts that make good stories—both between her
experience and Bea’s and between her old life and the one in which she suddenly finds herself. And
the things they (and I) learned from the pairing involved a few interesting surprises.
Q: So many senior citizens are targeted in scams these days. In fact, New York City currently
has an ad campaign running in taxi cabs warning people about phone scams just like the one
that Bea is a victim of. Did you have any real life inspiration for her situation or her character?
A: Well, I live in the world, which I think is my real-life inspiration for everything I write. And while
Bea is not based on anyone I know, I have certainly seen a reflection of her struggles in the real people
all around me. My mother lived with me for the 25 years of her retirement, and I watched her struggle
to understand the technological world in which we now live. I watched her collect her Social Security,
wondering exactly how she would manage to live on such a small monthly payment if she didn’t have
family. I think I’m most aghast at the “scam culture” that seems to have no heart—the catfishers who
prey on the lonely and the financial scams that disproportionately affect the elderly. I don’t understand
how anyone could rob another human being of the one thing they can least afford to lose. And
anything I can’t understand is likely to come up in my novels.
Q: In addition to the differences in their economic backgrounds, Allie and Bea must also contend
with the generational divides that separate them. You yourself are closer in age to Bea, although
you write about both characters with a great deal of empathy, nuance, and believability. Was one
character harder to write for than the other, and what are some of the unexpected benefits of
spending time with people who are younger or older than us?
A: Both characters were easy to write for me, probably for the same reason that I am equally
comfortable writing from the point of view of a male or female character. I try to get underneath the
thin veneer of our differences and write from that deeper place in which we are all human. We all want
the same basic things—love, safety, acceptance—and we all have the same basic fears (whether we
admit them or not). Once you find that place, differences such as age or gender begin to seem quite
trivial. Plus, when writing young characters, my own arrested development helps a lot!
As to the benefits of spending time with people of different generations, the more we get over—or
under, or around—what we think of as our differences, the more we see how much we all have in
common. Life can only get better from there.
Q: At certain points in the novel, Bea and Allie are forced to resort to theft and deceit in order
to pay for things like gas and food. Stealing and dishonesty don’t necessarily come naturally to
either Allie or Bea, but the ways in which they wrestle with and justify these seemingly immoral
acts is quite interesting. In what ways do you think fighting for survival can change the nature of
“right” and “wrong”? How did you negotiate that tension as an author?
A: Some of this was unplanned when I began writing the novel. The original idea was that Bea had
turned into a scammer and Allie was honest, and Allie would help Bea see the light. Seems almost
laughably simplistic, looking back. This is not to say honesty is not good. Of course it is. But we have
these seniors (and others) living in poverty. They were promised security if they played by the rules
and paid into their government funds. The rich are getting so much richer, and so many people like Bea
have next to nothing. Many don’t even have what they need to survive. Everybody has the right to
assure his or her own survival, so to say to someone like Bea, “Now, now. No taking what isn’t
yours…” well, it seems downright immoral. Why do we live in a system where the very stuff of
survival is not within her reach? And Allie, she has to learn that it was naïve to be as staunchly pro-honesty as she has been, because until now she has never wanted for anything in her life. As a novelist, these are the situations I thrive on. They refuse to be black and white, no matter how badly we want them to be. So this was a process of discovery for me, a series of happy surprises that sprang up as I
Q: Allie and Bea’s journey together becomes something of an unconventional road trip. Were
you inspired by any of the classic road narratives from literature while you were writing this
A: The road trip has always been a passion of mine, as long as I’ve been writing. My first novel,
Funerals for Horses, is a road trip. As is Becoming Chloe, Take Me with You, to a smaller extent
Chasing Windmills… and I may even be forgetting one or two. I’m sure I have enjoyed reading classic
road trip novels in the past, but none spring to mind now. What comes up strongly is my own love of
travel. I have driven and camped and hiked through so many of these places, and they have changed
me and become part of me. I guess it was inevitable that they would spill out into the work.
Q: Can you tell readers a little bit about the setting for this novel and what this area of
California means to you?
A: Part of it is my beloved home. I live in Cambria. San Luis Obispo, the place where Allie and Bea
were thrown together, Morro Bay where they first had breakfast, that overnight in Cambria… the
zebras on the Hearst property and the elephant seals just north of town… it’s all my backyard. And
I’ve done quite a bit of traveling along the coast, once with my mother starting at the top of Oregon,
once with just my dog Ella all the way home from the Canadian border. It’s a deeply familiar place for
me, with such striking scenery that it was crying out to be the backdrop for a story.
Q: When they first meet, Allie and Bea are both technically homeless and have no real family to
rely on. In what ways does their time together change their notions of what “home” and “family”
A: Family is a concept with a practical necessity. And it’s a concept that comes up again and again in
my novels. We need community, we need the support of others. So what do we do when all of our
“others” fall away, or can’t meet our needs? The answer seems to be that we find what we need in
unexpected places. Allie and Bea are not exactly “made for each other.” Their relationship is a scratchy
one. Then again, isn’t that true with most of our blood family? I think, more than anything else, they
learn that if two people have the other’s best interest at heart, they can fill each other’s needs against
almost any odds.