Bridget Bloom is perfect fit for center stage, so it’s no surprise that she is admitted to Richard James Academy, a college prep boarding school with a prestigious music program. But due to her low music theory scores, she’s not eligible to perform or earn the sponsorship she needs to afford the tuition. Worst of all, Dean of Students Octavia Lawless, challenges her to work on her humility . . . by not singing at all. We had the honour of chatting with Allison L. Bitz about her fun-filled debut, The Unstoppable Bridget Bloom.
First of all, congratulations on your debut novel! What was it like writing The Unstoppable Bridget Bloom? Was it everything you expected?
Thank you for your kind words! It is my (and also Bridget’s) dream come true to be in the hands of readers who want to hear her story.
Writing The Unstoppable Bridget Bloom was honestly very, very fun. That’s actually why I wrote this book—sheer entertainment for me, at the time. 😊 I started the first draft of this book way back in 2018. I’d just finished drafting a really serious book with dark subject matter and afterward found myself craving to spend time writing something light and little silly, with the goal of making myself laugh. The more I “heard” Bridget’s voice, the more committed I became to her story. I wrote the initial 80K word first draft in about sixty days, quite simply because I was enjoying myself.
To answer the question—I don’t know that I had expectations about the process, but I definitely had fun.
Why did you decide to tell a story about theatre and music? What is your own background in music?
Telling a music story felt very congruent to a past version of myself. Though I still love music, as a child and teen it was my everything. I spent hours every day immersed in band, choir, piano lessons, percussion ensembles, anything I could get my hands on. I played multiple instruments and attended sleepaway music camp every summer. In high school I was dissatisfied with how our school’s vocal arrangement of The Star Spangled Banner (the US national anthem) sounded, so I took the sheet music home and wrote a different arrangement. I was even a music minor in college (piano performance) for a short time! (I abandoned ship when I learned it was very, very time consuming to do a music minor on top of a liberal arts major.) I also dabbled a little in theater in high school, though my tiny hometown didn’t have any musical theater options to explore.
I ended up writing Bridget as being a musical theater ingenue because this was totally how I saw her personality—having a strong need to perform and be center stage, as this is what makes her feel safe and seen. I really had to dust off my music theory knowledge to write the book (and learn to write music again!).
And why did you decide to tell a story where Bridget doesn’t fret about her body size?
I wrote Bridget as the teen I wish I could have been. When I was in high school I wore the same size clothes as Bridget does in this book, and unfortunately I received a lot of messaging (explicitly and implicitly) that this was wrong and that I was “too much,” and I internalized those messages. It has been a struggle over years to learn and remember that I am the same amount of worthy at every body size I have worn. (I have more to say about this in the author’s note inside the book!) In a nutshell, I wanted to write a character who was beautiful and graceful and talented and fat and her body size is not a point of contention or focus, it simply is what it is.
Bridget Bloom is sometimes pretty self-centred. Were you worried that readers would judge her too harshly and thus felt put off by the book?
The thing about Bridget is that she is meant to be myopic and a bit annoying, to the point of being an unreliable narrator. I intended for readers to see right through her and to laugh a bit at her, just like I did as I wrote her. To me, her extreme confidence to the point of benign narcissism is the funniest thing about her, and she’s a bit of a caricature. (Inspirational characters in crafting Bridget were Elle Woods from Legally Blonde, Rachel Berry from Glee and Arial from Disney’s The Little Mermaid.) Even if readers are pretty annoyed with her in the beginning, I’m hopeful they will stick with Bridget and read her story all the way through, as I personally think witnessing her growth and how the book ends comes with a big emotional payoff.
It’s nice to see that students in Richard James Academy aren’t fighting each other all the time. Why did you choose to portray the school this way?
You know—this wasn’t an intentional choice, if I’m being honest. I simply wrote a boarding school with a music program in the way I hoped it would be? In my head I was aware there would be other dramas unfolding between other students at Richard James, but they were beyond the scope of the story I was telling. So, I suppose what this says about me is that I notice and value cooperation, that I tend to see the best in people, and that sometimes I can be a bit naïve. (And that all sounds correct.) Also, as a reminder, Bridget does have a bit of a scuffle with her roommate, Ruby, which is a strong subplot in The Unstoppable Bridget Bloom.
And finally, any advice for young people who are struggling to find the balance between humility and taking up more space?
Absolutely. Finding this balance is definitely a challenge, and it will be a proposition that you’ll need to visit over and over and over again in your life—because you’ll change a million times over the years. I think it helps to have some trusted friends or adults who you could ask for honest feedback on this, e.g., “Do you feel like I talk too much about myself, or not enough? Do I give consideration to your needs or do I tend to prioritize my own?” It’s also helpful to simply self-reflect on those questions on your own. If you are the friend who rarely gives your opinion or never sets the agenda for group activities, you’re probably not taking up enough space. If the group always does what you want and you see yourself as the main character in every interaction, you might be taking up too much space!