Hello hello and welcome or welcome back to my little bookish corner of the internet. Today is my stop on the blog tour for The Einsteins of Vista Point, a middle grade novel released this week. You can view the tour schedule for the book here. On this post I’ll be sharing an interview with the author, Ben Guterson.
After the tragic loss of their sister, Zack and his siblings band together to investigate a Morse Code-inspired mystery in this stunning novel about grief and resilience.
When Zack’s younger sister dies in a tragic accident, his family moves to a small town in the Northwest to try and heal from all the pain. Eleven-year-old Zack blames himself for his sister’s death, and he struggles to find any comfort in his new surroundings. Vista Point is home to many mysterious landmarks: The great domed Tower casts inscrutable shadows, and what is the cryptic message in its ceiling medallion? There are several hidden watering holes and even a secret cave in the woods with messages written on its walls. Zack, at first, feels lost in Vista Point. Until he meets Ann, a girl who lives in the area and shows Zack all the special places to be discovered. But there’s something that seems a bit strange about Ann—and perhaps a secret she is keeping from him.
With emotional depth, an unforgettable setting, and a winning cast of characters, this masterful novel thoughtfully explores the grieving process, and how a season of pain can evolve into a summer of healing.
Hi Ben, thanks for taking the time to talk to me about your book, The Einsteins of Vista Point. What inspired this story?
On several occasions over the years, I’ve been fortunate to visit a spectacular overlook high above the Columbia River on the Oregon border. The spot is called Crown Point, and aside from the wondrous views in three directions, it’s notable for a four-story stone tower known as Vista House that commands the bluff. It’s a gray-skinned and green-capped stone building—constructed as a rest-stop—and it remains as lovely today as it was when it was dedicated back in 1918. Crown Point draws plenty of sightseers, particularly during the warmer months; but on one trek I made there several years ago in mid-winter, I was completely alone. Not a soul was in sight, and the tower itself, a museum now, was closed. Surrounded by silence, I had a strange thought, possibly because the place felt so shrouded in isolation: what if this beautiful building, for some reason, became abandoned? I took that image away with me, kept picturing the tower dilapidated and forlorn—and then, somehow, redeemed. I began imagining a loving family, maybe, purchasing the property and then restoring the building. And what if that family had itself suffered some tragedy, was itself in need of redemption? And what if one night, the children in that family stood beside the tower and noticed mysterious lights flashing far across the river? Those images were the heart of what became The Einsteins of Vista Point.
Family – those related to us, and those we find along the way – obviously play a key role in this book. What are you hoping people take away on this topic?
I’d love if readers felt, after reading the book, that it’s possible for members of a family to go through very difficult times and even feel very conflicted about one another, and yet still rely on their love and connectedness and general good intentions to come out all right on the other side. It’s not always easy to do that, I well know. Bad things can happen to families or within families, and bonds of love and support can be tested—and maybe even broken by missteps made or hurts given. But I hope some readers will feel that Zack and many of the others in the story, whether members of his family or people he meets as he becomes comfortable with life in Vista Point, are finding ways to make connections and overcome the pain of the past, no matter how it came about.
How did you find striking the balance between adventure and reality here?
I like to think I discovered the right balance between adventure and reality in The Einsteins of Vista Point by keeping my ideal reader foremost in my mind while I drafted—though I admit it’s tough to find that middle point. I didn’t want the “heavy” stuff in the book—the parts about dealing with grief and coming to terms with pain—to overwhelm the story or weigh down the action or suspense that might carry the reader forward. I know that my preference as a reader is a desire to lose myself in a story that keeps me turning the pages but also has a bit of depth to it, and so I hope I brought that sensibility and evenhandedness to my book.
Where did your plan to use Morse Code as a point of the story come from?
The thought to incorporate Morse code into my story came as an inspiration almost right away when I first visited Crown Point (the overlook I mentioned above). I was standing and looking far across the river, and I just had this image of a light flashing at me from far away on the other side. From there, I began thinking about who might be signaling and why—and the idea continued to progress from that point.
What do you most love about reading and writing children’s fiction?
The opportunity to author a story that focuses on young people and their adventures—mysterious, magical, or thrilling—while simultaneously navigating emotional terrain, is part of what draws me to write for a Middle-Grade audience. I find the landscape very liberating and more exploratory (at least to my sensibility) than what would be available to me at, say, the Young Adult level. The MG reader is old enough to have a relatively complex understanding of the world (and often a great sense of humor, too) without being overly jaded or cynical. A few years down the line, this audiences’ positions might become somewhat rigid or zealous; but in the 8–12 age-range, I like to think kids are more open to a type of enchantment that might not endear YA readers. In short, I believe MG literature explores the journey into maturity even as it retains degrees of innocence and idealism. On a more personal and immediate level, though, I enjoy writing MG stories because I recall the thrill of losing myself in a good book when I myself was in the middle-grade period of my life. All of which is to say: MG is where I feel most comfortable as an author—and I’m glad to have written The Einsteins of Vista Point for this particular audience. I hope readers find the story gratifying and enjoyable.
Finally, how would you sum up The Einsteins of Vista Point in three words?
Family, faith, hope.
About the Author
Ben Guterson is the author of Winterhouse, an Edgar Award and Agatha Award finalist as well as an Indie Next List Pick, and its sequels, The Secrets of Winterhouse and The Winterhouse Mysteries. The Winterhouse trilogy is available in ten languages worldwide. Ben and his family live in the foothills of the Cascades east of Seattle, and you can visit him online at benguterson.com.
Thanks for stopping by today for this stop on the blog tour. A big thank you also to Ben for his thoughtful and considered answers to my questions, and as always, thank you to TBR for all the hard work behind the scenes.
The Einsteins of Vista Point is out now.