Jodi Picoult on the Darker Side of Fairy Tales and Writing with Her Daughter

Jodi Picoult and her daughter, Samantha van Leer, teamed up once again to bring their latest release to Phoenix.
Jodi Picoult and her daughter, Samantha van Leer, teamed up once again to bring their latest release to Phoenix.
Courtesy of Penguin Random House

In the last couple weeks, New York Times bestselling author Jodi Picoult's daughter, Samantha van Leer, had to have a special meeting with a dean at Vassar College to move her statistics final.

"Yeah, I have this book tour thing," Picoult says she imagines her daughter telling the dean. 

Picoult says she respects her daughter, a sophomore at Vassar, for keeping her success as an author under wraps. Not many on campus know that van Leer and Picoult will be touring the nation with their latest release, Off the Page, including a stop in the Valley on Tuesday, May 26.   

Van Leer came to Picoult, author of 23 novels, with the idea for Between the Lines, the team's first novel, when she was 13 years old. She asked Picoult, what if characters had actual lives when the book was shut but had to play the part when the book was open? And the story of 15-year-old Delilah and her fairy tale prince, Oliver, was born. 

But Picoult says Off the Page explores the darker side of happy endings. 

"We asked, 'What if there are consequences to happily ever after?'" Picoult says. "Because in real life, there usually is. And we sort of imagined that our initial group of readers for Between the Lines had gotten a little older, a little wiser, and maybe a little more able to ask themselves that question." 

Picoult is not exactly a Young-Adult author. After this tour, she says she's getting back to work on a novel about racism in America. These novels written with her daughter are her first books aimed at younger audiences, in fact. So Picoult says she took Off the Page as a sort of educational opportunity. 

"I don't want to water down my adult stories," Picoult says. "But what I would like to do is take teen readers. . . They can't read like adults do, but you can train them to." 

To help with this, Picoult and van Leer used different colors to define the three different points of view within the story — a device rarely used in YA literature. But the pair also wanted to make their book aesthetically pleasing on top of the twelve, colorful illustrations and additional decorations throughout, which were inspired by the classic illustrations Picoult saw in antique books in London.

Besides the book looking good, Picoult says, of course, they wanted the book's content to be good, too. She and van Leer wrote Between the Lines together, sometimes saying the same sentence at the same time. But Picoult says van Leer was "battling" more through their more recent co-writing process. She said the two had to fight for every sentence, and van Leer questioned Picoult every step of the way. But ultimately, she adds, it made Off the Page a stronger book.  

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As for the future of this mother-daughter duo, Picoult says it's time for van Leer to focus on school and internships as she enters her junior year at Vassar. Van Leer is studying to be a teacher, which, as Picoult points out, means three-month breaks every summer — potential writing time. 

Until then, Picoult says she is simply looking forward to having her daughter on the road with her. 

"For me, going on tour with Sammy is the best gift a mom could get because every night, I watch a new audience absolutely fall in love with her. And I'm like 'This is so cool.' I mean, who doesn't want that as a mom?"

Jodi Picoult and Samantha van Leer will be discussing Off the Page ($19.99) at the Changing Hands offsite event at Dobson High School, 1501 West Guadalupe Road in Mesa, at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, May 26. The purchase of the book through Changing Hands admits two to the event. For more information and to purchase the book, visit 

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