Author Q&A with Samara Shanker
I recently read NAOMI TEITELBAUM ENDS THE WORLD. It was such a fun book that I wanted to find out more about the inspiration behind it. So today I’m super excited to share my Q&A with author Samara Shanker. She’ll tell us a bit about what inspired her gloriously fun debut novel and drop a few hints about what’s coming next. First, here’s a little bit about the book…
About Naomi Teitelbaum Ends the World by Samara Shanker
A magical Bat Mitzvah gift gets out of control and thrusts a girl into a supernatural quest with the fate of the world at stake in this spooky middle grade adventure that’s perfect for fans of Aru Shah.
Naomi Teitelbaum is so ready for her Bat Mitzvah. Her prayers are memorized and she’s definitely got a handle on her Torah portion (well, almost). Then she gets a mysterious gift: a tiny clay Golem. To Naomi’s shock, it comes to life—and obeys her every command.
At first, this small magical helper seems like the best Bat Mitzvah gift ever. But with each command, the Golem grows…and gets harder to hide. And creepy, unnatural creatures like dybbuks, demons, and a congregation of ghosts have started following Naomi around. To keep herself out of trouble and the Golem out of harm’s way, Naomi gives the Golem well-intended instructions: save the world.
Unfortunately, this leaves more room for interpretation than Naomi thought. Before long, the Golem is wreaking havoc all over Los Angeles, and only Naomi and her friends can stop it.
Author Q&A with Samara Shanker
Q: I find that a story was often inspired by a question. Was there a question that inspired you to write Naomi Teitelbaum Ends the World?
Sort of. I’ve always been really interested in golem stories, and I guess the question that stuck with me was “what would this idea of a worker with no nuance but endless energy look like in the hands of a kid with strong convictions but no strong sense of how to apply them?” So Naomi was born.
Q: Who is your favorite character in the book? Were there things about them which couldn’t be included in the story?
I adore all the kids, but I think my favorite character is Becca. All the kids are unapologetically themselves, but Becca doesn’t really have a choice. She has to wear her experiences on her sleeve because she feels everything so strongly. It’s no wonder she ended up best friends with Naomi. I wrote Becca for my nephew, who is still too little to read, but is on a similar trajectory to Becca’s particular struggles, so I hope I did her justice. I’m so lucky and excited that I get to spend more time exploring the world from Becca’s point of view in the second book.
Q: The Golem does some interesting things in the book as it tries to follow Naomi’s instructions. What’s your favorite moment or scene involving the Golem? What inspired you to create that moment?
I just love golems. I could talk about the incredible history and inspiration behind the creation of an entity like that forever, but I think in the story my favorite moment with the Golem has to be the last one. No spoilers, but I think that moment is where we really see Naomi understand what it means to take responsibility, rather than trying to just shoulder the problems of the world alone. For the Golem, it’s a little bittersweet. Golems have always raised questions of agency for me, and what it means to have been created for a singular purpose. I think in a sense Naomi’s Golem has achieved his purpose at the very end, it’s just not quite what Naomi thought it was.
Q: Is there a scene or moment in your novel that really sticks with you? Can you tell us a little bit about it?
There’s a moment where the kids are having a conversation with Rabbi Gershon in the temple in Santa Clarita. They’re tired, they’re scared, they’re incredibly out of their depth, and this ghost is teaching them Talmud, and discussing golems, and Naomi asks the question, “but what if we love it?” and I think that really is just the core of Naomi’s character. She’s intense and a little insufferable sometimes, but she’s entirely motivated by love, and that matters.
Q: Naomi’s relationships with her best friends Eitan and Becca are the central relationships in the story. What is your favorite thing about Becca or Eitan?
So I talked a little about Becca up above. But I think my favorite thing about her is the ways she extends trust. Emotional expressions aren’t really her thing, but handing Eitan her maps means something to both of them. It’s a concrete way of showing that she trusts and loves her friends. My favorite thing about Eitan is his unexpected complexity. I think it would be very easy for him to be just a nerd, or just the boy on the crew, but he’s the one who needs physical comfort more than anyone else, and he bakes well enough that he made a full-sized American Girl doll cake for his cousin, and he just DESPERATELY wants to go to space camp, which I relate to wholeheartedly.
Q: I feel like it used to be rarer to see a story set in Los Angeles, but now I tend to see that city as a setting more often. What made you choose Los Angeles as the setting for your story?
Honestly it was a strategic choice. I have a bit of a quirk of setting a lot of my writing in small town New England, but you don’t find so many Jews there, and it felt a little cliché to set a Jewish story in New York, but there is actually a really big Jewish community in L.A.. It’s also an area pretty immediately affected by climate change in particular, so it made sense for Naomi. Plus I had friends there I could consult on geography, and I desperately need help on all things geographical.
Q: What do you most hope that readers take away from your novel?
I am so proud of this generation of kids. All of them are so passionate about changing the world and making the future better. I wrote this book as kind of a love letter to them, and to remind them that it’s not all on them. “You are not obligated to complete the work.” Burnout doesn’t help anyone; it’s not only ok but necessary to stop and enjoy life without feeling guilty about work you’re not doing.
Q: What is one question about your novel you are often asked by readers?
Who sent the golem? And my answer is: There’s going to be a second book next year!
About Samara Shanker
Samara Shanker has been making up stories about magic and monsters since she was a kid sneaking in extra reading past her bedtime. By graduate school, she had moved on to writing stories that reimagined the folklore and mythology she had always loved as a kid (mostly still written after bedtime, once she finished all her sensible homework). She now works as a tutor and children’s literacy specialist and gets to do most of her writing during the day, which has done wonders for her sleep schedule. She lives in Virginia with her rescue puppy, Jack Kirby, and devotes most of her time not spent working or writing to spoiling her niece and nephew. NAOMI TEITELBAUM ENDS THE WORLD is her debut novel.