In Conversation: Brittany Cavallaro and Emily Henry Talk Hello Girls

Today on the B&N Teen Blog, we welcome pals Brittany Cavallaro and Emily Henry, who talk about making friends as adults, the magic of the French braid, the marketing and consumption of femininity (yes, that), and their collaboration on Hello Girls, pitched as a YA Thelma and Louise. Yes please!

Brittany: I love any opportunity to be in conversation with you, Em, because while we’re writing this piece together, we’re also rapid-fire texting and planning our next vacation. Par for the course.

Emily Henry and I have known each other since we were baby authors waiting for the announcements of our first books to drop! Our agent, Lana Popovic, made the brilliant move to introduce us to each other. I think she said something like, “when you two talk, you sound like the same person.” Spoiler alert: when we talk, we absolutely sound like the same person. (Sometimes when we do events, I wonder if people feel like they’re hearing a single girl in stereo.)

Anyway, Em and I started texting immediately, and reading each other’s work, and cheering each other on, and after like three weeks of this I bounded into the living room and was like MY NEW BEST FRIEND IS COMING TO VISIT I’M TAKING HER TO MY FAMILY CABIN IN THE WOODS.

Emily: From the beginning, it was obvious that our friendship was written in the stars, which was pretty lucky for us since the first time we actually met was when I flew out to visit you for, like, a full week. I remember it took us a few hours of driving and talking before we hit our first silence and looked over at each other like…guess it’s a good thing neither of us turned out to be a serial killer! Looking back, it makes so much sense that we ended up writing a book together, and more specifically, this book, about that intense, rapid-release kind of friendship you only get to have a few times in life, the kind that’s basically this pendulum of momentum. That’s what happened during this visit: We were supposed to be locked away in a cabin on a writing retreat and I think we made it about twenty-ish hours before drinking so much caffeine that it felt physically impossible to stay in one place.

Brittany: Is that before or after I French-braided your hair?

Emily: After, I think? I’m fairly sure the french-braiding happened night-one, when we pulled up to the cabin in a snowstorm and went inside to see a man (shelf) about a bottle of wine. Anyway, the next day, when we were bouncing off the walls, I remember that you looked at me, your eyes legitimately aglitter, and were like, “WHAT IF WE….” And I think the rest of the trip was just one “WHAT IF WE…” after another. I’m not usually a very go-with-the-flow person. I like order. I like expectations. But for whatever reason, we are suited to one another in this way: that when we’re together, plans go out the window and momentum takes over.

Brittany: It’s so funny, I think sometimes that this back and forth we have—that has so much emphasis and imagination and wordplay and glee, and that is so incredibly special to me—can read as particularly young and feminine to some people who aren’t used to seeing it. We write books. We have jobs, and spouses. We own houses. We pay taxes!! We just do it while holding hands, talking four hundred miles a minute. I think it can be really hard for our people in our culture to be able to see women like us in the world as…adults.

Emily: Yes! I think partly we aren’t used to seeing “adults” who act like this because…IT’S SO DANG HARD TO MAKE FRIENDS AS AN ADULT. You just don’t have those full-immersion experiences that bring you so close in a matter of hours as often. And everyone’s on their best behavior, pretending to be a Grown Up. Turns out when you’re a grown up, you feel pretty much like the same person except now it’s your job to keep yourself alive.

Brittany: The characters of Winona and Lucille in our book Hello Girls come from that place, I think. Because when people don’t see you as adults, they see you as someone they have control over. The most benign version of this is the whole you dang kids, get off my lawn thing, but it can be dialed all the way up to some pretty dangerous territory. Like, you’re young, so you’re stupid. Like, in the case of Winona and Lucille, you’re young and so you’re at my mercy. Add being female to that equation (and/or being queer, or not white, or not cisgendered), and suddenly it gets a lot scarier.

Emily: There’s also something so strange and (morbidly) fascinating about the way that when youth is paired with femininity, you almost automatically accept the idea that you are for public consumption. We’ve told the story so many times of the way this book was born and titled—that while we were on our road trip, every single person we met along the way greeted us with, “Hello, girls!”

Brittany: I would like to note that I was thirty effing years old at the time.

Emily: Yes, and sure! We are youthful! But it was strange, because there’s a false safety that comes with being seen this way (which is largely because our whiteness, and other areas of privilege acts as a screen to protect us in a way that other girls are not protected). Because as soon as you’re cheerily greeted in this way, you have the sense that your presence is…pleasant. You’re set-dressing, a bouquet of flowers.. You’re assumed innocent to an impossible degree.

We were so intrigued by the idea of what Winona and Lucille could get away with if they leaned into this. If they let people’s assumptions about them stand. But even that gets old fast for them. You can try to play with the system, but the system still sucks.

Brittany: One of my favorite elements that you introduced into Hello Girls, Em, is Winona’s anti-makeover. There’s a terrific scene where the girls have just been majorly screwed over, in part because of their age and their gender and their resources. And basically Winona’s response to that is, what if I didn’t look like a snack cake anymore? What if I stripped away the things that made me pretty and desirable and looked more like the way I felt on the inside—someone ragged and tired and maybe broken? And it works!

Emily: Have you had those moments? I remember as a teenager, my best friends and I (right before the true era of the selfie) would take so many hideous pictures of ourselves on our little digital camera. We’d do it until we were crying on the floor from laughing so hard.

Brittany: It’s freeing!

Emily: Exactly! Even at a young age, when you don’t totally understand that this is your reality: that men are going to continue to honk at you every time you’re outside. That someone will literally meow at you in the grocery store while staring blatantly at your butt. I think before I understood all that on a conscious level, I already had this craving to belong to myself more fully than I felt I did.

Brittany: And that’s all we’ve ever wanted: to belong to ourselves, and each other. That’s all Winona and Lucille want, too. Of course, their way of dealing with that is to knock over a 7-11, steal a convertible, and high-tail it to Vegas. (We mostly just watch YouTube beauty videos while eating a display-case worth of donuts.) But we hope that the ride they take is one you want to go on—we had a blast getting them there.

Emily: Here, here!

Hello Girls is on shelves now.

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