by Brooke Leonard
On Tuesday, October 3, Common Good Books filled with excited chatter. Rows of folding chairs in the back of the store filled quickly with colleagues, students, friends and fans of Peter Bognanni, Macalester College professor, Iowa Writer’s Workshop graduate, and Alex Award-winning novelist. His new book, Things I’m Seeing Without You, has been anticipated since the release of his 2010 novel, The House of Tomorrow, which was adapted into a film in early April.
Bognanni began the launch for Things I’m Seeing Without You by confessing that he had had many “anxiety dreams” about the event. He said he was worried “there would only be, like, two people sitting over there,” and gestured towards the middle of the crowd of folding chairs. This could not be further from the truth—the store was packed. A student who had attended two other book releases at Common Good said that it was “definitely the most crowded.”
Bognanni described two main reasons why he wrote this book. The first reason had to do with a woman he knew on social media. This woman committed suicide, and he had a difficult time grappling with her death. Writing this book helped him to process.
The second reason had to do with a Business Weekly article that he read in a dentist’s office. Bognanni claims he had “no business reading a business magazine, especially not on a weekly basis,” but an article about the expanding funeral market piqued his interest. These two very different events sparked his desire to write a novel with two perspectives: a teenage girl mourning the loss of a best friend she only knew online, and her middle-aged father trying to enter the funeral business. Bognanni later altered this original manuscript into the young adult novel it is today, told from the perspective of seventeen-year-old Tess Fowler.
Later in the evening, when Bognanni was asked how he managed to write from this teenage perspective, he said that he considered many of his former students at Macalester for inspiration.
At the launch, Bognanni read two short chapters from the book. Chapter 8 tells of Tess’s adventure on a farm in Ocala, Florida, where she is forced to accompany her father on his mission to plan a grieving ceremony a prized race horse. Laughter filled Common Good Books as Bognanni read his snarky character’s thoughts and peculiar actions. Chapter 15 had the opposite effect, showing Tess in her most vulnerable state, grief. Bognanni said he did this on purpose because he likes “to make you laugh and everything and then make you feel, like, horrible.”
Bognanni then answered audience members’ questions. In his answers, Bognanni revealed that he cannot stand having anything on the walls above his desk when he writes, and that he often eats cherry Yoplait yogurt during his daily writing sessions. He also said that this novel was not originally intended for a young adult audience.
After questions, Bognanni signed books and fans helped themselves to sugar cookies with the cover of Things I’m Seeing Without You printed on the frosting. The giant stack of hardback novels near the cash register dwindled as dozens of audience members purchased a copy (or two).
After reading the entire book within a 24-hour time period, I can confidently say that this novel makes time fly by. There is no shortage of plot twists and turns as the novel follows its protagonist, a girl whose heart has been broken in unimaginable ways.