Matters of the Heart Challenge Law and Order in Unreasonable Doubts by Reyna Marder Gentin….Author Q & A

My Review:

Even a Yale educated, NYC public defender with a loving boyfriend and an apartment on the UWS who knows and respects the law can be thrown off course. Blinded by temptation, Liana becomes intrigued with her smart, handsome criminal client and fails to see all that she has. While friends, family and co-workers encourage her to be the best she can be with their advice and insight, Liana takes matters into her own hands and is forced to realize for herself what is right.

Read in just one day, Unreasonable Doubts kept me turning the pages as Liana follows a dangerous path. She secretly decides to explore a forbidden relationship with an accused rapist, knowing it was wrong but drawn to his charm, while at the same time navigating her existing relationships, friendships and career. Author Reyna Marder Gentin knows how to make the unknown feels dangerous, romantic and exciting, and all the while tackling real life questions of love, friendship and loyalty. With purposeful characters and a compelling story of law, love and temptation, I highly recommend this one!

Author Q & A

Q:  Have you always been a writer and how long did it take you to write Unreasonable Doubts?

A:  I have always loved to write, but I never tried my hand at it more creatively until I left the practice of law in 2014. I began working on Unreasonable Doubts in the summer of 2015, and it was published in November, 2018.

Q:  Tell us about your law career and did you do additional research for the book while writing?

A:  My career in the law took a number of different turns. Initially, I clerked for a Federal judge and I worked as a litigation associate at a large international law firm in New York City. After that, I worked as a law guardian representing children with the Legal Aid Society, before settling in for 18 years as a criminal appellate attorney representing indigent defendants on appeal from felony convictions. The novel was inspired by my work in that office, the personalities there, and by a number of the cases I worked on. I didn’t have to do a lot of research, as I was very familiar with the both the law and how cases are handled.

Q:  Liana is morally conflicted in her job as public defender; she is in support of the law but gives in to temptation when it comes to getting to know the accused.  Do you think this occurs often in a public defender’s office?

A:  I doubt relationships often bloom between attorneys and their clients in the criminal representation context, but I’m sure it happens sometimes. Less so in an appellate office, because the attorneys and the clients rarely meet. But there are undoubtedly clients who develop feelings for their trial attorneys, and sometimes those feelings are reciprocated. Certainly the power differential, at a minimum, should give one pause. 

Q:  Jakob and Danny Shea are very different and the tension and energy between Liana and Danny was palpable.  Why do you think the attention Daniel gave Liana was more enticing for her than the true love Jakob exhibited?

A:  I think Liana was feeling neglected by Jakob, who was giving a lot of his time and energy to his career and not quite enough to her. And Danny, who had his own motives for sure, provided a contrast — he was prepared to completely devote himself to Liana, and that was meaningful to her in the vulnerable state she was in. I also think that she was burnt out and and conflicted about whether her devotion to her job was misplaced, and Danny gave her hope that there were innocent people out there that needed her help.

Q:  Deb was Liana’s angel, reminding her how to be a good friend, and encouraging her to see the love she and Jakob had.  It felt symbolic when Liana moved into Deb’s apartment, stepping into her environment to be surrounded by her good vibes.  We all need a friend like Deb.  Did you have anyone special in mind when you wrote her character?

A:  Yes. I had a colleague with whom I worked who passed away from ovarian cancer in 2014. We were close, but she was also demanding in some ways. When she became ill, she gave me an unusual opportunity to step up and be a better friend, and I will always appreciate that.

Q:  Liana in interested in Jewish tradition and Jakob goes along with her to synagogue to be supportive.  Why did you choose to have the synagogue be orthodox? 

A:  As a religious person, I was interested in showing readers a different side of Judaism than they might know. Liana is not religious in the novel, but she is curious about her tradition and interested in what her heritage has to say about critical aspects of her life. She explores notions of the obligation to seek justice, how to pray for someone who is ill, and how to know if the person you are with is your “bashert,” the one you are meant to be with. Liana could have looked into these faith issues at a synagogue of any denomination; I’m most familiar with how an Orthodox community functions, so I placed her there.

Q:  Rabbi Nacht felt like Liana’s conscience; he seems to be in places Liana wouldn’t expect and he forces her to look at herself.  Do you have someone in your life that provides that for you?

A:  Hopefully everyone has a variety of people in their life that perform this function in different circumstances. I think my husband and children hold a mirror up to me on a daily basis, usually in a helpful way! But I think good friends, spiritual leaders, fellow writers, and also readers can help to force you to define your values and make sure you’re following a path that is productive and meaningful.

Q:  Jakob and his family believe Corporate Law to be a superior career choice compared to Liana’s line of work.  In your experience, did you come across that opinion in the legal world?

A:  Within the legal profession, people tend to respect what is financially remunerative. Corporate attorneys are paid outsized salaries, so they must be “worth” more than Legal Aid attorneys, law school professors, government lawyers, etc. With the possible exception of judges, who most of the time have had successful careers as commercial attorneys before they take the bench, people both within and outside of the profession value people who are paid more. This is of course a generalization, and may be partly a generational thing. But I think many attorneys would give lip service to the idea that they value the lawyer slogging away in low paying, low prestige job in a public defender’s office somewhere, but they wouldn’t trade places.

Q:  Did you always know what the outcome would be while writing the book or did you decide Liana’s future as you went along?

A:  I had a pretty good idea!

Q:  If Unreasonable Doubts became a movie, who would you choose to play the main characters?

A:  I would love to see Unreasonable Doubts as a movie; I think it has all the right elements. I’m terrible at casting though; honestly, I never know who any of the young actors are!

Q:  What are you reading now and what do you recommend?

A:  I am about to start Lily King’s Writers and Lovers.

New YA from Reyna Marder Gentin

My Review:

Author Reyna Marder Gentin does a wonderful job depicting today’s teens challenges and concerns. Eighth grade can be tough no matter what. Growing up in an unconventional home with a single, working parent and and an undiagnosed learning difference adds to teenage angst. Layla is in a constant struggle to prove herself, yet the challenges keep coming and she almost loses sight of her potential. My Name is Layla is a wonderful story of perseverance; the love and support of family, friends and teachers can greatly impact the success of young people. I loved this middle grade novel and was rooting for Layla all the way!

Goodreads Summary

School will never be the same…

On the first day of eighth grade, thirteen year-old Layla has a pretty good idea of what’s in store for her– another year of awkward social situations, mediocre grades, and teachers who praise her good behavior but find her academic performance disappointing. Layla feels certain she’s capable of more, but each time she tries to read or write, the words on the page dance and spin, changing partners and leaving her to sit on the sidelines.

Her new English teacher, Mr. McCarthy, senses her potential. When he pushes her to succeed, Layla almost rises to the challenge before making a desperate choice that nearly costs her everything she’s gained. Will she be able to get back on track? And who can she count on to help her?

Author Q & A

Q:  What inspired you to write a middle grade book?  

A:  I wrote Layla in 2017 while I was waiting for the publication of Unreasonable Doubts. I didn’t have an idea of what my next project would be. I signed up for a class at the Writing Institute at Sarah Lawrence College on Writing For Youth, and my classmates and the teacher inspired the novel.

Q:  How did you come up with the character, Layla, and why choose to have her struggle with dyslexia?

A:  I have a lot of memories from when I was Layla’s age, and her voice and her personality came easily to me. I was interested in having the character struggle with something serious that could make her so frustrated and be so damaging to her self-esteem that she couldn’t keep going along as she had up until that time.  I was looking for something with a breaking point, and I thought that dyslexia and the inability to succeed in school, could be that struggle. As an attorney, I had represented both kids and adults who had reached a moment where acting out, in a dangerous or even violent way, suddenly became an option because they had no other option. I wanted to get into the mind of 13 year-old and see what could cause that tipping point to lead to a cry for help.

Q:  It is important for parents and teachers to pay attention to their kids, give them confidence and teach them to be their own self advocates so problems may be addressed before it is too late, but life can be complicated and often it is easier said than done. Mr. McCarthy stepped up to get Layla the help she needed.  Did you have a teacher who made a difference for you?

A:  I had a lot of wonderful teachers growing up who fostered values that have stood me in good stead ever since. My high school chemistry teacher, with whom I’m still in touch, took a special interest in my whole group of friends. She made us feel special and gave us the confidence to accomplish great things. The teacher who conducted my high school orchestra insisted that we play the great symphonies from their original scores, no watered down versions, which was empowering and instilled a desire for excellence.

Q:  It seems like any one thing can create insecurities in a middle schooler’s mind…a not so perfect home life, unstylish clothes, lousy grades…what is the message you want readers to walk away with after reading My Name is Layla?

A:  I hope readers come away with a desire to be resilient, but also to have compassion for themselves and for everyone around them. In our house, we like to say “everyone has something,” meaning that everyone has challenges they are facing, no matter how perfect they may look from the outside. The challenges can be combatting racial inequality, or dealing with a learning difference, or financial hardship, or a chronically ill parent, or mental illness. It doesn’t matter. Recognizing that everyone has hurdles to overcome can spur us on toward kindness and understanding, and these are skills our children need to learn. 

About the Author

Reyna Marder Gentin grew up in Great Neck, New York. She attended college and law school at Yale. For many years, she practiced as an appellate attorney with a public defender’s office before turning to writing full time. Reyna has studied at the Writing Institute at Sarah Lawrence College, and her work has been published widely online and in print. Her debut novel, UNREASONABLE DOUBTS, was named a finalist for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association Star Award in 2019. Her first novel for children, MY NAME IS LAYLA, is due out in January, 2021, and Reyna’s latest novel, BOTH ARE TRUE, will be published in October, 2021. Reyna lives with her family in Scarsdale, New York. To learn more, please visit reynamardergentin.com. 

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