Q&A with Alli Frank and Asha Youmans, Authors of Tiny Imperfections

by Heather Caliendo
alli and asha interview - book club chat
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Alli Frank and Asha Youmans are the authors of Tiny Imperfections, which will publish on May 5. I love their author photo!

The novel looks at the world of private school admissions from the perspective of two veteran educators with 20 years’ experience each in the field. It is also a mother-daughter story, family dramedy about three generations of black women, and an interracial romance.

Alli Frank and Asha Youmans first got the idea for Tiny Imperfections following years of conversations and swapping outrageous tales of parental entitlement while working as colleagues in a private school in Seattle.

The synopsis: 

At thirty-nine, Josie Bordelon’s modeling career as the “it” black beauty of the ’90s is far behind her. Now director of admissions at San Francisco’s most sought after private school, she’s chic, single, and determined to keep her seventeen-year-old daughter, Etta, from making the same mistakes she did.

But Etta has plans of her own–and their beloved matriarch, Aunt Viv, has Etta’s back. If only Josie could manage Etta’s future as well as she manages the shenanigans of the over-anxious, over-eager parents at school–or her best friend’s attempts to coax Josie out of her sex sabbatical and back onto the dating scene.

As admissions season heats up, Josie discovers that when it comes to matters of the heart–and the office–the biggest surprises lie closest to home.

Let’s get to know Alli Frank and Asha Youmans as they talk favorite novels, inspiration behind the story, the importance of humor in fiction and much more!

What are some of your favorite novels?

Alli: Oh, that list could be long, so I’m going to narrow it down to some of my favorite more recent novels, the ones I can’t stop talking about to anyone who will listen to me! The Light we Lost by Jill Santopolo, Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid, I’m Fine and Neither are You by Camille Pagan, In Five Years by Rebecca Serle. And I have to mention my all-time favorite laugh out loud novel, This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper. I have probably read it half a dozen times and I still howl.

Asha: Since Alli named recent ones, I’m going to name ones that carried me through the awkwardness of my adolescence. I was a real dreamy kid and books like My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George, Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls, and the Earth’s Children Series by Jean Auel made deep impressions upon me. I think I wanted to be a hermit and live in the wild when I was young. The most important book I read as a kid was Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor. It sparked a cultural awareness and a yearning to learn my history that was my first experience of how books and stories hold the keys to who we are.

What made you decide to write this book now?

The answer to this question reminds us of contemplating all major life decisions. Is there ever an ideal time to leave a job to start a company, have your first child, get married, take on debt to buy a home, or in our case attempt to write a book with zero experience? No, there is not. It wasn’t that the time was right in our lives, but the idea was right in our lives.

Working together at a private elementary school, chuckling over a comical student or at parent shenanigans, we would often end our laughter session with, “If we ever write a book, that is definitely going in there!” At the time, we had no plans for writing a book, alone or together, we were busy balancing careers and families. But three years later, still with careers and kids, we began with a long bus ride to the Boise airport, a Costco size bag of popcorn, a laptop and a humorous idea and a phone call. And that became the as-right-as-it-can-be time for us to write a book.

Why is humor so important when dealing with serious topics like race and education?

In this era of political correctness, it can often feel like as a country we have lost our sense of humor with each other. There will always be phenomenal writers, artists, intellectuals and orators to speak to the hardship, pain and tragedy rooted in social injustice. But darkness reflects one side of the human experience, of human emotion. Our talent is speaking to the other side, the lighter side. The side that yes, still recognizes social injustices with open eyes and works for a more equitable future, but expresses that cultural hope through witty commentary and the healing community experience of laughter.

We always wanted this book to be funny. Funny and honest. Kids are a natural source of material and entertainment. Their humor is unencumbered by social mores and fear of offense. Kids are simply observing the world and calling it like they experience it. This desire to explore, connect and enjoy similarities and differences is a childhood language that is sadly lost in translation on the journey into adulthood. 

Writing this book was our opportunity to say the things we could NEVER say in school, but trust us, we were thinking them.  In our professional and personal lives, we both like to approach human interactions assuming best intentions. That if someone is trying to do right (even if they mess up) we are open to them. Humor is one of the few avenues of communication where people continue to be open and inviting even if the content is off color. Our hope is that with Tiny Imperfections our readers can relax a little bit and laugh about children, parenting, dating, religion, race, sexuality – it’s acceptable and it’s encouraged. 

Asha, your father was the first African American graduate from the Lakeside School, which you also attended. How did his experience shape your own at the school? What made you want to go into education afterwards? 

Not only did my father and I attend the school, my son is the first third-generation African American to have graduated from Lakeside School, and my brother and a cousin attended as well. We are all proud of being Lakeside Lions and, like members of any institution, we all have our own stories to tell. Mine included following in the footsteps of a pioneering personality before me: my father, TJ Vassar. Looking back at his history in politics, social justice, equity and inclusion, and the lengths to which he waged his fight against inequities, especially in education, would be daunting for anyone to follow. But the tremendous aspect about the community at Lakeside School is their capacity to accept each student as an individual. Living in my father’s shadow did not manifest in adverse pressure on me as a student or as a community member. Instead, his legacy inspired me to make the most out of my time there. He was one of a handful of black students during most of his educational experiences, at Lakeside and after. He taught me to be open to peeling back the layers of race in discussion with others and to do so without judgement. If he could manage such an outlook under the circumstances and at such a challenging time in our country’s history as the 1960’s, then I certainly could do the same through the ‘80’s.

Going into education was due mostly to my dad’s amazing modeling of the impact one could have on the life of a student. Even years after his death, I still hear from his students about how important he made them feel. I had a similar experience with an elementary school teacher who was also my circus coach. As a member of a traveling tumbling and acrobatics team, my coach, Sue Turner, made me feel like I was the most special kid in the world. She made every kid feel that way. Tiny Imperfections is the first book I have written but it isn’t the first book in which I have been part. Mrs. Turner co-wrote a book with her husband, Bud, both master physical education instructors, about teaching acrobatics and I was pictured demonstrating the moves in that book.

Teachers have a special role in the lives of kids; they did in my life and I always wanted to pass that along.

What are you currently reading and what’s on your TBR (to be read) list?

Alli: I’m in love with the debut book and author I am reading right now, Black Widow by Leslie Gray Streeter. Next will be This Won’t End Well by Camille Pagan (I am on a bit of kick with her books), Big Summer by Jennifer Weiner and This Is Big by Marisa Meltzer.

Asha: When I get a new book, it is almost too hard to crack it open because I know I will devour it and the story will be over. That’s why I love a series. Parked in my Kindle are Patricia Briggs’ latest, Smoke Bitten and Wicked Bite by Jeaniene Frost. I am a super fan of women writers of sci-fi and fantasy! Emerald Blaze by Ilona Andrews, comes out later this Summer and I can’t wait!

Click here to order Tiny Imperfections by Alli Frank and Asha Youmans on Amazon. 

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