Ah, unexpected pairings. Aren’t they the best? Not just true of romantic relationships, but of friendships, too. I’ve experienced both, and it’s never dull. For example, my marriage is quite the yin-yang mash-up. My husband Mike is a very math-oriented, logical/practical, sci-fi-y dude, whereas I…am not. Okay, I can be practical, but I think that’s partially a product of his influence.

(Yin and Yang, 1996)

ALWAYS ANTHONY features the unexpected friendship of two total opposites…or so it seems. There’s popular, cool-as-a-cucumber Anthony Randall…

(not an actual representation)

…and timid-but-brainy Leah Ruben.

They are paired up because Anthony (kinda like my hubs) is great at science and math but has a harder time with writing. The English teacher, Mrs. Winn, has asked Leah to tutor Anthony to help raise his Language Arts grade. Along the way, Anthony and Leah discover they do have a lot in common, and they develop a blossoming friendship.

Surprises and obstacles ensue. Among them is a bullying incident they both witness which may threaten their budding friendship. You’ll just have to read the book to see what happens.

(Anthony imagines one of the bullies as a hungry bear)

Ultimately, what I really enjoyed about writing this story (like most of my others) was shoving two “opposites” together to see how they’d interact. Although Anthony and Leah are more opposite than most of my pairings, I love all the commonalities that emerge and how they help each other navigate so much along the way…like crushes, passion projects, and – ultimately — how to express their feelings (in different ways).

I do think people in the most enduring “unlikely” relationships end up having unexpected similarities. As I mentioned, my husband and I appear to have little in common on the surface. But over the years, we’ve found that we, in fact, have LOTS in common: values, sensibilities, a habit of eating way too fast (argh), and so much more (I won’t get into our shared workaholic tendencies).

And, thanks to two grown kids, a dog, and almost 28 years of marriage, we also have tons of shared history.

I don’t know if Anthony and Leah will be friends that long, but I do know one thing: if their friendship is meant to be, they’ll find more and more commonalities along the way.

Thrilled to be part of this upcoming middle grade Hanukkah anthology, along with 15 other wonderful authors I admire. My story is a combo of writing and fun, sketchy art. I hope you’ll check it out! THE FESTIVAL OF LIGHTS releases September 5, 2024, and you can pre-order from the website of my friend and organizer/contributor, Henry Herz.

Thrilled to announce THREE amazing April events that I’ll be part of (ALL of these include signings!):

On Sunday, April 7, 2024, I’ll join a celebration of Jewish Children’s Books and Authors event at the Chicago Loop Synagogue at 2 PM CT. A reading of BECOMING BRIANNA included. Open to the public. To register, click here.

On Saturday, April 20, I’ll be taking part in the Ohioana Book Festival in Columbus, OH. This includes a Middle Grade Fiction panel discussion at 3:45-4:30 PM EST (author lineup: Jenn Bishop, Margaret Peterson Haddix, Terri Libenson, Andrea Wang). For info, click here.

And on Saturday, April 27, I’ll be part of the all-day North Texas Teen Book Festival. For more info and to see the entire (wow, INCREDIBLE!!) lineup of authors, click here.

ALWAYS ANTHONY comes out on May 7! For a fun teaser, here’s a little read-along video + brief intro to the story. (Enjoy my voice acting skills and ever-so-fashionable headset [trust me, you don’t want that office echo]).

Often, when I’m speaking at a school or library, I’ll be asked about character names in my stories. Specifically, where they came from. Were they named after people I know? People I love? People I hate? How’d I first come up with “Emmie?” “Izzy?” And so on.

I have so, so, SO many characters that sometimes I can’t even remember the origins of their names. Therefore, I thought it might be fun to compile a list of them; if anything, maybe it’ll help jog my memory.

So here you go, dear readers: the semi-complete (I’m know I’m missing some*) list of main characters, secondary and minor characters, and all their name origins. Buckle up, it’s a long one. Note: strangely, most of the main characters’ names are totally made up while many of the minor characters’ have special meaning!

Emmie: Ah, where it all began. Admittedly, like many of the other names, “Emmie” was used for title purposes only. I knew I wanted the adjective “Invisible,” and “Emmie” just flowed well with it. But I truly think her name fits her; it’s sweet, youthful, and unassuming.

Izzy: Echoing “Emmie,” “Izzy” flowed well with “Positively,” an adjective I had in mind for the title. I love that it’s a little retro, which – if you’ve read the book – works perfectly.

Brianna, Tyler, Maya, Mia, and Leo: these were just names I selected arbitrarily. I was searching for contemporary, youthful, tween-ish names online, and they met the criteria. Funny, though: much like with real kids, I think the characters have grown into their names. I can’t imagine them having any other names than their own.

Jaime: This was a very strategic name. Originally it was supposed to be “Jasmine,” but JUST JASMINE was already taken (by a website or a show or something), and I didn’t want to compete. I wanted to keep “Just” in the title (so perfect), and nothing combined with it as well as a “J” name. So, “Jaime” was chosen.

Ruby: Ruby was the first character whose name I especially chose for her personality. Previously, she was just known for her moniker, “Baked Bean Girl,” and I thought she deserved a real name that complimented her. She seemed like a “Ruby” from the start. In this case, “Ruby” came before the title adjective, “Remarkably.”

Sarah: I chose her name waaay back while writing INVISIBLE EMMIE, and I’m pretty sure I named her for my niece.

Anthony: He is named after a nephew. By the way, I don’t actively seek out special characters to name after relatives, it’s very random (whoever comes to mind at the time I’m writing).

Now here’s where it gets fun. These are all the secondary and background characters I’ve named after loved ones:


  • Trina and Brandon (Emmie’s older siblings): these are close to my own siblings’ names, Tina and Brad
  • Ms. Regas (librarian): friend’s maiden name; she also happens to be a librarian


  • Mrs. Wodaski: friend’s last name
  • Ben: named for my dad, who passed away long ago
  • Hannah: my niece
  • Ava, Quinn, Bill, Carrie: family friends
  • Miss Gelb (teacher): friend’s maiden name
  • Mr. Reukauf (teacher): friend’s last name


  • Madam Zukosky (French teacher): friend’s maiden name


  • Cantor Jordana Caruso-Sager: named for three clergy members at my synagogue
  • Rabbi Nosanchuk: named for the rabbi who conducted my daughters’ bat mitzvahs (looks like him, too, but in real life, he’s much younger)
  • Ashley (Bri’s aunt): my niece
  • Tina (Bri’s aunt’s wife): my sister
  • Brad (Bri’s cousin): my brother
  • Molly (Bri’s cousin): my daughter (different spelling)
  • Gabriella (Bri’s cousin): my niece


  • Jonathan and Eli (Tyler’s brother Zach’s friends): my nephews


  • Gabi: my niece (yes, I have many nieces and nephews!)
  • Trevor: admittedly, after Trevor Noah, one of my favorite comedians (and low-key crush)
  • Mrs. Mayer: a friend (last name)
  • Rutter Elementary: not a person, but named after the elementary school I went to, Rutter Ave (since torn down, boo)


  • Ben Friedman: also named for my dad (first name). I had forgotten that I’d used the name “Ben” previously; yep, my memory isn’t the greatest.

ALWAYS ANTHONY (coming soon!):

  • Nikki Lourde: my younger daughter’s (first) name
  • Mollie (Leah’s great aunt): my older daughter’s name
  • Michael Ruben: my husband’s (first) name
  • Jesse: my nephew

And here’s a list of arbitrary ones (those I made up or looked up for culturally appropriate names):

INVISIBLE EMMIE: Katie, Joe Lungo, Lindsay Donsky, Kyle Duncan, Mrs. Winn

POSITIVELY IZZY: Danielle, Becca, Dev Devar

JUST JAIME: Celia, Grace

BECOMING BRIANNA: Zoe Torres, Olivia Frank

TRULY TYLER: Zachary Ross, Ms. Laurie, Malik, Ethan, Coach Durdle

REMARKABLY RUBY: Juan, Leah Ruben, Josh Bentz, Keya Devar

SURPRISINGLY SARAH: Adam Weller, Laney, Sophia Friedman

ALWAYS ANTHONY (coming soon!): Lulu and Jada, Lucas & Eddie

After writing this, I realize (gasp) I still have many relatives and friends unaccounted for. Hmm, I think we know what that means…

…I’ll have to write more books!

*I’ve come to realize:

  1. there are peoples’ names I KNOW I used that for the life of me I cannot find. But I swear they’re there.
  2. some of the names I’ve used have been lost in discarded first drafts. But I’ve made note and will bring them back!