A Q&A with the author... What Makes Us by Rafi Mittlefehldt (Interview & #Giveaway)

Welcome to my tour stop! Check out the interview with the author and tour giveaway below...

What Makes Us
By Rafi Mittlefehldt
YA Contemporary
Hardcover, Audiobook & ebook, 352 Pages
October 15th 2019 by Candlewick Press


A viral video reveals a teen’s dark family history, leaving him to reckon with his heritage, legacy, and identity in this fiery, conversation-starting novel.

Eran Sharon knows nothing of his father except that he left when Eran was a baby. Now a senior in high school and living with his protective but tight-lipped mother, Eran is a passionate young man deeply interested in social justice and equality. When he learns that the Houston police have launched a program to increase traffic stops, Eran organizes a peaceful protest.

But a heated moment at the protest goes viral, and a reporter connects the Sharon family to a tragedy fifteen years earlier — and asks if Eran is anything like his father, a supposed terrorist. Soon enough, Eran is wondering the same thing, especially when the people he’s gone to school and temple with for years start to look at him differently.

Timely, powerful, and full of nuance, Rafi Mittlefehldt’s sophomore novel confronts the prejudices, fears, and strengths of family and community, striking right to the heart of what makes us who we are.

Praise for WHAT MAKES US

What Makes Us is a heart-stopping, heartbreaking read — a book full of heart. Mittlefehldt’s thoughtful, nuanced exploration of identity pulled me in from the very first page, and I could barely put it down. Eran’s story takes a universal coming-of-age theme — finding out your parents aren’t who you thought they were — to a tightly wound and thrilling extreme. Most important, this book provides satisfying, much-needed representation of a contemporary, complex Jewish teen and his family. ―Lisa Rosinsky, author of Inevitable and Only

Provocative. ―Kirkus Reviews

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Would you tell us a little more about the main characters from WHAT MAKES US?

Eran is deeply passionate about anything he cares about. It gives him this sometimes manic energy that can be funny, or effective, or harmful, depending on how he harnesses it and where it is directed. He struggles with intense feelings of anger that he has difficulty coping with, and goes back and forth on whether this is a good or bad thing.

Jade is super analytical, whip smart, and pretty guarded and private about her thoughts and feelings. Sometimes she feels as if she’s too timid. She’s very much like her own mother, which – though she wouldn’t ever say it out loud – distresses her. Jade would rather be like her laid-back, quick to laugh father.

Declan (named after my brother-in-law) is a generally agreeable, eager to please, and somewhat puppylike. He has bursts of energy too, but in a more sprite-like way – his bursts of dialogue don’t have the edge Eran’s do. He’s kind of adorable.

What one piece of advice would Eran give about being involved in your community, such as organizing a protest?

I don’t think Eran’s actually all that great at activism or organizing protests. He has endless enthusiasm and genuine passion, and makes the common mistake that that’s enough. At least in the beginning, he thinks caring a lot about something is all you need to do it well.

I think the advice he would give is to not bother with activism if you aren’t willing to go whole hog. That’s not bad advice, but I think the advice he should add to that but wouldn’t is: understand your own weaknesses and flaws, and know when to let others take over.

What part or aspect of this story do you love the most?

I love Eran’s mom. I loved how she ended up, and I loved writing her and her imperfect English dialogue. And I especially love how frustrated Eran gets with how effortlessly she swats away his challenges.

Did you find anything especially challenging or interesting while researching and writing WHAT MAKES US?

It was really hard fleshing Eran out. In earlier drafts he was more passive than I wanted him to be, but also more irritating and unlikable.

In an email reviewing the second draft, my editor noted that I tend to be more comfortable writing reserved characters, thinking no doubt about the timid Mike in It Looks Like This, my first novel. She asked if there was someone on which I could model Eran?

I remember laughing when I read it, because that question made everything click. I could model Eran on myself! I’m pretty pleasant around people for the most part, but internally I have some real issues containing anger and the intensity of my feelings. That part of Eran I’d already gotten from myself, but hadn’t been actively writing into his internal and external dialogue. So in the next draft, I began exploring and probing my own feelings to see how I’d react in his situation if I amped it up a bit and removed filters and impulse controls I’ve worked years to develop.

What’s one of your hobbies or something we might not know about you?

I can make balloon animals. My senior year of high school I got a job making balloon animals for tips on the boardwalk in Kemah, Texas, mostly so I could quit my job at Eckerd, which I hated.

If we got in your car to take a ride, what would we hear coming out of your speakers?

A mix of classic rock, 90s rock (there’s a difference!), and indie music.

About the Author

Rafi Mittlefehldt is a writer who has worked as a newspaper reporter, freelance theater critic, and children’s author. His debut novel was It Looks Like This. Rafi Mittlefehldt lives with his husband in New York City.


Shortly after the horrific Boston Marathon bombings in 2013, I read an article that mentioned one of the bombers having left behind a wife and three-year-old daughter. It was a throwaway line, but it stuck with me — I couldn’t stop thinking about that girl, who was too young to understand what had happened. When would she find out who her father was, and how would she process that? How would others react to learning about her family history? Would she keep it a secret? Would her mother?

What Makes Us began very simply as a story exploring those questions. But as I fleshed out the two main characters, Eran and Jade, their personalities took the story deeper, toward matters that are personal to me but relatable to so many. Eran’s volatility and tendency to react instinctively force him to confront issues of impulse control and anger management. And both characters’ uncertainty regarding their own pasts compels them to wrestle with self-determination and to ask, What makes a person? As the novel switches between Eran’s and Jade’s perspectives, we see them reluctantly frame and then try to answer this question, all against the backdrop of a community on the brink of chaos.  


Tour-Wide Giveaway

- 5 Winners will receive a Copy of WHAT MAKES US by Rafi Mittlefehldt
- Giveaway is open to International. | Must be 13+ to Enter Ends November 5, 2019

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Have you read either of his books? Is this on your tbr? Any thoughts on the interview?

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