I first met Ashley Rhodes-Courter when she was 16. I represented her adoptive mother, Gay Courter, a wonderful commercial novelist, and nonfiction writer. Ashley had just won a contest sponsored by Scholastic for an essay on “What Harry Potter Means to Me.” As a child, Ashley had been in and out of foster homes from age 2-12. The encouragement she received from teachers, and a love of reading saved her from the often abusive and sad circumstances in her foster homes. Harry Potter gave her hope. A year later, Ashley won another essay contest, this one sponsored by The New York Times magazine for teens. She wrote movingly about being adopted—finally—by a loving family. At that point, Ashley had been disappointed by so many families that she wasn’t quite sure what to expect. So when the judge asked her how she felt about her adoption, she uttered three little words: “I guess so.”
That grew into a memoir about growing up in the foster system. Published by Atheneum, a division of Simon & Schuster’s Children’s Publishing, Three Little Words went on to sell over 120,000 copies, hitting The New York Times bestseller list. Ashley, who since her teens, has been speaking out about the rights of children, especially in foster care and adoption situations, crisscrossed the country, addressing audiences as diverse as those who work in the justice system to schools and parent and teen groups. The book was optioned for film, and as I write, director James Mangold (Girl Interrupted, Walk the Line) is collaborating with actress Reese Witherspoon in a feature film that should be released in the fall of 2014.
Ashley is now 27, married, with a biological son. Together with her husband, she has already fostered many children, trying to apply the lessons learned as a foster kid to parenting. She has won scores of honors and awards for her inspiring work, graduated college with two majors and two minors, and finished a Master’s degree, all while juggling the life of a newlywed, learning to parent, and a whirlwind public speaking schedule.
I was thrilled when Ashley sent me a proposal for the sequel to Three Little Words, and even more thrilled when her publisher, Atheneum, picked up the publishing rights. Three More Words continues Ashley’s story into early adulthood. She will share stories of joy and heartbreak as she learns to live with the families she belongs to—the one she was born into and her adoptive family—and as she forges the bonds of a family of her own. Most of all, she embraces the “three more words” that she now feels comfortable uttering: “I love you.” Three More Words continues the journey but also the biggest lesson of all, learning to give and receive love.
Thanks to a fantastic editor, Caitlyn Dlouhy, and the dream team at Atheneum.