Volume 76, Number 1 | May 24 - 30, 2006

The heroine of Maryrose Wood’s young adult novel has been compared to “P.G. Wodehouse as a Greenwich Village girl.”

A former East Villager’s Downtown heroine

By Rachel Fersheisler

“I try to never say never but…”

I have just asked writer Maryrose Wood if she’d ever live anywhere but New York. After a brief attempt at diplomacy, she trails off in a way that reminds me of something Felicia, the heroine of Wood’s new young adult book, says: “The needle on her inner dubiosity meter twitched into the red zone.”

“Sex Kittens and Horn Dawgs Fall in Love” (Delacorte Press), which Wood wrote as a first-person narrative by 14-year-old Felicia, is her first novel. Wood comes from a theatre background and has been writing plays and musicals for years. She was inspired to add young adult books to her repertoire when her musical “The Tutor,” about a high schooler’s relationship with her SAT tutor, won praise and awards for its spot-on rendering of the teenage mind.

Though provocatively titled, “Sex Kittens” is a sweet and wholesome story of friendship and G-rated young love. It takes place in and around Gramercy Park, Chinatown, and an esoteric bookstore on Avenue A, and it chronicles the adventures of smart, creative New York kids like Felicia the Haiku enthusiast.

“There are qualities she has that I gave her so I wouldn’t have to hold back in her voice, Wood told me, clutching a coffee cup on a Riverside Park bench. “She’s a poet — she loves to play with language.”

A typically clever passage describes the fictional Manhattan Free Children’s School, where much of the book takes place: “Frankly, it’s just too hysterical-making to think of ourselves as the Free Children. I know I go there because my mom is stuck in groovy mode (can somebody please give peace a frikkin chance already so the poor woman can MOVE ON?), but being the Free Children is too granola for words.”

The academic ethos shared by the school’s young poets, scientists, sitar-players, and martial artists is that “just being ourselves, fearless and fourteen, with all of New York City at our feet, was bound to be education enough for anyone.”

Wood, too, has lived a life charmed by New York. A native Long Islander, she recalls affectionately her first forays into the big city.

“When I was a teenager, I’d come with my friends and walk around Greenwich Village, staring at it like we had arrived in Disneyland,” she says. “We would go into restaurants that aren’t there anymore, like Mr. William Shakespeare’s, and we would go to used record stores, and sit in Washington Square Park. I think a lot of the sense of wonder that I felt as a teenager about the Village is informing the magic Manhattan that I create in ‘Sex Kittens.’ ”

Wood followed her sense of wonder to NYU, where she studied acting before leaving to appear in Stephen Sondheim’s short-lived but beloved Broadway musical “Merrily We Roll Along.” For ten years, she lived in the East Village, which she still calls her “stomping grounds.”

“I lived on E. 11th in this funny little building right behind Veniero Bakery,” she says. “The exhaust from the bakery would come back into my window and fill with it with the fragrance of cannolis.”

Wood eventually did graduate from NYU and has written everything from technological trade publications to stage musicals. She is currently finishing two more novels—one of them about theatre fanatics coming to New York from the suburbs. And though “Sex Kittens” is a love letter to Manhattan (one reviewer called it “P.G. Wodehouse as a Greenwich Village girl”), it has been selling well across the country since it was published last January. (Unfortunately, it is less popular in Hernando County, Florida, where the school board has added it to a list of books they hope to ban.)

After she left E. 11th, Wood lived in Brooklyn and Inwood, and recently moved to the Bronx with her two children. She considers herself “a woman of many boroughs, on the lam from encroaching hipness,” and worries that when her son and daughter are grown they “won’t be able to move into those cheap basement apartments in Manhattan that we could move into to go to college or to pursue careers as artists.”

But despite her concerns, Wood is thrilled with the opportunities available to her family. “I think Manhattan in a wonderful place to raise kids,” she says. “I love New York’s diversity, and the way it constantly invites us to interact and engage.”

And what about specific neighborhoods?

“I love them all. I even love the Upper East Side — you can go to the Conservancy Gardens and the Met. And if you can love the Upper East Side, you can love any neighborhood.”

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