I am fortunate to know some amazing teens. I remember last spring when I first found out that fifteen-year-old Shona, the oldest daughter of one of our long-time family friends, asked her parents if she could spend her junior year of high school abroad. She had her sights set on a small town in Spain. She sounded fearless.

At the time, I was in the process of putting the finishing touches on a book about a girl who wanted to see the world, and I couldn’t help but smile at the idea that Shona and Anna were a lot alike. Both cross-country runners. Both dedicated to learning a foreign language. Both eager to get out there and see the world. I created Anna Greene, but I didn’t think I actually knew anyone that brave and daring! As it turns out, I did, and she was only a few towns away all along.

This week, the Spanish edition of Time Between Us — El tiempo entre nosotros — hits bookshelves and who knows, it might even make its way to Shona’s current home-away-from-home, Marbella, Spain! Shona very kindly agreed to share her personal “daring adventure” with you, and I hope you enjoy her story! You can keep tracking her journey on her blog: Love from Marbella.

With that, it is my honor to introduce you to the amazing, Shona Bell McCarthy. Take it away, Shona!

In just two short months as an exchange student living in Marbella, Andalucía, Spain, I’ve begun to feel as if Picasso took my life and painted it: I’m upside down, half of me is flipped inside out, and everything is in vivid color.

Flash back to last year: I was just Shona, your typical teenage girl who was lucky enough to be going to Spain. My friends and family were all amazed (and/or horrified), and I was feeling on top of the world. Sure, I had my moments of doubt, but I knew I wanted to travel the globe and I felt ready for it.

Reality caught up to me at SFO; I was a mess of tears leaving my family at the security checkpoint, and I struggled to keep myself together for the duration of my 16-hour transit. I kept the words of former exchange students in my mind that day, telling myself over and over that everything would be all right.

Two months in, I finally got a package from home I’d been waiting for since I landed. I opened Tamara’s new book, Time Between Us, and met Anna, a girl who shared my passion for travel and curiosity of all that is out there. For each historical novel I’ve read, Anna has stared at place on her map; both of us hoping to someday find ourselves in another world. At the end of the day, or maybe at the beginning of it, we both share that desire to take the first step out the door.

Anna’s leap into the unknown mirrors mine in so many ways; I just wish I had a cute time-traveling boy to include in my adventures! Walking down the beach (yes, my host family lives in a resort town), I sometimes have to pinch myself to make sure I am not dreaming. Marbella’s beautiful sunsets and perfect mixture of old and new make for a wonderful place to spend a year abroad. In just a few weeks here, I’ve met monkeys in Gibraltar, walked through Roman and Arabic ruins, and ridden a train up to Madrid and back.  Oh, and on a clear day I can see Africa from my backyard (no big deal).

But, as with Anna, it is for me the unexpected more than the imagined that makes my time in Spain such a grand experience. Things like hiking through a pueblo entirely painted blue and filled with Smurf statues.  Or calming myself down the night I got on the wrong bus had to find my way home… in Español.  Some parts of the journey are the picture on the front of the post card, but the real adventures get written on the back.

As frightening as life can be at times, the confusion, stress, and challenge of jumping into a world totally different from my own is also deeply exhilarating.  So while Tamara’s story of Anna’s journey is a fantasy, it is also a perfect parallel to my journey so far.  I think that’s what’s special about the book – the story is fun, but the feelings and experiences are honest and true.

Just a few days ago, I reached my two-month arrival anniversary; I cannot believe how quickly time has flown by. It seems just yesterday I was a terrified teenage girl, hoping for adventure and scared of what was to come. Now, I’m still that same teenage girl and I do get scared sometimes (and homesick too), but I’ve also begun to realize how much more to the world there is, and I want see it all. To steal from another of my favorite stories, “to live will be an awfully big adventure.”

Love from Marbella,

Shona Bell McCarthy


Follow Shona’s Adventures at Love From Marbella.


To celebrate the new Spanish edition, I’m giving away a signed copy of El tiempo entre nosotros!

To enter, just tell us this:

What is your favorite city in the world?

¿Cuál es tu ciudad favorita del mundo?

Enter in the comments below, and Shona and I will pick a winner at random on November 30th! Open internationally, of course!

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