July 2020

Most likely to . . . become your new favorite YA author

July 2020

Most likely to . . . become your new favorite YA author

July 2020

Most likely to . . . become your new favorite YA author

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We asked eight YA authors, first-timers and seasoned veterans alike, to talk about their new releases and reflect on their creative journeys.


Roseanne A. Brown

A refugee and a princess find themselves on a romantic, dangerous collision course in A Song of Wraiths and Ruin, a West Africa-inspired fantasy. Brown raises the stakes by exploring how we all have a responsibility to right the wrongs of injustice. (Click here to read the full review.)

What do you hope readers will love about A Song of Wraiths and Ruin?
The protagonists represent characters I wish I’d gotten to read when I was growing up. Their struggles are informed by the emotional roller coaster of my teen years, so I hope readers see themselves in these characters’ lows and triumphs.

How did you feel when you found out you were going to be published?
I got the call when I was living in Japan; my agent called me at 5 a.m. to break the news, and I was so delirious with sleep that I was half-convinced I was dreaming. As a black immigrant, the thought that I could actually get anything traditionally published had always felt about as likely as me becoming the first person on Mars. Some days, I wake up and it still doesn’t feel real.

A year from now, what impact do you hope A Song of Wraiths and Ruin will have made on readers?
It’s difficult to even imagine what the world might look like a year from now, but I hope that A Song of Wraiths and Ruin will help readers learn that they can draw their greatest strength from the parts of their identities the world has taught them to hate. I also hope the book helps them to know that healing from trauma is often a messy, painful process with no clear finish line, but it’s a journey that is always worth it.

Lora Beth Johnson

Andra wakes up after a long journey to a new planet and slowly puts together a horrifying truth: She’s been asleep for hundreds of years longer than she should have been. Goddess in the Machine offers a vision of how society, technology and language will be transformed over time that’s thoughtful and inventive but never weighs down the emotional urgency of Andra’s plight. (Click here to read the full review.)

What are you most proud of in Goddess in the Machine?
The dialect of some of the characters is my own rendition of a futuristic English, based on trends in linguistic evolution. It was difficult to develop and a challenge to write in, but it’s been amazing to experience early readers using it to communicate with me.

A year from now, what impact do you hope your novel will have made on readers?
It would be cool if readers were using my futuristic dialect in casual conversation! I also hope the book helps readers realize the power of their words—the way that language literally creates and re-creates the world around us.

How did you feel when you found out you were going to be published?
Honestly, I still don’t think it’s hit me. Probably one day, I’ll be perusing the shelves at my local bookstore and see my book and just start weeping.

Laura Wood

In the summer of 1929, Lou Trevelyan feels hemmed in by her small Cornwall town, under pressure to grow up and settle down, until she is swept into the intoxicating, glamorous world of the wealthy Cardew siblings. Wood creates an atmosphere in A Sky Painted Gold that readers can dive into headfirst. Lou’s whole world is tinted with an undercurrent of magic. (Click here to read the full review.)

What are you most proud of in A Sky Painted Gold?
I’m proud of how personal it is. I love Cornwall so much, and A Sky Painted Gold is a very heartfelt expression of that. I worked hard to try to capture the beauty and magic of the place, and the way it makes me feel. My family are Cornish and I included stories that my Nan told me. For example, my great-grandmother was called Midge, just like like Lou’s mother, and anecdotes from her life are woven through the story. It’s another way in which I feel close to it, a way that the story is a part of myself. It makes you very vulnerable as a writer, but I’m proud of that—it’s really the book of my heart.

What do you hope readers will love about the book?
Setting the book in the 1920s meant that I could go all out on the clothes and the music and the parties. It’s decadent, not just in the Gatsby–esque sense of the word, but in the pleasure it takes in small things, in warm seas and moonlit swims and the whisper of a silk dress.

How did you feel when you found out you were going to be published?
Stunned. I’d had the idea for such a long time, and it really is an amalgamation of all of my favorite things. I knew I would want to read it, but it’s a quiet book in a lot of ways—delicate, maybe a little old-fashioned—so I wasn’t sure anyone would want to publish it.


Rory Power

In the small town where her mom grew up, Margot uncovers darkness lurking in the poisonous roots of her family tree. Whip-smart and suspenseful, Burn Our Bodies Down builds to a fantastically unsettling resolution. (Click here to read the full review.)

What are you most proud of in Burn Your Bodies Down?
I’m most proud of Margot, the main character. She’s grown up in an emotionally abusive household, so she has a particular mindset that is often at odds with what we expect and want from a thriller protagonist. Rather than always pushing for more answers, Margot often defaults to ignoring what’s going on around her, because she’s afraid of finding out something that will hurt her. Balancing that mindset with the needs of the story was tricky, and of everything in the book, I’m most proud of how that turned out.

What do you hope readers will love about the book?
I hope they’ll love getting to hang out in the town of Phalene. It was a joy to create this run-down farming town in the middle of nowhere, full of secrets and creepy cornfields.

How was writing your second book different than your first book?
Our Bodies Down was a more difficult book to construct. With Wilder Girls, I took great care to cut my characters off from the world, which meant I could bring in speculative elements without having to consider any response from law enforcement or the media, but Burn operates on a larger scale and interacts with the world around it, which was entirely new to me.

What’s one of your favorite things you’ve heard from readers since your first book, Wilder Girls, was published?
I’ve been so lucky to receive a lot of really wonderful messages from readers, but I’m particularly fond of readers responding to the queer representation in the book. I know how much it’s meant to me to be able to see myself reflected in literature, so to be able to give that to a reader is an incredible feeling.

Liara Tamani

Carli and Rex have promising basketball careers ahead of them, but their whirlwind romance is challenged by loss, grief and the pressure to succeed. All the Things We Never Knew offers a raw, honest portrait of the bond between two teens on and off the court. (Click here to read the full review.)

What are you most proud of in All the Things We Never Knew?
I’m most proud that Carli and Rex’s love feels real. Experiencing love for the first time is such an overwhelming sensation. I remember feeling like every ounce of my teenage body was buzzing with it. But knowing the feeling and putting it into words are different. I had to dive deep into their psyches and find language to articulate the very specific love between Rex and Carli.

What do you hope readers will love about the book?
I hope readers will fall in love with Rex and Carli. The book alternates between their perspectives, so readers will get to know them both and see both sides of their first love. Carli is fiery; Rex is sensitive. They’re both deep thinkers who are dealing with family drama and pain. Their love journey is a messy, complicated one, but there’s lots of talking and ruminations along the way. In those shared exchanges and private reflections, I hope readers will come to know and care about Carli and Rex deeply.

How was writing this book different from writing your first book?
The process for writing my first book, Calling My Name, was meandering and exploratory. That novel begins when Taja, the main character, is 12 years old and ends when she’s 17, so it spans several years. It’s structured in vignettes and short stories that I wrote out of order. I didn’t outline at all and allowed the book to come together piece by piece. Writing All the Things We Never Knew was more straightforward. Its events only span a couple of months of Carli’s and Rex’s junior year, so the plot is much tighter. I started with an outline (which was super short, because I still like to give the characters space to make their own decisions), and I wrote it chronologically.

What’s one of your favorite things you’ve heard from readers since your first book was published?
Many teens have written me to say Calling My Name inspired them to be themselves, and every time, I’m filled with so much gratitude. There’s so much pressure for young people to fit in⎯really, for all of us to fit in. So many people sacrifice so much of themselves to feel like they belong. It’s hard to be completely free and face whatever judgement comes with it. It takes bravery, which is something that I’m constantly working on and trying to inspire with my words.


Tanaz Bhathena

After her parents are murdered by the king’s army, Gul’s desire for vengeance could destroy the kingdom—and with it, everyone she has come to care about. Hunted by the Sky is a medieval India-inspired fantasy that’s beautiful, brutal, fresh and feminist. (Click here to read the full review.)

What are you most proud of in Hunted by the Sky?
It’s in a completely different genre! I spent 10 years focusing on contemporary fiction. I’d dabble in fantasy, but I never had the courage to write a whole novel—until now.

What do you hope readers will love about the book?
I’m biased, but I love the book’s medieval India-inspired setting and I hope readers will love it too! I want them to be able to escape to a world of magic, romance and fierce women warriors.

How has your readership impacted your writing over the course of your career?
My readership definitely keeps me on track about ensuring accurate representation in my books—especially about communities I don’t belong to. But other than that, I find readers very open to the stories I want to tell. Sometimes, I have to remind myself that I am my first reader and if I don’t like the story, no one else will.

What themes have you carried forward from your previous books into this new novel?
Love and courage are common themes in all my novels, and they’re usually explored through flawed main characters. Gul is a fierce girl who loves deeply, but her mission of avenging her parents’ murders sets off a chain of events with disastrous consequences. There are warrior women with strong bonds of sisterhood, but they are also thieves who  engage in vigilante justice. Love and courage bring out the best and the worst in us, even when we are aiming for great things.

Lori M. Lee

When Sirscha’s best friend, Saengo, is killed in battle and Sirscha unexpectedly resurrects her, the awakening of Sirscha’s magical powers forces the two to undertake a dangerous journey to the Dead Wood and its ruler, the ancient and mysterious Spider King. The horrors faced by the heroines of Forest of Souls echo their inner conflicts as they confront terrifying spirits and bloody battles as well as fear, prejudice and loss. (Click here to read the full review.)

What are you most proud of in Forest of Souls?
I’m super proud of the journey my main character Sirscha takes in Forest of Souls. Many of her insecurities were modeled after my own at a young age, and her path towards self-acceptance and self-worth is one I hope resonates with others as well.

What do you hope readers will love about the book?
I want the story to linger inside readers. I hope they will love the friendship between Sirscha and Saengo. It was really important to me to portray a friendship between girls that was unconditional and sweet but also real and complex. I hope that Sirscha’s path toward self-acceptance resonates as well.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I wanted to be a writer from a very early age. I’ve always loved stories because they hold a very specific escapist kind of magic. Writing was my way of claiming that magic for myself.

Editor’s note: In the print issue of BookPage, we placed Lori M. Lee under the ‘Freshmen’ header, incorrectly suggesting that Forest of Souls is Lee’s first YA book. Lee is the author of two previous YA novels, Gates of Thread and Stone and The Infinite.

Rachel Lynn Solomon

On the last day of high school, Rowan is determined to beat her nemesis, Neil, in the annual senior class scavenger hunt. Today Tonight Tomorrow is a puzzle, a nostalgic reflection on a rite of passage and a delicious romance. (Click here to read the full review.)

What are you most proud of in Today Tonight Tomorrow?
When I started writing Today Tonight Tomorrow, I knew the book would take place over 24 hours on the last day of senior year. I also knew I didn’t want to include lengthy flashback scenes, because I wanted it to feel like a snapshot of this one day that changes everything. I decided to scatter ephemera throughout the book—emails, lists, receipts and other tidbits—to enhance the relationship. I’m proud that I was able to tell a full story, a full romance, with this short timeline. My publisher did an incredible job with the design of the book, and the final version feels like a scrapbook of Rowan’s high school journey.

What do you hope readers will love about Today Tonight Tomorrow?
The slow burn of the rivals-to-lovers relationship! Rowan begins the book despising Neil—though readers will probably pick up on some hidden attraction—and gradually discovers the person she’s spending the last day of high school with is completely different from the nemesis whose demise she spent four years plotting. Over the course of 24 hours that take them all over the city, they share secrets and fears and a slow dance in an empty library. “Just kiss already” is what I hope readers will think as they turn the pages.

How has your readership impacted your writing over the course of your career?
It’s made me so wildly grateful. When I saw the reaction my first book received from Jewish readers, I made a vow to myself that I’d only write Jewish protagonists moving forward. Some of my characters are religious and some aren’t, but they are all Jewish, and that is a vital piece of their identity, as well as mine. There are still so few Jewish characters in contemporary YA novels, and I feel very proud to contribute to this small but important category.

What themes have you carried forward from your previous books into this new novel?
Every female protagonist I write is ambitious and full of yearning, with all the messiness that comes with wanting something that may be just out of reach. I think that sense of yearning appears in all my books in slightly different ways—yearning for another person, a dream school, a future career. In Today Tonight Tomorrow, Rowan wants to write romance novels, a passion she hides because she’s been judged in the past. Alongside her real-life romance, her story is about gaining the confidence to embrace what she loves without shame.


Photo credits: Roseanne A. Brown photo by Ashley Hirasuna; Lora Beth Johnson photo by Kailan Sindelar; Rory Power photo by Henriette Lazaridis; Liara Tamani photo by Seneca Shahara Brand; Tanaz Bhathena photo by Nettie Photography; Lori M. Lee photo by PrettyGeeky Photography; Rachel Lynn Solomon photo by Sabreen Lakhani.

Get the Books

A Song of Wraiths and Ruin

A Song of Wraiths and Ruin

By Roseanne A. Brown
Balzer + Bray
ISBN 9780062891495
Goddess in the Machine

Goddess in the Machine

By Lora Beth Johnson
ISBN 9781984835925
A Sky Painted Gold

A Sky Painted Gold

By Laura Wood
Random House Books for Young Readers
ISBN 9780593127223
Forest of Souls

Forest of Souls

By Lori M. Lee
Page Street
ISBN 9781624149245
Burn Our Bodies Down

Burn Our Bodies Down

By Rory Power
ISBN 9780525645627
All the Things We Never Knew

All the Things We Never Knew

By Liara Tamani
ISBN 9780062656919
Hunted by the Sky

Hunted by the Sky

By Tanaz Bhathena
ISBN 9780374313098
Today Tonight Tomorrow

Today Tonight Tomorrow

By Rachel Lynn Solomon
Simon Pulse
ISBN 9781534440241

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