January’s YA novels will take you back in time, to far away lands, and across the universe.
The debut month of the year brings Eilis O’Neal’s debut novel, THE FALSE PRINCESS (Edgemont, 25 January). I was lucky enough to get to read this one ahead of time, and I loved the storytelling voice, which was both effortless and engaging. Sinda has been raised as the princess of Thorvaldor, but learns that she’s really a commoner switched an infant to protect the true royal from a prophecy of assassination. She’s whisked away from her palatial digs, but is soon drawn back to the capital city when she discovers a plot that threatens to the entire kingdom.
I caught up with Eilis to ask her about writing THE FALSE PRINCESS.
RCM: Though it’s an original story, there is a definite fairy tale feel to THE FALSE PRINCESS. What inspired you to write it?
Eilis O’Neal: The idea for THE FALSE PRINCESS came in one of those lightning bolt moments. I was at work, and suddenly I was scribbling down the title and the idea that it was about a girl who has grown up thinking she was a princess, only to find out that she actually isn’t. And then I was scribbling even faster, because a whole lot of the rest of the novel started coming out right then, too. I was really grabbed by the reversal of the classic princess story, where a girl grows up in obscurity and then finds out that she’s royalty. Here, it’s the opposite. So that twist was the thing that reeled me in.
RCM: The history and geography and social structure made Thorvaldor seem like a real place. Was it fun making up your own fictional land? What kinds of things did you do to make it seem real?
Eilis O’Neal: I’m a big fantasy reader–it’s most of what I read, in fact. And I like the worlds in fantasy to feel very real. So it was definitely fun to get to create my own. One of the things I tried to do to flesh it out was to have some of problems Sinda faces to have their roots in the country’s past. They aren’t just things that came about that week or year. So I had to develop a royal lineage, the religious history, the political background going back several hundred years. Not all of that actually made it into the novel, but I needed to know it so that the bits that are in the book feel real.
RCM: I connected with Sinda right away. She was authentically princess-y, plucky but still vulnerable when the rug is pulled out from under her. What about her, and her friend Kiernan (whom I adored!), do you think will appeal to readers?
Eilis O’Neal: Sinda is, I think, like a lot of teenagers (and a lot like me as a teenager). She knows in her head that she’s smart and pretty capable, but she sometimes lets self-doubt get the better of her. She has to learn to trust herself. Also, being sixteen is about figuring out who you are, no matter when and where you’re living. But this is magnified for Sinda, since she has her identity taken away from her entirely. Kiernan, on the other hand, is this great mix of fun and loyalty. He’s a bit of a boundary pusher, and he gets all the best lines–which made him really fun to write!
This is your debut novel. What drew you to writing for young adults? Or did that just happen by accident?
Eilis O’Neal: I’ve known that I wanted to write for young adults since I was about twelve. That year, I read several YA fantasy books that really changed the way I saw the world and thought about myself. (Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness Quartet, Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series, and Robin McKinley’s The Hero and the Crown are a few that stand out.) They were, and are, really important to me, and I’ve just always wanted to do for some other young reader what those books did for me. Plus, I just love YA. Probably half to three-fourths of what I read right now is YA. The stories often just seem crisper, or more urgent, in YA, and the theme of self-discovery runs through so many, and that appeals to me.
This is a delightfully plotted and well told novel that will appeal to a broad audience, sweet enough for tweens, but intricate enough to satisfy older readers, full of intrigue, magic, and romance. Look for it at the end of the month, on January 25.
Another debut novel getting tremendous buzz this month is Beth Revis’s ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, the first of a trilogy and a “Sci Fi novel for teens who don’t like Sci Fi.” (Penguin, 11 January) It tells the tale of a girl born on Earth who is cryogenically frozen for a centuries-long trip through space, and the boy born on the ship who she meets when she’s woken up fifty years too early.
The book received a starred review from Kirkus Reviews, which called it a “riveting thriller about space travel, secrets and murder.” And Publishers Weekly called it “The Best First Chapter You’ll Ever Read.” Hyperbole? You can judge for yourself here But it definitely got the social media sites buzzing, and it certainly had me salivating for the rest of the book, which comes out January 11.
On the same date, you’ll see Alexandra Monir’s debut novel, TIMELESS. (Delacorte, 11January) When Michele is sent to live with her grandparents historic fifth avenue mansion in New York City, she finds a diary that transports her back in time, where she meets a young man who has haunted her dreams all her life. She’s soon balancing contemporary high school life in New York’s Gilded Age. A dire discovery sends her on a quest through time to save the boy she loves.
Sweepingly romantic, vividly depicted, this tale of star-crossed lovers will transport readers. Available on January 11.
For those who love contemporary novels, look for Eileen Cook’s THE EDUCATION OF HAILEY KENDRICK early this month (Simon Pulse, 4 January). Hailey always follows the rules. She has the right friends, dates the perfect boy, makes good grades. But one night she breaks the rules in a very public way, and takes the fall when her accomplice gets away. Now her perfect life has been turned upside down, and Hailey has to learn the value of honesty and independence.
In it’s starred review, Kirkus Reviews describes this as Chick lit of the highest quality, a “gourmet truffle.” Hailey is an appealing protagonist, and Cook writing is always engaging. You’ll find yourself rooting for Hailey as she discovers how freeing an imperfect life can be. Look for THE EDUCATION OF HAILEY KENDRICK on January 4.
Rosemary Clement-Moore writes YA books because she loves to read them. She’s the author of the award-winning Maggie Quinn series and just happens to have a book coming out on January 11th as well–the paperback reprint of THE SPLENDOR FALLS.