August 23, 2017

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Amy Lukavics On Her Latest YA Horror “The Ravenous”

Amy Lukavics is no stranger to horror fiction. The Ravenous (Harlequin Teen, Sept. 2017) is her third foray into the genre for young people, following The Women in the Walls. Of her debut, Daughters unto Devils, SLJ‘s review noted “[readers] will relish Lukavics’s tale right down to the last terrifying page.” In all three, Lukavics takes domestic settings (prairie life in Daughters unto Devils; a Victorian mansion in The Women in the Walls; and a large, two-story house, complete with a wraparound porch, in The Ravenous) and probes the big and small terrors that reside within.

In this latest, Lukavics introduces readers to the five Cane sisters, daughters of a barely there military father and a depressed and addicted mother. When a terrible accident threatens the life of the youngest, Rose, the sisters find our how far they are willing to go to save her. Lukavics recently chatted with SLJ about how she crafted such a creepy, thrilling story. She will also be speaking on a panel about YA books for reluctant readers during SLJ’s sixth annual SLJTeen Live! virtual conference on August 9.

Photo by Chelsea Stazenski

On one level of The Ravenous, there is the initial, terrifying question of what is happening to Rose and on another there are the more everyday horrors that the Cane sisters experience or inflict on one another. Can you talk a bit about this?

For me, it’s important to have some elements of real-life horror present to join forces with the more sinister or otherworldly aspects of my books. One of my favorite things about horror is how freely it explores the darker side of humanity—what we’re made of, what we’re capable of. How far are we willing to go for certain things? Turns out, when the emotional ties are strong, the answer is pretty damn far.

In The Ravenous, the Cane sisters’ desperation to find a way to help their youngest, Rose, ends up driving them each to engage in behavior that they never would have imagined possible otherwise. And because their personalities are so varied, the sisters all handle that ugly realization in very different ways, which ends up making their already intense situation all the more chaotic. They weren’t able to work together before Rose’s accident, and coming together after her return feels equally impossible, especially once things go from bad to worse.

The bond among the Cane sisters is so fraught, but they present themselves to the outside world as a loving, model family—at times, I was reminded of Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Virgin Suicides. What is it about sisterhood that attracted you as a writer?

I feel like the dynamic of a large group of sisters can be interesting for many different reasons. I was absolutely inspired in part by The Virgin Suicides. There’s that period in the book where all the Lisbon girls are withdrawn from school and shut in their house together, essentially grounded indefinitely. And I had the thought, “What if all those sisters had turned on one another despite being trapped?”

I don’t have any blood sisters, but I’ve always been so inspired by the women who I’ve come to think of as true family: my hometown friends, my Roller Derby teammates, my group of author friends. I think the invaluable support these sort of friendships have offered me in my life has a lot to do with why I love writing about sisters so much.

Not many YA books approach the topic of abusive siblings, though it is a certainly a subject that should be discussed. Did you set out knowing you wanted to examine this issue?

My favorite kinds of relationships to explore in my stories are either best friendships or family dynamics. To me, there’s something especially vulnerable about the feelings surrounding a dysfunctional family—even if you don’t necessarily like them a lot of the time, it’s expected of you and [considered] “normal” to love them regardless at the end of the day. But sometimes I think abuse among siblings is a little too normalized—siblings say awful, hurtful things to one another! Siblings beat on one another! But there is…a line where it goes from typical human sibling behavior to something tremendously unhealthy for all parties involved, which, if left unchecked, can have serious consequences.

I think there are times when The Ravenous [raises] the question, at what point do you say enough is enough? At what point does the abuse push you over the edge? And what if after that point has come and gone, you are still unable to distance yourself, for whatever reason? What effect is that going to have on your worldviews, or your self-esteem, or your ability to  function healthily in outside relationships? The main character of The Ravenous, Mona Cane, really struggles with all of that, and the building pressure of Rose’s situation only makes things harder to untangle in Mona’s mind.

This is your third work of horror fiction. Why does the macabre appeal to you?

Horror has always been my favorite genre to read and watch, even from childhood. There’s something very intriguing about shining a light on things that are often ignored for our own sanity, and at the same time, I’ve found it to be really valuable in my life to go through the thought processes brought on by engaging in unsettling or scary material. It can be an empowering genre in that sense, which is why I have to roll my eyes when anyone talks about horror as though it’s all trash, or implies that anyone who enjoys it must be “wrong” or lesser in some way.

And if I may ask, what was your favorite work of horror as a teen?

[Stephen King’s] Pet Sematary, both the book and the movie. I was also really affected by the American remake of The Ring, which was released the month I turned 15 and absolutely petrified me. Within a year, the movie May came out, which was about a girl who murdered people and stole their parts in order to build the perfect best friend. I really dug that one, too.

Any future projects in the works?

A few, actually!

I’m currently working on my fourth YA horror novel, which will come out in bookstores in fall of 2018, and I am so excited about it! It’s called Nightingale and takes place in the 1950s—sort of like [Sylvia Plath’s] The Bell Jar with a David Lynch vibe.

For fun, I’m also working on my first adult horror, which was inspired by a monster I read about in my Dungeons & Dragons monster manual. Who knows if it’ll ever sell or not, but it has certainly been a blast to work on so far.

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Della Farrell About Della Farrell

Della Farrell is an Assistant Editor at School Library Journal and Editor of Series Made Simple

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