Author Dinesh Thiru on YA Debut 'Into the Sunken City' | 5 Questions and a Rec

In this new Q&A series, SLJ poses five questions and a request for a book recommendation to a debut YA author. For our inaugural Q&A of the series, Dinesh Thiru shares about Into the Sunken City

5 Questions & a Rec logoIn this new Q&A series, SLJ poses five questions and a request for a book recommendation to a debut YA author. Below, in our inaugural Q&A of the series, Dinesh Thiru shares about Into the Sunken City


1. Congrats on your YA debut! How would you describe your book to readers?

In a climate-ravaged near future, Jin and her sister Thara are just scraping by, until a mysterious drifter offers them the score of a lifetime—a massive stash of gold, hidden in the sunken ruins of the Treasure Island Casino in Las Vegas.

The book’s about hope, trust, family, courage, and, of course, adventure.

2. What drew you to YA to tell this story?

Into the Sunken City is a retelling of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island—the YA adventure classic! I wanted to honor the original by keeping it in YA, but I also wanted to incorporate a few of my own twists with:

A post-apocalyptic setting: In the book, it’s always raining. Like—always. I’d never seen this done before and thought it could be super fun. On top of that, I love the idea of the nautical adventure taking place on a ruined, archipelago Earth. I’m dating myself, but Kevin Costner’s Waterworld was a childhood fave :-).

More diverse characters: The original Treasure Island was written in the late 1800s. Every character is a white man, except for Jim’s mom. I wanted to change this up as representation matters a lot to me, especially in YA. Hence, we have two sister MCs, living in a queer-normative world, with a global supporting cast.

A deeper character arc: In the original Treasure Island, Jim battles pirates, but I kept thinking that he should be battling his inner demons, too. Jin and Thara lost their dad in a diving accident, and I tried to make their grief and healing central to the journey. I hope YA readers find them relatable as they make mistakes, come of age, and figure out who they want to be.

3. What, if anything, surprised you while writing it?

Dinesh Thiru portraitBeing 3,000 feet below sea-level is terrifying!

I’ve gone diving several times, but what Jin and crew do takes a whole other level of bravery. I found myself shallow breathing through many scenes. The “steal-your-breath adventure” blurb from Marissa Meyer is also representative of the writing experience!

Another thing that surprised me was how much I learned from my editor. I’d hoped to find an editor who could help me improve, but I didn’t realize how much stronger we could make the manuscript. As an example, at one point she commented on a scene, saying, “Have Jin reveal something here that she’d never tell anyone.” I think of this often, as it forced me even deeper into the emotions Jin was feeling (and resulted in a really poignant scene!). Readers have said the book has “a lot of heart” or that the feelings are “raw and real.” I’m proud of that, particularly because I worked hard at it.

4. Tell us more about the characters. Which character do you most identify with, and why?

Thara is 14 years old. An eternal optimist, she loves to learn, aspires to be a botanist, and runs her own garden. She’s wise beyond her years, but also desires a lot more independence (which doesn’t come easy as Jin is her older sister and guardian).

Jin is 18, and she’s a snarky, badass survivor. She carries a lot of trauma from her Dad’s accident, but she’s an incredibly talented diver herself. She doesn’t really know what she wants. Or, she has a vague idea, but mostly she just lives day-to-day in a very dangerous world. Above all, Jin’s fiercely protective of her sister.

I probably identify with Thara most because I’m also a very hopeful, glass-half-full person. Jin is who I’d love to be (the take-no-**** survivor), but I can’t really pull it off. I smile with too many teeth and like to karaoke. People like Jin don’t karaoke :-).

5. What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

First, I just hope readers have a ton of fun with the book. I started writing it during the pandemic, when I needed some escapism, and I hope it can deliver that whisk-you-away adventure feel.

After that, I hope readers are able to see some of the truths that Thara and Jin’s ex-boyfriend, Taim, know. That it takes courage to trust. And that no matter how much you love someone, it’s okay to want something for yourself.

6. Finally, we love YA and recommendations—what’s your favorite YA book you've read recently?

I absolutely loved Jackie Khalilieh’s debut Something More. It’s a YA contemporary romance about a Palestinian-Canadian girl who receives an autism diagnosis right before high school. The book’s laugh-out-loud funny, boy-obsessed, and told with so much heart. A must-read for Jenny Han fans.

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