Three July 2021 YA Debut Authors Open Up About Their Protagonists

As summer arrives, three new YA authors tell SLJ about the characters in their books and share what they plan to do for fun this season.

Three new YA authors reveal details about the characters in their books and share what they hope readers will take away from their stories. And now that summer is upon us, Brianna Bourne, Ryan Douglass, and Jennifer Nissley also shared what they plan to do for fun in the coming months.

Brianna Bourne, You & Me at the End of the World (July 1) 
You wrote this story from alternating perspectives of the two main characters. Why did you decide to tell the story this way?

The first draft of You & Me at the End of the World was actually single POV. But the more I developed my two central characters, the more I realized: Leo’s journey was not any less important or deep than Hannah’s. And adding his perspective was like adding salt to caramel—the book has a lot more flavor now. Plus, I’m a sucker for romance, and dual POV takes the heady, intoxicating feeling of being in love for the first time and doubles it.

How would you describe the main characters in this book?
On the surface, Hannah and Leo seem like total opposites. One of my critique partners says they’re like a “he was a punk, she did ballet” meme, and she’s not wrong! Hannah is an elite ballet dancer on the verge of joining a professional company, but she’s also cautious, sheltered, and an over-thinker. Leo plays guitar and fronts an 80s rock cover band. He’s brash and charismatic and everything Hannah isn’t—and when they’re forced to team up in the empty world, they start to change each other in some pretty foundation-rocking ways.

What do you hope readers will take away from this story?
Ultimately, I just hope they get a few hours of escapism! And maybe a few butterflies in their stomachs—it is a love story, after all! On a deeper level, though, I hope readers come away from the book ready to take a chance on a friendship (or relationship) with someone they were drawn to but were too afraid to approach. I want readers to know that even if your life looks like a straight road ahead of you, paved by your parents or societal expectations or even what class you get the best grades in, if that road is NOT who you are, go off-roading and find YOUR road.

Now that we are officially in summer, what is something fun you plan to do in coming months?
I’m going to go on an epic indie bookstore road trip and sign as many books as I can find! I’ll buy lots of books too—I know many indies have had a tough time this past year. I also have some amazing virtual launch events planned, with Jennifer Lynn Barnes, Kelly McWilliams, Holly Green, and Stephanie Perkins, so when I’m not on the road, I’ll be on Zoom—hope to see you there!

Ryan Douglass, The Taking of Jake Livingston (July 13)
How would you describe Jake Livingston, the main character in this story?

Jake is a shy kid who wants to fade into the background because he finds himself at odds with his family and peers. He doesn’t have a strong sense of self and feels like most of his life is happening to him and he has no power to control it. His anxiety and fears about the world are partially to do with his ability to see the dead re-living their death loops, but also because people don’t understand him. He’s a very isolated character with social anxiety but he wants to be better about connecting, so a big part of his journey is about coming out of his shell.

Why did you choose to write this as a horror story for young people and did you always plan to write in this genre?
I started out as a fantasy writer and then I wrote two YA sci-fi books before turning to horror. I’ve always loved how horror allows us to look at trauma and fear in an unflinching way. I wanted to work through traumas that felt familiar to me and found that the genre was a great way to heighten certain themes like homophobia and racism, that are already horrific but are not often paralleled with the supernatural.

What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
I want to give people a fun sensory experience that makes them think about violence, and what power each of us has to stop toxic cycles. I think it’s important to be able to recognize violence in all forms, even when it flies under the radar or is normalized in school, or at home. There’s a lot of violence in our education system and in our relationships to authority figures that is just seen as normal, but it’s not.

Now that we are officially entering summer, what is something fun you plan to do in coming months?
I plan to go to the park, go roller-skating more, get sun during the day, and do some partying at night. I also want to take more solo vacations this year. I would love to visit the Rocky Mountains and do a few woodland getaways. I would also like to visit the west coast since I’ve mostly spent my life on the east coast and I’m dying to see the other side of the country.

Jennifer Nissley, The Mythic Koda Rose (July 13) 
How would you describe Koda Rose, the main character in this story?
Koda's a wreck, honestly. Insecure. Naive. So unsure of herself and her place in the world that she clings to her father's legacy, desperate to make it her own. But there's also this fire burning inside her that she refuses to deny. It's like, most of us have a gap between the person we are and the person we want to be, and instead of shying away from that gap, Koda hurls herself headfirst into it. For that, I think she's incredibly brave.

What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
I do want readers to understand that it's okay not to know exactly who you are or who you should be, and that the answers to those questions can change. Koda spends so much time obsessing over what people want from her, and how she can satisfy their expectations, that she loses track of herself and makes some...questionable choices. But more than anything, I hope readers will grapple with Koda and Sadie's relationship in all its glorious messiness. There's not a specific message there that I had in mind -- everybody's going to walk away from the book with a different take. But I do hope that readers will be open to their journey.

As a debut author, what is something that surprised you about the publishing process ?
What most astonished me was how incredibly passionate those involved in the process—from my amazing agent and editor and cover artist and copyeditor and beyond—were about working with me on this wild book and getting it out into the hands of young readers. It's been a wonderful experience, and I'm very grateful to them.

Now that we are officially entering summer, what is something fun you plan to do in coming months?
Well, besides reconnecting safely with friends now that we're all vaccinated, my wife and I are guaranteed to take at least one camping trip up to the mountains with our dog, where service is nonexistent. I can't wait to put my phone down and just...not pick it up again. For a whole weekend!

Melanie Kletter is a teacher and freelance writer in New York City.

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