One of the most fascinating things about writing (and reading!) fiction is where the stories come from—the genesis of the idea. Sometimes the origins are simple and straightforward, a spin on a classic or a ripped from the headlines tale. Or a situation the writer witnessed or experienced. Other times, the “where did come from” tale is more murky. So we’ve rounded up eight YA must-reads whose inspirations and backstories are (almost) as interesting as the books themselves!
The Belles, by Dhonielle Clayton
At what cost, beauty? This is the burning question at the center of Dhonielle Clayton’s debut fantasy, The Belles, which centers on a group of women who have the power to transform people down to their very bones—at a price, of course. Clayton’s inspiration for the decidedly dark tale was her own obsession with defining beauty as a teen. “I went through this stage where I was obsessed with magazines,” she has said. “I started cutting out pictures of beautiful people from magazines and pasting them on the wall. Like body parts, hair textures, hair shape, eye color, lips… All these things that I really loved that I wished I could have. I write about things that bother me and this is something that Teenage Me was very bothered by: my body, it’s limitations, and why it didn’t look like magazines. I wanted to talk about a world where if you could change yourself down to your bones, what would it be like and what could you do?”
Dear Martin, by Nic Stone
Nic Stone’s debut stunner, Dear Martin, has its roots in social justice. In the slim but powerful novel, the main character, Yale-bound teen Justyce, finds himself in hot water despite doing everything right. The inspiration for the story, she has said, was “a combination of three things: the shooting deaths of unarmed teens (specifically Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, and Mike Brown), the rise of Black Lives Matter, and the negative responses in the media that often cited MLK as someone who would be against the protests. Something about that last part just felt off to me, so I thought to myself, ‘How would Dr. King’s teachings hold up here in 2016 in light of everything going on?'”
Bone Gap, by Laura Ruby
Ruby’s Printz winner is eerie and atmospheric, and a little spooky too. When you hear the origin story of the tale, you’ll understand why. She credits the genesis of the mythology and magical realism-filled novel to life on her father’s farm, an old article about a missing boy that her father-in-law gave her, and the cornfields of Illinois. “Even in your car, you feel buried in the cornstalks, hidden in them, hidden by them,” she has said about driving though the region while doing school visits. “I could have sworn I saw the cornstalks walking. I’ve always felt that nature itself is magical and wanted to get that on the page. When I started writing I was just trying to capture the magic of this particular place, this certain landscape, that feeling of being neither here nor there that I had when I was driving through those fields.”
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An Ember In the Ashes, by Sabaa Tahir
A journalist, Tahir was working at the news desk at the Washington Post when she came across a story about women in India whose husbands, brothers, and even children were “disappeared” by the government, never to be heard from again. That inspired her to write An Ember In the Ashes, her scarily relevant YA fantasy, which centers on a girl dealing with the aftermath of just such an occurrence in a totalitarian regime—melded with Muslim mythology and elements from her life growing up in a small town in the Mojave desert. “I remember walking through the Post garage and thinking about it,” she told NPR. “I was thinking about my own brothers—I’m very close to them—and the idea that I could live in a place where they could just be taken.”
The Sun Is Also A Star, by Nicola Yoon
If you loved Yoon’s NY Times bestseller Everything, Everything, you’re about to be obsessed with her new one, The Sun Is Also A Star, a love story between a very science-driven girl who’s about to be deported, and a decidedly romantic, artsy boy as they fall for each other over the course of just about twelve hours. And while she hasn’t claimed so yet, anyone who’s met Nicola and her amazing husband David Yoon (who did the illustrations for Everything, Everything) can presume some of the amazing chemistry in the novel is inspired by their own (super sweet) love story. How’s that for swoonworthy?
The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas
THUG, as it’s affectionately known, is a staple on the NY Times bestseller list, and author Angie Thomas just wrapped up a visit to the set of the film adaptation starring Amandla Sternberg. Dubbed a Black Lives Matter novel, Thomas said she wrote it “before Trayvon Martin and after Oscar Grant,” she told Publisher’s Weekly, because she had to say something about the brutality black boys and men were facing. She recalls friends being afraid to cross a bridge between two neighborhoods in her hometown of Jackson, Miss., “because they feared going into the ’hood. And I said, ‘But that’s where I live.’” She said she wants to take readers into those neighborhoods and show them that “there’s some good here.”
Wintergirls, by Laurie Halse Anderson
Anderson is lauded (and rightfully so) for her heartrending and gutwrenching take on timely issues with books like Speak and Catalyst, all of which draw from her own experiences and those of others around her. But she almost didn’t write the stunner Wintergirls because “it hit too close to home. I’ve battled a poor body image my whole life; they called me ‘Baby Hippo’ when I was a kid and ‘Moose’ when I was in high school,” she has said. “I remember the voice that whispered, ‘You’re fat. You’re ugly. You’re stupid.’ It started when I was 11-years-old and haunted me for decades, tearing down my confidence and driving me to eat in an unhealthy way.” Countless requests from readers—and one from a doctor friend who treated eating disorders—convinced her the story had to be told. She’s changed lives by writing it (and everything else in her canon).
Heroine Complex, by Sarah Kuhn
Kuhn was inspired to write the geektastic Heroine Complex “as a love letter to all the things I grew up geeking out over,” she has said. But she also wanted to show the more mundane side of superhero life. “There are lots of wonderful works I love about that kickass girl in leather pants or shiny spandex who fearlessly saves the day—but I wanted to write about the girl who has to handle the subsequent dry-cleaning, the girl who is actually totally unequipped to be a superheroine and has to struggle her way through learning how.” Most importantly, she wanted to see more girls like herself and her friends on the page. “I mean, we’re here! I have a whole Asian-dominated geek girl gang that talk comics and cosplay, that went to see The Force Awakens multiple times. I think we’d all love to see ourselves represented more in the various geek stuff we’re consuming.”