The Books that Built Me: Renée Ahdieh

Most authors live storied lives—that is, there are books that turned them into readers and writers, that live in their writerly bones, that built them both as humans and creators. And learning their history with the word and the page can give you a whole new perspective on their work. Which is why, this week, we’re excited to introduce a new column to the Barnes & Noble teen blog, one that takes you back on the writerly (and readerly!) journey with some of your favorite authors as they reminisce about the books that turned them into the creators they are today. 

We’re kicking off with your fave (and mine!), Renée Ahdieh, the writer behind YA fantasy series of stunners like The Wrath and the Dawn and The Flame in the Mist, as she celebrates the launch of her latest series, a quartet, with The Beautiful. Here’s Ahdieh on the books that built her.

The Book of Three, by Lloyd Alexander
When my librarian realized I loved fantasies, she gave me this one, the first book in The Chronicles of Prydain. I read all these books until the covers were falling off. They were the stories that made me fall in love with worlds of magic and their endless possibilities. From here, I read Tolkien and Robin McKinley and Tamora Pierce. If I’d never read The Book of Three, I don’t know that I would write the kind of books I write now.

Shizuko’s Daughter, by Kyoko Mori
This was the first book I ever saw with an Asian girl on the cover. That was sole reason why I picked it up. My mother is Korean, and I rarely, if ever, heard of any writer from East Asia, much less a book in which the heroine looked like me or my family. I fell in love with the difficult mother/daughter dynamics in the book. It taught me that there was a space for people like me in books.

Island of the Blue Dolphins, by Scott O’Dell
When I was told that most of this story takes place on an island with a young girl who lives by herself, I did not believe it was possible. No one rescues her? What does she do all by herself? Can she even live alone? And then I was captivated by possibility. How a girl’s life does not have to be defined by those around her. How a girl is strong enough to find love and joy and purpose in herself. I’ve never forgotten this feeling.

The Secret of the Old Clock, by Carolyn Keene
This is the first Nancy Drew book ever written, and it solidified my love of mysteries. I read every single Nancy Drew book in chronological order, even refusing to skip a single one, no matter how long it would take to procure it. The very first thing I ever wrote was a short story that amounted to Nancy Drew fan fiction. It was terrible, but the main character was a half-Korean girl. From then on, I knew I wanted to write about different people from different worlds.

Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
I was as enamored by this book as I was by the life of Mary Shelley. When I first read Frankenstein as a young teen, I had no idea what gothic fiction was, nor had I read many stories in the so-called literary canon written by young women. The dark atmosphere of this book is something I often channel when I write. And as any lover of gothic fiction will tell you, a tragic romance is the butter to our bread.

The Queen of the Damned, by Anne Rice
I’ve said it in several interviews, but this is the book that made me fall in love with writing. There is a scene in it involving a haunting that hypnotized me while I read it underneath my covers with a flickering flashlight. This book transported me, and I remember thinking, “I want to do this.” I want to immerse a reader in a story so much that they feel haunted by it. They feel the kiss of rain on a character’s cheek or the way the grass smells just after it’s been cut.



The Beautiful is on shelves now.

Renée Ahdieh is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In her spare time, she likes to dance salsa and collect shoes. She is passionate about all kinds of curry, rescue dogs, and college basketball. The first few years of her life were spent in a high-rise in South Korea; consequently, Renée enjoys having her head in the clouds. She lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband and their tiny overlord of a dog. She is the author of the Wrath and the Dawn series, the Flame in the Mist series, and most recently, The Beautiful.

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