Veronica Roth and Leigh Bardugo in conversation about YA lit
Leigh Bardugo's Siege & Storm, the highly anticipated sequel to the best-selling Shadow & Bone, hits shelves today. In honor of the new installment of the Grisha trilogy, Bardugo's friend and fellow YA rockstar Veronica Roth, author of the enormously popular Divergent series, chatted about "badass heroines," hot (and sensitive) heartthrobs, exciting film adaptations (for both series!), and generally gushed about each other. We don't blame them! Read on for their conversation.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Leigh, what do you like best about Veronica's books?
LEIGH BARDUGO: First of all, V, I hear you're in Chicago for the start of production on the film adaptation of Divergent. Can I just say how excited I am about this? Deep breaths. Moving on…
I love your characters. I was pulling for Tris from moment one and I just found her so thoroughly believable. I'm glad we live in an age of badass heroines, and I think Tris' toughness feels real to me because she never loses her humanity and because she truly has to grow into her strength.
I also like that you don't let your characters off easy. I think in YA there's sometimes a temptation to create heroines who are infinitely resilient and wise and confident because those are the behaviors we want to see teens embrace and maybe we want to see those things in ourselves. We aren't always comfortable witnessing real frailty or vulnerability in our heroines, but I like characters who struggle, and doubt, and who don't always do the wise thing.
VERONICA ROTH: Stop, you're making me blush. (But no, really, that warms my little writer heart to hear.)
Veronica, what do you like best about Leigh's books?
L: Yes, Veronica, tell me the ways in which I'm wonderful.
V: That shouldn't be too difficult! I was originally drawn to your books because of the world — the whole notion of the small sciences and the Grisha and a fantasy world with muskets instead of just swords pulled me in. But if I came for the world, I really stayed for the characters. Alina is a great character — her humor is what really struck me, at first, because I don't see that many leads in YA sci-fi/fantasy with a truly solid sense of humor. She's also smart and strong, I would say, but she doesn't suffer from what you're describing above, that almost superhuman resilience. She's a strong character who is also insecure a lot of the time, unsure of herself, and she makes big mistakes and errors in judgment throughout the books, and I find that really appealing, as a person who makes big mistakes and errors in judgment myself.
Also the "boys" — the Darkling and now Sturmhond, certainly, but especially Mal — are not just candy for your brain, but interesting, compelling characters with their own struggles and insecurities.
Although they face extraordinary circumstances, Alina and Tris remain relatable as teenage girls — how much of their character makeups are based on your own experiences growing up?
L: Alina is very much an outsider and I certainly felt that way growing up. She really grapples with her desire to belong and find a place in the world, and she makes some bad choices because of it. And… now that I think about it, I was raised by my grandparents in this sort of strange neighborhood where there were pretty much no other kids. Their house was up on a hill and I was left to my own devices a lot of the time. I wonder if some of that sense of isolation crept into the description of Keramzin (the orphanage where Mal and Alina grow up).
V: That sense of isolation is a huge part of why Alina is relatable, I think — how many teenagers, and heck, even adults, feel alone in this world? I certainly did, at that age.
Tris's experience is very much the opposite of mine. I grew up in a very free environment in which I was always encouraged to follow my natural inclinations, and I grew into a very careful, somewhat neurotic adult, for whatever reason. Tris grew up in a controlled, restrictive environment and ultimately sought freedom above all else. I think that Tris's arc expresses some of my internal longing to escape my anxious brain. The inside of my head is a little like an Abnegation house sometimes. I don't think Tris has much to do with my experiences growing up, though she's certainly informed by some of the things that have formed me as a person.
Both Alina and Tris are strong, brave characters. They're characters that girls admire. What other heroines found in literature have you admired?
L: I'm so tempted to be like, "Bertha Rochester because she burns it all down!" Most of the female characters I admire come from science fiction and fantasy, maybe because there's more permission to shake up gender roles in genre. Alanna is a favorite, definitely Hermione. And I really adore Brienne of Tarth. She's sometimes presented as naive or almost dogmatic in her worldview, but I love her conviction.
V: Hermione! Yes! She is a wonderful character, and I love that JK Rowling made a nerdy book-loving girl into a Gryffindor. It's funny you should mention Bertha Rochester, Leigh, because one of my other favorites is Jane Eyre. She has some pretty strong convictions, too, and is willing to leave the man she loves in order to stand by them, which I think is amazing. More recently I've loved some complicated, "unlikable" characters in particular — Sam from Before I Fall, Ruby from Imaginary Girls.
NEXT: Keep reading to get Roth and Bardugo's takes on Tobias/Four and Mal.
The love interests in your books, Tobias/Four and Mal set readers' hearts aflutter. What qualities do they have that reflect what you look for in real-life partners?
L: I'm about to give the least sexy answer ever. Ready? Mal, and the Darkling, and Sturmhond all have one thing in common: they're spectacularly competent. They're really good at what they do. I guess I also love the sense of honor at Mal's core. He's someone you'd always want at your back in a fight. I feel like that's true for Four, too.
V: I LOVE that answer. I think competence is extremely sexy, actually. And it's what Tris is attracted to when she sees Four jump on a train for the first time — she admires his physical competence, and the ease with which he does it. I also think something your boys have in common in Shadow and Bone is that they feel like whole people — you don't spend a lot of time dwelling on their looks, and instead you focus on the things that make them tick, their strengths and their flaws and their desires. That, I think, is what makes them appealing to readers, even if they can't quite put their fingers on it — they feel real. I tried as hard as I could to make Four feel as real as possible, so this is something I think about a lot.
With Four specifically, he's always appealed to me because he's utterly convinced of Tris's strength even when she isn't. He respects her and respecting women is sexy, I don't care what anyone says.
L: Hold up, who says respecting women isn't sexy?
V: I mean, no one in particular, but sometimes you see love interests who completely disregard the main character's opinions or feelings or even clearly expressed wishes, and I think that is the antisexy. There's a difference between, say, impulsive or protective and straight up controlling and disrespectful, and that's something I try to be pretty careful about. I think you've done a good job with this, actually — Mal wants to take care of Alina, but he's not pushy or condescending about it. Two thumbs up, Bardugo.
L: Okay, now I'm the one blushing, Roth. It's funny, I said that both Mal and Four would be people you'd want at your back in a fight. I think they'd say the same for Alina and Tris. That trust, that respect is fundamental. I like alphas. I like bad boys. I like a guy with a protective streak. But all of those archetypes fall apart if they're just running roughshod over the heroine.
Fear and darkness are themes in both the Divergent and the Grisha trilogy. Do you ever have nightmares about the characters/scenarios in your books?
L: Ha! No but I had a nightmare about a bird pecking its way into my mouth after I read Divergent. (I did once dream that I was at King's Landing, one of the locations from Game of Thrones. The Pet Shop Boys were playing.)
V: And I have been haunted by a particularly horrifying image at the end of Siege and Storm since I read it. I don't want to spoil it, but you know what I'm talking about. So I guess we're even!
L: Is it wrong that I'm pleased? I'm pleased.
Leigh, is there anything that you're hoping to see happen in Veronica's final installment Allegiant this fall? Veronica, is there anything that you're hoping to see happen in Siege & Storm/ Ruin & Rising?
L: I'm hoping you'll reveal a new faction called Torpor. We'll dedicate ourselves to napping and snacking and our symbol will be the sloth. In all honesty, I'm feeling so torn. I'm dying to know what happens (and I have some theories about Edith that may have gotten discussed very loudly at a recent brunch), but it's going to hurt to let these characters go and I suspect we're not just going to get a happily ever after.
V: Ah, Torpor. The forgotten faction.
Well, first of all, someone needs to make out with Sturmhond, and I don't really care who it is. But mostly what I want to see is how Alina develops in the final installment — no matter what sort of person she becomes at the end of all this, I'm sure it will be amazing to read. (I also have some suspicions and questions that I need answered! Maybe I will ply you with treats later to get answers.)
L: Forget the treats. You can ply me with spoilers.
V: It's a deal.
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