Ally Condie on her upcoming revenge novel and why now was the time to return to YA
It’s been five long years, but Ally Condie is headed back to YA.
The best-selling author of the acclaimed Matched and Yearbook trilogies most recently delved into middle-grade with the mystery Summerlost and the Brendan Reichs collaboration The Dark Deep. Now she’s returning to the space that made her a household name, with The Last Voyage of Poe Blythe, which is part-murder-mystery, part-revenge-saga, and part-coming-of-age tale. Centered on Poe Blythe, the seventeen-year-old captain of the Outpost’s last mining ship, the novel follows her vow to annihilate the river raiders who robbed her of everything two years ago. (As to what, exactly? No spoilers!) But as she navigates the treacherous waters of the Serpentine and realizes there might be a traitor among her crew, she must also reckon with who she has become, who she wants to be, and the ways love can change and shape you. Even — and especially — when you think all is lost.
Condie has previewed the novel for EW exclusively, sharing the official cover and catching up by phone about how YA is changing, what motivated her new novel, and how she envisioned her new heroine. Read on below. The Last Voyage of Poe Blythe publishes March 26, 2019, and is available for pre-order.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why did you feel now was the time to get back into YA?
ALLY CONDIE: It’s been since 2014, which is crazy to me — that it’s been that long. I actually started writing this book in 2014: It was going to be my next YA. I liked the idea, I felt really good about it, I liked the setting, I was getting some really positive feedback on the opening chapters from some readers. It’s a revenge-novel…I realized something I was missing. And it turned out that was rage! [Laughs] You kind of have to have that to write a revenge novel. Then 2016 came around and, all of a sudden, I had it all. [Laughs]
I don’t know how political anyone wants to be with any of this… but there was a lot, especially right around the time of the election and since — we had the Kavanaugh hearings, things that had been happening to young women and the way that that’s reacted to. That made me very angry. It was very easy to channel that into this character because she’s an extremely strong woman who’s working against a society that is stacked against her all the way. But she has a lot of — like, rage is the word, but there’s also a lot of love. That was the important thing…. That comes together any time we’re talking about politics and stuff: We feel anger, and then there’s that strange side of the coin where you realize, “Oh, but the only way to fix this is to love people.” Of course, there’s activism, and it’s not like, “Oh, I can’t be angry anymore, now I only feel love” — I don’t mean that in a cheesy way. I just mean there’s something else you also have to tap into in order to sustain yourself, even, let alone to effect the kind of change that you know you’d like to see.
You’re right that there’s an element of rage here, certainly. I’ve spoken to a lot of authors recently who’ve found it almost cathartic to channel these themes and emotions into their work. Did you have the same experience?
Yeah, I did. I mean, everyone cares about what’s happening. I certainly feel like YA is a great place to be right now, because we care about young readers. That’s our entire job. I also come at it from the position of having young children in my home. My oldest is 15, my youngest is 7. I feel like that, in a way, gave me extra catharsis. I was feeling it on a few different levels. I used to teach high school, as well, so that was another thing I was thinking about — all these amazing kids that are now adults, and how much hope that gives me. We talk about that a lot, but I also feel like it’s horrible that we’re putting so much on these kids, too. That’s also therapeutic: Saying something like, “Here’s a story for you. I know it’s not changing the world.” You’re doing what you can in a way that sometimes feels ineffective, but also, I do think storytelling is important. We’re pretty lucky in YA that we have art that we can make. It’s a huge gift that I don’t take for granted, because other people go do their day-jobs and there’s not catharsis. We’re lucky to have that.
Do you think the current political moment has changed YA in a significant way?
I think it has made us more focused. I’m a white middle-class lady: I had the luxury of being like, “Everything seems to be on the up, getting better gradually, not fast enough.” But I think people knew all along how bad it was. So maybe it galvanized us a little bit. I feel like it opened my eyes to the way people around me though, that I didn’t realize. You’d get thinking, “Well, everybody’s hoping for the same kind of change” — in the community in which I live — and then you realize, “I need to have harder conversations. I should’ve been doing this all along.”
To your character, Poe Blythe: How did you sketch her out?
I just talked a lot about politics, but she is not political at all and never has been! [Laughs] I always knew what she would be like: I always start with the character, and I knew she’d be reserved. I knew she’d be focused. I knew she’d be very, very lonely. Those were the things I had right from the beginning with the story. The catalyst for putting it on paper was I went on a family vacation to Idaho and saw mining dredge, which I’d never seen before; we were driving up this river valley, and this river’s ruined — it’s just rocks, and looks terrible. You’re like, “What happened here?” They hadn’t moved the dredge; this old, metal dredge was just sitting, I guess where it stopped, in the river. And I was like, “Oh, we did this!” [Laughs] It was pretty clear it was man-made, but I wasn’t sure until I saw that sitting there. That was the idea for the book: What do we ruin when we’re not paying attention but a single-minded purpose? That seems like a really good place to put her.
I also wanted to ask you about the dystopian element. It’s a genre you’ve written in before, but I feel like it’s evolved in YA since you’d last been in the space. Did you find the way you approached dystopia a little different?
Slightly, I think, just because it’s been a few years and, like you said, things have shifted. But dystopian is like everything else. We have the things we like to see in them. Mostly I was just excited by what everyone else has been writing and what I’ve seen in the genre. It felt great to go back to it. That is, weirdly, the genre I feel the most natural to write in.
What are some of the books and authors you took inspiration from here?
It’s an adult novel, but a lot of young-adults have read it: Station Eleven. That was just a stunning book. Reading that made me excited. Not that I could do it as well, but it’s always cool to see someone do something so well. It makes you want to do your thing the best you can.