My Novel’s Best Book Friends
Brilliant books about cults, teens, and rebel girls
When I was writing my fifth novel, Fierce Little Thing, the word “elemental” kept rising to the surface. Thematically, I’ve always been interested in legacy, family, and secrets (see, especially, my third novel, Bittersweet)— and this new book — about a group of kids raised on a cult, and the aftershocks of the terrible thing they did to try to save it — found me digging into those concepts on a deeper, even more brutal level. The process of discovering and developing this book almost felt like scraping down to the DNA of what I care about.
Then there was the experience of writing; I found myself thinking of my characters as weather systems (any of the cult adults), or oak trees (Issy), or arrows (Xavier). The place itself, an abandoned, lakeside summer camp, had its own whims and desires, not to mention the sometimes punishing weather of Maine. All these pieces came together to propel the novel forward. Sometimes I felt less like a writer and more like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, trying to manage the force of their collective need and opinions.
So when it came time to promote the book, I realized I was already in a deeper kind of conversation with it than I’d ever been with another book before. There were those thematic elements I mentioned above, which have become stronger as my career has grown; and those character and setting elements too. But there were also plot elements that came to feel like the building blocks of the book, among them, the formation of cults; female strength in the face of white male supremacy; and teenage friendship and loyalty. And I didn’t have to look far to find the books that already exist on those subjects, some of which have been formative to my writing life; some of which have come to me more recently.
And then I made some pretty fun reels about them, some of which star my children:
- Cultish by Amanda Montell
- Godshot by Chelsea Bieker
- The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon
- The Lightness by Emily Temple
- St. Ivo by Joanna Hershon
- The Girls by Emma Cline