Jordyn Taylor follows up her historical YA romances The Paper Girl of Paris and Don’t Breathe a Word with a YA mystery thriller, The Revenge Game. When hopeless romantic Alyson Benowitz begins dating new classmate Riggs, she feels like she’s on top of the world—until she finds out about the King’s Cup, a game in which the boys at her school compete to determine who among them “has the most sexual prowess.” In retaliation, a group of girls establish the Queen’s Cup, in which they compete to publicly humiliate the boys. Still, Alyson continues dating Riggs, refusing to believe that he would betray her trust. But when a student goes missing, Alyson’s love life may be the least of her worries. Taylor spoke with PW about her earliest literary memories, how she pieced together the plot for The Revenge Game, and how her work as a journalist at Men’s Health informs her novels.
Why did you initially start writing historical romances and what led you to pivot into contemporary mystery? Was it difficult writing in a new genre?
From the time that I was a kid, I’ve always loved history. I was especially interested in WWII. You know, being a Jewish kid, I really wanted to understand that time period. I ended up majoring in history in college, and I wrote my thesis on WWII. When it came time to pursue a career in fiction writing, it made sense to me to start there. What a perfect way to bring my two passions of history and storytelling together. I also just personally love reading historical fiction. Some of my earliest literary memories are my dad reading Kit Pearson’s WWII novels to me.
It’s so cool to be able to write those kinds of stories now. I love going down research rabbit holes. I learn such incredible, random things. That’s one of the ways that my job in journalism is similar to my job as a fiction writer. As a journalist my job is to give people facts, to make sure I’m reporting with accuracy, and I feel the same way when I’m putting together a historical novel. I want to make sure that I’m accurately portraying what it was like to live in that time. Sometimes I’ll spend like three hours figuring out what their shoes have been made of at this point in the war, given the location and the socio-economic status of the characters.
Writing a mystery was super different. It was such a strange yet fun journey going from historical to contemporary thriller. I will say that one of the themes that links all my books is resistance, whether that’s resisting an enemy and war, or dangerous groupthink, or toxic masculinity. I love writing stories that send the message that it’s important to stand up for what’s right, even when it’s hard to do.
The Revenge Game’s nonlinear first-person narration is interspersed with in-world media vignettes such as emails, news articles, and social media posts. At what point did you arrive at this narrative structure, and did you encounter any challenges when using it to craft the missing-person mystery?
I’ve always loved this particular formatting, and so I think, no matter what book I was going to write, I wanted some sort of nonlinear structure. I became obsessed with that kind of storytelling when I watched Love, Actually for the first time. I remember feeling this electrifying excitement as I realized how all these seemingly disparate narratives linked together. And from that moment on, I knew that I wanted to do the same thing, whether that was having two different narrators jumping back and forth between time periods, or like in the case of The Revenge Game, switching between Alyson’s narration and the social media posts and TV interviews.
It presented its own unique challenges. The way I assemble a story reminds me of balancing equations or doing any kind of high school math or science. I know that writing is a creative task, but I actually approach the story-building stage in this really logical and mathematical way. The jumping back and forth in time kind of gives me a little cue about what clues I need to bring in during specific moments. If you’re the reader encountering this news story happening in the present day, what is going to be the most intriguing clue that I could then give you in the next chapter? I think of those interstitials as flags in the ground or little landmarks that you hit along the way. They helped me pace the novel and make sure I was hitting all the right beats at the right time. When I’m trying to make everything line up, I find that thinking like this aids my storytelling ability.
The biggest challenge was making sure that the mystery was plausible in the world that we live in with technology and with our legal system. I spent a lot of time making sure that it all checked out. And even then, as I was going through the copy-editing process—and shout out to copy editors, they do amazing work—one of my copy editors highlighted a point in the story where they said, “for this mystery to successfully unfold, this text message would have needed to be sent at a slightly different time.” It’s just amazing to see how one little thing like that could really affect the believability.
Alyson’s boyfriend Riggs is already missing in the first chapter. Why did you choose to reveal this so early in the novel?
I thought revealing that he’s missing early on, but not revealing what actually happened to him, raised the tension and the stakes from the very beginning. Because if you don’t know that piece of information, that a character has disappeared, you might otherwise start the book and feel like this is just a lighthearted romance. Having the contrast between this horrifying news story about a missing boy and then beginning Alyson’s funny romance, I think that dissonance is what creates a level of anxiety in the reader. Like, what the heck happened to get us from this point to that point?
Was the dichotomy between lighthearted romance and mystery thriller the reason you decided to tell the story from the POV of a “hopeless romantic”?
I knew as I put the story together that for there to be tension all the way through, I needed a character like Alyson, who is at the same time the kind of fierce feminist who would get involved with a revenge game like the Queen’s Cup, but who also wants that fairy tale love story enough that she would be willing to overlook the fact that Riggs could potentially be involved in the King’s Cup. Having Alyson be a hopeless romantic was really the only way that I saw that I could carry the tension through the entire story. Because if Alyson was more of a character like her best friend Jess, who assumes that every guy on the planet is evil, she wouldn’t have had the kind of relationship that Alyson and Riggs have. As you’re reading through Alyson’s point of view, you’re kind of hoping that Riggs has nothing to do with the King’s Cup, because you’re like, “I want them to be happy.” From their first moment when they meet at the party, and they have a conversation on the back deck. I mean, that’s the kind of charming meet cute that I think so many of us dream of.
How has your work at Men’s Health informed the way you developed the male characters in The Revenge Game?
This book is all about toxic masculinity and the harmful behaviors that some men engage in, in an effort not to seem weak. I’m surrounded by stories like this all the time at Men’s Health. Toxic masculinity not only harms men, but it harms people of all genders. We see it in men who work out too hard and end up really hurting themselves. We see it in men who are afraid to explore their sexuality, because that’s really stigmatized among men. We see it in men who are resistant to getting help for mental health issues. And then we see it in the way that men harm others through things like steamrolling people in the workplace, or sexual misconduct, or refusing to take no for an answer. At Men’s Health, we know that so many men want to be better, and maybe they just don’t know how because we live in a society that perpetuates these problematic ideas around masculinity.
What I love about my job there is being able to guide men through the changes that are happening in our world and help them be their best, healthiest selves. So, in The Revenge Game, I wanted to show how men can join people of all genders in resisting toxic masculinity. That’s why I created the character Sam, who is another boy at Alyson’s school. Without giving anything away, he really shows how men can resist these problematic societal forces. He’s one of my favorite characters for that reason; he steps up in a really awesome way.
What’s next for you?
This has been the busiest writing year I’ve ever had, in the best way. This year alone, I’ve written two first drafts and promoted The Revenge Game, all while working my full-time job.
I have two books coming out in 2025. One of them is another YA thriller with Delacorte called Wicked Darlings. It’s about an aspiring journalist who infiltrates the underbelly of Manhattan high society to investigate her sister’s untimely death. The other one is a historical YA with HarperTeen called Rebel Girls of Rome. It jumps back and forth in time between the present day and WWII, and centers a queer Jewish girl who joins the resistance in Rome.
The Revenge Game by Jordyn Taylor. Delacorte, $18.99 Nov. 7 ISBN 978-0-5935-6364-9