Lisi Harrison, whose internationally bestselling 17-book The Clique series introduced a group of popular girls at a posh private school, will debut two series in 2021—each set at very different middle schools. Due from Delacorte Press next June, The Pack opens a series that takes place at Charm House (short for Center for Human-Animal Reform and Manners), a girls’ boarding school where each student has a wild “animal light” inside of her that needs to be tamed. In the novel, whose cover is revealed here, new girl Sadie is discovered to possess the fiercest animal light of all and is invited to join the elite Pack, led by the school’s “queen of the jungle.”
Harrison, whose other series for middle-school and YA readers include Alphas and Monster High, explained that although The Pack features a new cast of characters and story line, the series “complements my existing catalogue of novels in that it speaks to similar themes. I am interested in how girls, especially teens, struggle to find their place in the world. How so many of us try to eradicate our quirks instead of celebrating them. How fitting in so often means selling out. To me, The Pack is a clear metaphor for that.”
Protagonist Sadie stands out from the other students in that she arrives at Charm House unaware of her powerful animal light within and, Harrison explained, “feels like she is damaged goods and does not think she belongs anywhere.” But when her powers are revealed and she’s invited into the Pack, Sadie discovers that life inside the inner circle involves a different struggle.
“I love creating cliques and groups that are small worlds within the larger world,” the author said. “Characters aspire to be part of these groups, thinking that belonging would solve their problems—when what it often does is make things worse. With the discovery of her animal light, Sadie gains an incredible amount of confidence and begins to question everything. She strives to learn how to use her power for good and do the right thing, even though doing the wrong thing can be tempting. As so often happens in my stories, with Sadie it ends up being a battle between internal and external forces—exploring that psychological struggle is what lights me up as a writer.”
It took no time at all for the premise and plot of The Pack to pique the interest of Delacorte editor Kelsey Horton, who said, “I knew I wanted to work on the novel immediately after reading it, because it is the kind of book I would have devoured in middle school. It’s pure wish fulfillment. It’s entertaining. It’s escapism.” The editor predicted that The Pack will strike a chord with the author’s longtime fans as well as readers new to her writing. “In a way, The Pack can be described as The Clique meets Monster High,” she said. “At its core, this is a story about wanting to fit in, much like The Clique, but it also has a fun twist on a school setting, à la Monster High. Lisi genuinely gets her audience and I can’t wait for her fans to read this novel—and for The Pack to reach a whole new generation of tween readers.”
The Look of the Book
For senior designer Carol Ly, who designed the cover of The Pack, that task involved a bit of a balancing act—in multiple ways. “This novel is really more tween than purely middle-grade or young-adult,” she said. “Achieving that sweet spot was the trickiest part of the cover design. I wanted to find a balance by having the sophistication of YA coupled with colors and styles that would appeal to a middle-grade reader. So it was a challenge to figure out how we’d capture the right look for the right audience. Once we figured out the direction, it was a lot of fun to try different compositions, materials, type styles, and palettes that would hook a reader in to find out more.”
And designing a spot-on cover also presented a thematic challenge, Ly explained. “Since the story features a boarding school setting and girls with fierce animal traits, I wanted to tip my hat to those themes,” she said. “Working with artist Luke Lucas, we explored various ways to accomplish that in an interesting and fresh way. In the final cover, we show the materials and aesthetics of a sweet schoolgirl, but contrast that with the wildness of claw marks to add the animal aspect. Luke’s art is incredibly tactile and makes the cover come to life, like you could reach out and be transported to Charm House.”
Middle School Redux
Harrison spotlights a more conventional group of middle-school girls in girl stuff., due from Putnam in February. The novel kicks off a series spotlighting three best friends who eagerly start seventh grade looking forward to doing everything together—but things go awry. Ruthie, who is in the gifted-and-talented program, is relegated to a different part of the school; Drew is preoccupied with her crush, who suddenly acts like he doesn’t know her; and Fonda is thrilled when the popular girls finally notice her, but frets about hanging out with them if her besties aren’t invited into the group.
Noting that girl stuff. is launching almost 20 years after The Clique debuted, the author pointed to a key difference between the two series. “The Clique focused on a group of best friends who constantly jockeyed for social status,” she said. “While that seemed like the right tone in 2002, with this series I wanted to explore female friend groups in a way that celebrated female friendship. These three girls care more about each other than anything else and would never do anything to shatter their bond. That isn’t to say it doesn’t happen. It does—it’s just not intentional. In their case, it is all that comes with middle school—puberty, boys, social dynamics, and academic pressure—that challenges and weighs on them. This is a grounded story about navigating and surviving middle school.”
Jennifer Klonsky, president and publisher of Putnam Books for Young Readers, found the series’ generous-spirited characters refreshing and apropos for the times. “We’ve had it with girls being mean girls,” she said. “I love series that focus on friends helping each other out of sticky moments, like the Baby-Sitters Club and Sweet Valley Twins, and girl stuff. is a modern version for today’s middle-grade readers. The characters are entirely relatable—there is nothing excessive about their lifestyles.”
Asked why her novels are so relevant to readers, Harrison answered, “I think part of it is that I’m very aware of my own shortcomings, and I know that feelings of self-doubt and insecurity don’t go away when you are older. We’re all messed up to a certain degree and should stop striving for perfection. I mean, where’s the fun in that? I also want to remind readers that they are not alone. Everyone yearns to be seen, to matter. That yearning is painful, but can also be kind of funny, so humor is a huge part of my writing. Being human is hilarious.”
girl stuff. by Lisi Harrison. Putnam, $8.99 paper Feb. 2, 2021 ISBN 978-1-9848-1498-2.
The Pack by Lisi Harrison. Delacorte, $16.99 June 1, 2021 ISBN 978-0-593-18070-9.