Lily Anderson is perhaps best known for writing Undead Girl Gang, a comedic YA horror novel described by many as Veronica Mars meets The Craft. In her latest book, Scout’s Honor, Ladybird Scouts portray themselves as pastel-favoring, community-minded young women, but they’re also fierce warriors who covertly protect the world from interdimensional monsters most folks can’t see. The book’s 16-year-old protagonist, Prudence Perry, was a third-generation Ladybird until three years ago, when she quit after her best friend, Molly, died during a hunt, leaving her with anxiety and PTSD. Prudence hopes to never again wield a blade, but when she and her “civilian” friends break curfew, her mother decides the best punishment is to make Prue train a new class of Ladybirds. PW spoke recently with Anderson about Buffy the Vampire Slayer, teen mental health, and how her past experience as a school librarian continues to inform her fiction.
You’re a self-described Buffy superfan. Did that fandom inspire or influence any aspect of Scout’s Honor?
I’m sure to an extent it did, but it wasn’t intentional. I think the kernel of the idea of a teenage girl who doesn’t look like she could kick ass suddenly kicking ass is definitely inspired by Buffy, and the end of Buffy is a bunch of younger girls getting the Slayer powers, and being led by one Slayer who’s been doing the job forever. Shortly after I sold Scout’s Honor, I was conscripted to write a Buffy the Vampire Slayer book, so I’m glad that there wasn’t that much crossover. As I actually started writing in the Buffy universe, I was like, “Oh, good! I didn’t use all of these ideas when I was writing my own Chosen One story.”
Can you talk a bit about what informed your take on the Chosen One trope?
When I was a teenager, I was the youngest of my friends by three or four years. I remember whenever my opinion was asked, I was like, “I don’t know! I’m a kid! Why are you asking me?” And so, I wanted Prudence to have that feeling all of the time. Like, “Why would I know the answer? I’m the same as you guys!” Which I think is something that’s sort of missing from the Chosen One trope. That sense of, “You’re born for greatness!” “Yeah, but I’m still 16! I only have 16 years’ worth of life experience.”
Is there a concept or character that served as the seed for this book? Which part of the story came to you first?
Prudence came first. Right after I wrote my debut—so, in 2014 or 2015—I wrote a version of this book that wasn’t urban fantasy. Prudence was trying to solve a very quiet, cozy mystery in a nursing home where the Ladybird Scouts all volunteer. It didn’t sell, because there wasn’t much of a market for “a bunch of teenage girls volunteer in a nursing home,” but the characters really stayed with me. After I wrote my last YA, Undead Girl Gang, I really wanted to write another “horror in the suburbs" story, and I immediately thought of Prudence and the Ladybird Scouts, and the idea that there could be a secret organization operating in plain sight. My grandmother has been a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority since 1953, and has been very active, but no one else in my family—not my mom, not my cousins—ever joined the sorority. I was always curious about how that would have changed our family dynamic, if one person was a sorority sister, or if all of us were expected to be sorority sisters. That’s actually where the idea of the Ladybird Scouts came from—sort of part sorority, part Junior League, and part Girl Scouts.
Were you ever a scout of any kind?
I was very briefly a Campfire Girl, which is why there’s a single line in the book about the Campfire Girls being very culturally appropriative. I was a Campfire Girl from second to third grade, I think, and mostly what I remember was that we had little vests, because you put your patches on a vest instead of a sash, and we sold Almond Roca instead of cookies, and no one likes Almond Roca.
So, not much of your own experience is reflected here?
My experience as a young juvenile delinquent who walked around the streets at night is. But scout-wise, all of the community service and daily meetings, that sort of thing—no. I mean, I was a theater kid from six to 16, so I think there’s some of that structure in there; it’s a very insular community. But all the real scouting stuff—the camping and badges and meetings—comes from research.
There are lots of realistic, well-drawn female relationships in Scout’s Honor. Is there one in particular you view as foundational to the story, and did you draw from real life to help craft it?
The friendship between Prudence and Sasha is certainly foundational to the story. I think the first friend you make who sees you differently than all your other friends is really important—the idea of, “Oh! This person thinks I’m cool, so maybe I’m cool.” For Prudence, Sasha is the first friend she makes after Molly dies and after she’s left the Scouts, and so Sasha’s friendship is proof that she can be something other than a Ladybird Scout. But then having Sasha want to join the Scouts starts to dismantle that safety and security for Prudence, so she’s like, “No! My worlds were separate, and now they’re blending together. What does that mean for me?” I had friends I made outside of theater who then joined my theater and I was like, “Oh, no! Now you’re going to see what I’m like in another sphere. Does that mean I have to be the same me all the time?”
The protagonist of Scout’s Honor navigates grief, anxiety, and PTSD stemming from a monster hunt gone wrong. At what point did you decide to explore the topic of teen mental health? Did the theme come baked into the premise, or did it emerge as you wrote?
I definitely went into the story knowing that I wanted Prudence to have an anxiety disorder because I have an anxiety disorder, and it was really hard to navigate when I was a teenager. As an adult, it’s much easier, because I have therapy and medication, but as a teenager, I had none of those things. Molly and the idea of grief came as I was writing. I think initially it was sort of like, Prudence wanted to leave the Ladybird Scouts because why wouldn’t you want to leave? It’s an oppressive society. But I was writing a story about anxiety. Anxiety is always trying to tell you that the absolute worst possible thing is going to happen, and for Prudence’s story, it became imperative for her to have seen the worst possible thing. What she’s afraid of is something that’s already happened, and then it became a story about what happens after the worst possible thing, and how the characters try make sure that the worst possible thing doesn’t happen again.
You used to work as an elementary school librarian. Does that experience inform your fiction, and if so, how?
I was an elementary and middle school librarian for 10 years. It’s the best job I’ve ever had, and I think that it informs everything I do. If I hadn’t been a librarian, I wouldn’t have become a professional writer. As a librarian, you get used to being able to track down anything someone asks for. If a kid asks for a book about a monster hunter, you go, “Okay, well here’s what’s available.” But sometimes, you start to look and you go, “Oh, the exact thing you’re looking for isn’t here.” I hit a point where I kept looking for books that didn’t exist, and I was like, “I guess I’m just going to have to write them.” That’s still how I go about writing a book. I wrote Scout’s Honor because there aren’t a lot of stories about scouting, even though that’s a pretty universal childhood experience. So, yeah, it informs my fiction so far as the experiences my students had, what they wanted to talk about, and the problems they were facing—all of those things have ended up in all of my books.
Is it surreal to see yourself on the shelves of the places you used to work?
Because I worked with such young kids, I don’t think any of my books are there. I’ve had former students tell me that they read my books—like, kids who come back from middle school and tell me that they’d read my debut—and that is sort of surreal, to hear that from kids you helped grow up, and remember finding easy readers and early chapter books for, and then be like, “Oh, now you can keep up with my brain.”
What’s next for you?
I am trying my hand at writing for a younger audience, because I don’t have that many books on the shelves in the places I used to work. And I do have such first-hand knowledge of both what elementary school kids want to be reading, and what publishing isn’t giving them that they need. So I am trying middle grade and early readers. We’ll see what happens.
And on September 27, I have a Buffy novel coming out, called Big Bad. It’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets The Suicide Squad. All the villains get together to try to stop the new “big bad” in town, who happens to be the Slayer.
Scout’s Honor by Lily Anderson. Holt, $18.99 Apr. 5 ISBN 978-1-250-24673-8