Jade Adia’s highly anticipated YA debut There Goes the Neighborhood sold to Disney-Hyperion in a six-figure, seven-house auction. A fictional South Los Angeles serves as the backdrop for best friends Rhea, Zeke, and Malachi, whose lives are upended when rent hikes in their gentrifying neighborhood threaten to force Zeke and his family out of their home. Rhea resolves to scare off newcomers with the invention of a fake gang but faces real trouble when an act of violence raises tensions within the community. We spoke with L.A. native Adia about her ode to her hometown, what’s at stake in gentrifying communities, and using a murder mystery as a vehicle for discussing policing.

Can you share a bit about your process for creating your debut novel and what drew you to writing YA?

When I decided to start writing it, the context in which I was writing was during the summer of 2020, which we all remember as a tumultuous, horrible, stressful summer. I was also in law school at that time, so I was off for the summer, and I had a lot of time to go to protests and community meetings. One of the things that stood out to me the most was there were so many young people, and they were really changing the tone and character of protests in a very positive way. Prior to that summer, I’d never been to a protest where people brought speakers and were dancing, and were having so many moments of connection and joy as well.

I had started writing novels for the first time not that long before that, and I wasn’t clear about if I wanted to write YA, but that summer I knew I wanted to write a book that was about gentrification. I was really moved by the Gen Z protesters, and that’s what made me think not only did I want to write a YA book, I want to write a YA book that celebrates what they were bringing to these spaces, which was joy, and subversion.

Speaking of joy, in the introduction to the novel, you note that despite its weightier subject matter, this book is also a comedy. Why was it important to you to highlight Black joy during difficult times and what was the most fun aspect of the book for you to write?

I really love the breadth and diversity of Black books in YA right now. I think we’re in an incredible moment where people are writing amazing stories. But I still think that there is a tendency for publishing professionals to kind of pigeonhole Black books: if it’s about systemic racism or politics, then it has to be a certain type of tone. And that’s not to say that all of those books that get marketed in that way aren’t incredible, but I do think that there is room for books that capture how complex our lives really are. When I was growing up, we all dealt with racism, and classism, and we’re dealing with all this stuff. But we’re also still having crushes, we’re still falling in love, still going roller skating with our friends and walking around the neighborhood. Also, I think that a lot of the visual content of gentrification is absurd. It’s dark, but it’s kind of hard not to laugh at how crazy some of it is. I’ll see these new restaurants and I’m like, “Are you kidding me? Like $70 for a rosé brunch?” I do think that I see the world’s absurdity and kind of laugh at it a lot of times.

And the most fun part was writing about this friend group. I knew that I wanted to have the main story be about gentrification, but also, the main character Rhea; she’s seeing her neighborhood and her friend group change. I think that is the core of the coming-of-age experience, where you’re having so much change within your life, yourself, your body, your friend group, and how that can be echoed with the changes you’ve seen in our neighborhood. [I also enjoyed] writing about walking around that drum circle on Sunday that I grew up going to, and really remembering all those moments of sweetness during that time. So that was my favorite part—all the scenes in the book where the kids are just running around L.A. and hanging out and having fun and having crushes.

As a Los Angeles native, what did you want to highlight about L.A. culture and community in the novel, both as it once was and how it’s changing? Are there any nods to real-life L.A. that natives might catch?

I did set the book in a fictional neighborhood in South L.A., because I wanted to be able to pull from a bunch of different neighborhoods that exist and kind of have Easter eggs from all these different neighborhoods. I also didn’t want to curse my real neighborhood where I grew up and potentially accelerate gentrification. Maybe I’m being a little superstitious. One of the things that is so amazing about South L.A. in particular is that it is a huge geographic area that incorporates so many different communities and cultures. I think people are missing out on understanding what makes this place so special. There’s a ton of diversity in South L.A. in terms of culture, language, nationality, and socioeconomic status, and the characters in the book reflect that. There are queer characters, trans characters, sex workers, Black lawyers, Black educators, and principals. There’s this really exciting mix of people. I want to let people know that the strength of the community comes from the variety of the people there, and my biggest goal [was] to celebrate that.

How did you develop the voice of your protagonist Rhea?

I pulled from the collective voices of me and a lot of my close girlfriends when we were growing up, because I think we were all deeply nerdy Black girls. A huge part of my upbringing was being really into tabletop board games and anime and not really into the parties, and being a little bit socially awkward. But one thing that I do think often lacks representation in Black nerd culture is there’s also a side of it where we are also filled with rage. I still am a Black girl filled with rage, where I’m seeing all these things happening around me. On one hand, Rhea’s very nerdy and extremely wholesome. For this book and the crazy plan that the kids create to work, it must be clear that these are good kids with good intentions. It’s just that at 15, you’re gonna make some weird choices, and they’re not always going to be the best ones. So, there’s this nerdy girl with good intentions, but she’s not going to let you put her in a box. She is mad and she is willing to fight. Her loyalty isn’t a passive one. I like to think of Rhea as the epitome of ride or die in terms of how she sees the world and her friendships, and it maybe goes a little bit too far. I drew on my own experiences growing up to bring all those different contradictions together into a very messy main character.

How does the theme of intrusion appear in different ways in your novel, and why is it such a substantial struggle for Rhea?

I wanted her character to represent what I think is one of the main cores of what’s at risk with gentrification, which is how it scatters and displaces low-income communities of color, and changes the character of neighborhoods. What’s at stake is the connections that people have to one another and how those connections form social safety nets. I grew up in a tight-knit neighborhood that very much inspired this book. If something was going wrong in my family, there was a neighbor who was able to pick me up from school. I was able to walk to my friend’s house and have dinner there. I was able to have a sleepover with a play auntie. I gave Rhea some of those similar experiences.

So when it comes to the idea of intrusion, I can’t think of anything more threatening to someone who has found joy and safety in things staying the same than for things to all of a sudden change. For Rhea, intrusion represents a threat to this social safety net that she’s come to rely on and has built a lot of her personality around as well. At the start of the book, Rhea sees all change is inherently bad, and over the course of the story, her relationship with this idea of change is really challenged on multiple levels.

There’s also a murder mystery element to the novel surrounding the group’s investigation into a “dead white man.” Are you a big fan of mystery books, and what made you want to have that element to the story?

I am a fan of mystery books, and I’ve always been. To be honest, I have no idea why I decided I wanted it to be a murder mystery. I knew that there were themes I wanted to explore in the book that needed a plot device to bring it out: for example, the idea of increased surveillance that happens with gentrification, and harms that come along with increased surveillance of public spaces and Black and brown bodies. Having a crime happen was a natural way to explore that. I also wanted to explore these issues about racial profiling, and a lot of the mystery hinges on the police not being able to tell these two [brown] characters apart who couldn’t be more different. It shows the absurdity of the ways in which police investigations deal with crimes and communities of color, and how that detachment from the community just leads to so much chaos and harm. The murder mystery was a way to have some critique and dialogue about policing in L.A. and show that gentrification is an issue that is as serious as police brutality and all these other issues that we’re talking about as well. It’s a violent process, and people’s lives are at stake.

What’s next for you?

I have another YA contemporary book coming out in 2024 that also takes place in L.A. It’s about this 16-year-old Black girl who, because of her anxiety about the world, really gets into doomsday prepping through online communities. Then she’s forced to join a Black outdoors group because she ditched physical education for an entire year. It’s about the people who can help bring us back to living and out of the mentality of just survival.

There Goes the Neighborhood by Jade Adia. Disney-Hyperion, $18.99 Mar. 7 ISBN 978-1-368-08432-1