Why is free-spirited Leila on a mysterious cross-country road trip and how will she touch the lives of four other teens she meets along the way? These questions lie at the heart of Let’s Get Lost, a debut novel by Adi Alsaid that Harlequin rolls out in August with a 100,000-copy first printing and a six-figure marketing campaign. Clearly confident that it has found a YA winner in Let’s Get Lost, the publisher revved up bookseller interest in the coming-of-age novel at BEA, where a prominent banner and a cover art-wrapped car, as well as Alsaid himself, touted the forthcoming book.

The 27-year-old author lives in Mexico City, where he was born and raised by Israeli parents. His love of road-tripping inspired the novel, which he wrote “on and off for a year.” As a child, Alsaid didn’t travel often, but that changed when he attended the University of Nevada in Las Vegas. “In college, I took lots of road trips. I drove from Las Vegas to Seattle, and then down the coast of California, and I also made two cross-country road trips,” he said. “I realized how much I love seeing new places.”

Determined to write “more than just a road-trip story,” Alsaid said that his interest in tales that incorporate multiple points of view also helped shape Let’s Get Lost, which is told in the voices of five teenagers. “I wanted to tell the story of Leila’s road trip, but also wanted to tell the stories of others who were not on the trip themselves. So we learn about them in their own locales, and then we follow Leila along on her travels.”

The book diverged from a traditional storytelling model, in that Alsaid opted to keep Leila’s mission and backstory a mystery until the novel’s conclusion. “Even though Leila is the protagonist, I didn’t get to know her right away,” he explained. “My outline began with the other characters, and I built their stories and voices, but I only built Leila’s through their eyes. I planned from the start to introduce her voice only at the end.”

Final Destination

That mystery aspect of Let’s Get Lost instantly appealed to Annie Stone, editor of Harlequin Teen, who acquired the novel at auction after reading a partial manuscript submitted by Alloy Entertainment (whose editorial team she will join July 14). “Adi’s writing just sang from the very start, and I knew immediately that this is a book I wanted to work on,” she said. “I found it intriguing that Leila’s perspective only surfaces at the end, and first we meet the people she’s meeting, and learn their coming-of-age stories, which creates an element of suspense. Adi was able to humanize all the characters and make their stories fit together perfectly.”

Stone was also impressed by the novel’s potential appeal to both male and female readers, as well as its crossover prospects. “As a male writer, Adi was able to bring authenticity to the perspectives of the boy characters,” she said. “And since the novel starts off with the story of a boy, it’s very easy for male readers to connect right away. Also, all the characters are on the verge of deciding what to do with their lives, which puts the novel on the older end of the YA spectrum. It’s a narrative that also speaks to adults, since we all continue to wonder about the direction of our lives.”

The Harlequin Teen team shared Stone’s enthusiasm for Let’s Get Lost. “As an editor,” Stone said, “it’s the story you want to hear – that everyone in-house feels as passionately about a book as you do.” The publisher’s marketing push for the novel includes an author tour and blog tour, consumer and trade print and online advertising, a social media campaign supported by Alloy Entertainment, and bookseller and librarian outreach.

Alsaid, who is currently working on another standalone contemporary YA (but “won’t say never” to the possibility of writing a sequel to Let’s Get Lost), was somewhat stunned to realize his dream of being a published author at this point in his life. “I never thought it would happen this quickly, since like most people who want to pursue a dream, I assumed I’d have to first have a day job,” he said. “But since I had an international student visa, it was hard to find work in the business world [in the U.S.], so I ended up doing it backwards, and I’m able to pursue my dream now.”

Let’s Get Lost by Adi Alsaid. Harlequin Teen, $17.99 Aug. ISBN 978-1-373-21124-1