Gayle Forman’s first YA novel in three years did not come easily. “I started and crashed on seven different projects,” she said. “It wasn’t that I didn’t have any ideas, it was just that everything I wrote was crap.”

Keep in mind that Forman’s standards for her own work may be pretty high. Best known for If I Stay (Dutton, 2009), which was adapted for a 2014 film starring Chloe Grace Moretz, Forman has more than 10 million books in print.

Filled with doubt, however, she decided to confront her crisis head-on by writing a novel about being wracked by doubt. The result is I Have Lost My Way (Viking, Mar.), a story about three teens, each dealing with personal losses that have left them feeling completely unmoored. Freya, a singer on the cusp of a big breakout, has lost her father and her voice. Harun has lost the boy he loves. Nathaniel has lost everything. A freak accident in New York City’s Central Park brings them together.

Freya’s character is inspired by Forman’s own family. Like Freya, one of Forman’s daughters is of Ethiopian descent. While Forman’s daughter is adopted, Freya’s parents have split, her father returning to Addis Ababa, where he makes promises to visit that he doesn’t keep. Because she is a singer and a songwriter, Freya channels her sadness about this into song, which Forman, who admits to being “non-musical,” felt a compelling need to hear out loud. Luckily, her best friend is YA novelist Libba Bray, whose side hustle is lead singer of the band Tiger Beat.

“I’ve had songs in my books before but there was something about this one that I really wanted to hear it. So I called Libba, who is crazy busy, and asked her what was possible,” Forman said. “Could we make it into a real song?”

Forman initially thought Bray would do the vocals but instead they recruited Sasha Abner, a 13-year-old friend of Forman’s oldest daughter, Willa. Forman had first heard Abner sing when she and Willa attended Abner’s bat mitzvah. “Like Freya,” Forman said, “she was born singing.” She sent Abner a copy of the book, and the lyrics of an Ethiopian lullaby that forms the song’s refrain. Bray followed up to do the arrangement, Facetiming with Abner before they met in the studio so she could make sure the song was in the correct key.

Abner, an uncommonly poised eighth grader, said it was the coolest experience of her life, amplified by how much affinity she felt for Freya’s character.

“It’s a little uncanny how very similar my story is to Freya’s,” said Abner. “The Little White Dress is about her relationship with her father, who she feels like she has lost. I lost my father to cancer at age nine so I really identified with what she was feeling. It felt true to me what she was singing about.”

The song, which can be heard here, turned out so well that it inspired another idea. Forman is recruiting teen artists and performers to appear on tour with her, soliciting artwork based on quotes from the book, asking aspiring actors and actresses to read dramatic passages, or to sing Freya’s songs. The tour kicks off in New York City on March 27—daughter Willa has been drafted to emcee the event—and makes stops in Grand Rapids, Mich., Salt Lake City, San Diego, and Philadelphia. Interested teens can register here to perform or make an artistic contribution

“The YouTube/Instagram generation really wants to be part of the show,” Forman said. “Book tours can be really boring. Sometimes the people who turn out are adults who are interested in writing or publishing. But for the teens who turn out, this is a way they can participate.”

I Have Lost My Way. Gayle Forman. Viking, $18.99 Mar. 27 ISBN 978-0-425-29077-4