Bestselling author Sarah Dessen has left her longtime publisher, Viking, and will publish her newest novel, The Rest of the Story, with HarperCollins Children’s Books, under the Balzer + Bray imprint. The book will be published on June 4, 2019, with simultaneous release in print, e-book, and audio formats. Harper acquired world rights to the title in a deal negotiated by Suzanne Murphy, president and publisher of HarperCollins Children’s Books, and Leigh Feldman of Leigh Feldman Literary. Alessandra Balzer, v-p and co-publisher of Balzer + Bray, will be Dessen’s editor.

“Obviously it’s bittersweet,” Dessen said on making the switch. “Penguin is family to me and I published 13 amazing books for them. I love them, especially Regina [Hayes, now editor-at-large and former president and publisher of Viking Children’s Books], who’s been my editor for the last six or seven books. I dedicated my last book to Regina—we’re very intertwined!”

In recent months, Dessen believed the time was right to explore a potential change. “I’ve been with Penguin since I was 28, if I’m doing the math properly, and I’m 48 now,” she said. “I just think that at a certain point, nearing 50 and looking at my career ahead, I wanted to see what it would be like to go to a publisher as the writer I am right now and not the writer I was when I was 28 and still waiting tables and didn’t have a kid yet and hadn’t even gotten married.”

She had been entirely comfortable with her team at Penguin, for whom Dessen offers nothing but high praise. “But I sort of wanted to see what my appeal was beyond Penguin because it’s hard for me to gauge,” Dessen said. “I really didn’t know what other people were going to think about my books or if they were even going to want me, seriously, because the market is changing so much.”

She recalls a very different scenario when she was starting out with her first book, That Summer, in 1996. “When I came into YA it was so different,” she recalled. “It was a tiny little group, and it’s just exploded, which is wonderful for everybody. But there’s a lot of new stuff being done and I felt like I would be doing myself a disservice to not at some point try and see what else another publisher could bring to me, what they would do differently in terms of the books.”

Dessen said she was particularly intrigued by what Balzer + Bray had done with The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, and with author Julie Murphy’s career (Dumplin’). “They seem to have a real knack for showcasing all the assets of their authors—not just the one thing they might be known for, but a plethora of things that they do well,” Dessen noted. “I thought maybe they could do that for me. I’m sort of known as the romance, the summer, pink covers, that kind of thing. But I’ve always felt like there’s more depth to my books than maybe I get credit for sometimes, or even that I give myself credit for sometimes, and I wanted to see if somebody else might tap into something beyond the romance part of it.”

Dessen said that when she started working on her new book, The Rest of the Story, in April, “I realized that I wanted to do something different, so I created a new lake town” (some of Dessen’s previous novels have been set in the fictional beach town of Colby, N.C., others in the fictional college town of Lakeview). “I thought there could be no better time to switch, when it seemed like moving forward we might be considering other publishers.”

She said she is very much looking forward to beginning with a new publishing team. “Harper is really enthusiastic—not that Penguin wasn’t, they are wonderful—but I think Harper is doing a lot right now with these unique voices, and to come in and see what they’re capable of and to be excited about what’s coming is really fun for me right now.”

Dessen’s new editor shared her enthusiasm for the new arrangement, as well. “I have been a longtime fan of Sarah’s books, so having the chance to work with her is a career highlight for me,” Balzer said in a statement. “Sarah’s stories resonate so deeply with teens because they go right to the heart of what it means to come of age. They are about family, friendship, and the intense, magical feeling of falling in love for the first time.”

Teasing The Rest of the Story, Dessen said that aside from a different setting, “it is a summer novel, taking place in the summer, like many of my other books. Some of this book came from the fact that I am a regular reader of my local obituaries. There are all kinds of strange things in this book that I love. I want readers to know that it’s going to be a new chapter in the world that I’ve created and I can’t wait for them to join me there.” Harper characterizes the book as “a big-hearted, sweeping novel about a girl who reconnects with a part of her family she hasn’t seen since she was a little girl—and falls in love, all over the course of a magical summer.”

As the author’s fans well know, taking a new path is not something Dessen does lightly. “I still live in my hometown. I married a man I met in high school. I’ve had the same agent since 1994,” she said. “I’m really a creature of habit, so this was jumping out of the comfort zone for me. But I think it’s really going to be worth it.”

Those feelings are echoed in her writing, as she explained, “In this new book the narrator has to take a leap of faith, and me having to do that to bring this book to the world has just brought me closer in the story myself.”