In this third installment of our series, we asked editors to tell us about a book of theirs, published during the pandemic, that they wish had gotten more love.
Martha Mihalick, executive editor, Greenwillow Books
When Rae Carson told me she wanted to return to the world of The Girl of Fire and Thorns, I couldn’t wait. What could be better than immersing myself in that vivid, magical world and seeing what old friends were up to? I’ll tell you: that the protagonist is a young woman who wants to be the first-ever female member of the Royal Guard. Be still, my kick-butt-heroine-loving heart!
The entire time Rae and I were working on The Empire of Dreams, I imagined how excited her longtime fans would be, as well as how thrilling it would be to introduce new readers to her incredible work. Then the book went on sale in—dum dum DUM—April 2020. Bookstores were closed, and no one had much bandwidth for anything besides staring at the news. But now the book is out in paperback—and we’re back out in the world again. And did you know that this fall marks 10 years since The Girl of Fire and Thorns was published? What a perfect time for readers to discover and celebrate The Empire of Dreams and the whole trilogy!
Liz Szabla, associate publisher, Feiwel and Friends
In the Shadow of the Sun, a debut YA historical fantasy by EM Castellan, was published just before businesses closed last year. We locked down; people had time to catch up with Netflix, and I knew this novel would be a great fit for readers who loved Bridgerton—it’s so smart and gorgeously written, it has an opulent setting (the Palace of Versailles), it features a talented young woman, magic, and a swoony romance. Reviews ground to a halt, conferences were canceled, and so many debuts were lost in the shuffle. (Someday, 2020–2021 will be the narrative for historical fantasies.) There is a companion novel coming this fall, Under a Starlit Sky, and I hope that the duology and EM Castellan will finally get the attention they deserve—they’re perfect for book groups, and will cross over beautifully for adult fans of Philippa Gregory.
Mary Cash, v-p and editor-in-chief, Holiday House
I’m sure that many books suffered when critics were forced to review solely from electronic materials. For one of my titles, Dive In: Swim with Sea Creatures at Their Actual Size by Roxie Munro, that fact that reviewers could not see the actual book was a disaster. Roxie Munro, our art director, our designer, our production manager, and I had worked incredibly hard to create a breathtaking double gatefold of a reef shark. I knew that kids would love it. With the gatefold extended, mesmerizing, oversized underwater scenes could be enjoyed on three different spreads! We were thrilled to have pulled it off. But since reviewers could no longer accept physical copies, no one noticed this. The experience of looking the huge reef shark in the eye was gone. When we received a review from one journal that complained that there was no text describing the reef shark, we realized that the reviewer had not seen the gatefolds at all. Sadly, with reviewers unable to experience the unusual physical qualities of this book, it sank like a rock.
Hallie Tibbetts, associate editor, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
I was so fortunate to edit Claire Eliza Bartlett’s The Winter Duke, a trope-upending political fantasy about a girl whose murderous family succumbs to a magical curse, leaving her in the position of “duke”—something she has absolutely never wanted. In fact, she’s been trying to escape their ancestral ice castle to pursue her scientific dreams when she’s thrust into the middle of a political nightmare. I love that The Winter Duke challenges the idea that we should seek to be royalty, and then, when the protagonist Ekata is engaged out of convenience, it’s to a warrior girl who could probably sweep anyone off their feet. There are also themes of complicated family dynamics, ethics, and fair economic trade that aren’t as obviously romantic but that are seamlessly interwoven into the rich and memorable world. The Winter Duke was a very enjoyable book to edit, and I was traveling the first days of March 2020 when the book was published. We went into lockdown in New York almost as soon as I returned, and stores around the country had to close for browsing, so I’ve never gotten to see the book in a store, much to my dismay!
Britt Rubiano, senior editor, Disney Hyperion
Julie C. Dao’s The Mirror: Broken Wish has been a house favorite. Unfortunately, it published in October 2020, in the middle of the pandemic. It’s the first in an innovative YA fairy tale series following one cursed family over several generations. Set in 1800s Hanau Germany (birthplace to the Grimm brothers), it follows a young woman with strange abilities who befriends an exiled witch. Julie did an incredible job riffing off classic fairy tale tropes in new and intriguing ways. She built not only a compelling tale with memorable characters, but also laid an exciting foundation for the books to come.
Ali Fisher, senior editor, Tor Teen
Lauren Shippen’s A Neon Darkness came out in September 2020 and I still wake up sometimes to a line or an image or the ending. And oh my god, the ending! It’s a haunting standalone contemporary fantasy road story in a world where some people have strange, unexpected abilities and Robert is one of them. He has the power to make you want whatever he wants. When he finally, for the first time, finds a group of friends where he belongs, he discovers he isn’t able—or willing—to control his persuasive power. Lauren paved a dark and strange road through power, privilege, and the aching desire for connection. Confronting the discomfort and pain of isolation was maybe too raw for many of us over the past year, but as people start to reconnect and process their isolation, I think Robert’s story will hit, and maybe hurt.
Susan Rich, editor-at-large, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Long before the pandemic, anxiety was running amok among middle schoolers. Author Kathleen Lane, founder of Create More, Fear Less, conceived Pity Party in response. Published in January 2021, it’s an irresistible goody bag of short pieces, each tackling worries by exaggerating them, stealing their power by allowing the “what ifs” to run wild. Insecure? Here’s a story about what happens when one kid’s wish for a new, improved self is answered with a mysterious package at the door. Overwhelmed by the internet? Here’s a tale about social media followers who literally follow you around. A Personality Test, a letter from The Department of Insecurity, a Choose Your Own Catastrophe—every page encourages kids to laugh in the face of their fears. That’s even more needed today, as middle schoolers prepare to return to school in these unsettling times. Pity Party shows kids they’re not alone, that we’ll get through this party together.
Click here to see our previous Pandemic Missed Connections installments.