Jodi Lynn Anderson.
Photo: Andrew Laughlin.

Three very different teens forge a friendship one summer while working in a Georgia peach orchard in Jodi Lynn Anderson’s Peaches, published in 2005 by HarperTeen. The girls were reunited in 2006’s Secret of Peaches and meet once again in Love and Peaches, which was released this week with an initial print run of 100,000 copies. Given the 300,000-copy combined sales of the first two books, fans will likely be eager to pick up the third tale, in which the characters return to Georgia after their first year of college.

Visits to several orchards in Georgia, where Anderson was living when she wrote Peaches, inspired the novel’s setting, adding that a deeper connection to her mother’s family farm in West Virginia played a role, as well. “It’s a special place, with a soul,” she says. “I know if I ever need to get my feet on solid ground I can go there and just feel connected to something beautiful and grounded, and be reminded of where I came from. That kind of spirit really drove my feelings about the book’s peach orchard, and what kind of meaning it could have.”

The novels’ teenage characters—carefree Murphy, big-hearted Birdie and beautiful Leeda—are also rooted in Anderson’s own life. “They’re definitely based on big pieces of my friends and myself,” she says.

Anderson did not initially envision writing a trilogy, but decided to continue the story several months after concluding Peaches. She recalls that she began thinking about Murphy’s character while listening to a recording of “Thunder Road” by Bruce Springsteen. “The song seemed to relate to her, and suddenly I realized that there was so much more I wanted to know about Murphy that I didn’t know,” says Anderson. “And the book went from there. My editors—Sara Shandler at Alloy Entertainment and Kristin Marang at HarperCollins—spurred it on.”

Zareen Jaffery, senior editor at HarperCollins Children’s Books, edited the final Peaches novel after arriving at the house last January (Marang, who edited the first two, had left the company). A fan of the series before assuming her new post, Jaffery praises Anderson’s ability to create distinct teen characters and credibly depict their friendship. “The friendship feels so real, and readers can really relate to what the girls are going through,” she says. “It’s a timeless theme.”

The editor also credits word-of-mouth enthusiasm among young readers for the series’ success, as well as the books’ “bright and hopeful cover art,” designed by art director Alison Donalty. Looking at these covers, Jaffery says, “You can’t help but smile.”

Diane Capriola, co-owner of Little Shop of Stories in Decatur, Ga., calls the Peaches novels “great friendship stories,” along the lines of Ann Brashares’s The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. “This is a natural handsell to girls who loved those books. And of course, an added benefit for us is that the novels take place here in Georgia.”

Though her store is more than a stone’s throw from a peach orchard, Carol Moyer, manager of the children’s book department at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, N.C., reports that she has kept the earlier Peaches novels continuously in stock and already has Love and Peacheson the shelves. “There is definitely a positive aura about these books,” she says, noting that Peaches and The Secrets of Peaches appeared high on lists of books young readers nominated for mock Newbery and Printz awards coordinated by Raleigh libraries.

Stating that she doesn’t have “any unfinished business with Murphy, Leeda and Birdie,” Anderson says that Love and Peaches will definitely be the final tale in the series. “I think I was ready to leave them behind, though I do miss them,” she says of her characters. “After the third book, they felt complete to me, ready to go off and live their lives.”

Love and Peaches by Jodi Lynn Anderson. HarperTeen, $16.99 ISBN 978-0-06-073311-7