Sewickley-based writer encourages young readers to unearth the truth
Given the success of “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent” novels, Heather Terrell realizes her young- adult fantasy books with a dystopian setting aren't breaking new ground.
That doesn't mean the Sewickley-based writer can't bring a new element to the genre in “The Books of Eva,” including the just-released novel “Boundary” (Soho Teen, $18.99).
“I really tried to do something unique to this genre,” says Terrell, 45, who will appear at the Penguin Bookshop in Sewickley on Dec. 19. “Very typically in this genre, you have a female heroine contending with a myriad of issues. There are often two male potential love interests. In this book, I wanted to do something completely different and show, especially the female readers, that there's a different path, a different choice, a more empowered choice.”
“Boundary,” the second book in the series, is set in the New North, a wintry island where settlers — known as the Aerie — established a colony approximately 240 years ago. Eva is a member of one of the settlement's elite families and is vying to become an Archon, a sacred leader. As she trains for this honor, Eva uncovers information about the original settlers that threatens the Aerie's relationship with the indigenous inhabitants, the Boundary people, and the colony's philosophical and moral principles.
As in her adult historical novels, including “The Map Thief” and “Brigid of Kildare,” Terrell relies on exhaustive research to create the New North's chronology and customs.
Terrell's goal is for readers not only to enjoy the stories, but to be challenged.
“One of the themes in all of my writing is that when we're looking at the world around us and our pasts — individually or collectively as a culture — is what is true about what we've been told and how far down do we have to go in terms of the lens and filter of what we've been told to really discover the truth,” she says.
While Terrell welcomes all age groups, the stories have a natural appeal for teenagers. Writing from the viewpoint of Eva is not always easy, so in order for the character's actions to ring true, Terrell has to put aside her natural inclinations.
“I have so much more practical experience than Eva; I know so much more,” she says, adding that she had to “remember to forget” biases and inclinations that might indicate the viewpoint of an older character.
Eva's quest to uncover the truth requires her to be duplicitous to her parents, her teachers and her paramours. Terrell says Eva's behavior is naturally appealing to young adults who are “used to having secrets, are used to having a double life,” about the things they experience as teenagers.
Terrell says she doesn't encourage duplicitous behavior, but she does promote asking questions. To foster interest, Terrell has developed a program for use in schools that blends her love of storytelling with an educational component. It's applicable to English and writing classes, where Terrell talks about her approach to plot and story, and in history classes, where students are encouraged to look beyond the obvious and find the hidden stories.
“I really want students to think about what they're taught from a historical perspective,” she says, “and ask themselves who is telling the story, what the possible agenda of the person telling the story might be, and what they themselves perceive the truth to be.”
Rege Behe is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.