Today I’m taking part in the book tour for one of my most anticipated books this year, FERAL by Holly Schindler – author of A Blue So Dark and Playing Hurt!
The Lovely Bones meets Black Swan in this haunting psychological thriller with twists and turns that will make you question everything you think you know.
It’s too late for you. You’re dead. Those words continue to haunt Claire Cain months after she barely survived a brutal beating in Chicago. So when her father is offered a job in another state, Claire is hopeful that getting out will offer her a way to start anew. But when she arrives in Peculiar, Missouri, Claire feels an overwhelming sense of danger, and her fears are confirmed when she discovers the body of a popular high school student in the icy woods behind the school, surrounded by the town’s feral cats. While everyone is quick to say it was an accident, Claire knows there’s more to it, and vows to learn the truth about what happened. But the closer she gets to uncovering the mystery, the closer she also gets to realizing a frightening reality about herself and the damage she truly sustained in that Chicago alley…. Holly Schindler’s gripping story is filled with heart-stopping twists and turns that will keep readers guessing until the very last page.
As part of my stop on the Feral tour, I got to ask a interview question. That’s right. A question. As in one. As in – make this as interesting as possible, please!
So, I asked what I look for most in books: Meaning.
I love it when books have a message / meaning that authors want their readers to grasp. So I was wondering if FERAL has a particular message you’re trying to get across? If not, what meaning do you think readers may identify in FERAL?
FERAL does have a message—and the message is directly linked to its genre.
FERAL went through more reinventions than I can count. The novel started out as a middle-grade mystery, believe it or not. In that version, a middle-schooler set out to finally solve a cold case surrounding a young girl’s murder. As I revised the book, though, it became clear that the book needed to be a YA rather than MG.
Usually, when you bump a book up into another age group, you wind up keeping your main character and bumping him or her up in age as well. But the character I’d invented didn’t truly fit with the YA version of the book (which was becoming increasingly darker and edgier). I had to invent a YA protagonist to fit with the YA novel.
Enter Claire Cain—who, I discovered, had a very dark backstory: she’d survived a brutal gang beating in her Chicago hometown. Once I had Claire’s backstory, I knew that the novel wasn’t a straight mystery or even horror (a genre I also played with). I knew the book needed to be a YA psychological thriller, emphasis on the “psychological.”
FERAL contains many aspects of the classic psychological thriller. The book features a Hitchcockian pace and focus on character development. (A few readers have also identified the feral cats as a Hitchcockian quality, seeing it as a nod to THE BIRDS.) Once Claire arrives in Peculiar, she finds herself struggling to untangle what is real from what is unreal, a frequent topic or theme in psychological thrillers. Are the spirits of the town dead real? What about the urban legend of the former Peculiar High student haunting the basement? Was Serena Sims’s death truly an accident? Psychological thrillers also use the water metaphor to represent the subconscious; here, it shows up in the form of a brutal ice storm, and represents Claire’s “frozen” inner state, her lack of ability to move on from a violent act, though she desperately wants to.
Like psychological thrillers, FERAL contains elements of other genres: mystery, action, horror. But all of those elements are brought in as a way to illustrate where Claire is mentally. In the end, then, it took massive amounts of rewriting to discover the true message, the true purpose of the novel: FERAL is a book about the process of recovering from violence. It seems to me that we often focus on the fact that recovering from violence is a hard process, a lengthy process. We don’t as frequently focus on the fact that it’s also a terrifying process to look at a violent event head-on. The psychological thriller—and the horror and paranormal story elements—allowed me to depict just how terrifying it can be.
Sometimes, too, it’s easy to forget that as we go about our days, we’re only seeing the outside of people. We can’t see inside anyone (which is why a novel is such a unique experience—we’re
looking through someone else’s eyes throughout the duration). Really, though, Claire’s case is an extreme example of the fact that we’re all going through something—and sometimes, the world of the mind can be every bit as real (or more real) than the outside world.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Holly Schindler is the author of the critically acclaimed A BLUE SO DARK (Booklist starred review, ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year silver medal recipient, IPPY Awards gold medal recipient) as well as PLAYING HURT (both YAs).
Her debut MG, THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY also released in ’14, and became a favorite of teachers and librarians, who used the book as a read-aloud. Kirkus Reviews called THE JUNCTION “…a heartwarming and uplifting story…[that] shines…with vibrant themes of community, self-empowerment and artistic vision delivered with a satisfying verve.”
FERAL is Schindler’s third YA and first psychological thriller. Publishers Weekly gave FERAL a starred review, stating, “Opening with back-to-back scenes of exquisitely imagined yet very real horror, Schindler’s third YA novel hearkens to the uncompromising demands of her debut, A BLUE SO DARK…This time, the focus is on women’s voices and the consequences they suffer for speaking…This is a story about reclaiming and healing, a process that is scary, imperfect, and carries no guarantees.”
Schindler encourages readers to get in touch. Booksellers, teen librarians, and teachers can also contact her directly regarding Skype visits. She can be reached at hollyschindlerbooks (at) gmail (dot) com, and can also be found at hollyschindler.com, hollyschindler.blogspot.com, @holly_schindler, Facebook.com/HollySchindlerAuthor, and http://hollyschindler.tumblr.com/