When people ask me what inspired Choose Your Weapon, my first novel, I think back to the books of my childhood. But I don’t always think of the books I loved. Sometimes, I think of the books I hated. One book, in particular.
I think of A Separate Peace.
I had to read John Knowles’ A Separate Peace two separate times in high school. I despised that book. I didn’t care about any of the characters. A bunch of entitled, swaggering prep school boys at a picturesque boarding school? Yeah, a middle-class teenage girl who’d rarely left the Rio Grande Valley could totally relate to that.
So while I hated A Separate Peace, I loved Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street. It changed my life. I’d never read about people who so closely resembled my friends and family, or places that looked so similar to the streets I saw every day. When I read Cisneros’ words, I believed–for the first time in my life–that a writer understood me. That I came from a place that deserved to be a story location–even though I still wanted to escape it and see the rest of the world, with its big famous cities and pretty little prep school towns.
When I started planning my book, I thought back to both Mango Street and A Separate Peace, and to my own youthful struggle of wanting to escape one world and explore another. I wanted to write a book about that struggle, with familiar and reality-based elements, only combined with totally unexpected otherworld experiences: magical adventures and dragons.
My must-have checklist for Choose Your Weapon included:
–A minority protagonist with a middle-class background.
–A small-town Texas location.
–Characters who had to struggle for success, even when they received special opportunities.
–The epic drama of saving the world combined with the everyday drama of high school cliques.
–A love story that was important, but not central to the plot.
–Secret worlds everywhere, in the “real” world as well as the magical one.
–A story–and a book cover–that would appeal to boys, girls, and grown-ups.
Even though I detested it in high school, I’m surprised how much A Separate Peace (well, my feelings toward it) influenced me as I wrote Choose Your Weapon. After rolling my eyes over Knowles’ story for so many years, I’m delighted that I finally funneled that frustration into something positive: a book that my teenage self would’ve liked a lot better.
How have the books you hated (or loved) as a teenager inspired your writing? Tell us in the comments section!
When she’s not writing her second YA novel, working for her copywriting/editing company Quail School Media, or hugging her rescued dogs, Sarah Rodriguez Pratt blogs at ThatsAGirlsCar.com. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in English from Harvard University and a Master’s degree in Information Studies from UT-Austin. A native Texan, she grew up in McAllen but has called Austin home for over a decade.