Marisha Pessl: Neverworld Wake

Seira Wilson on June 22, 2018


Neverworld Wake is a twisty psychological thriller from Marisha Pessl that I think will see the inside of a lot of beach bags this summer before getting passed around among friends. Five teenagers in a car accident end up in a bizarre time warp that traps them together, and things unravel even more from there. Neverworld Wake is a book that you want to read in one sitting, and that's what Pessl was after when she wrote it.

This is Pessl's first young adult book; she's already established herself as an top-notch novelist with Night Film and Special Topics in Calamity Physics and actually took time away from her overdue third novel to write Neverworld Wake.  A handful of us met up with her at Serious Biscuit in Seattle for some flaky morning dough and a talk about her new book...

As one of a growing number of authors choosing to branch out into writing for young people, we were curious to learn what the lure of it was for Pessl:

"This was just a very little idea, and the setting took hold of me and I started working on it on the weekends and then I announced to my agent, I think I have an idea...  I'd talked to Binky, my agent, about wanting to write for young adult before, partly because some of my most memorable readers when I've been on the road have been teenagers and I was always so struck by how they live with books and how real they are. 

And now that I've had children, I'm so invested in this up and coming generation and making sure we promote not only literacy and stories that are transformative and allowing children to put away their technology and just get into that old fashioned reading tradition which was so much a part of my childhood. I spent most of my childhood inside a book.  So I knew I wanted to write for teens and when this idea came along it really just was the kind of feeling that I had to write it and went from there."

Writing for young adults made Pessl go deeper with her characters and she thought about her reader in a new way, knowing that teens are giving up video games or time on Instagram to read her book.  She felt pushed to decide what she wanted the reader to take away from her book. And beyond the fun journey, the twists and turns of a thriller, Pessl wants readers to feel what I'd call an emotional resonance:

..."I feel like today it's so easy to be in uncomfortable situations and to just float away, as teenagers, and not to face things. So I wanted to find out what would happen if these five teenagers had to face something.  And in this day and age the only way you really have to face something is if you're trapped in time because you can always switch to another school or de-friend someone on Facebook, so I wanted to know what happens after all the secrets are revealed, after everything is stripped away--what's left?  And I wanted to tell a story that had a sense of humanity and give teens the sense of empathy and that there's always an untold story that we don't know about. So basically it's about withholding judgement because there's always a bigger picture."

When I read Neverworld Wake, it brought to mind something from one of my favorite Agatha Christie novels, so I wasn't surprised when we came around to the subject of influences and early reading obsessions, and Pessl piped up with this:

"Obviously, I'm a huge fan of Agatha Christie and that was probably my biggest influence as a child. I would just spend summers reading her books and I was always completely undone by her final twist at the end and her ability to sketch these characters so easily.  But I also loved the sense of place and how people were stuck somewhere."

Her favorite Agatha Christie?

"And Then There Were None.  It's so wild, and so dark, and sort of nihilistic, some of the themes she brought up...But of course I also love her Poirot and Death on the Nile, and Murder on the Orient Express, although I kind of wish I could un-see the movie. It was so bad..."

We sent Pessl off with a recommendation to read John Boyne's The Heart's Invisible Furies. And what did she recommend to us? Tommy Orange's There, There.  "It's SO good. And I met him and he's wonderful and I think I could do more to champion that [debut] book."  We love it when authors help each other, there seems to be a lot of that kind of support in the YA author community.

*Neverworld Wake is one of our best young adult books of June. And Tommy Orange's There, There--we loved it too, and you'll see it on our Top 20 Best Books of 2018 So Far.

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