Angela Januzzi Staff Picks

 

Angela Januzzi is a Senior Publicist at Tarcher and Perigee. Previously she worked in non-profit external affairs and also in publicity for the Penguin imprints Berkley/NAL.

You can follow her on Twitter @amjanuzzi, but she writes/makes music under several names, which she may just tell you if you ask enough.

Angela likes her reading material like her coffee: strong, unsweetened, and with a little existential metaphor.

 

 

 

duneDune by Frank Herbert

There are two types of book nerds: those who have read Dune and those who haven’t. Winner of the Hugo Award and the first Nebula Award for Best Novel, either you are 1.) a sci-fi fangirl/boy who’s adored this book for years or 2.) an elitist like me who wants to love great sci-fi and should chalk this up as one of the best places to start. Dune has it all: the rise of a ‘chosen one,’ immersive sense of place, environmental and political commentary woven through the book, and, a highlight for yours truly, a powerful role for mystical forces of the all-female Bene Gesserit. Dune may also be the hero story to end all hero stories, partially because its ultimate lesson is: do not trust hero worship. And if you’re a literary reader like me who needs beauty in words as much as complex character development, every page has some gem of philosophy or language. (“There is in all things a pattern that is part of our universe. It has symmetry, elegance, and grace–these qualities you find always in that the true artist captures.”) Bonus for normal followers of cult classics/alt lit: David Lynch made the book into a movie–so you know the Dune universe is anything but predictable. Start Reading an Excerpt.

 

perchance-to-dream-by-charles-beaumont 2

Perchance to Dream by Charles Beaumont

Charles Beaumont has been cited as an influence on some of the best known writers of the last 60 years–and yet few people, including myself, have ever read any of his stories. What you DO know of his writing, though, is in black and white and forever preserved as about two dozen Twilight Zone episodes. He may be best-known as the mastermind behind one of the most beloved shows of the series, ‘#12 Looks Just Like You, ‘ in which a space-age dystopia hinges on the population conforming to only one of two approved, physically beautiful body types. Though this Penguin Classics printing of selected stories isn’t out until October 2015, I’m already fantasizing about autumn Twilight Zone marathons to prepare for this surreal, dark, eerie anthology. This collection will be one of the only of its kind in-print, and a much-deserved tribute to a gifted magician of social commentary and emotion we lost too quickly. (Beaumont was only 38 when he passed away.)

mariel-of-redwall-by-brian-jacques-illustrated-by-gary-chalk 2

Mariel of Redwall by Brian Jacques

When I was in Catholic elementary school in Ohio, one of my favorite weeks of the year was BOOK. FAIR. WEEK. Our musty little library had its tables moved to make room for makeshift shelves of BRAND NEW TITLES where little people like me could buy, not just borrow, shining new books shipped-in from the mysterious world of publishing. When I think of book fair days, they are inextricable for me from the author Brian Jacques and his world of Redwall, populated by its brave and cunning talking forest creatures. Mariel of Redwall, one of the only main Mousemaids–a female protagonist, to my delight–quickly became my favorite. I was a kid who didn’t see much adventure and longed for it, but who knew I would be easily frightened by it anyway. The Redwall novels allowed me to fantasize that if little valiant rodents could fight pirates and venture to unknown territories, maybe a small person like me could too. If there’s a kid in your life between 8 and 11 who would rather listen to The Beatles than Ariana Grande, and for the moment still loves animals more than texting, she may be a perfect candidate to become the next Redwall series addict. While childhood lasts.

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The Zombie Combat Manual by Roger Ma

Created in some scrappy but supernatural world between sci-fi, fantasy, paranormal, and self-help satire, I was lucky enough to work with author Roger Ma on this book when I was a bright-eyed new publicist. Ma’s tongue-in-(rotting?)-cheek guide is filled with emergency-demo-grade diagrams on how to physically combat zombies of all shapes and sizes, no matter what your surroundings. (Carrying a baby and not sure how to combat a walking corpse? This book’s got your back.) If you’re dreading how to cope after “The Walking Dead” ends on AMC, The Zombie Combat Manual is here to help you through that non-dead grieving process. It’s also a great gift for the dude in your life who fancies himself Rick Grimes. And it’s essential to sharpen your hand-to-hand combat for the inevitable zombie apocalypse. You know, in the meantime.

 

Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino

Yes, Cosmicomics is not textbook fantasy genre. There are no epic battlefields–just the constant struggle of life to keep shifting form and energy, to continue barreling onward through time and space, and cracking jokes the whole way. No damsels in distress. No objects containing special powers that turn their possessor good or evil (unless you count the beauty of the moon, that is.) Cosmicomics is a collection of vignettes of magical surrealism, loosely structured around the adventures of several lifeforms as they experience myriad existences throughout eras and galaxies and species. A few main characters of these stories include, for instance, a dinosaur, a mollusk, and a love triangle during a time when the moon was close enough to touch the Earth. It makes me wish I understood Italian so I could read every story in Calvino’s original language. (The English translations are so gorgeous, I can’t imagine how much more rich and alive they sound in their mother tongue.) Calvino’s fantasyworlds are composed of the magic of merged science and poetry and humor and mortality. Each tale is also a bit of a philosophical and intellectual challenge, and as such, a little vessel of escapism to sail you away from a tough day or how you thought you knew the world. And that may be what the best kind of fantasy book does for us after all. Yes? Yes.

 

 

Find more books on the Sci-Fi & Fantasy page

See Staff Picks for all our categories!


wendymccurdy

Wendy McCurdy is an Executive Editor at Berkley Books.  As you can see from her picture, in which she is holding several childhood favorites that she rescued from her parents’ house before they down-sized, she has been a romance reader pretty much since she learned how to read.  So the fact that she is able to indulge her taste for romantic fiction in her profession is a dream come true.

 

 

 

forbiddenrose

The Forbidden Rose, by Joanna Bourne

Joanna Bourne’s books have been staff picks at least twice before.  Pretty soon we are going to run out of titles.  Joanna, if you are reading this, please write faster!  But in the meantime, I’m highlighting THE FORBIDDEN ROSE, a beautifully written, completely captivating historical romance that accomplishes what I might have thought impossible: turning Doyle, the unforgettable and gruffly lovable British spy who is Grey’s partner in THE SPYMASTER’S LADY, into a romantic lead.  And what a hero he turns out to be. THE FORBIDDEN ROSE is a tour de force of sheer romance.

 

 

lastrenegade

The Last Renegade, by Jo Goodman

Jo Goodman has been writing excellent western historical romances  filled with intelligence and humor for many years now, and she just keeps getting better.  Even her love scenes are filled with intelligence and humor.  THE LAST RENEGADE is one of her finest, along with IN WANT OF A WIFE, which I also can’t resist mentioning.

 

 

 

 

redbikini

The Red Bikini, by Lauren Christopher 

A lovely debut novel  about a divorced mother who flees to her sister’s California beach house for a two-week getaway and encounters romance in the form of a very hot celebrity athlete who is lying low after some mistakes in the past. This is charming and funny–a delicious read.

 

 

 

 

 

surrender

The Surrender of Miss Fairbourne, by Madeline Hunter

All of Madeline Hunter’s romances are wonderful, but this one is a particular favorite of mine. Watching the headstrong Emma Fairbourne take on the arrogant Earl of Southwaite is a pleasure.  What I really appreciate here are the undercurrents, the way Madeline conveys what’s really going on—usually something pretty hilarious—without ever overtly stating it.  The hot love scenes don’t hurt either.

 

 

 

 

practice

Practice Makes Perfect, by Julie James

Julie James has also been a staff pick in the past for JUST THE SEXIEST MAN ALIVE.  I’m choosing to highlight PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT,  her second novel, and a real gem of romantic comedy.  Our two main characters are lawyers who are battling it out to make partner at a Chicago law firm.  How they try to get the better of each other results in some of the funniest scenes I’ve ever read—and also makes it that much more romantic when their dislike for each other begins to turn into something else.

 

 

 

piecesofsky

Pieces of Sky, by Kaki Warner

What a wonderful piece of romantic western fiction this is.  Kaki deservedly won kudos for this splendid novel that kick-started her career as one of the today’s finest western romance writers.  It is one of my favorite books that I ever acquired, not only because it’s such a great read, but because I still remember how it felt to take the rubber band off that first manuscript—which actually came in through the mail—and start reading, and to know instantly that this was going to be a great read.  (This may actually be my last acquisition that came in via mail rather than email!)

 

 

 

ravishing

Ravishing the Heiress, by Sherry Thomas

After the hundreds—probably thousands—of romances that I have edited, it is rare for me to be as moved by a romance as I was by this one.  I’m not even going to try to articulate what it was about this novel that so got to me.  All I will say is that those with a taste for an exquisitely rendered historical romance should not miss RAVISHING THE HEIRESS or any of Sherry Thomas’s novels.

 

 

 

 

A FINAL NOTE: It was very difficult to limit myself to seven romance picks.  I have at least seven more that I want to add. But I will save those for next time.

 

Find more books on the Romance page!

See Staff Picks for all our categories! 


Meredith Dros

Executive Managing Editor/Publishing Manager: I am responsible for coordinating the editorial, production, copyediting, art, and design processes for seven imprints here at Penguin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

godsofgotham

The Gods of Gotham, by Lyndsay Faye

Set in 1845 as new York City is forming its first police force, this is a detective story that has been compared (with good reason) to The Alienist. The story and the writing are that good.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

yardThe Yard, by Alex Grecian

It is the late 1880s in the newly formed Scotland Yard in London. A group of homicide detectives dubbed “The Murder Squad” must solve a bizarre string of crimes, where the latest target is one of their own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

girlonthetrain

The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins

Stop what you are doing and read this book. Do it now. This is such an exciting, twisty, must-get-to-the next-page-to-see-what-happens novel. It starts with Rachel, who sees something terrible one day on her daily train commute. I’m not going to tell you anything else; you’ll see why.

 

 

 

 

 

brokenharbor

Broken Harbor, by Tana French

Everyone has their own favorite Tana French novel, and this is mine. The setting is a half-finished development in the suburbs of Dublin left abandoned in the global economic crisis where a family is found murdered, and what looks like it should be an open-and-shut case turns out to be way more complicated.

 

 

 

 

 

littlestranger

The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters

Sarah Waters is on fire right now with her wonderful novel, The Paying Guests. I would invite you to take a stab at The Little Stranger. It is one of the creepiest, most mysterious books I have ever read.

 

 

 

 

 

rulesofprey

Rules of Prey by John Sandford

I love John Sandford. In 2015, we will publish his 25th “Prey” novel, so I decided to go back and read the first one in the series where we first meet Minneapolis detective who plays by his own rules, Lucas Davenport. Rules of Prey is so scary because we get our hero’s point of view as well as the killer’s. Sleep with the lights on after reading this one.

 

 

 

 

 

Find more books on the Mystery & Suspense page!

See Staff Picks for all our categories! 


DeSanti photo

Carole DeSanti is Vice President, Editor at Large for Viking and Penguin.  She is the also author of The Unruly Passions of Eugénie R., a novel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

paying

The Paying Guestsby Sarah Waters

Waters takes illicit love between women, passion and criminal intent to a whole new level with this story set in London high and low just after the close of the First World War. Waters leads us step by step from the mundane to the impassioned to the murderous through a  perilous landscape of secrecy and deceit —  a nail-biter to the last page.  This is an incredibly deft, smart novel – and packed with integrity and grit.

 

 

 

 

lotus

The Lotus and the Storm, by Lan Cao

Here is a seriously beautiful book: bursting with life, the smell of the streets of Saigon, cry of street-vendors and the shock and terror of sniper fire on a leafy suburb of tamarind trees.  What we consider known history – the Vietnam War – is revealed in an entirely new light as Mai tells her story,  and Minh, a commanding general for the South, tells his. Lotus turns the dominant version of the war inside out and upside down, conveying a more complicated truth than we have known.  A searing, indelible novel by a brilliant woman – truly a life’s work from the heart, many years in the making.

 

 

atale

 A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki

Booker finalist, winner of the LA Times Book Prize, the Red Tentacle Prize, the Sunburst Award and other recognitions, A Tale has connected with a diverse and impassioned readership from science geeks to Zen priests….but this doesn’t take away from the extraordinarily personal, astounding experience of reading it. This kaleidoscopic and layered novel introduces Nao Yasutani, a 16 year old suicidal teenager in Tokyo;  her 104 year old grandmother Jiko (a Zen nun)  … a tsunami, a barnacled lunchbox washed up on a beach; quantum physics; the Friends of the Pleistocene and the poetry-reading kamikaze pilots of World War II — just for starters. Ozeki’s third novel is intricate, brilliant, and tells us a lot about compassion and meditation, too.

 

cascadeCascade, by Maryanne O’Hara

“What would you give up to become the person you were meant to be?” is one question Cascade asks, among others that have resonated with me since I turned the last page of this gorgeous, thoughtful and surprising page turner.  Cascade touches the heart of the matter for women artists and writers.  O’Hara explores her material by way of the story of Dez Hart, a Paris-trained, Boston painter who marries hastily and disastrously, then finds herself first chained to her husband’s conformity and rigid desires.  When the town they live in is scheduled to submerged under a reservoir – a history based on the story of the Quabbin in Western Massachusetts – Dez chooses to free herself as an artist, a lover, a woman – against terrible odds.

 

madame

Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert, translated by Lydia Davis

Flaubert’s masterpiece of realism (the  novel changed forever the way fiction was written, as Lydia Davis reminds us) is always worth a re-read, and this new translation is the perfect excuse.  Davis provides useful historical context for the novel, as well as details on its creation and publication – Flaubert’s painstaking writing techniques (many drafts, much discarding), the early censorship of the novel; Bovary’s subsequent bestseller-dom and elevation to classic status. The text itself is both faithful to the original and more precise historically, lending further pleasure and nuance to this always-magnificent, harrowing tale of a woman’s passionate desires and her disastrous fall.  (A perfect gift for the bibliophile in your life, especially the Penguin Drop Caps edition!)

trilogy

The All Souls Trilogy, by Deborah Harkness

It begins with A Discovery of Witches, continues with Shadow of Night and its grand finale is The Book of Life.  The Trilogy is now complete and a luscious romp from start to finish, taking up the tale of a spellbound witch and the sexiest 1,500 year old vampire ever to wander into a novel.  Bestselling fun with historical and literary heft, and  along the way we learn a lot about magic, too. (It’s all true, I think.) My favorite of the three volumes is Shadow, a sensuous and sweeping time-travel saga through the England of Shakespeare, Marlowe, and the alchemical laboratory of Mary Sidney.  A little bonus in the boxed set is Diana Bishop’s Commonplace Book, courtesy of the author and our design team at Viking.

 

Find more books on the Literary Fiction page!

See Staff Picks for all our categories! 

 

 


Katherine Pelz photo

Katherine Pelz is an assistant editor at The Berkley Publishing Group, where she acquires romance, mystery and women’s fiction. During the rare moments when she’s not reading for business or pleasure, she’s in Brooklyn binge watching TV shows and hanging out with her cats.

 

 

 

 

 

spymaster

The Spymaster’s Lady, by Joanna Bourne

Joanna Bourne is, hands down, one of the best historical romance writers out there. Her writing, her characters, her settings, her plots…they are all THAT good. If you’re a historical romance reader and you’ve never read one of her Spymaster novels, you’re missing out on a master of the genre. Get your hands on a copy ASAP.

 

 

 

 

unwrapped

Unwrapped, by Maisey Yates

Small town contemporary romances are all the rage these days, and nobody writes one better than Maisey Yates. Her voice is fresh and ridiculously readable. UNWRAPPED is a holiday read that’s both hot and full of heart.

 

 

 

 

 

garden

The Garden of Letters, by Alyson Richman

Not strictly a romance, but a beautiful and moving historical novel that explores the pain and power of first love. It’s an experience that will stay with you long after you’ve read the final page.

 

 

 

 

 

exchange

Exchange of Fire, by P.A. DePaul

If you like some action with your romance, then you need to check out P.A. DePaul’s romantic suspense series. The heroine of Exchange of Fire is a sniper—I love a strong heroine (and a hero that can keep up with her!)

 

 

 

 

 

whenwemet

When We Met, by A. L. Jackson, Molly McAdams, Tiffany King and Christina Lee

I love reading New Adult romance, and WHEN WE MET contains stories from four of my top New Adult authors. You get four times the romance (and four times the hot heroes) with this one!

 

 

 

 

 

Find more books on the Romance page

See Staff Picks for all our categories! 


TheLostWifeWhen writing novels, one never knows where inspiration will strike.   A few years ago, I was well into my research for a book on the ways that Jewish artists managed to create art during the Holocaust, when I overheard a story at the local hair salon about a couple who were separated at the beginning of the war with each of them being told that the other had perished. Sixty years later, they miraculously were reunited at the wedding of their respective grandchildren.  When I overheard that story, I felt like I had been struck by lightning.  My mind was filled with so many questions: why had this couple each believed the other had died? What was their initial love story? What were their second love stories that produced the children who were now the parents of the grandchildren getting married?  And most importantly, how did they each survive World War II?

This story would end up being the bookends for my novel The Lost Wife, into which I invented the lovers’ histories both before and after their separation.

I wanted to draw in my readers by evoking the same questions that I had after initially hearing that story.  I wanted those questions to propel them into the same journey I too would undertake while crafting the body of the novel.

TheGardenofLettersThe inspiration for my new novel The Garden of Letters, also began after hearing a story that ignited my curiosity.  While at a dinner party, a friend shared with me the details about how her father had escaped from Hungry through Italy during WWII with forged papers that their family had spent their entire life savings on.  When my friend’s father arrived in Portofino, German guards were scrutinizing everyone’s papers so carefully that he was sure he was going to be arrested.

Suddenly, out from the crowd, a big barrel-chested Italian man cried: “Cousin, cousin, I’ve been waiting for you all week.  Thank heaven’s you’ve come!”

He was able to whisk my friend’s father away and take him back to his home on the cliffs of Portofino.

When my friend’s father asked this man why he had saved him, for clearly he wasn’t his cousin, the man replied:  “I try to come to the port every month.  I try to save the person who looks the most afraid.”

When I heard that story I immediately thought it would make an amazing beginning to a novel.  I imagined the two people whose lives intersect at this occupied Italian port.    One fleeing and in need of shelter.  The other a person who sees that fear and sets upon helping him.   “The Garden of Letters” opens with my young heroine being saved from the Germans at the Portofino port by a doctor.

As in all my novels, I wanted my main character to possess a creative gift.  With The Lost Wife, I explored how art could be used as a form of Resistance against the Nazis.  In The Garden of Letters, I explore how music could be used.

My main character Elodie, is a young cellist who sends coded messages for the Italian Resistance through her performances And the book explores the many creative ways essential information was transmitted during the war.

When I traveled to Italy to meet with partisans and female messengers who were involved in the Resistance, I was introduced to a person who shared with me another unusual way information was sent during the war.  Giovanni Pellizzato, whose grandfather was both a bookseller and an active member of the Italian Resistance, described how codes were cleverly hidden throughout the pages of a book, and how within the back shelves of his father’s bookstore many of the books had their paper carved out to create a space where pistols were stored inside.  This information was so intriguing to me, it inspired the character of the bookseller, Luca, in The Garden of Letters.

As storytellers, we’re responsible for crafting narratives that bring our readers into a world that transport and hopefully inform.  As writers, however, we must also be open to all the stories that surround us, for everyone has a unique history to share.


Nancy PaulsenphotoWe are publishing Jacqueline Woodson’s gorgeously written memoir on August 28, which is the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. That is a perfect date for Brown Girl Dreaming to come into the world, because so many of the stories Jacqueline tells are stories of hope, dreams, and having a vision.

Woodson came of age in the 1960s and 1970s in both the North and the South. In stories that are poignant, funny, and memorable, she shows us how family, religion, and the civil rights movement shaped her. In South Carolina, she was surrounded by the love of her grandparents and got her early education eavesdropping on the front porch. But she also felt the realities of Jim Crow. In poems like “Ghosts,” she writes:

In downtown Greenville,
they painted over the WHITE ONLY signs,
except on the bathroom doors,
they didn’t use a lot of paint
so you can still see the words, right there
like a ghost standing in front
still keeping you out.

Moving to Brooklyn and starting school opened Jacqueline up to a whole new world, and she shows us how a notebook and a pen held infinite promise to her. We feel her delight when she finally discovers a book in the library with a character that looks like her and realizes she, too, has a story to tell. On her journey she finds her voice and her purpose.

Everyone who has read this finds it brings them back to their childhood and awakens their memories. These evocative poems—about friendship, siblings, beloved grandparents and teachers, favorite foods, funky music, and wanting to join the revolution—give us a vivid glimpse of American history, and our history. They also show us why Woodson is such a brilliant, lyrical writer, as in verse after verse we see her winning curiosity and integrity shine brightly through, and her respect for the art of listening:

Even the silence
has a story to tell you.
Just listen. Listen.

We are incredibly proud to be publishing this and hope it will speak to readers of all ages and touch them with its stories that celebrate courage, creativity, dignity, hope, and mindfulness.

BrownGirlDreaming

Start Reading an Excerpt from Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson.

“Ms. Woodson writes with a sure understanding of the thoughts of young people, offering a poetic, eloquent narrative that is not simply a story . . . but a mature exploration of grown-up issues and self-discovery.”—The New York Times Book Review


JillSantopoloThe concept of love is universal. And the idea of being free to love whomever you choose has been battled for centuries in many different countries on many different platforms. At its heart, that’s what Atia Abawi’s The Secret Sky is about—the freedom to love.

This book was inspired by many real events, but the reason it exists is because of a New York Times article published in July of 2011 called “In Afghanistan, Rage at Young Lovers.”  The article is about two teenagers from different ethnic groups who met in an ice cream factory and whose romance incited a riot of three hundred people that called for the teens’ death by stoning. Michael Green, Philomel’s publisher, came into my office with that article and said, “Have you read this?” (I had.) Then he said, “I think there’s a novel here. Do you know anyone who could write us a forbidden teen romance set in Afghanistan?” I figured the ideal person to write this kind of story was someone who was Afghan and who had spent a considerable amount of time in Afghanistan, but also grew up speaking English. And, of course, was a professional writer. Not necessarily the easiest person to find. I went through my mental rolodex and landed on Nick, a college friend who was then living in Islamabad and Kabul, reporting for ABC News. I thought perhaps he might know someone, so I sent him an email. He, in turn, sent an email to Atia Abawi. She was an Afghan-American journalist living in Kabul, reporting for NBC, and had been wanting to write a novel based on her experiences. Nick had found my ideal author for this project.

He connected me with Atia, and the result was The Secret Sky, inspired, in part, by the Times piece, but mostly inspired by the people and the villages that Atia visited during her five years reporting from Afghanistan. The story, which follows Fatima, a Hazara girl, and Samiullah, a Pashtun boy, as they fight their families, their village’s traditions, and the local Taliban to stay together, is not real, but it could have been. In fact, this past year, in March, The New York Times ran another article about forbidden love in Afghanistan, this one called “2 Star-Crossed Afghans Cling to Love, Even at Risk of Death,” which details a very similar story: two young people from a rural village whose declaration of love put them—and their families—in grave danger. 

What is most powerful about The Secret Sky is that it is so real. It captures, in beautiful, raw prose, what’s happening today, a fourteen-hour plane ride from New York City.  I’ve been editing books for the past decade, and I think Atia Abawi’s The Secret Sky is the one that has most changed me. It made me think—really think—about the privileges I take for granted every day and about how different my life would be if I had been born in a rural Afghan village.

I know this is a book about teenagers, written with a teenage audience in mind, but I think it will appeal to readers of all ages. As of the writing of this piece, The Secret Sky has already received a starred review pre-publication from Publishers Weekly and advanced praise from journalists and AtiaAbawi_TheSecretSkynovelists alike.  The power in Atia’s words has touched so many readers already. I’ll leave you with one of those reactions, from Andrea Mitchell, NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent and anchor of Andrea Mitchell Reports. She said:

The Secret Sky brilliantly captures the magic and the heartbreak of Afghanistan as only someone rooted in its mystery can….This first novel by a top foreign correspondent has the authenticity of raw journalism and the poetry of a gifted writer.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Start Reading The Secret Sky here!



9780399167775H

What better place for inspiration to strike than at your local Midas? So it was for bestselling author Katherine Howe. In the autumn of 2012, as she was waiting for her car’s broken taillight to be fixed, half-listening to the local news on the waiting room’s television, she heard something that caught her attention. The anchor reported that doctors had finally concluded what really happened to the girls of Le Roy, New York.

That previous spring, sixteen high school classmates in upstate New York came down with sudden and strange symptoms, including uncontrollable tics, hair loss, and disordered speech. The story captured the attention of local media, and soon the small town had made national and international news. Experts from across the country came to investigate and to offer their own assessments—the girls were diagnosed with everything from PANDAs to Tourette’s. The HPV vaccine was to blame. Or maybe it was the polluted groundwater.

Meanwhile, as these girls were suffering through a very strange and very public ordeal, Katherine was just miles away, teaching The Crucible to a group of college students in her sophomore historical fiction seminar. As Katherine tells us, she was “eager to discuss the parallels between the ‘afflicted girls’ at Salem and these teenagers that lived so close. To my surprise, my students didn’t see a parallel. After all, the girls in the past were just crazy, whereas the girls in Le Roy had something really wrong with them. The more I watched the story unfold, however, the more struck I was by the disjuncture between what the Le Roy girls thought about their own experience, and what the assorted ‘experts’ brought in to comment on their situation had to say. I reflected at length about the Salem girls, and specifically about Ann Putnam, who was at the very center of the accusations in the Salem panic, who really did issue an apology (which is reproduced verbatim in this story) and who had been effectively written out of the most popular fictional account of that period in American history, The Crucible. In the past, as in the p

resent, the experts had one story to tell about this unique and frightening experience, while the girls, I suspected, had an experience all their own, that no one but them could fully understand.”

Conversion is very much a work of fiction, a novel set in a contemporary all-girls school in Danvers, Massachusetts, as well as in seventeenth-century Salem Village, but the story is grounded in exhaustive research and true-life details. What Katherine has created by weaving together these two narratives is an exciting and unsettling mystery. Working alongside Katherine, I marveled as she wrote, in a seemingly effortless way, a story that is both incredibly fun and a very thoughtful look at the pressures that modern-day high schoolers are under.

In the end, the girls of Le Roy were diagnosed with Conversion disorder, a condition in which the body “converts” psychological stress into physical symptoms. Is that what happened to the girls during the Salem panic?  To our young heroines in modern-day Danvers? Are they truly ill? Crazy? Faking it? Thank goodness for the long wait at Midas—it’s given us a perfect, chilling summer read.