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31 Days of Authors: Nightshade by Andrea Cremer (a 2011 Teens’ Top Ten winner)

Teen Read Week was October 16th through the 22nd, but here at The Hub, we’re celebrating all month long with 31 Days of Authors. On each day in October, we’ll bring you exclusive author interviews and profiles plus reflections on what YALSA-recognized books have meant to us. Today we feature Andrea Cremer, whose book Nightshade is #10 on this year’s Teens’ Top Ten list.

Confession. I love books about werewolves, vampires, witches and the like.

Another confession. These days, I often find the originality of such books lacking, and titles and authors blur together into one big, indistinguishable blob in my mind.

So why do I keep reading books about werewolves and their mystical peers? Because every now and again, an author really gets it right…and Andrea Cremer is one of those authors. But don’t take my word for it. Ask the 9,000 or so teens from across the country that voted Nightshade as one of their ten most cherished books of 2011. And have no fear, Nightshade is book one in a happy trilogy. The story continues in Wolfsbane (released in July 2011) and finishes with Bloodrose (due out in February 2012).

Cremer takes common werewolf lore and twists and turns it into something totally new, utterly compelling, and just pretty darn cool. Nightshade is the story of a non-human society that exists alongside humans. Keepers, elder beings with magical/mystical powers, firmly have a place at the top ranks. Related to the Keepers are the searchers, who share the keeper powers but not their beliefs–they are presumably the enemy to all. Beneath both keepers and searchers are the guardians–and it’s the guardians that hold center stage in Nightshade. Guardians are humans who flip easily between wolf and human form and act as soldiers or enforcers on the keepers’ behalf. They obey the keepers without question, even to the extent that a keeper determines which “alphas” will lead a “pack,” who will mate with whom, where they will live, etc. Essentially, guardians accept that their lives are not their own and they do so because they believe they are part of a just cause that protects all of humanity.

The heroine of our story is Calla, a guardian female alpha. When she turns 18, she can look forward to a pre-arranged “union” (marriage) with an alpha male, Ren, from another pack. Not such a bad thing considering they’ve grown up alongside each other, he’s gorgeous and popular, and he seems to be really loyal to Calla and their common goals. And her upbringing has programmed her to accept her pre-destined place in this world: she will mate with Ren, and together they will combine their packs and obey the keepers for the rest of their lives, protecting sacred keeper sites and all of humanity.  But then Calla establishes a connection with a regular boy her age, and she finds herself questioning everything she has been conditioned to accept and believe. She has to wrestle with protecting the pack mates/friends that she cares for dearly (and feels responsible for), as well as her evolving belief that she and every guardian have the right to make choices that determine the course of their lives and brings them happiness on their own terms.

The reason Nightshade is a standout book for me is, in part, the wolf lore and world that Cremer creates–it’s very imaginative and unique. But equally commendable is the heroine she gives us with Calla. Calla is tough and strong and often in a position where she needs to physically protect others. But she is also sensitive and selfish and “hormonal,” something that all human teens can certainly relate to. Calla has the strength to command and protect, but also the weakness and uncertainty that so many of us wrestle with at any age. And of course Calla’s two love interests, Ren and Shay, are very alluring and bring heaps of sexy tension and drama to the mix. (I can safely say after trolling through handfuls of fan sites and postings that Ren is a heavy fan favorite.)

Now for the author herself…

Andrea Cremer’s website is a great way to get familiar with the author; she also has a personal blog, A Blurred History. To give you a quick overview (based on information culled from her web site), Cremer grew up in northern Wisconsin, wandering lakeshores and forests; she currently hails from Minnesota. Though she appears to be an incredibly quirky and fun person, she clearly also takes her writing seriously. She is open about the fact that writing is hard work, and getting work published can be a long and laborious process. Her site even offers fans and writers advice and tips and resources to help guide their own writing journeys. She also talks about how fascinated she is by “coming of age” stories (citing books like The Chronicles of Prydain, Anne of Green Gables, and The Dark is Rising as works that shaped her thinking). In describing how she approaches her writing, Andrea noted, “I want to tell stories that bring children and adults alike into worlds that are fantastic and familiar at once.” Fun fact: Like Calla, Andrea cites her favorite book as Watership Down (which somehow I have still never read…note that I’m hanging my head in shame here).

One of my favorite parts of her site, though, is where she shares the music playlist she created as she worked on Nightshade (see the Sound Scripts section of her site). I’m always imagining a backdrop of music for key scenes in the books I love, so getting a playlist straight from the author herself was a treat.

So, to wrap things up, I’m including Cremer’s playlist for Nightshade below. I pulled the tunes together on playlist.com, and there were only 2 of  the 19 songs I was unable to incorporate (#1 “Grin and Bear” by Lali Puna, and #4 “Eden” by Flowers and Machines). Definitely read Nightshade and the rest of the trilogy (Wolfsbane and Bloodrose) if you’ve had a craving for some really well-done werewolf lore. And enjoy the music below! Hopefully Andrea will be coming to a town near you soon for a book signing :)

–Nicole Dolat, currently reading The Colour of Magic (book #1 of Discworld) by Terry Pratchett…thanks to Mia Cabana’s post earlier this month


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