Lauren Oliver captivated readers with her first novel,Before I Fall, a Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year. She followed that up withDelirium, the first book in a best-selling trilogy, which continued withPandemonium. The exciting finale is available March 5. DownloadRequiemtoday.
People often ask me what my preferred genre of book is—not just to read, but to write.
At first glance, it’s hard to say. I’ve always resisted categorization, or at least tried to, and every book I’ve written so far differs substantially from its predecessor. I’m similarly diverse in my reading: I often cycle through several books at once, alternating among literary fiction, potboiler detective novels, nonfiction, pop-science, and children’s books. My debut novel was realistic teen fiction; then I wrote a fantasy/sci-fi series; then a ghost story for children; then a story about spiders that live underground and eat children’s souls (also for children). In other words, a diverse group of books with a diverse set of main characters and themes.
But I’ve realized recently it’s not quite true that I don’t have a preferred genre. I love to write stories where the real and the fantastic—or the purely imagined—are in very close contact, just as I’ve always liked to read stories where a very thin membrane exists between the real and the fantastic. I like books where a plain, sturdy wardrobe gives access to Narnia; I like the works of Gabriel García Márquez, where everything is amplified and slightly distorted; and books about circuses that house real magicians and appear out of nowhere.
Maybe that’s why I like writing books for kids and teenagers. For children, that divide—between the real and the imagined—is naturally more tenuous. And for teens, the desire for another reality, a fantasy world that will lift them out of their present circumstances, is overpowering.
All books are doors (and the best ones are wardrobes with doors in them). But they are also mirrors. We read books for entertainment, of course, but also to be transformed by them and to see our images reflected back in their pages. I don’t think the two things—escape and reflection—are mutually exclusive. If realistic fiction is a perfect mirror, an exact reflection of our lives and behaviors, then fantasy is that mirror brought up to a microscope, amplified, and made obvious. That’s what fairy tales are: short, weird, strange stories full of improbable or impossible things that nonetheless tell us something deeply true about who we are and what kind of world we live in. (See Bluebeard, and the fact that we all harbor secrets, and that even in intimacy we’re often strangers to one another.)
I’m working on my first book for “grown-ups” now, and I’m happy to say that it, too, is a ghost story. Our imaginative lives may be more segregated than the day-to-day in our adult lives (nothing kills a good bout of make-believe like being stuck in traffic on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway), but we don’t stop craving escape. We will always need mirrors—and wardrobes.