RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Author Ann Brashares became a superstar in the world of young adult, or YA, literature more than a decade ago with "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants," a feel-good series of books about the adventures of four best friends and a really great pair of jeans. It was eventually made into a couple of movies.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS")
ALEXIS BLEDEL: (As Lena) Call me crazy, but it's scientifically impossible that a pair of pants could fit me...
BLAKE LIVELY: (As Bridget) And me...
AMBER TAMBLYN: (As Tibby) And me...
AMERICA FERRERA: (As Carmen) And me.
MARTIN: Brashares' new book, "The Here and Now," ventures into unfamiliar territory for her, a dystopian future of blood plagues and time travel. NPR's Petra Mayer has more.
PETRA MAYER, BYLINE: Dystopian future tales aren't actually all the unfamiliar to YA readers who've been gobbling down things like "The Hunger Games" and "Divergent." But Ann Brashares says it's all new to her.
ANN BRASHARES: You know, I wouldn't say it's really a reaction to the trends because I tend to not be all that tuned in.
MAYER: And she has done something a little different with the genre. "The Here and Now" takes a young girl from a terrible future and transplants her to present-day, upstate New York via a time travel. Seventeen-year-old Prenna James and her whole community have escaped a world that's been all but wiped out by blood plagues, deadly mosquito-borne diseases. Now they're hiding in plain sight, forbidden to mix too closely with the locals and wrangling over whether they ought to try to change their terrible future or just stay safely in the past.
And Prenna's falling in love, forbidden love, with a present-day boy. Such a complex storyline poses a problem for a writer who's never stepped into a time machine before.
BRASHARES: You have to figure out your own rules, I guess, for time travel. You have to decide how you're going to handle the paradoxes, how you're going to handle the changes that people make, whether changes are made, whether time will even allow it. And I spent a lot of time with this book sitting with my head in my hands at my desk trying to keep things straight.
MAYER: But even as she was mapping out crisscrossing, future timelines, Brashares was also drawing inspiration from classic YA, Betty Greene's 1973 novel "Summer of My German Soldier," about a friendship between a young Jewish girl and an escaped German POW.
BRASHARES: The premise of a person with an incredible history, with kind of a haunted memory, with stories to tell, with secrets to keep and even a certain amount of shame put in the life of a fairly ordinary, suburban, American teenager. I kind of liked that feeling.
MAYER: Ann Brashares got her start in YA as part of a relatively new phenomenon. She was an editor at 17th Street Productions, a book packaging company.
MARGARET WILLISON: They work as a team to generate ideas for series that they think will be really appealing to teenagers.
MAYER: That's librarian and children's lit lover Margaret Willison. She says today's book packagers are broadly similar to older groups like the syndicate that produced the Nancy Drew novels, but their reach is much broader.
WILLISON: And the idea that these are going to be media franchises, they're going to be books, they're going to be television shows, they're going to be movies, they're going to be spin-offs, is much more baked in right from the outset.
MAYER: 17th Street eventually became Alloy Entertainment, a packaging behemoth that's responsible for the first few "Sisterhood" books, along with series like "Gossip Girl," "The Vampire Diaries" and "Pretty Little Liars" that tend to get the side-eye from critics. But Margaret Willison says it doesn't matter whether you're reading about magic pants or teenage vampires.
WILLISON: What's important about that kind of reading is that it's habit-forming.
MAYER: When a kid picks up a YA novel and reads for fun, that's the beginning of a lifelong habit of reading. And YA in particular can speak to kids in their own language. Again, Ann Brashares.
BRASHARES: It's about that time in life, you know, through the eyes of people who are in that part of their life.
MAYER: And it's a fascinating time.
BRASHARES: You're probably independent for the first time. You're making decisions. You're making mistakes. You're making falling in love. There's such intensity there. And you're laying the blueprint for your life.
MAYER: The modern, American teenager, it seems, can be a powerful muse. Petra Mayer. NPR News, Washington.
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