“Ellie Engle Runs Away” door Leah Johnson


For her upcoming book for young readers, Leah Johnson, author of the Stonewall Honor Book You should see me in a crownshifts its attention from YA to the intermediate level for the first time in Ellie Engle runs awaywhich will be released from Disney Hyperion in the spring of 2023. The cover, by artist Mirelle Ortega, is unveiled here.

The first entry in a planned series introduces the titular character, Ellie Engle, a black girl who comes to terms with her crush on her best friend when she suddenly finds herself in possession of the power to raise the dead. Of her transition into mid-level fiction, Johnson said, “There’s so much room to play. We can hang more belief, not only because it’s a book that leans into the supernatural, but also because young readers are inclined to really invest in their imaginations, which I think becomes harder to as we age.

Ellie Engel began with Johnson pondering what kind of story she could write if she were to collaborate with friend and fellow YA author Justin A. Reynolds. “I realized I should expand what I’m capable of since he does more speculative fiction,” she said. Johnson, who had previously published exclusively contemporary YA, wondered what kind of speculative fiction would appeal to him. “Immediately I thought, ‘What if you had an ordinary black girl with extraordinary powers who wanted nothing to do with them? She wants to protect her mom, she wants to make her an ‘easy-to-raise kid’ because her mom already has so many other things on her plate. What happens when this child who wants nothing more than to be an “easy kid” has to face being “difficult” in a supernatural way? »

Compared to the typically onerous process of plotting YA novels, Johnson found that conceiving Ellie Engle runs away relatively simple. “A lot of people talk about divine intervention when they write, like, ‘Oh, it was like magic. The idea came to me and I had to pick it up. I had never felt like this while writing before. Never. Writing feels like work. It’s fun work for me, but it’s still work. But Ellie was the first time in my life where a story emerged fully formed. Feeling confident in her story, she ultimately decided to write the book as a solo project.

Within 24 hours, Johnson completed a 10,000-word proposal to present to his agent. Within two weeks, she had completed a first draft. “I knew straight away there was something special about the story.” However, she hadn’t anticipated her first foray into mid-level fiction, which would result in an 11-home auction or a seven-figure deal. “I just knew it was the kind of story that I felt a particular kind of urgency to write and I knew it would have an audience that needed it as much as I did once it caught on. in the world.” Disney Hyperion’s Stephanie Lurie was the winning bidder; Patrice Caldwell of New Leaf Literary sold the North American rights as part of the two-book deal.

Johnson had final approval on Ellie Engeland opted for a vibrant color palette instead of softer pastels. “I want rich tones, I want to make sure that Ellie is very clearly a black girl with brown skin.” The cover was created by “that incredible artist” Mirelle Ortega, who has previously illustrated From Zoe Washington’s office by Janae Marks and Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls by Kaela Rivera. “I’ve seen so many covers of her that I absolutely loved. One thing I really loved was how she portrayed black girls, or girls of color, in an authentic way. Johnson explained, “I wanted textured hair. I wanted baby hair. I wanted red undertones. I wanted her to look like me. I love the cover of my YAs, but it’s been such a struggle. to have black girls on the cover who aren’t light-skinned.

However Ellie Engel was signed by Disney Hyperion, the series is not published by the Rick Riordan Presents imprint, leaving Johnson and his team the challenge of making ElijahThe cover stands out. “I wanted the cover to be grounded in our world and our universe,” she said. “Because I’m at Disney but not under RRP, I had the chance to interact closely with the team, and we all wanted to make sure that coverage of Elijah easily distinguished from RRP covers. It was important to Johnson that the cover convey a sense of wonder and magic without promising to transport readers to a secondary world. “I wanted a black girl on the cover who looked like any of us. There is no superhero logo on his chest. There is no cape wrapped around his neck. The magic is her; it’s in his body. She is the embodiment of magic.

While Johnson has so far written her YA titles for the queer girl she was 15 or 16, her mid-level series opener has another target audience. Ellie Engle runs away is a direct response, according to Johnson, to “an era where all children’s books that refer to homosexuality or gender expansion or sexuality in a way that is not purely puritanical, are banned or disputed”. The careers of his author friends are in jeopardy because of their commitment to telling these stories. “I want this book to be in every corner of every library,” she said, “in every little community in this country where there are voices telling young people that they don’t belong or that there is something wrong or shameful about who they are. .”

Johnson credits writer Ocean Vuong with inspiring his vision of Ellie’s necromancy. “A while ago I read this interview with Ocean Vuong, who is one of my favorite writers of all time, and he said that often homosexuality is characterized as a type of death, as if it was the end of anything, but the way he characterized his homosexuality or coming out, homosexuality wasn’t an end, it was a beginning. Johnson went on to explain that the budding superpower of Ellie is not just an accessory to her homosexuality, but also an allegory of it. “It was really natural for me to think of homosexuality as a type of vital power,” she said. said “As Ellie is reborn into this new identity, I wanted to empower her to invigorate things around her.”

This article has been updated.

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