Most writers are preoccupied by a single theme that they revisit and explore in new ways again and again in their fiction. It’s what makes their work distinctive, their style dependable. For local Young Adult novelist Kristen-Paige Madonia, that theme is the threshold of adulthood.
“All of my characters are 17,” she says. “It is a monumental year that is equal parts hardship and beauty.”
Her fiction has been labeled dark and gritty, but, she says, there is a strong element of hope. “My goal is to remind readers of that age you do end up on the other side.”
Her second novel, Invisible Fault Lines, will be celebrated this Saturday at New Dominion Bookshop. Inspiration struck while she was traveling in 2012 to promote her first novel, Fingerprints of You, and heard David Levithan read from his book, Two Boys Kissing. This sentence resonated with her: “How beautiful the ordinary becomes once it disappears.”
The quote now appears as the epigraph to Invisible Fault Lines, which is being called a hybrid novel because it is part realistic, contemporary fiction, mystery and historical fiction.
The protagonist is Callie Pace, a 17-year-old girl who collects foreign language dictionaries, plays drums in a rock band and hangs out in San Francisco coffee shops with her gay best friend, Beckett. Her father excavates construction sites for historical artifacts, a profession based on the one Madonia’s husband held for three years when they lived in San Francisco, before moving to Charlottesville in 2008. After Callie’s father disappears, and she recognizes him in a photograph from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, questions about alternate realities arise.
While on her previous book tour, Madonia witnessed the huge draw that science fiction, fantasy and dystopian themes hold for teens today. Her first novel is grounded in realistic fiction, but for the second novel she wanted to challenge herself to explore other genres.
“I felt pulled to write for teens curious about non-reality,” she says. “There is a lot of interest in worlds outside of our own. I wanted to be challenged by the genre, but to also write that kind of book my way, staying true to realism and authentic human experience.”
Yet Madonia leaves the ending open to interpretation.
“I wanted to give the reader the opportunity to make their own decision. There are a lot of ways to grieve and manage loss,” she says. “Callie chooses an unconventional way. What I hope the reader takes away is that any way you choose to grieve is okay.”
She also wanted to write a book for teens that acknowledges we don’t have all the answers, that adult life is messy and parents aren’t always in control. It becomes as much a story about a lost father as it does about a mother and daughter rebuilding their relationship in the face of overwhelming loss. At one point Callie thinks to herself, “It crossed my mind that if she didn’t know how to make things right, and I didn’t either, there was a good chance the world might never feel normal again. It was that thought that scared me the most.”
Despite the fact that Madonia is no longer a novice, she says, “Having a second book published taught me that it doesn’t get easier. You have to embrace the messiness.” For Fingerprints of You, Madonia was able to write chronologically. But Invisible Fault Lines required her to write it out of order.
She is now at work on her next manuscript. It’s an odd place to be, she says, because writing is the best way to ease her anxiety about the publication of this second book and yet promoting the second book means being engaged with the publishing industry at a time when she needs to disengage in order to write.
“I’m trying not to feel rushed,” she says. This will be the first book she has written since becoming a mother, which has affected her perspective and certainly her availability. She used to have time for writing residencies, taking five weeks or so to write huge portions of drafts at once. Now she is creating a writing routine at home.
Madonia teaches through UVA’s bachelor of interdisciplinary studies program, a dual-enrollment course at JMU, and is a faculty member in the University of Nebraska’s low-residency MFA program, which launched a YA concentration prompted by the interest of the applicants.
She calls her entrance into the YA genre accidental. But now that she is immersed, she is inspired by the impact of the literature on teens, and by the teens themselves, whose stage of life continues to enthrall her.
*The print version of this article listed the wrong date of Kristen-Page Madonia’s appearance. She will be at New Dominion Bookshop on Saturday, May 7.