When I picked up Jessica Brody's Unremembered I thought I'd just read a couple pages to get started and then get on to something else. Five chapters later I had to tear myself away and couldn't wait to get back to it. By the time I reached the end it had become one of our picks for the Best YA Books of March.
The story starts off with a bang, a teenage girl discovered among the wreckage of a plane crash, she's the only survivor and has no idea who she is and neither does anyone else. Violet, as she is dubbed for the color of her eyes, struggles to find some memory of her past and when a young man appears with shocking information about who she really is, including her real name, Seraphina, she doesn't know what to believe.
When I read Unremembered it had a very Bourne Identity feel to it, so it was fun to learn about Brody's influences and intentions writing the book. In the conversation below, Brody chatted with her editor, Janine O`Malley about those influences, sci-fi heroines, and a growing trend in YA--biopunk. You can read the rest after the jump.
Janine O'Malley: Sera is a great representation of a sci-fi heroine—she’s beautiful, intelligent, resourceful, and she can kick major butt. How did you create her character?
Jessica Brody: In my mind, Seraphina has always been a cross between Sydney Bristow and Jason Bourne: two of my favorite “kick-butt” characters. I wanted her to be strong, smart, beautiful, but also very vulnerable. Her memory loss often makes her feel helpless and alone.
I always enjoyed seeing the two very different sides of Sydney Bristow’s life in Alias. How she could come home from saving the world and destroying the bad guy and still cry in the bathtub. That duality, to me, is what makes for the most interesting characters.
I’ve also always loved the whole “I don’t remember I’m a superhero” aspect of The Bourne Identity movie and wanted to capture that with Seraphina as well. She doesn’t remember who she is, and so she gets to discover her extraordinary abilities right along with the reader. This was where I got to live vicariously through my character. How many of us have ever fantasized about accidentally stumbling upon some mad skill we didn’t know we had? Every time I try out a new sport, I’m convinced that I’m going to turn out to be some hidden prodigy that the U.S. Olympic team has been waiting to find for centuries. But alas, it has yet to happen.
JO: Sometimes sci-fi characters can be so far from human they’re difficult to relate to. How did you keep that from happening in this book?
JB: This was definitely a challenge for me. Especially when I’m so used to writing the “normal” everyday teen characters that are in my contemporary comedies. I knew that Seraphina was going to be hard to relate to…unless of course you’re an amnesiac supermodel who can run like the wind, calculate like a computer, and speak every language on earth. Then you know exactly how Seraphina is feeling!
I knew I needed a grounding character to secure the book in reality for the reader. That’s why I created Cody, Sera’s socially awkward thirteen-year-old foster brother. Sera is so out of touch with the modern world, it’s sometimes comical. But Cody is the quintessential teen boy who teaches her about everyday things like cell phones, computers, the Internet, sarcasm, and credit cards.
Cody was also like a safety net for me. A little link back to my comfort zone of writing in the contemporary space. Since this is my first dark, mysterious novel, it was nice to have a comic relief like Cody in the picture. Whenever Sera’s story line got too tense or harrowing, Cody could always be counted on to lighten up the mood a bit with a joke.
JO: Unremembered is a great example of what seems to be a growing trend in YA of genetically altered characters. Why do you think this has become a popular topic?