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Find more An Interview with Kristen Simmons
SPONSORED CONTENT FROM TOR TEEN
Tor Teen: In The Glass Arrow, as in many popular stories for teens (The Hunger Games, Graceling, etc.), the heroine is predominantly occupied with survival. What is it about the struggle for survival that you think appeals so strongly to readers?
Kristen Simmons: I think this theme is so consistent and resonates so strongly with readers for a couple reasons. First, because it’s a well understood concept. Even people who haven’t had a lot of exposure to mortality understand that basic, driving need to stay alive, and placing oneself in the heroine’s (or hero’s) shoes conjures a very basic, but profound kind of power—I am strong, capable, worthy. When put to the ultimate test, I could survive. Also, I think the life-or-death circumstances the characters face often work as a metaphor in readers’ lives. In dystopian stories, oppression from a government or ruling body often is present, and teens tell me they get this, because they too feel oppressed. They’re trying out new identities, trying to figure out who they are, and all around them are adults setting limits. Survival works in the same way, to varying degrees. Whether a reader is facing a legitimate threat of hunger or homelessness, or figuring out how they’re going to survive bullying at school, or get into college, the heroine’s transference of courage can provide the necessary hope to get a person through.
TT: Your fellow Tor Teen author Cory Doctorow has said that novels about the future have a way of predicting the present. The Glass Arrow takes place ten generations out from gender equality. Do you feel The Glass Arrow predicts our present? If so, how?
KS: I feel novels about the future definitely have a way of magnifying issues in the present. The Glass Arrow follows a fifteen-year-old girl, Aya, as she is hunted in the mountains and sold into captivity so that she can be used for breeding purposes. I wrote it after reading a story in the news about areas in rural China where the female population was getting so low that men would go outside their towns into the rural areas in search of a mate. Our world has a huge problem with human trafficking—the recent publicity over the disappearance of two hundred girls in Nigeria garnered a lot of attention, but human rights groups estimate that between 600,000 and three million girls worldwide are enslaved in the sex trade. Prejudice and sexism are still very real things—just look at the pay discrepancy between men and women in the United States. The world of The Glass Arrow is fictional, but the issues behind it are sadly very real.
TT: You’ve called The Glass Arrow “a little more sci-fi” than your Article 5 series. What drew you towards sci-fi to tell this story?
KS: I didn’t actually intend to write a sci-fi story. All I knew in the beginning was that I had a girl who’d been caught in the wild and forced into a facility meant to prepare her for auction. As someone with a background in social work, social issues are very important to me—women’s issues specifically. It wasn’t until I starting fleshing out the rest of the story that I realized how sci-fi her world actually was. Once I got into it, I really began enjoying the different technologies at her disposal!
TT: Did any events, myths, or other books play a major role in your inspiration for The Glass Arrow?
KS: My mother is Japanese, raised in Hawaii, and growing up she and my grandmother told me many traditional stories from both Japanese and Hawaiian cultures. I loved the Polynesian myths and legends. I’ve always been fascinated by the morals of these stories, the way they exemplified our shared values. In The Glass Arrow, Aya’s faith is a cornerstone of her life and often the force behind her driving hope. The story of the glass arrow, which she relates in the book, came from memories of my grandmother’s stories about the creation of the world, and the islands, and the animals who gave it life. Aya’s stories help shape her values—honor, courage, commitment, and hope—just as the stories I heard growing up shaped mine.
I was also influenced by The Handmaid’s Tale, just as I imagine anyone who reads it is. Like in Offred’s story, there is a focus on the conceptualization of a woman’s identity in a highly discriminatory world. In my story, girls measure their worth in different ways—physical beauty, intelligence, strength. They live in a world where that worth is determined from an outside source, rather than how they feel about themselves. I cannot live up to Atwood’s greatness, but I’ll tell you this: Aya doesn’t let the bastards grind her down. It is my intention, after all, that this story be about hope.
TT: What are you hoping teens take away from this book?
KS: Like with any book, I hope that people who read this book enjoy it, but I also hope that it helps them think about issues in the world and in their own lives. I hope readers can feel Aya’s strength and courage, and Kiran’s kindness and compassion. And above all, I hope that readers recognize that we ultimately create our own definitions—we are not reduced to the size of our pants or the color of our hair or if the person we like thinks we’re cute enough. We all have an inherent greatness and are worthy of love, no matter who we are, what we are, or what we look like.
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