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A teacher's opinions on YA literature and the state of public education in America.

Interview with April Henry

I know my readers are ready to hear from April, so I won’t make you wait any longer. 🙂 Please be sure to get a copy of The Night She Disappeared as well as her newest book (in June) The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die. And if you happen to be in San Antonio for this year’s International Reading Association conference, you should track April down and get your book signed. She really is the coolest! (I mean, check out her answer to #6.)
1.)Where were you when you go the idea to write The Night She Disappeared? Can you walk us through that “Ah hah!” moment for an author?
Thirty years ago, a teenager went out to deliver pizzas in a town about 45 minutes away from where I live.
Just like in The Night She Disappeared, her car was found with the keys in the ignition, her purse on the seat, and the pizza boxes on the ground. And just like in my book, it came out that the caller had asked if a different girl was working that night on delivery. I always wondered what it felt like that to be that other girl, knowing that the person had called for you. Would you feel marked? Guilty?

When I was in high school, I worked for two years at Pietro’s Pizza as a cashier. So I was able to take some of my own memories – playing Frisbee in the back parking lot with the pizza skins, the joy of working a very busy rush – and put those into the book.
2.) When you first set out to write this book, did you know which characters would emerge? How do you plot a novel with so many voices?
I knew I wanted the two girl’s voices – the girl who is really taken and the girl who was supposed to be. And I wanted to bring in a guy’s voice. Those are the three main point-of-view characters, but there are others, like the people who find the missing girl’s car, or the diver who looks for her body in the river. Whenever I write a scene, I like to tell it from the point of view of the person who knows the least (or is finding out the most) or the person who has the most to lose.

3.) In a lot of thrillers, there seems to be some redeeming quality—however buried in the antagonist; yet, in this story I didn’t find it. Was it a conscious choice to create “John Robertson” as a flat, though believable and terrifying, villain?
“John Robertson” is a sociopath. As such, he was born without the ability to care about other human beings. To him, a human being has about as much value as the wrapper his hamburger comes in. Not all – or even most – sociopaths are killers. Many are people who have left a trail of broken promises and broken people behind them. I have a relative who is a sociopath, although it took a long time for that to become clear. As I was trying to figure out what that person was, I did a lot of reading about sociopathy. As a person who cares about others, it’s hard to believe that some people don’t – and probably can’t.

4.) One of the most heartbreaking, interesting and personally important issues in The Night She Disappeared is this issue of drug usage, its long-term effects, and society’s perspective toward those who have become lost in their addictions. We see this in Drew, whose involvement is learned but slight; Drew’s mother, who use has escalated to complete addiction; and again in the sad character of young-adult Cody Renfrew, who wanted to stop but couldn’t and who, because of it, made a perfect suspect for the community. What message did you want to send to your readers about drugs?
I graduated from high school in 1977. I don’t know if it was the era, or growing up in a town that did not have a lot of money, but when I go to high school reunions, I would estimate that at least a third of the guys have been through some kind of rehab, some multiple times, and probably half should have gone. So many people who had had so much potential, kids who were popular and funny and smart, and their lives got derailed or lost altogether.

5.) How much research did it take for you to create the epistolary documents that appear between chapters? Did you plan for them initially or did they come about later?
I always wanted to make the book like a collage. I kept a running list of ideas, some of which I didn’t use, like diary entries. I love the way the graphic designer, April Ward, brought them to life in the book.

6.) This book is heavy in a content-sense—kidnapping, drugs, suicide—yet it’s such a real, accessible, and respectful read. Have you encountered much opposition to this novel? Any instances of it having been banned?
Not yet, knock on wood. I do make a conscious choice to keep the language basically clean, and the sexual situations don’t progress all the way. (Actually, part of the reason I make that choice is because of you. I’m writing books that are mostly meant to be entertainment, and I would hate to have a teacher or librarian have their job at risk because of something I wrote.)
7.) How long did it take you, from inception to completion, to write this novel? What was your biggest challenge during that time?
Nine months, I think, like a pregnancy. I worried that no one would like it as much as Girl, Stolen. And I’m sure I was juggling another deadline on an adult book at the same time, because I always am.

8.) For every YA author I know, the real perks to writing don’t come from the awards and accolades—though those are nice, too—but from the responses they get from their readers. What has been your most rewarding reader response so far? (This is my favorite question to ask!)
I get a lot of notes from kids who don’t like to read. They are often like this one: “I have read girl stolen and the night she disappeared and I have to say they were so good! I couldent put the book down! I read both these books in three days which is a pretty big achievement for me because it usually takes me a month but ur books are just to thrilling and intresting to put down!!

9.) Last question: When/What is your next book coming out?
June 11. The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die.

Quick round:
Favorite animal:
Cat (spouse is sadly now allergic)
Favorite hobby (other than writing): Kung fu
Favorite quote: Robert Bloch: “Despite my ghoulish reputation, I really have the heart of a small boy. I keep it in a jar on my desk.”
Favorite painting: Vermeer’s Woman in Blue Reading a Letter
Favorite band: The Heavy


  1. April IS the coolest. This is only the slightest of scratches on the surface of her coolitude. 🙂

  2. I love this comment!! I mean, how many authors out there do Kung Fu?

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