Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Apocalypse Now: An interview with Leah Bobet, author of ABOVE

Today we're welcoming Leah Bobet to the Lucky 13s blog!  Leah is the author of ABOVE, a beautiful YA urban fantasy published by Arthur A. Levine Books/ Scholastic this month.

About ABOVE: 

Matthew's father had lion's feet and his mother had gills, and both fled the modern-day city to live in underground Safe, a secret community of freaks, ghost-whisperers, and disabled outcasts hidden beyond the subways and sewers. Raised underground, Matthew is responsible for the keeping of both Safe's histories and the traumatized shapeshifter Ariel, the girl he took in, fell in love with – and can't stop from constantly running away.

But Safe is no longer safe: the night after a frightening encounter in the sewers, Safe's founder Atticus is murdered by the one person Safe ever exiled: mad Corner, whose coup is backed by an army of mindless, whispering shadows.

Only Matthew, Ariel, and a handful of unstable, crippled compatriots escape to the city that cast them out; the dangerous place he knows only as Above. Despite Ariel's increasingly erratic behaviour and with the odds against them, Matthew must find a way to rescue Safe from Corner's occupying army. But as his quest leads him through abandoned asylums and the dregs of urban poverty, Matthew discovers that the histories he's devoted his life to aren't true: Corner's invasion -- and Ariel's terrors – are rooted in a history of Safe much darker and bloodier than Matthew ever imagined.

And even if he manages to save both home and Ariel, he may well lose himself.

Hi Leah, and welcome to The Lucky 13s blog!  ABOVE is set in a fabulously weird world (that’s a compliment!).  One of the main characters, Ariel, is a bee shifter.  Was there anything in particular that sparked that idea?

First off – hey, thanks!  :)

The beginnings of Ariel’s shapeshifting came out of a lyric from one of the songs on the ABOVE soundtrack, about a girl disguised as a bee.  And that just encapsulated the prickliness and fragility and sweet-sharp-painful that she could be, so…I think I thought, why not make that real?  Which was obviously the right call, because after that she just blossomed, and Matthew with her.

As for why the wings go long with her, and fall out when she’s a girl again?  I can’t entirely remember why I decided to do that.  I think, perhaps, I just thought it was beautiful.  I sometimes do things just because in my head, they’re beautiful.

In ABOVE, one of the themes you touch on is sickness.  The people who seek refuge in Safe are called Sick and Freak by the “normal people”.  But there are characters, too, who are genuinely ill—mentally disturbed.  Was this dual theme something you consciously put in, or did it just creep out as the story developed?

That was entirely deliberate.  One of the driving motivations behind how Safe worked, and where ABOVE went, was to have a story where the people who are sick, who have disabilities, who have mental health issues were the heroes and protagonists, and not just helpers, side stories, to the people who were more able.  But the kind of sicknesses that are socially stigmatizing enough to make you want to run down underground and actually live in a cave under the sewers are going to be hard enough to live with that yes, there are going to be some genuine and serious problems.  Just because someone uses your condition as an insult…that doesn’t mean you don’t have something making your life hard, and that it won’t give you problems, and give the people around you problems, or that those problems shouldn’t be taken seriously.

Or, shorter: Living with something that makes you not “normal” can be complicated.  And people calling you names is part of that, but making the name-calling go away doesn’t make the illness go away, or the complications.  And writing a real apprehension of that – or as close as I could get – meant showing it as complicated as I could, and as real.

In ABOVE, what was the hardest scene to write, or the most difficult thing to convey?

There is a scene about three quarters of the way through the book, wherein Matthew finally blows his top and does something he later regrets.  That was the hardest thing in the world to write, and I was depressively, flatly miserable for about a week on either side of it.  If there was any fair way to get out of having to do that to him (hell, to me), I would have done it.  But there wasn’t, and so.

What was the most fun?

Some of the scenes where Matthew is walking through the city.  He doesn’t know where he is – everything Above is all the same to him! – but I do, and tracing his path through the west end of Toronto, throwing in landmarks and places and people I know, had a certain secret joy to it.

ABOVE is your debut novel, but you’re a prolific short story writer!  Was novel writing something you always wanted to do as well?  And what different challenges do the two forms present?

Oh, yes – I always did novels too.  They just weren’t any good, and so I either didn’t submit them to agents once I figured that out, or the agents said no a lot (that last one happened with two different manuscripts).  Novels and short stories are radically different forms, though, and so I had to learn over time how to structure a novel: all my novel ideas still start out short story-sized, and I struggle to get them out of that small, tight form; to really open them up and go wide and deep and thorough.  Whereas in a short story, every word, every breath counts, and you can’t put one out of place because you have so very few of them to work with.

Finally, in the spirit of The Lucky 13s, do you have a favourite superstition?

I wish on things: the first star at night, or those puffs of dandelion seed, or pennies on the sidewalk.  It’s so much brighter than all those things that are supposed to bring you bad luck, and even though it’s probably nothing at all, well…it never hurts to ask for something that’s your heart’s desire.


About Leah:

Leah Bobet drinks tea, wears feathers in her hair, and plants gardens in back alleys. She lives in Toronto, Ontario. 

You can connect with Leah via her website and writing journal.

And you can purchase her book online through the following websites:
Barnes & Noble

This interview was conducted by Lucky 13s member Imogen Howson as part of an ongoing series of interviews with The Apocalypsies – YA, MG, and children’s book authors debuting in 2012.


  1. ABOVE sounds like a wonderfully inventive novel. It could not have been easy to do all that in-depth world building. Congratulations, Leah!

  2. ABOVE does sound great, truly original and I can't wait to read it! Congratulations!