Author Q&A: Nick Lake Talks Hostage Three and the State of YA Lit

As an editor and author, whose book In Darkness won the Printz Medal, Nick Lake knows how to draw readers in with grippingly rich, intense stories that you'll be thinking about long after you've read the last line. We spoke to Nick about his latest book, Hostage Three, an engrossing story about a teen and her family who are taken hostage by Somali pirates, in our November issue, which is available now. Today we'd like to share the rest of our interview, since Nick had so many smart and interesting things to say. 


Hostage Three has a bit of a controversial ending, but it almost had to be that way, as everyone was in an impossible situation. Why did you decide to end it the way you did?  

Oh, that's exciting! It's rather pleasing to be thought of as controversial, though it wasn't my intention. Like you say, I think to me it just always seemed like the natural ending, like it had to be that way. I mean, as soon as Amy and Farouz get involved, it's a zero-sum game. There's no imaginable scenario in which there's a happy-ever-after ending for them. So it always happened that way, even in the dream I had when the story came to me. 

Your books are dark and yet steeped in realism for a YA audience. Why do you write this way? 

I don't know! I'm drawn to darkness, I think. I'm interested in how people respond to extreme situations, and I'm interested in the fact that, when an earthquake happens or a hostage-taking or whatever, it happens to real people, in the real world. It's almost unimaginable, and that's what draws me to try to imagine it. 

And I'm especially interested in how people who are still becoming people — i.e. young adults — respond to such situations. I mean, we're all becoming adults, all the time — no one has totally cracked being a content, fulfilled person all the time, but when you're a teenager you're right in the middle of that process. That fascinates me. Right now, in addition to having to navigate the murky way to adulthood, there's a teenager finding out they're adopted. There's a teenager falling in love with their teacher. There's a teenager carrying an AK-47, in the Congo; losing their limbs in a car crash; losing their house in a tornado. Every one of these stories is amazing because every person is amazing.

But also, I think I have this almost evangelical desire to say something about hope and redemption and grace. To create stories where characters are tested, but come to a sort of self-understanding and acceptance along the way. Because I really believe — no, I know — that you can go through bad stuff and come out the other side intact; or even stronger. And in order to have that kind of story structure you have to have the darkness — joy is meaningless unless you've been through the abyss.

Also, though, I just think it reflects life. And I think a YA audience deserves a literature that reflects its experience. Teenagers suffer loss and illness and abuse every single day. Perhaps they're more open to emotion, too, and this is partly why books that deal with serious topics engage them — to an extent I think adults learn to suppress emotions and consider them somehow embarrassing. Which I have always hated, and which may partly explain why I'd rather write for teenagers. But I don't know. On some level it's probably, too, just a personal inclination. Pedro Juan Gutierrez, who wrote the Dirty Havana Trilogy, said something — and I've never been able to find the exact quote since I read it — but he said something like, "love and death are the only proper subjects of literature." I kind of agree with that. And, you know, I've tried writing humour and I'm terrible at it. Give me pirates and death any day.

As the editorial director for HarperCollins Children's, what do you think is most exciting about children's literature today? 

Hmm. Interesting question. I think the most exciting thing, right now, is the way in which intelligent, thoughtful, beautiful, literary (for want of a better word) YA fiction has become commercially successful. John Green is a bestseller! And Elizabeth Wein too. That's just awesome, and such a testament to the discrimination and sensitivity of teenagers. It's a joy to see that trend finally arriving in the UK too, with Looking for Alaska racing up the charts.

What's the one book you wish you could have published?

The one book I wish I had published is Meg Rosoff's How I Live Now. Hell, I wish I had written it. Oh, and The Hunger Games — one of the best thrillers ever written for young adults. I remember reading that book when it had literally just come out — I didn't see it on submission unfortunately — and I got to the bit with Rue and the flowers and I thought, "wow, this is going to be HUGE". It was the heart, the genuine, throat-choking emotion of it — and I agree with John Lasseter's credo that what makes a truly great story is heart. I mean, with Suzanne Collins, here was someone who could execute a page-turning thriller and make you cry. That's pretty much a single-line summation of what I aspire to.


Curious to see how Hostage Three plays out? Copies are available at your favorite bookstore or online retailer today! And check out our Everything Young Adult Page for even more YA buzz!