I'm really excited today to be a part of the tour for the newest YA release from Holly Schindler, Feral. I always love getting behind the scenes information from authors, so when I had the opportunity to ask Holly about one aspect of this book in particular, I had to pick her brain a bit about the significance of cats to the overall storyline. I hope Holly's response piques everyone's interest, and those of you who haven't had a chance to pick this one up yet add it to your lists!
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF CATS IN FERAL
It’s actually odd that my book features such a wild, almost ferocious depiction of cats. I grew up with two cats I completely adored: Tuffy and Peter. Tuffy was, as her name suggests, born feral. She was adopted by my parents shortly after they got married—a litter of kittens wasn’t far behind. Mom found good homes for three of the kittens and kept Peter. I was adopted by Peter—he was part of the family before I was, and I think he decided I’d been brought home for him.
I was born in the winter, and Peter spent those first few months staying inside and keeping an eye on me. We were pretty much inseparable as I grew up. Though I have a completely spoiled Pekingese right now, I absolutely love cats—and have incredibly fond memories of the two cats I grew up with.
As I sat down to write FERAL, I didn’t initially intend to include feral cats. Actually, the book started out as an MG mystery. The book got increasingly darker during revision, though, and I knew the book needed to be bumped up to YA—which meant brainstorming a new, older protagonist.
As I brainstormed, I discovered Claire’s backstory: that she survived a brutal gang beating in Chicago. At that point, I knew I wanted the book to become a psychological thriller, rather than a straight mystery, or even straight horror (as I’d thought about doing when I bumped it up to YA).
Like classic psychological thrillers, FERAL features elements of mystery, horror, and paranormal genres, but the emphasis is on the “psychological” rather than thriller / action. The novel features a Hitchcockian pace and focus on character development…Actually, every aspect of FERAL is used to explore Claire’s inner workings—that even includes the wintry Ozarks setting. The water metaphor is employed frequently in psychological thrillers to represent the subconscious, and here is incorporated in the form of a brutal ice storm (that represents Claire’s “frozen” inner state). The attempt to untangle what is real from what is unreal (another frequently-used aspect of the psychological thriller) also begins to highlight the extent to which Claire was hurt in that Chicago alley. Even the explanation of the odd occurrences in the town of Peculiar offers an exploration into and portrait of Claire’s psyche. Ultimately, FERAL is a book about recovering from violence—that’s not just a lengthy or hard process; it’s a terrifying process, too. The classic psychological thriller allowed me to explore that frightening process in detail.
To a large extent, we find out about where Claire is mentally through her reaction to and attempt to deal with the similarities between Chicago and Peculiar. The ice storm, the fact that the schools in both cities require uniforms, even the news of a missing girl all make Claire feel as though Peculiar is no escape at all, as she’d initially hoped it would be. I knew I wanted a gang to stalk Claire throughout Peculiar—and, as a lifelong Missouri resident, I also knew how quickly the feral cat population can explode in rural areas. The feral cat aspect also allowed me to explore another mirror-image: I’m getting close to being a bit spoilery here, but I’ll just say that the gnarled old feral cat I brought in allowed me to depict, in a visual way, how Claire feels about herself, post-beating.
…The only things that the feral cats DON’T mirror are my feelings about cats. Especially the once-feral cat who used to curl up in my lap and purr contentedly…
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The Lovely Bones meets Black Swan in this haunting psychological thriller with twists and turns that will make you question everything you think you know.
It’s too late for you. You’re dead. Those words continue to haunt Claire Cain months after she barely survived a brutal beating in Chicago. So when her father is offered a job in another state, Claire is hopeful that getting out will offer her a way to start anew.
But when she arrives in Peculiar, Missouri, Claire feels an overwhelming sense of danger, and her fears are confirmed when she discovers the body of a popular high school student in the icy woods behind the school, surrounded by the town’s feral cats. While everyone is quick to say it was an accident, Claire knows there’s more to it, and vows to learn the truth about what happened.
But the closer she gets to uncovering the mystery, the closer she also gets to realizing a frightening reality about herself and the damage she truly sustained in that Chicago alley….
Holly Schindler’s gripping story is filled with heart-stopping twists and turns that will keep readers guessing until the very last page.
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Holly Schindler is the author of the critically acclaimed A BLUE SO DARK (Booklist starred review, ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year silver medal recipient, IPPY Awards gold medal recipient) as well as PLAYING HURT (both YAs).
Her debut MG, THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY, also released in ’14, and became a favorite of teachers and librarians, who used the book as a read-aloud. Kirkus Reviews called THE JUNCTION “...a heartwarming and uplifting story...[that] shines...with vibrant themes of community, self-empowerment and artistic vision delivered with a satisfying verve.”
FERAL is Schindler’s third YA and first psychological thriller. Publishers Weekly gave FERAL a starred review, stating, “Opening with back-to-back scenes of exquisitely imagined yet very real horror, Schindler’s third YA novel hearkens to the uncompromising demands of her debut, A BLUE SO DARK…This time, the focus is on women’s voices and the consequences they suffer for speaking…This is a story about reclaiming and healing, a process that is scary, imperfect, and carries no guarantees.”
Schindler encourages readers to get in touch. Booksellers, teen librarians, and teachers can also contact her directly regarding Skype visits.
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