Arts Desk

Is Monica Hesse Writing the Next Hunger Games?

Monica Hesse's debut novel does not involve vampires, she assures us. Phew.

Then again, we're living in the era of The Hunger Games now, not Twilight, and the Washington Post feature writer's upcoming book sounds like a square fit for the dystopian young adult niche. It's "about a teenage girl raised in the Path—a virtual reality experiment designed to replicate perfect childhoods—who learns that members of the program’s first graduating class are mysteriously dying at 19," goes the official language. The news broke last week—where else?—on the Post Style section's Tumblr.

Hot Key Books, a new publishing house dedicated to adolescent and teen literature, will publish Stray in the U.K. In an email, Hesse says she's still looking for a publisher in the U.S.

Stray is the first of at least two books in a series. Better yet, if the goal is Hunger Games-grade domination: a franchise.

Hesse writes about Web culture for Style—as well broader cultural topics and ephemera—but in an email, she pointed to her own (um, apparently quite quiet) childhood as an inspiration:

I was always an indoor kid — pasty, Dorito-stained, would much rather read about doing something than do something. I used to wish that someone would invent a movie version of life — a well-balanced diet of human experiences that you could pop in a VCR and watch, instead of having to go out and do it yourself. When I started writing about Internet culture for the Post, I got even more fascinated by our screen lives vs. our "real" lives, and why we even make that distinction. "Stray" is about that, all of that. It's about a world where the perfect childhood has been rigorously identified, and kids can be plugged in to live through that one child. And about what happens when a girl who is raised on this program, manages to escape.

The writing process involved rereading some sci-fi favorites "to remind myself of what good storytelling looked like," Hesse explains. Her reading list: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood and lots of Madeleine L'Engle and Orson Scott Card. "I hadn't read much modern YA sci-fi when I started this this project, but now my Kindle looks like it belongs to a 13-year-old girl," she writes.

Completely serious question: Will this inspire Hesse's colleague Dan Zak to produce a book of verse?

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