Meet Alex Flynn, the Newest YA Novelist to Celebrate Female Underdogs

A good friend recently said to me, “When people who don’t fit the mold succeed, those who do conform to societal norms are resentful.” This is true, and it’s why we can never get enough strong characters like the Katniss Everdeens or Tris Priors in fiction. Perhaps the next to follow in their footsteps is Sarah Roberston, the main character of new YA novel The Misshapes, out April 29 via bestselling author Jason Pinter’s new publishing house Polis Books.

Being a teenager is hard, but when you live in Doolittle Falls, where superheroes walk (and fly over) the streets and boast many exceptional powers, it’s easy to feel intimidated. Like everyone else in town, 15-year-old Sarah Robertson has a superpower, but her ability to control the weather with her emotions isn’t enough to get into the prestigious Hero Academy. To make matters worse, her mother recently disappeared after becoming the town’s biggest super-villain and daring mess with Fantastic Man, the America’s Sweetheart of superheroes. Sarah is forced to attend public school with the other Misshapes, an oddball assortment of kids with unusual powers that aren’t up to the town’s standards. She’s still determined to prove she deserves admission to the Hero Academy, but would she be better off embracing the Misshapes and being different?

Authors Elisabeth Donnelly and Stuart Sherman, a writing team using Alex Flynn as a pseudonym, answered some questions about strong female characters, the power of the underdog and the significance of superpowers in an exchange with HelloGiggles. Here’s what they had to say about their awesome new YA book The Misshapes.

1) What inspired you to write The Misshapes?

It really started with wondering what it would be like if you could control the weather … with your emotions, and it was funny to think about what that power would be like if you couldn’t control your emotions, which is, well, pretty typical when you’re a teenage girl and you’re feeling everything. Starting from that point, we couldn’t stop writing.

We are really avid readers, and wanted to see more stories about girls who are heroes and face challenges we faced in life. Superhero stories can be kinda alienating (when’s Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow getting her own movie, Marvel? Or Wonder Woman!!!) and there’s a lot of black and white, good vs. bad, when the world is much more complex. We wanted to write a world with a lot of gray.

2) Though it might not always seem this way, “being different” is embraced in pop culture these days. Why do you think movies/books/shows about outcasts, misfits, and “misshapes” so to speak resonate with people so much, and what do you think sets The Misshapes apart from the current crop of stories about not fitting the mold?

Underdog stories are the most interesting stories, and they’re definitely easy stories to fall in love with, which may be why they’re popular and resonant. With The Misshapes, it’s a bit different. It’s about people who are outcasts because of something inherent that they were born with, so it’s wrestling with rejection and discrimination, and learning to find your own path and the importance of friends and community. Teenagers, young adults (and all adults for that matter) have to deal with a lot of rejection – from groups, colleges, jobs, and endless stupid millennial news stories about how the world is hard these days. We certainly did and that’s a big part of the story. Most stories about outcasts, especially those with powers, use the powers as a device for the characters to prove themselves to society. We start with the powers and want to dig deeper.

The Misshapes is also a really funny book.

3) Which writers do you admire most, and did any particular books, movies, or authors inspire you to pen The Misshapes?

This could be long! J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Gilmore Girls, Bunheads, Wes Anderson’s Rushmore, and The Tick, a hilarious comic series (with two TV adaptations) by Ben Edlund that’s basically Don Quixote with superheroes. There’s also a ton of great YA writers out there that are very inspirational in a lot of different ways, from epic plotting to swooning romance. Leigh Bardugo, Rainbow Rowell, Abby McDonald/Abigail Haas, Bennett Madison, and Leila Sales come to mind.

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