Meet the 22-year-old YA author being called the next John Green

Last week, the Indianapolis Star ran a story about Francesca Zappia, the 22-year-old debut author of Made You Up, with this headline: “Could young Indy author be the next John Green?”

The comparisons to Green, whom Zappia hasn’t met (yet...we just have a feeling), are inevitable. Both are from the same hometown (Indianapolis), and both write YA fiction dealing with real and relatable, yet serious, subject matters. On Made You Up‘s release day, Green himself even tweeted about the book. Because he’s awesome like that.

Made You Up tells the story of Alexandra “Alex” Ridgemont, a high school senior struggling with schizophrenia. Despite her difficulties telling the difference between what’s real and what isn’t, Alex is determined to finish high school and get into college. But things get a little dicey when she starts hanging our with a guy named Miles.

Zappia told the IndyStar, she “wanted to stay away from those stereotypes that people with mental illnesses are dangerous. That’s why this book isn’t as dark as a lot of other stories about mental illness. Alex is a teenage girl who goes to high school and has adventures, and paranoid schizophrenia is a thing she has to deal with. It’s never easy for her, and it can be dark and frightening at times, but she’s a person apart from it.”

If you’re wondering how a book about someone dealing with mental illness could be anything but somber and dark, I suggest you check out Zappia’s latest blog post. Here she picks 8 random short sentences from the body of her manuscript as “terrible alternate titles” to Made You Up. Like Green, Zappia has an amazing, natural way of engaging with her audience online (check out her Twitter and her DeviantArt page)—all while dismantling difficult subjects through humor and honesty.

Made You Up, which was just released yesterday, has already been shortlisted by Barnes & Noble, Teen Vogue and Huffington Post as one of the notable YA reads of the year. Pretty amazing for a young author who just graduated last year from the University of Indianapolis with a degree in computer science. Even more amazing, Zappia began writing at the age of 8 and started looking for an agent when she was only 15 years old.

She also wrote the majority of Made You Up when she was still a teenager. In January, she told The Sound of YA Books blog, “I do remember writing the bulk of the story in middle and high school, and my friends would read it in this massive red binder they had to carry around with them all day–it was really funny watching them lug that around with all their schoolwork!”

Francesca, who goes by the nickname “Chessie,” says that all the hype surrounding her debut book can be intimidating, but she’s grateful for so much positive attention: “(The publicity) is both extremely humbling and kind of terrifying. Sure, there’s pressure in it, but I’d rather someone read the book with high expectations than never read the book at all.”

Something tells us she won’t have to worry about finding readers. Hey, John Green’s already on board, so that’s a pretty great start right there.

(Images via here, here)