“I had nowhere to go, he wants to say. I’m the boy of nothing and nowhere. I’m invisible and forgotten, a thief of dust and cobwebs and house keys.” (The Boy Who Steals Houses)
The Boy Who Steals House by C.G. Drews (Orchard Books/Hachette Australia) has been nominated for the prestigious UK 2020 Carnegie Medal and is currently shortlisted for the Children’s Book Council of Australia Awards in the Book of the Year: Older Readers category.
The Boy Who Steals Houses is told with an utterly original approach and voice. It is distinguished by its compelling storyline, characters and writing style. Although a harrowing tale of homelessness and other issues, it is told with enormous warmth, compassion and understanding.
Congratulations on your CBCA shortlisting for The Boy Who Steals Houses, Cait, and thank you for speaking to PaperbarkWords.
Thanks so much for having me!
Where are you based and what is your background in YA books and blogging?
I’m currently living in Queensland, and I started writing and blogging as a teen. The two worked really well together, as reviewing books strengthened my writing and analytical skills, plus filled in time while I pursued publishing.
I am curious as to why your books are published first overseas. Why is that?
I started querying for literary agent representation when I was 19, and the only agent who fell in love with my work was from the UK. So it seemed natural to start my journey there!
Your protagonist in The Boy Who Steals Houses, fifteen-year-old Sam, is a conflicted character but one we want to love and help. Could you please introduce him, and his great longing?
Sam Lou is definitely a character of fierce love and loyalty, but he also has dark flaws. Since he and his older brother Avery (who is autistic) grew up as unwanted, rejected children, Sam has always been on the defensive. I wanted to write about this boy who loves his brother with such desperate determination that he’d do anything to protect him: including using violence. But when it comes to who Sam really is? He is made of gentleness and love. All he wants is a home for himself and Avery, and he’ll fight for that.
Although Sam is in such a dire situation, how does he care for his older brother Avery and others?
Sam is hypervigilant about the needs of his brother. He’s always making sure Avery isn’t overstimulated or alone or mistreated by those who don’t understand his autism.
Why does Sam constantly resort to violence?
For Sam, violence is all he’s ever known. He grew up with it and, though it scares him, he turned to it as his own protection. I feel there’s always an important but heartbreaking discussions to be had around the fact that if the “troublemaker” and misfit and destructive kid uses violence, they’re usually trying to survive.
How have you structured the story?
It’s told mostly in the present, as we follow Sam along his tumultuous adventure of meeting the De Lainey family. But there are a few flashbacks to Sam and Avery’s past!
Your writing style has a wonderful unique flavour. How would you describe it?
Thank you! I like to lean into sensory details, and I love using raw and honest and emotional descriptions.
You have used the symbol of keys poignantly. Could you explain?
Sam started collecting keys from each house he “stole”. To him, they’re a way to map his story and feel less alone. In reality his backpack full of keys is a contradiction: he is a boy with keys to a hundred houses yet he has no home.
Sam’s new friend Moxie is a joy of a character. She “is all sharp edges and paper cuts”. What are some of her other characteristics and talents?
Moxie was such a delight to write! She takes no shenanigans from anyone and commands the room when she walks in. She’s also passionate about sewing upcycled clothing and she dreams of going into fashion design.
How have you incorporated hope into Sam’s life and your story?
As Sam stays with the De Laineys, he can see they aren’t perfect, but their lives are threaded with love and warmth and unconditional support. I wanted that to be the soul of the book: you deserve to have people in your life who love you and care for you. You deserve to find your family.
What impact has being shortlisted for the CBCA Book of the Year: Older Reader award this year had on you or this book?
It’s an extreme honour, and definitely a surprise! I’m so thankful it made the shortlist.
Could you tell us about some of your other writing?
My debut novel, A Thousand Perfect Notes, was published in 2018 and is about a young pianist who must learn the difference between passion and obsession, and find the strength to fight for himself and what he wants. (your debut looks very interesting, Cait)
What are you writing or working on now?
I’ve just finished another contemporary that I’m incredibly proud of and fingers crossed it will find a home with a publisher!
What have you been reading that you would like to recommend?
I’ve been reading so many incredible books this year, but I’d love to quickly recommend The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern for its whimsical love of books and stories, and also Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender, which is about a Black queer teen trying to figure out what he wants his art to say.
How can your readers contact you?
I’m on Twitter and Instagram under @paperfury, and I blog at paperfury.com!
Thank you for your responses, Cait. I am truly excited about your writing talent as shown by The Boy Who Steals Houses and greatly look forward to your future work.
Thank you so much!