“I believe I’m a good person. But what if I’m not?”
Marissa Meyer is a #1 New York Times bestselling author and one of my favourite international YA writers. She is based in Washington.
I reviewed her novels Heartless and The Renegades trilogy in the Weekend Australian:
Heartless is an excellent imagining of the transformation of the Queen of Hearts from young woman to a raging, “Off with his head”, virago and is set entirely in this fantasy world, with a few subversions. (Heartless in the Weekend Australian, 2017)
Threads that spiral throughout the trilogy, such as weak versus strong, good versus evil, how power can turn heroes into villains and how heroes may not need superpowers build to a breath-taking crescendo. (The Renegades trilogy in the Weekend Australian, 2019)
Instant Karma is Marissa Meyer’s new, highly appealing YA novel. It is very different from her previous books but equally excellent.
Sparks of intolerance and confusion, as well as maybe something else, fly between incompatible biology lab partners Prudence and Quint.
Romance, friendship, humour, music, marine life and mystery are consummately structured to create a highly satisfying read. You will leave this book with, not only a contented sigh, but an understanding of how to better appreciate and care for our world.
Thank you for speaking to PaperbarkWords, Marissa.
You are most well-known for your YA speculative fiction. Could you give some examples of your genre fiction?
To date I’ve written two YA book series: The Lunar Chronicles, which are a futuristic take on classic fairy tales, and The Renegades Trilogy, which asks what would happen if a supervillain and superhero fell in love. I’m also the author of Heartless, a prequel to Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Instant Karma is my first contemporary novel.
What makes your books distinctive from others in these genres?
Oh boy—this seems like a question for the readers! But I guess one of my writing “trademarks” is that I love to play with themes of good and evil. Whether that’s the grey areas between what makes a hero versus what makes a villain, or a teenage girl coming to terms with her own flaws, I love taking a look at how one’s perception can change what we think of as good or bad.
I’m also known for my romances… they may not always be the centerpiece of the story, but they are always there!
How would you describe your new novel Instant Karma?
Instant Karma is a light-hearted read about a teen girl, Prudence, who magically develops the ability to exact instant karma on those around her. However, her power always backfires when she tries to use it against her lab partner and mortal enemy, Quint Erickson. Over the course of a summer, Pru and Quint both find themselves volunteering at a sea animal rescue center, where sparks fly, adorable sea lions are saved, and Prudence is forced to confront some tough realities about herself and those around her.
What is the significance of your title, Instant Karma?
The story was heavily inspired by the song “Instant Karma! (We All Shine On)” by John Lennon—which is, in fact, the song that Prudence sings at karaoke one night right before being “gifted” this power from the universe. So that song, along with John Lennon and The Beatles, inspired some recurring themes throughout the book.
Why do we like your narrator Prudence even though she is so bossy and uptight?
Haha, she is so bossy and uptight! But much as I hate to admit, Prudence has a lot of me in her, especially Teen Me, and watching her grow and change over the course of the story really mirrored a lot of realizations that I recall having years ago. As humans, we are all constantly learning and reacting to the world around us, and hopefully we become wiser and kinder over time. Prudence, despite all her faults, is ultimately able to change for the better, and I loved being able to write a protagonist with such an encouraging character arc.
What is the source of tension between Prudence and Quint Erickson?
Pru and Quint are two very different people, with different ideas of what is “good.” Prudence values diligence, academic success, and following through on your responsibilities. She has high expectations of people, and has little tolerance for people who don’t meet her standards. Whereas Quint is more of a free-spirit, who values empathy and kindness, but doesn’t always take things seriously. They really struggle to find some common ground between them.
How does Pru represent many people’s lack of understanding of human impact on natural wildlife?
I think that everyone has things that they care deeply about and are willing to dedicate their time and energy on. For some people that’s their family, or their business, or fighting for social justice, or feeding hungry children, the list goes on and on. And of course, for a lot of people, there are big concerns over the state of our planet and wildlife, and unfortunately, humans are responsible for a lot of damage to our environment and a lot of extinct species. Prudence, like many people in real life, has things that she’s focused on and that she cares about, and local marine life isn’t a part of that, at least in the beginning of the story—and that doesn’t make her a bad or irresponsible person. But as she is made more aware of the realities of human impact on the ocean and her local beaches, it does begin to change her views and actions, just like many people today when they first learn about the facts of pollution and plastics, among other things.
My intention was never for the book to read as an environmentalist manifesto, but I do believe there are some relatively simple measures we can all be taking to make a huge difference in the way we treat this planet, so I hope that some readers might be inspired in that way.
Pru begins to understand the importance of people’s effect on the environment once she visits Fortuna Beach Sea Animal Rescue Centre. What is a pivotal moment that changes her?
There are a number of scenes that work together to slowly change how Prudence feels about the local beaches and wildlife, but I think the biggest one is when she and Quint go snorkeling and she sees up close the reality of this beautiful ecosystem, full of fish and sea turtles and kelp forests and seals. Seeing something firsthand has a tendency to leave a much bigger impression than any amount of textbook reading could ever do.
How would you like to see people change their views or behaviour to protect marine wildlife?
I think it’s important to remember that a person doesn’t have to completely overhaul their life in order to make a difference. It can seem really overwhelming to read those “1000 Things You Can Do to Help the Environment” lists—I mean, who has time for all that? But if people could pick one or two small changes to make at a time, turn those into habits, then pick one or two more, it really starts to add up. Things like: always carrying a water bottle so you’re not stuck buying disposable plastic bottles; or keeping tote bags in your vehicle so you can skip the plastic bags at checkout; or eating vegetarian or vegan one day a week (Pinterest is full of great recipes!). There are a thousand other things a person can do, and just think what would happen if we all committed to working toward more sustainable choices!
What role does the movie Jaws play in the narrative?
Jaws happens to be my husband’s favorite movie, and a while back he told me that the author who wrote the original book that inspired the movie had dedicated the last decades of his life to shark conservation after seeing how much the book and film had done to create this widespread cultural fear of sharks, which ultimately led to a lot of devastating shark hunting. I thought that was so interesting, and it’s one more example of how people can learn and change over time, and also how pop culture can have a huge impact on society and the way we think and feel about things. Ultimately, Jaws became another one of those themes that cropped up repeatedly throughout the book—including serving as the inspiration for Quint’s name!
I greatly enjoyed your references to The Beatles. Could you explain how you have incorporated them?
I love The Beatles, and as I mentioned before, John Lennon’s song “Instant Karma” was a big part of the inspiration behind this book. I grew up listening to The Beatles, and a lot of Prudence’s family life ended up growing up out of my love for The Beatles and their music. It was a lot of fun for me to write Prudence’s Beatles-obsessed parents, who own a record store and named all five of their kids after Beatles songs, among other things.
Karaoke features in the story. Do you sing karaoke and, if so, what is your favourite song to perform?
I don’t sing it regularly, but my grandma sang karaoke every Wednesday night for years and years, and I would occasionally go with her. I’m no great singer, but I agree with Prudence, that if you look like you’re having fun, people won’t notice that you can’t carry a tune! (At least… most people won’t notice. Or is that just me?) I’ve definitely sung my share of Beatles tunes over the years, but probably my favorite songs to perform were showtunes, like those from the Chicago soundtrack.
What are you writing now or next?
I have a number of projects in the works that I am super excited about, but I’m still waiting to be able to announce most of them and so can’t give many details! But I can say that for my next YA novel, which will be published in Fall of 2021, I’m returning to my fairy tale roots and doing a fantasy retelling of one of my favorite stories.
What have you read recently that you would like to recommend?
I started a podcast earlier this year called “The Happy Writer” in which I interview kidlit authors, which has led to me reading a lot of new books and writers that I was previously unfamiliar with! There have been so many great guests, but some of the standouts for me have been The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi, The Life (and Medieval Times) of Kit Sweetly by Jamie Pacton, and The Shadow of the Fox by Julie Kagawa.
Thank you so much for this wonderful novel, Marissa, as well as your whole significant, original and engaging body of work. Thanks also for your responses here.
My absolute pleasure – thank you very much!
A quote from Prudence is an inspiring way to leave our conversation. Her words are an insightful reminder to protect and conserve our natural world. They also show some of the positive emotional benefit that comes from thoughtful environmental action:
I lean back on my heels, bewildered to realize how rare and unexpected a sight that was. To witness someone doing a good deed – not for glory, not for a reward – but just because it’s the right thing to do.
And yeah, I know that picking up a bit of garbage is a small thing … But that one act leaves me feeling uplifted and encouraged.
Instant Karma at Pan Macmillan
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