From the Editor’s Desk: Kendra Levin, Senior Editor at Viking Children’s Books, on Dove Arising
I have a confession to make: reading isn’t my favorite part of being an editor.
As much as I love discovering a wonderful manuscript, my favorite part of this job isn’t the books—it’s the authors. I relish getting to know such a varied range of talented, creative people. And they never fail to surprise me with their insights, their perspective, and the stories behind their stories.
Karen Bao intrigued me before I even met her. I had just read Dove Arising, her debut young adult novel, and was struck by its preternaturally confident voice.
I had so many questions. Had this chilling vision of the future really been woven by an eighteen-year-old? How did she write a book this sophisticated—and during her senior year of high school, no less? I’d been told she was also a concert violinist and was now at an Ivy League college studying biological sciences. The book takes place on the moon, and I couldn’t help but wonder, Where in the universe did this teenage, hyper-achieving, deft writer come from?
But when I first met Karen, it was clear she had both feet firmly planted on Earth. Though she continued to shock me with her accomplishments (You wrote Dove Arising while waiting to hear back from colleges to take your mind off the anxiety? This summer you read Anna Karenina for fun?), she was clearly, in many ways, a typical college student—hoping to get a good housing assignment, worrying about exams, and hanging out with her friends.
And the better I got to know her, the more I got to peek behind the curtain and see the inspiration for the book. Set on the moon a few centuries from now, Dove Arising is filled with technology and scientific principles pulled directly from Karen’s academic studies. But the connection between real life and fiction goes even deeper than that.
Dove Arising is the story of an introverted girl who gets thrust into the spotlight when her mother is arrested by the moon’s oppressive government. Karen told me she drew inspiration for the government of the Lunar Bases from her mother’s stories about her father, Karen’s grandfather. When her mother was a young girl in China, her father, an academic, was sent to Mao Zedong’s “reeducation” camps for several years. He came home a different man, and it forever changed their family.
Karen’s mother shared this with her when Karen was a teen, and the story made a lasting impression. And, as so many powerful emotions often do, it found its way into her fiction.
This story moved me as much as the book itself. And I thought, what an incredible tribute to Karen’s grandfather, for her to share his story in this fictitious format—to express herself in a way he was never permitted to, and use this novel to honor the very real-life battles that so many people have fought against oppression in our world.
Hearing authors’ stories is a privilege, one that makes me feel so grateful to have this special job of being an editor.
I’m thrilled to see Dove Arising take flight, but right now, Karen and I are focused on what’s next for us both: editing the sequel!
Start Reading an excerpt from Dove Arising!