Since I regularly include young adult novels in the literature courses that I teach at UNC Charlotte, I am always on the lookout for new YA novels by Charlotte authors. In recent weeks, I discovered two such novels: List of Ten by Halli Gomez and Phoebe Unfired by Amalie Jahn. These novels pair together perfectly. They are both about sixteen-year-old protagonists who are struggling with mental health issues. Troy Hayes, the central character in List of Ten, suffers from both Tourette Syndrome and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Phoebe Benson, the central character in Phoebe Unfired, wrestles with germophobia and depression. Although these characters have serious problems, their personalities are not defined entirely by their problems. Troy and Phoebe are fully developed and sympathetic characters, and both forge meaningful and complex relationships with other characters. In the end, it’s these relationships that make List of Ten and Phoebe Unfired such powerful stories.
I recently contacted Halli Gomez and Amalie Jahn, and I asked both about their new novels and their experiences as Charlotte writers.
Here is what Halli sent to me:
List of Ten, a young adult novel about a teen with Tourette Syndrome (TS) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), is a story I’ve been trying to tell most of my life. It is one that explains what having these disorders feels like on the inside. This book follows Troy Hayes who is tired of the pain and humiliation that frequently accompanies TS and OCD, and, despite his new friendships, is planning to end his life. Troy’s story isn’t my story, but as someone with these disorders, I do admit there is a lot of me wrapped in those pages. Deciding to write this novel has been a priority since I began writing ten years ago, but I couldn’t find the right plot or character. Until one day as I walked the beautiful tree-lined paths of one of Charlotte’s many greenways, the details came to me.
I was fortunate to have had a friend (a local literary agent and fellow martial artist) recommend joining the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), an association with an incredible Carolinas chapter. At their yearly conferences (always held in Charlotte) I met wonderful local writers and was quickly welcomed into their group. I also met the woman who would become my agent and sell List of Ten. I’m happy to say the story doesn’t end there. While working with Park Road Books for my book launch and pre-order campaign, I was told about an open bookseller position. One of the many things writers and booksellers have in common is reading. Well, it just so happens I’ve been in love with books my entire life. I got the job and as a writer and Park Road Books bookseller and events coordinator, I am deeply involved with the Charlotte literary community. A place that feels right at home.
Here is what Amalie Jahn sent to me:
The major underlying theme in each of my YA books is that no one is ever alone. Adolescents spend an unfathomable amount of time worrying that they aren’t going to fit in or that no one has ever experienced what they’re going through. I like to show teenagers, through my stories, that their experiences and feelings are largely universal and regardless of what they’re feeling, they’re not alone. To that end, I developed severe germaphobia after my first child was born. The trauma of a difficult pregnancy and her premature birth triggered severe anxiety, and it took years of suffering and therapy to learn how to navigate the world from inside my diagnosis. Like my pregnancy, I recognized the recent stress of living through a global pandemic was going to be extremely triggering for a lot of people, especially kids, and I wanted them to know they’re not alone, it’s okay if it takes time to figure things out, and they shouldn’t feel embarrassed or ashamed to ask for help. I wrote Phoebe Unfired to show readers that when it comes to mental health, sometimes the only way around is through, and even though “normalcy” might seem impossible, there is always, always hope.
Writing is often a solitary endeavor that can be quite isolating. After several years of toiling away on my own here in Charlotte, I began searching for other local YA authors to commiserate with over publishing’s many ups and downs. I conducted a quick Twitter search, discovered several names, and after working up the courage to ‘slip into their DMs,’ a group of us ultimately started the Charlotte Area YA Writer’s Group. At the moment, we have thirty-three members, and although I would like to say we get together frequently to write, we mostly just hang out and enjoy each other’s company. Truly, though, one of the best parts about having author friends who write in your genre living in your city is knowing someone will always show up to your latest event!
Halli and Amalie each has her own website. For readers who want to know more about Halli, please click on the following link: https://halligomez.com/ For readers who want to know more about Amalie, please click on the following link: https://www.amaliejahn.com/
Halli’s List of Ten and Amalie’s Phoebe Unfired are welcomed additions to my ever-expanding list of YA novels by authors who call Storied Charlotte home.