Kick Me Under the Table All You Want (I Won’t Shut Up)*: The Making of York #3, The Map of Stars by Laura Ruby
Back in November of 1991, my family’s Thanksgiving dinner table was filled with talk of Anita Hill’s Senate testimony. Members of my extended family discussed Hill’s allegations that she’d been harassed by Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, declared them ridiculous and impossible to believe, and insisted that Hill must be in it for the fame and for the money. “She’s just jealous,” claimed one cousin or another. “She probably wanted Thomas for herself.”
It’s possible I got a wee bit angry.
I yelled about sexual harassment, I yelled about the bravery it takes for women to come forward with such accusations, I yelled because, though I was young, I’d already experienced my fair share of harassment and Hill’s experience was all too familiar. But my family reacted in the way many people do when a young person is outraged: they told me I was rude and naïve and obviously hysterical, they told me people would never listen to me if I kept shouting, they told me I should apologize for ruining Thanksgiving, they told me to shut up.
As it turns out, I’m not so good at that.
I can’t count how many times before and since that I’ve been told to tone it down. How many times people have scoffed at my opinions and found my outrage over outrages amusing. And though I’ve developed a much thicker skin, it still confounds me when I’m admonished to “be nice” about things that are decidedly not nice. (And don’t get me started on calls for writers to not be so “political” all the time, as if it isn’t a writer’s job to interrogate the way the world works, to think about power and who wields it.)
Unfortunately for Tess Morningstarr, one of the protagonists of my YORK trilogy, I bequeathed to her my tendency to express outrage at outrages, sometimes to the dismay of the people around her. But the thing that causes her the most trouble is also her superpower. And I can’t help but love her for it, even when she exasperates me with her endless what-if questions and her willingness to fling herself into dangerous situations to get to the truth.
But that, to me, is being a young person who is just discovering the way the world works: constant surprise, even outrage, at the unfairness of it all, and the desperate wish to put things right. The refusal to shut up.
I write this post on the publication day of The Map of Stars the conclusion to the YORK trilogy. For seven years, I’ve been living with Tess, her twin brother Theo, and her friend Jaime as they try to solve the Old York Cipher, a puzzle set in the streets and monuments of an alternate New York City overrun with robots and chimera. When I first started talking about this trilogy with my editor back in 2013, we were focused on creating as thrilling a speculative adventure as we could, a speculative adventure that relied on the rich history of New York City (and included a real-estate developer as one of the primary villains). At the time, I couldn’t have known that a real-estate developer would be elected president, that I would get a cancer diagnosis a few weeks before the first book in the trilogy was published, that I would write the second book while in treatment, and that this third and final book would be released during a global pandemic that would expose a lot of what’s unfair and unjust in our society.
I also had no idea that my trilogy would morph from a “chosen one” saga to the story of many people working together to save one another and the city they love. And that this, contrary to numerous disaster movies and Lord of the Flies, is how people, how kids, really act in the face of struggle and tragedy.
All writers have their favorite central concerns that they examine again and again. The questions I ask in so many of my books are: who controls the narrative of a person? Who controls the story of a country? And yet, while I was planning this series, I had no idea that we would be spending years sifting through a mountain of fake news and trying to figure out who stands to gain the most by spreading it, and thus burying the truth.
I hope that the YORK trilogy is as fun and exciting as I originally planned, full of action and adventure, puzzles and mystery, robots and history, and that The Map of Stars is a satisfying conclusion. But I also hope it is a fitting tribute to all those kids out there who won’t stop in their pursuit of justice, who won’t shut up, no matter how many times someone kicks them under the table.
*As the kids say, Fiona Apple’s “Under the Table” is a whole mood, and I’ve been playing it on a loop.
ABOUT YORK: THE MAP OF STARS
The thrilling conclusion to two-time National Book Award finalist Laura Ruby’s epic adventure through the streets of an alternate New York City. It was only a few days ago that Tess Biedermann, Theo Biedermann, and Jaime Cruz, along with a mysterious figure from the past, managed to survive an assault on the location of the latest clue in the Morningstarr cipher—and, in the process, made a shocking discovery about their own connection to this one-hundred-sixty-year-old enigma. Now the friends are divided. Tess and Theo have no idea what the photo they found in Greenwood Cemetery means, but Jaime is convinced that they do, and that they’ve been keeping their own secrets from him. As the city continues to break around them, suddenly solving the greatest mystery of the modern world seems less important than saving their own friendship. The stakes of completing the cipher, however, have never been higher. Darnell Slant, real estate developer and owner of all the Morningstarr buildings, knows that they hold one last secret: a power that even the Morningstarrs themselves never revealed. The world has rested on a precarious balance of power for generations; now Slant and his shadowy business partners aim to unbalance it. It’s up to Tess, Theo, and Jaime to uncover the Morningstarrs’ final mystery in a desperate attempt to set things right. The world—theirs, and possibly others—depends on it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Laura Ruby is the author of books for adults, teens, and children, including the Printz Award-winning and National Book Award finalist Bone Gap, the first two books in the York series, the Edgar-nominated mystery Lily’s Ghost, the Book Sense Pick Good Girls, the acclaimed novels Play Me and Bad Apple, and Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All (Fall 2019). She is on the faculty of Hamline University’s MFA in writing for children and young adults program and lives in the Chicago area. You can visit her online at www.lauraruby.com.
TONIGHT! May 14, 2020, at 7 pm EST join Laura Ruby and Erin Entrada Kelly (Author of Hello, Universe) as Laura discusses York: The Map of Stars and Erin discusses her new book We Dream of Space. Click here to register for this LIVE and FREE via Zoom, hosted by the great people at Wellesley Books!