5 Questions With: Jess Rothenberg, Author of ‘The Kingdom’

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[Note From Frolic: Our resident YA expert Aurora Dominguez got the opportunity to interview author Jess Rothenberg and ask her five(ish) questions. Jess’s novel ‘The Kingdom is out today!]

Aurora: What was your inspiration behind The Kingdom?

Jess: The inspiration for The Kingdom initially came from the stories my mom used to tell me about the summer in college she spent working at Disney World. I loved hearing what went on behind the scenes at the most magical place on earth—the wild cast parties, the divas, the drama—and found the idea of all these darker secrets lurking beneath the surface of a perfect-seeming fantasy world to be so fascinating. And initially, that’s what THE KINGDOM was: a more grounded story about love and murder at a theme park.  

But then so much has happened over the last few years, from the election, to the Me Too Movement, to the USA Women’s Gymnastics abuse scandal, to the US pulling out of the Paris climate agreement, to our complete addiction to and reliance upon technology, and the book started to evolve into something more complex—a chance for me to delve into deeper issues I care a lot about. I’m proud of where Ana’s story ended up and hope it’ll both entertain and spark more of the big picture conversations we should all be having. 

What character do you most relate to and why?

In some ways, I suppose I’m a little like Ana, the main protagonist of the story. I’m very much a hopeless romantic, a people pleaser, and an animal lover of epic proportions, and so the idea of a perfect and beautiful fantasy world is admittedly very appealing to me. Then again… perfection is a lie. People are not always who they seem to be. And Ana, even though she’s only part-human, is certainly no exception to that rule.

Why do you feel young adult books are so popular and have such a voice right now?

I started reading YA as a kid and never really stopped, so for me, it’s always felt popular, though I think the difference now is that teens are more socially conscious, engaged, and vocal than ever before, so there’s this thirst and demand for authentic voices, diverse viewpoints, and engaging stories that not only reflect the beauty, pain, and complexity of our modern world, but also help teens figure out—ideally through a healthy mix of honesty and hope—how best to navigate it.

Please describe the content of your latest book and what can readers expect from the read.

THE KINGDOM is a dark, thrilling, somewhat sinister mix of the HBO series Westworld, the podcast Serial, and well, Disney World. (A recent trade review referred to it as “Disney on steroids,” which I loved.) The book blends romance, courtroom thriller, science fiction and fantasy, and follows Ana, a Fantasist, or hybrid human-android created by the Kingdom to make dreams come true. But then a young man who works at the park goes missing, and Ana finds herself accused of his murder, igniting the trial of the century. Did she do it? And if so, why? Basically, think Disney but with robot princesses. What could go wrong?

What’s next for you in the book world?

This summer I’ll be busy promoting THE KINGDOM and touring with some truly incredible and inspiring women writers—Hafsah Faizal, Kristina Forest, and Maurene Goo. (How lucky am I?? Come see us on the FIERCE READS SPRING 19 TOUR!) As for what’s next for me, I’ve got a few things I’m excited about but it’s too early to tell. 

What’s your favorite writing method that you follow for inspiration?

Playlists are a huge help to me as I’m building and getting to know a story’s mood, world, and characters. Oh Spotify, what would I ever do without you?

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