Lockdown, Marvel and Competent Nuns: An Interview With YA Author Monica Hesse

Award-winning author and journalist Monica Hesse’s new YA novel They Went Left is a gripping work of historical fiction, set against the backdrop of World War II. After the rest of their family is sent left — to the gas chambers of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp — and they are sent right, Zofia promises her younger brother Abek that they will be together again after the war. After her release from Gross-Rosen concentration camp three years later, her search for her brother turns into a strange and harrowing journey.

They Went Left is the ParnassusNext selection for April. (Learn more about our YA subscription box here!) We had originally planned to host Hesse, whose previous books include The Girl in the Blue Coat and The War Outside, at the store this month to celebrate her book release, but that was postponed, and the new date is Monday, Oct. 5.

Get to know Hesse as she answers our Authors IRL questionnaire.

I’ve been listening to:

Right now? A lot of John Prine and Bill Withers — it’s rough to lose such beautiful songwriters in the same week, and “Angel from Montgomery” and “Grandma’s Hands” are two of my all-time favorites. Also, whenever I’m writing historical fiction, I like to listen to music that was popular in the year of my book, so I’ve got a lot of Andrews Sisters, Bing Crosby, and Doris Day on rotation.

I love to watch:

Police procedurals and detective shows are my favorite zone-out television. If I get trapped in a Law & Order: SVU marathon, you might not see me for days. And Call the Midwife. There’s something so reassuring about losing yourself in a world of competent nuns.

Something I saw online that made me laugh, cry, or think:

How can you not tear up at the videos of socially isolating neighbors singing with each other on their balconies?

Best meal I’ve had in the past month:

Since I’ve been in lockdown at home, I subscribed to an all-vegetarian meal kit delivery service. Normally my cooking is limited to “toast,” but I’ve been making some pretty banging meals lately. Last night was jerk sweet potatoes with coconut rice and mango salsa.

A creator who’s doing something I admire or envy:

I’m a journalist, so I’m especially grateful for my colleagues who are going into hospitals and other high-risk places to tell stories of coronavirus’s impact.

Monica Hesse. Photo by Cassidy DuHon.

A book I recently recommended to someone else:

Circe by Madeline Miller. I was never that into Greek mythology growing up, but this book is so melodic, retelling some of the most famous legends from the perspective of a minor, misunderstood character.

The last event I bought tickets to was:

I’m a Marvel fan, so I’d been excited for Black Widow’s release in May. Now it’s pushed back until November, but I’m holding it out as a beacon of hope: the world will get back to normal, and we’ll all be able to go to the movies.

Most meaningful recent travel destination:

Man, you’re making it hard for me when the furthest place I’ve traveled in a month is MY LIVING ROOM.

Seriously, as I’m typing this, I was supposed to be on a book tour to some of my favorite cities — including Nashville, to visit Parnassus. The tour was canceled, of course, and it turns out the only event I got to go to was the North Texas Teen Book Festival in Dallas. It’s an amazing festival, though, and I’m so grateful that I got at least one chance to meet with readers in person.

I wish I knew more about:

Literally everything? I think most journalists and writers become journalists and writers because they want to know more about the world. There’s nothing I’m not interested in. Except maybe Tiger King? I feel like we all know enough about Tiger King now.

My favorite thing about bookstores:

Not being able to step into bookstores in person has been really hard right now. I live in walking distance to two — Busboys & Poets, and My Dead Aunt’s Books — and I love the sense of discovery, and the anticipation of finding something you didn’t know you were looking for. But now that we’re all stuck at home, I think bookstores are actually even more important. Books are one of the few remaining ways we can all be together in the same place.