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The Mass Media

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February 26, 2024
An inside look at Bobby B. Beacon’s insides. Illustrated by Bianca Oppedisano/ Mass Media Staff.
Bobby's Inside Story
February 26, 2024

‘The Illuminae Files’ Author Event at the Brookline Booksmith

On March 15, New York Times best selling authors of “The Illuminae Files” Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman had a Q&A and signing at the Brookline Booksmith in Coolidge Corner. The event was in promotion of the final novel release of the trilogy, “Obsidio.”  

“The Illuminae Files” is an unconventionally written young adult sci-fi series. The novels in the series are not written in the standard prose of fiction storytelling, but told through classified reports, text messages, surveillance footage descriptions, medical files, concrete poetry (although both authors didn’t know that was what it was called until quite recently), and artistic uses of light and dark spaces for action sequences.  

When I had the chance to ask Kristoff how long it had taken for the series to garner attention from publishing houses, considering its risky formatting, he replied: “Actually quite quickly. It was one of those things where it was so weird either absolutely no one would like it, or everyone was going to be interested. We were lucky.” They did have fears during the production, however, that it would never get printed. The costs were much higher because of its unique formating—production costs, design team compensation, more expensive paper for the excessive use of artful ink, hand-folded book covers because of the unique material, etc.

“The Illuminae Files” are considered to be something of a space opera. There are corrupt companies, illegal biological attacks, attempted cover ups, grueling morality decisions, malfunctioning AI computers, violence—and teen romance! They’ve been very highly praised for challenging the ideas of how a novel can be presented, especially in the young adult genre. No one knew how the first novel, ”Illuminae,” was going to be received. Given that the audience at the Brookline Booksmith was made up young teenagers, people in their twenties, and even adults (one with a baby), it is clear that the daring novels are successful. Add in that Brad Pitt and Warner Bros. are developing film adaptations now, and you can see the novels have a wider appeal than their classified genre may imply. The series has sold so well that both authors have been able to transition from part-time authors with full-time jobs to full-time authors.

This may be because, according to Kristoff and Kaufman, there isn’t as much of a difference between adult and young adult literature as many people may think. “Young adult literature is the literature of transformation,” explained Kaufman, “and we are always transforming our whole lives.” With the right young adult novel, even adults can find themes that they can relate to—especially with a series as heavy as this.

Kristoff and Kaufman discussed how morally complex their series was, wrought with violence that has included a description of a little girl dragging a detached heart behind her much like a teddy bear. Among laughter from the audience, Kaufman shared a quick behind the scenes fact that their editor asked them, “Do you have to use the phrase ‘brain fragment’? I know you’re going to say yes.” Perhaps the paradox of young adult literature, as explained by Kristoff, is that the only censorship they could not avoid was the use of curse words. They were allowed to write, in detail, about death, murder and violence—but no swears. (They aptly get around this, however, by included imaginative ink marks to blank out swears.)

Another unique aspect about this series (yes, another) is of course the co-author dynamic. Writing is typically a very singular, even lonesome, process. However, given the narrative nature of this series, a team dynamic worked excellently. Kaufman explained that Kristoff “leans darker,” and “he is good at horrible things happening to nice people” and action sequences. Kaufman brings more of the light and hope to the novels—and who wants to read a novel that is all gloom and doom anyway? By relying on each other’s strengths, they are able to negate their own weaknesses. They shared with the audience that because their partnership works so well, they’re already working on another series together.

And besides, some things are just more fun together—such as becoming New York Times best selling authors.
Be sure to check out ”The Illuminae Files” by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman. It is the best of YA, and currently some of the best of sci-fi, and you won’t be disappointed.