Hi Jillian, and welcome to MG Book Village. We’re very happy to share the cover of your upcoming novel, THE NIGHT RIDE, set for release by Atheneum/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers in Fall 2021. Can you tell us a bit about it, please?
Thanks so much for having me on MG Book Village! The Night Ride is a middle-grade action-adventure set near a fictional medieval-ish walled city. It’s about a girl named Sonnia who loves horses and dreams of working with them – maybe even owning one – despite the fact that her family struggles to pay the bills. She’s elated when she manages to get a job at the king’s racetrack, but it isn’t long before she realizes something not-quite-right is going on there. Sonnia must decide which is more important – her own future security, or the safety of horses who, much like a poor kid from the wrong side of town, someone powerful considers expendable.
What was it about the idea for this story that compelled you to write it?
In a lot of ways, this is a story for ten-year-old me. Like Sonnia, I loved horses, but unlike her, I rarely got a chance to go riding. So this is a bit of wish fulfillment for those horse-crazy kids in tract-house suburbia who wish they could be closer to horses than they are.
But it’s also a story about power and access – specifically, how people with means are sheltered from many of the risks that people in poverty are compelled to take. Youngfolk recognize inequity and inequality, but connecting it with a discussion of power (and the abuse of power) gives them tools to confront and resist it.
I love that all of your books have female protagonists. Can you tell us more about the main character of this one?
Sonnia loves horses more than anything, but growing up in a hardscrabble neighborhood means getting used to the idea that what you love may not be in your future. Nearly all of the choices she makes are influenced by the power imbalance and compulsion inherent in poverty. Her parents both work in what we’d call the gig economy, and she knows it won’t be long before she’ll have to do the same, even though it’s the last thing she wants to do. This makes her value opportunities when they present themselves – and it means she has a lot to lose if she speaks out.
What’s one thing you learned while writing this story?
Even though I was a giant horse nerd as a kid, I grew up on a busy street with a yard the size of a postage stamp, so 99% of what I knew about horses came from books. For The Night Ride, I researched horse behavior in a more hands-on way. I was delighted to learn how deeply expressive and personable horses are, which allowed me to give Sonnia’s horse Ricochet personality traits that made him fully a character, just like the humans.
Can you tell us what kind of reader would enjoy The Night Ride?
The obvious answer is, of course, anyone who loves horses, especially that kid who has read Misty of Chincoteague to tatters and regularly rearranges their shelf full of Breyer models. But I would also hand this book to someone who enjoys stories with close families, big dreams, long odds to overcome, and the occasional bandit sighting.
Were you involved in the process of designing the cover for this book?
I’m very fortunate that my editor and the crew at Atheneum were able to hire Abigail dela Cruz to create the cover for The Night Ride. I love her style – lots of emotion and vibrant action, which is a perfect fit for this book.
What did you think when you saw it?
I may have squealed out loud! I love the combination of the stars and leaves adding texture and motion, and I love how Abigail has taken care to make Ricochet a full character, with an expressive look to him.
Time for the big reveal!
I love it! This cover has a very different look from some of your previous books. Can you tell us one way that writing this story was a unique experience for you, too?
My editor bought The Night Ride in November 2019. I finished the final draft in September 2020. I’ve never written a book during a global pandemic. Or during massive sustained protests against police violence. Or during the deeply stressful run-up to a high-stakes presidential election. You know. 2020.
Where can our readers go to find out more about you and your writing?
I’m on Twitter way more than I should be (@jandersoncoats), and also on Instagram and Facebook. You can visit my website as well: https://www.jandersoncoats.com. Feel free to subscribe to my newsletter if you want all the latest – https://www.jandersoncoats.com/newsletter/!
Thank you so much for chatting with me today, and all the best with your book’s release.
J. Anderson Coats has received two Junior Library Guild awards, two Washington State Book Awards, and earned starred reviews from Kirkus, School Library Journal, the Horn Book Review, and Shelf Awareness. Her newest books are Spindle and Dagger, a YA set in medieval Wales that deals with power dynamics and complicated relationships, and The Green Children of Woolpit, a creepy middle-grade fantasy inspired by real historical events. She is also the author of R is for Rebel, The Many Reflections of Miss Jane Deming, The Wicked and the Just, and the forthcoming middle-grade action-adventure, The Night Ride (2021).