Not every story has a happy ending, but every story deserves to be told.

Meet Leslie. She’s a junior in high school out to make a reputation for herself that doesn’t revolve around her last name. After all, her mom is the most successful district attorney in the state, her older brother Peter is a star football player set on the fast track for scholarships, and her dad owns the biggest car dealership in town with eyes only for his son’s college ball. Leslie’s learned the hard way that most people—besides her best friends Amanda and Chet—want to be her friend for two reasons: money or Peter.

Leslie’s sick of the politics and superficiality that comes with the world she lives in, and she’s eager to leave it all behind. Just one more year and then she can get out of her suffocatingly huge home, go to a community college out of state, and work on her art, even though her mom would rather die than send her daughter anywhere other than Yale. Leslie feels trapped—trapped by her mom, trapped by her arrogant brother and his spiteful girlfriend, and trapped by society. She just wishes that something would change.

But then she gets caught in the middle of an act of revenge gone wrong, throwing her menial life into chaos.

Now Leslie is infected. And now, whether she wants it or not, everything will change.

You know Arie. Now see a new side of the infected world told through the eyes of a girl whose story is altered by one tragic event, forever changing the one closest to her.

Keep your head, Peter. You’re gonna be all right.

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When should I read it?

Chronologically, The Kids Aren’t All Right begins before Surviving on a Whisper (book 1), and the events happen concurrently with book one leading up to book two. KAAR contains minor spoilers that won’t mean much without the context of the other books, so you can really read it whenever you want in the series. I personally recommend reading it in between Surviving through the Night (book 2) and Surviving to the End (book 3), but that’s just me.

Behind the pages:

When I start a book, I tend to write chronologically, just because it helps me see the story and weave it as I go. Sometimes, however, I’ll get hit with a bolt of creative lightening, and suddenly I’ve got an idea or scene that I have to get written right then, and I’ll drop everything to do so—even if my only option is to pluck it out on my phone. The first couple times I did this, I had trouble with naming my documents. Having too many called ‘Untitled document’ was getting too confusing, but I couldn’t name them all ‘Extra Scene’ or ‘New Idea’ either. At first I tried things like ‘Scene that connects after chapter 12’ but that didn’t help much. So, instead, I started naming the documents by a song that inspired or reminded me of whatever scene or idea I was writing down. I’m so connected with and inspired by music that the method was much more effective.

The idea for KAAR came during the early stages of book two. Originally, I had a much different path for Peter that I planned on ending rather tragically in book three. As I began with book two, my sister told me that Peter was her favorite character, and when I said he was going to die in an awful way, she told me if I hurt him then she’d never speak to me again.

Laughing at her empty threat (we can’t go more than a few hours without talking to each other) the wheels in my brain started turning. I’d included Peter just to stir up trouble and add another layer of conflict to the story. Why did my sister care so much about him? What did she see in him? Who was this guy?

The questions kept eating at me. As I wrote Arie’s story, I found myself slowly building Peter’s as well. By the end of book two, rather than putting him on a path to a sad and violent ending, he’d gained importance and been set up for his own little redemption arc. He’d also inspired a heavy adoration for and interest in his little sister Leslie. I couldn’t stop thinking about either of them, and their side of Arie’s world.

Eventually, I couldn’t keep their story to myself anymore. It came at me from Leslie’s point of view—despite it starting as Peter’s story—and I decided to keep it that way, to further emphasize the progress, love, and tragedy between the two of them. Since it’s technically a prequel to the events in book two, I wanted to dig into Peter’s sad past, knowing it would only emphasize how much he’d come through in the end.

I wrote the novella for Peter and Leslie, but also for my sister, who, maybe subconsciously, was looking for a redemption arc as well, instead of a devastating ending. To me, The Kids Aren’t All Right represents how sometimes awful things happen to good people, how family bonds can strengthen through tragedy, and how we can suffer such heavy loss and still come out on the other side—maybe different, maybe scarred, but still all right, in the end.

The title comes from the song ‘The Kids Aren’t Alright’ by Fall Out Boy. I’ve included some of my favorite lyrics below—see if you can guess which lines inspired Peter and which were for Leslie.

And with the black banners raised as the crooked smiles fade

Former heroes who quit too late

Just wanna fill up the trophy case again

I’m not passive but aggressive

Take note, it’s not impressive

Empty your sadness, like you’re dumping your purse

On my bedroom floor

We put your curse in reverse

And it’s our time now if you want to to be

Maul the world like the carnival bears set free

And your love is anemic and I can’t believe

That you couldn’t see it coming from me

And I still feel that rush in my veins

It twists my head just a bit to think

All those people in those old photographs I’ve seen are dead

And in the end

I’d do it all again

I think you’re my best friend

Don’t you know that the kids aren’t all, kids aren’t alright

I’ll be yours

When it rains it pours

Stay thirsty like before

Don’t you know that the kids aren’t all, kids aren’t alright