Finding Hope Between Light and Darkness, a guest post by Kendall Kulper
One of my favorite blurbs about my book is “The most fun book about murder you’ll ever read,” because it gets to the heart of what I wanted this book to be: touching on the darkness of a serious, important topic but bursting with fun, humor, sweetness, and joy.
In Murder for the Modern Girl, a glamorous flapper who can secretly read minds hunts down bad men in Prohibition Chicago, while a shy sweetheart shapeshifter working in the morgue begins to figure out that all those bodies aren’t ending up dead by accident. The flapper and shapeshifter meet, and in spite of the fact that he’s sort of solving her crimes, she can’t help but fall for him.
Balancing all that darkness and sweetness was a tricky act, but it felt familiar to me. I wrote this book in the aftermath of the 2016 election, when so much felt so bleak: vulnerable people attempting to find justice in the wake of oppression and exploitation by those in power. Every day felt like a two-steps-forward, one-step-back battle, insurmountable and exhausting. During those days, when the news and reality felt draining and despairing, I found myself reaching for stories of light, stories that powerfully weaponized joy, resilience, and community.
That was the framework with which I approached the world of Murder for the Modern Girl—not shying away from the reality of abuse and exploitation but instead finding the strength to confront those things in friendship, love, trust, humility, and the truth.
Also? The world felt so disheartening sometimes, I wanted a book that just celebrated fun. Ruby, my flapper, cares deeply about social justice, but she also loves a good dress, a good party, and kissing some cute boys. She enjoys her life, not in spite of the dark things she discovers in people’s hearts and minds but because she realizes how precious and important joy and lightness are. With an insight into what everyone thinks about her, she is firmly and proudly herself—all of herself: laughing party girl, dedicated warrior, caring best friend.
While I wanted to make it look easy for Ruby to keep that balance, it was harder for me to pull off in my own writing. I love my first two novels, but now when I look back on them I think…would it seriously have killed me to throw some lightness in there?? I find any kind of humor so incredibly difficult to write, and I am deeply in awe of people who can write funny so effortlessly. I have a tendency to lean into tragedy, which I noticed when I set out to develop the backstory for Guy, the sweet shapeshifter and my other narrator. I was determined to not give him a tragic history, then I looked up and suddenly I had written about twenty pages of Dickensian bleakness. Oops! I challenged myself to soften him, give him moments of lightness and levity, which is another way to say I threw in an adorable little dog (after all, there is nothing like a pet’s unconditional love to help make sense of the world). When I could, I had my characters be open to delight, indulge their curiosities, and approach their world—even its hidden shadows and possible threats—with open-mindedness and compassion.
Which brings me to the romance. Why write a murder book that’s also full of romance? And not just a few kisses, but deep, sweet, sweeping first-time romance? To me, the magic of romance, on the page and in real life, is when someone sees a quality about you that is entirely unique and special, transforming you into something new. First-time romance takes that even farther; when you’re young, and you’re still trying to figure out exactly who you are and who you want to be, to have a person point out and love some part of you that you might not even have fully noticed or appreciated is nothing short of miraculous. It’s a powerful catalyst not only for transformation but for reinforcing the person you always were and giving you the strength to accomplish things you didn’t even know you were capable of.
Ruby and Guy face huge, incredible challenges, like so many teens, but it is their love for each other that helps them conquer those challenges. Not just in the “I’m doing this for love!” kind of way, but in the way that they are able to see themselves through the eyes of the person who loves them, and that self looks like a superhero.
It was important to me that as Ruby and Guy came up against terrible forces—corruption, violence, exploitation—they still never lose their sense of hope. That sense of hope is far and away the thing I find most inspiring about young people, a feeling that with enough energy, with enough support, they can enact real change. In this world, I see hope waging a constant battle with cynicism, and I can understand why. We have all been through unprecedented challenges in the last few years, and too often it can feel like the fight is never ending, that there is no finish line or victory party but just constant struggle forward against forces that want to pull us back. Toward the end of the book, Ruby acknowledges just that, that she will never stop fighting “until I know that everyone has the protection and dignity they deserve. Maybe that means I won’t ever be able to stop. But maybe I’ll show enough people the way to go, and they’ll take up the fight when I can’t.”
And I’m going to go ahead and spoil my own book here: in a story full of murder, darkness, and tragedy, the ending is as deliriously happy as I could get away with. That was important to me, too, that in the midst of working towards something better, even when there is still so much to do, we all take the time to seize upon moments of happiness and joy whenever we can find them. My ultimate hope with this book is that it becomes a road map during difficult times, a place to escape to, a spot of light when we’re trying to muddle through the darkness. Fun, joy, romance, and love—they are important things, powerful things, things worth fighting for, and the things that will keep that fight going.
Meet the author
Kendall Kulper writes young adult historical fiction with a fantasy twist. She is the author of Salt & Storm and Drift & Dagger, both Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selections. Kendall graduated from Harvard University and lives in Massachusetts with her husband, two daughters, and much-Instagrammed dog, Abby. Find her on Instagram @kendallkulper or Twitter @Kendall_Kulper.
About Murder for the Modern Girl
Gatsby-era glamour, a swoon-worthy love story, and an indomitable heroine dazzle in this romp that captures the extravagance of the Roaring Twenties and the dangers of vigilante justice.
A ravishing young mind reader stalks the streets at night in kitten heels, prowling for men to murder.
A soft-spoken genius toils away in the city morgue, desperate to unearth the science behind his gift for shapeshifting.
It’s a match made in 1928 Chicago, where gangsters run City Hall, jazz fills the air, and every good girl’s purse conceals a flask.
Until now, eighteen-year-old Ruby’s penchant for poison has been a secret. No one knows that she uses her mind-reading abilities to target men who prey on vulnerable women, men who escape the clutches of Chicago “justice.” When she meets a brilliant boy working at the morgue, his knack for forensic detail threatens to uncover her dark hobby. Even more unfortunately: sharp, independent Ruby has fallen in love with him.
Waltzing between a supernaturally enhanced romance, the battle to take down a gentleman’s club, and loyal friendships worth their weight in diamonds, Ruby brings defiant charm to every page of Murder for the Modern Girl—not to mention killer fashion. An irresistible caper perfect for fans of The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, in an exquisite hardcover package with rose-gold foil.
A Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection
Publisher: Holiday House
Publication date: 05/31/2022
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years
Filed under: Guest Post
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
SLJ Blog Network