Book Supplement: exploring real adolescence in Capricious

MFA graduate Gabrielle Prendergast has what you might call a diverse writing portfolio.

The first work she sold -- outside of a short story she wrote in high school -- was Hildegarde, an Australian children’s movie about a family searching for their missing pet duck.

Compare that to her most recent project: a two-book series of provocative young-adult novels, Audacious and Capricious, that deal with religious prejudice, eating disorders, drinking and quite a bit of sex, and the difference is as clear as night and day.

“I actually want to get on the banned books list,” said Prendergast. “And not just because it’ll make my books sell better.”

If writing honestly about adolescent sexuality doesn’t already sound like a tough literary feat to pull off, consider the fact that both Capricious and Audacious are written in varying styles of poetic verse.

“I don’t know what possessed me; I just wanted to try it,” she said. “I thought, ‘I’ll write it in verse, and I’ll just pants it.’”

According to Prendergast, there are two kinds of writers: plotters, who plan their work from start to finish, and pantsers, who write by the seat of their pants. She considers herself to be one of the latter.

Prendergast was inspired to write the series to fill what she saw as a lack of realistic female characters in young adult literature. The books are semi-autobiographical: Ella, the protagonist, is loosely based on herself as a teenager.

“I felt that all the female characters in young adult books, they all had a lot of girlfriends, they all had a really warm relationship with their parents, and they were all pretty functional,” said Prendergast. “I wanted to write a character that wasn’t that girl.”

Prendergast’s portrayal of Ella has resonated with readers and critics alike: Audacious, released in 2013 by Orca Books, has won three awards and was shortlisted for a fourth. Capricious, which came out last spring, is currently in the running for the Sheila A. Egoff Children’s Literature Prize, one of the annual BC Book Prizes that are presented by the West Coast Book Prize Society.

As part of the BC Book Prize publicity, Prendergast will spend part of April touring Northern and Central B.C. along with two of her fellow nominees. When she returns, she has a number of projects to finish up before the end of the year, including The Boy Who Fell to Earth, a new young adult novel inspired in part by Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield.

Although this may seem like another sharp turn in terms of subject matter for Prendergast, there is one unifying thread that ties her body of work together: her books are interesting to read.

“I’m interested in writing things that I’ve never seen before,” said Prendergast. “I want people to read my books, and I want people to enjoy them.”