It’s been a while since our last five questions feature! Life has a way of taking over and we prioritised getting out new episodes for you all to enjoy. But we are SO EXCITED to be able to bring it back with a YA debut!

We don’t tend to feature too many YA authors on the podcast but that doesn’t mean we don’t love a good YA novel!

Seventeen-year-old Aziza El-Amin is a hedgewitch. Raised by her immigrant grandfather, she is burdened with the responsibility of protecting the humans in Blackthorn, Massachusetts, from the vicious fae that live in the neighbouring wood.

Seventeen-year-old Aziza El-Amin is a hedgewitch. Raised by her immigrant grandfather, she is burdened with the responsibility of protecting the humans in Blackthorn, Massachusetts, from the vicious fae that live in the neighbouring wood.

But when a routine patrol ends in a late-night massacre, Aziza discovers that she’s been guarding against the wrong threat. A monster has slipped into Blackthorn – feeding on the townspeople and corrupting the boundary between the fae and human realms.

Too powerful for Aziza to defeat on her own, she’s forced to seek help from the unlikeliest of allies: Leo Merritt – a boy cursed to forget his true love, desperate to recapture what he lost – and a mysterious young necromancer Aziza isn’t sure they can trust.

Together, they hope to form a coven strong enough – reckless enough – to eradicate the threat in the woods.

The term hedgewitch is originally a reference to ‘wise women’, village elders who could help with common ailments and childbirth. Why did you want to create a YA protagonist with such ties to something much older and wiser? How does that play out for a teenager?

In YA, we often see protagonists who take on so much more than they should be expected to take on for their age – they lead rebellions, plan heists, save the world. And because they’re young and inexperienced, they make mistakes with sometimes catastrophic results.

For Aziza, witchcraft is a huge part of her identity and how she finds meaning in her life. Being a hedgewitch in the context of this book’s world means she has the ability – and, in her view, the responsibility – to be this line of defense between her hometown and dangerous magical forces, and she desperately wants to live up to that. But she’s self-taught, and has no real teacher and no community. Something Aziza struggles with is the realization that her witchcraft has been “good enough” so far, but it’s no match for an enemy that’s so much older, so much more powerful, and has a level of skill and cunning that Aziza lacks.

That’s a story I find compelling – someone who’s not good enough, but wants to be. 

How did making your protagonist a Lebanese American impact her relationship with the world around her, particularly being tasked with protecting a community as the child of immigrants? 

Aziza feels disconnected from her heritage. She was born in Massachusetts and has never been to Lebanon; her parents are dead; and her grandfather, who raised her, doesn’t really talk about the past, because it’s too painful for him. So much of why she places such importance on her role as a hedgewitch is because it’s how she creates a sense of home and belonging. She doesn’t feel like she has “roots” anywhere. But she belongs in Blackthorn, not just because she happened to grow up there, but because she’s chosen it for herself through her actions.

That’s what her commitment to this role of hedgewitch really means to her; it’s about her place in the world. But she was so focused on being of service, on performing this task that makes her useful, that she has isolated herself. She doesn’t really have friends, and she thinks she’s better off alone.

But home is really about the people who are in it. It’s not really about the place itself. 

YA is often maligned by those who aren’t fans for being too formulaic, while fans gush over their favourite tropes. What is it about YA tropes in particular that are so divisive? And do you have any particular favourite tropes?

Anything that becomes popular enough is eventually going to reach people outside its intended audience.

A lot of criticism often boils down to “this thing wasn’t meant for me and isn’t my cup of tea,” and that’s especially true when it comes to tropes that work really well in certain genres and for certain audiences, but don’t land with others.

To me, tropes are tools, just like anything else in the craft of writing, and it’s all about what you do with it. A voice that jumps off the page, beautiful prose, a powerful twist, a character that touches you deeply – those are just a few of the things that can make even the oldest tropes feel fresh.

Personally, I’m a huge fan of tropes! Some of my favorites are: found families, rivals-to-lovers, childhood-friends-to-lovers, jerks with a heart of gold, magical portals, and – while this trope seems to have fallen out of fashion a little bit – I still love a good Chosen One narrative.  

Many fairytales originated as tales of morality and utility – teaching the listeners about the world around them. Contemporary fairytales tend to keep the good vs evil themes, but do they still have the same function of teaching readers about the dangers of the world? Why/why not? What is their place if not?

Some contemporary fairytales do still teach readers about the dangers of the world – maybe not literal dangers, like why wandering through the woods by yourself is a bad idea, but other kinds. People who take advantage of others. Bigotry and hatred. Our own self-destructive tendencies and inner demons. 

This is part of why I think fairytale retellings fit so well into MG and YA. Through the lens of fiction, kidlit often helps children and teens engage with real issues in the world, emotions and experiences they might be struggling with, and important questions of morality, challenging them to form their own beliefs about what’s right and wrong. That said, fairytales – like all stories – still have a place even when they’re not serving that function, or serving any function at all. Stories have inherent value. 

Why should we be reading The Buried and the Bound? Pitch it to our readers!

The Buried and the Bound is a YA contemporary fantasy about three teenagers who band together to defeat a dark magical entity that has taken root in the woods outside their town. It’s got witchcraft, necromancy, and fae mischief, and might appeal to fans of Holly Black and Melissa Albert. But the emotional core of the story is that these three characters who are all pretty lonely and all varying levels of screwed up manage to find their way to each other and form this tight-knit friendship – a friendship that saves them all in different ways. There’s adventure, romance, and a sense that there’s magic around every corner.

It’s book 1 of a trilogy, so I’m excited to flesh out this world and these characters even further in the two sequels.

Rochelle Hassan

Rochelle Hassan grew up reading about dragons, quests, and unlikely heroes; now she writes about them, too. She is the author of the middle-grade novel The Prince of Nowhere (HarperCollins) and the young adult fantasy novel, The Buried and the Bound. She lives in New York.