Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester is happy to shine our Friday spotlight Children’s Middle Grade Book author Henry Lien. As we usually do in our Author Spotlights, we ask our authors to tell us a little bit about themselves and their writing. I actually had a full video interview with Henry, which everyone can see on Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester’s YouTube channel, but we wanted to give readers a little idea of what they might find out about Henry before viewing the video. To get to our channel, which has all of our author interviews, as well as other things, go to: YouTube Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester. Henry’s interview will be there!
In the meantime, here are some of Henry’s answers to our questions:
For readers unfamiliar with your work, how would you describe what you write? What can readers expect from the Peasprout Chen series?
The Peasprout Chen books are a fantasy series about a 14 year old girl and her little brother who leave their homeland to travel to a new country to study at a boarding school that teaches a very unusual sport combining figure skating with kung fu.
The New York Times described Peasprout Chen as “Hermione Granger meets Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon meets the Ice Capades meets Mean Girls.” But the books are also about girl power, kid power, immigration, sibling relationships, and learning that it’s more important to be good than it is to be special.
Even though there are no magical elements, no wizards, no spells, no brooms, no dragons, etc., and the setting is a fantastical East Asian city, everyone says that the books have a Harry Potter feel. I get that. The reason for that is a) the dry humor; b) the intricate puzzle mystery plot structures; and c) the cozy boarding school setting with all the high drama that comes with such a claustrophobic and prestigious environment.
What character did you love or hate the most while writing? And why?
I love writing the main character of Peasprout because she’s honest in a way that many characters are not. On the one hand, she’s brave, wildly talented, occasionally big-hearted and even noble, a true original, and impossible to forget. On the other hand, she’s self-aggrandizing, self-absorbed, extreme, a bit of a weirdo, and rather lonely.
She’s a real person. She’s not your typical, stoic, self-sacrificing, self-doubting children’s book heroine at all. This is NOT a story about a character finding her power. Peasprout starts out with all of her power, all the powers that anyone could want. Her story is about what happens to your power in a new country and a new school and when it’s sometimes good to let go of a little of your power. She’s a complex, flawed, inspiring, infuriating, real person. She’s not anybody’s wish fulfillment version of a “strong female character”. She’s not candy.
How important has the New England setting been to your writing?
I went to boarding school at St. Paul’s School in Concord, NH. As an openly gay, minority, immigrant, scholarship, transfer student into the 11th grade from Los Angeles with orange hair and an earring, coming to New England was like being dropped onto a different planet. Boarding school was the most traumatic, magical, traumagical experience of my life. All of Peasprout’s excruciating social faux pas were inspired by my own stumbles at boarding school. All of the heartfelt connections she eventually makes were based on my own friendships at boarding school. So the books are just thickly veiled autobiography.
Thanks, Henry, for taking the time to answer these questions, as well as for having the interview with me. I hope Peasprout has many more adventures to come!