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Today’s guest is fiction writer and poet Shveta Thakrar! Her story “The Rainbow Flame” was a selection in Year’s Best Young Adult Speculative Fiction 2015, and her work can also be found in Beyond the Woods: Fairy Tales Retold, Toil & Trouble: 15 Tales of Women & Witchcraft, A Thousand Beginnings and Endings: 15 Retellings of Asian Myths and Legends, The Underwater Ballroom Society, Uncanny Magazine, Mythic Delirium, and many other publications. Star Daughter, her debut novel, was described in the Rights Report as “contemporary YA fantasy inspired by Hindu mythology [that] follows a half-mortal/half-star girl who must win a celestial competition to save her human father’s life”—and is coming out August 11!

Star Daughter by Shveta Thakrar Book Cover
Artwork by Charlie Bowater; design by Corina Lupp of HarperTeen

As a writer and someone whose expectations of relationships used to be deeply shaped by the books I devoured as a kid, I think a lot about the messages in stories. We tend to get trained by the things we’ve already read and watched to think stories have to go a certain way—the parents must be out of the picture in a kidlit adventure, the lead characters must end up together even if the story in question isn’t a romance, the main character must keep her magical identity hidden from everyone, and so on.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with a good trope, but as a writer, I’m interested in exploring how I might build on them in the stories I tell. Why, for example, can’t girls support one another throughout the course of a story? Sure, our world is a patriarchal one for the most part, but that doesn’t mean caring people and loving, supportive female friendships don’t exist. It’s not all Mean Girls out there, and there’s no reason our fiction can’t reflect that.

In the earliest drafts of Star Daughter, even though the main character Sheetal and her best friend Minal have known each other since they were tiny, for most of their lives, Sheetal kept her stellar heritage secret from Minal. Of course, when their big Moment of Revelation finally happens, Minal is left feeling betrayed and scared of this person she’d thought she’d known. I showed that draft to a friend, who rightly asked me why: Why did Sheetal have to hide who she was from someone who loved and would support her? More importantly, my friend added, how did that even make sense? They’re best friends; there’s no way the truth wouldn’t have come out a long time ago.

Click. My friend had pulled the cord on the lamp in the room of my thoughts, and suddenly I could see what had been hidden in the shadows. Why had I done that? Because I had internalized the way fantasy stories went: the heroine always suffered in isolation. But once I really thought it through, that didn’t actually make any sense, and also, it wasn’t the kind of story I wanted to tell. The story of my heart was one that celebrated friendship and family even as those things complicated and enriched the situation for the protagonist. What I really wanted was to write a female friendship like the kind I wish I’d had as a teenager.

So I did. In the final version of Star Daughter, Minal knows the truth. She’s the first—and only—person Sheetal can turn to when the crisis begins, and she helps Sheetal stay grounded (sometimes with wry humor and blunt commentary). In return, there’s no question of Sheetal leaving her bestie behind when she sets off to find her starry mother. The story is still Sheetal’s, as are the obstacles she has to overcome, but that doesn’t mean she has to go through any of it alone, nor does it mean Minal can’t have her own arc alongside Sheetal’s. And that decision seems to have worked; one of the repeated comments I’ve gotten from early readers is how much they enjoyed the girls’ friendship.

But I also made that decision because I have no use for the toxic idea that women and girls are always at one another’s throats, that we can’t be celebrating our sisters’ success as well as our own. That we must be in competition instead of working together to find solutions and make things happen. That’s not what my life looks like, and I want my readers to know it doesn’t have to be like that for them, either. I’m tired of compassion and kindness being undervalued, even derided, in our media. I want there to be room in fiction for the things that lift us up, too.

I want my work to say it’s okay to lean on others—that, in fact, we have to. So many of our stories are about the Lone Hero(ine), but there’s no such thing as success in a vacuum. Human beings need one another both to survive and to flourish. We help one another grow and balance one another with our individual flaws and gifts. As a person who firmly believes in and seeks out enchantment and inspiration in her life, I know we make some of the best magic of all in collaboration.

If there’s a takeaway from Star Daughter, it’s this: you don’t have to go it alone, and there is a place where you belong, along with people who will help raise you up and catch you when you stumble. And if you choose to read Star Daughter, I hope Sheetal and Minal leave you feeling that way, too.

Shveta Thakrar Photo
Photo by Lindsey Márton O’Brien of Lumina Noctis
Shveta Thakrar is a part-time nagini and full-time believer in magic. Her work has appeared in a number of magazines and anthologies including Enchanted LivingUncanny MagazineA Thousand Beginnings and Endings, and Toil & Trouble. Her debut young adult fantasy novel, Star Daughter, is forthcoming from HarperTeen on August 11, 2020. When not spinning stories about spider silk and shadows, magic and marauders, and courageous girls illuminated by dancing rainbow flames, Shveta crafts, devours books, daydreams, travels, bakes, and occasionally even plays her harp.