Three WCYA alumni discuss virgins, saints, and mystics in young adult books

Mystics, virgins, and saints will take center stage in a discussion among young adult authors Marianna Baer, Katie Bayerl, and Julie Berry at Brookline Booksmith on April 13 at 7 p.m. 

Brookline eventThe authors’ three novels for teens—two recent releases and one recently awarded a Michael L. Printz Honor—explore questions of miracles, belief, and purity through the dramatic lives of young women.

From the virgin pregnancy of an otherwise normal girl (Baer, The Inconceivable Life of Quinn), to the mysterious death of a Massachusetts teen being considered for sainthood (Bayerl, A Psalm for Lost Girls), to the miracles of 13th century teenage convicted heretic (Berry, The Passion of Dolssa), all three novels take on religious mysteries that stir up turmoil in their communities. 

Baer’s The Inconceivable Life of Quinn, to released on April 4 by Abrams/Amulet, follows a mysteriously pregnant sixteen-year-old in Brooklyn who finds herself at the center of a media firestorm when religious fanatics gather at her home, believing she’s carrying the next messiah. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly described it as: “a suspenseful and thought-provoking novel … [and] a delicate, complicated, and engrossing exploration of the collision between real life and the inexplicable." This is Baer’s second novel for teens; her first novel, Frost (set at a fictionalized Phillips Academy Andover, where Baer is an alumna), was described by Booklist as “nuanced blend of psychological suspense and boarding-school drama [that] will tingle the spines of plenty of readers.” 

Bayerl’s A Psalm for Lost Girls, released on March 14 by Putnam Books for Young Readers, is a contemporary mystery set in fictional New Avon, MA, about an abducted girl who has miraculously been healed, a recently deceased teen who is presumed her savoir, and the grieving younger sister who sets out to take down the rumors of sainthood and reclaim her sister’s memory as a normal girl. A Psalm for Lost Girls is Bayerl’s first novel and has been named a most anticipated spring release by Bustle and Barnes & Noble, a Spring 2017 Amazon Pick, and a March “can’t miss” by Boston Magazine. Starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal describe the book as a “gripping story of loss and grace” and a “spectacular debut...[and] a compelling must-have for YA collections."  

Berry’s The Passion of Dolssa, recently released in paperback by Viking Children’s Books, is a sweeping historical thriller set during 13th Century southern France. In addition to its Printz Honor, the novel has been named a New York Times Notable Book and a Horn Book Fanfare title, and listed under the best of the year lists for Booklist, Publishers Weekly, and School Library Journal. The New York Times called it "Gorgeous and evocative . . . magnificent.” Receiving five starred reviews, it’s been praised as “an utterly original and instantly engrossing story.” – Publishers Weekly; “irresistibly compelling.” – Horn Book; “an expertly crafted piece of historical fiction.” – School Library Journal; “skillfully crafted and tenderly told.” – Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books. The Passion of Dolssa is Berry’s 9th title, following two award-winning releases, the farcical middle grade mystery, The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place, and the YA novel, All the Truth That’s In Me. 

Baer, Bayerl, and Berry first met at Vermont College of Fine Arts, where they earned MFAs in in Writing for Children & Young Adults. All three have strong Massachusetts ties. Baer was raised in Cambridge, MA and is an alumna of Shady Hill School and Phillips Academy Andover. Bayerl is a native of Wilmington and North Reading, MA, and currently lives in Jamaica Plain and leads the VCFA Young Writers Network. Berry is a longtime resident of Maynard, MA, where she’s raising four sons.