Would Joss Whedon's Dollhouse have been a bigger hit if it had been pitched more to teenagers, a population who know a little something about people trying to erase their identities? A new young-adult novel aims to find out.
Jennifer Rush just sold her debut novel Altered to Little, Brown, and it's described in the Publishers Marketplace blurb as "Dollhouse meets Prison Break for teens." A 17-year-old girl goes on the run from her father's "enigmatic Agency" with the four teenage boys the Agency had been experimenting on. And there are erased memories, fake identities, and genetic alteration. We asked Rush if the Whedon tribute was intentional. Here's what she told us.
Can you tell us more about the idea behind this book? Was it partly inspired by Joss Whedon's Dollhouse?
The Dollhouse pitch was my agent's idea. I didn't watch the show until my agent recommended it. And I did see some similarities. Most everyone who comments on the blurb, comments on the Dollhouse element. People seem excited about it! I'm just flattered to have the project even remotely compared to Joss Whedon's work.
Do you think the idea of tampering with people's memories and personalities has a lot of resonance for audiences right now? Do we feel like our identities are more fragile now that we're spending so much time online?
I do, for sure. The question every young person asks themselves at one time or another is, Who am I? And, What do I want to be? Our lives have become a series of clicks and 140-character posts and likes and dislikes. Where is the authenticity in that? And how far-fetched is it to think one day the government might use media to drive who we become?
Your premise feels very comic-book-influenced — like Gen-13, or a bunch of other "experimented-on teens run away" stories. Were there any comics that inspired this?
I wish I could say yes—-comic-books have given us some of the best worlds!—-but no, Altered was not inspired by a comic-book. It was inspired by my love of Jason Bourne. It is my favorite movie and, I think somewhere along the line I decided I wanted to tell the story from the girl's perspective. What if you knew someone like Jason Bourne? And what if you loved him so much you would do anything to keep him alive? The story started with a boy and a girl. The conflict came after.
Do you think teenagers in particular resonate with the idea of being experimented on by adults?
I know as a teen, I thought adults were another species entirely. That they were trying to control my life and make me into something I wasn't. In some ways, every day is an experiment — schools teach you this and this, but not that. A guidance counselor pushes you into advance chemistry because they think it'll look good on your transcript. Or your parents push you into something because they want to make you into an image of their dreams. Being a teen is messy and confusing and conflicting on its own. And it's hard work being confident enough in who you are, let alone standing up for what you think is right, even if everyone tells you it's wrong.
How similar is the world in the book to our world, and how way-out do you get with the brain science?
The ALTERED world is our present day world. I wanted to tell a story that could take place right next door to you and you'd never know it. In some ways, that's scarier than a hypothetical future world. As for the brain science, the first book deals more with the mystery of who these characters are and why they're in this particular situation, than it does with hard science.