So true story. A few years ago, I attended the ACFW Conference when it was in Dallas. As I was waiting to check into the hotel, a group of my friends rushed the friend I was with and me and proceeded to “murder” us with foam swords and knives. That, in and of itself, didn’t bother me; truth be told, I would have been hurt if they hadn’t tried to violently end my life in a hotel lobby while I was surrounded by strangers.
No, the unusual part of the experience was that I had never met the person enthusiastically stabbing me in the back with a foam dagger. I think I must have given her a look that communicated the following message: “Who are you, and in what way has my presence in this world offended you so greatly that you joined in this ambush?”
Yes, my wordless looks can convey that much information.
The woman in question smiled and said something like this: “Hi, I don’t know you. I’m Raj.”
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how I met the very talented Rajdeep Paulus.
This last year, Raj published her debut novel, a YA book entitled Swimming Through Clouds, a powerful story of a young woman named Talia that left me drained in a good way. Seriously, by the time I was done reading it, I was emotionally wrung out, so much so that my only real coherent thought was that I wanted to dispatch my superhero characters into Talia’s world to right some wrongs. Yes, it’s that good that I felt the need to create fanfic in my own mind.
That’s because Talia is the victim of her abusive father. She’s terrified of failing him and is convinced she’ll be trapped in her life forever. But then, she meets a young man named Lagan, who slowly whittles away the shell she’s constructed for herself and makes her believe that maybe, just maybe, she can have the life she’s always wanted.
My only gripe with Raj’s debut was that it left me hanging on a few key questions. I hoped and prayed that she would write a second book and finish Talia’s story.
And she has. Just this past Friday, Raj’s second book, Seeing Through Stones, was published. But here’s the great thing: I got a chance to take a sneak peek at it before it was released. And all I have to say is this:
Raj has done it again.
This time, the story focuses on Talia’s younger brother, Jesse (although his real name is justice). Talia and Jesse lived in the same house and experienced the same emotional and physical pain, but how their personal hell shaped them is very different. Jesse is consumed with living out his name and bringing his father down.
Now I didn’t get this sneak peek for nothing. She asked if I’d be willing to write an endorsement for her. I did, and here’s what I had to say:
Seeing Through Stones both broke my heart and filled it with hope at the same time. Paulus’s writing simply soars as she paints her characters’ pains, fears, and hopes in a beautiful portrait of recovery and grace. With this book, Paulus has established herself as a powerful voice in Young Adult literature. I can’t wait to see what she has in store for us next.
Seriously, everyone. Raj’s books are speculative fiction, which is my usual domain, but I loved these books. You should get them immediately. Or sooner, if you have access to a TARDIS, WABAC Machine, or some other iteration of time travel device.