Whispers in Autumn by Trisha Leigh
Available as paperback and ebook.
This book is the first in The Last Year series.
In 2015, a race of alien Others conquered Earth. They enslaved humanity not by force, but through an aggressive mind control that turned people into contented, unquestioning robots. Except sixteen-year-old Althea isn’t content at all, and she doesn’t need the mysterious note inside her locket to tell her she’s Something Else. It also warns her to trust no one, so she hides the pieces that make her different, even though it means being alone. The autumn she meets Lucas, everything changes. Althea and Lucas are immune to the alien mind control, and together they search for the reason why. What they uncover is a stunning truth the Others never anticipated, one with the potential to free the brainwashed human race. It’s not who they are that makes them special, but what. And what they are is a threat. One the Others are determined to eliminate for good.
It’s early morning. It always is. The sound of movement on the floor below forces my fists to unclench, releasing the garish orange comforter wrinkled inside them. Last night I fell asleep at the Hammond’s house, where the bedding is green and spring crept toward an end. I never get used to starting over like this, but as my travels grow more frequent, a kind of numbness settles in. My feet find their way out from under the heavy down and settle into the slippers beside the bed.
As if I never left.
I shuffle across the thick, brown carpet and kneel on the padded window seat to peer outside. The trees are bright splotches against the vivid blue sky—some crimson, others a sunny yellow—with a few fiery oranges scattered about. Their bold colors verify my suspicions.
It’s autumn now.
Review by Sophie Sansregret
4.5 out of 5 Stars
What a wonderful debut novel for this YA (Young Adult) Author. I say this as a NOT young person. Just an adult. I'm old. Very old. Despite this infirmity I thoroughly enjoyed this well thought out narrative. And despite (or because of) the story's tension I felt young again, reliving my first kiss, remembering how it was to be misunderstood, invisible, anxious. Wondering about my identity. Thrilled to break a few rules. I am a firm believer that YA can be for any age and Ms Leigh has proved me right.
This is a slightly futurist book. It's 2015. Things are eerily close to what they are today, if you take a step back. Schools called "Cells". That makes sense to me. Who didn't (or doesn't still) see school as a prison? An institution reeking of conformity and control, paying lip service to individuality, uniqueness, difference. I read the beginning of this fine novel and determined that despite its overtones of SF and future, it's painfully topical.
But let me clarify, this is not some simple angst-ridden whinge. I loathe that "woe is me" "no one understands me and who I really am" Emo garbage. I just want to be clear. This is not that book.
Althea is wonderfully complex and comes slowly to her rebellion. This hesitancy and resistance on her part enriches her character. She is not certain whom to trust. Neither are we. This story might seem straightforward at first, but it twists. Lucas, like Althea, is special. Of course they meet. Of course they bond. But this is not trite. Lucas is charming, endearing. The novel is rich in smells and colours. Variously lush and antiseptic, visually.
The parents, the students. All the mind-controlled members of the society at first seem a bit too Stepford but that reflects more, as we come to see, Althea's own isolation (somewhat self-imposed, but not, as we find out, entirely so). As she changes, interacts, we see ruptures in the fine world offered by the Others. At first the Others present themselves as benevolent visitors. We soon know better. Barbaric, controlling, wallowing in one of the ultimate power schemes: unverifiable source of power and information. The Others are rarely seen. Access is limited, and dangerous. This story, insofar as it can be read metaphorically, rings true in our day and age. In fact, it works too well as a metaphor for our current lives and our own near-futures. Our brainwashing takes place at a different level than that of the characters. But it exists.
For those who like their paranormal, we have magic, elements. Aliens. A bit of quantum physics. Suspend your disbelief and enjoy the ride.
But enough. This story is grander than mere socio-political commentary and we are left hanging, vividly and desperately, by the end. The narrative is rich in imagery, sensuality (or more often, the lack of sensuality). A deep, filmic, and well-written novel which makes me look forward to the next installment which is already available: Winter Omens.
Interview with Trisha Leigh
1. How did you arrive at the seasons concept? Was it from Ecclesiastes or perhaps were you also drawing from your ex-farmer/almost rock star parents?
Haha, definitely not my parents, although living in the Midwest certainly brings the seasons to life. It started with Althea, and once I knew she’d never seen a summer, the rest of it kind of fell into place. The first book was set firmly in the fall from its very first draft, and from there it seemed natural, given the peculiar inclinations of my main characters, to use the seasons to relate the story.
2. What inspired you to write the series?
The original idea came from a tweet about a child who had woken from a nightmare terrified she didn’t exist. I wrote it down, because something about it interested me, and over the next several weeks Althea showed up and started to tell me why she was afraid of not-existing. It was late fall of 2009, and I’d also just read The Hunger Games for the first time, so I’m sure that had some influence on my decision to write a twisted future.
3. Hindsight is (mostly) 20/20. Now that the book (and most of the series) is written, what do you wish was different about Whispers, if anything?
I was just talking to my critique partner about this the other day, and now that the final book is drafted, there’s really only one thing I’d go back and change if I could. In Whispers in Autumn, Lucas and Althea are doing an experiment in their chemistry class – if I could go back now, I would make the experiment harder, since as the books progress they are clearly advanced science students. But that’s it! Could certainly be a lot worse.
4. Like you, I studied film so perhaps read all books filmicly. For me this is indeed a cinematographic work. Are you thinking “film” for Whispers (indeed, the series)? If so, who do you see in it? Director? Writer? Do you have film aspirations?
Well, I think any author who says they’d hate it if their book was optioned for film is probably lying, and since movies are my first love, of course I’d like to see Althea and the rest on the big screen! If I had my choice, I’d love to adapt the screenplay myself or with a co-writer, since authoring screenplays was how I initially began writing fiction. If I could hand pick a director, it would be Ben Affleck, and would cast Nicola Peltz as Althea and Jonny Weston as Lucas. But honestly, I’d just love the adaptation even if I didn’t get much say in it at all.
5. You mention a love of “first moments.” Do you see the characters, outside the tetralogy, aging to continue to other first moments, and it, what would these “firsts” be?
Hmm, well I don’t want to be too spoilery, as far as admitting who does or doesn’t survive all four books, but I’ll say this: I hope that Althea, Lucas, and the rest would experience whatever first moments they’d want to as they age – getting engaged, their weddings, holding their children, seeing the world, etc. They’re like my children, in a strange way, and I hope that after I finish torturing them during The Last Year that they can be happy. J
6. This book, being set just slightly ahead in time, reminds me to some extent of Infinite Jest, sci-fi to some extent but not quite sci-fi. Aliens notwithstanding, the book comes across, at times, more real than not (personally, I do see school as a “cell” which may be why I homeschool). How do you think this resonates with your readers?
Hmm. I definitely hope it encourages readers to look at the world through alien eyes – how certain aspects of our society might appear to strangers completely ignorant of our traditions and purpose – and whether or not we would be proud of the way we’re accomplishing things like education on earth. Throughout the books, the kids continually question whether or not humanity was better off before or after the Others, or whether they’re worthy of being saved at all. If I hope my readers take away any one thing specifically, it would be to simply question everything about life instead of swallowing it whole.
7. If you could have dinner with one person, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
One person is really hard. I’m sitting here waffling between Queen Berenice (of Judea), Jean Lafitte (the pirate), and Jimmy Stewart (my favorite actor). Ooh, or Zac Efron (for obvious reasons). I can’t pick.
8. Film and literary loves and influences?
So many. Frank Capra, Alfred Hitchcock, Baz L Luhrmann, Nora Ephron, Rob Reiner, Madeleine L’Engle, JK Rowling, Dennis Lehane, Carrie Ryan, etc. etc. etc.
9. What’s next?
I’m going to be querying a YA Historical novel set in 1810 New Orleans, and working on another YA science fiction (time travel!) series to self-publish this summer.
About Trisha Leigh
Raised by a family of ex-farmers and/or almost rock stars from Northeastern Iowa, I’ve always loved to tell stories. After graduating from Texas Christian University with a degree in Film, I began to search for a way to release the voices in my head. IWhen I attempted my first YA novel, which would become Whispers in Autumn, I was hooked. I knew then my heart lay with telling stories about and for young adults, and for anyone who loves to read and recapture those fleeting “first” moments.
My spare time is spent reviewing television and movies, spending time with my large, loud, loving family, reading any book that falls into my hands, and being dragged into the fresh air by my dogs Yoda and Jilly.