A girl with no name, rather, a real name that no one knows. A secret agency called the Black Angels. High school homework and crushes. This is all in a day’s work for Raegan.
Check out our review of You Don’t Know My Name and our FIRST EVER author interview with author Kristen Orlando after the jump!
Fighter, Faker, Student, Spy.
Seventeen-year-old Reagan Elizabeth Hillis is used to changing identities overnight, lying to every friend she’s ever had, and pushing away anyone who gets too close. Trained in mortal combat and weaponry her entire life, Reagan is expected to follow in her parents’ footsteps and join the ranks of the most powerful top-secret agency in the world, the Black Angels. Falling in love with the boy next door was never part of the plan.
Now Reagan has to decide: Will she use her incredible talents and lead the dangerous life she was born into, or throw it all away to follow her heart and embrace the normal life she’s always wanted? And does she even have a choice at all?
Find out if you are ready to join the Black Angels in the captivating and emotional page-turner, You Don’t Know My Name, from debut novelist Kristen Orlando!
Overall: This book has secret identities, much like you’d expect a good spy to have. The first half of this book is your standard quiet contemporary. There is some drama simmering under the surface, though. But on its face, the first half of this novel is the usual contemporary high school drama. When the pot boils over, the real action begins and this spy thriller lives up to that description in every sense of the word.
The varied pacing is quite deliberate, I think. The slow pace at the beginning contrasts Raegan’s ordinary life from that of her destiny as a Black Angel. The disconnect between her action and training at home versus her ordinary high school worries seemingly become broader. But she also struggles against said destiny–does she even want to be a Black Angel? You see snippets of her Black Angels future, but not enough to make it a reality. Until it is. Drawn into this reality, will Reagan make the choice?
Overall, this was a fun and compelling introduction into the Black Angels chronicles series. I have a feeling that we’ll be relieved in future installments that we had any relief from the action at all.
Judge a Book by its Cover: THIS COVER! GAH! Check out Kristen’s story about how the cover came to be in our interview below.
Open tab/Last call: We’re going to pour ourselves a Northern Spy cocktail and interview Kristen Orlando, who also happens to be our first author interview on the blog. Care to join us? Keep reading!
About Kristen Orlando
Writing is one of the great loves of Kristen Orlando’s life and she’s been lucky enough to make it her living—first as a television producer, then as a marketer and now as a novelist. Kristen graduated with a B.A. in English Literature from Kenyon College. She lives in Columbus, Ohio with the other great love of her life, Michael.
Kristen’s debut novel, YOU DON’T KNOW MY NAME (Macmillan/Swoon Reads, January 10th, 2017), is a YA Spy Thriller. Trained in mortal combat and weaponry her entire life, Reagan is expected to follow in her parents’ footsteps and join the ranks of the most elite secret agency in the world, the Black Angels. Falling in love with Luke was not part of the plan. Now Reagan must decide: utilize her incredible talents and lead the dangerous life she was born into, or throw it all away for Luke and the normal life she’s always wanted.
YA Wednesdays Interview Kristen Orlando
YAW: Are you a plotter or a pantser? Can you describe your writing process?
KO: I’m a total plotter. I think I’m a combo of a Type A and Type B personality, so that Type A side really likes to have a plan and a road map. Of course things do change as you write, but I always initially have to start with a chapter by chapter outline.
Once I write out a solid outline (usually a paragraph or two each per chapter) I like to write out character studies. What they look like, their personalities, even foods or music or shows they’re into. Once I start writing, I’m a total word/brain dumper. I just go! I have other author friends who won’t leave a sentence or a paragraph until it’s absolutely perfect. I’m not like that. I need to get the story out of my body and then I go back and refine/polish. So my first pass is usually a bit of a mess. But that’s what works best for me!
YAW: You Don’t Know My Name is a very cinematic book–I could see so much of the action and locations in my head very clearly. How do you feel your time as a TV producer influenced the writing of book?
KO: Thank you for saying that. I appreciate it. I see the book in my own head like a movie so I think that’s why I write like that. I see all the characters, I see their conversations, I see all the action, so I just write what I see in my imagination. It’s funny, I never thought about the TV producer influence but I’m sure you’re absolutely right! I spent years writing to the video/images I saw so I bet that absolutely did influence the way I write.
YAW: Was there one particular event that sparked the idea for You Don’t Know My Name?
KO: Yes! It was a total lightning bolt moment. The idea actually came to me in the shower of all places (where I think everyone does their best thinking, right?). My husband and I had just watched the movie, Red, which is about retired CIA operatives hunted by assassins. After we had watched the movie, I was in the shower and thought, “What would it be like to be the daughter of one of those top secret spies? What an interesting and dangerous life you’d have to lead!” And then I realized…oh my gosh, that’s a book! I’d been wanting to write a young adult book for awhile but hadn’t come up with an idea yet and then… BAM! I think I came up with half the plot somewhere between shampooing and conditioning. I was so excited about the idea I ran down the hall in a towel to see what my husband thought of it. He loved it and encourage me to write it. So I did.
YAW: What type of research did you do for this book? Martial arts? Travel? Panic attacks?
KO: I did so much research for this book! Man, the stuff I’ve Googled…I really hope that nothing ever happens to my husband because the police will take one look at my internet history and arrest me for sure.
I did extensive research on the CIA for YOU DON’T KNOW MY NAME. I interviewed government officials about how the CIA works and how an underground group like this would get federal funding, how it’d be run, how it’d stay hidden, who in the government would know about it, the list goes on. I did a lot of research on martial arts (I’ve watched a million Krav Maga videos) and weaponry as well. I even went to a shooting range and learned how to shoot a gun. I am super scared of guns, but I really wanted to know what it felt like to hold a gun, what it felt like to pull the trigger, and what it actually does to your body when you fire a bullet (it really does knock you back). I wanted to be able to describe all of those feelings accurately in the novel. And yes, I did a lot of research on PTSD and panic attacks. I’ve had one panic attack in my life and it was one of the scariest things I’ve ever, ever felt. You feel like you’re drowning or dying or having a heart attack. But I wanted to learn more from people who have them often and are always fearful of being on the edge of one. I had some beta readers tell me I should take those elements out of the novel, but I really fought to keep them in because I thought they were very important to her character. Reagan is a total badass, but she’s been through and seen so much. She’s faced immense danger at a young age and is always looking over her shoulder. I wanted to show the mental toll this life would take on someone. Spy life is not as glamorous as they make it out to be in the movies! I wanted it to feel realistic.
YAW: How has your experience as a first-time author matched up to your expectations?
KO: It’s surpassed it! This is such a dream come true and I’ve been blown away by the support I’ve gotten from everyone at Macmillan, from my agent Merrilee Heifetz at Writers House, and from other authors. It’s been nothing short of amazing. I have loved every single second of it and feel so lucky to work with such rock stars. I’m very grateful to everyone who has been involved with this book and I’m super excited for it to finally be out in the world.
YAW: You Don’t Know My Name is the first book of a series. Was it originally written as such? How many books do you plan to write in the series?
KO: I had always envisioned it to be three books and luckily, Macmillan saw it as several books as well. Right now, I’m signed to three books but we will see how the story plays out and if there will indeed be more! They are such fun characters and story lines to write so I feel privileged to get to hang out with them for more than one book.
YAW: I love the cover of the book. Did you have input into the design process? How closely does it resemble your dream cover?
KO: I’m totally obsessed with the cover. It turned out perfect. It’s better than my cover dreams! What’s really cool about Swoon Reads is that they let the readers have a say in the cover. So the amazing designers at Macmillan came up with 5 different concepts and let the readers vote! Two actually tied (which has never happened before) so they combined the two to make one fantastic, gorgeous cover. I love the red and black so much. And I love how her face is mysterious (just like Reagan is). I think what’s really cool about this cover is that any girl can look at this cover and see themselves. (YAW: This is the tie Kristen discusses.)
YAW: I loved Raegan and Luke’s on-going would you rather banter. I came up with a few questions for you. Would you rather: For the rest of your life: read great books that have the last chapter ripped out OR read entire terrible books exclusively?
KO: This is so fun! It’d be so frustrating to not know the endings of great books, but I’ll have to go with that one. I have a wild imagination so I’ll just make up my own ending!
YAW: Would you rather only travel to Italy on vacation for the rest of your life or not travel at all?
KO: Traveling to Italy on vacation for the rest of my life sounds amazing! I spent 3 weeks in Italy when I was studying abroad (we got a 5-week spring break at the University of Exeter. Awesome, right?) and I absolutely loved Italy. It’s one of my favorite places in the world so I’d be down with walking through the art museums of Florence, eating gelato and pasta every single day. (Side note: I probably gained ten pounds while I was there because my daily diet consisted of cappuccinos, pizza, bread, gelato, pasta and more gelato).
YAW: Would you rather go into the future to meet your descendants or travel back in time and meet your ancestors?
KO: Oh wow…that’s a good one! I think travel into the future to meet my descendants. My family is full of story tellers, so I’ve heard so much about my relatives throughout the years and while I’d love to meet them, it would be pretty darn cool to meet my future great-grandchildren or great-great-grandchildren.
YAW: And, finally, the rapid fire portion of today’s interview:
YAW: Favorite YA authors?
KO: So, so many! I am a huge fan of YA writers. I love John Green, Sara Shepard, Jenny Han, Jay Asher, Jennifer Niven, Adam Silvera, Victoria Aveyard, Alexandra Bracken, Beth Revis, Amy Reed, Sara Zarr, Rainbow Rowell, Judy Blume, Suzanne Collins, the list goes on and on. There are several dozen I’m leaving out!
YAW: Favorite YA heros?
KO: Augustus Waters in The Fault in Our Stars. I know he’s not a typical “hero”, but he’s amazing and teaches Hazel how to live. So for that, he’s a total hero.
YAW: Favorite YA heroines?
KO: Again, so many but if I have to choose just one I’m gonna go with Katniss Everdeen. I’d want her on my girl squad.
YAW: Favorite painters and composers?
KO: Van Gogh’s “Wheatfield with Cypresses” is my very favorite painting. Debussey is my favorite old school composer (my favorite song of all time is Clare de Lune) and my favorite new composer is Ludovico Einaudi. I listen to him all the time while I write! I probably couldn’t have gotten through the book without him.
YAW: Favorite poet?
KO: Oh…tough to pick just one. Tie between Maya Angelou, Walt Whitman and Robert Frost.
YAW: If not yourself, who would you be?
KO: This is a good question…I guess in a way I wish I was a bit braver and more adventurous. I wish I was able to help more people than I do. I wish I was able to invent or discover something important for the world. But truly, I’m pretty happy being myself. Is that a weird thing to say? All I’ve ever wanted to do was be an author and I’m getting to do that! I’m ridiculously grateful for the life that I have. I have a lovely family, great friends, a wonderful husband and a career I love. I have a pretty happy life so while there are lots of people and careers I really admire, being Kristen Orlando is pretty okay!
YAW: Your main fault.
KO: I’m a total worrier. The term “daymares” that Reagan says in the book actually came from me. My mind can go to some pretty dark places. And I worry about things that don’t even make sense! Like I’ll be walking around the second story of a mall and I’ll just envision myself falling over the balcony to my death. Even though there are super high railings and everything. I guess that’s what happens when you have a big imagination. You can write books but then you also have the creativity for some dark things, too.
YAW: Where would you like to live?
KO: So many places. But my top three places to live would be: London (specifically the neighborhood of Kensington), on a mountain in Vermont, or overlooking the Gulf of Mexico down in Florida.
Thank you to Kristen for giving up precious time from writing to answer our questions!
You Don’t Know My Name is out on Swoon Reads, 320 pages.