Q: How did you come up with the idea for You & Me at the End of the World, and for your characters Hannah and Leo?
A: I knew I wanted to write a YA novel about two total opposites falling in love—but I wanted it to be ultra-focused and zoomed-in on just the two of them, away from parents and friends and school.
When I hit upon the idea of throwing them together in a mysteriously empty city, the story really started taking off. What started out as a simple romance became a book that mixes eerie suspense, the emotional grind of a coming-of-age story, and intoxicating first love.
As far as how I came up with the ideas for the characters, I’m not sure when I decided that Hannah should be a ballerina—in the earliest draft of the book she wasn’t!
When I’m not writing, I work as a ballet stage manager. For the decade leading up to writing You & Me at the End of the World, I spent 40 hours a week in rehearsal studios with dancers, so maybe it slipped into my subconscious.
Thankfully, Hannah being a ballerina fits perfectly—ballet is a structured art, and Hannah loses all of that structure and safety when she wakes up to find the city empty.
For Leo, I knew I had to craft him to be Hannah’s foil. I always wanted them to be opposites who bring each other towards center. My husband used to play in rock bands, and had long hair and wore eyeliner and lots of rings, so that seemed like a good place to start. But he’s a drummer, and his personality is very different to Leo’s.
Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?
A: The title has changed a few times, actually. When the book sold to Scholastic, it was called While We’re Here, but for some reason that was hard to remember and didn’t stick in people’s heads.
I had a brainstorming session with my editor and some of her colleagues, and You & Me at the End of the World rose to the top. Now I can’t imagine the book being called anything else—it describes the story perfectly.
I will say that “the end of the world” in this case probably looks different than you might be imagining!
Q: You note that you wrote the book before the current pandemic began. What impact do you think the pandemic might have on readers' experiences with the book?
A: When the pandemic hit, I really worried that it would steal the story’s thunder. I created Hannah and Leo’s empty streets as a playground for a reader’s mind, a space where they could safely imagine a world that was very different from the hyper, overstimulated one we lived in.
I wanted to explore what it would be like to walk down an empty highway and just hear nothing. To not have to constantly navigate interactions with dozens of people daily. But now that’s… normal. That’s lockdown life.
But now that we’re over a year in, I think seeing Hannah and Leo confront their isolation might feel really resonant and almost therapeutic for readers.
Hannah and Leo each have their own (flawed) coping mechanisms, and they have to struggle to find what works for them to make it through each day. They’ve had huge parts of their lives suddenly stripped away, just like all of us have had in the past year. What do they lean on? How do they survive, emotionally?
You & Me at the End of the World is part how-to-guide, part cautionary tale for how to navigate the situation. But it doesn’t mirror the real world exactly, which is good because I think we’ve all had enough of that!
Hannah and Leo aren’t facing a pandemic, political turmoil, illness, or the stir-crazy feeling of being trapped in your house. The parallels are on a deeper, more emotional level, so it still feels like escapism. But useful escapism, if that makes sense!
Q: Did you know how the book would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?
A: I always knew how the book would end—that was one of the first things I could see. It was so dramatic and emotional. But I did rewrite the crucial climax/reveal section three or four times, fine-tuning the details until it felt just right.
There was one fundamental change I made late in the game, after my phenomenal editor came on board, but telling you more would be a massive spoiler and would ruin the experience of going into the book with fresh eyes!
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m working on another book for Scholastic right now. It’s full of autumn vibes and sad cinnamon roll boys and STEM-genius girls, and I can’t wait to start sharing details about it on socials. It’s not a sequel to You & Me at the End of the World, but it will feel similar: it’s another a contemporary YA with a slow-burn romance and a speculative twist.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I’ll be doing some fabulous swag and ARC giveaways on Twitter/Instagram very soon, so if you want to get your hands on the book before everyone else, find me on Twitter @briannabourneYA or on Instagram @brianna_bourne_writes! Preorder links can be found on my website at www.briannabournebooks.com. Thank you so much for chatting with me, Deborah!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb