Kill You Last, A Conversation with Todd Strasser
Egmont: Where did this story start for you?
Todd Strasser: As you probably read in People Magazine Gisele Bundchen is my steady girlfriend, and before her I dated Heidi Klum and -
Egmont: Seriously, Todd.
Todd Strasser: Okay, I once modeled chamois shirts and duck-hunting outfits for the J.C. Penny catalog.
Todd Strasser: How can you doubt that? I mean, duck-hunting outfits? Why would anyone make something like that up?
Egmont: Good point, but no one models hunting clothes in Kill You Last.
Todd Strasser: A few years ago, the daughter of a close friend of mine was approached at a mall in New Jersey by a woman claiming to be a modeling agent. The "agent" told my friend's daughter that she had modeling potential and gave her the card of a photographer who would do headshots for her. Many hundreds of dollars later (photography, stylist, wardrobe, etc.), my friend's daughter had 300 headshots but little else.
Egmont: So you used that incident as the basis for Kill You Last?.
Todd Strasser: Yes, though I put a darker spin on it. Years ago there was a case in Los Angeles involving a serial killer who pretended to be a fashion photographer in order to prey on young women.
Egmont: How did you arrive at the title?
Todd Strasser: I'm pretty sure that came from a line in a movie called Fish Tank about an angry working-class teenager in Great Britain. At one point she says to her friend, "I like you, I'll kill you last." At first I wanted the whole line to be the title, but over time it shrank to Kill You Last.
Egmont: So the inspiration for the book came from several unrelated sources - a friend's story, an actual criminal case, and a line from a movie. Is that often the way your books evolve?
Todd Strasser: Often, but not always. The first book in the "Thrill-ogy", Wish You Were Dead, was based on an anti-drunk-driving program at my childrens' high school, but the second book, Blood on My Hands, pretty much grew straight from my imagination, although it was set in my hometown in Westchester, NY, and uses many real landmarks.
Egmont: Back to Kill You Last; would you say that in addition to creating an exciting mystery/thriller, part of the purpose of the book is to warn young women to be careful about who they trust?
Todd Strasser: Definitely. Thanks to reality TV, it sometimes feels like more young people than ever are growing up with stars in their eyes - believing they have what it takes to be famous - which could leave them vulnerable to predators. On the other hand, sometimes these situations are completely legitimate. My friend John Wickersham's daughter Emily was eating in a Soho restaurant when a woman claiming to be a modeling agent approached her. A few months later, Emily was modeling for Abercrombie, and that led to a small recurring part on the Sopranos, and now she's out in Hollywood pursuing a career in TV and the movies.
Egmont: So dreams can come true.
Todd Strasser: Oh, yes. Young people should aim high and take a few risks. They just should be careful about which ones they take.
Contributor: Egmont USA
Blood On My Hands
Callie knows no one will believe that she did not kill Katherine Remington-Day--after all, someone snapped a photo of her holding a bloody knife over Katherine's dead body. Too scared to turn herself in for fear that she will end up in prison like her older brother, Callie spends several days hiding out from the police. Katherine often manipulated Callie into doing things that she did not want to do, such as breaking up with her boyfriend, Slade, while he was away at basic training. In fact, Callie had started to despise Katherine, and now everyone in town is pinning the murder on her. She is convinced that she can find Katherine's true killer if she can gather more information about the IC, the group of girls in Katherine's inner circle. There is so much Callie does not know about her friends, and soon she will realize that the killer is the last person she would ever suspect. In this sequel to Wish You Were Dead (Egmont USA, 2010), Strasser begins to build suspense from the very first page, right after the murder takes place. Each chapter is composed of a passage set in the present and a detailed flashback that slowly reveals the tumultuous nature of the relationships between members of the IC before Katherine's murder. A great deal of dialogue, short chapters, and straightforward diction will make this a quick read for students who enjoy murder mysteries. 2010, Egmont USA, Ages 15 to 18, $16.99. Reviewer: Amy Wycoff (VOYA, February 2011 (Vol. 33, No. 6)).
In Todd Strasser's Famous, fifteen-year-old Jamie Gordon has become New York City's youngest paparazzo overnight, after snapping some unflattering photos during a chance encounter with a celebrity. Jamie becomes obsessed, insisting that she is a respectable celebrity photographer even while she bribes a fifth grader to help her stalk a pregnant actress. When Jamie is invited to spend a week photographing teen pop sensation Willow Twine, she knows she is being used and thinks she can handle it, but events quickly spin out of control. In the meantime, her best friend, Avy, spirals down his own dangerous path in pursuit of his acting dreams. The chapters in this nonlinear story include Jamie's past-tense account of events, Avy's present-tense observations, several newspaper and tabloid articles, Jamie's e-mails to her boyfriend, letters sent by a stalker fan to Willow, and even a transcript from a court trial. In some chapters, Jamie suddenly switches to second-person future tense, which is slightly jarring but is perhaps intended as a way for Jamie to emotionally distance herself from painful events. Amazingly, not only does this mish-mash create a cohesive whole, but it also builds significant suspense. In addition, the book makes some astute observations about America's reality-television culture and its obsession with fame. The only minor quibble is that Jamie's vocabulary sometimes seems affected, but this well-crafted novel clearly belongs in all public, junior high, and high school libraries. 2011, Simon & Schuster, Ages 12 to 18, $15.99. Reviewer: Amy Sisson (VOYA, February 2011 (Vol. 33, No. 6)).
If I Grow Up
The first word of the book's title is highlighted--as well it should be. Nothing in the Fredrick Douglass Project is guaranteed except poverty, the drug market, and dodging bullets from guns of rival gangsters. No one knows this guarantee better than DeShawn, who must face the tribulations of school life versus gang life and the difficulties of teenage pregnancy while trying not to die on the streets like his mother did. DeShawn knows what happens to those who let the mean streets become their playground, battlefield, and in some cases--their death. She must make a decision: become more involved in school and find that ticket out of Fredrick Douglass or become engulfed in the culture of the gang. The choice is not easy. This book is suitable for 6th graders and up and illustrates how tough life can be and how hard the choices are that must be made...or else. 2009, Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, Ages 12 up, $16.99. Reviewer: Cord McKeithen (The ALAN Review, Fall 2009 (Vol. 37, No. 1)).
Kill You Last
Eighteen-year-old Shelby Sloan is an upper middle class high school senior living with her mom and photographer dad. Three girls who were clients at her dad's photography studio are reported missing and when he is considered the prime suspect, her life starts to unravel. Then Shelby discovers that not only was her dad running a modeling scam to make money but also hitting on some of the girls. This proves particularly devastating since Shelby has always been closer to her dad than to her mom. Even when she is hounded by the press and ostracized by her classmates, her best friend Roman stands by her. In order to prove her dad's innocence she joins forces with Whit, a journalism student at nearby Sarah Lawrence College. The surprise ending is a bit of a shocker but seems logical as the story evolves. Writing for a high school audience, Strasser refers to casual teen sex, beer-drinking and high school relationships. The high school student dialogue rings true and although most teens this age will not have experienced the lifestyle, they will enjoy reading about it. The story will most likely appeal to female readers. This title concludes the "thrill"-ogy that began with Wish You Were Dead and Blood on My Hands. 2011, Egmont USA, Ages 15 up, $16.99. Reviewer: Michele Lauer-Bader (Children's Literature).
Wish You Were Dead
This book is a natural choice for readers who love stories that cause them to look over their shoulders and watch the shadows, fearing the unknown. Strasser offers a tightly written, authentic tale about a very popular high school clique that is being stalked and abducted one-by-one. The story is told by intertwining at least three narrators: a teen blogging about the kids she hates; a first-person narrative by Madison, a member of the popular clique; and strange monologues from a possible psychopathic kidnapper. Each narrator is given a unique font, which helps the reader manage the multiple narration changes. When the anonymous blogger blogs about one of the bullying popular kids, that person disappears. Two of the missing teens call Safe Rides, a school run service to make sure kids get home safely, right before they mysteriously disappear. Madison is in the thick of the situation. She knows that the mysterious new student, Tyler, knows something, but can she find out what before it is too late? Will her attraction to him interfere with her search for her friends? The themes of bullying, tolerance, and friendship are issues to which readers can relate, as well as the inclusion of the IMing, blogging, texting, and social networking. This thriller will be popular and passed from one reader to another. 2009, Egmont USA, Ages 15 to 18, $16.99. Reviewer: Susan Allen (VOYA, December 2009 (Vol. 32, No. 5)).
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