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The new novel 'Pasadena' brings a dark noir tale to the land of sun and roses

by Alex Cohen | Take Two

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Cover of Sherri L. Smith's "Pasadena". Courtesy G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers

"Bad things happen everywhere. Even in the land of sun and roses."

That's the tagline for a new young adult novel set right here in our very backyard, it's called "Pasadena."

The book is about a girl named Maggie who turns up dead in her family's swimming pool. The death is dubbed a suicide, but her best friend Jude has her doubts.

"Pasadena" was penned by Sherri L. Smith. She dropped by and spoke with Take Two's Alex Cohen about the inspiration behind the novel, diversity in literature and more.

Interview Highlights

Why make a noir novel in such a bright and sunny place?

"For exactly that reason. I was visiting someone who lived in a guest house, in one of the big houses here in Pasadena and I drove onto his block and got really creeped out. There is sort of a Southern California gothic feel to some of these places, they're very stately and old money. But they're also sort of faded starlets and really struck me as a great setting. There's something here...underneath..."

If you were to describe Maggie, the main character, at a cocktail party...how would you describe her?

"Really nice and dangerous. She's a glamour girl. She is performance art in a lot of ways. She's somebody who will turn your head, but she's also surprisingly human. She's one of those people who...when they talk to you, they make eye contact, and suddenly you feel seen...and like, the most important person in the room, to the most important person in the room who is them...she makes people feel special but she also treats herself like something special."

When and how do you want to inject race into your writing?

"In this story, the main character Jude is probably the few characters that doesn't have an ethnic designation and originally because the story is first person and told from her point of view I actually didn't even want to give her a name. I wanted her to be the camera and the thing that you move through this world in. Race is mentioned for other characters for a variety of reasons, there's sort of a class issue in this book, but much like Southern California it's not necessarily all along racial lines and that was important to me. And just to reflect what I see when I walk down the street..."

To hear the full interview, click the blue play button above.

(Answers have been edited for clarity.)

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