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By Dawn Ius

No doubt about it, slices of time in 2020 certainly felt as though the world was ending—but although our reality has, in some cases, forever changed, we’re certainly not staring down the barrel of an apocalypse.

The characters in Michelle Falkoff’s latest young adult mystery—HOW TO PACK FOR THE END OF THE WORLD—may not get off so lucky.

In it, Falkoff asks: If you knew the world was going to end tomorrow, what would you do?

Her main protagonist, Amina, is haunted by this question as she watches horrible news stories flash across the screen on a daily basis. She feels woefully unprepared for THE END. But when she starts school at the prestigious Gardner Academy, she meets a group of like-minded friends who have decided to dedicate their year to learning survival skills from each other.

Their dedicated training may help them in a global crisis, but when they come up against regular high school problems—from relationship drama to family issues to friend blow-ups—Amina wonders if it’s worth living in a hypothetical future if it’s at the expense of your actual present.

Falkoff is the acclaimed author of Playlist for the Dead, Pushing Perfect, and Questions I Want to Ask You. She talks about her latest book, HOW TO PACK FOR THE END OF THE WORLD, and more in this quick The Big Thrill Q&A.

Which took shape first: plot, character, or setting?

Character came first for this book—I had a completely different plot in mind when I started writing, but once I figured out who the people were, the story changed dramatically.

Michelle Falkoff

What was the biggest challenge this book presented? How about the biggest opportunity?

The biggest challenge in this book was figuring out where the story lived and the best way to tell it. I’ve never changed the structure and point of view so radically after starting a project before! But being open to those changes made the book much more fun to write than what I’d originally set out to do.

Without spoilers, are there any genre conventions you wanted to upend or challenge with this book?

I think of my book as mysteries, but I’m very aware that my focus as a writer is on developing the ways in which the world is mysterious for my characters on a personal level—the plot mystery is very much secondary. That can be frustrating for readers, I’m sure, but to me, it’s important to acknowledge that getting the answers to difficult questions doesn’t always resolve the problems we’ve identified, and I like complicating the question of what it means for the mystery to be resolved.


Michelle Falkoff is the author of Playlist for the Dead, Pushing Perfect, Questions I Want to Ask You, and HOW TO PACK FOR THE END OF THE WORLD. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and currently serves as director of communication and legal reasoning at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law.

To learn more about the author and her work, please visit her website.


Dawn Ius
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