Young adult novelist Erin Entrada Kelly isn’t afraid of the dark

Laurence Kesterson

For her newest novel, “Lalani of the Distant Sea,” Erin Entrada Kelly turned to her Filipino ancestry to craft a mythic tale of a young girl on an epic journey. The best-selling author won the Newbery Medal for “Hello Universe,” which is being adapted by Netflix for a movie. She will speak at noon Sunday, Oct. 20 at the Dewitt Center Gym as part of the annual Boston Book Festival.

BOOKS: What are you reading currently?

KELLY: I have been going through a historical true crime phase. I was just on a plane and listened to “An Unspeakable Crime: The Prosecution and Persecution of Leo Frank” by Elaine Marie Alphin. He was a Jewish man who ran a pencil factory in Atlanta and was accused of a murdering a 13-year-old who worked for him. Before that I was listening to “The Trial of Lizzie Borden” by Cara Robertson. For some reason my audio books are very, very dark, and I fall asleep listening to them.


BOOKS: Do they ever give you bad dreams?

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KELLY: For a while I was into the Russian Revolution so was lulled to sleep by sounds of that. One night I had the worst nightmare. So I decided to change gears. I started listening to Michelle Obama’s “Becoming.” Then I fell asleep and dreamt that she and I were great friends.

BOOKS: Do you have a favorite from your Russian Revolution reading phase?

KELLY: “The Family Romanov,” by Candace Fleming. I didn’t realize it at the time but it’s intended as YA. It was so accessible. What turns a lot of people away from historical nonfiction is that it can be so dense. I will learn more if I read books with specific angles into history. A book on World War II would be difficult for me to get through, but I just read “Blitzed” by Norman Ohler, which is about drug abuse in the Nazi regime. Through that one slice I learned about the war overall.

BOOKS: How long have you read true crime?


KELLY: From early on. I went to the now defunct Waldenbooks with my dad, and I wandered into the true crime area. My dad explained what true crime was. I saw “Helter Skelter” by Vincent Bugliosi, which is about Charles Manson. My parents always gave me free rein on reading so my dad let me buy it. Keep in mind I was 12. I couldn’t read it, not because I was scared but because it was so dense, but I did flip through it.

BOOKS: What kind of fiction do you like?

KELLY: I read everything from children’s picture books to adult fiction. The only genre I haven’t been able to sink into is romance. It’s just not my cup of tea. I love gothic fiction. Kate Morton is one of my favorite authors.

BOOKS: What was your last best read for a novel?

KELLY: I just yesterday finished “The List of Things That Will Not Change” by Rebecca Stead, a Newbery Medal winner. She has a gift for expressing the inner life of young people. It felt like Judy Blume. I still worship at the altar of Judy Blume.


BOOKS: Were you reading YA and middle grade fiction before you started writing it?

‘I will also hug a book. I’ll finish reading one, hold it close and just sit there.’

KELLY: Not that much. When I was a younger reader you went from Judy Blume to Stephen King. I started to read books for that age group as an adult, and a whole world of literature opened to me. A key book for me was “Notes from a Liar and her Dog,” by Gennifer Choldenko about a sweet girl who is overshadowed by her sisters. When I read that it was honestly the first time I felt a book was about me.

BOOKS: Do you ever cry over books?

KELLY: I’m not a big crier generally but there are some books that have made me cry. The most recent one was Anthony Doerr’s “All the Light We Cannot See.” I will also hug a book. I’ll finish reading one, hold it close and just sit there. I definitely hugged Doerr’s book. I also had a strong reaction to “An Ocean of Minutes” by Thea Lim. I didn’t hug it because the book was very troubling. I just stared at the wall and thought. Sometimes when you finish a book you need a second.

Follow us on Facebook or Twitter @GlobeBiblio. Amy Sutherland is the author, most recently, of “Rescuing Penny Jane’’ and she can be reached at