Olympia native Hal Schrieve’s novel “Out of Salem” is about a zombie and a werewolf, but it’s the reality of life for genderqueer teens that the first-time author wanted to portray.
“It is a fantasy novel that I want to use to look at oppression and police violence and homelessness,” said Schrieve, 22, who’ll read from and sign copies of the critically acclaimed book Monday in Olympia. “Fantasy and science fiction often exist to examine social issues.
“It’s about queer youth discovering that the thing that keeps them alive is intimacy with and trust in each other. Trust and friendship are what are going to sustain us.”
Schrieve — who identifies as a genderfluid gay trans man and prefers the pronouns “xie” (pronounced “Z”) and “hir” (pronounced here) — knows a lot about those realities, which are depicted starkly in the book.
Protagonist Z, a nonbinary 14-year-old living in Salem, Oregon, is newly undead and alone after the car crash that killed Z’s parents, and both Z’s body and life are disintegrating. They’re left without either family support or a stable home in a society that in many ways looks frighteningly like our own but also has magic and monsters.
Z finds an ally in Aysel, a lesbian werewolf facing discrimination and danger because she is Muslim and because werewolves have been blamed for a murder in Salem.
The novel has earned the admiration of critics, including the prestigious Kirkus Reviews, which described it in a starred review as “on fire with magic and revolution.” Krisdee Dishmon of the online literary mag bookstr.com named it one of March’s hottest young-adult releases.
“It’s urban fantasy of just-a-minute-ago, the Nineties as they almost were, but it’s also YA for people who weren’t born yet in the year it takes place,” Genevra Littlejohn wrote in a review for The Lesbrary. “It balances teenage passion neatly against the now-slightly-foreign world of our past, only slightly sideslipped into the fantastic.”
Though the book is set in the 1990s, Schrieve experienced some of the same struggles and witnessed many more while growing up in Olympia with parents Garin and Courtney Schrieve and sister Anna, now a student at Western Washington University in Bellingham.
Hal Schrieve lived here until 2014, when xie graduated from North Thurston High School and received an associate’s degree from South Puget Sound Community College through the Running Start program.
“I always had a stable home, but most of my friends did not,” Schrieve said. “Someone was always being threatened with lack of housing or moving around to friends’ couches.”
Bullying was very subtle at North Thurston, Schrieve said, but other teens experienced more overt bullying elsewhere.
Schrieve, who graduated from the University of Washington in 2016, now lives in Brooklyn, New York, working as a children’s librarian trainee and finishing a master’s degree in library science at Queens College.
In that work as well as in Schrieve’s writing, xie is passionate about listening to, empowering and informing young people.
“Teenagers are going through a lot of different things that often don’t get covered in fiction,” Schrieve said. “There are more books for LGBTQ teenagers now, and there are more books that deal with heavy-hitting issues like homelessness, but there is still really not a lot of representation of those issues.
“I want to write about youth, about the ways that they are smart and sensitive and empathetic and often are better prepared to look at the world and evaluate what’s going on in it than people who’ve been living in it a long time,” Schrieve added. “Youth can really make change in ways that adults find hard.”
Schrieve, who wrote the first draft of “Salem” five years ago, has known since about age 7 that xie wanted to be a writer.
“When I was 8, I wrote a book about dinosaurs escaping the dinosaur extinction by flying to the moon,” Schrieve said. “I really wanted them to still be around so I wrote this sci-fi narrative. … I have continued to write weird stories.”
‘Out of Salem’ book launch
- What: Olympia native Hal Schrieve is getting excellent reviews for “Out of Salem,” a young-adult novel about a genderqueer teen zombie. Schrieve is launching the book here with a talk and signing.
- When: 7 p.m. Monday
- Where: Browsers Bookshop, 107 Capitol Way N., Olympia
- More information: 360-357-7462, browsersolympia.com
Read all about it
Schrieve, who is finishing up a master’s degree in library science and working as a children’s librarian trainee, shared a few book recommendations:
• “Lizard Radio,” by Pat Schmatz, is what librarians call a “read-alike” for “Out of Salem.” It’s about a genderqueer teenager living in an authoritarian state.
• “Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl,” by Andrea Lawlor, is an adult novel about a shape-shifter, set against a backdrop of 1990s queer culture. “My book is set in the ’90s, but I never experienced it,” Schrieve said.