Schools Book of the Month: The Year After You by Nina de Pass

Competition type: Schools

Start date: 08 August 2019, 00:00

Closing date: 30 September 2019, 00:00

Age group: 12-14, 15-18

Cara and G were once the queen bees of their American high school, but after a horrific accident with awful consequences, Cara is packed off to boarding school in the Swiss Alps. The Year After You is a touching exploration of grief and friendship that will draw you in with its beautiful setting and sympathetic characters.

Hear more from Nina in our Q&A below, and enter our competition to win one of five copies of The Year After You!

What inspired you to write The Year After You?

When I was seventeen, there was a terrible car accident at a nearby school – one that has stayed with me ever since. One girl died; another – the driver – survived. I didn’t know those involved personally, yet I have thought about them for over a decade – about what happened, about everything that came after. The Year After You is not about that accident – that’s not my story to tell – but the events in the novel are underpinned by a car crash. For years I had been thinking about the aftermath of such a tragedy and the complex relationship between guilt and grief – how do you reconcile yourself to a life without someone you love, when you feel responsible for their death? How do you carry on living like you did before, when nothing will ever be the same?

I knew exactly who my protagonist Cara was when I started writing: a seventeen-year-old girl who has lived through unbearable trauma. Unable to move forward, Cara’s mother sends her 5,000 miles from home to a boarding school perched on the edge of a mountain, in total contrast to everything she has left behind. I wanted to write a book about a girl who can’t make sense of her grief when it is so tangled up with guilt, but I also wanted to write about love – the love between family and friends, as well as romantic love. All those people who show us how to keep living, when living seems impossible.

What research did you do to write the book?

At the boarding school in The Year After You, Hope Hall, the students study for the International Baccalaureate; I, on the other hand, took A-Levels. I had long discussions with someone who had taken the IB to find out how it worked, how the school days would be laid out, and which – and how many – subjects the characters would do etc. It turns out the academic programme is very different to the exams I took in my last year of school, but, predictably, much of the information I gleaned about the IB didn’t actually make it into the final book, as it wouldn’t have been relevant to the story! It was important to me, though, that all the lessons going on in the background of the story were technically feasible and factually correct.

I also did quite a bit of research for the hospital scenes. One of my best friends is a nurse, and I lived with her while I was writing The Year After You – she was extremely kind and helpful. I also spoke to a doctor, who was very generous with her time. Together they answered all my medical questions and made sure I was, among other things, using the right terminology and referring to the equipment correctly. 

Cara's new school, Hope Hall, is in the Swiss Alps. What made you choose this setting?

I was inspired by the image of Wes Andersen’s iconic The Grand Budapest Hotel, the snowy landscape from snippets of old James Bond films and the winter scenes from The Night Manager BBC TV series. Winter is my favourite season, and the image in the opening scene of the book – a perilous journey up winding, icy roads to Cara’s new school – became stuck in my head. For the story to work, I knew that Cara needed to be going somewhere that was in total contrast to the home and school she’d left behind in California. I needed her to recognise the danger of not only the ice and the impending isolation, but also that she really was heading right into the unknown.

The setting itself provides cause for so many of the events in the novel: rickety cable car rides, school buses sliding on the icy courtyard, a blizzard that traps everyone indoors. On several occasions the crunch of snow underfoot is fairytale-like and the surroundings literally sparkle – there is a beautiful, natural magic to the place. But while the confined space, the isolation from the rest of the world brings the students closer together, it can also feel oppressive. By putting my characters in a school on the edge of a mountain, I knew they would naturally become close very quickly, but I also knew there wouldn’t be an escape from one another. As the layers of snow build up on the window panes, the characters are forced to face each other.

About Nina de Pass

Nina de Pass started writing The Year After You, her first novel, while on a creative writing course at the Faber Academy. She has an MA in French and Spanish from the University of Edinburgh, and has lived in three other capital cities too - Madrid, Paris and London. Nina now lives and works in London.

Competition

We have 5 copies of The Year After You to be won – just answer the question below. The competition closes on Monday 30 September. All entrants must reside in the UK. The winners will each receive 1 copy of the book.

Full terms and conditions.

What is the name of Cara’s boarding school?