Suzanne Park on the zombie apocalypse, rom-coms and The Perfect Escape

I remember thinking, “Oh geez, I have to write about this someday.”

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The title of Suzanne Park’s debut YA novel couldn’t be more apt. The Perfect Escape is just that, the perfect escape. Part rom-com, part wilderness survival, part coming of age contemporary, The Perfect Escape is the perfect read for anyone looking for something a little bit different to whisk them into a story of love, family and survival.

We were lucky enough to chat with Suzanne about her inspirations behind The Perfect Escape, her YA rom-com recommendations, upcoming projects and more.


How and when did the idea for The Perfect Escape come about?

My brother, sister and I attempted (*cough* failed) a zombie escape room challenge. There were some scantily-clad bachelorette party ladies in our same time slot who screamed and shrieked while we gathered in front of the room— as soon as I saw them stroll in the entryway, teetering in heels, I remember thinking, “Oh geez, I have to write about this someday.”

​What inspired Nate and Kate’s characteristics? How did they come to be the people they are in the final version of The Perfect Escape?

Nate is terrified of disappointing his strict Korean parents, and I felt a lot of the same parental pressures he did growing up, especially when it came to academics. His family is strapped financially, and as such Nate is very focused on making money. I wasn’t as obsessed with money as Nate is in the book, but I did get my first job at age 15 because it was important for me to have savings (funny enough, I never changed— I’m still a saver). My first job was at a country music theme park — an Asian-American teenage girl selling country music souvenirs out of a wooden wagon might be about as odd as a Korean teenage boy working at a zombie escape room. My goal for Nate was to create a swoony Asian-American teenager who is funny, relatable, driven and nerdy.


Kate’s story came to me more quickly and easily, and a small part of her life was based on my own. She wants to leave home to pursue an acting career, but her father wants Kate to follow in his footsteps and work at his company. Kate wants to pursue her own creative path instead and I think a lot of teenagers can relate to this. She comes from a rich family, goes to a good school, but is unhappy with her life and wants independence. As I wrote and edited the book, I wanted to make it clear that Nate and Kate need to escape their lives for different reasons, and have to rely on each other to do so. Through their journeys they both come to realize what’s important to them, and it’s not necessarily what they think.

 

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​Having written The Perfect Escape, do you feel more prepared for if/when the zombie apocalypse happens?

Um…yes!​ I bought “​How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It: Tactics, Techniques, and Technologies for Uncertain Times​” and “​The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead​” and read them both cover to cover. I’ve marked a lot of pages with post-it notes so if and when the time comes, I can thumb to the important parts quickly. I could maybe get by a couple of weeks with my emergency preparedness kits and could hopefully come up with a longer-term plan as I thumb through my survival guides while stress-eating my leftover pandemic snack foods.

Whilst reading The Perfect Escape, I couldn’t help but think it would make the ​best​ movie! If it were to be adapted to screen, who would be your dream casting for Nate and Kate?

I would LOVE for this book to be a movie. I’m a little out of touch with TV and movies these days but when I was writing this novel I had Maze Runner’s Ki Hong Lee in my head as Nate and Kaya Scodelario as Kate. There are some great Asian-American actors playing significant roles now, like Charles Melton, so hopefully casting for Nate would be super easy. For Kate, I can see Kaitlyn Dever from “Booksmart” or Lizzie Greene from “A Million Little Things.” I just hope they’d stay true to the book by keeping Nate’s Korean-American family as portrayed in the story. No Scarlett Johansson in this show or movie please!

Did you have a favourite line or moment to write and if so, could you share it with us?

There are parts of the book that showcase my (weird) sense of humor. One of my favorite lines toward the end of the book, when Nate is dealing with “zombies”:
“Someone had recently fought with this zombie and lost. Between the missing eye and freshly torn clothes, he was in really bad shape, cosmetically speaking. Energy-wise though, he was ready to rumble. Ten out of ten on the enthusiasm scale.”

​Even though The Perfect Escape is an incredibly fun read, it also touches on ‘tougher’ topics such as money, parental expectations and difficult family dynamics. What was it like trying to balance those narratives alongside escape rooms, zombies and a survivalist competition?

Thank you so much for mentioning this. As you say, The Perfect Escape is not exactly your typical teen romantic comedy for a few reasons: there’s semi-futuristic technology, action and adventure as well as underlying commentary on those tougher topics. Movies like “Parasite”, “Get Out” and “Train to Busan” are gold standards because they have unique narratives, A+ storytelling peppered with humor, and underlying commentary on injustice. I don’t write thrillers or horror, but I do love a good, layered story, especially when it features a budding, awkward romance. I’m hearing from early readers that they “escaped” in The Perfect Escape and thought about some of the themes well after they put the book down. I hope this is a common sentiment.

 

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If you had to enter a survivalist competition like the one Kate and Nate enter in The Perfect Escape, which fictional character would you choose to be your partner?

Ooooh! Katniss. But if magic is allowed, I choose Hermione instead.

It’s safe to say that things are pretty tough in the world right now but books like The Perfect Escape act as such a wonderful relief from the outside world. Do you have any recommendations for fans of The Perfect Escape wanting more uplifting YA rom-coms?

My go-to YA authors are Sandhya Menon and Gloria Chao for feel-good rom-coms. Rachel Lynn Solomon has a book coming out soon called Today Tonight Tomorrow that I really connected with on so many levels. I’m reading Cameron Lund’s Best Laid Plans and it grabs you from the first page.

Do you have any future projects in the works and if so, can you tell us anything about what we can expect?

I’m really excited about my adult rom-com Loathe at First Sight releasing this August. It’s about a female junior video game producer who’s tasked with releasing a controversial mobile video game, and she’s antagonized by everyone around her, especially the new MBA intern.

I’m currently working on my second #ownvoices YA rom-com book about two teens from different walks of life who meet at a digital detox summer camp set in a rural area. I’ve done a LOT of research and it’s scary how much I know about rustic farm life now. That book will be out June 2021. I also have another adult workplace romantic comedy I’m working on soon after that I finish the YA one. Like with the other books I’ve written, prepare for more escapism in 2021!

Get your copy of The Perfect Escape by Suzanne Park today in the UK & US

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