This post is sponsored by Harper360YA.
Starring an autistic heroine and featuring a powerful sisterly bond, a magical treasure hunt and a cast of character you can’t help but adore, Unseelie, the enchanting YA debut from Ivelisse Housman, gives readers everything you could want from a fantasy read and then some. Action packed, moving and brilliantly written, we adored Unseelie and are already eagerly awaiting its sequel. To celebrate its release, we’re so happy to have had the chance to talk to Ivelisse all about her magical debut.
Hi Ivelisse! I’m so excited to get to chat to you today about your epic debut YA fantasy, Unseelie but first, for readers just hearing about it, how would you best describe it to them?
Unseelie follows an autistic changeling and her human twin as they get swept up in a treasure hunt that takes them through the faerie realms and back. Along the way, they’re joined by a fighter with healing magic and a charming shapeshifter, and encounter faeries, dragons, humans who want to kill them, and (worst of all) the realization that self-acceptance is the only way to survive.
Can you tell us a little about the inspiration behind Seelie’s story?
I was initially inspired by the theory that changeling mythology was an early description of autistic children. Changeling mythology persists today in the belief that autism has somehow “stolen” one’s child away, rather than that our unique brains are inseparable from who we are. I wanted to interpret the concept in the format of the YA fantasy books I have loved for as long as I can remember, blending real-world problems and representation with the magic and romance of my favorite reads.
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With epic world building, an exciting magic system and a fabulous cast of characters, Unseelie really has everything a reader could want from a fantasy read but was there an aspect you had the most fun writing?
The two things I enjoyed the most were kind of opposites—I loved writing the scenes in the faerie worlds, combining existing mythology with a unique spin into settings just as deadly as they are lovely. However, some of my favorite scenes in the book are the quieter moments, when the characters have the chance to talk, banter, and bond as a group. Both are Seelie’s biggest challenges, the moments when I could see deepest into her character—struggling with her magic in dangerous situations, and struggling with social interactions, which have such high stakes at that age!
You discussed in your authors note how not seeing a variety of autistic experiences portrayed in the media or created by autistic creators themselves, made it difficult to accept your own diagnosis. What do you think it would have meant to teen Ivelisse to have been able to read a book like Unseelie during that time?
Before I was officially diagnosed, I realized I was autistic because of a fandom conversation about Sherlock Holmes being autistic. I recognized so many of the traits listed in myself, but I was scared to say anything or ask for help, because I wasn’t exactly the stereotypical “cold mathematical genius” represented by Sherlock and so many other (white, male) autistic characters. Even so, I connected to the character deeply. I wanted so badly not to be the only person like me, but the same masking that made it take so long for me to get diagnosed made me feel completely isolated.
Seeing a character like Seelie might have given me a word for what I was besides broken. Seeing another autistic girl, who feel things so deeply and makes mistakes and is overwhelmed by the world around her, might have made me realize earlier that I wasn’t the only one who felt those things.
It would have meant everything to me to read a book like Unseelie as a teen. And it means everything to me now that it can be that book for someone else.
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Do you have any must-read book recommendations for readers looking for more stories starring autistic characters?
I’m so excited that we’re finally seeing autism representation in books, but the majority of the ones I’ve read have been middle grade or adult—so most of my YA recommendations are upcoming anticipated reads! Tilly in Technicolor is a contemporary romance by Mazey Eddings releasing this August, and of course Andrew Joseph White’s gothic horror The Spirit Bares Its Teeth in September. If you enjoy Unseelie, you will probably love Catherine Bakewell’s YA fantasy Flowerheart, which also has a neurodivergent heroine, as much as I did!
The ending of Unseelie was perfect and left me wanting even more from Seelie and her journey. Are there any hints you can share with us about what we can look forward to in book two?
Thank you! Writing a cliffhanger ending is so scary, you have to hope readers will take the leap with you! The stakes are so much higher in book two, with more explosive magic and the danger of the faerie courts, not to mention continuing to develop the very slow slow-burn romance set up in book one. Mostly, I’m excited that you get to see more of Isolde and get to know her character better!
Get your copy of Unseelie by Ivelisse Housman here.