Kirkus called Choose Your Weapon’s blend of exotic adventure and engrossing realism “well-written, intelligent [and] exciting,” making for entertaining sword-and-sorcery fiction. For a genre often seen as catering to geeky males with a Dungeons & Dragons jones, this YA fantasy is grounded and relatable enough to appeal to both boys and girls. Author Sarah Rodriguez Pratt, a freelance writer and editor who began the book as a birthday present for her fantasy-aficionado husband, was aiming for that sweet spot exactly. “I like stories that are a balance of plot with character interactions and development,” she says, ones that may have romance but also “a lot more going on in the plot than just the [romantic] relationship.”
Talk about being torn between two worlds: For Helen Connor, the story’s teenage heroine, it’s no mere metaphor; it’s everyday reality. By night, she’s transported in her sleep to the magical realm of Erwingdon, where she’s an apprentice warrior tasked with battling evil, deviously seductive dragons. By day, she’s an insecure high school student in the bleak, economically troubled town of Hollingsworth, Texas, where the challenges—feuding cliques, fraying friendships, awkward romantic yearnings, parents and the relentless pressure to fit in—seem just as urgent, if not fire-breathing.
The lessons Helen learns in Erwingdon about herself and her comrades—about seeing real character beneath the trappings of status and popularity—help her navigate the social turmoil of high school. “I really wanted to explore the idea of duality,” Rodriguez Pratt says. “High school for me was the first time that life seemed almost to split in two. You could be successful in the classroom but have a less-than-perfect home life.” Different as they are, Erwingdon and Hollingsworth have entertaining and enlightening similarities. Some of Helen’s classmates in Hollingsworth show up in her Erwingdon warrior training program, where the snarky kids bicker in timeless teen fashion. “I read a lot of my dialogue out loud,” Pratt explains when asked about her pitch-perfect renditions of adolescent palaver. “I call my dogs my editorial assistants because they listen to all of it.”
Rodriguez Pratt also excels at crafting new twists in old fantasy formulas—starting with her offbeat heroine, who’s half Mexican and, for a legendary dragon slayer, decidedly unathletic and unglamorous. And though she fights alongside handsome jocks, Helen’s heart is drawn more to the school’s supernerd, in whose unapologetic eccentricities—tweed blazer and polished loafers are his preferred outfit—she perceives individuality and self-assurance.
Rodriguez Pratt’s fresh reworkings of the genre have garnered online raves, with the blog Books Without Any Pictures calling Choose Your Weapon “Narnia for teenagers” and MissBookishGirl.com confessing that “I read it in one long session overnight….I just couldn’t put it down.”
Rodriguez Pratt has promoted her self-published book with ads, readings and on her blog, ThatsAGirlsCar.com, but she says strong word of mouth has been the best publicity. “I’ve heard from high school students saying, ‘This is the best book I’ve read all summer,’ parents coming out of the woodwork saying, ‘My daughter loved this book.’ So that’s been really fantastic to experience.”
Further installments in the trilogy, which have already been plotted, are in the offing; Helen will be worrying about college in Hollingsworth and training novice warriors in Erwingdon, while darker forces brood on the horizon, auguring death in both Erwingdon and Hollingsworth. Eagerly waiting are the many fans captivated by both of Helen’s worlds.