Beloved worldwide for her epic Ember in the Ashes fantasy series, Sabaa Tahir’s latest, All My Rage (Razorbill/Penguin, March 1), follows high school seniors Salahudin and Noor, who live in Juniper, a small California desert town. Flashbacks to Lahore, Pakistan, where Salahudin’s mother Misbah’s story began, provide context for his family’s current situation as financially struggling motel owners. The sole survivor of the earthquake that destroyed her village in Pakistan, Noor was brought to Juniper to live with her uncle, who runs a liquor store. Inseparable from childhood, the teens navigate family secrets as well as their currently strained friendship—and the fragile tendrils of something more. College applications and high school social dynamics sit alongside questions of faith, culture, racism, love, abuse, loyalty, betrayal, and more. Grounded in richly evoked settings, the book’s deep emotional honesty will speak to a broad swath of teen and adult readers. The novel is being adapted for television by PICTURESTART, with a script co-authored by Tahir and her brother Amer Saleem. Tahir spoke with us over Zoom; the conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Did you write All My Rage during the pandemic?

I actually wrote the book over the course of about 15 years. I edited a great deal during the pandemic. I always say that writing is editing, so it was this very essential part of the creation process. It was difficult; I found I had to be much more flexible, harking back to my early days of writing when my kids weren’t in school. The wonderful thing was, I knew I could do it because I had done it before. I just channeled early-2010 Sabaa to get it all done. I think that my books at their core are very much about hope in dark times because that sustained me through so much of my own life. When I was panicking—I’ve never written a contemporary, I don’t know what I’m doing—I would just tell myself, look, it’s a story. You just have to tell the truth.

The sense of place comes through so strongly.

The rural feeling, the smallness of that community, was very important to me, and it was the one constant from that first page written long ago. The desert is this very powerfully beautiful and brutal place. Having lived there for nearly all my childhood, that sense of awe really informed the rest of the story. Growing up at the motel, working at my parents’ gas station, those two things allowed me to be interacting with people constantly. It’s a huge part of why I became a writer—observing people, seeing this contrast between how my parents were versus people from Germany or England or China, [seeing] just how vast the human experience was.

I love how you write about rage. It made me think about the implicit boundaries around who can safely express anger and the social consequences of doing so.

I love that that’s how you saw the rage. Years ago, there was this Twitter kerfuffle because of the phrase Muslim rage. Someone had used it on a magazine cover, and all these Muslims were hashtagging it and joking about it—things like, “someone just stole my parking spot at the mosque #MuslimRage” or “I’ve been waiting for my kebabs for an hour #MuslimRage.” I thought, how sad that an emotion as simple as anger, as basic and essential to humanity as anger, cannot be expressed by specific groups without it being a source of fear. If a woman shouts or cries because she’s angry, it’s “oh, she’s out of control.” If a Black man expresses indignation at being slammed to the ground during an arrest, he’s seen as a threat. If a young person, the people I write for, says “hey, that’s wrong,” they’re seen as naïve to the ways of the world. As a result, so many of us hold so much anger inside. That’s such an unjust way of being and such a terrible way of forcing our humanity into a bottle. I can’t change that, so I thought I’d write about it.

Being young is no protection from experiencing trauma in real life. How is writing about raw, difficult subjects for teens different from writing about them for adults?

Honesty is really important. Showing the messy reality of these kids’ lives, both in the struggle and in the beauty and the humor—and allowing for a lack of resolution or a resolution that’s ambiguous because, the truth is, trauma does not always leave us. We can heal from it, sometimes we can shed it, but not always. There’s a scene in the book where Salahudin wonders if his trauma is going to be with him forever. As a young person, I found myself asking that—not thinking, I’m gonna survive this! Or, everything’s gonna be OK! But, is it always going to be like this? Sometimes that’s the truth that we have to write. I don’t know if, as adults, we give young people enough credit for being able to live within a question as opposed to having to have a resolution. I think in general we don’t give them enough credit for being able to handle the things they’re given to read and to form their own opinions.

Is it hard to avoid the feeling of writing for an audience, whether that’s insiders with expectations around representation or outsiders who have cultural misconceptions?

I think that to some degree this is the benefit of being an older writer: I’m able to say, you, the reader, take the book I have written. Now it is yours. Take it and make of it what you will. That is between you and the book. If you’re angry at me for the way I wrote it? OK, legit, you’re allowed to have an opinion. All My Rage is one story. It is not meant to represent the Muslim community or the Pakistani community or the desert community. No one book can do that. My overlapping communities—Muslim, Pakistani American, trauma survivors, fantasy book lovers, Star Wars fans—all these communities are filled with millions of different experiences. It’s a song with millions of melodies, and this book is just one melody. Just one. It’s just not meant to be more than that. I hope people relate to something within it, but I have absolutely no illusions that it represents the broader Muslim community.

What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

In general, when it comes to young people, I never dare to assume they’ll take anything from a book. But what are my hopes? I hope that the people who need to be seen—and they know who they are—feel seen with this book. I just want people to feel less alone. It goes back to that sense of community, what you can do for your community. If it creates any empathy, I would like people to feel like their reality has been witnessed. That’s it.

Laura Simeon is a young readers’ editor.