Icarus Gallagher is, in many ways, your typical teenager. He skips class sometimes. He’s outgoing. He gets crushes. But in one very big way, Icarus stands out from everyone else around him: He’s an art thief.

K. Ancrum’s gripping new YA novel, Icarus (HarperTeen, March 26), charts the 17-year-old’s adventures as he attempts to balance teenagerdom with this side hustle that his father, a widower and art restorer named Angus, has trained him for. Because of this secret life, Angus forbids Icarus from nourishing real human connection. No parties. No friends over at the house.

Icarus’ solution is to make just one acquaintance in each of his classes. That way, he can get at least a small taste of the kinship he craves. But his world is thrown into a tailspin one night when, during what’s supposed to be another humdrum robbery, he’s spotted by Helios—a “cow-eyed, dimple-chinned, long-lashed beauty.”

What follows is a fascinating thriller that also paints a vivid portrait of queer love.

In a starred review, Kirkus calls Icarus a “slow-burn mystery fueled by a few broken people and a heavy dose of caring ones.” Ancrum and I recently spoke by phone about the book; our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

The plot is incredibly creative; it feels big and cinematic. What inspired it?

I am actually a huge cinephile—I love movies. I love the way that worlds are built for films. All of my books are written [so that they can] be read in one or two sittings. [With Icarus,] I really wanted to re-create how I felt when I first saw the trailer for The Goldfinch. I’d never read the book; I had no idea what the movie was about. I saw that trailer and was like, Hmmm. That’s how I decided to design this plot.

What about your approach to prose and structure? You use terse, staccato sentences, and your chapters are brief—they’re like mini-portraits.

I’ve always believed that when it comes to expressing yourself, making art in a way that feels the most comfortable and the most natural to you will always create the best-quality art.

The reason I write in a vignette style is because of my ADHD. I have difficulty with spatial awareness. When people walk into a room, they might see the whole room. They see the colors on the walls. They see so much richness of detail. But for me, I just see a kind of tunnel vision, and people, and circumstance.

So when I was teaching myself how to write books, I realized that I had this handicap, for lack of a better word, and I decided to teach myself how to write characters who speak in a way that makes you not care that you don’t know what the room they’re in looks like. Instead of describing things in detail, I create a series of gestures [that provide] sensory information or opinion.

For example: “The ground beneath his feet was warm and plush, even on the gravel path to the front door. The heat from the soil rose, bold and steamless, keeping the air around the blooms a balmy 70 degrees.” This is not actually telling the reader what things looked like, but when I’m done, you’re imagining dark summer dirt and flowers, whatever flowers your brain conjures.

Angus keeps Icarus sealed away from the rest of the world, depriving him of emotional bonds. Are you commenting on queerness at all—the alienation that our society still forces many LGBTQ+ people to endure?

Absolutely. I think a lot about the kind of work I’m creating. I grew up in an era where there didn’t seem to be a lot of queer art, so I spent lots of time doing research about queer history and art. I learned early on that the availability of queer literature comes in hills and valleys—and that there have been times in the past when we’ve had significantly more access to queer fiction in a way that a lot of people aren’t usually aware of.

So when I started writing, one of my main artistic goals was to create books that represent what kind of queer world exists for people in the now and make that world accessible to generations in the future who might not have access to anything new but want to consume something and have it resonate.

It’s very important to me to have representations of things such as queer friend groups and expressions of isolation—I’m sure that those are things that probably will continue to be an issue. [Also] these expressions of closeness and intimacy that are so strong in friendships among queer people and make it possible for them to soldier on. Icarus’ isolation—and the neglect that he and Helios experience—are things that I think will resonate with future generations, so I want to portray them as richly as possible.

Are you hoping that your book adds or contributes to present-day battles for LGBTQ+ equality and dignity?

My books are designed to outlast a specific flavor of oppression. I’m trying to build something that somebody might find in the dusty corner of a library and that they’ll be shocked was published during this time period.

When my first book, The Wicker King, came out [in 2017], I don’t think there was a huge amount of fiction about bisexual boys. And the response from readers showed me something that I’ll never forget about the way that I write my work. A majority of the people who were reading the book were queer teens, and librarians, and teachers. But there was an entire group of older gay men who read the book and wrote these beautiful reviews about how there was nothing else that made them feel so much like they did when they were younger. The story wasn’t necessarily written specifically to reflect a certain time period. But this awareness that there are older people picking up teen books and reading them and wishing that they’d had these books when they were younger is powerful.

So when I’m writing these stories, it’s important to me to put cross-generational relationships in the books and have adults be around kids, and interacting with them, and living these lives that the kids can look at and be like, I can learn from this. I can grow from this and not make the same mistakes. I want there to be a community. And within this community, there are places where youth are getting what they need to survive and enrich themselves. And then there are also circumstances where they aren’t [getting those things].

I also want to add that Icarus is about a guy who falls in love with an intersex guy. And I spent some time thinking about it, and I decided that, rather than have the intersex character be the main character, I wanted to have that character be the love interest. It was a stylistic, ethical, and political choice to make Helios a character who’s seen through the eyes of someone who’s looking at him only with love.

Brandon Tensley is the national politics reporter at Capital B.