Greely High School sophomore Devin Gifford of North Yarmouth has received recognition for her dystopian novel, “The Unraveling.” Kristen McNerney / The Forecaster

For 15-year-old published author Devin Gifford of North Yarmouth, a good book is all about experiencing the unknown.

“Reading and writing is about going to another world where there’s something you can’t experience yourself,” the Greely High School sophomore said.

Gifford received a Silver Key Scholastic Art & Writing Award presented by the Alliance for Young Artists and Writers this winter for her dystopian novel, “The Unraveling.” The book was also up for a Maine Literary Award for speculative fiction from the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance this spring. While she didn’t win that contest, she was happy to make it as far as she did.

“Just knowing that my book was considered alongside so many other great works of fiction was an award enough,” she said.

The speculative fiction genre includes science fiction, fantasy and dystopian works, or anything taking place in an imagined world.

In “The Unraveling,” a teenaged girl struggles to survive as she tries to find out why an ominous fog has enveloped the world. An evil organization whose members wear emblems of a phoenix is her only clue. The novel includes elements of mystery, dystopia, science fiction, action and adventure, Gifford says.

The protagonist, Willow, is about Gifford’s age and, like Gifford, has a brother, but beyond that, the character and the author have nothing in common, Gifford said.

“I try and separate myself and people I know from my characters because I don’t want them to be carbon copies,” she said. “I can make them their own people.”

The evil organization and the fog, both causing widespread fear, are metaphoric.

“I’ve always thought that the institution of politics is based in fear and how you can control people to support you and not support someone else,” she said. “That’s the closest thing in real life to the organization.”

The story has a moral, Gifford says: “Don’t let yourself be controlled by fear. You can always overcome something even if it feels daunting or has complete control over you. You can always see more clearly than you do right now.”

Gifford wrote “The Unraveling” as part of a 2019 Young Emerging Authors fellowship at The Telling Room in Portland. Each year, four Maine writers aged 13-19 meet each week from October to August to draft books of all genres while being mentored by published authors. At the end of the fellowship, their books are published.

“Devin imagines a world in which humanity had taken a horribly wrong turn,” said Nick Whiston, The Telling Room’s program director. “It’s a world that is at times far away and at other times familiar. That’s part of what initially made me turn each page to see what would happen next.”

To write the second draft of her book, Gifford took part in National Novel Writing Month in November 2019, a program that encourages authors to write a certain amount of words that month, in Gifford’s case, 50,000, or just short of 1,700 a day. Gifford completed about one-half to three-quarters of her revised draft.

“Devin came into this intensive program raring to go, and her commitment never wavered,” said Kathryn Williams, lead teacher at the Telling Room.  “A lot of the writing life is about perseverance, and Devin’s got it. She came to the challenge of writing a book in a year like a pro.”

Whiston said “The Unraveling” is a book “readers middle grades and up will eat up” but Gifford said she didn’t think much about the audience when writing. “If I’m enjoying my writing I think that’s enough,” she said.

After a busy year, Gifford said she is now writing mostly for school, but she’s is considering writing a sequel to “The Unraveling.”

Her book can purchased at Print Book Store in Portland online or borrowed from Prince Memorial Library in Cumberland.

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