I’ve started this blog post six times now and still can’t get it right. Maybe because Izzy at the End of the World was drafted when life was familiar and rewritten through cataclysmic grief. Or maybe it’s because diving back into this story is giving me a trauma response to what happened while rewriting this book. Either way, I hope you’ll forgive me if I ramble about Isadora Wilder and how her story both broke and saved my life. How Izzy and her best doggo Akka, not only showed me what it means to survive, but how to pick up the broken pieces of your life, dust yourself off, and live.
Izzy at the End of the World began on October 28th, 2017. I’d been deep in edits for my debut, The Land of Yesterday, when this soothing young voice popped into my head and just...started reading her story to me. Like a switch flipped and there she was. Her voice was wise and clear, so different from any character I’d ever written, and immediately drew me in. So what was a harried author to do but set edits aside, open a new doc, and type out the key points of her story before all the pretty words she was saying simply floated away.
The original blurb I wrote myself:
Comps: STAR WARS meets I AM LEGEND meets STAND BY ME. MG novel about the last two kids on earth after lights shine down and obliterate everyone else. The kids fight to keep each other alive while combatting the normal woes of being kids on their own. They must figure out how to survive a world without adults, while simultaneously learning how to become them.
Isadora Wilder told me her name right off the bat. She also knew exactly who she was—a fatherless, autistic, bisexual, low-income, adopted-by-her-grandparents, grieving for her mother, scared and worried and unapologetic, fourteen-year-old girl, alone at the end of the world.
Izzy lived with depression, anxiety, intrusive thoughts, assorted autoimmune disorders, and Akka, the best dog in the galaxy. She’d let me know she’d had it rough, but all the while, she was loved. Right away, I thought, “She sounds just like me at fourteen.” And had just as much fight in her, too. That, despite all she’d been through. Despite people’s pre-conceived notions of what she was and wasn’t capable of. Despite the stereotypes folks have tried to pin on her over the years, and the limiting beliefs she sometimes imposed on herself, Izzy was still right there fighting, proving everyone who doubted her wrong.
So, despite my edits, and my doubts that a dystopian alien invasion apocalypse story featuring a queer fourteen-year-old grieving autistic protagonist would be at the top of any publisher’s MUST HAVE NOW lists (!), I wrote the first chapter anyway. Because even though it’s hard to remember sometimes, we writers aren’t here for the publishers. Before anyone or anything else, we are here for the readers. And Izzy had come for the kids going through it like she’d been through it. The kids whose worlds were falling apart. And considering all I’d been through as a kid and adult I wasn’t about to let her down.
In that opening chapter Izzy read me that day, we find she and her best dog Akka stargazing on the deck of their small mountaintop home. Vermont is dark and quiet as starlight when hundreds of unidentified flying objects light up the sky. Spotlight beams shine down over Vermont. Izzy and Akka, trapped in the beams, are unable to move. Izzy’s grandparents and little sister, still in the house, all Izzy can do is watch in horror as monsters, tall as trees, lower through the spotlight beams and drop into the surrounding woods. Frozen in lights and fear, when the unidentified flying lights finally vanish, Izzy finds her family, and every other living creature, has vanished with them.
And Isadora and Akka might be the last alive on earth.
Izzy at the End of the World began as a story about grief and family bonds transcending time and space. I knew I wanted to draft a story where autistic and disabled kids were the badass and beautiful heroes who saved the world. I knew I wanted Isadora’s story to be relatable to kids feeling lost and desperate for hope. What I didn’t know was that not long after this book sold part of my own story would end. And if I wanted Izzy to reach the end of her book, I’d have to write in spite of my shattered heart.
No, strike that.
I’d have to write because of it.
If you follow me on social media, you will know my story. How just five months after we got an offer for Izzy at the End of the World, my husband Bob had a stroke and massive brain bleed. During emergency surgery the doctors found a golf ball sized tumor in his brain, and he was diagnosed with stage 4 esophageal cancer. This all occurred during Covid lockdown, which made everything that much worse. We were so devastated, shocked, and scared, obviously I set my rewrites on Izzy aside to focus on Bob and our kids, and for nine months, that’s all I did. Then, on April 8th, 2021, Bob died.
To be very honest, I thought Izzy’s story would die with him.
"If I wanted Izzy to reach the end of her book, I’d have to write in spite of my shattered heart. No, strike that. I’d have to write because of it."
Not going to lie, rewriting two thirds of this book while Bob was dying, then doing edits after he died, was the most gut-wrenching and impossible thing I’ve ever done in my life. For those who know me, you know that’s really saying something! There were days I wanted to quit writing forever. To light Izzy’s story on fire and forget the whole thing. That’s how strongly my trauma-brain thrashed at the confines of my PTSD/depression cage, begging any escape.
Yet after those first few months of intense grief, Izzy reached out of her own darkness and lifted me out of my own. She started whispering to me again. She saw me fighting and I saw her doing the same. I remembered that she was a fierce and strong autistic child out there in the wild of Vermont, battling monsters and kicking butt all over town. And if she could do it, she could help her author, and hopefully some kids out there, to do the same. So, I got up, and finished Izzy at the End of the World at the end of my own.
In the beginning, I thought Izzy was here just for the kids.
In the end, I saw she was here for me, and anyone else going through it, too.
And she even brought a dog.
Thank you so much for reading this, for being here, for existing and just being you. As Izzy says in the book, “It’s good to have a friend at the end of the world.”
K. A. Reynolds is a head-in-the-clouds widow and neurodivergent author from Winnipeg, Canada, residing in the hills of Vermont. When not lazing about with her goofball dogs or wandering the sun-dappled wood, she enjoys writing books for kids and adults by candle and moonlight, laughing hard and loud, and reading dark and colorful tales expertly crafted by other imagination astronauts in love with words. Visit her at www.kareynoldsbooks.com.