Before sending out an ARC today, I reread my author’s note (below!) and wanted to share a bit more about what my debut book means to me. Diamond City is about a girl who grows up in poverty and homelessness and becomes an assassin to protect herself and get herself off the streets. Unfortunately, homelessness and poverty are realities that far too many young people face—including me. I didn’t realize, when I first started writing this book back in 2017, that this story would come out of me and onto the page, but it did because it needed to be told, even if I didn’t realize how much so until a few rounds of revision later with plenty of encouragement from those who read the book.
But it’s not just a story of a girl fighting tooth and nail for a future she hopes she deserves; it’s how her experiences changed her and made her who she is, all of her morals and decisions and goals. It’s not an experience that falls to the side once your situation is improved. It informs everything, and I wanted to explore that here. The main character’s situation is extreme, as Aina is an assassin living in a dangerous place with very little law and plenty of corruption, all caught in the swell of industrialization. But by showing such an extreme example, in a world infused with magic, I hope this helps readers look at poverty and homelessness through a more humane lens.
There’s a line on the first page that says “She was dirty and poor, but the idea of a future hadn’t faded from her mind just yet,” and I think that encapsulates much of Aina’s journey. As a child facing homelessness, addiction to an inhalant, and the loss of her parents, Aina maintained hope that one day she’d find a way off the streets of Kosín. An opportunity to join the city’s criminal underworld is the path that presents itself to her, and she takes it, barely knowing what she’s getting herself into.
After escaping this difficult childhood, Aina will do whatever it takes to prevent herself returning to the streets. She’s completely focused on achieving a future for herself and convincing herself she has one, because if she doesn’t, she knows she’ll go back to where she came from. She comes to view her boss’ every word as a rulebook to survival—he offered her a way off the streets, and she knows that if she makes one mistake, she’ll lose this opportunity. This creates a power imbalance between them, one that she spends much of the book navigating.
In short, she’s desperate to hold onto this newfound security, even when it places her in life-threatening situations almost daily, and climbing higher in her position is the only way to avoid falling. Aina comes to see herself as just one more cog in this self-destructive city, where her only way to survive is to make sure she’s one of the last ones standing. While she was still on the streets, it became very easy to lose the concepts of shame and humility, and for Aina, that makes it easier for her to plunge forward with her goals and not care what anyone thinks.
Despite the challenges she’s faced, Aina still manages to have hope for success and a better, more stable future for herself. She has very high expectations of herself to prevent herself from falling to what she was before, but that means she judges herself more harshly for every small mistake. She’s convinced the whole world sees her as a poor, hopeless case, but she refuses to believe that herself, and does everything she can to prove to other people that just because she came from nothing, that doesn’t mean she can’t rise.
I hope this book helps people see Aina, and people like her, as capable of rising, and to never forget people’s humanity regardless of their situation. And remember that this time of year is particularly hard for people without a home, and if you’re able, please give to or volunteer with a local organization that can help!
A few amazing Bay Area organizations are the following: