Imagine a book about the future – a future where children are groomed to feed wild vampire-like beasts. A book with good guys who are bad guys, bad guys who retain a touch of humanity, and a few characters primed to save the world.
“The Lair” is the second in a series of young adult books from Round Rock author Emily McKay. The first was “The Farm.” Both are set in a post-apocalyptic future, in which adults have failed young people, and young people have adulthood thrust upon them.
McKay's vampires are neither glamorous nor elegant, but they are smarter, stronger and faster than humans. And in both “The Farm” and “The Lair,” human children are farmed to feed human/vampire Ticks.
"As a parent, I would never give up my child to be farmed as food," McKay tells KUT's Emily Donahue. "It would only happen for me if I thought the only way to keep them safe was to live in this concentration camp. But of course, once the kids get to the concentration camp - the farm - they realize that things inside the farm are horrific also and people are turning against one another and people are trying to keep themselves safe at the cost of sacrificing other people. So I had to come up with a complex world inside the farm."
The main characters in both books, Lily and Mel, are twin sisters, identical in all ways but one: Mel is autistic. Before the apocalypse, Mel was highly functioning. After, Lily survives the farm by focusing on keeping Mel safe.
"The story [of “The Farm”] starts when Mel and Lily together have developed a plan to try and escape the farm. They believe that when they turn 18 they're going to be turned over to the Ticks outside the fence. Because their blood will no longer be suitable to be fed to them outright, so they'll be turned over to them to be massacred. So they decide to escape at all costs. But right before they're set to escape, a friend – Carter – from their past comes unexpectedly back into their lives, that Lily had a crush on."
Together they hatch a plan to escape, but all is not as it seems.
"He has motives of his own," McKay says. "And he works for Sebastian who also has motives of his own and everybody has a stake in the story. I'm very interested in the apocalypse and in how society would unravel. But to me one of the most interesting things about how that would happen is how we would continue to protect the people we care about."
“The Lair” picks up the moment "The Farm" stops. It's non-stop action for Mel, Lily and Carter. They become separated, each encountering several obstacles and life-or-death situations. Together they are strongest. All standard young-adult tropes, says McKay. But this story is different, too.
In “The Lair,” there are betrayals from both inside and outside the core group. How the characters deal with those carries a critical message for young adults.
"I still feel like … you always have to be making decisions for yourself. Even when you're part of a group you always have to be deciding, ‘Is this still the right thing for me, is it the right thing for the world in general?’ And can I truly trust the people that I'm told I'm supposed to trust?" McKay asks.
Get a sneak preview of the third and final book in the series by Emily McKay by listening to the interview above.