In Mirror in the Sky, Aditi Khorana throws us head-first into Tara Krishnan's world — or, should I say, worlds. As if life at her elite prep school — the one where she's a total outsider — isn't hard enough, now Tara and the rest of the world have to cope with the knowledge that there is an alternate world out there, a mirror planet just like Earth. Light years away on Terra Nova, there's another Tara, one who is probably living a happier life, a better life. But what does that mean for the Tara here on Earth? The more she learns about this new planet and alternate reality, the more she begins to change in ways she couldn't have imagined.
For any author, even seasoned ones, writing about alternate realities can be a true test of talent, but for debut novelist Aditi Khorana, it was just another day at work. Khorana has had more than enough writing experience to take on the challenge. "Working as a journalist, and later as a qualitative researcher for Hollywood studios was actually great preparation for writing a novel," she tells Bustle. "Both of these jobs required me to churn out a number of pages on a daily basis and to make my words as economical, engaging and elegant as possible without being too precious. I also spent much of my time studying people – their motivations, their fears, the words under the words that they expressed to me. The biggest challenge of writing a book – at least in the beginning – was the lack of instant gratification. You’re not going to have a completed project in front of you after a day or a week or a month."
But the timeline of writing a novel wasn't Khorana's only challenge. After quitting her job in 2012 and becoming a freelancer, Khorana spent a year and a half writing her first novel and another half of year trying to get it published. After sixth months of defeat, the author began to wonder what she was going to do. "At this juncture of my life, I was questioning all my choices – I had given myself fully to my dream and I felt like an enormous failure," Khorana says. "I wondered if I had made a terrible decision by quitting my full-time job and starting my own consulting firm. I missed the camaraderie of the workplace and the security of a regular paycheck. I was single for the first time in a decade and had moved out of the home I had lived in for six years. All my personal possessions were in a storage container and I was living in a tiny studio sublet. It was 2014 and I was spending a lot of my evenings on my couch, wrapped in a blanket, crying and watching Cosmos. It was a really destabilizing period and I didn’t feel anchored to anything."
Like for so many of us fellow book-lovers, though, Khorana found hope in someone else's writing. "A friend sent me a “Dear Sugar” column — "The Ghost Ship that Didn’t Carry Us", which is all about making peace with the lives we didn’t choose, and somewhere between reading that column and watching all those episodes of Cosmos, I ended up writing [Mirror in the Sky] in a three-month spurt. At the time, I wasn’t thinking of it as young adult or adult fiction. I just wanted to write everything I was feeling."
All those months of watching a documentary about space certainly paid off, because Mirror in the Sky is a expertly crafted science fiction novel with splashes of deeper philosophical questions about life, existence, and reality. But Mirror in the Sky is more than just alien worlds and alternate realities. It also about one of the most basic experiences of adolescence — trying to survive high school.
"I was consciously aware of my difference and longed to live in a place that was diverse, cosmopolitan and broad-minded. I also longed for the freedom of adulthood. I saw high school as an extraordinarily confining holding pen."
For Tara, life at her prep school can at times seem more foreign than Terra Nova. Tara, who is Indian-American, not only feels out of place because she's the only person of color at her school, but because she's there on scholarship, unlike her wealthy classmates. With her best friend abroad for the year, Tara feels alone and invisible, an experience Khorana is all too familiar with. "Like Tara, I went to high school in a predominantly white and very wealthy community," Khorana explains. "I was consciously aware of my difference and longed to live in a place that was diverse, cosmopolitan and broad-minded. I also longed for the freedom of adulthood. I saw high school as an extraordinarily confining holding pen." Her own experiences helped her elegantly and honestly create an honest narrative about growing up, one so many readers can relate to.
"As a teen, I longed to see characters who looked like me in the books that I loved – and not just as fringe characters, but as the actual hero of the story [...] We all need and deserve to find a sense of belonging in books, and in art in general."
For young, POC readers, Mirror in the Sky isn't only a page-turning read, but a welcome addition to a mostly white-washed library of young adult novels. "Since the book was published a number of people who are my age have been reaching out to me saying things like 'I would have done anything to see a brown girl on the cover of a novel when I was sixteen,' and that’s one of the reasons I wrote Mirror in the Sky," Khorana confesses. "As a teen, I longed to see characters who looked like me in the books that I loved – and not just as fringe characters, but as the actual hero of the story [...] We all need and deserve to find a sense of belonging in books, and in art in general."
Thanks to Khorana, that can be a reality for even more young readers today. A moving, thought-provoking novel that delicately balances science, philosophy, and emotion, Mirror in the Sky is a truly stand-out young adult novel — make sure it's on your summer reading list.