Amber Morrell is joining us today to talk about her novel, The Alchemy of Letting Go. Here’s the publisher’s description:
A young scientist finds a magical way to escape death, but can’t escape her emotions.
Twelve-year-old Juniper Edwards can’t stop chasing the endangered butterfly her sister died trying to catch. In her grief, Juniper finds comfort in her family’s study of insects, because science is based on logic, order, and control. But then Juniper’s search for the butterfly nearly kills her, too, and when she wakes up with newfound abilities, she discovers that the line between science and magic―and life and death―is not as solid as she thought. With the help of her mysterious neighbors, Juniper tries an experiment to change things back to the way they were. Its result will force her to face the fact that some things are way beyond her control.
What’s Amber’s favorite bit?
The Alchemy of Letting Go is a middle grade fantasy novel written in the first person perspective of a 12-year-old scientist. Juniper wants to be an entomologist and sees everything through the scientific method—from the insects she wants to study to her relationships with her peers. She uses science like armor to protect herself from complicated feelings, especially the ones surrounding the death of her older sister two years ago.
Because of this science-focused perspective, I really got to play with looking at a magical world from a scientist’s point of view. I learned way more about insects than I ever thought I would, especially as a fantasy writer. But I got to sprinkle in a lot of fun bug facts in creepy crawly quips.
While researching this book, I learned that there is a type of moth that has wings that look like eyes to scare off predators. It’s called the polyphemus moth–though in the book, I added a magical moment where the eyes blink. I also learned that there is an ancient extinct insect, called a griffinfly, which is like a dragonfly but with a wingspan of three feet. Unfortunately, griffinflies didn’t make it into the novel, but I’m keeping them in my pocket for future works.
One of my favorite lines isn’t a fact, just a fun moment. Juniper is crawling out from the shrubs between her house and the magical house next door. As she does, she talks to one of the residents of that house: a talking lemur named Soren. However, as she emerges, she gets caught by one of her classmates who came to drop off her homework.
Here’s how that conversation went:
“Juniper? Why are you in the bushes?”
It can’t be the afternoon already, can it? I lost track of time at the Elm House. I stand up and dust the soil off my knees. Something scratches at my ear, and I pull a twig out of my hair. I can’t tell Mateo about Artemis and the magic house. If I do, he won’t want to help me with magic. I say the first excuse I can think of.
“I, uh, saw a cool Spirobolida.”
He wrinkles his forehead as if I spoke a different language.
“Round-backed millipede,” I say. It’s a lie, but at least they’re indigenous to the area. I helped Dad find some for his class once.
Mateo holds a folder and a rolled-up poster in his hands.
“What’s all that?”
“I brought your homework.” He looks past me at the bushes. “Is someone there?”
I look back. Soren is gone—he probably scampered back through the fence when he saw Mateo.
“I heard you talking.”
“I was talking to the millipedes.”
Mateo laughs, but I didn’t mean it to be funny. It was the first thing I thought of. Thankfully, Mateo doesn’t push it.
What I love about this moment is that, even though it’s a lie, it’s something within the realm of normal behavior for Juniper, and Mateo just accepts it without further question. I love creating characters with hyperfixations, especially hyperfixations that I do not share. I am not an entomologist, nor am I particularly interested in bugs personally. The closest connection I have is that when I was three, my mom took me to a bug fair and bought me a pet millipede that I named Fluffy. Based on that name alone, you can tell I would’ve preferred a pet of a more cuddly nature. But it was fun to inhabit the mind of Juniper, who is absolutely obsessed with everything entomology
Amber Morrell is an author and librarian hailing from Southern California. She writes whimsical fantasy and science fiction for children and adults. Her work explores the liminal spaces between science and magic. In her free time, she plays D&D, watches Star Trek, and makes TikTok videos about esoteric knowledge. The Alchemy of Letting Go is her first novel.