Before Perera was a writer, she taught English in two inner-city London secondary schools, and then ran an alternative program for teenage boys. She’s been a reader all her life—born in London to an Irish mother and a Sri Lankan father, she grew up with “her head firmly planted in a book.” She received a masters degree in Children’s Writing and began publishing books, including The Night the Lights Went Out, which was shortlisted for the 2008 Dundee Picture Book Award in England.
Though she’s published several books for younger readers, she had no intention of writing for teens—not until she attended a charity benefit event in 2006. The benefit was for Reprieve, a nonprofit that fights for the rights of people on Death Row, in Guantanamo Bay and other secret prisons around the world. That night, Perera heard an unsettling fact: there were teenage children being held at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba.
The news compelled her to write about it; she felt the story had found her. She set out to write Guantanamo Boy for a YA audience, believing that young people are the key to creating a fairer and kinder world for the future. Writing the book presented an unusual challenge—how does one write a story about human torture and the “war on terror” without adding to the hatred and violence in the world? Perera chose to focus on the story behind the news and statistics—a story about a boy caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Guantanamo Boy was shortlisted for the Costa Children’s Book Award and nominated for the Carnegie Medal in England. We’re pleased to be publishing it in the United States this month.
Perera’s second novel for teens, The Glass Collector, set in Cairo, Egypt, was published this spring in the UK, and is forthcoming from Albert Whitman Teen early next year. Perera says she now feels completely at home writing YA novels, and will continue to work in this genre “long after her reading glasses are replaced with telescopic lenses.” In other words, far into the future.