NORTHBROOK — If the American government developed new weapons of mass destruction, what would they look like?
In the fictitious world of “Elements,” the government creates a secret agency to find, train and surgically alter people to act as living, breathing weapons of mass destruction, able to see elements and manipulate them with their minds to create lethal combustions.
“Elements” is an exciting, suspenseful and emotional ride, following three teenaged orphans as they are selected, trained and given the ability to act as the next generation of these beings.
Relationships change and questions are asked as Josephine, Blue and Pyre dive deeper into this new world, filled with unfamiliar rules.
Could this be a metaphor for the transition teens make from grammar school to high school?
You’d have to ask 18-year-old author, Molly Karr, who’s spent the last three years writing the book and part of senior year pitching it to literary agencies, one of which is currently looking to get it published.
The book was born out of indecision; Karr was a sophomore at Glenbrook North High School when she began seriously searching for what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. It came down to science and writing, but Karr didn’t want to have to choose between one or the other.
“I love science–I’ve always been fascinated with it, but I wanted to find a way to mix it with writing,” said Karr, who graduated from GBN in May.
The summer after her sophomore year, Karr took a creative writing class at Northwestern University that laid the foundation for what would later become a three-year quest to successfully mix compelling story-writing with scientific research.
“The teacher said something to me at the end of the class…she said that the only way to get better at writing was to do it–to write,” Karr said.
When the summer class was over, Karr began writing a chapter of a story she already had in mind, and had fun doing it. So she took it to the next level.
Hoping to get credit for the work, Karr applied for Glenbrook North’s Advanced Honors Research Program (AHRP)–a one-and-a-half-year class that allows students taking a heavy course load the opportunity to research a topic that wouldn’t otherwise come up in the curriculum.
“What this program is supposed to do is have them research a project that reaches across departments; Molly’s project involved English and science,” said Robin Sheperd, the Social Studies instructional supervisor overseeing the program.
Sheperd said that the program’s committee of teachers didn’t initially know how to accommodate Karr’s project–in the program’s 32 years, no student had ever proposed writing a book.
Still, the committee saw potential in the project, and decided that her research could be centered around how to tell a story. Karr was accordingly assigned to work with English teacher Lori Huguelet and a science teacher Kathy Gutierrez on the details of her project for the next two years.
Throughout the writing process, Karr learned how to make science fiction believeable and how to make inorganic and organic chemistry understandable to the average young adult reader.
For example, Karr says, good fiction involves the creation of believable characters that exist in a world filled with a set of rules that are to be followed by the characters, otherwise they will face consequences.
Rules make even the most absurd fictitious worlds believable because they penetrate every area of human life in the real world. They are created and followed in sports, work, society, government, school and board games, and they are either clearly written or implied.
Karr worked with Gutierrez to ensure that the chemical and biological rules of the world she created in “Elements” mimicked the real world as much as possible, down to the chemical composition of lawn ornaments and their combustion reactions.
To make her main characters more believable, Karr researched the social, emotional and physical impacts that life in a stereotypical orphanage might have had on them.
Her decision to have the orphans be between the ages of 13 and 14 was strategic.
“I liked the age of 13 and 14 because you are being a friend…maybe something romantic could come on later, but I didn’t want that to be the focus of the story–I wanted it to be on what this world was,” Karr said. “Children are interesting to write about, and it wasn’t so far away from my own experience.”
Karr implied that she would focus more on romance in the next of the series.
“I always imagined it being a trilogy,” Karr said.
She’s not yet sure if she’ll pursue science fiction writing as a career; she’ll have plenty of time to explore her future at Cornell University in New York, where she’ll begin as a freshman this fall.