When Kaija Langley was 6, her best friend died of sudden cardiac arrest. Nobody acknowledged or spoke about the tragedy in a genuine or helpful way, and she was left to process her grief alone.
Now Langley has written “The Order of Things,” a lyrical and emotionally powerful novel-in-verse about April, an 11-year-old aspiring drummer, whose best friend Zee, a violin prodigy, dies of sudden cardiac arrest. It’s an uplifting tale of grief, courage, and community that she views as “a conversation-starter to help kids and adults navigate the emotional terrain of grief.”
Since April and Zee are both young musicians, Langley set the novel in Boston — “a natural fit” — to take advantage of the city’s vibrant musical scene. New England Conservatory of Music, Berklee College of Music, and Wally’s Café Jazz Club all feature in “The Order of Things.”
Langley didn’t set out to write books for children. She got an MFA in fiction and wrote a novel for adults, but “after it didn’t sell, I took a 10-year hiatus,” she explains — until “an epiphany” transformed her writing life.
Listening to Jacqueline Woodson, award-winning author of “Brown Girl Dreaming” at the Cambridge Public Library, Langley was deeply moved by the engagement of the kids with Woodson’s work. She realized that “telling stories through the vantage point of a child’s perspective, through a child’s lens” was her calling.
Langley took a class called “Writing for Children and Young Adults,” at Cambridge Center for Adult Education, and landed a “We Need Diverse Books” mentorship with author Alex Gino. When Langley encountered Woodson again, Woodson promised to help “bring [her] book into the world” by introducing Langley to a literary agent who took her on as a client — an example of the wellspring of “generosity, support, and joy” that Langley has experienced in the Boston-area children’s book community.
A loyal member of the Boston Kidzlit Drink Night Crew and the Grub Street Writers of Color Group, Langley also holds down a full-time job as director of development for libraries at MIT, plus family and volunteer commitments. Given her busy schedule, she considers herself fortunate to be able to write whenever she has a free moment.
“I write,” she says, “in the margins.”
Kaija Langley will discuss “The Order of Things” with award-winning author Rajani LaRocca at Porter Square Books on June 7 at 7 p.m. More info here.
Betsy Groban, a freelance writer and critic, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org