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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at NYU chapter.

This fiercely evocative, action-packed young adult thriller looks at the darker side of Jamaica and dissects how a tragedy and missing drug money entangle the lives of two teens who want to change their fate. 

“Better Must Come,” the new novel by Desmond Hall, follows Deja who is a “barrel girl”—one of the Jamaican kids who get barrels full of clothes, food and treats shipped to them from parents who have moved to the US or Canada to make more money. Gabriel is caught up in a gang and desperate for a way out. When he meets Deja at a party, he starts looking for a way into her life and wonders if they could be a part of each other’s futures.

Then, one day while out fishing, Deja spies a go-fast boat stalled by some rocks, smeared with blood. Inside, a badly wounded man thrusts a knapsack at her, begging her to deliver it to his original destination and to not say a word. She binds his wounds, determined to send for help and make good on her promise…not realizing that the bag is stuffed with $500,000. 

The posse that Gabriel is in will stop at nothing to get their hands on this bag, and Gabriel’s and Deja’s lives will intersect in ways neither ever imagined, as they both are forced to make split-second choices to keep the ones they love most alive.

Desmond Hall was born in Jamaica, West Indies, and moved to Jamaica, Queens. He has worked as a high school biology and English teacher in East New York, Brooklyn; counseled teenage ex-cons after their release from Rikers Island; and served as Spike Lee’s creative director at Spike DDB. Desmond has served on the board of the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids and the Advertising Council and judged the One Show, the American Advertising Awards, and the NYC Downtown Short Film Festival. He’s also been named one of Variety magazine’s Top 50 Creatives to Watch. He’s the author of “Your Corner Dark” and “Better Must Come.” Desmond lives outside of Boston with his wife and two daughters.

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For this interview, I wanted to focus on the harsh realities in this young adult book and how Hall’s personal experience with the subject matter impacted his writing.

You dedicated your second novel to your sister who is your “favorite barrel girl.” Could you touch upon this dedication and how it ties to Deja’s character?

“Barrel Children” is a term that refers to young people in the Caribbean who are left with family, family friends or by themselves when their parents venture overseas to countries like the US, Canada or England to seek employment. The economic conditions on the island are such that the parents can make more in a few years abroad than they can working a decade in their home country. 

My sister was one of these children, and on top of that, she also suffered from a crippling illness before dying at an all too young age. So, in writing “Better Must Come” I sought to give my sister the agency on the page that she didn’t have in life. I sent her on the “adventure of a lifetime.” Many have said that they see that I care for my characters—well, with the character of Deja in “Better Must Come,” I probably feel more for her than most will ever know.  

Every author has a piece of themselves embedded in their work. How do you think this applies to you for both “Your Corner Dark” and ”Better Must Come?”

Both novels are filled with emotional truths about me, my family and the country of my youth. Some of my uncles and cousins made unenviable choices that led to great heartbreak and early death. Having my own issues led me to be a “highly-focused-observer” of their actions, and over time I’ve been able to process it all and then write about it. 

How do you think your experience as a director influences your identity as an author?

One specific example is the way I use image systems. In the film world, a director works with a cinematographer in pre-production to create a visual plan. Part of this plan is created by deciding upon a set of images that enhances the story mostly on a psychological level. One of the best examples is the movie “CASABLANCA” where the director and cinematographer created an image system that spoke to the way the people in the city were “trapped” during WW2 because of the Nazi danger. 

As an author, I think through image systems for my novels to enhance the story on a subtle level. For example, Deja, the main character in “Better Must Come,” has to battle her way back home to save her family much like Odysseus did in the epic Greek play, The Odyssey. This led me to create symbolic representations of the cyclops, the 3 sirens, the cattle prophecy, the homecoming and other images that speak to my main character’s Caribbean odyssey. 

Both of your YA novels deal with “the darker side of [a] light-filled Jamaica.” What draws you to write about this version of Jamaica, and how do you have any goals in mind when you write these types of books?

While in Jamaica, I’ve seen and experienced crime, assault, abuse or corruption. Of course, you can find these problems all over the world, but it so happens that Jamaica is the place of my birth, one where many used to go to bed at night with windows and doors open to catch the night breeze. But now, Jamaica is periodically listed as a world leader in per capita murder or crime rate. And now those windows and doors I mentioned before are kept closed at night and have been grilled for security.

I write to show the nuances of a country that has been devastated by economic issues from the outside and of its own making. It’s vital for non-Jamaicans to understand in some way how a country whose dollar once had more buying power than the American green back, could slide into bitter circumstances.

Authors often say writing the second book is the hardest. How do you think this applies to you? Did you learn anything about yourself during this process?

I’d put in the hard years of work in obscurity without any promise of my first novel being read by anyone but me. Then, once on to book number two, my expectations were heightened in such a way that I wasn’t prepared for the even greater demand that was waiting. I’d worked on book one for years and years, but now with book two I was on a more truncated timeline. The work had to get “good” in a shorter amount of time. In addition, I felt a call to be a better writer, but in actuality, I was still learning. Fortunately, I had a highly skilled editor to help me along the way. And now, we have an action-packed thriller with engaging characters and exciting plot twists. 

How do you think readers can relate to or learn from your novel during a time when police brutality and politics are appearing more in headlines? 

In both “Your Corner Dark” and “Better Must Come,” the characters make difficult choices and take risks in environments where they must navigate the issues of police brutality and “political will or the lack of it.” Though both novels are works of fiction, the aspects of police brutality and politics that are depicted in the stories is based on years of research and firsthand experience. And it’s very important for young adults and adult adults to get a fresh perspective on these issues. 

Also, there’s a common phrase in police procedural novels— “follow the money.” It refers to a technique the detectives use to catch the criminals. But there’s another side to “follow the money” that the characters in my novels experience. They “follow the money” and see what happens to communities when economic problems arise. And readers get a visceral view of how police brutality and politics plays a role in this.

Thank you so much Desmond Hall for answering my questions! I’d like to thank Alex Kelleher-Nagorski from Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing for this interview opportunity as I wrap up my Author Spotlight series this summer. 

Sabrina Blandon is an English major at NYU with a minor in creative writing. Avid reader herself and literary advocate, she has interviewed over 60 authors from New York Times bestselling ones to debut authors for Her Author Spotlight blog series for Her Campus NYU and Her Campus Hofstra. She loves exploring everything New York City has to offer and is a major foodie.