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

Rebecca Hanover has made her debut in the adult fiction world with the release of her newest title, “The Last Applicant,” which explores the dark undercurrents of status, fitting in, coping with pain and loss, and the dangerous choices that anyone might feel compelled to make under the right circumstances.

The book follows Audrey Singer in her coveted role as the Admissions Director at Easton—an exclusive, wildly sought-after private Manhattan school. She chooses which children of the socially motivated, uber-privileged will make the cut. The position allows her own teenage daughter access to an Easton education, which would otherwise have been an impossible dream. Raising her daughter with her second husband Luke and their adorable young son, Audrey seems to have a perfect thing going on. 

Parents desperate for her approval cater to her whims and desires to give their children an edge. But the neurotic, vulnerable Sarah Price takes it to a whole new level. She’s determined to infiltrate every aspect of Audrey’s life—her job, her friends and even her marriage—to get what she wants. But what seems to be just another ploy by an overachieving mother could be much more insidious. As the two women’s lives become more and more entangled and lines are crossed, someone is certain to get hurt.

Rebecca Hanover is the New York Times bestselling author of the YA novels, “The Similars” and “The Pretenders.” After graduating from Stanford University with a BA in English and drama, Rebecca joined the writing team of the CBS daytime drama “Guiding Light,” where she earned an Emmy Award. She now writes novels full-time from her home in San Francisco, where she enjoys matcha lattes and a complete lack of seasons. When she isn’t writing, she can be found in a yoga class or reading anything Dav Pilkey with her husband and three children. 

For this interview, I wanted to focus on both the young adult and adult fiction subgenres and how her experience as a screenwriter has helped her write “The Last Applicant.” 

What made you decide to tell this novel from both Audrey’s & Sarah’s POVs rather than just Audrey’s? 

This is an easy one to answer because I never considered not approaching it this way! I knew as soon as the concept made its way into my brain that we’d hear from both women’s POVs. We’d see events unfold first from Audrey’s point of view, then Sarah’s… and what we’d learn along the way would completely turn upside down our preconceived ideas of what we thought was true in the world of the story. I’m not the first to use an unreliable narrator, nor will I be the last! But I find this to be an extremely powerful tool in storytelling, and it was clear to me from the get-go that I’d employ it in this book. I hope that simply by switching POVs, I give the readers some of those delightful and delicious “a-ha!” moments like you get halfway through “Gone Girl.”

How do you think your experience writing YA books bled through in your adult debut? 

I always joke that writing YA is like using your calf muscle and writing for adults is like using your bicep. Not fundamentally different, but different enough to be a new kind of challenge. For me, though, whether I’m writing for TV, writing YA or writing for adults, I find a lot of similarities in the process—outlines still feature the same beats; story structure doesn’t change at a foundational level. So the characters are older, the conflicts are different, the language might be more sophisticated, but at its core, it’s the same species. My YA series featured mystery and thriller elements, too, so working through those in two previous books gave me some confidence that I could set up an adult psychological thriller with the appropriate cliffhangers, twists and turns built into it organically. 

Was there anything specific that you wanted to write about for your adult debut that you couldn’t fit in your YA books? Does “The Last Applicant” fulfill it? 

Great question. I’d say that “The Last Applicant” is so fundamentally different from my YA series, “The Similars,” that it’s almost humorous imagining them overlapping. But in some ways, they do—both feature academic settings, something I’ve always been fascinated with. In this adult book, in particular, I wanted to explore an academic setting from the parents’ side of things, rather than the teens like in my first books. So maybe the answer is that I got to sort of turn the camera around and focus the lens on the parents, who never get much attention in YA for a variety of reasons (no time, wanting your teen characters to take center stage and solve problems on their own, etc.).

The biggest thing I wanted to explore, though, was this idea of intensive parenting, which is all too pervasive in our culture in 2023. In that way, “The Last Applicant” is much closer to home for me (I’m a mom of three young-ish kids), and so the obstacles the characters face are much more real and visceral to me. It felt vulnerable writing this book and putting it out there, in a way my other books didn’t. Now that the book is on shelves, I’m getting messages from friends who are live-texting me their reactions—it’s nerve-wracking in a way that hearing about my YA novels was not. (And also fun; I love the live texts. Being an author is such a solitary job most of the time, so I revel in the moments of community that writing brings. It’s the whole point, isn’t it?)

How do you think your experience as a television writer helps your experience as an author?

I’m a diehard plotter, something I take with me from my TV-writing days. I really don’t like to start drafting until I have a solid understanding of all the major story beats (mid-point, all is lost, etc!), and I pretty religiously follow Blake Snyder’s “Save the Cat” story structure. Rather than it being limiting, it allows me to write really freely because I know where the story’s going—although I do let my characters guide me, and I never stick completely to the outline. Maybe 85 percent.

Writing for television also taught me to leave my ego at the door! We didn’t have time to waste, so when we got notes from the head writer, we had to jump quickly to implement them, or we’d be out of a job. Though I don’t approach novel writing that fast, I do find that I like and appreciate the editing process because I learned early on not to be afraid of it. I’ve never received notes that didn’t make a story better and so I look forward to all the tweaks and cuts that will ultimately strengthen my book.

What is something you want to emphasize about “The Last Applicant” to readers who are hesitant to pick up your book?  

That it’s probably not going to be what they expect! There’s a version of this novel that’s more straightforward, and I made a point of steering away from that, rather than towards it. I hope this means that the places the characters take you—which are organic and authentic to who they are, but not necessarily what you’re banking on!—feel like they make perfect sense after the fact, but surprise you along the way. Also, it’s the kind of book that might keep you up late reading. If it does, I’ll feel like I’ve done my job.

Thanks so much, Rebecca for answering my questions! I have to admit your novel is definitely not what I expected when I was pitched a dark-academia adult fiction novel. I read it in a day! I’d also like to thank Stefanie Elliot and Olivia Haase from MB Communications for sending me a finished copy of “The Last Applicant” and giving me this interview opportunity with Rebecca. It’s always fun reading a genre I hardly ever touch so I appreciate you sending it my way!

Sabrina Blandon is an English major at NYU with a minor in creative writing. She has interviewed over 40 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 the city, is a major foodie, and hopes to visit every district in NYC before she graduates.