New Kids On The Block 2018 with Dana Mele

New Kids On The Block is a year-long series on Pop! Goes The Reader meant to welcome and celebrate new voices and debut authors in the literary community.

Are you a debut author whose book is being published in 2018? It’s not too late to sign-up! If you want to participate in New Kids On The Block this year, please don’t hesitate to get in touch! You can send a tweet or DM on Twitter to @Pop_Reader or email me at [email protected]. I would love to collaborate with you!

About Dana Mele

Dana Mele is the author of People Like Us, and is a Pushcart-nominated writer. A graduate of Wellesley College, she is a former actor, lawyer, musician, and briefly, associate producer. She prefers tea to coffee, snow to sand, and stars to sunshine. Dana lives in the Catskills with her husband and toddler.

Author Links: WebsiteTwitterInstagramFacebookGoodreads

Tradition, Heartbreak, and Murder: The Real-Life Inspirations for People Like Us

People Like Us is a story of mean girls, murder, and mystery. It’s about plotted revenge from beyond the grave, cryptic websites, betrayals, and heartbreak. It’s roughly ten thousand times larger than life.

But some of the fiction was inspired by fact. There was a school that served as an inspiration for Bates Academy. There was a group of girls. There was a murder.

The School

I based Bates Academy, the prestigious prep school that serves as the setting for People Like Us, on Wellesley College, which I attended. Wellesley is a small school in an affluent suburb of Boston. It’s one of the oldest women’s colleges in the country, and students have critiqued it for being elitist at times. The academic competition is fierce. The campus is routinely voted one of the most beautiful in the country, with gorgeous architecture reminiscent of Hogwarts, a glassy lake bordered by trees and ringed by a hiking trail, and iconic lampposts scattered along the paths that wind through the grounds.

Wellesley is not a party school, but there are certain traditions I drew from. In the book, the girls find a body while swimming in the lake after Skeleton Dance, a yearly Halloween party. There is no Skeleton Dance at Wellesley, but there are traditional dances scattered throughout the year, and there’s also an official list of 50 things to do before graduation – one is skinny dipping in the lake. It’s number seven on the list. Attending an on-campus party is number 42. Another tradition I pulled from Wellesley are Shakespeare productions. I was in Shakespeare Society at Wellesley, and I played one of the roles I assigned to a character in People Like Us. Number 31. Go to a Shakespeare Society production.

The People

Many of the characters in People Like Us aren’t nice people, but they do care about each other — at least most of them do. But in a high pressure, closed off community, you tend to either make a very close group of friends or become extremely isolated. I was pretty isolated for a couple of years, and then I found my people. I had a close group of friends during my last two years at Wellesley. They’re a lot nicer than my cast of characters.

We’re scattered out across the country now, so we haven’t all been in the same room in about 15 years. But I wanted to give each of them a small shoutout in the book, so there is a building or minor character named after every one of my close group of friends.


There is a certain event in the book inspired by two incidents from my teenage years mashed up together. One involved me being dumped on Valentine’s Day and having a rose delivered to me anyway in one of those school fundraising delivery services. (“And none for Gretchen Weiners”). It’s a little more personal and devastating than that, so allow yourself to imagine a young person with a very low estimation of herself opening herself up to the idea of someone liking her for the first time. Imagine next having the whole thing blow up in a very public scandal. The second incident involved a series of mean pranks I witnessed as a young teen. Pointless and heartless, for no other reason than to pass time.

The Murder

The event at the heart of People Like Us is a murder on Halloween night that shocks the school and the surrounding New England community. This, too, was based on fact. When I was at Wellesley, a couple of friends and I decided to go out “trick or treating” just to get some air and be silly (Number 34 on the list is trick or treat at the president’s house). We walked around in the dark for a while, probably stopped for some coffee, and returned to the dorms to learn that a body had been found near campus. A woman had been murdered. We learned later that the murder had actually happened in the morning, not night, and the victim had been a resident of the town, not a student. But at the time all we knew was that we had been out in the dark close to where someone had died, possibly with the killer still out there. It felt like dodging death. This was before people carried cell phones. There was no way to warn someone about something except to go out and find them.

When I wrote the first draft of People Like Us, I didn’t have the murder in my mind. But I had visited the campus a few months before. And after my editor asked me why I wrote the story the whole incident came rushing back to me and I realized how much that night had gotten to me and that fear had sat with me. It turned out that the killer was the woman’s husband, though he continues to dispute this. The school, the town, felt so much less safe after that Halloween. Wellesley wasn’t a town where murders happened. School wasn’t a place where murders happened. Relationships. Friendships. There are sacred spaces that are supposed to be safe. But betrayals and even murders happen often in small towns and schools, within relationships and friendships. That’s the fear. That’s the real inspiration for People Like Us.

Title People Like Us
Author Dana Mele
Pages 384 Pages
Intended Target Audience Young Adult
Genre Contemporary, Mystery
Publication Date February 27th 2018 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Find It On GoodreadsAmazon.comChaptersThe Book Depository

A sharp psychological thriller that’s just right for fans of Thirteen Reasons Why and Pretty Little Liars – this story will seduce, mislead, and finally, betray you.

Kay Donovan may have skeletons in her closet, but the past is past, and she’s reinvented herself entirely. Now she’s a star soccer player whose group of gorgeous friends run their private school with effortless popularity and acerbic wit. But when a girl’s body is found in the lake, Kay’s carefully constructed life begins to topple. The dead girl has left Kay a computer-coded scavenger hunt, which, as it unravels, begins to implicate suspect after suspect, until Kay herself is in the crosshairs of a murder investigation. But if Kay’s finally backed into a corner, she’ll do what it takes to survive. Because at Bates Academy, the truth is something you make…not something that happened.

Debut author Dana Mele has written a taut, sophisticated suspense novel that readers will tear through and not stop talking about.

One response to “New Kids On The Block 2018 with Dana Mele”

  1. I just finished reading this book and really enjoyed it. This is so fun to see how parts of this book were inspired, especially the school setting. Thanks for sharing!

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