Masuk alum pens award winning novel for young adults

'Everything You Left Me' is a page turning murder mystery

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Among the young adult novels mentioned in the Forbes article “7 Most-Anticipated YA Mysteries to Dive Into This Winter” is “Everything You Left Me”, written by Paige Classey, a member of Masuk’s Class of 2006. “Everything You Left Me” is a novel in verse, a format which has grown in popularity, especially among teens. It consists of poems linked together to tell a single narrative.

Classey, 34, a media specialist at Polson Middle School in Madison, where she lives with her husband, James Przybylski, and their son, said she is surprised at the rave reviews for her first book.

“I couldn’t believe the other authors  listed in the article — they included incredibly talented writers like Melissa de la Cruz and Maureen Johnson,” Classey said. “My students have also given ‘Everything You Left Me’ pretty positive reviews so far, and they can be the toughest critics of all!”

A description of “Everything You Left Me” reads:

When the police come knocking at her door, eighteen-year-old Maybeth is worried her mother is caught up in their small town’s drug scene again.

Instead, the police are there to question Maybeth about her beloved and long-absent father. He has become the lead suspect in a string of unsolved murders across the country … and Maybeth may be the key to convicting him.

Trapped between her scientific mind and her love for her father, Maybeth is forced to confront the reality of who her father really is — and what that might make her as well.

“This is a great choice for any fans of true crime documentaries or podcasts,” Classey said. “I would also recommend this book to any teens who are fans of ‘Sadie’ by Courtney Summers or ‘Dead on Town Line’ by Leslie Connor — a wonderful Connecticut author.”

Classey said her publisher, West 44 Books, is an imprint of Enslow which focuses on reaching struggling readers, especially from at-risk populations. “Their books tackle high interest topics for young readers,” she said.

Early influences

Classey lived in Monroe until age five, when her family moved to Fairfield for around five years, but they moved back to town, where she attended Monroe Public Schools, until graduating from Masuk in 2006.

“I was a voracious reader as a child, especially in my elementary and middle school years,” she said. “Even now, when I’m not working or spending time with my family, I am definitely reading. I read across all genres, but especially love true crime, historical fiction, and contemporary fiction.”

“I have too many favorite authors to name here, but John Irving and Laurie Halse Anderson are definitely on my list,” Classey added.

“I love the idea of crafting a story that will reach young readers and hopefully make them feel seen, heard, and respected.” — Paige Classey

Classey also has a love of writing, which was nurtured by several of the teachers she had over the years.

“My teachers in Monroe Public Schools absolutely encouraged my creative writing,” she said. “I have clear and fond memories of Ms. Susan Koneff’s Language Arts classes at Jockey Hollow, where we were asked to write and share journal entries from the points of view of characters we were studying. Mr. Richard O’Connor at Masuk and Professor Sam Pickering at UConn were incredible mentors. And since childhood, my family and friends have been so supportive of my writing.”

Classey earned a Bachelor of Arts in English and Master of Arts in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Connecticut.

She worked as an English teacher at Joel Barlow High School in Redding for six years, before earning her certification as a library media specialist and being hired for her current position at Polson Middle School.

A love of writing

Classey said she always loved to write, but only started writing more seriously in recent years, publishing articles on education and libraries in TEACH Magazine, Education Week, and the School Library Journal.

“In my work as a librarian, I spend a lot of time talking with my students about what they’re reading, and those exchanges inspired me to pursue fiction,” she said.

Three years ago, she submitted a manuscript to the Tassy Walden Award for New Voices in Children’s Literature, a Connecticut contest judged by industry professionals.

“I was shocked when I won honorable mention for the middle grade category,” Classey said. “That really gave me the confidence to join the Shoreline CT branch of the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.”

Authors and illustrators of SCBWI come together, virtually and in-person, to share their work and provide helpful critiques, according to Classey, who said the group was instrumental to her improving her craft and learning about the industry.

“I went on to win an honorable mention again in 2021, this time in the young adult category, and then won the YA category in 2022 with an early draft of ‘Everything You Left Me’,” she said.

Classey’s interest in true crime and love of novels in verse sparked the idea for “Everything You Left Me.”

“I read, watch, and listen to a lot of true crime stories, and am fascinated by advances in forensics,” she said. “For example, when they used genetic genealogy as an investigative tool to help identify the Golden State Killer. I find myself thinking a lot about the impact on victims, their families, and the families of perpetrators as well.”

“I love novels in verse, as do my students, and the work of Jason Reynolds, Elizabeth Acevedo, Lisa Fipps, and Megan E. Freeman was really inspiring,” she added.

Though “Everything You Left Me” is her first book, Classey said it wasn’t the main project she was working on.

“I actually would work on ‘Everything You Left Me’ whenever I was struggling with a middle grade fantasy I was writing at the same time,” she said. “‘Everything You Left Me’ — from drafting the first poem to submitting final revisions to my editor— took a year.”

Advice for aspiring writers

When Classey tried to get her book published, she went into it knowing it’s a tough business.

“Getting rejected is absolutely part of the process for anyone who is pursuing traditional publishing,” she said. “Agents and publishers are constantly inundated with submissions, which is important to know when you start sending out your writing. I feel very fortunate to have found my agent, Rebecca Rodd of Levine Greenberg Rostan, who is so supportive of my work.”

Classey said she enjoyed working with Caitie McAneney, her editor at West 44 Books, during the editing process. “Her feedback was spot-on,” Classey said. “She truly understood what I was trying to accomplish with Maybeth’s journey in ‘Everything You Left Me’.”

The process led to the publishing of Classey’s first book.

“I always dreamed it could happen, but life gets very busy,” she said of becoming a published author. “I think the 12-year-old version of me wouldn’t be surprised at all, but the 25-year-old me would be shocked!”

Of what she enjoys most about writing, Classey said, “I love the idea of crafting a story that will reach young readers and hopefully make them feel seen, heard, and respected.”

To aspiring writers, Classey said, “read as much as you can, especially in the genres you like — it will give you so much insight into plot and style elements you will want to use in your own writing — and the elements you won’t. Show your writing to others, especially other writers, and be open to their feedback. And just keep writing!”

While still basking in the success of “Everything You Left Me”, Classey also plans to keep writing.

“I am always working on something, everything from picture books to YA,” she said. “I’ve worked with middle and high school students for 12 years now, so I’m very familiar with that age range and their literary interests. When my son was born, I started reading picture books for the first time since I was a child and that experience, combined with motherhood, has inspired a lot of new ideas as well!”

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