If the young adult in your life is looking for a new addition to their summer reading list, Louder Than Words is the perfect choice.

Louder Than Words is the first collaboration between New York Times best-selling author Ashley Woodfolk (The Beauty That RemainsWhen You Were EverythingBlackout, the Flyy Girls Series) and acclaimed actress Lexi Underwood (Cruel Summer, Little Fires Everywhere).

The easy-to-read novel captures art’s impact and capacity to change the world. The book is from the point-of-view of high school student Jordyn Jones, an art lover with a secret.

Hoping to escape the drama and secrets that came with her old friends and school, Jordyn transfers to Edgewood High, hoping to create a fresh start and a new persona. However, on her first day of school at Edgewood, Jordyn learns her secrets aren’t far behind her. An anonymous podcast begins to reveal humiliating secrets and ruin Edgewood students’ reputations.

Jordyn knows she has to stop them before she becomes the next topic of conversation. Along with her new group of friends, Jorydn plans to stop the podcast and prevent it from exposing everything she’s worked so hard to hide.

The esteemed literary source Kirkus Reviews has dubbed the book a new-age “Gossip Girl-esque style tale.”  

Blavity spoke with the co-authors to explore this transformative book, which presents the topics of accountability and change from a teen’s perspective.

Several of your titles are from the teenage girl’s perspective. Why do you resonate with that voice and think it’s important to connect with that age group through writing? 

Ashley Woodfolk: I always like to say I’m still 16 at heart. I think the teen years are so rife with possibility — it’s the first time you’re able to make a lot of independent decisions, and so it’s usually the first time in a person’s life when they make big, messy mistakes. But it’s also the only time society offers up the highest level of grace, and lots of teens also have a safety net — parents or a support system that allows for opportunities to fix decisions that don’t have the best outcome. I also love writing about teens because they’re so passionate and fiercely themselves in a way that can fade as they get older, and it’s a time that can be quite lonely. I aim to help teens feel less alone with each book I write.

Is Louder Than Words your first co-writing title, or have you worked on other collaborative projects? Does it change your approach to writing?

AW: I’ve written several co-written novels, including BlackoutWhiteout, and another that is yet to be announced. Each project is different, but my favorite part of collaborative storytelling is the built-in ability to bounce ideas off of another person or people who are just as invested in the story as you are. The only thing that changes in my approach is how I draft. I’m less of a plotter and not much of an outliner when working alone, but when working with other writers, I tend to do much more planning.

Representation in books, television, music, etc., is essential for girls and women of color. How do you feel your work contributes to that, especially in titles like the Flyy Girl Series, where each character had such a strong voice and dynamic? 

AW: My main goal as a storyteller is to tell the truth. Too often, stories about girls and women of color fall into stereotypical monoliths or tell a single story of struggle or pain over and over again. With my books, I want to show that we’re as unique, interesting and human as every other main character and deserve to be centered in stories and not just left on the sidelines.

Lexi, your work has primarily been in the film/television industry. What made you want to collaborate with Ashley for Louder Than Words?

Lexi Underwood: Ever since I was younger, I’ve been an avid reader and always dreamed of writing my own book one day. In 2020, when I met our book editor, Maya Marlette, the opportunity presented itself for me to write my book. I had the idea of Louder Than Words percolating for a while, and I started writing the treatment. Because I was a first-time author, I felt more comfortable collaborating with someone already an experienced writer. As soon as I met Ashley, we just clicked! She understood the story I was trying to convey, and all our ideas for the project aligned. After that, we got straight to work!

Do readers connect with characters in a book the same way viewers connect with characters on screen? 

LU: I absolutely think so. I believe that what we do as artists is a contact sport. Whatever art we put out, the goal is to make people feel seen and heard or inspire them to spark meaningful conversations. That’s part of what makes art so special and the end result worth it. All the characters in the book do that in some way, shape or form. You feel that when you’re reading the book. 

At 15, you launched your production company, Ultimate Dreamer Productions, and directed the documentary We The Voices of Gen Z. How was the creative process of writing the book similar and different from your previous work? 

LU: The creative process wasn’t too different from my work with my production company and as an actor. In terms ofcharacter development and world building, I followed many of the same steps I do when working on a script or playing a character. If anything, the process made me respect writers even more. It’s so easy to get in your head and second-guess some of what you’ve written, but it takes a lot of confidence and belief in what you’re saying to finish at the end of the day. The process helped me find my voice even more, a beautiful self-discovery.

Are there any authors who inspired you and your writing style?

AW: I’m not sure my writing style is exactly inspired by anyone, but I do credit authors like Jandy Nelson, David Levithan and Alice Walker for their poetic prose, dynamic characters and unconventional story structures, respectively, as case studies in the kind of qualities I always strive for in my books.

LU: My favorite authors are bell hooks, Shel Silverstein, Paulo Coehlo, James Baldwin and Audre Lord. I credit them with my love for literature. Regarding YA authors whose work inspires me, Angie Thomas, Adam Silvera, Mason Deaver, Nicola Yoon and Julie Soto. Their work helped me understand the structure of making an interesting YA book!

What do you hope your readers experience when reading Louder Than Words?  

AW: I hope readers enjoy the story, don’t guess the central mystery too quickly, and leave the book feeling and knowing that they’re more than their mistakes.

LU: I hope readers understand the complexities of being human by examining the choices and mistakes we all make, the forgiveness we all need and the redemption we deserve. I aim to show readers no matter who they are or what they’ve done, there is always time to change and space to heal.