Legacy authors Siegemund-Broka, Emily Wibberley

What’s not to love about two Mira Costa graduates’ high school experiences

Authors Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka in front of the Manhattan Beach Public
Library. Photo: Jes Workman

by Elka Worner

Authors Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka have always drawn on their experiences at Mira Costa High School for their young adult novels, but even more so for their fourth book, “What’s Not to Love,” .

“These are the characters who are most like us. Their intense focus on academics and  questions about the future are  very similar to the questions we faced,” Siegemund-Broka said.

The narrator is an overachieving high school senior named Alison Sanger, who could be Wibberley. The male lead is Ethan Sanger, an equally intelligent “Kennedyesque via California” guy with “high cheekbones, sharp nose,” who could be Siegemund-Broka.

Alison does not hide her disdain for Ethan, especially since both have their sights on becoming valedictorian and getting into Harvard.

“He’s an un-popped blister. The splinter in your shoe from walking on woodchips. Your printer running out of toner when you’re finishing your 20-page final paper on the Hundred Years’ War. He’s your Kindle dying during the first hour on your flight to Boston.”

The husband and wife writing team said they didn’t compete with each other in high school, any more than with the other students vying for admissions to top schools. But both were valedictorians in 2010 and both applied to Harvard.

“One of us [Siegemund-Broka] got in and one of us went to Princeton,” Wibberley said.

In the book, Alison and Ethan are forced to spend time together planning a previous class’ 10-year reunion. As they get to know each other, their academic one-upmanship and hyper competitiveness fades away. The former rivals become friends and eventually fall for each other.

Just like the characters in the book, Wibberley and Siegemund-Broka, fell in love in high school.

“We had a fantastic experience at Mira Costa and that, I think, is why we write young adult literature,” Wibberley said.

Wibberley credits her sophomore English teacher, William Brown, with sparking her love of literature. Both credit the school’s English department for introducing them to Shakespeare.

Their tenth grade teacher was equally impressed with them.

“I remember thinking, ‘Gosh, I hope that I don’t mess up these incredibly brilliant young people,’” Brown said.

He figured Wibberley would become a university professor because of “her calm, scholarly demeanor” and that Siegemund-Broka would dabble in acting before becoming a lawyer.

“He was always so clever and witty. Yet he was also a very deep thinker,” Brown said.

Perhaps it was Wibberley’s destiny to become a writer. 

Her grandfather was local literary legend Leonard Wibberley. He wrote more than 100 books, including the Cold War satire “The Mouse That Roared.” Her parents, Hermosa Beach residents Cormac and Marianne Wibberley, wrote the screenplays for “National Treasure,” “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle,” and “Bad Boys 2.”.

“I would sit with them at meals while they were talking about stories and seeing my grandfather’s novels on the bookshelves,” she said.

While there was “friendly pressure” from her parents to become a writer, she majored in psychology at Princeton.

“For a second, I was like ‘I’m going to do something completely different and go on a science route,’ but it just didn’t feel right,” she said.

Siegemund-Broka’s love of reading and writing was nurtured by his mother who was a librarian, first at Robinson School and then Pennekamp in Manhattan Beach.

“I grew up with stories as something very valued, very beloved, specifically stories for young people,” he said.

Wibberley introduced him to the young adult genre, an area of literature that has gained popularity since the “Twilight” series exploded onto the literary scene, and more recently the teen romance “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” which is one of Wibberley’s favorite young adult books.

“Reading young adult literature where teen girls are the heroes of all these stories and are flawed and get as much well-rounded treatment as other people in the areas of fiction, it was just really empowering to me,” she said.

Most of the female characters in their books are smart, sassy and driven, “kind of intense about something, maybe even ‘unlikeable,’” Wibberley said.

“We lean into that idea that the things that make you unlikeable, might be the best things about you,” she said.

They also resist the idea that teens are monolithic, blindly bowing to peer pressure, and following the latest trends. 

Instead, they “try to write characters who are individualized, who are all stars of their own stories, in their own unique ways,” Siegemund-Broka said.

“That is something we feel that does endure throughout generations.”

Siegemund-Broka graduated from Harvard with an English degree and then attended UCLA Law School. He now works as a lawyer at Kirkland & Ellis.

While he’s away at his day job, Wibberley crafts an outline for the ideas they have developed. Their evenings and weekends are spent sitting across from each other, trading sentences, until the manuscript is done.

“We fight. We go back and forth. We learn from each other, willingly and unwillingly,” Siegemund-Broka said.

The prolific pair, who were married two years ago, will debut their first adult romance, “The Roughest Draft” next year, and are working on the manuscript for another young adult book, “With and Without You,” due out in spring 2022.

They are also finally writing a “beach” book.

“I grew up at the beach, with my summers spent on the beach, so we’re excited to be able to tap into that community,” Wibberley said.

“There’s a great duality in this place,” Siegemund-Broka said. “It’s a town that knows how to relax and it’s also a town that knows how to achieve really highly.” 

Their characters, particularly the more California-centric ones, embody that duality, he said.

Both writers, who are still in their 20s, say they would love to write for the rest of their lives.

“The trick is maintaining relevance and being allowed to do so, continuing to sell, continuing to have good ideas,” Siegemund-Broka said. “That is something we take day by day, year by year, just continuing to try to put out stuff people want to read.”

Pages bookstore in Manhattan Beach will host a virtual book launch with the authors on April 20 at 6 p.m. Visit PagesABookstore.com for details. Published by Penguin Teens. ER

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Written by: Easy Reader Staff

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