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Penguin Random House
"Summerlost" is by Ally Condie.

Utah author Ally Condie remembers visiting the Utah Shakespeare Festival as a child and thinking it was “an absolutely magical place.”

Her grandmother was an usher and would wear a period gown and have flowers in her hair, she said. Condie remembers riding her bike there and going to the Greenshow, a free 30-minute show at the festival.

“As a kid, it was a window to another world,” she said of the festival. She worked there in the gift shop after high school and between semesters in college.

The festival, along with the southern Utah town of Cedar City, are the inspiration for the setting and some of the events in her new middle grade novel, “Summerlost” (Dutton Children's Books, $17.99, ages 10 and up), which is scheduled to be released March 29.

The 249-page book also includes themes of dealing with a personal loss and unexpectedly finding a friend.

“Loving someone and being imperfectly able to understand them is hard,” Condie said. “But losing them is worse.”

Written in three acts, “Summerlost” tells of 12-year-old Cedar Lee as she and her family move to her mother’s hometown of Iron City the summer after her father and one of her younger brothers died in a car accident. Cedar, her 8-year-old brother Miles and their mother are still healing from their family’s loss, but in different ways.

Cedar sees a boy about her age in historical period clothing riding his bike in her neighborhood and follows him to the Summerlost Festival — the third-largest Shakespeare Festival west of the Mississippi River. She gets a job working concessions, one of the few jobs for 12-year-olds, and becomes friends with Leo Bishop, who lives in her neighborhood and was the boy on the bicycle.

Leo, who also works concessions at the festival, is trying to save money to go to England, and Cedar helps him with a money-making venture that involves a local actress who died amid mysterious circumstances several years earlier — and something that their parents or boss at the festival probably wouldn’t approve of.

They become fast friends as they also try to solve the mystery of the actress’ death with the resources they have and without getting each other into too much trouble.

Another mystery surfaces as small objects like the ones her brother who died would collect keep showing up on her windowsill, and Cedar grapples with figuring out who might be leaving them.

The ideas for “Summerlost” were inspired by several different events, Condie said.

Condie’s oldest son, who is now in seventh grade, was asking questions — ones she called “those late-at-night questions” that were about friendship, life and other challenges.

“I thought that if he’s thinking about these things, other kids are, too,” said Condie, who was also teaching a writing class for fifth- and sixth-graders through a writing club at her oldest son’s school.

As Condie, a mother of four, was mulling over his questions, she thought back to when she was his age and remembered several of the pivotal experiences she had, including the death of her grandfather and a younger sister who “passed away right before she was born,” Condie said.

“That was profound for me as a kid,” she said.

Her grandmother, to whom the book is dedicated, passed away the year before Condie wrote “Summerlost.”

“It was very easy to tap into that feeling of this person who I loved … (and who) is now gone,” she said.

Condie’s other recent books, including the Matched trilogy, about a dystopian society, and “Atlantia,” about a pair of sisters from an underwater city, are for young adults and contain fantasy or speculative fiction elements.

“Summerlost,” written for middle grade readers, doesn’t have the fantasy elements, but it does explore relationships with friends and family, and the moments that can change those relationships. It’s an emotional story as Cedar and Leo face events in their lives and try to figure out how to be understood while their adventures draw them into a mystery that means a lot to them.

“One of the biggest compliments I could receive was when my 12-year-old read it and came back with tears in his eyes and sighed,” she said.

Another part of Condie’s middle school experience that played into “Summerlost” was finding a friend and developing a friendship that lasted.

“There was a miraculous thing: there was this boy who I became friends with,” Condie said. “(He) was the just the exact right person at a hard time who was very different from me. We just got along. It wasn’t romantic. … It was a sudden falling into friendship.”

Condie said they were teased by other students who assumed they were boyfriend and girlfriend.

“We didn’t care enough to let it change what our friendship was,” she said.

At one point, they claimed they were cousins to diffuse the teasing, which backfired, but they continued to be friends.

“When you find that person, you hang on to them,” Condie said.

They kept in touch after high school as they went to different colleges. Condie eventually set him up on a blind date with one of her friends, and they ended up getting married.

“It was magical that two of your best friends would marry each other,” Condie said.

“Summerlost” is planned to be a stand-alone book. Condie is in graduate school pursuing a master’s degree in creative writing and working on a couple of novels, she said, including one for young adults and one for middle grade readers.

If you go ...

What: Ally Condie book signing and “Summerlost” book launch

When: Tuesday, March 29, 7 p.m.

Where: Provo Library, 550 N. University Ave., Provo

Web: provolibrary.com/authorlink, allycondie.com

Email: rappleye@deseretnews.com Twitter: CTRappleye