In his 36 years of teaching, some of the best writing UW English Professor Shawn Wong has seen came out of English 302, his class on narrative storytelling. Still, he was taken aback by Zoe Hana Mikuta’s essay in winter 2019.
“I write about queer, half-white girls and I kill off their families for the drama of it all,” the essay read. “I make them fight robots, because it’s thrilling, and I make them fall in love to give them something to fight for.”
Mikuta, a sophomore at the time, had been unassuming in class. But, at just 19, she had already secured a two-book deal with Macmillan Publishers, one of the “Big Five” publishers of English-language books.
Mikuta’s first book, “Gearbreakers,” is set to come out June 29. Categorized in the young adult genre, it tells the story of Eris and Sona, who live under a tyrannical regime enforced by 100-foot-tall mecha robots called Windups. Mikuta, now 21, has sold the film rights to “Gearbreakers,” and she’s currently working on its sequel, due out in 2022.
The point of view in “Gearbreakers” switches back and forth between Eris, who is a half-Korean, half-Japanese member of a rebel group called the Gearbreakers, and Sona, who is a half-Korean, half-white cybernetically enhanced Windup pilot. Eris is a cold-hearted warrior, while Sona is on fire to avenge her parents’ murder at the hands of the regime. Both grow as they find their opposites in each other, and both are reflections of what Mikuta was going through at the time.
“When I was all angry and hateful, I definitely was not grappling with humanity on that kind of scale,” Mikuta said, referring to the struggles her characters face. “But what I’m trying to explore in ‘Gearbreakers’ is — what makes our humanity? I think it’s the people we love.”