2014 Debut Author: Joy Hensley


“Can I pay someone to punch me in the face?”

While writing Rites of Passage, that was just one of the many odd things Joy Hensley had to Google.

She also had to search YouTube for a Jaws theme remix featuring Jay-Z.

“One does not exist, so Mr. Z, if you are reading this… it would really help me out.”

Despite the seemingly silly nature of such searches, Hensley’s book tackles pretty heavy topics – one of which is the loss of a sibling.

“I think the thing that spurred it was the fact that I wanted Sam, who had a great relationship with her two brothers and who never turned dares down, to be put in a position where she could not fail at a dare even if it was the hardest thing she’d ever done. If her brother had died after she’d taken on a dare, she’d feel an even stronger push to go through the horrible things she endures,” explained Hensley.

According to Hensley, Rites of Passage can be described in ten words or less: “Girl goes to military school, gets threatened, kicks serious ass. Sorry, Mom, for the cuss word.”

Though Hensley is not a military brat, she did spend a year at a military university when she was 19, which is when the main inspiration for Rites of Passage came about.

“I wanted to join the Marines, but my parents wanted me to go to college first. One of my friends dared me to go to a military school for a year. I was accepted to two, Virginia Military Institute and Norwich University. VMI had only had females for two years and that scared the hell – sorry, Mom! – out of me. Norwich had been enrolling females since the ‘70s, so I chose to go there. I finished out the dare, but never got my $25 for completing it!”

For Hensley, the journey to publication began when she was eight and dreamed of being a published writer. In 2004, she wrote her first book and began the process of querying – resulting in fifty (“ouch”) form rejections (“even more ouch”).

In 2011, a persistent Hensley landed her dream agent, Mandy Hubbard, with a book she had spent three years writing. Hensley had already been rejected twice by Hubbard.

“She’s the agent I wanted and I wouldn’t take no for an answer! That book didn’t sell and it’s now hiding under the bed, too,” said Hensley.

Rites of Passage was a 2012 NaNoWriMo project for Hensley. She wrote and revised it over the course of six weeks and finally, in February 2013, she went on submission with Rites of Passage and it sold in about two or three weeks to Jennifer Klonsky at HarperTeen. Then she rewrote it about four more times before her deadline in September.

Hensley had surviving the entire process in the form of the OneFour KidLit group.

“Mandy Hubbard steered me toward them right after I sold to HarperTeen. Writing can be such a solitary experience, and I live out in the middle of nowhere, so having people going through the publishing process at the exact same time as me has been very helpful. We get to share our excitement, fears, and frustrations together. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one going through this!”

Author Joy Hensley.

And get through it, she has. Hensley is already hard at work on her second book for HarperTeen. Though she can’t say much yet, she could give a very light plot summary: it’s about a girl who has to enter her brother’s dangerous world of mixed martial arts, but in order to save him she must be willing to risk the life of the boy she loves.”

While she works on her next novel, she has some advice for the 2015 debut authors: Enjoy the moment.

“If you can, take a deep breath. This is a hurry-up-and-wait business. Enjoy each step as it comes and don’t rush it! You’ll be rushed enough when your publisher needs something from you.”

Rites of Passage releases in September from HarperTeen. Be sure to visit Joy on her website and on Twitter.

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About Author


Meredith is an avid reader, writer and dog lover. She is a publicist at Spencer Hill Press and the founder of Pandora's Books, a YA book blog, where she shares her love of books with anyone who will listen.


  1. I am so excited for Joy’s book to finally be in print! She is a wonderful teacher, mother and friend~I am blessed to see her fulfill her dream.