Atmospheric YA story deftly dips into the past to navigate fraught nature of modern teenage friendships

New Haven, CT – Critically acclaimed author Chandra Prasad (Damselfly) returns with Mercury Boys (Aug. 3, 2021, SoHo Teen), an evocative YA story with a historical twist that’s filled with first loves, the struggle to adapt, and the imperious world of young female friendships.

16-year-old Saskia Brown finds herself struggling to fit into her new school not only as a transplant, but also as a biracial teen in a predominantly white town. However, she finds solace in her only friend, Lila, and a tattered old daguerreotype of Robert Cornelius, a brilliant young inventor from the nineteenth century. While visiting Lila at a local university library, Saskia does something dangerous–she touches a vial of liquid mercury. That same night she has a dream that she’s transported to the 1800s and meets Robert Cornelius himself–a dream so realistic she wonders if maybe she’s stumbled upon a way to time travel.

Excited for her new friendship and the potential to make more friends, she shares her startling discovery with Paige Sampras, the most popular girl in school. Their new group steals vials of liquid mercury and various daguerreotypes to form the Mercury Boys Club, a secret society in which girls visit their “forever boyfriends” at night and divulge their juicy adventures the next day. At first, the Mercury Boys Club yields camaraderie and sisterhood, but soon it takes a turn for the worse as harsh rules are enforced and cruel initiations demanded. It’s not long before casual friendships turn ugly and jealous, and Saskia faces unexpected peril within her new friend group.

With the unexpected and creative force of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Wayward Children and the edgy, suspenseful impact of The Fever, Mercury Boys is a gripping, timely, and compelling YA adventure that explores the all too obscure in-betweens that exist between race, gender, and identity, past and present, and childhood and adulthood.

“Mercury Boys”
Chandra Prasad | Aug. 3, 2021 | SoHo Teen
Hardcover | 978-1641292658 | $18.99
Ebook | B08MQ5VWRN | $10.99
Young Adult science fiction

More about Chandra Prasad:

Chandra Prasad is the author of the critically acclaimed novels On Borrowed Wings, Death of a Circus, Breathe the Sky, and Damselfly, a female-driven young adult text used both individually in classrooms and in parallel with Lord of the Flies. Prasad is also the editor of—and a contributor to—Mixed, the first-ever anthology of short stories on the multiracial experience. Being half-Asian herself, Prasad has long acknowledged the dearth of significant mixed-race characters in literature, especially for teens and children, and has sought to bring awareness to this issue. For this reason, Prasad chose multiracial protagonists for both her YA novels, Damselfly and Mercury Boys.

Prasad’s shorter works have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The New York Times Magazine, The Week, and Teen Voices. She is also a contributor to New Haven Noir, a short story anthology edited by Amy Bloom, and the author of a how-to guide for young jobseekers. A graduate of Yale, Prasad is currently working on several books and writing projects. She lives in Connecticut with her husband, sons, and assorted pets. Find out more at

Follow Chandra on social media:
Twitter: @chandrabooks
Instagram: @chandraprasadbooks
TikTok: @chandraprasadbooks

In an interview, Chandra can discuss:

  • Her first YA novel, Damselfly, and its usage in classrooms as a teaching tool, often in concert with Lord of the Flies
  • The growing use of classic and modern YA texts in high schools as parallel or linked texts
  • The importance of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks and #DisruptTexts movements
  • Why she has focused on strong and diverse female characters and on the intersections of race, class, sexuality, and gender in identity
  • The soaring population of young multracial readers who lack books with multracial characters or focus
  • The challenges teen girls face today, and how literature can both illuminate and address these challenges
  • Using a modern point of view to revisit historical events, especially as a young person
  • Her exploration of mid-19th century American history and the research put into this book, as well as in her previous novels
  • The rich history and lore of liquid mercury and the ways she used this as a device in the book

An Interview with Chandra Prasad

1. Why did you write Mercury Boys?

Years ago, the daguerreotype of Robert Cornelius made national headlines. I think I first read about it on CNN. This daguerreotype was evidently the first ever photographic self-portrait, or in today’s vernacular, the first “selfie” (now, as we know, the taking of selfies is practically a rite of passage for today’s teenagers!). After reading up on both Robert Cornelius and daguerreotypes in general, I learned how early photographers like Cornelius had to be skilled chemists in order to properly handle the toxic substances early photography required. I also learned that Cornelius was a fascinating individual—an inventor, lighting entrepreneur, photographer, and metallurgist.

When I researched the history of elemental mercury, and how it was seen, variously, as an antidepressant, fertility aid, poison, miracle cure, and alchemical device, I saw the potential for an exciting story—one that weaves together photography, bits of American history, early American pioneers, the problematic notion of female hysteria, and the complicated minefield that is modern female adolescence.

2. How did you arrive at the title: Mercury Boys?

The word “mercury” in Mercury Boys is significant in many ways. The Roman god Mercury was the ancient god of luck, boundaries, travel, and tricksters, all of which have a role in this book. Historically, mankind saw elemental mercury as enchanted or magical since it is the only liquid metal in existence. The possibility of enchantment and magic also permeate this novel. In addition, the adjectival form of mercury, “mercurial,” means changeable and volatile, which apply to the girls and their club. Finally, the girls require elemental mercury to access the boys in the daguerreotypes, so mercury, quite literally, is essential to the novel’s plot.

3. What are daguerreotypes and why are they important in Mercury Boys?

Daguerreotype was the first publicly available photography. Daguerreotypes were popular in the mid-1800s. They were named after their inventor, Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre, a French artist and photographer. While daguerreotypes were very popular for about twenty years, they faded into obscurity with the advent of other forms of photography such as tintypes, ambrotypes, and cyanotypes.

Daguerreotypes are important to the novel because they require the use of mercury vapor during the photographic process. Liquid mercury, in turn, is required by the girls in the book when they “visit” their forever boyfriends.

4. Can you tell me about the main character, Saskia Brown?

Saskia Brown is a sixteen-year-old high school student who is going through a hard time. Her parents are recently divorced. Estranged from her mother, Saskia has chosen to move with her father from Arizona to a small town in Connecticut. Though she used to be outgoing, the dissolution of her family and her “new kid in school” status have made her shy and self-conscious. Her outsider status is further exacerbated by the fact that she is biracial in a mostly white school. While she quickly manages to make a caring friend, Lila, Saskia is nonetheless impressionable and vulnerable when she makes the acquaintance of the most popular girl in school, Paige, who holds a dark secret.

5. What research did you do for the book, and in particular, for the characters who are from the mid-1800s?

Three of my previous books—On Borrowed Wings, Death of a Circus, and Breathe the Sky—are historical novels that required fairly intensive research. I love learning about history, so it’s no coincidence that Mercury Boys also has a few characters from the mid-19th century. To get the details right, I read extensively about Civil War field hospitals, early American women’s suffrage conventions, the California Gold Rush, and the New York Crystal Palace exhibition, that opened in 1853, among other subjects.