Sasha and Sarena Nanua stand in front of a building.

UTM alum twins publish two young adult novels after graduating

Ali Raza

Two UTM alumni have published their two-part series of young adult novels this year, which they began writing while still in their undergraduate studies.

Twin sisters Sarena and Sasha Nanua published their latest novel Daughters of the Dawn on Sept. 6. The book is the second in the Ria and Rani duology, with the first title Sisters of the Snake, released earlier this year by HarperCollins.

In the novels, twin sisters Ria and Rani explore dangerous lands to save their home. The novel touches on themes of fate, identity and sisterhood with a fantasy backdrop incorporating South Asian cultural elements in its world building.

The novels are the latest step in a writing journey that spans more than a decade. Before studying English with minors in Professional Writing and French, the sisters self-published a series of novels called The Pendant Trilogy.

From writing to publishing

Sarena and Sasha grew up in Mississauga where they read stories about magic and twins. It was this passion for stories that led them to start writing their own at the age of nine.

“Back then it was just for fun,” Sarena says. But it was support from their parents that gave the twins extra encouragement to take it seriously.

“They saw we really loved it, and they were really encouraging,” she adds.

When they brought their journals and short stories to school, they’d receive praise on their work from peers and friends. That’s when they realized they should start thinking about publishing.

After starting their undergrad at UTM, the twins started looking for a literary agent to work with a bigger publisher. As writing a novel takes considerable time, they organized their workload to balance schoolwork and writing.

“Since we were doing school, we couldn’t write every day,” Sarena says.

“But we loved writing so much we made time for it, and it was sort of drilled into us from a super young age,” Sasha adds.

Some days they would write 10,000 words. Their time at UTM strengthened their writing skills, they both agree, noting the English and Professional Writing courses bolstered their writing abilities.

“There was a whole class about editing, a whole class about writing about your community,” Sasha says. “That sharpened our skills.”

In 2019, just over month after they graduated, they signed a book deal with HarperCollins.

“It takes about two years for a book to go from getting a book deal to actually being on the shelves,” Sarena says, explaining the process involved back and forth edits, sales and marketing campaigns, finding an illustrator for the book cover and more.

The novels are available for purchase in most bookstores.

Sarena and Sasha Nanua hold up their two novels.
The Ria and Rani Series consists of Sisters of the Snake, published earlier this year, and Daughters of the Dawn, published in September.

Why they write

Sarena and Sasha grew up reading various tales involving twin protagonists. As they grew older, they developed a preference for fantasy and mystery genres.

“I think we just always enjoy those kinds of stories that pull you out of your typical day-to-day life,” Sasha says.

And while they loved the stories, they never saw themselves in the characters they read.

“We prefer when there are more diverse characters,” Sasha explains. “So, we wanted to actually put those diverse characters from your typical contemporary setting into a fantasy world.”

They wanted to represent their South Asian background in their novels. Consequently, their latest novels feature protagonists Ria and Rani, given Indian names, in a world that’s inspired by South Asia. They say world building with South Asian elements offers the story a rich and full “lived-in” world.

“We know these things about our history and our culture, why not apply that into a story where people can learn about it?” Sarena says.

The newest book in the series takes place across five kingdoms, an homage to the five rivers that make up the Punjab region in South Asia. Indeed “Punjab” means “five waters.”

It paid off. Their novels have been well-received by youth. Not only do they have the support of their family and friends, who love their work, but during school visits, they meet youth who have read their novels with delight.

“That’s when I remember, this is who I’m writing for,” Sarena says. “They remind me why I do this, because I’m not only writing for them, but also my younger self.”

“I can’t imagine doing anything else,” Sasha adds.