Earlier this month, the actor, director, producer and book enthusiast Reese Witherspoon shared a video with her 30 million followers on Instagram. The video featured Witherspoon reading the first few lines of “The Unwedding,” the newest release from Utah author Ally Condie.

“It wasn’t yet sunrise when she left her room,” Witherspoon read from Condie’s book, which is about a recently divorced woman alone on vacation who finds herself in the middle of a murder mystery. “Once the rain began it never stopped.”

That same day, it was announced that “The Unwedding” was Witherspoon’s book club pick for June.

When Condie’s editor called to share the news a few weeks before the official announcement, Condie said she “sort of just folded.” She explained, “I couldn’t believe it. I was just blown away.”

Witherspoon is one of the literary world’s top influencers. She started recommending books when she joined Instagram in the 2010s. Then in 2017, she made an official account for her book club as part of her new company, called Hello Sunshine. Witherspoon has been astronomically boosting the book sales of many authors ever since.

Condie said sales of “The Unwedding” jumped significantly after Witherspoon’s announcement, and that same week, Kirkus Reviews — one of the foremost trusted voices in publishing — posted a glowing write-up of “The Unwedding,” describing it as “a gorgeous murder mystery that explores what it means to be human — the pain and the love.”

“I never want to need external validation. I want to be intrinsically motivated,” Condie told me. “But it feels really good to have someone see value in your work.”

“The Unwedding” is Condie’s first book that is intended for an adult audience. Until now, she has been publishing works exclusively for younger readers. She is best known for the young adult dystopian trilogy “Matched,” published in 2010, 2011 and 2012.

“Matched,” the first book in the series, made it to No. 1 on The New York Times bestseller list and was published in 35 different languages. Condie also published “Atlantia” in 2014, “Summerlost” in 2016, “The Last Voyage of Poe Blythe” in 2019, “The Only Girl in Town” in 2023, and, as she explained it, “I wrote a middle school series somewhere in there,” like that’s a thing we all casually do as part of our daily routine.

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Condie has always been a writer, she told me, but started pursuing a literary career seriously after she and her then-husband became house parents for a sorority at Cornell University where he was in school. She would care for their baby during the day and write at night. She kept the same schedule after having her second baby, and then babies No. 3 and 4, until everyone started school and she could write during the day.

Writing is how she makes sense of the world, she said. “Everyone’s given ways to process things,” she told me. “For me, it was always words and making things into stories. We’re writing to make sense of life.”

In 2019, Condie found herself with a lot to process when her marriage of 20 years ended. On the advice of what she read in divorce navigation guides, she took a vacation by herself during the time she’d originally planned to be celebrating an anniversary with her husband. She described the experience of being alone in a spot filled with couples as brutal and said she was feeling pretty sorry for herself.

A book titled "The Unwedding" by author Ally Condie on Friday, June 14, 2024. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

But as she was looking around at all the other guests, she realized she was the only one really noticing everything because she was the only person not distracted by a partner. She then thought, “If there were a murder here, I’d be the only one who could solve it.” She had her plot for “The Unwedding.” “Sometimes you get an idea and you go with it,” she said.

Condie’s solo vacation was in late 2019, and by March 2020, the world had shut down. She had deadlines for other books and used writing this book as a reward for when she met deadlines on other projects. “It felt like escaping,” she said. “In a time when we couldn’t travel, I was traveling in my mind and that felt really great.”

She felt catharsis in creating the book’s main character, Ellery, who, like Condie had, takes a vacation alone after a divorce and spends much of the story processing her heartache.

Condie said that while the character is not autobiographical, Ellery often reflects on her own grief, and getting so personal in her writing was sometimes painful. She also felt fairly nervous about writing a book for adults when all her previous work had been for teens. “But,” she added, “it also felt joyful taking a chance on something I’d never done before.” And the positive reception, including a spot on the USA Today bestseller list, has made Condie feel like people have valued and enjoyed her adult debut. “That feels very freeing and exciting and just good.”

Witherspoon’s book club picks often make it to the big screen; in fact, some have speculated that she is creating an audience for future movies or TV shows long before they go into production. Condie told me, however, that she hasn’t gotten a movie deal for “The Unwedding” yet.

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When I asked her what’s next, she told me she’s working on another young-adult novel, a series of picture books, and another adult novel, in addition to teaching a creative writing course this fall as an adjunct professor at Brigham Young University. But during the summer, she’s looking forward to a break from book tours and enjoying the summer with her kids. They’re planning to hike Subway in Zion National Park together, and spend time in the mountains near their home in Utah Valley.

It’s not just the natural beauty of Utah that inspires Condie. It’s also the thriving community of writers who call the state home. She said she often bounces ideas off fellow authors Shannon Hale and Ann Dee Ellis, as well as Yamile Saied Méndez and Lindsey Leavitt Brown, who all write for younger readers.

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“People always ask me, ‘What’s in the water in Utah?’” Condie said and explained, “We have so much happening with young adult and middle-grade writing.” Condie believes this is because Utah has a culture of valuing children and young people and believing they can do great things.

That belief has helped her write for young readers, many of whom have now grown into adult readers. “In Utah, I think we’re great about reading all through our lives,” she said. “I hope that’s something we keep as a community and that we keep ourselves open to all kinds of literature.”

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