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Alumna promotes debut novel in a place she loves

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Rachel McRady (’11), center, answers a question from Breeze TV reporter Alexa Bonilla during a tour stop for her new book in Harrisonburg on Feb. 1. PHOTOGRAPH BY KAILEY GARNER AND THE BREEZE

SUMMARY: Rachel McRady (’11), author of Sun Seekers, shares the inspiration behind her first book with the Madison community.

On Feb. 1, Parentheses Books, a new bookstore in Harrisonburg, hosted Rachel McRady (’11) for a stop along her book tour. McRady’s debut novel, Sun Seekers, follows 6-year-old Gracie Lynn and her family as they navigate coping with her grandfather’s dementia diagnosis.

McRady’s storytelling is partly inspired by her personal life. Her grandfather had dementia, and she would speak with him every day while she was living in London, England, where she was a senior writer for Entertainment Tonight.

“We were in very different parts of our lives, but I felt really connected to him, seeing as I was isolated in London and he had just moved to a nursing home,” she said. “One day in particular, I had a difficult conversation with him, and after I hung up, I had this really strong image of a girl and her grandfather holding hands in the sun, back in a time when things were a bit simpler.”

McRady found her outlet for writing during her time at JMU’s student-run newspaper, The Breeze.

“I always say that working at The Breeze was my best job for experience,” she said. “I had a hand in everything and kind of had to know how to do those things, which makes me feel really well-rounded. I always felt like it prepared me well for the big things, like red-carpet interviews and reporting.”

McRady says returning to Harrisonburg is always a pleasure for her and her family. She moved back to Virginia after her first daughter was born, and her two children also fell in love with the Friendly City. It’s a love that McRady shares and cherishes, especially as Harrisonburg’s local business scene grows.

“I love independent bookstores, and it’s so special that Harrisonburg now has its own in a local space. I was stalking Instagram for Parentheses to see when they were going to open, because my book was coming out in January. If I was going to do an event here, I wouldn’t want to do it anywhere else.”

From city to city and job to job, McRady’s Madison Experience is something she has carried with her and looked back on when she needed some comfort.

“JMU is such a special community. A week after I graduated, I moved to New York and almost all of my friends there were from JMU — not even people I knew in my time here. Being a Duke is so welcoming, and it travels with you in life. I feel like I can pick JMU people out of a crowd right away. It’s such a unique bond.”

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by Jane McConville

Published: Friday, February 16, 2024

Last Updated: Wednesday, March 13, 2024

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