Disney’s ‘Descendants’ author dishes on new ‘High School Musical’ bridge novel

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews the 'High School Musical' novel (Part 1)

She wrote the novels for the hit Disney villain series “The Descendants.”

Now, author Melissa de la Cruz pens the novel “The Road Trip” set in between seasons of the Disney+ series “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series.”

“The book is what we’re calling a bridge novel,” de la Cruz told WTOP. “It’s a fun trip that takes place after Season 1 and before Season 2. … They are going to a high school musical convention to pay homage to the musical that started it all.”

The book sends the Wildcats on a road trip to the next state where the convention boasts an array of theater panels, cafeteria-tray-dance workshops, Wildcat cosplay, and even a special appearance from the pooch who played Sharpay’s dog.

Nini can’t wait to show how much she cares for Ricky; Kourtney considers signing up for a singing workshop; Gina and Ashlyn test what it’s like living together; Carlos helps Miss Jenn prep for the spring musical; and Seb stays behind to work the family farm.

“Along the way, there’s a lot of bumps and high jinks,” de la Cruz said. “Some of them end up at the wrong convention, the car breaks down, they don’t make it, they try to meet the stars, and a lot of fun adventures along the way.”

If you’re a new parent just catching up, “High School Musical” (2006) was a hit Disney Channel movie that inspired two official sequels and several other spinoffs. It was then adapted into a mockumentary TV series called “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series,” which is a tongue-twister title, but a continuation of the franchise nonetheless.

“It has an interesting twist,” de la Cruz said. “They’re in our world, ‘High School Musical’ existed, they’re fans of ‘High School Musical,’ then they put on a musical based on the original, so it’s a very meta, modern, witty take on the story.”

Why is the franchise still so beloved 15 years later?

“It does capture a certain part of high school, about being an outsider,” de la Cruz said. “It’s celebrating these different, quirky kids. Theater kids are their own interesting bunch. … Telling them it’s OK to be yourself, to be different, to want to sing and dance and be on stage. There’s nothing dorky or terrible about that. Let’s celebrate it!”

She previously wrote the “Isle of the Lost” novel to set up Disney’s “Descendants.”

“Disney asked if I’d be part of this project and said, ‘We’re trying to put together something about the children of Disney’s greatest villains. Would you be interested in writing the foundational novel for that?’ I said, ‘Of course!,'” de la Cruz said. “My books set up the movies. They’re also the bridge novels between the three movies.”

Her daughter was 7 years old at the time, so she had just watched the Disney classics.

“Sleeping Beauty is my favorite Disney movie and Maleficent is my favorite villain,” de la Cruz said. “Those are such iconic parts of my childhood and everyone’s childhoods. It’s almost like a shared language we speak. … I really respect Disney storytelling. I didn’t want to hand this project to someone else. I wanted to do it justice.”

Her four “Descendants” books cemented her niche in the Young Adult genre.

“I emigrated from the Philippines when I was 13,” de la Cruz said. “I wrote an adult novel, then my editor at Simon & Schuster said, ‘There’s this new genre: Young Adult. We think your voice would really lend itself to it. Would you try writing for teenagers?’ … I remember thinking, ‘I’m really good at this. This is what I’m meant to write.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews the 'High School Musical' novel (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation here.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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