Tara Sullivan took time for a chat with us about her debut Middle Grade novel GOLDEN BOY. GOLDEN BOY is a harrowing story of 13-year-old Tanzanian albino named Habo, whose family is forced from their small village due to prejudice and misunderstanding. This book stood out to me as a serious and fascinating example of the powerful work that Middle Grade authors are writing. Read on to find out more about how GOLDEN BOY fits into the Middle Grade genre, but also strongly resonates with older teens and adults.
LS: You are a high school Spanish teacher, as well as an author. Tell me about how your experience in the classroom affected your writing.
TS: I have to say, I don’t know that there was much interaction between the two worlds—I write for middle grade readers and I teach high schoolers. The kids are always excited to hear book updates, though, and that’s fun.
Ever heard of a little genre-bending book called TWILIGHT by Stephenie Meyer? TWILIGHT took the publishing industry, and then the movie industry, by storm when the series launched a few years ago. Paranormal themes had indeed been dancing around YA lit for many years, but TWILIGHT was the book that took it to the mainstream, in an unforgettable way. Suddenly, readers from middle schools up through senior centers were declaring themselves “Team Edward” and “Team Jacob.” (One mom I know always jokes that she’s “Team Charlie”–you know, Bella’s single dad.)
What we’ve seen since TWILIGHT is that publishers and readers embrace genre-bending Young Adult fiction in a big way. Take the New York Times-bestselling SHIVER trilogy by Maggie Stiefvater: It’s YA Paranormal, but it has many of the the hallmarks of YA Contemporary as well. It definitely takes place in the contemporary world of small town Northern Minnesota. We go to high school with the characters, who wear jeans, backpacks, and rainbow-striped mittens. We ride in cars with them and eat candy and canned soup with them. Their cell phones ring. There’s nothing about this book that isn’t contemporary. It’s actually because SHIVER is so realistic that the haunting paranormal romance also works: once we as readers start to believe in the “real” world that Stiefvater creates in her fiction, we more readily accept the incredible plot twists that ensue (SPOILER ALERT: There are werewolves).