“Middleview” Interview with Debut Author Tara Sullivan

Posted by Tamera Wissinger

Today, Tara Sullivan is joining Smack Dab In The Middle Blog for a guest “middleview” interview. Tara’s debut middle grade novel GOLDEN BOY, G.P. Putnam's Sons/Penguin, releases on 06/27/2013! Congratulations, Tara!

Here is Tara’s biography:

Tara Sullivan was born in India and spent her childhood living in Bangladesh, Ecuador, Bolivia, and the Dominican Republic with her parents, who were international aid workers. She received a BA in Spanish literature and cognitive science from the University of Virginia, and a MA in Latin American studies and a MPA in nonprofit management from Indiana University. To research Golden Boy, Tara traveled to Tanzania, where she interviewed those working to rescue and educate Tanzanian people with albinism. She currently teaches high school Spanish and lives in Massachusetts. Golden Boy is her first novel.

Here’s a description of GOLDEN BOY:

A shocking human rights tragedy brought to light in a story of heartbreak and triumph.

Thirteen-year-old Habo has always been different— light eyes, yellow hair and white skin. Not the good brown skin his family has and not the white skin of tourists. Habo is strange and alone. His father, unable to accept Habo, abandons the family; his mother can scarcely look at him. His brothers are cruel and the other children never invite him to play. Only his sister Asu loves him well. But even Asu can’t take the sting away when the family is forced from their small Tanzanian village, and Habo knows he is to blame.

Seeking refuge in Mwanza, Habo and his family journey across the Serengeti. His aunt is glad to open her home until she sees Habo for the first time, and then she is only afraid. Suddenly, Habo has a new word for himself: Albino. But they hunt Albinos in Mwanza because Albino body parts are thought to bring good luck. And soon Habo is being hunted by a fearsome man with a machete.

To survive, Habo must not only run but find a way to love and accept himself.

Here are the links to Tara online:

Now it’s time to hear from our guest:

Smack Dab Middleview with GOLDEN BOY author Tara Sullivan
1. What does your main character, Habo, want?

More than anything else, Habo wants to be seen as a real person.

2. What is in his way?

Because of his white skin, light eyes, and yellow hair, people have never treated Habo normally. The kids at school make fun of him, his family is awkward around him, and his father left because of him. As if this wasn’t bad enough, when Habo and his family have to leave their small Tanzanian farm and move to Mwanza, Habo discovers that there’s a word for people like him: albino. But they hunt albinos in Mwanza because of a belief that albino body parts bring good luck. Soon Habo is on the run, not knowing whether he will survive or ever find love and acceptance. 

3. Did you know right away that this was your story, or did you discover it as you wrote? How did the story evolve?

I knew this was going to be my story as soon as I read the small article in a non-profit journal in 2009 that told about the kidnapping, mutilation, and murder of African people with albinism for use as good-luck talismans. This article really upset me, and led me to a documentary produced by Al Jazeera English: Africa Uncovered: Murder & Myth. This haunting documentary touched a nerve and sent me down the path of writing Golden Boy.
The grown-up in me, the one that studied Non-Profit Management and International Studies and worked with village micro-finance and refugee resettlement programs, wanted to publicize the human rights tragedy. The kid in me, the one who always had to hide from the sun and could never blend into a crowd as she grew up overseas, wanted to tell the story of what it must feel like to experience these problems in the extreme.

4. Was GOLDEN BOY always for middle grade readers or not? If so, why did you choose middle grade? If not, what had to change for it to be considered a middle grade novel?

Absolutely! Middle Grade and YA books are the bulk of my reading: I absolutely love the genre. Also, I felt that a middle grade protagonist would let me explore the issues of identity better than a teenager would because this story was more about Habo’s relationship to his family and society and, most importantly, himself, than it was about romance or other common YA elements.

5. What is the best part of writing for middle grade readers?

The best part about writing for middle grade readers is that they have so much drive and enthusiasm. They want to know about what’s going on in the world and they want to do something about it. I hope that, after reading Golden Boy, many will find a way to get involved

Thank you for joining us at Smack Dab Blog today, Tara, and once again, congratulations on the upcoming release of GOLDEN BOY! We'll look for it on bookshelves soon!