2007 National Book Award Young People's Literature Finalist Interview With Sara Zarr

Sara Zarr

Story of a Girl

Little, Brown & Company

Photo © Quinn Jacobson.

Interview conducted by Rita Williams-Garcia.

RWG: Now that it's all said and done, what is the story decision that you are most proud of?

SZ: In an early draft, a colleague in my writing group pointed out that Deanna's hopes of moving out with her brother and his girlfriend reminded her of Carson McCullers' MEMBER OF THE WEDDING, which is a book I love. Frankie's reasons in McCullers' book are much different than Deanna's, but that comment helped me see what I was trying to do, what I wanted to do. Figuring out how to connect that basic, universal longing for home and family to Deanna's specific circumstances was the challenge whose execution was most important to me. And getting that into a story that is ostensibly "about" something else without loading up the book with more than it could carry wasn't easy; there were many drafts that missed the mark but in the end I think I got as close that vision as I possibly could.

RWG: Deanna finds expression through her journal writing and essays for English Honors. Care to elaborate on her Lord of the Flies observation, "We are all savages"?

SZ: She's recalling a classroom discussion during which a girl in her class is appalled at the behavior of the boys on the island. The girl says something about how the boys should have realized that their chances for survival would be better if they worked together. Deanna sees this as profoundly ironic when her experience of high school and the way she's treated by her classmates is not much of an improvement over life on the island. Also, Deanna has made a mistake, and her parents have made them, and her brother is in danger of making one, and I think ultimately what that line hints at is that Deanna figures out that everyone is kind of in the same boat when it comes to our failures and the ways we disappoint each other, and if that's true, what options for survival are there other than forgiveness?

RWG: Perception, change and forgiveness can all rest on one fleeting act. What will this mean in a reader's heart?

SZ: The beauty of stories is that they can mean something different for every reader who encounters them. For me it's a story of tiny movements: one degree towards someone even if they haven't earned it, one moment of compassion for yourself, doing one thing different in a situation that you've handled badly a dozen times before... It isn't the stuff of epics, but I hope it's recognizably real, and, most importantly, just a great reading experience!

Rita Williams-Garcia is the author of six distinguished novels for young adults: Jumped, No Laughter Here, Every Time a Rainbow Dies, Fast Talk on a Slow Track, Blue Tights, and Like Sisters on the Homefront. She has also published a picture book and has contributed to numerous anthologies. Williams-Garcia's works have been recognized by the Coretta Scott King Award Committee, the PEN/Norma Klein Award, the American Library Association, and Parents' Choice, among others. She recently served on the National Book Award Committee for Young People's Literature and is on faculty at Vermont College for the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults program. Rita Williams-Garcia lives in Jamaica, Queens, NY and is the mother of two daughters.