Sunday, February 14, 2016

Hannah Barnaby on SOME OF THE PARTS, Character Love, and Music

Hello, readers! I had the chance to read Hannah Barnaby's anticipated new release (out THIS WEEK) Some of the Parts, and I could hardly put it down. It's funny, thoughtful, and wonderfully genuine. Since we're lucky enough to have Hannah as part of the blogging team here at Pub Hub, I asked her if I could interview her about the book. So please help me congratulate Hannah on the new release!

For months, Tallie McGovern has been coping with the death of her older brother the only way she knows how: by smiling bravely and pretending that she’s okay. She’s managed to fool her friends, her parents, and her teachers, yet she can’t even say his name out loud: “N—” is as far as she can go. Then Tallie comes across a letter in the mail, and it only takes two words to crack the careful fa├žade she’s built up:


Two words that had apparently been checked off on her brother’s driver’s license; two words that her parents knew about—and never revealed to her. All at once, everything Tallie thought she understood about her brother’s death feels like a lie. And although a part of her knows he’s gone forever, another part of her wonders if finding the letter might be a sign. That if she can just track down the people on the other end of those two words, it might somehow bring him back.
One thing that surprised me about Some of the Parts is how often I found myself smiling at the humor in it. Why did you choose this as an element of the tone, and can you talk about the effect it has on Tallie's voice and character?

I knew from the beginning that sibling death and organ donation were heavy subjects for a YA novel, and it was important to keep the story balanced, both for the readers and for myself. I couldn't have faced working on it every day if there wasn't anything funny in it. And even when there's sadness in your life, there's humor and absurdity, too. Tallie is mourning her brother but she's also trying to re-enter a normal existence, so there was a natural swing between those two places in the action of the novel.

Mel is such an interesting character as a friend for Tallie, especially at this stage in Tallie's life. What can you tell us about her?

Mel was partly inspired by a friend of mine in high school. We had very different personalities and we weren't the most obvious social pairing, but she made me braver and more adventurous and I . . . well, I'm not sure what I did for her. Kept her out of trouble sometimes. Her parents loved me. Like my real friend, Mel is artsy and headstrong, but she's also vulnerable in her own way. She's protective of Tallie even though she doesn't totally get her. They serve a real purpose in each other's lives at this point, but it's a slightly uneasy bond. (For the record, my friend and I are still in touch. And she never put taxidermy in my locker.)

Chase has his own role to play, and his goes a bit farther that Mel's--at least it seems that way. Can you talk about the impact they have on Tallie?

Chase and Mel have only one thing in common, really, which is that they care about Tallie and they each want to be the one who fixes things for her. So they're a little competitive with each other. Chase feels a connection with her because of his fascination--which she begins to share--with keeping records of people who died and also because they're both hovering on the fringes of normalcy. The fact that Chase's father is both a resource and then a hindrance to Tallie's plans adds another layer to what's going on between them.

How Tallie feels about both Chase and Mel is a bit more complicated. She gets to know Mel and meets Chase during a time when she's really not herself, so the version of her that they connect with is left of center. In the end, Mel has more trouble with that than Chase does, which is why he goes the distance in ways that Mel can't.

There are a number of key adult figures in this book, and they're all so distinct and often funny. A lot of the humor I found in the book had to do with the adults, their quirks, and Tallie's perception of them. I'd love to hear what you have to say about writing adults in YA, and particularly in Some of the Parts!

I think a lot about the adults in my protagonists' lives. In many YA novels, there aren't a lot of adults around or the adult characters are less fully-developed than the teens. There are good reason for this--we can't have well-intentioned grownups swooping in and saving the day, or running the show and overshadowing our main characters. But it's unrealistic to have teens operating in adult-free worlds all the time, especially when their story involves family dynamics, as Tallie's does. It was important to me that her parents and teachers be sympathetic and real, but they were also a good chance to bring some levity into the book. A few of the teachers are named after my own high school instructors, as a nod to how my own life informed the story.

Music- bands, playlists, specific songs-- plays a significant, almost character-like role in the story. Can you talk about why that is, and how it helped shape Tallie, the themes, or the book itself?

Tallie's emotional journey in Some of the Parts is based on my own experience, after the sudden loss of my younger brother in 1999. My brother, Jesse, loved music and after he died I spent a lot of time listening to his favorite albums as a way of keeping him close. I needed to give Tallie a way of connecting with Nate, across the empty space of his absence, and music felt like the right way to do that. I also look to music--the lyrics as well the atmosphere it creates--to help me when I get stuck in my writing. Drafting and revising this book was really hard, for a lot of reasons, so I leaned on music a lot throughout the process. And I wanted to honor that in the final product.

Hannah Barnaby is a former children's book editor and bookseller, and was the inaugural children's writer-in-residence at the Boston Public Library. Her debut novel, Wonder Show, was a Morris Award finalist in 2013. She lives in Charlottesville, VA with her family. You can find her online at and follow her on Twitter @hannahrbarnaby.

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