Description from GoodReads: Lucy is a practical, orderly person--just like her dad. He taught her to appreciate reason and good sense, instilling in her the same values he learned at medical school. But when he's sent to Vietnam to serve as an Army doctor, Lucy and her mother are forced to move to San Jose, California, to be near their relatives--the Rossis--people known for their superstitions and all around quirky ways.
Lucy can't wait for life to go back to normal, so she's over the moon when she learns her father is coming home early. It doesn't even matter that he's coming back "different." That she can't ask too many questions or use the word "amputation." It just matters that he'll be home. But Lucy quickly realizes there's something very wrong when her mother sends her to spend the summer with the Rossis to give her father some space. Lucy's beside herself, but what's a twelve-year-old to do?
It's a curious boy named Milo, a mysterious packet of photographs and an eye-opening mission that makes Lucy see there's more to life than schedules and plans, and helps to heal her broken family. The latest from critically-acclaimed author Tracy Holczer is a pitch-perfect middle grade tale of family and friendship that's sure to delight fans of One for the Murphys and Rules.
Thank you Tracy for stopping by Kid Lit Frenzy and talking about your new book Everything Else in the Universe.
Kid Lit Frenzy: As I was thinking about Everything Else in the Universe, I couldn't help but wonder if it would be considered historical fiction or contemporary fiction. Not that this distinction changes how I would share the book with students, but I am curious how you viewed it as you were writing it.
Tracy Holczer: After the election in 2016, I was in revisions and was struck by how history was repeating itself. When I originally conceived and did first drafts of the story, the 70's was a singular time in history. The details I chose to reflect that history leaned heavily on protest and conflict with the war, as well as universal themes of sacrifice, family and friendship. What I had originally considered to be historical feels very contemporary, now, I believe, because of what's happening all around us. During last revisions, I tried to go with that, focusing on historical elements that actually paralleled the here and now. I hope this sparks many conversations about the importance of protest, what children sacrifice when parents go to war, and that history can and will repeat itself if we are not vigilant.
KLF: What was the biggest surprised that Lucy or Milo revealed to you as your were writing the story?
TH: The biggest surprise was digging up that flight helmet in the garden. I did not see that coming until Milo's shovel banged against metal, and I saw the U.S. stamp down there in the dirt. I love it when that happens. It sort of turns everything on it's ear, but in a good way.
KLF: In conversations, we have spoken about how family and culture are important. Can you talk about this in relationship to Lucy and Everything Else in the Universe?
TH: Family and culture are everything. There is so much conversation going on right now about identity and who has the right to tell which stories. I'm very much in the camp of writing from a solid foundation of what you know emotionally. Writing a main character from the perspective of someone else's identity feels very much like identity theft to me. Especially in light of the CCBC publishing statistics about People of Color and First/Native Nations. Until those numbers rise, where people of their own cultures are telling more of their own stories, I think we need to make room at the table. Does this mean I believe white people shouldn't write about other cultures? No. Our books should be peopled by real life characters, and the world we live in is diverse. I just can't help but feel that, because there is a call for more diversity in writing for children, writers are seeing that as a trend they should follow, an opportunity to sell. Which is a terrible reason to write anything, imho. Bottom line is, write from your heart, but be clear on your motives. Intentions are well and good, but don't mistake them for sensitivity. Sensitivity takes more work.
KLF: I loved that the cat was named Cannoli. If I ever get more cats maybe I will name them Cannoli and Ravioli. Speaking of Cannoli, where have you found a decent one in Southern California? I miss the ones I used to get in Connecticut.
TH: An interesting story about cannoli. The Italians in my family didn't make them until my mother came along and she was all, "where's the cannoli?" So she found a recipe and started making them at family events. They were terrible. Filled with ricotta and dried fruit and overly thick, oily shells (sorry, Mom!). But the family loved them! (or maybe they just pretended to for my mother. Sorry again, Mom!). Anyway, I didn't have a real cannoli until my friend Nicole Maggi's book launch (check out her newest - What They don't Know from Sourcebooks Fire, Oct. 2018), where she had them flown in from Ferrara's in NYC. According to Nicole, Eagle Rock Bakery has some good ones. So let's make that our next lunch date!
KLF: Can you share about any writing projects that you are currently working on?
TH: I am currently working on something tentatively titled Braving the Woods. It's a fairy tale retelling of sorts where the main character's parents have been enchanted by grief. My girl, Juniper, comes up with a way to break the spell, which involves a one thousand mile journey to get her recently deceased brother's military service dog. It deals with living in the shadow of an idolized big brother and how to break free from that. With a little bit of a surprise ending (that I hope I can make work, cross your fingers for me). I pulled some from Grimm's Little Brother, Little Sister, which embraces the theme of bringing family back together after great suffering and death. Suffering and death! Good heavens, I guess someone has to write the weepies! Oh, how I love them myself. And I hope my readers do, too.
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About the author: Tracy Holczer spent her first twelve years in San Jose, California with her boisterous Italian family. Everything Else in the Universe is a love letter to that family, the pink kitchen where she discovered her nonni's secret ability to infuse food with love, and the San Francisco Bay Area in all its foggy glory. Her critically acclaimed first novel, The Secret Hum of a Daisy, made several state award lists and garnered starred reviews. A full time writer, Tracy lives in Los Angeles with her family, one fluffy dog and three cats.