Today, we're chatting with Hannah Barnaby, whose powerful new YA novel, Some of the Parts, is out now from Knopf.
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 façade she’s built up: ORGAN DONOR.
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.
Hannah Barnaby’s deeply moving novel asks questions there are no easy answers to as it follows a family struggling to pick up the pieces, and a girl determined to find the brother she wasn’t ready to let go of.
Welcome, Hannah! What was the spark that ignited this book?
Some of the Parts is a very personal story, based on my own experience of losing my brother when I was 20. The circumstances in the story are quite different from my own: Tallie, the main character, loses her older brother in a car accident for which she feels responsible. My brother was younger, and died while he was away at college. But Tallie and I both experienced sudden and catastrophic loss and the emotional arc of the novel is very close to what I went through. In a way, I wasn't able to write this book until now. It's been seventeen years.
What was the most difficult element to cut/change during the revision process and why?
In the first draft, Tallie was experiencing a progressive illness that caused hallucinations, so that she was actually communicating with her brother and receiving messages from him. Her quest to find his organ recipients was pushed forward by this element. Melanie Cecka at Knopf was interested in acquiring the project, but before she committed she asked if we could have a phone conversation. She told me that if she became my editor, she would be asking me to cut Tallie's illness out of the book entirely because it was an external force acting on the plot and was essentially robbing Tallie of her agency in the story. I didn't want to hear this, of course, because it meant a huge overhaul of the manuscript but before long I realized that Melanie was right. I needed to figure out what was driving Tallie internally and give her the chance to make her own choices.
What authors do you love for their sentences? How about plot? Character?
Plotwise, I am in awe of what E. Lockhart did in We Were Liars and what Elizabeth Wein did in Code Name: Verity, how they both crafted these revelations that were so subtle and earth-shattering at the same time. Other favorite writers include Nova Ren Suma, Martha Brockenbrough, Sonya Hartnett, and Han Nolan. All of them craft unique, powerful stories with poetic language that's perfectly balanced with the plot and the character development. I have such admiration for writers who can walk the tightrope and carry all of those elements in such harmony.
What nugget of craft advice has been especially helpful to you?
I usually do write in silence when I'm revising, reviewing copyedits, etc. But when I'm drafting, I find it really helpful to find and listen to music that I think my characters would like. I know I'm on the right track (no pun intended) when I hear a song on the radio and I think, "Oh, she would love this one." For Some of the Parts, music became especially significant because one of the only tangible reminders of her brother that Tallie has is his MP3 player. And every chapter title is also the name of a song that he loved.
Going to VCFA changed everything for me! I was working as an editor at Houghton Mifflin the entire time I attended VCFA, and when I started the program, I really thought of it as a way to become a better editor. But slowly, I realized that I truly loved writing my own stories...possibly even more than I loved working with other authors on theirs. Not long after I graduated, I became the first Children's Writer-in-Residence at the Boston Public Library and wrote the first draft of Wonder Show. And I left publishing for good.
What do you wish you had known before you first set foot on the VCFA campus?
Hannah Barnaby is a former children's book editor and independent bookseller and was the inaugural Children's Writer-in-Residence at the Boston Public Library. Her first novel, Wonder Show, was a Morris Award Finalist and included on lists from YALSA, Kirkus, and Bank Street. Visit her online at www.hannahbarnaby.com, find her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.