Tara Sullivan is the author of Treasure of the World, a new novel for older kids and young adults. The book is set in a mining town in Bolivia. Her other books include The Bitter Side of Sweet. She lives in Massachusetts.
Q: You lived in Bolivia as a child. How much did that experience factor into your decision to write this novel?
A: It was a huge influence. All of my early memories take place in Bolivia. I loved the country and had longed for the chance to showcase it in a book. The trick was finding the right story to do so—I am so happy that Ana’s story is the one I get to tell in order to introduce my readers to my childhood home!
Q: How did you create your character Ana, and what kind of research did you do to write the book?
A: From the beginning, I was committed to finally having a girl protagonist. In order to be true to realities of the human rights issues I was representing, the main characters in my first two books were boys.
But the story of intergenerational poverty is not gendered. In fact, I think the story of girls and women in poverty is a critical one that deserves more of our attention. Ana, Mami, Abuelita, Yenni—all my female characters came from a place of wanting to show the bravery and resilience of women in challenging situations.
I got pushback at various times on this. In fact, at one point, I was told that I should re-write the book from a male perspective to make it more interesting. I fought this by adding agency and depth to Ana’s characterization. There was no way I was going to tell this story without her!
As for research, I did a ton! Like my other books, not only did I read widely about the location and the issues, but I also took a research trip to Bolivia. It was thrilling: my first time back since I was a child.
It was also humbling: no amount of reading compared to the experience of actually talking to the girls and women who live on the mountain in crushing generational poverty. My challenge, in the fiction, was to do their reality justice.Q: The Publishers Weekly review of the book says, "Sullivan approaches tough topics, including child labor, economic pressure, and repressive gender roles, from a resonant, believably young perspective, balancing Ana’s precarious struggle to survive with hope." What do you think of that description?
A: I love that description! It’s pretty much my writing process in a nutshell: I began with the tough topics and an understanding of the difficulties from my research trip.
My journey as an author was to take these hardships and have them be my starting point for Ana’s journey, rather than the sum of all that defined her.
Hope was the key to doing that. One of my near-final edits was an edit of the “tone” of the book. It meant re-writing the entire book from page one, but the key was finding hope and threading it through.
Learning to find hope in even the darkest places, fictionally, turned out to be particularly powerful for me personally as I edited and launched the book amidst a global pandemic.
What do you hope readers take away from the story?
A: I hope that readers will look at the layers of Ana’s story and walk away a little more curious than they were before about the world, and a little more empathetic and understanding of the unknown challenges others may be facing.
Reality is always more complex and embedded in history and place than our snap judgments and easy understandings would have us believe.
What are you working on now?
A: The pandemic has put a stop to international research trips, which has halted my creative process for books like Treasure of the World. For now, I’m playing with other words that make me happy. When the world settles, we’ll see where I’m off to next!
Anything else we should know?
A: If you’re a teacher (or just want to have a little fun and learn a bit more for yourself or your book club), I’m in the process of creating a full suite of free, online resources to accompany my books. These include more traditional “school” activities like writing extensions, but also Jeopardy games and escape rooms that are more interactive and fun.
I’m slowly populating this list, but I will have the complete suite for all three of my books ready to go in time for the start of school in the fall. You can find the activities on my website at:
Thanks so much for inviting me to chat about Treasure of the World. It’s been a long road to publication for this book: I hope readers come to love Ana as much as I do!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Tara Sullivan.