Haddonfield author Amy Rebecca Tan is tackling the middle-grade market with her debut, “A Kind of Paradise,” which was to gain wide release on April 30. In a time where electronics are taking more and more of a hold within that generation, Tan’s work attempts to stick up for that tender age, while advocating for the physical experience of reading a book inside the sanctuary of a library.
“Writing for this particular age of kids is exciting and important. Story helped me navigate my place in school and at home, with my family and with my peers, when I was a tween. I hope my books will do the same for a new generation of readers,” Tan said in an email exchange with The Sun while she was on spring break.
“The physical book will always be important to me and I can’t imagine a world without them. E-readers have been around for years, and while they do have a market and distinct benefits, they have not replaced the physical book. There is something personal and intimate about holding a physical book in your hands, touching the paper and hearing the sound of each page as it flips over.”
In that spirit, Tan will be holding a launch party for her new novel at Inkwood Books on Saturday, May 4 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
“I love middle-grade books because they address issues unique to the tween ages of 10 through 12. Being a tween is tough. It’s when you begin to distinguish yourself from your parents and first come to understand that you exist outside of them, even though you are not yet an independently functioning teenager or adult,” Tan said.
“Tweens must face the rude awakening that their parents don’t have all the answers. It’s unsettling to learn that the safety net you always depended on actually has gigantic holes in it. But it can also be liberating, because tweens realize they are responsible for themselves and can be whoever they want to be.”
Tan found similar solace in that period of her own life through two books: Beverly Cleary’s “Henry Huggins,” and S.E. Hinton’s “The Outsiders,” which influenced her in markedly different ways.
“I remember being in awe of Henry’s perseverance. He was bold and determined and didn’t care about embarrassing himself while working toward something he wanted. Reading about Henry’s struggle allowed me to try on his bravery and experience how it felt. I read it so many times, the book fell apart, but I still have it and plan to keep it forever. The book has my name written inside in my little kid handwriting. It’s a personal relic and, to me, it’s priceless,” she said of the former.
As for the latter, “(it) was my favorite tween book. I will admit that the movie helped cement my love for the story, but I read the book first and fell in love with the story before seeing the film version. The loyalty between the boys was enviable, the pace and language of the writing was spot on. I was thrilled the day I could finally hand it to my oldest kid. She loved it with the same passion I did, re-read it countless times, and watched the movie until she could recite lines by heart along with me.”
With a potential audience of almost 1,000 middle-grade students within Haddonfield alone, Tan is looking forward to launching locally, in familiar territory.
“I’m so excited to have my book launch at Inkwood Books. Inkwood is my favorite store in Haddonfield and my favorite independent bookstore anywhere,” she admitted. “Independent bookstores are essential to the vitality of a town. The booksellers who work there read extensively and listen closely. They are doing the job they do because they are passionate about it. There is nowhere else I would want to celebrate my book’s birthday.”
Tan isn’t your typical teacher looking to write the great American novel. She holds a master’s degree in special education, and that experience, as well as teaching in the New York public school system, has deeply imbued her writing style.
“We are all more alike than we are different. I like to write about human connection and people helping people. ‘AKOP’ takes place in a library because libraries are places of connection,” she explained.
“They are places of refuge and, to borrow from the title of Eric Klinenberg’s insightful book, “palaces for the people.” The Foxfield Public Library is not just the setting in my book; it is also a main character. It offers what is most important: free and equal access for all.”
Tan was kind enough to provide a sneak preview of her next work, called “Summer at Meadow Wood,” which has an expected release of this time next year. It’s a standalone companion novel to “AKOP,” telling the story of Vic Brown – Jamie Bunn’s best friend from Foxfield – who faces eight weeks at a New England camp after accidentally discovering a family secret. Stay tuned.
“A Kind of Paradise” will be released through HarperCollins children’s books at: https://www.harpercollins.com/9780062795410/a-kind-of-paradise/.
For more information about Tan and her background, visit: https://www.amyrebeccatan.com/.