“I chose to narrate the story through a child because people like children, they want to like them,” says Sonya Hartnett of Thursday’s Child, her brilliantly original coming-of-age story set during the Great Depression. “Harper [the young narrator] is the reason you get sucked into the characters. Even I, who like to distance myself from my characters, felt protective of her.”
The acclaimed author of several award-winning young adult novels—the first written when she was just thirteen—Australian native Sonya Hartnett says she wrote Thursday’s Child in a mere three months. “It just pulled itself together,” she says. “I’d wanted to set a story in the Depression for some time, in an isolated community that was strongly supportive. Once the dual ideas of the boy who tunneled and the young girl as narrator gelled, it almost wrote itself—I had the cast, I had the setting, I just said ‘go.’” Accustomed to writing about edgy young adult characters, Sonya Hartnett says that identifying with a seven-year-old protagonist was a challenge at first. “I found her difficult to approach,” she admits. “I’m not really used to children. But once I started, I found you could have fun with her: she could tell lies, she could deny the truth.” Whereas most children know “only what adults want them to know,” the author discovered she could bypass that limitation by “turning Harper into an eavesdropper and giving her older siblings to reveal realities.”
In her second book with Candlewick Press, What the Birds See, Sonya Hartnett once again creates a portrait of childhood. This time the subject is Adrian, a nine-year-old boy living in the suburbs with his gran and uncle. For Adrian, childhood is shaped by fear: his dread of quicksand, shopping centers, and self-combustion. Then one day, three neighborhood children vanish—an incident based on a real case in Australia in the 1960s—and Adrian comes to see just how tenuous his safety net is. In speaking about Adrian, the author provocatively reveals parallels between herself and her character. She says, “Adrian is me in many respects, and many of the things that happen to him happened to me.”
Sonya Hartnett’s consistently inspired writing has built her a legion of devotees. Of Thursday’s Child, Newbery Honor–winning author Carolyn Coman says, “Hartnett’s beautifully rendered vision drew me in from the very start and carried me along, above and under ground, to the very end. This book amazed me.” The achingly beautiful What the Birds See has just as quickly garnered critical acclaim. Notes Publishers Weekly in a starred review, “Hartnett again captures the ineffable fragility of childhood in this keenly observed tale. . . . Sophisticated readers will appreciate the work’s acuity and poetic integrity.” Sonya Hartnett’s third young adult novel, Stripes of the Sidestep Wolf, was named an American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults. Her novels also include Surrender, a mesmerizing psychological thriller and a Michael L. Printz Honor Book, and The Silver Donkey, a gently told fable for middle-grade readers. In 2008, she received the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award.