Swanky Seventeener Lauren Karcz recently interviewed Karen Hattrup about her debut novel, FRANNIE AND TRU, a contemporary YA published by Harper Collins/Harper Teen on May 31, 2016.
About the Book:
Frannie has always idolized her cousin Tru. At seventeen, Tru is charismatic, rich, charming—everything fifteen-year-old Frannie wants to be, and everything she’s not. So when Frannie overhears her parents saying that after a bad coming-out experience Tru will be staying with them in Baltimore for the summer, Frannie is excited and desperate to impress him. But as Frannie gets swept up in Tru’s worldly way of life, she starts to worry that it may all be a mask Tru wears to hide a dark secret. And if Tru isn’t the person Frannie thought he was, what does that mean for the new life she has built with him?
About the Author:
Karen Hattrup grew up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. with her parents and brother, devouring books from an early age. At Loyola University Maryland, she studied journalism and spent a semester abroad in Thailand. She went on to become a newspaper reporter, first in Maryland and then in Indiana, writing features and serving as an award-winning arts critic. Karen later studied nonfiction writing at the Johns Hopkins University. She lives in Baltimore City with her husband, daughter, and son. Visit her at http://karenhattrup.com or on Twitter.
Lauren: As a fan of slow-burn, character-driven contemporary YA novels, I absolutely loved FRANNIE AND TRU! What was your initial spark for writing the novel?
Karen: I heard a teacher explain a theory that there are only two kinds of stories: man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town. In that moment, Frannie and Tru came to my mind, as two fully formed characters. From the very beginning I knew they were cousins, that she was shy and isolated and that he was bold and charismatic. I knew he would come for the summer, and that she would start to see the world anew.
Lauren: FRANNIE AND TRU is a total summer story — which I love — and one very much of its Baltimore setting. Which Baltimore landmarks were you most excited about including in the novel?
Karen: I knew early on that I had to include the Man-Woman sculpture. If you’re ever at the train station in Baltimore, you can’t miss it – whatever your opinion on it, the thing is pretty unforgettable. It’s one of those truth-is-better-than-fiction things, because if I had invented a giant piece of public art that so directly illustrates binaries, it would have seemed too obvious. But the thing exists! So I loved it as a big, imposing, sort of ridiculous symbol.
And then there’s the Prettyboy Reservoir. I wanted to take Frannie and Tru there because it has all this natural beauty and danger and stillness. Plus the name! It’s a bizarre, mysterious, poetic name. Prettyboy was actually the original manuscript title.
As for the underpass in the park – it’s very close to where I live. The first time I saw it, it made me wish that I was a kid again. I don’t know if it’s the graffiti or the way it’s nestled in the woods or the unexpected beauty of the curve in the archway, but it’s always given me a faint sense of magic and danger. The kind of place that you sneak off to when you’re young.
Lauren: Throughout the novel, Frannie is forced to confront her own attitudes about race and sexuality. Actually, it’s more than that — I liked how she continually questioned her own attitudes, forcing herself to think differently about her world. It’s so rare to see a white, straight character in YA examining her own whiteness and straightness, and I think that aspect of the book will matter to a lot of readers. Can you talk about how that layer of the book came to be?
Karen: So when I talked about that first spark of an idea, there was also a plot point that was in my mind from the very beginning. It went like this: Truman was gay. Frannie would get the impression that his parents had rejected him, and that’s why they sent him away. Later she would discover the story was something entirely different.
That may seem like a strange detail to fixate on. But looking back, I think there was something imbedded there – a seed of an idea about the assumptions we make, especially those that come from a place of privilege, and particularly those that come from what we think are good intentions. So in the very early drafting, I’m not sure that I consciously set out to write a book about a character who examines her own whiteness and straightness, but from that one plot element, that’s what started to develop. And once I saw it forming, I knew that it was a place I wanted to go. I wrestle with those ideas on a personal level, and, for me, writing is a way of thinking about the world, of working through the things that I struggle with every day. Frannie doesn’t have it all figured out by the end, and I certainly don’t either.
Lauren: Which other characters from the Sweet 16s books do you think Frannie would be friends with?
Karen: Oh my god, I love this question.
While they happen to exist in totally different universes, I think Frannie would relate so much to Raisa from SWORD AND VERSE by Kathy MacMillan. They are both thoughtful, quiet, sensitive girls struggling to find their place in a broken world. They have stores of strength waiting just below the surface. And I wish Frannie could find Eden from THE WAY I USED TO BE by Amber Smith. I was so aching for Eden to have more love and support in her world, and I think she and Frannie have a lot in common.
Also, I have to say that I would love for Tru to meet Dara from Paula Garner’s PHANTOM LIMBS. I bet they would hate each other at first and then become best friends. Everyone would be sort of afraid of them, but want to hang out with them at the same time.
Oddest writing habit?
Feeling paralyzed by fear and inadequacy every time I open a word document? I really wish I was joking.
Favorite comfort food?
A bacon cheeseburger and a beer.
Most recent YA read?
The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma, which – wow! That book is so haunting and an amazing execution of style.
About the Interviewer:
Lauren Karcz grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, where she and her sister created a huge cast of fictional characters as children. Lauren still writes about them; her sister doesn’t. She studied English and Psychology at the University of Georgia and went on to work in the linguistics field, first as an ESL teacher, and now as a writer and coordinator of language tests and training programs. Her favorite place is the beginning of the second act of a Broadway show. Lauren’s debut YA magical realism novel, THE GALLERY OF UNFINISHED GIRLS, is forthcoming from HarperTeen in summer 2017.