A Teen Reader Interviews Krista Van Dolzer About The Sound of Life and Everything

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Lauren M. is a 7th grader at King Philip Middle School in West Hartford, CT. She recently read an ARC of Krista Van Dolzer’s THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING and had a few questions for the author.

22521936First, here’s the official description of the book from Goodreads:

Twelve-year-old Ella Mae Higbee is a sensible girl. She eats her vegetables and wants to be just like Sergeant Friday, her favorite character on Dragnet. So when her auntie Mildred starts spouting nonsense about a scientist who can bring her cousin back to life from blood on his dog tags, Ella Mae is skeptical—until he steps out of a bio-pod right before her eyes.

But the boy is not her cousin—he’s Japanese. And in California in the wake of World War II, the Japanese are still feared and despised. When her aunt refuses to take responsibility, Ella Mae and her Mama take him home instead. Determined to do what’s right by her new friend, Ella Mae teaches Takuma English and defends him from the reverend’s talk of H-E-double-toothpicks. But when his memories start to resurface, Ella Mae learns some shocking truths about her own family and more importantly, what it means to love.

Lauren: Did the Clausens receive their son’s body? If so, why did they use the blood on the dog tags to attempt to bring Robby back if they had a whole person to work with?

Krista: This is a fantastic question, and if I’m being totally honest, I’ve never really thought about it. Many families never saw their loved ones again, but I do think Uncle George and Auntie Mildred would have gotten Robby’s body back. (I’ve seen pictures of the bodies of the Allied soldiers who died on Iwo Jima, and it looked like they were planning to ship them home.) I guess they used the dog tags because they were more accessible. Auntie Mildred wouldn’t have been able to keep what she was doing a secret if she’d exhumed her son’s body.

Lauren: How did you get your ideas for this book?

Krista: The first line came to me as I was falling asleep one night. The voice in my head intrigued me–though I didn’t know it yet, Ella Mae came to life at that moment–and I wondered what story she would tell. I started writing it down and didn’t stop for another 50,000 words. 🙂

Lauren: Why did you have Mildred Clausen change her mind about Takuma?

Krista: It was important to me to show that people can change their minds, that they can become better. Because Auntie Mildred was so dead-set against Takuma when he first came back to life, she was the perfect character to show this transformation.

Lauren: Did you have a hard time writing the book emotionally as you wrote how people reacted to Takuma’s ethnicity?

Krista: It did make me wince, especially as I tried to decide how and when to use the racial slur that appears in the book. But the whole point was to show how terribly some people treated Takuma so that readers could see how they grew and changed over time.

On a more personal note, my grandpa was Filipino, so I know that he experienced some of the same prejudices that Takuma faced. (The Philippines was one of our allies during the war, but when he immigrated to the United States, he found that the color of his skin still unsettled some people.) Despite the way he was treated, my grandpa never grew bitter, so I tried to draw on his example.

Lauren: How did Daniel die?

Krista: Daniel died in the Battle of the Bulge in January of 1945. The battle was fought in the Ardennes, a heavily forested region in northern France, and it was the last major German offensive on the Western Front. Daniel was part of the infantry, so he would have been exchanging rifle fire with his German counterparts. He died of a gunshot wound.

Lauren: What is your favorite scene in the book and why?

Krista: I have several favorite scenes, but the one that immediately jumps to mind is the scene in which Ella Mae, her mama, and Takuma go shopping at a department store in Los Angeles on a Sunday. When their small-town reverend won’t allow Takuma to set foot in his chapel, Ella Mae and her mama storm off in a huff and go shopping instead, but they’re horribly self-conscious. I know exactly how they would have felt, since I believe in keeping the Sabbath day holy, too, so that scene was an easy one to write.

THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING releases May 5 and is available for preorder.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound

Krista squaredKrista Van Dolzer is a stay-at-home mom by day and a children’s author by naptime. She holds degrees in Mathematics Education and Economics from Brigham Young University and lives with her husband and three kids in Mesquite, Nevada. She is the author of the forthcoming THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, May 2015) and the forthcoming DUEL/DUET (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, Fall 2015).
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