I met Eleanor Glewwe when I was running a writing workshop at Mixed Remixed. When we bumped into each other again at the evening reception she told me about her debut novel, Sparkers, a middle-grade (10-14 years old) fantasy, published by Viking. Sparkers, a 2015 winner of the Chicago-based Friends of American Writers’ Young People’s Literature Award, tells the story of Marah Levi, who is
“a sparker, a member of the oppressed lower class in a society run by magicians.
But when a mysterious illness begins taking the lives of sparkers and magicians alike, she joins forces with a wealthy magician boy to find a cure and save those she loves most.”
Clare Ramsaran (CR): Eleanor, you told me that you are of Chinese, German, and Swedish ancestry and identify as multiracial and hapa. Are there themes in Sparkers that relate to the mixed experience?
Eleanor Glewwe (EG): Sparkers isn’t specifically about the mixed experience, but it is set in a city rigidly divided along class lines, where class is determined by whether you can do magic or not. The main character, Marah, is a sparker, meaning she doesn’t have magic, but through unusual circumstances, she befriends a magician boy. As she becomes closer to his family, she does have to confront what it means that she moves between these two worlds when other sparkers don’t.
An adult character, Channah, who in complicated ways is both a magician and a sparker (I might be revealing too much here, but oh, well!). Because society is so divided, this is very difficult and even dangerous for her. I think Channah might be the most interesting character, and I’ve always wanted to write more about her.
The companion to Sparkers, due to be published in 2016, relates more closely to the mixed experience. In it, some teenagers begin to question whether families really have to be all one thing or all the other, or whether they could be, well, mixed.
CR: What made you choose to write a novel aimed at younger readers ?
EG: I started writing the novel that would become Sparkers when I was fourteen. That’s pretty much why Marah is fourteen!
CR: What’s been the most surprising response you’ve had from readesd?
EG: In reading online reviews of Sparkers (authors are cautioned not to read these, but I can’t help it), I’ve been most surprised by how often people draw parallels between the book and real-life injustices. Readers have made comparisons to the Soviet Union, South Africa, Rwanda, and even Ferguson, MO. It’s been quite humbling. That last comparison, in particular, made me realize that there is police violence in Sparkers—not that I’d forgotten, but I saw it in a new light. I didn’t set out to write a social justice-themed novel when I was fourteen; it just took shape that way, probably thanks to the influence of my activist mother. But since the book came out, readers keep talking about the social justice aspect, so I’ve tried to own it more.
CR: When is your next novel coming out ?
EG: My next book is slated for Fall 2016. It’s a companion to Sparkers, set five years later. It has a completely new protagonist, but several characters from Sparkers play important roles in the story.
Thanks Eleanor, it was great to talk to you and good luck with your next novel!