Thursday, July 07, 2011

Interview follow-up: Beyond Lucky by Sarah Aronson, Part 2

Today I'm continuing my conversation with Sarah Aronson about her new middle grade novel, Beyond Lucky. Sarah teaches classes on writing for young readers online at and is a graduate of the Vermont College MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults.

[Uma] Let's talk about character development. At the outset, Ari's way of being in the world is highly ritualized and related to external factors--the card, his reliance on Wayne as role model, the Presidents. Yet as the story progresses we can feel him beginning to take the position of starting goalie, so to speak, in his own life. Talk about how Ari's character evolved for you. Did he surprise you along the way?

[Sarah] Boy did he!

Ari may start out unsure, but as he plays, as he becomes a bigger part of his team, as he studies for his bar mitzvah, he understands his place in his community. At the start, he looks to his role models—the presidents and his heroes—for guidance. By the end, he changes.

I’ll just say: Ari is tougher than he may look!  I talked to a lot of goalies, and they are pretty intense people. Most are confident, and it was important to me that Ari’s confidence grow. There was one scene in one game where he literally stepped out of the scene and demanded to nab the ball. It seems sort of hokey, but when you can really hear a character in your head, that’s what it’s like. As I wrote the final version of the book, I was really proud of him. I like him, too. He knows that there are ideas and concepts worth standing up for. In one scene, he does what I sometimes have a hard time doing.

[Uma] Ari's Jewish identity is established clearly in the book, but with a light touch. Religion and culture are backdrop and context but they are not the story. Talk about those choices.

[Sarah] As the granddaughter of a rabbi, I read a lot of Jewish books--Sydney Taylor's All of a Kind Family was definitely my favorite. (As an adult, I found out she lived in the apartment below my aunt and uncle and complained all the time about their noisy baby--my cousin!)

Anyway, other than that, most of the Jewish books I was given were about the Holocaust. It was pretty hard trying to forge a positive Jewish identity on that reading diet. When I decided to write, one of my goals was to write about Jewish characters in secular settings...without being preachy or didactic. I hope I succeeded.

[Uma] Sarah that is so important. Not that oppression stories or social issue stories don't matter, but no group (oh, this is my ongoing refrain!) should be defined solely by them. In your book, Ari's bar mitzvah preparation runs headlong into the larger story because both are a part of his life.

[Sarah] I really wanted Ari's Judaism to add context and relevance, but not turn readers away. Judaism, like all religions, offers a foundation, a community, and some big time conflict. It helps define who he is. In my real world, sports and religious commitments often clash. At 12, he would be in the thick of his bar mitzvah studies. It's an amazing time of self discovery and learning.

There were a lot of Torah stories that could have worked in this book, but I love this portion for him because it is about responsibility...and burdens. Like a lot of my students, Ari got the portion he was meant to read and study.

[Uma] What are your thoughts on the role of friendship in this story?

[Sarah] Wow. That is one big question. When I first started writing this book, I thought a lot about Mac and Ari. In fact, Uma, I think you once asked me why these two very different boys were friends.

[Uma] I'd forgotten about that. You're right. I guess I was intrigued by the question even before the story had fully taken shape.

[Sarah] I had to dig for that answer.

But once I knew, it opened up a lot of emotion.

Friendship begins and grows in the strangest ways. Sometimes friends are so similar; sometimes, they are different. What really interested me with my characters: as boys, how do they express friendship and loyalty? How does the team fit in? Is there really no “I” in team?

That was the tip of the iceberg.

Sarah's connectivity chart
I think all of us—boys and girls, men and women—have all had friends who’ve made dubious choices. We’ve all had disagreements with friends. And we all have tentative friendships. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t sometimes have a hard time navigating friendships, especially when they are not completely mutual, when we are the vulnerable ones.  Ari is vulnerable—on and off the field. And wow, does it hurt when a friend is not who you want him or her to be.  I hope that when readers get to the end of Beyond Lucky, they feel strong enough to stand up for what they believe in. I hope they cheer for Ari. For me, this story showed me just how important a good friend can be.

[Uma] And what about the rest of the story iceberg? The subplots, the way that things are connected?

[Sarah] I used a connectivity chart. It really helped me figure out my subplots!

I compared the chart to the important scenes....and analyzed if the important characters (the ones that would logically were the most important to Ari) were there. Some were. Others were not. Thanks to my connectivity chart, I found new scenes for his well as flashbacks and scenes for Sam.

[Uma] Thanks, Sarah and yes, the very best of luck with this book and with all your projects.


  1. So many common themes run through this book in regards to friendship, life, growing up, and making chioces. Thanks for sharing the behind-the-scenes info to Beyond Lucky. Good luck : )

  2. So true, Paula. It was fun to talk to Sarah about the development of this book.