February 2019

Corey Ann Haydu

The importance of imperfection
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If there were ever a fire in author Corey Ann Haydu’s home, she knows exactly what object she would grab: her collection of 20 years’ worth of journals. “I have a huge trunk filled with everything that happened in my childhood,” she says, speaking from her Brooklyn residence. “I love being able to sneak back in there and see who I was at age 10 and 11 and 12. There’s something really comforting about feeling like your life is stored somewhere, and for me, there’s a real panic at the idea of not being able to go back and touch base with the things that happened.”

But what if she couldn’t access all of those memories? That’s the central premise of Haydu’s cleverly deep new middle grade novel, Eventown, in which a family trying to escape the aftermath of a tragedy choose to have their negative memories erased. 

The Lively family is ready for a fresh start, so they pack up and head to Eventown, an enchanting utopia without modern amenities like cars, TV or the internet. At first, 11-year-old Elodee Lively and her twin sister, Naomi, delight in their move to the town filled with identical homes, rosebushes, waterfalls, perfectly ripe blueberries and a heavenly ice cream shop. “I wrote a lot of Eventown when I was pregnant,” Haydu says with a laugh, “which is why I think there’s a lot of cake and ice cream.” She adds, “It’s fun to create your own utopia because it’s just borrowing from all your favorite things in the world.”

Of course, there’s a price to be paid for perfection and, in ways reminiscent of Lois Lowry’s classic Newbery Medal winner The Giver, the twins slowly discover that this utopia is not what it seems. Haydu’s readers have two mysteries to untangle: What are the strange secrets of Eventown, and what was the tragedy that turned the Lively family’s lives upside down? 

“In some ways, it’s a book about the fog of grief,” Haydu explains. “I didn’t necessarily want the grief to be dealt with directly for most of the book. I think having the characters and the reader face tragedy together made the most sense.” All of Haydu’s books echo her personal philosophy: “While it’s tempting to shield kids from the most difficult parts of life for as long as possible, maybe in reality the biggest lesson about hope and wonder and love comes from really facing a tough part head on. I strive to write books that encourage facing what’s really hard while also exploring what remains really beautiful in the world in spite of everything difficult,” she says.

As for her own childhood challenges, Haydu’s trunk of journals reveals both the joys and sorrows she experienced while growing up in a small New England town with an alcoholic parent—a fact that was not discussed during her childhood, as her family was concerned with keeping up appearances. “It’s hard if, at age 12, you don’t feel like everything’s fine, but everyone’s saying it is,” she says. “That’s a confusing space to occupy.”

It’s a space that Elodee refuses to occupy. Unlike her twin, she’s determined to plunge ahead and try to understand Eventown’s secrets, including its disappointing library full of blank books. After Elodee’s mother assures her that novels aren’t needed, she disagrees, saying, “It’s weird. It’s terrible. It’s . . . wrong.” Enlisting the help of a new friend, Elodee eventually breaks into the town’s strange Welcoming Center, an act that turns most of Eventown’s citizens against her in a dramatic, nail-biting showdown.

Ironically, Haydu was so focused on portraying her characters’ heartache and emotions that she had no idea that she’d written “a bit of a page-turner and a mystery” until an editor commented on the compelling result. “My book feels so personal to me,” she says. “Maybe the specifics are different, but all of the feelings in my books are mine. And that’s the important part.”

Haydu’s first book for young adults, OCD Love Story (2013), addressed her own struggles with anxiety; Rules for Stealing Stars  (2015) chronicled an 11-year-old girl with an alcoholic mother; and The Someday Suitcase (2017) followed a fifth-grader who yearns to cure her friend’s illness but can’t. And then there’s Eventown, which deals with families trying to ignore their most painful memories, an ultimately impossible feat.

“I always think I’m writing a different type of book,” Haydu confesses, “but it always turns out that the themes relate back to central stuff for me, such as pressures placed on girls, the idea of perfection, secrets and loving people so desperately and wanting to protect them, even when you might not be able to.”

Just like her heroine Elodee, Haydu acknowledges the continuing game of tug of war she plays with her memories. “There are moments when I want to dig into that box and read some of the tough parts, and there are moments that I want to lock that box away and never look at it again,” she says. Hopefully, for Haydu’s growing legion of young readers, she will peek back in and allow those glimpses to continue to fuel her fiction.


This article was originally published in the February 2019 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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By Corey Ann Haydu
Katherine Tegen
ISBN 9780062689801

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