An interview with George Harrar, author of the novel "Parents Wanted."
Harrar is an adoptive father and the author of Parents
Wanted. "Parents Wanted" is the humorous and thoughtful
story of twelve year old foster child Andy who desperately needs and wants
a loving home yet who struggles with his past and the emotions evoked
by his new life.
Interview By Allison Martin
What inspired you to write "Parents Wanted?"
Our son inspired me. Tony came to us from the Massachusetts foster care system three months before his 12th birthday. He moved in on New Year's Eve, 1992. As a father and a writer I was fascinated by the challenges he faced -- adjusting to a new home, new parents, new neighborhood, new school, even new food. Everything changes when a child moves into an adoptive family, and so it's not surprising that he experiences anxiety and often acts out. As adults we say that one major life change -- moving, divorce, a sickness -- can cause us significant stress. Why then aren't we more understanding of an adopted child undergoing multiple life changes? Tony's various ways of coping -- some good, some not so good -- inspired me to look closer, to try to understand better myself.
What did you wish to accomplish in your novel?
I wrote "Parents Wanted" in part to project myself into the mind of a boy going through these multiple changes -- that's why I wrote in the voice of a 12 year old. I also wanted to give teachers and other adults an inside look at adoption so they can better understand what these children go through. For example, if teachers realize the deficits that develop in a child through constant family disruptions, then they might look past the facade of maturity and street-wiseness that adopted children often project and see the vulnerabilities and needs. Just as importantly, I wanted to give adopted kids someone in the literature that reflects their experiences in their voice. A father from New Hampshire wrote me that he and his 10-year-old adopted son were reading "Parents Wanted" at bedtime and several times the boy said, "Dad, are you sure you didn't write this about me?" I'm very happy if I've created a main character that adopted kids identify with.
What research did you do on adoption of older children, as background for your "Parents Wanted?"
Of course, living with an adopted child is the best research a writer could do. When I began thinking about writing "Parents Wanted," I asked Tony about the idea, and he said, "Sure, go ahead." He was used to talking about his life as part of a Youth Speakout Team on Adoption. Still, I changed my character's family background and fictionalized most of the plot twists and turns so as not to invade his privacy. This novel is not Tony's story -- though he has inquired, "Where are my royalties?" I've attended enough adoption conferences and support groups and recruitment parties to get a pretty good idea of the common denominators of the adoption experience.
What advice would you have for parents thinking of adopting older children?
Another of my goals for "Parents Wanted" was to give prospective adoptive parents a look at what to expect. I don't minimize the challenges, and if I scare away some folks that's okay because adopting an older child is not for the faint-hearted. Most professional couples who can't have children automatically think of adopting a baby from here or abroad. I'm suggesting through my novel that they at least consider an older child. There certainly are plenty of them in need of good parents.
What are your plans for the future?
Several readers have told me they were sad when the book ended, that they wanted more, which is exactly what a writer wants to hear. So I've begun thinking about a possible sequel. I have the first sentence in mind (I can't share it yet), now I only have to come up with 200 more pages! Much of my writing is geared to adults, and I've finished a collection of stories, one of which was chosen for the 1999 edition of Best American Short Stories. I'm nearing completion of a novel about a philosophy professor accused of a crime. At various times my wife and I have thought about adopting again, but our son seems to require our total attention, even though at age 20 he lives nearby, not with us. He has recently enlisted in the Army and is awaiting his orders. We see a distinct irony here that a boy who fought authority and regimen throughout his life is now choosing the embodiment of those things. We think, deep down, that he knows what he needs.
Interview Copyright Allison Martin 2002
George Harrar is the author of two novels about teenagers - 'Parents Wanted' and 'First Tiger'. 'Parents Wanted' received the Milkwood Prize for Children's Literation. His short fiction has appeared in numerous magazines for children and adults.
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