Ask Cara


“After Mia is caught using the five-finger discount at a local department store, her mom forces her to get a job. Refusing to work in the college lunchroom alongside her townie mother, she finds a position in the entomology department instead, to the delight of her beloved, sickly Grandpa Andy. One could write off Mia as a wild problem-child with daddy issues in the first few chapters-she steals, lies, and sneaks into a club where she's assaulted-but it's a real pleasure to see her eventually harness her impulsivity and couple it with her already present inner strength. Mia's burgeoning self-awareness comes to a head at the same time that her life spins out control: her Grandfather is dying, her mother is drinking, she gets caught in the middle of their bickering, and her childhood best friends dump her because of the shoplifting and other erratic behavior. However, Haycak never scapegoats Mia's circumstances, and forces her to make changes from within. Deeply flawed but well-written adult characters are the cherry atop this stirring, smart, and affirming read.”
—Booklist, August 1, 2009

“With her life spinning out of control, an unfocused teen searches for the person she wants to be and eventually finds her. Fifteen-year-old Mia lives in a college town in rural New York with her disgruntled single-parent mother and her ailing grandfather, who has high hopes for his granddaughter. But Mia eschews school, refusing to believe college is the only thing she can do with her life. Living on impulse, Mia's arrested for shoplifting, insults her teacher, offends her friends and is forced to take a disgusting part-time job breeding flies in the entomology lab. But as her friends disown her, her grandfather fails and her mother resorts to alcohol, Mia learns an important lesson from the fly life-cycle and starts building her own cocoon to survive. Developed with realism, humor and insight in a colloquial third-person voice, Mia's flawed character proves credible. Her transformation story brims with loss and forgiveness as she painfully discovers "change can happen really fast for people" when they start making good choices instead of bad.”
—Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 2009

“In 15-year-old Mia Morrow, Haycak creates a realistic portrait of a teenage girl whose life is spiraling out of control. First, Mia is caught shoplifting and, as punishment, must pay the store $300. Her penchant for partying and aversion to studying drives a wedge between her and her two best friends. Additionally, her alcoholic mother has relapsed, and her grandfather, the one person who seems to have faith in her, is dying. At first, readers won't necessarily sympathize with impulsive "bad girl" Mia, but her story is compelling enough to keep reading, if only to discover how low Mia will sink. With painstaking yet gratifying care, Haycak (Red Palms) eventually starts Mia along the path of self-realization and forgiveness. Mia finds common ground with her mother, discovering they are both "reaching for something outside themselves to cure what was wrong on the inside," and forgives her friends as well as herself. Readers who stick with Mia until the end will be glad they did.”
—Publishers Weekly, August 17, 2009


“After the Depression forces the Benita's family to fall from a high social and economic place in Guayaquil, Ecuador, Benita and her family are forced to sell all they own and relocate to a remote island, where her father dreams of creating a coconut oil plantation. Life on the island is harsh, both because Benita's family is ill-prepared for farm labor, and because Benita's Papa alternately cheats and insults the islands native people. When Benita falls in love with--and subsequently runs away with--a handsome islander, Raúl, she leaves her father's control behind, only to learn that the idyllic life she imagines is an illusion. Benita must learn to take control of her own life in order to survive. Of the first novels released in 2004, RED PALMS may be the most ambitious--Haycak successfully weaves together a structurally-sound plot, exquisite writing, and a powerful narrative voice. The novel's exotic setting, historical timeframe, and unique cultural back drop make for a rich reading experience, and the character of Benita is one of the most memorable in several years.”
—Bill’s Best Books at ALAN Online, February 23, 2005

“This first novel by an author with experience working with tribal people in South America is remarkable—certainly a candidate for awards in the field of YA literature. The outline of the plot…only hints at the richness of this novel. [Heroine] Benita is a highly intelligent and sensitive young woman, who learns to survive a bad relationship and a difficult family situation, who learns to survive in the jungle, and who keeps a Pablo Neruda poem in the journal she carries with her always. Haycak is a gifted writer who describes well the emotional nuances, the cultural conflicts, the incredible landscapes, even the strange religion of the islanders…certainly all YA collections in public libraries and all high school libraries should consider this for purchase.”
—Kliatt, November 2004

“This ambitious first novel deals with issues of wealth and poverty, perceived class imperatives, cultural imperialism, religious intolerance, male-female stereotyping, and family dynamics, all interwoven with a young girl’s sexual awakening and coming-of-age. A lyrical tale, touched with nostalgia and elements of magical realism, it is told in an extended flashback by Benita long after she has left Paita. Haycak serves up a rich literary stew, like a chef who throws all her ingredients into the pot at once…Teens who savor literary fiction will walk with Benita as her story builds inexorably to climax. Acquire this book for school and public libraries; Haycak is a writer to watch. “
—VOYA, December 2004

“Cara Haycak has taken a classic coming of age story and infused it with a rare combination of wisdom, subtlety, and a deep appreciation for the sensual wonders of the natural world. Red Palms is not only a page-turner, but an emotionally rich exploration of family, geography and the immeasurable value of the road less taken. This is a sophisticated read that will captivate young and not-so-young adults alike.”
—Meghan Daum, Los Angeles Times editorial columnist, and author of The Quality of Life Report, November 2004

“The author’s deceptively straightforward prose manages to blend dreams, visions, and reality to achieve a multidimensional mix of cultures and spiritualities within which Benita’s perspective slowly shifts from male to female authority without spotlighting the process. Even the central image of red palms is subtle as it marks every major turning point in Benita’s life on the island. A surprisingly persuasive exploration of an alternative paradigm, Benita’s unusual sensation-filled bildungsroman will attract readers from a wide variety of backgrounds.”
—The Bulletin for the Center of Children’s Books, January 2005

“In an ambitious first novel, Haycak sweeps readers to a remote South American island where an uprooted 14-year-old from Ecuador must adjust to a primitive culture…the author vividly conveys each stage of the heroine’s emotional development; Benita’s initial culture shock, her growing curiosity about native customs and her yearning for independence…the sounds, smells and tastes of the island come fully to life, and Benita’s unquenchable thirst for knowledge and ultimate liberation end the novel on an uplifting note.”
—Publishers Weekly, December 6, 2004


[read more]

[read more]