Erika Tamar Biography
Personal, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights
Accent is on last syllable of surname; born 0022;Sometimes Democrat, mostly independent." Religion: Jewish. Hobbies and other interests: Visual and performing arts; taking painting classes; volunteering at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Author, 1982—; speaker and writing instructor. Previously Leo Burnett Co., Inc., New York, NY, production assistant/casting director for Search for Tomorrow, television serial. Play Troupe of Port Washington, Long Island (community theater), actress and director.
Authors Guild, PEN, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.
Books for the Teen Age list, New York Public Library, 1983, for Blues for Silk Garcia, 1984, for Good-bye, Glamour Girl, and c. 1994, for The Things I Did Last Summer; Young Adult Books for Reluctant Readers list, American Library Association (ALA), and International Readers Association (IRA) Young Adult's Choice, both 1990, for It Happened at Cecilia's; IRA Young Adult's Choice, 1991, for High Cheekbones; Best Book for Young Adults, ALA, Books for the Teen Age list, New York Public Library, both 1993, Nevada Young Readers' Award nominee, 1997, and Garden State Master list, all for Fair Game; California Young Readers' Medal winner, Intermediate List, 1998, winner, Virginia Young Readers Award, 1998, South Carolina Children's Book Award nominee, 1997-98, third place, Sequoyah Children's Book Award, Oklahoma Library Association, 1998, Rebecca Caudill Young Readers' Award master list, Bank Street College Children's Books of the Year citation, Virginia Young Readers Award, and Maud Hart Lovelace Award nominee, Minnesota, all for The Junk-yard Dog; Child Study's Children's Books of the Year citation, commended title, Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs (CLASP), and Rebecca Caudill Young Readers Award master list, Illinois, all for Alphabet City Ballet; Golden Kite Award nomination, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Notable Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies citation, National Council of Social Studies—Children's Book Center, CLASP commended title citation, and Arkansas Diamond Book Award nominee all for The Garden of Happiness; Spur Award for Best Western Juvenile Fiction, Western Writers of America, 2001, for The Midnight Train Home.
YOUNG ADULT NOVELS
Blues for Silk Garcia, Crown (New York, NY), 1983.
Good-bye, Glamour Girl, Lippincott (Philadelphia, PA), 1984.
It Happened at Cecilia's, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1989.
High Cheekbones, Viking (New York, NY), 1990.
Out of Control, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1991.
The Truth about Kim O'Hara, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1992.
Fair Game, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1993.
The Things I Did Last Summer, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1994.
We Have to Talk, Parachute Press/HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2000.
Soccer Mania! (novella), Random House (New York, NY), 1993.
The Junkyard Dog, Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY), 1995.
Alphabet City Ballet, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1996.
The Trouble with Guys, Parachute Press/Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1997.
My Ex-Best Friend, Parachute Press/Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1998.
The Midnight Train Home, Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY), 2000.
Venus and the Comets (novella), Darby Creek Publishing (Plain City, OH), 2003.
"THE GIRLS OF LIGHTHOUSE LANE" SERIES
Katherine's Story, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2004.
Rose's Story, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2004.
Lizabeth's Story, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2004.
Amanda's Story, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2004.
The Garden of Happiness, illustrated by Barbara Lambase, Harcourt Brace (New York, NY), 1996.
Donnatalee: A Mermaid Adventure, illustrated by Barbara Lambase, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1998.
A teenage girl seeks the truth about her long-absent father; local athletes gang-rape a mentally handicapped girl and the town is eager to cover up the crime; a Jewish refugee from Nazi Europe adapts to her new land; a young girl learns there are hidden costs to becoming a model; a summer romance with an older woman teaches a teenage boy hard lessons about the difference between physical and emotional love. These are just some of the incidents that inform the young adult novels of Erika Tamar, whose books for young adults explore, as she commented, "the unexpected truth that lies under the perceived image of a person, as well as the many contradictory perceptions people have of the same event."
In titles such as Blues for Silk Garcia, Good-bye, Glamour Girl, High Cheekbones, Out of Control, Fair Game, and The Things I Did Last Summer, Tamar delves into the world of young adults with a "fine eye for urban adolescent angst," as a Kirkus Reviews correspondent noted in a review of It Happened at Cecilia's. Tamar has created a memorable male protagonist, Andy Szabo, whom she follows through three linked novels, It Happened at Cecilia's, The Truth about Kim O'Hara, and The Things I Did Last Summer. Tamar has also written novels for younger readers, including Soccer Mania! and the award winning The Junkyard Dog as well as the picture books, The Garden of Happiness and Donnatalee.
"I loved reading as long as I can remember," Tamar once commented, "and I've always liked telling a story. I think I always wanted to be a writer." Born in Vienna, Austria, Tamar came to the United States at the age of four. "I was young enough to pick up English very easily," Tamar recalled, "yet old enough to be conscious of learning another language; perhaps that contributed to my awareness of words and their nuances of meaning."
Tamar attended New York University where she majored in English with an emphasis on creative writing. However, a class in screenwriting led her to other classes in film production, and by the time of her graduation she was interested in television or film, "another way of telling a story," she explained. She became for five years a production assistant and casting director for a television serial, Search for Tomorrow.
Marriage and children soon followed. With the birth of her first child, the family moved to Port Washington on Long Island. "I was a full-time mom," she related, "and satisfied my creative urge by getting involved with community theater. I didn't concentrate seriously on writing for many years; the necessary solitude of writing clashed with my rather gregarious and extroverted personality, and it took some maturity to muster the self-discipline. It was the young adult novels that my children brought home that spurred me—the 'I can do that' syndrome." A writing workshop at the New School with Margaret Gabel was very helpful. Her work with television and film gave her a keen visual sense. "I still find that my ideas for books start with visual images," she commented. And her work with community theater instilled the idea of character creation in her. "I see a strong correlation between acting and writing—the ability to slip into character is what I rely on when I'm working on a book."
Soon Tamar had completed a novel in class, and submitted it to Crown. She was amazed when this first publisher took the book. "I was hooked!" Tamar recalled. That first novel, Blues for Silk Garcia, not surprisingly, included large doses of personal experience. Set in a facsimile of Port Washington, the book also dealt with jazz, a favorite musical form of Tamar's. Her daughter's virtuosity with classical guitar was also built into the story. As Tamar said, "My experiences and feelings, people I've known, things that move me or make me laugh, go into my novels in big fictionalized chunks—and that's what makes writing so much fun."
The novel's protagonist, Linda Ann Garcia, fifteen, learns that her long-absent father, Silk Garcia, the noted guitarist, is dead. Linda's search for information takes her into the world of nightclub musicians, where she slowly pieces together new levels of truth about her dad. Booklist contributor Ilene Cooper observed that Tamar "skillfully combines Linda's quest for her father with her first romance and thereby provides readers a full-blown, memorable heroine capable of growth and change," concluding that "in every respect [the book is] a well-crafted first novel." Christy Tyson, writing in Voice of Youth Advocates, noted that "this is a carefully developed coming-of-age story enriched by a credible rock/jazz background." School Library Journal contributor Linda Wicher felt that Blues for Silk Garcia "will be popular with young adults and is an admirable book for a first novel." Chosen as one of the New York Public Library's "books for the teen age," Tamar's first novel was on all accounts successful and encouraged her on to further writing.
With her second novel, Good-bye, Glamour Girl, Tamar mined her own life more closely, going back to her first years in America when she herself became assimilated via the movies. Liesl is a Jewish refugee from Nazi-occupied Vienna in Good-bye, Glamour Girl. She is determined to transform herself into an all-American glamour queen just like her movie idol, Rita Hayworth. When not busy reading movie magazines, Liesl joins her new boyfriend, the reckless Billy Laramie, in adventures. When Billy finally asks her to run away with him, Liesl is confronted with the final decision of choosing between her dreams and reality. A Kirkus Reviews contributor noted that Tamar "provides wry, touch-true details of Austrian refugee life" and "also gives a full-blown portrait of the movie-star cult." Sandra Dayton, writing in Voice of Youth Advocates, observed that "the reader … should be inspired by Liesl's consistently positive outlook and hope for a brighter tomorrow." A Publishers Weekly contributor summed up a positive review of the book by stating that Tamar "seems to write out of total recall for an era she brings to life in a vibrant novel."
For her third young adult novel, Tamar employed stories her own children had regaled her with when working in restaurants to help put themselves through college. She also introduced Andy Szabo, the male protagonist whom she would employ in two future titles. "The story concerns the ups and downs of a Cajun-Hungarian restaurant," Tamar recalled. The book was also set in New York's Greenwich Village, a locale dear to Tamar since her own college days at NYU. In It Happened at Cecilia's, Andy is fourteen, sensitive, a secret writer, and the son of the Hungarian half of Cecilia's. His mother is dead, and soon a customer, the dancer Lorraine, becomes interested in his father. Marriage plans are announced, and Andy fears displacement. Meanwhile, the restaurant has become ultra-popular after a review, so much so that the Mafia begins to show interest in it. Andy and Lorraine are forced to team up to protect the man they both love, creating the "beginnings of a warm family relationship," according to Cindy Darling Codell in School Library Journal. Codell also noted "the well-constructed dialogue, the absolutely hilarious restaurant antics, and the believable portrayal of a family restructuring itself," which all contribute to making this "entertaining book." Shirley Carmony, writing in Voice of Youth Advocates, felt that this was a book with a male protagonist that "will appeal to a great many junior high age students," while Zena Sutherland observed in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books that the "characters are distinctive … and the fairly happy ending is not made pat and incredible by having everything sugar-iced." A Kirkus Reviews critic concluded by noting that the "promised sequel will be welcome."
In fact, two sequels followed: The Truth about Kim O'Hara and The Things I Did Last Summer. Andy is fifteen in The Truth about Kim O'Hara and in love with the girl of the title, a Vietnamese-born beauty. The only problem is that Kim keeps him at arm's length sexually, and soon Andy begins to suspect there is more to her reticence than shyness; that perhaps there are secrets she has brought with her from Vietnam that have her in their grip. Booklist correspondent Susan DeRonne noted that through the many incidents of the book, Andy learns that "the essence of a deep relationship is not just sex, but friendship." DeRonne concluded that the story "is compelling reading with a multicultural twist." The Things I Did Last Summer is "a poignant story of a boy's first love," according to Larry Condit in Voice of Youth Advocates. Andy is seventeen now and spending the summer with his pregnant stepmother on Bay Island. The first day on the beach he meets a beautiful au pair who works for the wealthy Carlyles, and he is smitten. If he's not with the woman, Susan, he is working part-time as a journalist for the local paper. The older Susan initiates Andy into sex and soon he has dreams of the two of them sharing a life together. Such dreams are smashed, however, when Andy learns the truth about Susan—that she is actually Mrs. Carlyle. Marilyn Makowski observed in School Library Journal that "in the end [Andy] is wiser and headed for a better future," while Deborah Stevenson concluded in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books that the novel is "a well-written, absorbing story about first love and disillusionment." A Kirkus Reviews critic summed up much critical opinion by stating that "Tamar (who has never written better) probes deeply into the emotions that make first love so wonderful and so terrible. A book that should win a wide readership among mature [young adults]."
Tamar also took a look at the perils of modeling in the award-winning High Cheekbones, and at the lives of members of a teen rock band in Out of Control, which a Publishers Weekly reviewer dubbed "Rashomon-like" for its narrative diversity. One of Tamar's hardest-hitting young adult novels, however, is Fair Game, the story of the gang-rape of a mentally handicapped girl by the athletes from a small-town baseball team. Patterned after true events, Fair Game is set on Long Island and is told from several points of view: Cara, the retarded girl; Laura Jean, the girlfriend of one of the athletes involved in the rape and who initially is out to protect her man; and Julio "Joe" Lopez, an athlete who refuses to take part in the rape, but does nothing to stop it, either. Cara is a five-year-old in an attractive teen body who wants only to fit in. She will do anything to please, and one day a group of all-American boys have her do it all, even assaulting her with a bottle and broom handle. At first the incident is covered up, but soon the media get hold of the story, and it will not go away. Laura Jean thinks Cara is a "slut" and that it was all her fault that the boys did what they did, until she interviews Cara, trying to trick her into clearing the boys. Instead, she comes face to face with the truth and finally understands the brutality of what was done to Cara.
A Publishers Weekly reviewer thought Fair Game was "meticulously rendered and narrated in speedy, staccato language," and that it was a "must-read for any teen who has considered the implications of foul play." A Kirkus Reviews contributor decided the book was "well wrought and compelling" and Stevenson, in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, concluded that "this is a challenging book dealing with the interconnection of many complicated issues (racism, sexism, violence)—a book that could provoke some heated discussions."
The Midnight Train Home, for slightly younger readers, tells of the orphan trains, an old practice in which children without parents were shipped out of the large East Coast cities into the rural states of the Midwest and West. There, the children would be adopted by families and raised in what was hoped would be healthier circumstances. In Tamar's story, three children who are shipped out are separated when they are adopted by three different families. Eleven-year-old Deirdre O'Rourke winds up with a minister and his wife who show her no affection and allow her to become the butt of jokes at school because she has to wear other children's hand-me-down clothing. When she discovers that her brother has been sent to Texas, Deirdre stows away with a traveling vaudeville show and winds up performing with one of the acts. "Tamar does a wonderful job of incorporating the historical attitudes and realities of life for the poor during the late '20s," observed Linda Bindner in School Library Journal. A critic for Publishers Weekly concluded that Deidre's "realization that she is in control of her destiny comes as an uplifting epiphany."
Tamar has also turned her hand to books for younger readers as well as picture books. In the first category, most notable is the 1995 title The Junkyard Dog, about eleven-year-old Katie who, with advice from her stepfather, takes on the care and feeding of an abandoned dog, building it a doghouse to survive the winter. It is, in fact, her stepfather's attitude toward the dog, Lucky, that begins to bring the new family close together. Reviewing the book in School Library Journal, Virginia Golodetz noted that it was "a satisfying coming-of-age story, especially for dog lovers," and a Kirkus Reviews critic concluded that Tamar "has created a wise, wonderful
tale of an ordinary girl who is transformed by the power of love into a self-reliant individual."
In Alphabet City Ballet, Tamar explores both the inner-city world and the world of ballet. Ten-year-old Marisol wins a scholarship to the Manhattan Ballet School but still has obstacles to overcome. Motherless, she needs someone to take her from her Puerto Rican neighborhood to the school; she also needs to scrape enough money together to buy her ballet clothes and also gather her courage to fend off the remarks of rich girls attending the school. "Written with warmth and optimism, this highly readable novel is an easy choice for ballerina hopefuls," concluded a Publishers Weekly contributor.
The Garden of Happiness, Tamar's first picture book, is set in the inner city with young Marisol pining to grow something. Her desire leads to the reclamation of a vacant lot for a community garden, in a book that is a "delight for the eye and the heart," according to a critic for Kirkus Reviews. As the garden grows, it reflects its multiethnic neighborhood, as sunflowers grow alongside black-eyed peas from Alabama and valore from Bangladesh. The book's artwork purposefully exaggerates the size and color of the produce, adding to the appeal of the urban project. In Booklist Cooper called The Garden of Happiness "a book with the welcome message that beauty can be everywhere."
In another picture book, Donnatalee, Katie and her family leave the hot, crowded city for a day at a hot, crowded beach. Katie is transformed into the mermaid Donnatalee and slips into the cool, spacious ocean to frolic with goldfish, duel with sharks, and dive with King Neptune. In her review of Donnatalee, Cooper of Booklist concluded that "Tamar's evocative text is lovely."
Tamar has also completed a four-book mid-grade series, published in 2004. "The Girls of Lighthouse Lane" series takes place in 1905 and 1906 in a small fishing village in Massachusetts. Each book tells the story of one of four best friends and uses details found in Thomas Kinkade's paintings.
"I live in Manhattan again and I enjoy the restaurants, theater, art galleries, films, walking everywhere and observing street life," Tamar commented. "I often meet with other writers for critique. Sometimes it's really hard to spend long hours at my desk, yet my greatest interest, still and always, is writing."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, August, 1983, Ilene Cooper, review of Blues for Silk Garcia, pp. 1468-1469; February 1, 1990, pp. 1079-1080; September 15, 1991, pp. 142-143; December 1, 1992, Susan DeRonne, review of The Truth about Kim O'Hara, pp. 659, 662; November 15, 1993, p. 614; May 1, 1995, pp. 1575-1576; July, 1996, Ilene Cooper, review of The Garden of Happiness, p. 1825; September 15, 1996, Michael Cart, review of Alphabet City Ballet, p. 242; October 15, 1998, Ilene Cooper, review of Donnatalee, p. 430.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, December, 1984, review of Good-bye, Glamour Girl, p. 75; March, 1989, Zena Sutherland, review of It Happened at Cecilia's, p. 183; November, 1993, review of Fair Game, p. 103; April, 1994, Deborah Stevenson, review of The Things I Did Last Summer, p. 271; September, 1995, p. 31; January, 1997, p. 187.
Horn Book, May, 1994, pp. 358-361; July, 2000, review of The Midnight Train Home, p. 467.
Kirkus Reviews, November 1, 1984, p. 108; April 15, 1989, review of It Happened at Cecilia's, p. 631; September 15, 1993, review of Fair Game; June 15, 1994, review of The Things I Did Last Summer, p. 852; June 15, 1995, review of The Junkyard Dog, p. 864; April 1, 1996, review of The Garden of Happiness, pp. 537-538; September 1, 1996, p. 1329.
Publishers Weekly, October 12, 1984, review of Good-bye, Glamour Girl, p. 51; October 4, 1991, review of Out of Control, p. 89; October 25, 1993, review of Fair Game, p. 65; June 19, 1995, review of The Junkyard Dog, p. 59; May 6, 1996, review of The Garden of Happiness, p. 80; November 11, 1996, review of Alphabet City Ballet, p. 76; June 12, 2000, review of The Midnight Train Home, p. 74.
School Library Journal, May, 1983, Linda Wicher, review of Blues for Silk Garcia, p. 86; March, 1989, Cindy Darling Codell, review of It Happened at Cecilia's, p. 202; August, 1990, p. 165; April, 1994, Marilyn Makowski, review of The Things I Did Last Summer, p. 155; June, 1995, Virginia Golodetz, review of The Junkyard Dog, pp. 114-115; November 11, 1996, review of Alphabet City Ballet, p. 76; July, 1998, p. 84; July, 2000, Linda Bindner, review of The Midnight Train Home, p. 110.
Voice of Youth Advocates, October, 1983, Christy Tyson, review of Blues for Silk Garcia, p. 209; April, 1985, Sandra Dayton, review of Good-bye, Glamour Girl, p. 52; June, 1989, Shirley Carmony, review of It Happened at Cecilia's, p. 108; February, 1993, pp. 342-343; December, 1993, pp. 302-303; June, 1994, Larry Condit, review of The Things I Did Last Summer, p. 94.
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