Last month, we reviewed Bridget Farr’s debut young adult novel, Pavi Sharma’s Guide to Going Home. It is the story of an Indian-American sixth grader in the foster system who is running a “business” – the payments she receives are snacks and school supplies – helping other kids transition into their foster homes. During the course of the story, she discovers a five-year-old named Meridee who is planned to be placed in a foster home where Pavi had been before. It had been a terrible experience. With the help of her foster brother, Hamilton, and two kids from her school, she sets out on a mission to rescue the child from disaster. Does she succeed? You’ll have to read the book!
This cute and creative story has become a favorite YA (young adult) recommendation of the Care2Foster contributors, so we did this interview with Bridget Farr to help our readers dive deeper into the book.
What inspired you to write a book with a child in foster care as the main character?
When I started this book, I was teaching sixth grade English and had two students in my class who were recently placed into the foster care system. Both were struggling with the transition, and as their teacher, I wanted to offer them books that would help them through the process. While there are great books about foster care already, I wanted a book with a foster care protagonist they could identify with, but one who wasn’t dealing with the immediate trauma of separating from their biological family. My students didn’t want to talk about their current experience, and they definitely didn’t want to read about it. So I wrote Pavi as a foster kid who gets to be the hero: She’s the one taking charge and that sense of control is hopefully appealing to foster kids who often feel like their life is in other people’s hands.
What has been your experience with the foster system?
My main experience with the foster system, outside of my teaching experience, has been with my fiancé, Shiva, who entered the Canadian foster system at twelve. Being a former foster kid is part of his story, but it’s not the entire one, and Pavi in many ways reflects his strength and determination to build the life he wanted. The current foster system in the United States is different than his experience, so I did a lot of research, working specifically with a social worker at The SAFE Alliance, a local Austin, TX nonprofit serving fostered and adopted children. I also have family members and friends who are either current or former foster parents.
How did your experience as an educator contribute to this story?
My experience as an educator helped me create an authentic world for my characters. Pavi and her friends spend a lot of time at school (like most kids do), and I was able to imagine the small details of the classroom, from assignments to décor, because the classroom is where I spend my days. I also was able to incorporate authentic student dialogue and make sure the voice of the characters fit modern kids.
Pavi, the main character, is Indian-American, an ethnicity people might not stereotypically associate with the U.S. foster care system. What led you to make this choice?
The reason I originally wrote Pavi as an Indian-American character is because I imagined her to look similar to Shiva, who is ethnically Indian. I kept Pavi as an Indian-American character for different reasons. A 2017 Foster Care Statistics report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services* reported that 53 percent of children in the foster care system are children of color, and I wanted a protagonist that reflected those numbers. It was also important to me that I not contribute to the white savior narrative by having a white protagonist saving kids of color. Finally, I wanted to explore the challenges of building a new family when the members don’t look physically similar. I wondered how Pavi might adjust to her new foster family when people constantly questioned their relationship simply based on looks.
An important element of the story is Pavi’s relationship with Hamilton, the biological child of the foster mother, and it’s a positive relationship. What made you develop this part of the story?
Pavi and Hamilton’s relationship is one that changed so much as I was writing the book. At first, I didn’t know what their relationship would become or if Pavi would ever find him anything more than annoying. When we first meet Hamilton, Pavi thinks he’s a nuisance and she doesn’t have any strong connection to him as a friend or family member. Over time, their relationship grows, and Pavi has the ability to realize that although she can live life on her own, she doesn’t want to. Pavi and Hamilton give the reader a chance to see in action the idea that family are the people who love and care for you.
A story about the foster system can have disturbing elements. Since you were writing this book for a young audience, how did you decide what to include and what to leave out?
This challenge was a major puzzle I had to figure out before I got too far into the plot. I needed the Nickersons, Pavi’s first foster family, to be bad enough to warrant Pavi starting this journey, but I didn’t want any element that would be too scary for readers or inappropriate for the age level. It was also important that whatever Pavi experienced wouldn’t be something that would cause much alarm for her caseworker. The foster care system is full of talented, loving adults, and I knew if Pavi reported some of the more disturbing elements that happen to children, an adult would step in to help. As it’s a book for kids, Pavi needed to be able to handle the problem herself.
In choosing what to share about Pavi’s experience with her biological family, I tried to do two things. First, I wanted to make her relationship with her biological mother contain positive memories, as well as the difficult ones, to develop the complicated relationship many people have with their parents and to counteract the negative stereotypes of biological families. I also chose to have Pavi keep much of her past experience to herself because I wanted foster kids to be able to relate with Pavi without having to relive too much of the traumatic parts of separation.
It was also a hard lesson for me to learn that we aren’t owed anyone else’s backstory. When I met Shiva, I wanted to know all about his past experiences, and he chose not to share them. I had to learn, and I hope other readers do too, that Pavi, and other foster kids like her, are allowed to share the parts of their story how and when they want.
What is the main take away you hope people get from this book?
I hope the main takeaway from this book is that the life you choose for yourself has just as much value as the one others have expected from you or you might have even planned for yourself. Pavi didn’t plan for Hamilton to become her brother or to be running a business for other foster kids, but it’s the life she’s created. I hope anyone who reads this book feels confident in the choices they make in their own lives.
I’ve been following the Care2Foster Instagram page for months now, and I love hearing about different families’ experiences with foster care. Everyone’s stories have been so authentic, and I only hope that Pavi’s story can be another tool for families considering becoming foster parents. I’m so grateful for the work of the Care2Foster team and all the foster families in South Carolina!
Author Bio: Bridget Farr is an author, actor, and educator. She’s been an elementary and middle school teacher her entire career, most recently in the sixth-grade humanities program at an urban public school. She has a master’s from the University of Texas at Austin and plans to become an elementary school principal. Bridget is also an actor and producer and has starred in award-winning plays, produced a popular theater series, and written a short film. Pavi Sharma’s Guide to Going Home is her debut novel. She lives in Austin, Texas, with her partner, Shiva, and the neighborhood cat, Sherman.