When I was a kid, I loved books that felt real. Judy Blume’s Just as Long as We’re Together and Here’s to You, Rachel Robinson were two of my favorites because I could completely relate to the main characters. Tara Altebrando’s middle grade debut The Battle of Darcy Lane is just the kind of book I adored most back then because of the sensitive, realistic portrayal of twelve-year-old girls and their dynamics with each other, boys, and their families. Don’t get me wrong—I still loved this book as an adult—but I was especially excited to share it with three sixth grade girls because I could picture my sixth-grade-self sympathizing with the main character, Julia, and cheering her on throughout the story.
In The Battle of Darcy Lane, Julia is looking forward to a summer of fun with her best friend Taylor, but a new girl named Alyssa moves to her neighborhood, introduces Julia and Taylor to a ball game called Russia, and criticizes everything Julia does. Pretty soon Taylor and Alyssa are acting like best friends, and Julia has to fight to be included. There is change everywhere Julia looks, so she throws all of her energy into the one thing she might be able to control: a giant Russia showdown where she’s determined to beat Alyssa once and for all.
Three sixth grade girls, Izzy, Nyeema, and Alex, read The Battle of Darcy Lane and had some questions for Tara about the book.
First, here’s what they liked most about the book:
Alex: I liked all the drama, because it felt really realistic. I liked when Julia saw her crush Peter with Alyssa and freaked out. I thought Julia and Peter were a cute couple.
Nyeema: I liked the Russia throw-down. I liked how we got to see Alyssa’s mom get so frustrated. It was funny but it also showed that Alyssa’s mom cares more about her daughter winning than about her daughter, which was sad.
Izzy: What stands out to me is how Alyssa sort of steals Taylor because it reminds me of things that really happen in middle school.
And now for some questions about THE BATTLE OF DARCY LANE!
Izzy: Will you write any more books about middle schoolers? How is it different to write books about middle school students versus older teenagers?
I’m really enjoying the experience of writing for middle schoolers so yes, I’m going to do it again. When I write for older teenagers, there is typically some kind of romance at the forefront of the story and it’s nice to be freed from that for a while. I remember my middle-school years as ones of big dreams and messy friendships and longing, before all the insanity of puberty and, eventually, dating, started, and I think there’s a lot of great material to work with in there.
Alex: How did you come up with the characters’ names?
I struggle with this! I usually end up going to the Social Security website, where they list popular baby names for each year. I read through the lists until I find a name that feels right for each character.
Nyeema: Will you write a sequel about what happens after? If not, what are you working on now?
I have so many ideas for different books that the notion of sequels has never appealed to me that much. I think I left Julia in a good spot and readers can imagine what the next few days and even years will be like for her. So I’m working on my next middle-grade novel, which is called My Life in Dioramas, and is about a girl who copes with moving out of her childhood home by making shoebox dioramas of her life there. She’s also secretly trying to sabotage the sale of the house.
Alex: How did you decide to include the game of Russia? Have you tried to play it and have you gotten all the way up to 13? We think it seems hard!
It is hard! But there was a time when I was great at it. It came through hours and hours and hours of practice. Would you believe when I shopped this book around to publishers it was called Russia? I thought that having that intense game in the book was a neat way to sort of highlight how friendship often feels like a competition. It really shouldn’t! And I don’t think it does when you get older, but in middle school totally.
Nyeema: Which character is which on the cover? I think it’s: Julia, Alyssa, then Taylor. Is that right?
Julia’s by the porch for sure. But Taylor’s the one in the middle. She’s described in the book as having super-blonde hair. Or wait, hmmn. Did that get edited out? I’m not sure! 🙂
And finally, some questions about when Tara was in middle school:
Alex: Did you have friend drama or play Russia when you were in middle school?
Yes and yes. Big time. The book is inspired by my own sort of toxic friendship triangle when I was twelve, and yes, we played Russia all the time. There was a never a big Russia showdown, but I definitely experienced a lot of what Julia’s experiencing.
Nyeema: Did you have a phone when you were in middle school?
I went to middle school a very, very long time ago. We didn’t even have cordless phones at home, and my parents didn’t let me have my own extension in my room until I was in high school. That must sound crazy to middle schoolers now! It sounds sort of crazy even to me and I was there.
Thank you, Tara, for answering these questions! We’re glad to hear you’ll be writing more middle grade novels!
Book cover from Goodreads. Photo of Tara by Peter Lutjen, from taraaltebrando.com.