Real places, fictional stories.
As my 41st book, THE SUMMER OF BROKEN THINGS, came out this month, it dawned on me that this is the book where I’ve relied the most on true, actual locations to make the setting of my fictional tale seem like almost another character. About half my books are science fiction or quasi-fantasy, set in worlds I could design however I wished. Several of my realistic contemporary books are set in places that I know are based on houses, neighborhoods, towns, etc., that really exist, but it’s not as though I provided GPS coordinates; none of those books should send readers out on a quest to fact-check my descriptions.
It’s mostly with my historical fiction (UPRISING) and my time-travel books (the Missing series) that I’ve constantly had to ask myself, “Is this setting accurate? Am I describing it as it truly is (or was)?” And even there, I had some leeway: if some detail was missing from the historical record, I could fill in with my imagination.
But plopping fictional characters down in a setting where the location becomes part of the story—that calls for a lot of attention to detail and accuracy.
To my way of thinking, that also calls for a research trip.
If I want to be dramatic about it, I could say that THE SUMMER OF BROKEN THINGS ended up requiring three trips to Spain. I got the idea for the book on a family trip, but I’d been on a vacation then, not methodically looking for details that could inform my characters or plot. A few years later, my daughter returned to Spain to spend a college semester in Madrid; she went with a list of questions I’d given her, and she promised to do some research for me along with her other studies. Then she and I both returned for a concentrated trip where I had specific goals in mind, and plans for destinations I hadn’t seen before that I thought might be important to the book. (Spoiler alert: They were.)
Here are some of the sites and sights in Spain that particularly struck me on that research trip and became integral to THE SUMMER OF BROKEN THINGS:
1. The giant baby head sculptures by the Atocha train station in Madrid (technically known as Night and Day)
The sculptor Antonio Lopez Garcia based these on one of his grandchildren, and meant them as loving tributes and symbols. But… I found them rather creepy, and I thought my characters, Avery and Kayla, would, too. There’s also an awful lot about babies in the book, so I could let my characters see the sculptures symbolically as well.
2. Puerta del Sol
You could call this Madrid’s version of Times Square, but it’s much smaller and more picturesque, and it (fortunately!) lacks the overwhelming giant screens and constant neon lights. You can still have your picture taken with Disney characters and bump into crowds of other tourists. And Kayla and Avery constantly see others having fun here… even when they’re miserable.
3. Plaza Mayor
Kayla passes through this enormous plaza early on in her stay in Madrid, and its beauty charms her. Later, she learns that it was the site of trials and executions during the Spanish Inquisition, and she sees it with different eyes.
4. Museo del Jamon
Spaniards will tell you that American ham is tasteless and bland compared with Spanish ham. I’m not much of a ham fan to begin with, but I can see their point. Still, I was amused when I saw one of these stores in Madrid, did the rudimentary translation in my head, and thought, “They care so much about ham they actually have a museum for it?” I quickly realized it’s actually just the name of a chain of stores (much less interesting), but I gave Kayla the same misperception I’d had. And I made Avery’s dad a big fan of Spanish ham.
5. Valle de los Caidos (Valley of the Fallen)
This is a bizarre, fascinating, creepy, and controversial basilica and memorial near Madrid. The basilica is set atop a beautiful mountaintop and holds the tomb of Spain’s former dictator, Francisco Franco, while the remains of thousands who died during the Spanish Civil War are buried in the valley below. Because the monument was partly built by prisoners—including political prisoners—some consider it akin to a Nazi concentration camp. I sent Avery, Kayla, and Avery’s dad to Valle de los Caidos at a time when they are already troubled and confused, and what they see at Valle de los Caidos makes them feel even more unsettled. And the scene that upsets them the most—an elderly woman saluting Franco’s tomb–was based on something that my daughter and I directly witnessed when we were there.
6. The 11-M Memorial at the Atocha train station
This is a simple but moving memorial to the victims of a terrorist attack that took place at that train station on March 11, 2004. It’s a dark, peaceful room you can reach only by going through a remote, hard-to-find part of the train station. The main feature of the room is a skylight with a spiral of words depicting some of the expressions of grief and condolences sent from all over the world after the attack. I let Kayla find the memorial at a time when she needed comforts; later, when she trusts Avery more, she shares it with her as well.
From New York Times bestselling author Margaret Peterson Haddix comes a haunting novel about friendship and what it really means to be a family in the face of lies and betrayal.
Fourteen-year-old Avery Armisted is athletic, rich, and pretty. Sixteen-year-old Kayla Butts is known as “butt-girl” at school. The two girls were friends as little kids, but that’s ancient history now. So it’s a huge surprise when Avery’s father offers to bring Kayla along on a summer trip to Spain. Avery is horrified that her father thinks he can choose her friends—and make her miss soccer camp. Kayla struggles just to imagine leaving the confines of her small town.
But in Spain, the two uncover a secret their families had hidden from both of them their entire lives. Maybe the girls can put aside their differences and work through it together. Or maybe the lies and betrayal will only push them—and their families—farther apart.
Margaret Peterson Haddix weaves together two completely separate lives in this engaging novel that explores what it really means to be a family—and what to do when it’s all falling apart.
About the Author:
Margaret Peterson Haddix is the author of many critically and popularlyChildren of Exile series, The Missing series,
the Under Their Skin series,
the Shadow Children series
. A graduate of Miami University (of Ohio), she worked for several years as a reporter for The Indianapolis News
. She also taught at the Danville (Illinois) Area Community College. She lives with her family in Columbus, Ohio.
acclaimed YA and middle grade novels, including the
- One (1) winner will receive a finished copy of The Summer of Broken Things
- US only