No, author Sabaa Tahir did not actually yell out, “I’m going to Disneyland!” when she learned that her YA novel All My Rage (Razorbill) had won the Printz Award. But the theme park does have a cameo in Tahir’s recollection of how she first heard the news.
“Last week I got an email that there was a paper stock issue with my paperback,” Tahir recalled, setting the scene. “And because the paperback of All My Rage is going to be out in a month or so, I was like, ‘Oh no.’ ”
Naturally, the matter necessitated a Zoom call with her publisher, and that was a logical next step that didn’t raise any suspicion. “It was early enough—I had always thought that anyone who won something found out the morning of, or the day before—so the awards weren’t really on my radar,” Tahir said. “And then I got into the Zoom meeting and I didn’t recognize anybody. But Valerie [Davis], who was the chair of the [Printz] committee, said, ‘You look confused, but I promise we’ll clear that up in a second.’ And then they told me.”
By sheer accident, Tahir was at least in some small way prepared for this big announcement. “I had my cat with me; I usually bring Sami with me to meetings with my publisher because they love to see her,” she said with a laugh. “I grabbed her for emotional support, because I was so overwhelmed, and I started crying. And then I don’t actually know what I said. I said a lot of thank-yous and I think I talked about the desert, but I truly don’t remember. I just remember feeling really overwhelmed and really grateful. This is not what I thought would happen when I wrote this book. I genuinely thought no one was ever going to read it.”
But many people indeed have read Tahir’s story of two generations of a working-class Pakistani American family and the motel they run in the California desert as they navigate the effects of substance abuse, financial stress, ill health, and racism, among other things. The novel was inspired by Tahir’s childhood experiences; as she told PW in an interview last year, “I tore this book from my heart, over the course of many years and in many iterations. It’s a story that demanded to be told, a love letter to the desert and rock music and tiny motels and the kinds of friendships that save your life.” When All My Rage pubbed in March 2022, it debuted on the New York Times bestseller list, received wide critical acclaim, and was named the winner of the 2022 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.
Though she’s been enormously appreciative of all the accolades All My Rage has garnered so far, Tahir said, “The Printz, to me, is special for a few reasons. One, it is awarded by librarians. And I think that of all the people involved in the publishing industry, librarians are the ones who are on the ground, and who understand most clearly what children need and what they’re reading, and what is relevant to them—and what maybe they haven’t gotten in their hands yet. The Printz represents all of those things,” she added. “I remember when I first wanted to become a writer, walking through bookstores and seeing American Born Chinese with the Printz medal on it and seeing Going Bovine with the Printz medal on it and knowing that was a big deal, even as a baby writer just starting to learn about the young adult industry. So, it really hit me, and had a big impact for all of those reasons.”
Tahir knows for sure that her fateful Zoom call came on Tuesday [January 24], “because on Wednesday I went to Disneyland,” she said, laughing. “That’s how I remember.” It had been a long-planned excursion with her family during a trip to her parents’ home in California. “My mom actually kind of made me take the kids.” Tahir noted. “When she knew I was coming to visit her, she said, ‘You don’t take my grandchildren anywhere fun. I got you Disneyland tickets.’ So, I was like, “I guess we’re going to Disneyland, guys.”
That famous Disney promotional exclamation made by winners everywhere over the years was not lost on Tahir. “We were cracking up about that afterward,” she said. “It was a very happy day at Disneyland, whatever I wanted—I had like 10 churros—it was great.”
On a similarly high note, Tahir added, “I got to spend time with my parents. They’re the ones who survived the desert for us and made this life for us out there. They sacrificed so much for our happiness and our dreams. To be able to see them right after and share that with them was the best celebration I could have had.”