Haycak, Cara 1961-

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Haycak, Cara 1961-


Born 1961; married J. Miller Tobin (a television director). Education: Attended Reed College, Cornell University, University of California, Los Angeles Extension, and Bennington College; Columbia University, M.F.A. Hobbies and other interests: Travel.


Home—Los Angeles, CA. Agent—Dan Mandel, Sanford J. Greenburger Associates, 55 5th Ave., New York, NY 10003. E-mail—[email protected]


Writer, editor, and Web-site programmer. Formerly worked in films as set decorator, documentary film production, script reader, and story editor.


Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.

Awards, Honors

Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators works-in-progress grant, 2000, for Red Palms.


Red Palms (young-adult novel), Wendy Lamb Books (New York, NY), 2004.

Contributor to periodicals, including Kliatt and First for Women.


A former set designer and story editor in the motion-picture industry, Cara Haycak worked in Web and print editing before making her fiction debut with the young- adult novel Red Palms. The book draws readers back in time to the early 1930s and introduces fourteen-year-old Benita. Financially ruined by the worldwide economic collapse known as the Great Depression, Benita's bankrupt father is forced to give up the family's lavish city home in Guayaquil, Ecuador. Although the man is determined to do the best he can for his family, his response to the crisis is drastic: he moves Betina and the rest of the family to the remote tropical island where he intends to start a coconut plantation. A stubborn man, Betina's father refuses to let go of his dream despite his lack of farming knowledge; only with the help of Paita Island's kindhearted local residents does the plantation have any chance of success. Unfortunately, Benita's father openly expresses contempt for the unsophisticated natives, and this antagonism grows as the situation deteriorates. When Benita falls in love with a handsome, Spanish-speaking islander named Raul, she makes the fateful choice to move from girlhood into womanhood, leaving behind all vestiges of her comfortable, civilized life in the process.

Reviewing Red Palms in Booklist, Gillian Engberg called Haycak's fiction debut "fascinating," describing the work as a "captivating, insightful" tale with well-drawn protagonists and a "vividly evoked setting." In Kliatt Claire Rosser noted the novelist's "experience working with tribal people in South America," adding that "Benita is a highly intelligent and sensitive young woman, who learns to survive a bad relationship and a difficult family situation." Remarking on the "overtones of magical realism" that characterize the second part of the novel, School Library Journal critic Bruce Anne Shook deemed Red Palms "an absorbing tale," while a Kirkus Reviews critic praised Haycak's story as "unique and beautiful." In Publishers Weekly a critic concluded that the young heroine's "unquenchable thirst for knowledge and ultimate liberation" provides Haycak's coming-of-age tale with "an uplifting" ending.

In an essay for Kliatt, Haycak described the genesis of her debut novel. Although Red Palms started out with an adult focus when Haycak began writing it as her M.F.A. thesis, she noted that "creative works always take on a life of their own, despite all your intentions and labor to shape them a particular way." "The book I found myself writing was a tale of high adventure," the author soon realized, "with perils, pitfalls and personal triumphs." As Haycak explained, she soon realized that her novel-in-progress "would more thoroughly entertain a younger reader."

Although Red Palms was inspired by the wealth of childhood memories Haycak's mother shared with her only daughter, its central story is grounded in a good deal of research. As the author explained in her Kliatt essay, "topics as wide-ranging as water systems of medieval monasteries, ancient priestesses and their rituals, the habits of jaguars in the wild, and languages of ancient South American people filled out the story in ways I could not possibly invent all on my own."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Booklist, November 15, 2004, Gillian Engberg, review of Red Palms, p. 595.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, January, 2005, Timnah Card, review of Red Palms, p. 210.

Kirkus Reviews, November 1, 2004, review of Red Palms, p. 1044.

Kliatt, January, 2005, Cara Haycak, "Writing Red Palms," p. 4; May, 2006, Claire Rosser, review of Red Palms, p. 19.

Publishers Weekly, December 6, 2004, review of Red Palms, p. 60.

School Library Journal, December, 2004, Bruce Anne Shook, review of Red Palms, p. 147.

Voice of Youth Advocates, December, 2004, review of Red Palms, p. 404.


Red Palms Web site,http://www.red-palms.com/ (May 10, 2007).