YA author Lilliam Rivera talks to us about the importance of empowering young Latinx readers, and shares her very personal connection to her own flawed and funny heroine, the South Bronx born-and-bred Margot Sanchez.
Can you give us the elevator pitch for you new book, ‘The Education of Margot Sanchez’?
Sure! The Education of Margot Sanchez is a coming-of-age tale about a young Latina who is forced to work at her father’s failing supermarket in the South Bronx after getting caught stealing money for a fancy wardrobe. The young adult novel is a look at gentrification, dysfunctional families, and finding your own voice.
Tell us about your journey to becoming a writer.
I’ve always been a writer, ever since I was a little kid. I would walk around with a small notepad and pen and jot down whatever I would observe. My first job out of college was an internship at Rolling Stone magazine. After that I’ve worked primarily as an entertainment and fashion writer for various print and online outlets.
Here at Hypable, we’re big fans of podcasts. Can you tell us a little bit about your Literary Soundtrack radio show, and what your experience has been getting to talk to so many acclaimed authors?
Radio Sombra is a community-run radio station in East Los Angeles. The founders approached me to do a radio show and I came up with Literary Soundtrack. It was my way of being able to showcase authors of color and to talk to them about their latest work. Doing the show was a great excuse to fangirl over writers I love. Mat Johnson, Laila Lalami, Victor LaValle, and Meg Medina are just some of the authors I had a chance to interview.
What are some of your favorite YA reads and/or authors that you’d like to share with us?
I love picking up new reads. Right now, I want everyone to support the 2017 debuts from people of color. Here are some titles: Dear Martin, American Street, The Hate You Give, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, When Dimple Met Rishi, Allegedly, and You Don’t Know Me But I Know You, just to name a few.
You’re originally from the Bronx, but you’ve lived in Los Angeles for several years now. How has living amidst these two communities influenced your writing?
My heart is always in the Bronx although I’ve lived in Los Angeles for so long. What I love about my current home is that it is a movie-making town. I love the fantasy of it. It’s similar to New York in how so many people come here to try to make a go of it. Los Angeles influences my writing because I’m always exploring the various masks we wear in different circles. As for the Bronx, I can’t strip away what made me. My sense of humor, my attitude, it all comes from my upbringing and that spills into my writing.
You’ve been very outspoken about your wish to be an advocate for your community. What do you hope young Latinx readers, or young adult readers in general, get from your book?
This is really important to me. When I was in high school, I read everything although there was a definite lack of Latinx authors on the bookshelves. I hope that readers will be able to find a protagonist that may not fit the stereotypical role. Margot Sanchez is flawed and funny, loveable and takes questionable risks but so do we all. I want readers to see that there is no one way of living, that the paths are different for each young person.
What do you think are the most important issues surrounding diversity in the media and young adult literature today?
The important issues that surround diversity in the media and young adult are the same issues that have plagued it for years. There needs to be more diverse gatekeepers in publishing as well as more diverse book reviewers. Reading is such a subjective act. To allow as many voices as possible the chance to be heard, there has to be a strong initiative to build a staff that is open to hearing those voices.
Finally: What makes you passionate about Margot’s story?
Margot’s story is universal. It’s about a girl who finally sees her family in a truthful light. It’s also about the magical moments that summers can bring. I hope I was able to capture a little of that magic, the painful aspects of growing up, and the hopefulness of what’s to come.
About ‘The Education of Margot Sanchez’
THINGS/PEOPLE MARGOT HATES:
Mami, for destroying my social life
Papi, for allowing Junior to become a Neanderthal
Junior, for becoming a Neanderthal
After “borrowing” her father’s credit card to finance a more stylish wardrobe, Margot
Sanchez suddenly finds herself grounded. And by grounded, she means working as an indentured servant in her family’s struggling grocery store to pay off her debts.
With each order of deli meat she slices, Margot can feel her carefully cultivated prep school reputation slipping through her fingers, and she’s willing to do anything to get out of this punishment. Lie, cheat, and maybe even steal…
Margot’s invitation to the ultimate beach party is within reach and she has no intention of letting her family’s drama or Moises — the admittedly good looking but outspoken boy from the neighborhood—keep her from her goal.
Pretty in Pink comes to the South Bronx in this bold and romantic coming-of-age novel about dysfunctional families, good and bad choices, and finding the courage to question everything you ever thought you wanted—from debut author Lilliam Rivera.