Welcome to The Selective Collective. Together with our friends at The Book Addict’s Guide, Gone Pecan, The Grown Up YA and Teen Lit Rocks, we’ll be exploring a new release in its entirety, from review to author spotlight, to a roundtable chat, among other fun things.
This week we’re discussing The Book of Broken Hearts by Sarah Ockler.
Jude is the baby of the family and this is her last summer at home. If she’s learned anything from her big sisters it’s this: stay away from the Vargas brothers. They’re notorious for breaking hearts. She even, at the young age of twelve, made a vow to her sisters never to be involved with one. So when she decides to help her ailing father restore his vintage motorcycle, they hire none other than Emilio Vargas. He seems different, although Jude refuses to give in to his obvious sweetness. This summer with her father, this project they have together, give her hope that all will be well again and Emilio, the boy she shouldn’t have anything to do with, gives her a kind of understanding and acceptance she never thought possible. She wonders if maybe her sisters were wrong, but she fears letting them know the truth.
Oh, this book…I loved it! And I’m so thrilled to have the opportunity to interview the author, Sarah Ockler. Eeeeee!
1. The relationship between Jude and her father was an integral part of the story, especially this connection they forge over his old Harley. Was this something new to you, or were motorcycles and the lifestyle something to which you were already accustomed?
My first motorcycle boy crush was Michael Carrington of Grease 2 fame, so I was pretty much a self-proclaimed Pink Lady and biker babe since junior high. 🙂 In real life, though, the only person I’ve ever been on a motorcycle with is my dad! I grew up watching him work on his bikes, but honestly, I didn’t think his Harley was cool until long after I’d left home. He used to drive me to school dances and friend hangouts on the back of that thing, and the man had no sympathy for the fact that the helmet totally messed up my hair! My dad is still into bikes, and he served as my technical consultant on all the motorcycle stuff in the book. He even scolded me when I forgot to ensure Jude and Emilio wore their helmets! I guess in that way I’m kind of like Jude — between Dad and YouTube, I feel like I could totally rebuild a Harley now. Well, maybe not rebuild. Maybe just name some of the parts and pretend to know what I’m talking about. 😉
2. Jude’s closeness to her father was my favorite aspect of the story, with such authentic moments and conversations. Do you feel that your own life, your own familial relationships overflow into your characters so that at times you’re seeing conversations or memories of your own life flow from your writings?
Yes and no. I generally don’t replicate actual relationships, conversations, or memories from my own life in my stories, but I do take what I call their “emotional footprint” and use those residual emotions to inspire fictional relationships and moments. With The Book of Broken Hearts, my father doesn’t have Alzheimer’s, and when I was a teen, he and I were like oil and water. Set on fire. Topped with gasoline. 🙂 But we’re actually a lot closer now than we were when I was Jude’s age, so I take some of the best parts of that and let it color the writing. The sense of humor — all the jokes between them and the good-natured name calling — that’s totally inspired by my family. And funny enough, while Jude is the youngest sibling in a family of dominating older sisters, in my family, I *am* the dominating older sister (with two “little” brothers). So all of these real life emotions and relationships get kind of mixed with imagination and daydreams and overheard conversations into a big pot of character soup that inspires my fiction.
3. I loved that you placed the sisters all so far away so that, in essence, Jude was alone with her parents and, in some ways, with her father’s disease. Did you ever consider having the family all together, or did you always want Jude to have to make this journey, for the most part, without their guidance?
It was important to me that Jude make this journey physically alone, especially since her sisters — despite the distance — are still such an imposing force on her life. I wanted to write about that challenge — after living in the shadow of three older sisters for your entire life, how do you find our own path in the wake of sudden and tragic circumstances when those sisters who’ve guided you every step of the way (for better or worse) are no longer present, no longer taking the reins? When we first meet Jude, she’s the last Hernandez sister living at home, yet she still lives by her sisters rules. She wears their hand-me-down clothes. She initially looks to them to make decisions about her father, and flounders in their absence when she has to make some of those decisions on the spot. Yet, as the story continues and she confronts both her father’s deteriorating health and her growing feelings for a boy her sisters had always warned her against, she must start trusting herself and making her own choices. Not just about her father, but about her life. About who she loves. About who she is. And she needs to do that alone.
4. Oh, Emilio! Those dimples. That smile. It seemed from the first encounter, Jude and Emilio already blurred the lines between friendship and something more, both in the way she reacted to him and in the way he flirted with her. We see Jude’s thoughts and how she falls for him, but we don’t see Emilio’s side. What do you think draws him to Jude?
Emilio is immediately drawn to Jude’s love and fierce loyalty toward her father. He sees it that first day at the motorcycle shop — the way she’s so desperate to find someone to help them restore the old Harley, the fact that there’s obviously something wrong with her father’s health. He’s also intrigued by their shared past and the fact that she’s still willing to hire him to work on the bike despite the bad blood between their older siblings. Emilio also understands that side of Jude — in his own way, he’s living in the shadow of his family too. He’s got his own ghosts, his own regrets, and he’s struggling to find and define his own dreams too. He sees a kindred spirit in Jude, and the more time they spend together, the more he gets to know her family and her challenges to find her own voice, the harder he falls for her. And he totally loves the way she stands up to the guys in the motorcycle shop — she can hold her own in a game of dirty dozens and flirt with the best of them, and Emilio digs that. 🙂
5. Jude’s father suffers from Early Onset Alzheimer’s. It was such a good aspect of the story, so rich in emotion, and so painful because as the reader you know there’s no magic cure, no perfect ending. What inspired you to write such a story?
I knew I wanted to write, ultimately, about being present. About embracing each moment fully. So I started with a girl who was stuck in the past — living by her older sister’s rules, wearing old clothes, regretting the loss of her friends, fearful of her future. One night, in the middle of all that early daydreaming about the story, I came across a postcard on PostSecret: A bride dancing with her father in the center, surrounded by a brain scan of a normal brain and one with Alzheimer’s (the latter was black in the center). It said, “I want him to remember me for our father-daughter dance.” The “what ifs” implied in that postcard haunted me for a long time. It was keeping me awake at night, and I knew I had to write about that father and daughter — about a girl who was stuck in the past and a father who was essentially losing his own past. I wanted to write about what it would be like to face something so tragic in such a young family, knowing there was nothing you could do to stop it. The research for that part of the book was just heartbreaking, especially knowing that it’s not something I just made up for a story. Millions of families are facing this, dealing with this tragic kind of goodbye every day.
6. I have to bring up the fact that the origin of this story started from Grease 2 (yes, I can sing Cool Rider with the best of them and was always shocked that Stephanie didn’t have the hots for Michael in his nerd state). Is there an actor today you envision as ideal to be Emilio?
Ha! I always laugh when I get questions about ideal movie casts because I’m the *worst* at answering it! I don’t watch enough TV, so my answers inevitably come from the cast of my favorite shows, Friday Night Lights or Buffy. 🙂 I will say that Emilio’s looks were inspired by an underwear model named Marlon Teixeira — does that count? You should totally Google him. You’re welcome. 😉 And I’m so glad you’re a nerd-Michael fangirl. I would’ve accepted him no matter what (but I wouldn’t *discourage* him from wearing that black leather jacket…)
Side note from YA Crush: Um, yes underwear models count. Just in case, I extensively researched photos of him on a Google image search. You know, to make sure.
7. Last year a New York Times article said only 3% of children’s or YA books were written by or about Latino characters, so we loved the fact that not only is Jude Argentinian but Emilio is Puerto Rican. Kudos for that, because it’s rare — especially to feature Latinos of different heritages. What do you think needs to be done to encourage more representations of Latino youth, considering they are 25% of the population? Do you have a personal connection to Argentine or Puerto Rican culture, because your book was one of the few that used Spanglish convincingly and included authentic connections to the culture, especially the food and wine references.
There are lots of things we can do to encourage more representation of Latino youth in YA literature. Diversity in YA is a huge issue with lots of facets — readers need to actively seek out and demand stories with more Latino characters. The publishing industry needs to more actively and purposefully acquire them. Booksellers need to order and stock them. Bloggers need to read and review them. And writers (of all races and cultures) need to write them! This goes beyond just Latino representation to all sorts of diverse characters — racial and cultural diversity, sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomics, disabled characters — all need more representation in our stories because all exist in our worlds, and to pretend otherwise is to tell kids and teens reading our stories that they don’t matter. I don’t know any YA authors who would want to do that. But, it can be scary for us to write about characters who are different from us. There’s a fear of “getting it wrong” or of culturally appropriating. I think it’s important to set these fears aside and just write. Ask questions. Talk to people who are part of the cultures or groups that we’re writing about. Make a sincere effort to learn about them, to explore new things, to try. I’ve written at length about this issue, so for those who are interested in continuing the discussion, I’ll point you to a blog post here:http://sarahockler.com/2012/04/30/race-in-ya-lit-wake-up-smell-the-coffee-colored-skin-white-authors/ and to the Diversity in YA Tumblr, run by Malinda Lo and Cindy Pon, here:http://diversityinya.tumblr.com/
On a personal level, I have connections to both cultures featured in the story. I’m very lucky to have a deep connection to Argentine culture: my mother- and father-in-law are from Argentina. I’ve been part of their family for almost fifteen years now — that’s a lot of empandas and wine! 😉 Through them, I’ve been immersed not only in the delicious cuisine, but also in the language and in their experience as a married couple who emigrated from South America to the United States and set down permanent roots here. My husband and his siblings grew up first generation American, like Jude and her sisters. All of that inspired the Hernandez family in my story. Plus, my mother-in-law totally taught me how to make her ensalada rusa. That stuff is sooo good!
One thing I think writers who’d like to write more diverse characters should keep in mind is this: we’re all human, and we’re more alike than we are different. We all share traditions — foods, language and nicknames, family struggles and strengths. We all love and hurt. We all hope and dream. It might sound simplistic or idealistic, but it’s true. So start with those universal human emotions and relationships, talk to people, ask questions, and create from there. Plus, it’s totally fun if you get to try the food and wine for research purposes, right? 😉
Isn’t she great? Thank you Sarah for taking the time to chat with us and share about your experiences with this book.
Please be sure to visit my blogging partners in The Selective Collective and check out the great things they have in store:
The Book Addict’s Guide-Father/Daughter Relationships in YA
Gone Pecan-Casting Call
The Grown Up YA-Roundtable Discussion
Teen Lit Rocks- Review
Simon Pulse is giving away a copy of The Book of Broken Hearts to one very lucky girl (or boy!). To win, please leave a comment about this interview. Be sure to include your e-mail.
The contest closes on Wednesday, June 5 at 9pm PST. The winner will be chosen using Randomizer and notified via e-mail. If you win and do not respond within 48 hours, a new winner will be chosen.
Thank you and good luck! Trust me, you want this book.
Thank you to Simon Pulse for sending copies of The Book of Broken Hearts to all of the SC blogs! And thank you again to Sarah Ockler!