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Digging for the Truth, a guest post by Lilliam Rivera

Photo credit: Isabelle Santiago

If you’re like me, I try my best to avoid consuming the news all day. This is not an easy feat considering the world we’re currently experiencing. The reality is that to get to the truth about things takes more than just a quick glance at a headline. Our most “trusted” news outlets continue to fail us. How can we prepare ourselves when the established media institutions bend the truth? There is fake news and then there is also this idea of sugarcoating the truth. Why not use the words “white supremacy” or “racist” when you can use “racially tinged” and “racially motivated?”

However, this essay is not about linguistics or the history of how words are used to perpetuate the racial structure that so many benefit from. This essay is about High School history class. When I was attending High School in New York, I attended a public school specializing in secretarial studies and computer sciences. The goal was to prep students to enter the work force as assistants. I learned how to type and spent most summers temping in various offices around the city. The funny thing was that I loved history. I devoured books exploring the period between the late 1950s to the late 1970s. During that period, the world felt as if it was at a crossroads. Students and young people all across the United States were rising up to make their voices heard against a tyrannical government. I wanted so desperately to read about the Young Lords, the Puerto Rican youth movement who joined the Black Panthers to help aid their community. I wanted to read about the Chicano Movement, La Raza, and more.

Sadly, this wouldn’t be the case. The history books I was forced to read didn’t mention these Brown and Black social movements. And if I ever wanted to search anything tied to Puerto Rico, well, I was out of luck. Instead I cobbled together what I could, creating a mix match selection from the library which included memoir, fiction, and poetry. I read Piri Thomas’ Down These Mean Streets right alongside Alex Healey and Malcom X’s The Autobiography of Malcolm X.  I read Bobby Seale’s Power to the People with Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. It wasn’t enough. I couldn’t find works on Latin America’s liberation theology or the Young Lords work in Chicago and the Bronx. It would be later in college when I would be able to connect with those periods. Perhaps this is the reason why I decided to find ways to incorporate history in my young adult novels. I’m not writing historical fiction but allowing these characters to explore their cities through a historical lens.

The Education of Margot Sanchez

In my first novel The Education of Margot Sanchez, I introduced gentrification and its effects on Brown and Black families. But my latest young adult novel goes further with this idea. In Never Look Back, I flip the Orpheus and Eurydice myth and set it in mostly in the Bronx, New York with two Afro Latino protagonists. Pheus is a wannabe bachata singer who meets and falls in love with Eury, a Puerto Rican displaced by Hurricane Maria and haunted by an angry spirit. The novel is a love story but it is also a story of how trauma infects each generation. Pheus is a fairly typical high schooler, one with the gift of musical talent. He is also a great history buff. Through Pheus, we are able to get insight, however short, into the colonization of Puerto Rico, the Young Lords occupation of Lincoln Hospital in the 1970s to help their community, and the traumatic effects of the military on young people. Pheus doesn’t just see a building, he sees the blood and tears imprinted on the walls.

Never Look Back

I love this idea of the school curriculums moving between fiction and history. High School English and US history are great places to have a robust conversation. In recent years, there have been wonderful works being produced in children’s book spaces. Why not pair Sonia Manzano’s The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano with The Young Lords: A Reader by Iris Morales? What about Esmeralda Santiago’s When I was Puerto Rican with The Taste of Sugar: A Novel by Marisel Vera? A school guide has already been created for the award-winning New York Times’  1619 Project. What if the project was paired with Kekla Magoon’s Fire in the Streets or Renée Watson’s Some Places More Than Others

If a young reader is not into historical fiction, there are still a lot of innovative ways to introduce overlooked historical moments through young adult and middle grade novels. The excitement is not only discovering the pages can be mirrors but can also bring much needed light to a period times overlooked by our history books. Let young readers question the very text books being handed to them. Let them raise their eyebrows at what is left off the page and nudge them to present their doubts through the use of fictional characters who are also on a similar journey. The goal is to expand what is presented in approved texts and have them find the missing voices in between the lines because no one story book or newspaper holds the full truth.

Meet Lilliam Rivera

Photo credit: Vanessa Acosta

Lilliam Rivera is an award-winning writer and the author of children’s books Goldie Vance: The Hotel Whodunit, Dealing in DreamsThe Education of Margot Sanchez, and the forthcoming young adult novel Never Look Back (September 15, 2020) by Bloomsbury. Her work has appeared in The Washington PostNew York Times, and Elle, to name a few. A Bronx, New York native, Lilliam currently lives in Los Angeles. 

About NEVER LOOK BACK

Never Look Back

Expertly blends reality and fantasy to explore what’s behind love and loss, what it takes to heal.” – Randy Ribay, author of National Book Award finalist Patron Saints of Nothing

Acclaimed author Lilliam Rivera blends a touch of magical realism into a timely story about cultural identity, overcoming trauma, and the power of first love.

Eury comes to the Bronx as a girl haunted. Haunted by losing everything in Hurricane Maria—and by an evil spirit, Ato. She fully expects the tragedy that befell her and her family in Puerto Rico to catch up with her in New York. Yet, for a time, she can almost set this fear aside, because there’s this boy . . .

Pheus is a golden-voiced, bachata-singing charmer, ready to spend the summer on the beach with his friends, serenading his on-again, off-again flame. That changes when he meets Eury. All he wants is to put a smile on her face and fight off her demons. But some dangers are too powerful for even the strongest love, and as the world threatens to tear them apart, Eury and Pheus must fight for each other and their lives.

Featuring contemporary Afro-Latinx characters, this retelling of the Greek myth Orpheus and Eurydice is perfect for fans of Ibi Zoboi’s Pride and Daniel José Older’s Shadowshaper.

ISBN-13: 9781547603732
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: 09/15/2020
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years