Photo Credit: Stephen Rudd
1.) What made you want to write about Faith, someone who is desperately hiding her true self from the world?
Faith struck me as a girl that people can relate to. Trying to conform to social standards set for her, trying to blend in, trying to hide her past because she’s afraid others won’t understand. Essentially, she feels alone and that feeling is something I remember experiencing as a teenager. As a teen, I craved books that pushed the boundaries and showed imperfect characters; I wanted to see myself in books. My hope is that troubled characters will help flawed humans feel a little more like we belong.
2.) Why did you write about a Cuban hero—Diego?
I support diversity. I believe our differences make us shine. I wanted to bring a character to paper who wasn’t the normal American guy. Plus, I feel like Diego represents a lot of refugees who flee less than happy situations. I believe no matter where you come from, what heritage, what color your skin, no matter how dark your past may be, there is always hope.
How did you research the Cuban community in Florida?
I began learning Spanish, for starters! I spoke with people of different Latino nationalities. I visited a Cuban café where I ate delicious homemade Cuban food prepared by a Cuban immigrant. I even took a trip to Miami! That trip was maybe the most influential. I sat there with my ears and eyes open and drank in the culture—the language, people’s clothes, the way they carried themselves, and I learned something—even though their skin, language, food, and customs were different than mine, they still laughed the same, cried the same, and loved the same. It filled me with this sense of awe. Here we all are, so different yet so similar at our cores.
3.) Has anything in your life influenced the major themes—diversity, drugs, family and social issues—in Before You?
I think growing up in cities that were a melting pot of cultures (Orlando and Atlanta specifically) helped me understand there are many different kinds of people. I too know what it’s like to come from a broken family; that feeling of aloneness is very real and very hard to overcome. I lost my mother to her drug addiction, so my pain is Faith’s pain in that sense.
What other YA authors have influenced your writing?
I am immensely grateful to the author who made me fall in love with young adult books as a teen, who helped me feel less lonely, who wrote edgy raw real books. That author is Francine Pascal, and the book series is Fearless.
What do you hope to accomplish with Before You?
My hope is people who relate to Faith and Diego will know there are always other options besides drugs, violence and suffering, that they are more than the sum of their past mistakes, and that hope and love are real.