It’s a Pat’s Chat first!
I am thrilled to be joined via the virtual world by author, Maria Andreu. Her recent Young Adult novel, LOVE IN ENGLISH, is a beautiful story that explores language and love. This might be a long post…but how can you hurry through such excitement?
A Brief Book Overview
In LOVE IN ENGLISH, 16-year-old Ana moves to New Jersey from Argentina and wants nothing more than to return home – where she understands (and masters) the language. Now, she sits in her high school classes and only grasps about every third word that is spoken. Her anxiety lessens in her ESL (English as a Second Language) class, because everyone in the room is as lost as she is. The only problem is that none of her ESL classmates speak Spanish either – or English. She meets a Greek student, Neo, and they make a grand plan to learn the English language through binge watching 80’s movies. (How awesome is that!)
The day that Ana meets Harrsion, her world changes. He’s CUTE! And he’s interested in Ana! She spends more time with Harrison, and Ana’s heart flutters. As Ana hangs out in the 80’s with Neo, she begins to connect with him on a deeper level. But Harrison is so cute… Ana must follow her heart.
Why I love this book
I devoured LOVE IN ENGLISH (and it takes a good book to suck me in). I relate to Ana’s character in many ways. While I have not experienced a language barrier like Ana, I imagine myself trying to learn Chemistry from Charlie Brown’s teacher (Wah…wah…wah). Impossible! Yet – Ana perseveres.
I relate to Ana because she’s a confused, frustrated teenager who wants to express herself poetically and socially, but struggles to connect. Haven’t we all felt that way? The author SHOWS us Ana’s pitter-pattering heart when she meets Harrison, and we live the thrill of new love through her eyes. As Ana watches movies with Neo, we feel their chemistry hop off of the page even before Ana realizes the connection. I flipped pages faster and faster to know who Ana would choose!
LOVE IN ENGLISH helped me to experience the frustrations that immigrants face regularly – as I saw them first hand through the eyes of Ana. At a time when our world is divisive and cruel, I hope anyone reading LOVE IN ENGLISH can feel the universal need for love and connection.
One of my favorite parts of LOVE IN ENGLISH is the interspersed chapters of Ana’s poetry as she tries to grasp the English language. The poems illustrate the idiosyncrasies of the English language while Ana struggles. Here is an excerpt:
Everything is a riddle.
Content: the stuff that fills my ESL notebook. The things I write
Content: how I want to feel. To someone.
Close: what my father wants me to do. Close the door on everything that came before.
Close: how I want to feel. To someone.
I want a piece of peace.
A week without feeling weak.
A scene I’ve seen before.
I want to be whole, complete, unabridged, intact.
An Interview with Maria!
Yep! I asked Maria about her novel and loved getting some insight into her writing process. Maria Andreu is an Argentinian American author who has lived the immigrant experience. Maria brings Ana to life, but also gives us a glimpse into her own experience.
Meet Maria – a beautiful person inside and out.
When writing LOVE IN ENGLISH – how close is Ana’s experience in school similar to your own past experience?
Maria: Like Ana I once didn’t speak English, I was a little younger than Ana was: she is sixteen, and I was eight. But I have distinct memories of sitting in classrooms wondering what was going on. The scenes were Ana is experiencing that – the confusion, the embarrassment, the moment of wonder and discovery when she finally gets something – those all come from my experiences.
With having such a close connection to Ana’s experience, did that make it easier of harder for you to write?
Maria: On the one hand it was easier, because I could draw from memory. In another way it was hard to delve back into moments that were painful or embarrassing. But one of the great, unexpected joys was to be able to look at English with fresh eyes again, like I did when I first learned it. It was a celebration all over again. I really do love English, and still wonder at it, and it was a joy to be able to express that.
I love the poetry inserted between chapters. Do you write poetry often, or did you design these poems to fit Ana’s character?
Maria: I’ve written poetry before, and even put a few poems up on my blog, but if you’d have asked me before LOVE IN ENGLISH if I wrote poetry, the answer would have been no. I didn’t consider myself a poet. But when I was trying to put the conflict of not speaking English in starkest relief, I wondered: what kind of girl would find it most difficult to be stripped of the ability to communicate? And it occurred to me that a poet, someone with the facility to capture her world in deep and meaningful terms, would really feel that strongly. And so I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and wrote her poems.
Since your beautiful book has been on the shelves – have you gotten any feedback (good or bad) from the Latino community? Is it a lot of pressure to be the voice of so many who have suffered discrimination similar to Ana or have shared her experience?
Maria: The Latino community has been amazing. Every time I get an email from a reader who has herself struggled with language, or who wants to tell me the story of a parent or loved one who came over and had to learn it, I remember why I wrote the book.
What are you most proud of about this novel?
Maria: It’s my baby, so obviously there’s a lot I love about it. I really enjoyed the device of having her and Neo watch 80’s movies as a means of figuring out English. And I’m proud to just have gotten out in the world! Publishing can be a tough business, and it’s been seven years since my first book came out. In the end, all I can hope for is that it finds its way to readers who perhaps want a glimpse into a life different than their own and maybe make someone’s day brighter as they read it.
I think of Ana’s struggle to determine her love for Neo vs. Harrison as being similar to an Edward/Jacob (Twilight), Damon/Stefan (Vampire Diaries), or Gale/Peeta (Hunger Games) situation. When you started writing Ana, did you always know who she’d end up with? And (most importantly) have you ever had a rendezvous at the top of the Empire State Building?
Maria: No on both counts! In an earlier draft, she actually ended up with the other guy. It was such an education in letting characters speak to you. As for the Empire State Building, what’s funny is that it holds this place as a romantic spot (looking at you, Sleepless in Seattle) but I’m from the New Your City area, and we locals tend not to go up there. I haven’t actually been to the top in years, let alone managed a rendezvous. There’s still time to change that, hopefully!
So… what are you waiting for? Hurry out and buy Maria’s book!
Maria’s personal immigration history was beautifully portrayed through Ana. My eyes are open wider than they were before. We all have space to grow and learn about different cultures, and Maria Andreu gives us a close glimpse at her experience.
To learn more about Maria Andreu – check out her website: Mariaeandreu.com
Buy LOVE IN ENGLISH at your favorite Independent Book Store – or I’ll link you up with it here:
I had the pleasure of meeting Maria Andreu at a Highlights Retreat! I love my writing community and appreciate their support and encouragement. My “sparkly” writer friends above: Tashi, Gail, Timanda, Jamison, Laura, Anne, Christine, David, me, Maria, and Gina. Love you people!