Fifteen-year-old Mariana Ruiz has no desire to step foot outside her affluent Philadelphia suburb. BUT she may not have a choice. With total disregard to the high-glam Sweet 16 her best friend is hosting, Mariana’s father ships her off to a tiny mountain town in Puerto Rico to stay with family she’s never met. The heat is merciless, the food is spicy, and only one of her relatives—her distant cousin Lilly—speaks English. Her consolation prize is Lilly’s homespun Puerto Rican Quinceãnera. Only the riotously festive party exposes Mariana to more than just her culture. She uncovers new friends, her first love, and a family secret that’s been buried on the island for more than 30 years.
The title pretty much sums the novel up- it’s all about love and secrets, and it’s a fantastic debut. While the voice of Mariana is very much chicklit, there’s still another layer there that makes it more than just a novel about summer love, and that mainly has to do with the aforementioned secrets and the rich details that fill this novel. Much of the action takes place in Puerto Rico, which almost becomes a character in its own right with the way Wallach describes it all- the weather, the customs of the people, the simplicistic lifestyle, etc. The ending leaves the reader wanting more, but not in a huge cliffhanger way, and to quench that thirst for more, there’s a small excerpt of the second book, Amigas and School Scandals, included in the back. Definitely recommended.
1) How did you get the idea for Amor and Summer Secrets?
The idea developed during a phone conversation with my agent, Jenoyne Adams. She had been working on different YA projects I had written, and had mentioned seeing a recent increase in interest from editors seeking multi-cultural YA novels. And of course she asked the infamous question, “Got any ideas?” I didn’t. But by the end of our conversation, I had pitched the story for what became Amor and Summer Secrets.
My goal was to feature a character with a background similar to my own—a girl who was half Puerto Rican and half Polish, a girl who grew up not speaking Spanish, a girl who didn’t look like the Latina stereotype. Many of the feelings Mariana expresses about her cultural identity are similar to the questions I faced growing up.
But even still, Mariana is definitely not me. Let’s just say, she’s a bit better behaved than I was at 16. And she lives in a much nicer house. I also never had a summer fling with a hot Puerto Rican stranger. I married a nice Jewish boy. 🙂
2) Are you working on something new now? Can you tell us anything about it?
The sequels to the series, Amigas and School Scandals and Adios to all the Drama, will be released in November 2008 and January 2009, respectively. I’m editing the proofs for Adios right now. And I think readers are going to be really happy with how the story plays out—at least I hope so!
Also, I’m currently working new YA project. It’s a complete departure from what I’ve done in the past—lots of spies, suspense, fight scenes and, of course, a love triangle. I’m really excited about it. Plus I get to travel because I’m setting some scenes in Europe. The character is a lot of fun to write. She’s much cooler than me, all about girl power, and her dialogue is very punchy. I hope to have it ready for the publishing world soon!
3) Courtesy of Class of 2k8-er Marissa Doyle, I’m asking this of all the authors I interview. What is your favorite jelly bean flavor?
Cotton candy. I also like cotton candy flavored water ice. It allows you O.D. on the sugary sweetness without getting as many calories. I’m also a curious fan of the buttered popcorn flavor, because it really does taste like popcorn. How do they do that?
4) What book(s) are you reading right now, or are going to start soon?
Right now I’m reading I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have To Kill You by Ally Carter. It’s really cute and funny. And I’m getting ready to start The Host by Stephenie Meyer. It’ll wrap up my whole Stephenie Meyer collection. I’m interested to see how she writes for adults, and whether the style is noticeably different from her YA novels.