Diverse Book Corner: Interview with Reina Luz Alegre

Diverse Book Corner: Interview with Reina Luz Alegre
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The Dream Weaver brings me back to my girlish youth when life was filled with hope and endless opportunities. I remember being a bubbly twelve-year-old dancing around my room and decorating my cork board with JTT centerfolds. Then I came in dressed up as a pseudo Cher from Clueless on my first day of seventh grade when everyone was wearing jeans and I got a huge wake up call. The character of Zoey in this book brought me back to the many awkward movements of being a twelve-year-old girl and the constant doubt and emotions that plagued me on a daily basis. Through the insecurity and worry that Zoey felt, she still had this effervescent hope inside of her and it teaches us all of us to never lose that childlike spark inside of us even when the world seems hopeless. 

I am thrilled to bring you my interview with Reina Luz Alegre!

Alexandra: What is your inspiration behind The Dream Weaver?

Reina Luz Alegre: In writing The Dream Weaver, I wanted to write a story filled with heart and humor that would address tough family conflicts, but leave readers feeling hopeful and maybe a bit lighter by the end too. 

The setting of the book is in the Jersey Shore. I love this setting because not everyone is aware that New Jersey has a huge Cuban population. Even though, my only frame of reference is watching reality episodes of the Jersey Shore I felt like you captured the aesthetic of the Jersey Shore in my head perfectly! How did you conduct your research of setting your book in the Jersey Shore?

I did a lot of research on New Jersey seaside towns. I read local news sites, skimmed real estate listings to get a sense of the architecture for Poppy’s house and neighborhood, and I looked at tons of pictures of different Jersey boardwalks and businesses.

Most of this book takes place in a bowling alley and you do such an awesome job of describing the simple thrill of throwing a ball down an alley. Gonzo’s bowling alley is the kind of place with no frills fun mixed with a retro-style and a lot of heart! What is Gonzo’s bowling alley inspired by?

Thank you! I was inspired by the bowling alleys and arcades I sometimes went to as a kid and in school, where the owner might come say hello to a repeat customer and you need to remember to bring quarters. The bowling alleys I remember from yore before super chic ones with neon lights and cocktail menus sprang up. The newer bowling alleys are also so fun in a different way, but for Gonzo’s I wanted to capture family-owned warmth and retro charm! 

Even though, my Latinx heart belongs to Zoey which character do you most identify with?

I identify the most with Zoey too! Especially with how she almost always wants to keep the peace and put her loved ones’ feelings ahead of her own. Alas there’s a part of me that also identifies with older brother Jose, who is a bit more practical and a lot more judgmental. And with Zoey’s friend Tyler, who is so friendly and easygoing about certain things. Actually maybe there’s a little piece of me in every character!

Zoey is Cuban-American, and she struggles through figuring out her own identity with not feeling Cuban enough and not finding her own place in the world. Any advice for Latinx people who are struggling with their own heritage?

I think my best advice is to be yourself, and not let it sink into your bones if someone else tries to define you. In The Dream Weaver, Zoey struggles with her identity in large part because her mom passed away years before the book begins, and her dad put away all her mom’s things, including all signs of her Cuban heritage, so Zoey hasn’t felt connected to that part of herself until she moves in with her maternal grandpa at the beginning of the story. But it’s still her heritage to claim and to learn more about from her grandpa.

As an adult, I think that sometimes we want to code switch, or feel we have to code switch sometimes, but that doesn’t make us any less a sum of all our parts.  My Cuban heritage is still there even when I eat pizza instead of arroz con pollo for dinner.

The friendship and family dynamics in this book warmed my heart and it brought back so many of my own memories growing up. Were the friendships and family relationships inspired by your own life?

Yes and no. No relationship in the story specifically mirrored my real life ones, but I drew on feelings inspired by loved ones in writing Zoey’s relationships. For example, as when Zoey first met Lacey, I’ve also had the experience of having a terrible first impression of someone who would later become a good friend (though the real life friends this has happened with are nothing like Lacey). All of the wise Spanish phrases and terms of endearment that Zoey’s grandpa uses are ones I heard from my relatives growing up. And like Zoey, I also grew up with a very strong sense that family has to be there for each other.

Middle grade is making a comeback and I am finding many readers that just read young adult now getting into middle grade books. Why is middle grade resonating with so many readers now?

Yay middle grade! I’ve loved reading middle grade books recently as an adult, and I think the reason is because the stories are mature enough for grownups to identify with, remembering their own middle school experiences, but also youthful and sweet and filled with just so much hope. And right now in a global pandemic, hope feels even more important than usual!

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