[Note From Frolic: Our resident YA expert Aurora Dominguez got the opportunity to interview author Jennifer Torres and ask her five(ish) questions. Jennifer’s novel ‘The Fresh New Face of Griselda‘ is out now!]
Aurora: What was your inspiration behind your most recent novel?
Jennifer: One of my inspirations was Stockton, California, an inland port city located almost right in the middle of the Golden State. I was working there as a newspaper reporter when I started writing The Fresh New Face of Griselda. At the time, Stockton was at the epicenter of a national foreclosure crisis. Thousands of residents had lost their jobs, their homes, their stability. I was assigned to report on how the recession was affecting children and families. I remember visiting empty homes the morning after an eviction – when there were chalk hopscotch squares still drawn on the driveway and playhouses left behind in the backyard – and schools whose teachers struggled to meet the needs of families grappling with deep, and often unanticipated, financial anxiety. In the midst of so much heartbreak and unfairness, though, I also saw stories of resilience, of a community coming together to support one another. I wanted to write about that, and about the kind of courage it takes to keep striving.
The book began as sort of a loose retelling of Cinderella, but without the magic wand. A lot has changed since I first started writing it, but there are still a few remnants of the Cinderella story left in The Fresh New Face of Griselda: some trouble with shoes, a little bit of tick-tock, and, of course, transformation.
What character do you most relate to and why?
I can’t say I relate to her in the sense that I’m very much like her, but Maribel, Griselda’s older sister, is the big sister I always wished I had (I’m the oldest of my siblings). Maribel is confident and charming. She is sure of what she wants, and she is sure of her voice. As readers, we can see her vulnerabilities, but to Griselda, Maribel is unstoppable. Writing the sister story was one of my favorite parts of working on this book.
Why do you feel middle grade books are so popular and have such a voice right now?
I remember the middle grade years as a time when my world got bigger. When I could imagine so many more possibilities for myself—for who I was and who I might want to be someday—than I did when I was younger. I also remember it as a time when I realized, like Griselda, that the adults in my life didn’t always have all the answers—and how that felt a little dangerous, but also empowering. At their best, I think middle grade books capture that moment of discovery and uncertainty. They create spaces to explore all the many ways there are to be and become.
Please describe the content of your latest book and what can readers expect from the read.
The Fresh New Face of Griselda is about resilience and entrepreneurship, and finding strength and beauty where you didn’t expect it.
After the family business fails, Griselda Zaragoza—along with her mom and big sister Maribel—has to move in with her nana while her dad leaves for Los Angeles to find work. She’s lost not just her home, but confidence in herself and her once unflappable parents. Her old life and all the beautiful things in it, like the garden she and her dad planted in the front yard and her collection of First Ladies of the United States teacups, feel just out of reach.
Then, tagging along with Maribel, who postponed college for a job selling cosmetics, Griselda dreams up a plan to reclaim the life she thinks she lost: If she can sell enough tubes of glistening, glittery lip gloss, she’ll win a cash prize that just might help revive her dad’s business.
I can’t wait for readers to meet Griselda.
What’s next for you in the book world?
I feel incredibly fortunate to be part of this community and to have the opportunity to tell stories that, I hope, young readers can see themselves and their experiences reflected in. I’ve been working on a couple of picture book biographies that are very close to my heart, and a chapter book series that has a little bit of magic—and telenovelas—in it, which is new for me. I also just started a middle grade novel set in the garment district. It’s about dressmaking and design and what it means to belong.
Who is your favorite writer right now and why?
Too many favorites! So, I’m going to cheat a little and instead share a few of my favorite authors and books that—like I hoped to do in The Fresh New Face of Griselda —invite us to explore parts of California that don’t always make it onto postcards, but nonetheless are the heart of what I love about my home state: Isabel Quintero’s Inland Empire in MY PAPI HAS A MOTORCYCLE; Kelly Yang’s Anaheim in FRONT DESK; Aida Salazar’s Oakland in THE MOON WITHIN; and Margarita Engle’s Los Angeles in JAZZ OWLS (among many others).