Today, we’re celebrating the release of Pura Belpré Award-winning author Guadalupe García McCall’s latest young adult novel, Echoes of Grace (Tu Books). This powerful and atmospheric story explores sisterhood, family secrets, intergenerational trauma, life, and love in a modern Gothic setting with a magical realist twist.
In Eagle Pass, Texas, Grace struggles to understand the echoes she inherited from her mother—visions which often distort her reality. One morning, as her sister, Mercy, rushes off to work, a disturbing echo takes hold of Grace, and within moments, tragedy strikes.
Attending community college for the first time, talking to the boy next door, and working toward her goals all help Grace recover, but her estrangement from Mercy takes a deep toll. And as Grace’s echoes bring ghosts and premonitions, they also bring memories of when Grace fled to Mexico to the house of her maternal grandmother—a woman who Grace had been told died long ago. Will piecing together the truth heal Grace and her sister, or will the echoes destroy everything that she holds dear?
Today, Jennifer Torres talks with García McCall about memory, sisterhood, and the power of Gothic and Magical Realist traditions to shed new light on injustice.
Jennifer Torres: Guadalupe, what a privilege it was to read your gorgeous and haunting Echoes of Grace. I’d love to start with the setting. Much of this book takes place in Eagle Pass, Texas, and just over the border in Piedras Negras, in the Mexican state of Coahuila. You give both such a powerful presence. This is a place you’re from and a place you’ve set other work. Can you share why you returned to it in Echoes of Grace?
Guadalupe García McCall: The borderlands between the US and Mexico are rich with a warm, generous people and culture. It is my emotional home, the place I always go back to when I am wounded, when I am torn. And that’s what this story did, it cut me open and exposed pain that I didn’t even know I was still carrying around. It took me back to my young womanhood, to the time when I was a young mother trying to navigate school and family duties in the midst of great financial hardship. While I was writing this, I remembered my sisters bore the same burden. We were two wounded but determined young women working past pain and trauma while we made our way in a world that offered no help, no hope, for the impoverished. I could have set this book in Somerset, Texas, where a traumatizing event, the death of a child who was run over by his young mother when he left his even younger aunt’s side on their porch, took place. The news swept through our community and gave us all much to think about. I could have set it in Alpine, Texas, where my sister and I attended school as young mothers trying to make something of ourselves even as we cared for each other’s children. I could have actually set it anywhere else in the world where young destitute women are trying to make a better life for themselves and their children. But the truth is, I needed to go home for this one. I needed to feel safe, even as I explored how unsafe women in our community (and our world) still are.
JT: How did you come up with the echoes that main character Grace—as well as her mother before her—experiences? As you were imagining this inheritance, did you see it more as gift or curse (or something else?)
GGM: Grace’s story came to me in bits and pieces—snippets of convoluted conversations, bizarre images, raw poems, and strange scenes. At the time, I thought of them only as visions but, as the story grew, I saw that they were like memories—things she could see, hear, feel, even taste and smell—and that was compelling to me. So, I would say the echoes that the main character has are what some scientists call “genetic memory,” something that elucidates the generational trauma experienced by the women in this family. I would say the echoes are both a curse and a gift because they hinder but also help Grace make sense of the world in a way most of us can’t. We don’t know what silences, what secrets, what struggles, what sins our mothers and grandmothers kept from us, but we have a good sense of it. We feel their pains, their sorrows, their burdens deep down in our bones. Grace just happens to have the ability to recall these things. Genetic memory, echo, gift, or curse—generational trauma doesn’t just exist in Grace’s life. Generational trauma caused by neglect, abuse, and crimes against women is all around us, embedded in the social and political structures of our world. And this story is asking us to take action and do something about it.
JT: Echoes of Grace moves back and forth through time and across the border. How did you decide on the timelines the narrative would span and how you would present them to the reader?
GGM: Echoes of Grace was my thesis novel at the University of Texas at El Paso. Because the novel was coming to me in snippets, I allowed myself to play with time and narrative space in what Mario Vargas Llosa calls Spatial and Temporal Shifts. So, the original manuscript was not structured at all because Grace’s memories, flashbacks, and visions or echoes, were woven into the narrative in magical, ephemeral ways. Because of these temporal shifts the novel felt very experimental and not linear at all. It wasn’t until Stacy Whitman at Tu Books got a hold of the manuscript and started asking questions about the timeline that I realized Grace was narrating many different time periods in many different spaces, within an “understood” three-year span. So that’s when we decided to use a very structured dual timeline where the events from the past echo the events in Grace’s present, to give the memories, flashbacks, and visions/echoes some semblance of order. But there’s a twist to this—Grace’s story is more complicated than that. There are mysteries to be solved: Why can’t Grace remember where she was three years ago? Who killed her mother? Why are the echoes getting stronger and more intrusive? And why are they suddenly bringing literal ghosts into her life? I don’t want to give anything away here, but you need to read the book to see how the timeline works to put the puzzle pieces together to help Grace solve the mysteries in her life.
JT: I love a sister story, and Grace and Mercy’s will stay with me for a very long time. Would you share a bit about how you evoked the love and connection between them, even in their periods of silence and separation?
GGM: I grew up with 5 sisters and that was both absurdly chaotic and insanely beautiful. We bickered, mocked, defended, and loved each other every single moment of the day. We fought over everything from books to bobby pins to boys. We shared clothes but not mascara because that gives you pink eye—and that’s gross! But no matter how mad we might be at each other when we were fighting amongst ourselves, we always stuck together afterwards. And when we lost our mother to cancer, well, our connection was cemented. Nothing could tear us apart after she was gone. We were each other’s lifelines, though we didn’t always see eye to eye. Interestingly enough, because I was the oldest of 8, I was forced into a parental role at the age of 14. In that role, I learned to suppress my hormones and didn’t partake in the boy-craze that seemed to affect everyone around me. Honestly, during my teen years, I couldn’t understand why my sisters were soooo in love with every boy they met. So, we had tension around that. Lots of tension. In this novel, I wanted to portray all these elements: the connection, the love, the complicated relationships sisters have with each other. Mercy is a combination of three of my sisters, wild, abandoned, and carefree, while Grace is a gross exaggeration of myself, prudish, judgmental, and introverted, because I wanted to show how even though sisters might be very different and have opposing worldviews, they can still share a deep bond. Sisters can love each other unconditionally, no matter the circumstances. Especially in the difficult moments, sisters can help each other grow as they move about in this complicated, oftentimes unfair world.
GGM: I think to answer this question without giving too much away, I have to say that gothic elements and magical realism play very important roles in the novel in that they illustrate the real-world problems we have in our society. If you look at each ghost, you can see how they represent injustices that have been plaguing women for centuries. The gothic elements, the abandoned house in Mexico, the ghosts she encounters, the dark thing that chases her, even the echoes are all there to help Grace solve the mystery and lift the veil off old family secrets. At the same time, the ghosts and specters shed light on how these secrets have created haunting, almost crippling, generational trauma for the women in this family (as toxic masculinity has done in our world!). The ghosts show us what we become when we let fear control us. Because when we are silent in the face of injustices such as neglect, abuse, and crimes against women, we are siding with the oppressor, standing with the abuser, and giving him power over our lives.
JT: There are images of moths and caterpillars throughout this book, from the fuzzy black leopard moth caterpillars at the beginning to the closing image of the International Bridge, beautifully described as “a gray petrified caterpillar” that awakens against the skyline. What do these insects evoke for Grace? How about for you?
GGM: I have always loved nature. From things that grow out of the ground to things that take to the sky—Spanish moss, grass, wildflowers, roses, orchids, caterpillars, butterflies, birds—I love all manner of living creatures. The image of that fuzzy black caterpillar on the porch, trying desperately to get back to its natural habitat, the ancient, motheaten mulberry tree in the front yard in chapter 1 was the very first thing Grace showed me when I started writing this novel. It was only an image, but I researched it and found out that fuzzy black caterpillar was going to someday become a Giant Leopard Moth. I was haunted by the beauty and horror of an especially disturbing close-up of the Leopard Moth online. In the image, the Leopard Moth is facing the camera, her black spotted wings are half splayed behind her, and her black eyes glisten as she stares into the lens. It’s like she’s looking right at us, and I thought, There is an intelligence there we cannot yet comprehend. We are not evolved enough to know what it knows, what it takes to live and breathe in that space.
For Grace, these living creatures illustrate the otherworldly. She sits with the knowledge that she knows nothing and listens. It is in that listening, that experiencing, that the natural world informs her, guides her, maybe even sustains her. When she showed me the image of the International Bridge and likened it to a gray petrified caterpillar, I saw that Grace sees the tenuous relationship between the old-world values to the new worldview we are still creating for ourselves. All of it is connective tissue. The old and the new, the manufactured and the natural, the worldly and the ethereal; it’s all part of the whole, the here and now. Even the things we think are dead and buried are never really gone, like our loved ones. And that’s the beauty of it. It’s all accessible to us. That’s what I learned from writing with Grace, and it’s made me a better person.
JT: In addition to Echoes of Grace, you had another book release this year, the twisty middle grade novel The Keeper, published by Harper Collins in February. What’s coming up next for you?
GGM: I’m very excited for the next two years because I am in the process of revising two novels I co-wrote with renowned historian, author, and professor, David Bowles. The Secret of the Moon Conch (2023, Bloomsbury) features Citlali, a young immigrant woman fleeing the gangs in Veracruz and crossing the US/Mexico border to find her father. Before she leaves home, Citlali finds a magical conch shell on the beach. The conch allows her to communicate with Calizto, a young Nahua warrior fighting off Spanish invaders and attempting to save himself and his friend during the Fall of Tenochtitlan. Though the two teens are separated by 500 years, with the magic conch, they help each other survive even as they fall in love.
The second book, tentatively titled, Hearts of Fire and Snow (2024, Bloomsbury), is a YA paranormal romance featuring wealthy Mexican American families in Reno, Nevada, whose lives are entwined financially and supernaturally. It’s Twilight meets the K-drama Guardian: The Lonely and Great God, but rooted in Mesoamerican myth. The novel features Gregorio Chan, the handsome, brilliant, and mysterious scion of Mexico's richest family and the beautiful, smart, but aloof Blanca Montes, heir to Nevada's biggest real estate empire. But Greg and Blanca are bound by something stronger than physical attraction. In reality, Greg is Commander Popoka, whose heart is bound in cyclical immortality as a mountain god to the volcano Popocatepetl. And Blanca is the reincarnation of his beloved, Princess Istak, who is herself tied to the cold and dormant volcano Iztaccihuatl. She is the love for whom he has been searching for more than a thousand years. The question is, can hearts of fire and snow ever beat as one? Or do they rip the world apart the closer they come to each other? All that is already in the works, on the editor’s desk, moving forward. But I’m still in the literary kitchen, cooking up fresh dishes: new novels, shorts stories, and poems for my readers. I am blessed and full of joy!
Purchase Echoes of Grace today!
Guadalupe García McCall is the author of Under the Mesquite (Lee & Low Books), a novel in verse. Under the Mesquite received the prestigious Pura Belpré Author Award, was a William C. Morris Finalist, received the Lee Bennett Hopkins/International Literacy Promising Poet Award, the Tomás Rivera Children’s Book Award, and was included in Kirkus Review’s Best Teen Books of 2011, among many other accolades. Her second novel, Summer of the Mariposas (Tu Books, an imprint of Lee & Low Books), won a Westchester Young Adult Fiction award, was a finalist for the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy, was included in the 2013 Amelia Bloomer Project List, the Texas Lone Star Reading List, and the 2012 School Library Journal’s Best Books of the Year. Her third novel, Shame the Stars (Tu Books, 2016), was on the Kirkus Best Books 2016 list and was also selected as Texas’ Great Read in 2016. Her fourth novel, All the Stars Denied (Tu Books, 2018), received a starred review from School Library Journal and was included in “2018 Best Multicultural Children’s Books” by the Center for the Study of Multicultural Children’s Literature (CSMCL). Her poems for children have appeared in The Poetry Friday Anthology, The Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School, and The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science. Ms. García McCall was born in Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico. She immigrated with her family to the United States when she was six years old and grew up in Eagle Pass, Texas. She is currently an Assistant Professor of English at George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon.
Jennifer Torres is the author of Stef Soto, Taco Queen, Lola Out Loud, the Catalina Incognito series, The Do-Over and many other books for young readers. She writes stories about home, friendship, and unexpected courage inspired by her Mexican-American heritage. Jennifer started her career as a newspaper reporter, and even though she writes fiction now, she hopes her stories still have some truth in them. She holds a doctorate in education and lives with her family in Southern California. Find her online at www.jenntorres.com
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