Hi readers! We’re so excited to celebrate the book birthday of Does My Body Offend You? written by Musa and Latinx KidLit Book Festival co-founder, Mayra Cuevas, and co-author Marie Marquardt. And it is a Target Book Club selection! But first, a little bit about Does My Body Offend You?
Malena Rosario is starting to believe that catastrophes come in threes. First, Hurricane María destroyed her home, taking her unbreakable spirit with it. Second, she and her mother are now stuck in Florida, which is nothing like her beloved Puerto Rico. And third, when she goes to school bra-less after a bad sunburn and is humiliated by the school administration into covering up, she feels like she has no choice but to comply.
Ruby McAllister has a reputation as her school's outspoken feminist rebel. But back in Seattle, she lived under her sister's shadow. Now her sister is teaching in underprivileged communities, and she's in a Florida high school, unsure of what to do with her future, or if she's even capable of making a difference in the world. So when Ruby notices the new girl is being forced to cover up her chest, she is not willing to keep quiet about it.
Neither Malena nor Ruby expected to be the leaders of the school's dress code rebellion. But the girls will have to face their own insecurities, biases, and privileges, and the ups and downs in their newfound friendship, if they want to stand up for their ideals and--ultimately--for themselves.
Does My Body Offend You? is the timely story of two teenagers who discover the power of friendship, feminism, and standing up for what you believe in, no matter where you come from. A collaboration between two gifted authors writing from alternating perspectives, this compelling novel shines with authenticity, courage, and humor.
Content warnings for DMBOY: Features an assault scene.
M. García Peña: Mayra! So excited to chat. I remember way back when we had the Musas retreat that you read us an excerpt from this book! Could you start us off with the spark for this book?
Mayra Cuevas: Marie and I have been friends and critique partners since 2012—we actually met at the Moonlight and Magnolias writers conference in Atlanta. You have to love that title!
In 2018 we decided to collaborate on a co-authored young adult novel that explored how school dress codes unfairly target girls, students of color and historically marginalized communities. By writing characters from two points of view—one from a traditional Puerto Rican family, and another from a liberal white upbringing—we hoped to open a dialogue on issues of feminism, intersectionality, white privilege and allyship.
MGP: I have to confess that I love the idea of co-writing books and have been working on a few myself. What's the secret to working with a co-author?
MC: Before we became co-authors, Marie and I had been critique partners for six years. We exchanged our writing every week and gave each other feedback and encouragement. Very early on we developed a relationship based on trust, kindness and mutual respect, which laid the foundation to collaborate on a book.
Creating art together requires a mindset of grace, openness and flexibility. We have established a process of listening to each other’s ideas without shutting anything down, while remaining open to possibilities and also knowing when to change course if that idea is not working.
When Marie and I are brainstorming/writing/editing in the same space, we feed off each other’s creative energy. This process requires a lot of trust and respect. We engage with an appreciation for our individual insights, experience, backgrounds and talent. We also know when to push and when to give each other space. The work is stronger because of what each of us brings to the table.
MGP: Do you work on each other’s chapters, particularly when your characters are involved?
MC: Okay so this takes us into the mechanics of collaborating, which many people are curious about. Here is a step by step:
MGP: There’s a lot of love for Puerto Rico in this book (we’re both Boricuas, so that’s not surprising), but was there anything that was difficult to write? This story takes place very soon after Hurricane Maria hit the island and I remember reading your mention of the Arecibo Observatory and getting this pang because of its current state.
Can you talk a bit about that pressure to write about something that’s still so very raw to many of us?
MC: Hurricane María was a turning point for the history of Puerto Rico, and it left a deep trauma for both the residents of the Island and the diaspora.
Like so many other Puerto Ricans living in the States, I spent the months after the hurricane agonizing about my inability to reach my family and figuring out how to get involved in aid efforts. It took over a month to get any news from home. Blessedly, everyone was alive and doing ok considering the circumstances.
I poured those emotions into the relationship between Malena and her dad, who is still on the Island, while Malena and her mom have relocated to Florida. Like Malena, I was struggling with how to go on with my life in Atlanta when so many of my compatriotas were suffering. I organized a supplies drive in my town of Norcross but I soon learned that the truckloads of materials would be probably stuck in a warehouse for weeks if not months. Getting aid to the Island was a slow and complicated process, which I also mention in the book.
I hope in some small way, the book brings attention to both the plight and enormous resilience of Puerto Ricans and the immense pride we all feel for our homeland.
MGP: I can tell there was a lot of care and research that went into the dress code plot line which of course feeds into the conversation of consent and bodily autonomy.
Can you talk a bit about that research and also how you approached Malena’s journey and relationship to her body through this?
MC: One of the best parts of writing this book is that I got exposed to books like Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay, Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde, and the writings of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie including We Should All Be Feminists. I also read multiple academic books on the history of women in Puerto Rico, which helped enlighten the conversation of our bodies as a part of our ancestral history and heritage, as part of the land in which we are born into, which Malena later expresses in her poem towards the end of the book.
At the beginning of the novel, Malena struggles with a sense that her body has become public domain. Many young people can identify with this feeling, since on a daily basis they experience a barrage of body image messages from social media. A recent Wall Street Journal investigation found that 32% “of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse.” Continued exposure to TikTok can result in the development of tics and neurological disorders, body harm and eating disorders.
It is clear that we have to fundamentally shift how we are relating to our bodies in ways that are affirming and empowering. We have to look closely at the stories that shape our reality—the stories we tell ourselves. Instead of looking outward, we need to look inside to find our own stories of strength, confidence and love.
MGP: Thank you so much, Mayra. Can you let us know where you’ll be virtually and in-person talking about Does My Body Offend You? If someone wants to get a signed copy, what indie should they check out?
MC: Mercifully, we are BACK with in-person events! And I am sooooo excited to connect with readers and educators everywhere.
Marie and I will have a super fun, picnic book release event on Saturday, April 9 at 5pm ET at Thrasher Park in Historic downtown Norcross.
Everyone can pre-order a signed copy of our book via Little Shop of Stories. I will also be attending the LA Festival of Books and YALLWest in April. And of course, the Latinx Kidlit Book Festival in October. For more details for to my website: MayraCuevas.com
Purchase Does My Body Offend You? today!
Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Mayra Cuevas is the author of multiple children’s books including the young adult novels Does My Body Offend You? and Salty, Bitter, Sweet. Mayra is a producer for CNN and co-founder of the Latinx Kidlit Book Festival. She keeps her sanity by practicing Buddhist meditation. She lives in Atlanta with her husband, her two stepsons, their fluffy cat and a very loud Chihuahua. You can find Mayra on Twitter @MayraECuevas, on Instagram @Mayra.Cuevas and her website MayraCuevas.com.
M. García Peña / Mia García (she/her) was born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico. She got her MFA at The New School and is the author of Even If the Sky Falls and The Resolutions from Katherine Tegen books (an imprint of HarperCollins) and a short story in the Latine YA Horror anthology, Our Shadows Have Claws. She is a founding member of the Latinx children’s book artist collective Las Musas and splits her time between Puerto Rico and New York. You can find her at mgarciabooks.com.
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