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Navigating mental health and middle school in 'Iveliz Explains It All'

 November 28, 2023 at 3:31 PM PST

S1: Welcome. In San Diego , it's Jade Hindman. This year's one book , One San Diego selection for teens explores navigating mental health challenges. We'll hear from the author. This is Midday Edition , connecting our communities through conversation. Andrea Beatrice Aramco's debut novel in verse , Ivelisse explains it All is the Kpbs one book One San Diego 2023 selection for teens. The book is about a seventh grader , Ivelisse , as she figures out how to navigate mental health all tone through the poetry she writes in her journal. Kpbs Arts producer and editor Julia Dixon Evans spoke with Arango about the book. Here's that conversation.

S2: So this book gets its inverse , but it also takes the form of of journal entries. And this is such , this enduring literary tradition that the novel , in the form of letters , it made me curious what your relationship with journaling was like when you were younger.

S3: Yeah , I had a lot of journals. I've always loved to write in in any way , shape or form , and I've always been not necessarily bad at communicating , but really bad at confrontation. So journaling was a way where I could kind of get my feelings out with , kind of like Ivelisse. I guess now that I think about it , it was an easy way to , you know , not have to get grounded for saying something I shouldn't have to say to my parents or , you know , getting into a big argument with friends. So I definitely journaled a lot. And then eventually when I got older , I was a Tumblr girl , so I blogged online. But yeah , I've always journaled either on paper or digitally. And lately I guess I haven't been journaling as much the past few years , but I think it's because I've been doing so much writing and and in a way it is a little bit like journaling , because I always tell kids when I do school visits that even though my books are fiction , every book has little bits and pieces of whatever I was kind of going through at the time that I wrote it , because it's impossible not to , you know , everything around you makes you who you are in that moment. And so it'll naturally kind of affect your perspective as you're writing as well.

S2: So we learn that Everly is struggling with grief and her own mental health , as well as that of her grandmother.

S3: So I was teaching middle school , and then all of a sudden we were all at home. And if you were involved with schools back then , then you would know that no school knew what they were doing when we first closed down. And , you know , I was working with English language learners. And so they were particularly lonely , I think , because , you know , their parents couldn't necessarily communicate with the schools. You know , everything was getting sent home virtually or on paper , and most of it was in English or even if it was being translated , you know , not every students parents could read in their native language , and not all my students could either. And so it was a very difficult time with a very serious lack of communication. And so I think that really played a big role in me writing what Everly was going through , and also just her relationship with her grandmother , because they're both really striving to have a connection with each other , but they just kind of keep missing each other , you know , not not necessarily knowing how to support each other the best. And I think a lot of students were really going through that , you know , the end , that end of the 2019 , 2020 school year for sure.

S2: So Everly is Puerto Rican American. Her mother was born and raised in Puerto Rico like you were. Can you talk about how your background influenced this book ? Yeah.

S3: Well , if you read this book , you know , it has a lot of Spanish in it. So that's definitely a big part of it. I did grow up in Puerto Rico. My family's all still there. And so when I talk to my family , it's always in Spanish and I really wanted to show that in the book. So you'll notice that pretty much all of the Spanish in the book is when Ivelisse is talking to her mom or her grandmother versus like her friends , who she just speaks English to. So the language was a big part of it. The food , you know , her grandmother talks a lot about Puerto Rico and how hard it was to leave , which I definitely know firsthand. You. I've been in the States now for eight years , and it was very hard to leave. And I think about all the time , you know , should I go back or should I stay and , and so that all I think plays a part in it , all the while trying to keep in mind that most of my readers obviously didn't grow up the way that I grew up. And , you know , most of the Puerto Ricans in the US , specifically kids and teens in the US , have been born here and grown up here and are oftentimes , you know , second or third generation , and they might know Spanish or they might not. And so , you know , I was trying to balance kind of infusing it with the culture and the language and the connections that I grew up with while still keeping in mind that Puerto Rico is not a monolith. And the Puerto Rican experience is not a monolith. And so this is very much Elisa's specific family dynamic. But it might not be everybody's.

S2: So a little bit more about family. Eliza's grandmother , her her Mimi just moved in with them from Puerto Rico. And and Mimi has dementia. And there are generational differences there with the way Ivelisse understands mental health and is and is struggling with her own and the way that Mimi understands it. But of course , Mimi is also this really big source of comfort for her.

S3: And so I was really trying to show that , you know , I don't think anyone would doubt whether Mimi or even Lisa's mom love her. Like , it's very clear that they love her a lot , but they also still hurt her all the time. You know , sometimes not on purpose , sometimes on purpose. You know , it's complicated. Family is complicated.


S3: I will read from the beginning. So no spoilers if anyone listening hasn't read it yet. Like we've talked about here , the book is in verse , so. You'll hear the little titles as we go along to second chances. Why is it that principals love giving second chances ? Love reminding me they were kids , to love acting like they're doing me a favor ? Doing my mom a favor by sitting me down all serious and asking what they can do. Well guess what ? This is seventh grade now and I don't need anyone's help but my own. I've moved on from everything that happened. I've made lists and I've made goals. And if I'm in the principal's office , you can 100% bet that it wasn't my fault. Who can you trust ? If you ask my teachers , they might say I'm a liar because I always insist that things are not my fault. And if you ask my mom , she might say , get so dramatic because she used to sometimes think my old panic attacks were about getting attention and not an anxious brain response. But journal. Don't listen to them because these right here , they're my true inner thoughts.

S2: That was incredible. You're welcome. And as we heard and you talked about earlier , the language is so crucial in this book. And I wanted to dig in a little more to the way that you play with Spanish and English. The Spanish is not always immediately directly translated , but it is given enough context that it's understood. If not right away , then it will be in a line or two. And I think this is a reality for a lot of bilingual families and the children in those in those bilingual spaces.

S3: I definitely was very intentional with when and how I use the Spanish. Like you said , you know , it can all be figured out by context. Maybe not like every single word , but I always tell people like , trust me , nothing crucial to the story that you absolutely need to understand is getting put in Spanish. So if there's something you're not sure about , I mean , a lot of people do tell me that they will translate it , you know , just because they're curious and they want to know exactly what it said. But you definitely don't have to. And I did my best to really have that context there. And I think sometimes we don't give kids enough credit. You know , we teach them how to figure things out by context when they're learning to read , and they don't know what all the words mean or they can't decode all the words. So I think we can really trust them with other languages too , because like you said , that's the reality of the world , you know , and I , I constantly read books that have languages that are not Spanish and that I'm not familiar with , and I love being able to get exposed to that , especially when they have audiobooks too. So at least has an audiobook , and it's very nice to listen to the Spanish , I think. And actually it has an audiobook all in Spanish as well of the Spanish translation , which is very exciting. But yeah , I really I really like to play with the languages , and it was definitely a choice not to include a glossary or a direct translation. But I think the kids have got this , you know.

S2: So some of the toughest parts to read in this book , where the parts during school with the way some of her classmates treated Ivelisse , but also the friendships that Iblis was able to to kind of cling to are just really rich and well developed.

S3: To me , friendships are just as important , you know , as family relationships , as romantic relationships. And I think especially in middle school , you know , friendships , they can be your whole world. But we don't always all know how to be good friends. Like being an active listener and being an intentional listener is really hard , especially when you have your own things going on. And so I , I really wanted to show not just how we can sometimes fail at friendships , but how we can then communicate to kind of cross those bridges and repair that damage. So at least in the book , is oftentimes not a very good friend to Amir. But , you know , he calls her out on it and they're able to have these conversations that I think we need to see more of in media , not just in books , but movies and TV shows. Oftentimes , friendship arguments get presented in this very confrontational , dramatic way. And and I think all of us , not just kids , but adults too , need more models of how to have these healthy conversations when things go wrong , because things will always go wrong at some point.

S2: And this book received a Newbery Honor this year , and that puts Ivelisse alongside books like Charlotte's Web and Because of Winn-Dixie and Brown Girl Dreaming. And this is your first book. So I'm wondering what that feels like.

S3: It is very overwhelming to to win and an award for your first book. At the same time. I feel very honored and very blessed because this book had a a very soft debut , you know , is my very first book. And , and we were still kind of going through it with Covid and kids , you know , were trying to go back to like regular school year and all that school visits were just starting up again. And so a lot of people didn't know I existed. They didn't know that you at least existed. And winning something like the Newbery Honor definitely put me on the radar of a lot of schools and libraries that didn't know who I was before , and that has meant a lot of kids have now gotten access to the. Book , especially for free , you know , through their schools and libraries that would have never gotten a chance to read that before. And so for that , I think this book will always be just very , very special to me because it it made me realize just how hard it is for books to be. I don't know how to explain it , like how before you get into publishing , you kind of think like , oh , your book is out in the world now. People can read it , but it's very hard for people and especially kids , to discover books. And I say especially kids , because I write for middle schoolers , for kids and upper elementary school. And , you know , kids aren't going online and googling books that they want to read and then , you know , shopping for them with their own credit cards. You know , they really rely on their parents and their teachers and their librarians. And so to have something like the Newbery Honor happen really meant that a lot of kids are now reading less who would have never read it before.

S2: And it's also the Kpbs one book , One San Diego 2023 selection for teens. Yes , that's right. And the intention with this program , it's to bring an entire region together through reading through these books.

S3: And so what I think is really special about this kind of program is that similarly , you're getting people to talk about things with each other that they might not have brought up before. The conversations that happen in this book , you know , especially about mental health , can be so hard to start up sometimes , especially for kids. It's still a little taboo. You know , every time I do a school visit , kids will come up and tell me , like very secretively , like , oh , yeah , like I'm in therapy too , you know ? Or I take medication too , but they don't necessarily talk to their friends about it or talk to other people openly about it. And so I think the wonderful thing about these kinds of programs is when when everyone is reading the same book , it makes it way easier to talk about that book. And then the book becomes a bridge to talk about these other things , like mental health , that maybe these people wouldn't have had a conversation with each other about.

S1: That was author Andrea Beatrice of Rango , speaking with Kpbs Arts producer and editor Julia Dixon Evans. Arago is the author of the Kpbs one Book , One San Diego selection for teens. Ivelisse explains it all. Arango will read and discuss the book at 4 p.m. on Friday , December 1st at the Vista Library for schools or teachers interested in live streaming and event to their classes. Aranda will also hold a virtual event at 10:30 a.m. on Friday.

Author Andrea Beatriz Arango is shown smiling next to a photo of their debut novel, "Iveliz Explains It All." Both photos are set against a blue background.
Author Andrea Beatriz Arango is shown next to their novel, "Iveliz Explains It All," which is the 2023 KPBS One Book, One San Diego selection for teens.

This year’s KPBS One Book, One San Diego selection for teens is Andrea Beatriz Arango’s debut novel, "Iveliz Explains It All," illustrated by Alyssa Bermudez. It follows seventh grader Iveliz, as she figures out how to navigate mental health, all told through the poetry she writes in her journal.

KPBS/arts producer and editor Julia Dixon Evans sat down with Arango on Midday Edition to talk about the book.


Andrea Beatriz Arango, author of “Iveliz Explains It All”