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Five questions for Kat Fajardo

The middle-grade graphic novel Miss Quinces, written and illustrated by Kat Fajardo, with color by Mariana Azzi (Graphix/Scholastic, 10–13 years; simultaneously published in Spanish as Srta. Quinces) takes place during the summer of Suyapa’s fifteenth year, when her family goes to Honduras to visit extended family. Cajoled into a quinceañera, Suyapa handles her conflicting feelings — and shows off her enviably individualistic style, in comic-like illustrations that are by turns poignant and hilarious — imperfectly but with aplomb.

1. Suyapa has a strong sense of who she is, but she’s also a believable teen who’s wracked with self-consciousness and self-doubt. Was it difficult to maintain both those parts of her character at the same time?

Kat Fajardo: In a way, Suyapa is a self-projection of the type of teen I wanted to be at that age. The parts of myself that wanted to be heard or expressed were written down to create Sue’s character, while the insecure parts of Sue were drawn straight from my experience as a painfully shy and anxious teen. So balancing the two personalities while avoiding contradiction of her feelings and motivation would have been challenging; however, since Sue’s experience was mirrored after mine, writing her character felt somewhat natural and easy.

2. Her interactions with family members — especially her mother, older sister, and abuelita — feel so real. How did you approach developing those characters and their relationships?

KF: Thank you, that means so much to me! Because Miss Quinces is semiautobiographical, all of the characters are based on family members who had the greatest impact on my life as a teen. For instance, Sue’s complicated relationship with her mother is based on the challenges I faced as a first-gen teen in a strict Latine household. Although I wish I was more outspoken like Sue in those situations, her mother’s intentions were no different from my own mom’s, who expressed her love in a similar manner. It just made sense to create characters who would contribute to Sue’s development in the story as a reflection of my own experience visiting family and coming back home from my transformative summer trip.

3. The book embraces adapting traditions to make them your own. Do you have a favorite one that you’ve adapted?

KF: Good question! In my family, food and music are very important, especially for my sisters and myself. As first-gen Latinas growing up in the States, our only connection to our culture was through our parents and eating their traditional meals while listening to music from their childhood. My mom would make us delicious Honduran dishes like enchiladas and baleadas while listening to punta or anything by Vicente Fernández, while my dad made Colombian dishes while playing cumbia on the radio. Now as an adult, I catch myself doing the exact same thing in my home as a way to connect to childhood memories and get a small taste of my culture.

4. You write fondly about your own quinces in the book’s afterword — did you enjoy it at the time or did you feel any of Suyapa’s ambivalence?

KF: Just like Suyapa, I had mixed feelings about having my quinces. I was a shy and nerdy tomboy, and the very last thing I wanted was to be the center of attention in a puffy princess dress. However, after much convincing from my parents, I finally agreed to do it since it was for just one night. I’m glad I did, because as the night progressed, much to everyone’s surprise (including myself), I ended up on the dance floor having a blast with my sisters and cousins! It was definitely a night to remember and it’s safe to say that I enjoyed it!

5. Since this is for summer reading — what are you most looking forward to this summer?

KF: Although I’m looking forward to tackling the large stack of unread books in the corner of my room, I’m actually looking forward to possibly traveling this summer! Whether it’s Honduras or New York City, I miss getting on a plane and going on an adventure. That would be awesome!

From the April 2022 issue of Notes from the Horn Book: Summer Reading. For past years’ summer reading lists from The Horn Book, click on the tag summer reading.

Lettycia Terrones

Lettycia Terrones is a PhD student in the School of Information Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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