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Las Malcriadas: An Interview with Lilliam Rivera

Ivelisse Rodriguez

Lilliam Rivera is an award-winning writer and author of the young adult novels Dealing in
Dreams and The Education of Margot Sanchez, available in bookstores everywhere. Her work has
appeared in The New York Times, Elle, and the Los Angeles Times, to name a few. Ivelissa Rodriguez
is the editor of the interview series of contemporary Puerto Rican writers; below is her latest interview.

Ivelisse Rodriguez: Your first book, The Education of Margot Sanchez, and your second book, Dealing
in Dreams, are so different from each other. The Education of Margot Sanchez is a realistic novel focused
on a young Puerto Rican girl ashamed of who she is and wanting to fit in with her white classmates,
while Dealing in Dreams is a dystopian novel about a crew of girls who fight as a way of life. Can you
discuss why your novels are so distinct from each other in terms of style, story, etc.?

Lilliam Rivera: It’s really important for me to challenge myself to write in different genres. I love
writing contemporary stories and speculative ones as well. That said, The Education of Margot Sanchez
and Dealing in Dreams are in conversation with each other. Both are set in the Bronx, New York,
although Dealing in Dreams doesn’t outright say that, but if you are from the Bronx, you will be able
to find the Easter eggs I planted in this near-future novel. Both novels also feature young women
trying to carve their places in worlds full of deception, while finding their voices in cities on the cusp
of change.

IR: Dealing in Dreams serves up a utopian, feminist society where women are in power and boys
servicewomen at establishments like bodegas. You re-imagine girlhood, so it is associated with
violence, and girls don’t aim to be beautiful or fall in love. You also incorporate communist notions
where articles made from outside “nations” must be extinguished and art is seen as useless. So, you
pluck ideas from various ideologies that seem to offer something valuable to the citizens of Mega-City,
but on closer inspection, the problems with these ideologies are quite apparent. Can you discuss your
world-building and how you went about deciding which elements of these ideologies you wanted to use
in order to critique them?

LR: When I was rewriting this novel, the Women’s March was happening. I remember people
would make blanket statements, like “If a woman were in charge, it would be all great.” It was really
interesting to witness this considering the history of women of color in the front lines of political
movements like Black Lives Matters and Women’s Suffrage and how their voices were silenced. I’m
interested in exploring the various systems and weary of declarations of “This is the way to go.” My
protagonist Nalah’s journey is to uncover the veil of the “American Dream,” the ideology that
works for her generation. This is a dream she was born to strive for through violence and through
trying to find her own path.

IR: You incorporate aspects of the Bronx, like Cortland Park, the D train, 183rd Station, etc., in
Dealing in Dreams and you also use aspects of Puerto Rican culture, like the azabache, cemi, and ashé.
You use the Bronx and these Puerto Rican cultural elements as a base and wash over them to help
create your own world. But the connection is still there to the real world. Can you discuss why you
used these particular elements to help create the world of your novel?

LR: I wanted to write a novel that incorporated specific elements from my childhood and my
upbringing in the Bronx, New York as a Puerto Rican. As a child I was gifted the azabache, the
charm meant to protect me. Every mention of the Bronx is of places I grew up in. This novel is near
future, but it’s also a reflection of the type of novel I would have loved to have read as a young
person—a Latinx mix of my culture.

IR: In the past several years, you and several other writers like Erika Sánchez, Elizabeth Acevedo,
and Gabby Rivera have really put Latinx Young Adult literature on the map. Why do you think YA
Latinx literature has had so much success in the past few years?

LR: I feel really blessed to be in conversation with these young adult authors, but YA literature has
had many voices breaking down the very white walls of the publishing industry. I look at Meg
Medina, Matt de la Peña, Nicholasa Mohr, to name only a couple, who have been creating
groundbreaking works. And there is still so much work to be done.

IR: What are you working on next, and what do you ultimately hope to contribute to Puerto Rican

LR: My next young adult novel is tentatively titled Pheus & Eury and is slated to be published in the
fall of 2020 by Bloomsbury. The novel is a retelling of the Greek myth Orpheus and Eurydice.
Pheus is a wannabe Bachata singer who falls for Eury, a displaced Puerto Rican who is suffering
from PTSD caused by Hurricane Maria and is being followed by an angry spirit. I want to continue
to explore my history and the history of Puerto Rico through fiction, to have conversations with
young people, and to find my books in libraries. It’s my dream, and I’m happy I continue to live it.