|Lilliam Rivera, photo by Julian Sambrano Jr.|
Lilliam Rivera is the author of the new young adult novel The Education of Margot Sanchez. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Tin House and Tahoma Literary Review, and she lives in Los Angeles.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Education of Margot Sanchez, and for your main character, Margot?
A: The idea for the novel came to me somewhat from my own experience. My first job at 14 years old was working with my father. My father worked as a nursing aide in a private hospital in Manhattan.
At that time, I really looked up to my father. He could do no wrong. Although we never really worked in the same department, I did get to see him. It was the first time that I saw him doing humbling work. He took care of mentally handicapped children.
I got to see him in quite a different light. He became human, if that makes any sense. I tried to capture that moment in a teenager’s life when you see your parents for the first time, flaws and all.
Q: How was the novel’s title chosen, and what does it signify for you?
A: I actually did not come up with the title. The title was done by the great editorial assistant Mikesha Tayler over at Simon & Schuster. The original title I had was "My Shelf Life" but I love this one. It brings to mind the classic Lauryn Hill album "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill."
And the title says it all: Margot Sanchez is definitely going to be schooled over the course of a summer.
Q: Gentrification in the Bronx is one of the themes of the book—why did you choose to focus on that?
A: I chose to focus on gentrification because it is a real thing that is happening right now. I live in Los Angeles but visit my family in the Bronx at least three times a year. I get to see the change and it is extreme. The Bronx is the last frontier. Working-class families will be unable to afford to live there and where will they go?
Q: What do you hope readers take away from the novel?
A: I hope they get to experience a bit of the Bronx and its beauty. Summers in the Bronx were always intense, hot, crowded, and magical. That is what I hoped to capture in my novel.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I have a second young adult novel set in the near-future South Bronx. Dealing in Dreams is set in a world where girl gangs rule the streets.
If you liked The Outsiders and the movie Mad Max: Fury Road, I think you will like this novel. It’s action-packed and it really touches upon the desperation of wanting to find a home and how we create our own families.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: If I’m not working on novels, I’m always submitting short stories. I have a couple of them online. I feel if you are a writer, there is always something to write about. If the novel isn’t working for me, I try my luck with a short story. There are so many stories I want to write so I can never really truly get bored.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb