Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Truth Is, and for your character Verdad?
A: First, I had to realize I couldn’t write the book from transboy Danny’s perspective because I could never get his perspective right. It’s not my lane. There aren’t enough trans writers writing trans stories so it would have been plain wrong to do.
Ultimately, I enjoy writing characters who struggle with perception. I want them to chisel away at what they think is true and discover for themselves what is the closest approximation to reality. When I really found the voice of Verdad I wanted her to be high-functioning--going to school and succeeding in her classes--but still struggling with grief.
Verdad’s quest for truth, what is right and good--even if her own family members have told her otherwise--was what gave me the impetus for the book.
Q: In an address to librarians, you said, "The truth is even with the ‘wave’ of incredible lit out there from writers like David Bowles, Meg Medina, Tami Charles, and Kwame Alexander, it’s NOT enough to have diverse books in our classrooms and libraries. We need to get them in our curricula, into all-school inclusive auditoriums." What do you see looking ahead?
A: Censorship is alive and well. Two-time National Book Award finalist Elana K. Arnold and International Latino Book Award winner Aida Salizar have both talked about how they get invited to speak at universities and conferences but still have yet to be invited into a school to connect with their readers.
In Elana K. Arnold’s book, Damsel, the main character Ama overcomes sexual violence, rejects the patriarchy, and reclaims her right to power. In Aida’s book, The Moon Within, a girl and her gender-fluid friend learn to reject patriarchy, embrace the support of the Latinx community, and celebrate the beauty of menstruation.
What are librarians and educators-or maybe more appropriately--school boards and parents--saying when they prevent books like these from being in the curriculum?
I used to work in Loudoun County schools, and the teachers and librarians were always working to make diverse books available to students. But I always felt there was a sense that some of what we were doing was under the table. LGBTQIA+ books fell in that category.
In a recent article in the Loudoun Times Mirror it stated, “The Loudoun County School Board has received both outspoken support and heavy criticism following the implementation of diverse classroom libraries in Loudoun County Public Schools this year.” Opponents of diversifying shelves said, “However, a number of parents are concerned that the new collection uses the concept of diversity as a Trojan horse to slip in titles that contain age-inappropriate, sexually explicit content.”
In the year 2019, school districts are still trying to make excuses to ban diverse books by own voices authors. They are still equivocating diversity with sexually inappropriate material. We’ve come so far in that diverse books by own voices books even exist, but by allowing them to exist but not be functional texts just tokenizes the work.
The way forward is networking. A nationwide collaboration needs to continue among woke administrators, educators, publishing houses, organizations like Latinx in Kid Lit, We Need Diverse Books, and authors to advocate for our children and continue the work of the diverse voices movement.
Through our work, our speeches, our workshops, our social media presence, we link arms in the forward march of protest towards real, sustainable progress for future generations.
Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?
A: The original title of my novel was “The Book of Love” but the marketing department wasn’t a fan. Lucky for me, truth and love are intertwined. Truth isn’t about binaries. I don’t mean truth is a gray area.
I give credit to my soul mate for this thought: Truth lies out of the gray areas and above binaries.
Truth is a quest for flight.
Verdad’s name defines her personhood. There will never be a time when she isn’t a seeker. Her backpack will always burgeon with books; her brain with questions. All readers and writers are seekers.
Her name signifies what she grapples with: What from her Puerto Rican identity is lost forever; what can she claim? What is her responsibility as a person of color to herself and her marginalized brothers and sisters/siblings?
Q: What do you hope readers take away from The Truth Is?
A: As book blogger Gabi Morataya described in her blog about my work, I want readers to think about learning and unlearning. My book is not full of answers, but inquiry.
I hope my readers will get comfortable getting uncomfortable in the safe spaces of their homes, their libraries, and their classrooms. I hope conversations are not just started, but sustained. I hope readers, and this includes me, will learn to apologize when necessary, but not expect forgiveness. Finally, I hope readers will learn to develop self-reliance in their enlightenment.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I like to work on a picture book and young adult manuscript at the same time. I’m working on a Latinx retelling of a fairytale for a PB, and toying with my first YA magic realism/horror book.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Check out https://www.lasmusasbooks.com/ for a diverse array of Latinx #ownvoices middle grade and young adult books!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb