I received an ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) of EVERYTHING WITHIN AND IN BETWEEN by Nikki Barthelmess, and as soon as I started reading, I fell in love with the main character, Ri. This story offers such a great lens into a mixed heritage Latine experience, and I hope each and every school and public library will buy it for their shelves:
For Ri Fernández’s entire life, she’s been told, “We live in America and we speak English.” Raised by her strict Mexican grandma, Ri has never been allowed to learn Spanish. What’s more, her grandma has always pushed Ri away from the neighborhood they call home and toward her best friend’s world of mansions and country clubs in the hopes that it’ll bring Ri closer to achieving the “American Dream.”
In her most private thoughts, Ri has always believed that her mother, who disappeared when she was young, would accept her exactly how she is. So when Ri finds a secret unanswered letter from her mom begging for a visit, Ri decides to reclaim what her grandma kept from her: a language and a mother. But nothing goes as planned. Her mom isn’t who Ri imagined she would be. And Ri’s struggling to navigate the different interweaving threads of her mixed heritage that make her who she is. Nobody has any idea of who Ri really is—not even Ri, herself.
Can you tell us more about your “diva of a Corgi”?
I love talking about Corgus, our red, four-year-old Pembroke Welsh Corgi! Corgus enjoys walks on the beach, running around the dog-friendly nature preserve in our neighborhood, and giving his immediate family big kisses on the mouth (whether they are wanted or not). Corgus follows my husband wherever he goes, which used to really bother me because I am the one who trained and raised Corgus. The traitor! But now I’ve come to terms with his devotion to his father, even if it means that I sometimes get ignored in favor of him.
Corgus gets upset if we leave the house without him and will often go on a hunger strike until we return. He loves and expects attention, and he gets a lot of it. I often joke that being a corgi must be like being famous, because every time we take him anywhere, people stop to stare—even poking their heads out of their moving cars on the road to get a better look—and tell him how beautiful he is or try to pet him or take his picture. If someone doesn’t pay attention to Corgus, he seems to get offended. Also, he gets mad at me if I move too much when I’m near him and he’s comfortable. He makes a little scoff/miniature growl noise and walks away. And sometimes if I don’t let him on the bed with us or if he is in the mood for cuddling but my two-year-old Hadley wants my attention, I swear it feels like he’s glaring at me from across the room! Hadley often tries to pet him, but he won’t let her. He runs away. But he will lick her when he’s in the mood to show her he cares. He is very sweet and affectionate, just on his terms. Overall, it seems like Corgus runs our household sometimes!
Probably–but that makes me love him even more. What a great dog he is! In EVERYTHING WITHIN AND IN BETWEEN, Ri has to go on her own journey to find what is true to herself and her identity. How did you know this was a story you needed to write?
I have always thought a lot about how I assume others see me versus how I see myself, and this has produced some inner turmoil for me. I started writing Everything Within and In Between because I wanted to explore some of the ways I’ve struggled to come to terms with my identity as a mixed heritage Latina who has light skin. Initially, I considered how I had a hard time growing up around Mexican family members who I felt wanted to assimilate and push me to identify as white or Caucasian only, even though I knew they had their reasons for feeling this way. I’ve also felt deeply frustrated and angry when I’ve witnessed white people make jokes about or treat people with my heritage like they were less than others. Yet I was not looped in with other Mexicans or Mexican Americans, like my family with darker skin would likely be. Before writing Everything Within and In Between, I had a lot of feelings about this kind of thing that I didn’t know how to process.
In general, when I’m working through something—an experience or emotion—I tend to write about it somehow (I used to be a journalist, so I sought people who had stories I thought were interesting, and I’ve written a lot of personal essays as well. Also, I like to write in journals). So, in my books, even though my characters aren’t based directly on me or my experiences, they, and the stories they inhabit, are deeply connected to me. In addition to wanting to make sense of my complicated cultural identity, I wanted to write a novel about a multigenerational family, because for part of my childhood, I lived with my immigrant grandmother and first-generation American mother. My mom died when I was thirteen, but thinking and writing about my heritage that comes from her and her side of the family also seemed like a way to feel closer to her, if that makes sense.
It definitely does! And I’m sure your story will resonate with so many, especially with kids and teens who have shared your experiences. What kinds of stories would you like to see more of and why?
Given all that I just said and that Everything Within and In Between focuses so much on cultural and ethnic identity, this will probably sound like a strange answer, but I would love to see more stories with BIPOC characters in which the plot isn’t centered around a marginalization. Books about racial or ethnic identity are so important, and I think everyone who has a story to tell about identity should absolutely do so! (I did, after all!) Readers need these stories; there’s no doubt about it. But I would also like to see BIPOC main characters getting to have their adventures without being pigeonholed to their marginalized identities. A character can be bicultural or half Mexican and half Jewish like I am, for example, and that can be important to who they are as a person, but not the reason or entire focus of the story. I’d like to see more stories with BIPOC just being who they are, without having it be the major conflict.
I hope that we see more stories like that too! What are some of your current projects?
I’m working on two projects right now. The first is a YA contemporary in the same vein (but also different!) from the books that I’ve already had published. Like my other novels, this one will include challenging family dynamics and characters learning about themselves and their families, but it will also dive much deeper into grief over the death of a loved one, which I’ve touched on in earlier novels but haven’t focused on as much. I’m also incorporating some found family and romantic elements, but that’s about all I can say right now because I’m still working on it!
The other project I’m writing is a YA fantasy. The first book I wrote, several years ago when I was in college, was a YA dystopian sci fi. That manuscript got me an agent but ultimately never sold to a publisher. I’ve wanted to try writing another SFF manuscript ever since but got caught up working on my contemporary novels, which I still love and will continue to write. But I’m also exploring drafting my first fantasy novel right now, and I’ve been having a lot of fun with it! So, I have no idea where any of this will go, but I’m glad I finally had the courage to try something new.
I’ll be taking a break from both of these projects soon, though, as I’m preparing to have another baby. So, I’ll be stepping away to rest, recover, and be with my family, but I’ll be back to writing soon. I can’t wait to share more stories with readers. It’s a dream-come-true to be able to get to do what I do. Thank you for helping me continue to make that happen!
For more of Nikki Barthelmess’s books, go to https://www.nikkibarthelmess.com/