By Kaley Kiermayr
Today we’re pleased to welcome Guadalupe García McCall to the WNDB blog to discuss her young adult novel Echoes of Grace, out on August 16, 2022!
In Eagle Pass, Texas, Grace struggles to understand the “echoes” she inherited from her mother—visions which often distort her reality. One morning, as her sister, Mercy, rushes off to work, a disturbing echo takes hold of Grace, and within moments, tragedy strikes.
Attending community college for the first time, talking to the boy next door, and working toward her goals all help Grace recover, but her estrangement from Mercy takes a deep toll. And as Grace’s echoes bring ghosts and premonitions, they also bring memories of when Grace fled to Mexico to the house of her maternal grandmother—a woman who Grace had been told died long ago. Will piecing together the truth heal Grace and her sister, or will the echoes destroy everything that she holds dear?
How is Echoes of Grace an updated Gothic tale? Why frame a YA story in this way?
I’ve always loved the Gothic genre with all its dark places, its supernatural elements, its ghosts and specters, and its investigation of the sublime in nature. My favorite is Jane Eyre. I love how the fire represents danger, but also how it is associated with the wild, uncontrollable, all-consuming nature of Bertha’s madness. It’s just brilliantly done! I think the Gothic novel holds fascination for us because it offers such depth, such truth, about our humanity. However, I haven’t seen many Gothic novels featuring Latinx characters.
By viewing Grace’s world through a Mexican American lens, using our architecture, our folktales, our superstitions, our borderlands, Echoes of Grace is a new take on the gothic novel. It places the Southwest and our US/Mexico border at the center of a that world, as an unexpected gothic setting, but it also connects it to everything that has come before it. I think it’s important for young people from the borderlands to see themselves in literature that centers them but also connects them to the history of the place they inhabit within the larger context—the world they are inheriting.
The main character, Grace, is an artist and a poet. Sometimes the people around her don’t understand her interests or the amount of time she spends on them. What inspired you to give Grace these interests? (And do you like to make art? If so, what kind?)
I think that creative people are always in conversation with their surroundings, reflecting or meditating on the meaning of life, trying to speak to the collective through art and literature. Grace is using her scribbling and sketching to draw little creatures in their environment because she is still sorting herself out, looking for what works for her, trying to connect with her natural abilities. It is unfortunate, but many don’t understand why people like Grace can spend so much time and energy on creative efforts—how creatives can get lost in their own little world and be perfectly content there, alone, in that private, intimate space. I think it takes courage to be a creative—to make time and space to nurture the gift, to build boundaries around that space, and to protect the time at work on creative endeavors. That’s an important message for young people. Like Grace, I also make art—with words, with line drawings, even with food. It’s part of who I am, how I extend love, how I help sustain the environment that gave me life and continues to support me as I continue to build a life out of daydreams.
Grace tells us early on that the art and poetry she creates is linked to inspiration from looking at nature. When we’re introduced to her, she’s meditating deeply on a caterpillar. This story is full of wonderful descriptions of natural imagery! How much is this linked to a Gothic perspective of nature? Were there other reasons for emphasizing Grace’s connection with nature?
There is something beautiful but also tragic about the natural world. Its brilliance and charm, when cast in the shadows, echoes our emotional lives. That has always intrigued me. However, the last few years I’ve been fascinated by how nature is explored in southern gothic works like the television shows True Blood and True Detective, with their portraits of gritty, beautiful decay. These visual representations of rotting, festering environments shed light on what it means to be human in modern times.
When I was writing Echoes of Grace, I knew that Grace had experienced great cruelties—cruelties she can’t quite remember but which she desperately wants to understand. That’s why she foresees the death and decay of that caterpillar, because those things are a big part of her lived experiences. Using both old and new gothic elements to help Grace come to terms with her experiences as a young Mexican American woman living with intergenerational trauma came very organically for me. She needed those narrative tools to illustrate her life on the border, where so many women are facing abuse, neglect, and violence, including femicide, all too often with no support. But in order to highlight these hidden horrors in a way that would bring attention to the hard reality—that crimes against women is not just a border issue, but a global issue—I had to find a way to generate something different, something new, something that illuminates the darkness that exists in every part of our world. Gothic elements give us the opportunity to explore what we know and don’t know about our environment, how we affect it as much as it affects us, and that’s perhaps an even bigger reason to center it in literature.
Grace’s “echoes” and premonitions can only be seen and felt by her. However, ultimately it becomes important for her sister, Mercy, to see and understand what Grace is seeing. Was it important to tell this story in a way that brings Mercy into the action?
Empathy is a hard skill to develop, and it’s not until we experience something similar to another’s grief or pain that we truly understand them. Mercy always had the ability to experience the echoes, the metaphorical representation of the intergenerational trauma that has haunted the women in her family for so long. The problem is that she had closed herself off to it. Instead of honoring the covenant of love and compassion she made with Grace after they lost their mother, Mercy grew up focusing on external pleasures and material joys and, by the time the novel starts, she is too involved in that world to understand what Grace is going through. To empathize with Grace, Mercy has to give in to the love she has always had for her sister, to feel and see what Grace is seeing and feeling in the climax of the story. That is how she grows, how she evolves. So, yes, I think it was imperative to bring out that kind of emotional and mental courage in Mercy. It helps illustrate the power of love and the capacity it has to help us heal each other.
Why do you think it’s important to open up the canon, especially within YA, of which types of sexual assault survivors we tell stories about?
I think the canon has evolved considerably in the last century, becoming more open to the stories of crimes against women in recent decades. Some of the most important works of literature of our time, books like Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and Beloved do more than highlight crimes against women as the harmful residual effects of a brutal, patriarchal society. They lean into the destructive impact of hidden truths—the secrets we keep regarding these crimes and the harmful effect those secrets are having on our society.
I believe the popularity of the Bildungsroman, the coming-of-age novels that are so often associated with the YA genre, have helped us push the limits of what literature for young adults looks like, what themes and topics they can and perhaps should be addressing. Novels like Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak and Patricia McCormick’s Sold are great examples of how the canon is becoming more and more aware of the importance of telling the stories of young people who have experienced and survived crimes against women. This kind of unveiling is important if we are to make progress as a society.
The great writer, Elie Weisel, in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech said, “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere.” I believe that in writing about sexual assault and other crimes against women, we are following in his footsteps, honoring wisdom and courage by speaking truth for the sake of a healthier, more sustainable society.
In your Author’s Note, you say you hope this book moves us all into action and elicits conversations that bring about real change. What do you hope that young survivors, specifically, who read your book—especially if they are still freshly processing their trauma—will take away from this?
I think that trauma can be intensely personal, and I am not qualified to advise survivors, other than to say that I hope they speak to someone who cares about them, and that they receive the medical/professional assistance they need. Families should be supporting this healing whenever possible. I also think while the family turns inward, the community should turn outward. The collective needs to make the aggressor accountable by making sure the policies set in place to protect women are updated and working to their utmost efficiency to effect change in the world. That is what I hope every reader takes away from this book—that while families heal, we, as good citizens, have the responsibility to focus on making sure we make and enforce laws that protect women of every culture and economical background. Concurrently, we need to find ways of educating young people about what it means to be in a healthy relationship, what it means to respect each other, and what it means to hold our government and politicians accountable for providing protection to all human beings in their care.
What other stories is Echoes of Grace in conversation with? And if you were designing a dream panel for this book, what other authors would you love to have on it with you?
I think Echoes of Grace is in conversation with books like Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak for its use of natural elements to dig into the dark topic of sexual assault and its effect on women. It’s also in conversation with Mexican Gothic, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, in that it uses gothic elements to illuminate the threat of crimes against women that has always been present in our world. I also think it’s in conversation with more realistic books like Sold by Patricia McCormick, which takes place across the world and deals with the enormous problem of human trafficking. But it’s also in conversation with YA books like Thirty Talks Weird Love, the debut novel of Alessandra Narváez Varela that tackles the history of missing women in Cuidad Juarez, because crimes against women is a global issue that affects every culture in every corner of the world. For my part, the dream panel would include Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Laurie Halse Anderson, Patricia McCormick and Oprah Winfrey—well, you did say dream!
Are there any published or forthcoming books you can recommend?
Honestly, I haven’t been reading much because I have so much work to do. But I would recommend any of the books mentioned here, especially Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. It is one of those books for which I buy extra copies and hand to others to read because it is just sublime!
Guadalupe García McCall is the best-selling author of Summer of the Mariposas and won the Pura Belpré Award for her first novel, Under the Mesquite. She was born in Mexico and moved to Texas as a young girl, keeping close ties with family on both sides of the border. Trained in theater arts and English, she is now an assistant professor of English at George Fox University in Oregon. Find her online at guadalupegarciamccall.com.
Kaley Kiermayr is a Boston-based editor, freelance writer, and marketer. She is currently the Executive Affairs & Special Projects Officer at The Theater Offensive, a nonprofit that produces liberating art by, for, and about queer and trans people of color. Previously, she was Fiction Editor at F(r)iction literary anthology and Marketing Director at Brink Literacy Project. She received her Publishing MA at Emerson College. In her downtime, she enjoys getting involved with LGBTQ+ literature and writing projects.