By Laia Feliu
Today we’re pleased to welcome Nina Moreno to the WNDB blog to discuss Join the Club, Maggie Diaz, illustrated by Courtney Lovett and out today, May 17, 2022!
Everyone in Maggie Diaz’s life seems to be finding their true passion. The one thing that defines them as a person. Her best friends Zoey and Julian are too busy to hang out after school thanks to band and comics club. Mom is finishing her last semester in college. And Maggie’s perfect older sister Caro is perfectly-perfect at sports and tutoring.
So Maggie cooks up a plan to join every club she can! But trying to fit in with type-A future leaders, gardening whizzes, and the fearless kids in woodshop is intimidating, exhausting, and seriously confusing. And juggling homework, friends, and all of her after-school activities is way harder than it looks.
Seventh grade is all about figuring out who you are—good thing Maggie Diaz has the perfect plan!
Hi Nina! Firstly, thank you so much for your time. I loved Join the Club, Maggie Diaz and I cannot wait for everyone to get their hands on it.
Before diving into the interview, I would like to give you the space to introduce yourself to our readers.
Hi! I’m Nina Moreno, author of Don’t Date Rosa Santos, Our Way Back to Always, and the upcoming Join the Club, Maggie Diaz, which I am so excited to talk about today! Like Maggie, I was born in Miami, am the official lizard catcher of my family, and have possibly been told to hurry up and grab a fallen avocado off my neighbor’s tree. Possibly.
Maggie Diaz is a very relatable and fun character, trying to figure out her place in the world at a very young age. What inspired you to have her join all these clubs?
I wasn’t someone who did a lot of clubs or extracurriculars after school. I was very much that student who went to school, tried their best to get on honor roll to impress their parents, and then went home and read books or played Sims. But I still wanted to have something special that was just mine and felt more individual and impressive than reading in my room or blogging about my feelings on Livejournal. When I was a kid there were these TV commercials that featured all these very cool 90s quick cuts and they asked, “What’s your verb?” I wanted a verb. I wanted to do something specific and cool and have that immediately define me. That energy went into Maggie’s big plan.
Without giving too much away, are there any topics or scenes in the book that were hard for you to write about?
I wrote Maggie in early 2020 when it felt like everything around us turned upside down overnight. I wanted to get out of the house as much as she did. So, there weren’t topics that felt difficult to write so much as ones I just really wanted to get right. There’s so much power in humor, and getting to explore that through Maggie’s voice was honestly such a joy. For Maggie, sharing her room with her Abuela is the worst thing ever, and it’s important to not let my writing voice dismiss that. I needed the angst of it all to come through, but also wanted to balance it with the chaotic hilarity that comes with sharing your space with your grandmother and all of her vitamins and knickknacks.
We have some complicated situations for Maggie, especially at home and with her friends. What was it like to put yourself in the shoes of this teenager?
I’ve seen authors smoothly write both YA and MG but I really nervous about writing for a younger audience. Sometimes you’ll hear people say that writing for kids is easier than writing for an older audience, but I don’t think those people are actually writing for kids. It was so important to me to get the middle grade voice right and I’m grateful that my editor, Shelly Romero, had so much confidence in me. Because once I started writing, Maggie’s voice was loud. Her sense of humor, angsty meltdowns, and stubborn optimism all brought me right back into the shoes of my tween self.
There are incredibly powerful messages in this book, such as the importance of friendship and believing in ourselves. Is there anything you would want your young readers to learn about from Maggie’s life?
An important beat that I try to thread into all of my stories, whether they’re YA or MG, is to show young readers that their time is theirs. For so many kids, especially when they have immigrant parents, we feel as though we have to perform success in really specific and meaningful ways for others. That we need to earn our rest or time for reflection. Hobbies should be productive and self-care feels selfish. But I want to provide space for readers to be themselves, to get lost in hobbies, stories, and interests just because. No conditions or grade necessary.
What topics that you’ve covered in the book do you hope we’ll be reading more about in the future?
I just really loved getting the chance to write a funny, tween story that is specific to a place and culture, but also hopefully as universally awkward as the seventh grade. There are so many incredible middle grade books that have come out in the last couple of years, and I just hope to see more adventures, more funny contemporaries, more stories featuring BIPOC kids.
Family is a crucial part of the book and Maggie’s life. There are unique dynamics and sensitive topics that I am sure loads of kids will relate to when reading this amazing story. Why was depicting Maggie’s family structure so important?
Maggie’s family is so important to her, just as mine was at that age, and that was something I didn’t see as much in the books I was reading as a kid. It always felt like the families and parents disappeared into the background the moment the kids went on their adventures, or they were singularly focused on their friends. I missed seeing the dynamics of family on the page and how they influence us. So many of us grow up in multi-generational homes, and we have to navigate our family structures and roles changing as we face loss and try our best to hold onto traditions. I find as much joy in writing Maggie’s home family life as I do her at school with her friends.
Caro was one of my favourite characters and I could relate to her struggles to be a “perfect” daughter and student at the same time. Is there any chance we could have more of her story in the future?
I loved writing Caro so much, because I grew up with a Caro. My older sister was so cool and from my awkward tween perch in her shadow—or backseat of her Honda Civic with that outrageously loud bass system shaking my entire soul—I was so sure she’d come into all of her greatness smoothly. Unlike me and all my pimples and fuzzy arm hair and inability to apply eyeliner. So, it was super fun for me to get to write Caro, who is as cool as my big sister was, but also has a lot going on, just as my sister did, but that Maggie and I might not have seen. And Courtney’s illustrations of Caro are some of my favorite in the entire book! The style, the vibes, the hoops. I would absolutely love to have more of Caro’s story in the future.
How do you feel the YA and children’s book industry is evolving when it comes to Latinx representation? Do you think more groups of children can see themselves represented in books nowadays?
I sold my debut novel in late 2017 and I’ve seen so much change in just these past five years. When I debuted in 2019, there were a handful of Latinx authors also debuting and we came together to create a marketing collective to support each other and make sure that publishing didn’t pit us against each other for only one seat at the table. Las Musas Books is now this huge force creating book festivals, podcasts, and so much more. All while supporting so many new Latinx/e authors who are publishing books for kids and teens.
Our shelves are growing with so many more of our books and winning awards and it’s such a thrill to see, but so many of our kids are still not seeing themselves on the page. We need narratives that go beyond the white Latinidad POV. The moment we get that seat we can’t just take up space without making more, especially knowing all the work we still need to do in our own communities. There are so many countries and languages beneath the umbrella of that term, and we’re still leaving too many of us out.
Are there any books within the YA genre or with similar messages to Join the Club, Maggie Diaz you could recommend?
One of the funniest, voiciest books I’ve read in a long time is Dear Haiti, Love Alaine by Maika Moulite and Maritza Moulite. Alaine is such an unforgettable character who is navigating family, friends, and culture. Another brilliant YA that features a delightfully moody, loyal, voicey character with a fun friend group playing a unique sport is This is How We Fly by Anna Meriano.
And last but not least, where can everyone get their hands on this heartfelt middle grade story?
One of my favorite indies is Books & Books in Miami, so I’ll hopefully have some signed stock with them, but anywhere you buy your books! Or check them out! Maggie Diaz will be out in the world, taking on way too many clubs, on May 17th!
Nina Moreno was born and raised in Miami until a hurricane sent her family toward the pines of Georgia where she picked up an accent. She’s a proud University of Florida Gator who once had her dream job of shelving books at the library. Inspired by the folklore and stories passed down to her from her Cuban and Colombian family, she now writes about Latinas chasing their dreams, falling in love, and navigating life in the hyphen. Her first novel, Don’t Date Rosa Santos, is available now from Little Brown for Young Readers and was a Junior Library Guild Selection, Indie Next Pick for teen readers, and SIBA Okra Pick. Her upcoming novel, Our Way Back to Always, will be out from LBYR in Fall 2021.
Laia is an English Literature and Creative Writing student based in Guildford, a beautiful town west from London. She spends her free time immersed in fantasy books or going on walks with her boyfriend and their dog. Her favourite book is It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover and she recommends it to every new person she meets.