Hop in, traveler! Today is a special day!
I had the opportunity to interview Crystal Maldonado, author of Fat Chance, Charlie Vega. Her debut novel about a fat Puerto Rican teenager was published at the beginning of February, and I had the pleasure to read it in advance. If you’ve been following me for a while now, you may have seen how much I loved this book — I wrote a lot about it! I recognized myself a lot in Charlie, and Crystal Maldonado’s book meant so much to me that I wanted to do something for its publication!
I get to ask Crystal Maldonado some questions about her book, her inspiration, what it is like to debut in the middle of a global pandemic… She had the kindness to answer me, and without further ado, you can read the whole interview below.
Fat Chance, Charlie Vega, your debut novel, is about to be published in the middle of a global pandemic. How do you deal with that?
Getting published during the pandemic has been all the things — thrilling, surreal, incredibly rewarding, and also a little exhausting, if I’m being totally honest. Being able to have this book published is truly a dream come true, so it’s been interesting to have those positive feelings juxtaposed with the stresses of the pandemic, which I know has been difficult on us all. But there have definitely been some silver linings that I may not have been able to experience otherwise! I’ve been able to attend events and meet authors I admire from all over thanks to the virtual events that have popped up. I hope that post-pandemic, we keep at least some of those virtual spaces so that conferences and other events are more accessible to everyone. Lately, I’m doing my best to appreciate everything as it comes and soak up all of the big and small moments.
Fat Chance, Charlie Vega is a story about a fat Latina teen and her journey for self-love and acceptance. How was this book born?
The spark for Fat Chance, Charlie Vega came from my love of romcoms and specifically YA romance novels, as well as my very own love story with my husband. We met in high school and, like Charlie and Brian, started as friends until we eventually started dating and fell in love. We are still together now, nearly 15 years later, and I’ve always loved sharing that with people. I thought that might make a sweet story to share, especially because many of the books I’d read didn’t feature fat Puerto Rican girls at the center. And why not? Don’t we deserve to be the heroine, too? That’s what I wanted to accomplish with this book — to give a fat, brown girl her well-deserved happily-ever-after.
Charlie is not only a fat girl, but she’s also half Puerto Rican who reconnects with her Latinx family. Did you use your own experiences, as you are yourself Puerto Rican, to write that part of Charlie’s life?
I definitely tapped into my own experience as a Puerto Rican woman who has grown up feeling a little disconnected from those roots. For a long time, and honestly, even still, I sometimes feel like an imposter, like I’m not the right or authentic kind of Puerto Rican person. I don’t speak Spanish, for example. But that’s me in my own head. I think when you are multiethnic/biracial, you sometimes feel like you don’t fit in anywhere — or at least that was the case for me. I didn’t feel white or brown enough, just stuck in the middle. With Charlie, I really wanted to show others that there isn’t a right way to be Puerto Rican. Maybe I wanted to remind myself of that, too!
Fashion is one of Charlie’s hobby, and we often find her scrolling through Instagram and the #fatfashion hashtag, taking inspiration from other fat girls to dress and doing so with success — I am so jealous of her closet. Was fashion for fat girls an important point you wanted to bring up?
It really was! So, for me, finding my place as a fat girl really was intertwined with finding and celebrating fat fashion. I didn’t grow up with Instagram, but my version of that was an online community called Fatshionista, which was essentially a wonderful, inclusive community of fat folks who wanted to show off their beautiful clothes. That was really liberating to me to find, especially as someone who had loved fashion.
The thing with the fashion industry is that it is still pretty exclusionary toward fat bodies. If you’re fat and you love fashion, your options are relatively limited compared to the fashion that is available for smaller bodies. I would argue even discovering your own sense of fashion can be more difficult for fat or plus-sized folks simply because their options are limited. Sometimes it’s like, do I really like this outfit, or is it just something affordable that fits me? But having access to clothes that fit you well and that make you feel good can be so important! It can build your confidence and make you feel so much better about yourself.
I like to say that Fat Chance, Charlie Vega is, first of all, a story about self-love. I feel like Charlie’s romance with herself and her body is more important than her love story with Brian. Would you agree?
I totally agree! Of course, all of Charlie’s relationships are important to her — Brian and Amelia especially — but like you said, the book is really about Charlie’s love for herself. She has to figure out how to silence all these little voices, real or imagined, that tell her she’s not good enough and really work to discover her own value. I think many of us have to do that at some point. It’s hard work, but it’s rewarding, and Charlie comes out on the other side so much better for it. She’s happier, lighter, and freer once she realizes she can fully embrace and love herself. I hope we can all take a page out of her book!
What was the hardest scene to write, or the biggest writing challenge with Fat Chance, Charlie Vega?
The hardest scene for me to write is the one after Charlie gets home from the dance and she just feels so… low. To write that authentically, I had to revisit some of those same feelings I’d experienced about myself and my body and my existence when I was a teenager, and that was tough! I’m much older now, with a beautiful family of my own, but there is a part of you I feel that never fully says goodbye to your teen self. So, I had to bring her out again in order to make that scene powerful for Charlie. I think it was good to show that so that Charlie’s growth is that much more rewarding in the end.
Fat Chance, Charlie Vega really is the book I wish I had when I was a teenager. What would you like nowadays teenagers to take from your book?
That is genuinely the kindest compliment; thank you! I really hope teens now are able to feel understood from this book. Although it’s a quiet YA story without monsters or magic or anything like that, I think Charlie’s story shows how our individual experiences can still have really high stakes. Those internal dialogues that we have, those meaningful friendships, those first relationship experiences — all of those things really matter, especially during high school when we are all just figuring out who we want to be.
I would also love if this book was able to open up some conversations about bodies and fatphobia, so that perhaps we can start to challenge things like diet culture and begin to accept and love ourselves the way we are.
I am hoping we’ll get to read more of your books in the future. Is there any theme in particular you’d like to write about?
I would love that, too! I think I may always write “quiet” YA books, which I’m totally fine with. I love exploring internal struggles and battles because I think we can all relate to that. We may not be fighting monsters or have magic bursting from our fingertips, but our very real experiences deserve their space, too. I know that I want to continue to write fat brown girls as my main characters and tell all kinds of different stories for them — some that have to do with being fat, some that hardly mention it at all.
And finally… what is your favorite quote from Fat Chance, Charlie Vega?
Since Charlie spends so much time yearning for kissing, this is one of my favorites!
Because we have different kinds of kisses now. Long kisses and short kisses, quick pecks on the lips. I am collecting all of these kisses. I could write a whole book on these kisses.
Is there something else you’d like to add?
Truly, I just want to say thank you. The positive response to this story, which is so close to my heart, has been so meaningful to me. It’s my greatest wish that this book will find all those who need it and, when it does, I hope it feels like I wrote it just for you — because I did.
Thank you so much for your time and answers! I am grateful I got to read your debut novel in advance: I loved it so much and I can’t wait for others to read about Charlie’s story!
Crystal Maldonado is a young adult author with a lot of feelings. Her debut novel, FAT CHANCE, CHARLIE VEGA (Holiday House), was released on Feb. 2, 2021.
By day, she is a social media manager working in higher ed, and by night, a writer who loves Beyoncé, shopping, spending too much time on her phone, and being extra. She lives in western Massachusetts with her husband, daughter, and dog. Follow her everywhere @crystalwrote:
FAT CHANCE, CHARLIE VEGA
by Crystal Maldonado
Coming of age as a Fat brown girl in a white Connecticut suburb is hard.
Harder when your whole life is on fire, though.
Charlie Vega is a lot of things. Smart. Funny. Artistic. Ambitious. Fat.
People sometimes have a problem with that last one. Especially her mom. Charlie wants a good relationship with her body, but it’s hard, and her mom leaving a billion weight loss shakes on her dresser doesn’t help. The world and everyone in it have ideas about what she should look like: thinner, lighter, slimmer-faced, straighter-haired. Be smaller. Be whiter. Be quieter.
But there’s one person who’s always in Charlie’s corner: her best friend Amelia. Slim. Popular. Athletic. Totally dope. So when Charlie starts a tentative relationship with cute classmate Brian, the first worthwhile guy to notice her, everything is perfect until she learns one thing—he asked Amelia out first. So is she his second choice or what? Does he even really see her?
Because it’s time people did.
A sensitive, funny, and painful coming-of-age story with a wry voice and tons of chisme, Fat Chance, Charlie Vega tackles our relationships to our parents, our bodies, our cultures, and ourselves.
*This is an affiliate link, meaning, at no additional cost to you I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
Once more, I’d like to thank Crystal Maldonado for her agreeing to do this interview, and for writing such a good book! Fat Chance, Charlie Vega means a lot to me, and I hope it will to you too!