Lately, I’ve been making a point to read more latine writers. I’ve been doing it because it’s important to shine a spotlight on more diverse voices, of course. But I’ve also been doing it because I think it’s important their stories get a chance to have that spotlight come from someone who can actually relate to them – or their stories. Not every latine writer has to be telling a story about their identity, of course. But their identity still informs who they are, and what they write, just as mine informs what I like and what I write. And that’s where author Nikki Barthelmess comes in.
Fangirlish had a chance to talk to Barthelmess, who penned one of our most recent discoveries – I’m incredibly sorry I didn’t find this book before its release so I could hype it – and we discussed everything from Ri’s journey in Everything Within and In Between and how much it related to her personal experience, to the way the book deals with colorism, and even what she wants to write next.
Personally, I found Ri a very relatable character. The book explores the idea of fitting in with two different words and the struggle to figure out what your place is. For Barthelmess, that was very personal. “I absolutely wanted to explore pieces of my own process of learning, self-discovery, and healing while writing Everything Within and In Between,” she told us. “I wanted to focus on a character who has light skin but mixed heritage like me, because I wanted to explore some of the ways I struggled coming to terms with my identity.”
Write what you know, they say. Someone will find something of themselves in it.
“I had a hard time growing up around Mexican family members who I felt pushed me away from our culture and toward assimilating, who wanted me to identify as white or Caucasian only. I knew my relatives had their reasons for treating me this way, but it still felt confusing and isolating,” she explained, an experience that is very common within the latine community, and that I personally connect to, on a very deep level.
Being two different things is …hard. Alienating. And that’s why, so often, we push for one. We try to eliminate the dichotomy, instead of embracing all we are. And for immigrants this idea sometimes means giving up the culture they’re most familiar with, because that’s the only way to fit into a world that is more comfortable when you don’t stand out.
Ri’s journey of self-discovery was Barthelmess’ journey of discovery, and writing this book was her catharsis. “Like Ri, I had my own journey of self-discovery I had to go through, including deciding who gets to define who I am and how I see myself,” she confirmed. And though this kind of journey is never truly over, to own the power of that decision can indeed be a powerful thing.
And Ri does that – her way. “My favorite thing about Ri is that she’s determined. She has so many obstacles and people standing in the way of her connecting with her culture and finding herself, but she keeps pushing.”
Her ways might not always be the best – if you’re gonna try her methods, we recommend less lying – but that doesn’t make her journey, and her feelings, any less relatable. And though the book’s main appeal is just this, the main character, as it should be, it also does a great job at discussing topics like colorism, a big issue that latine communities sometimes sweep under the rug.
And yes, Barthelmess, was indeed trying to send this message.
“The story included colorism from the beginning but in the revision process, with the help of my fantastic editor and sensitivity readers, I made a point to be very intentional about how colorism was included because it’s such a sensitive and important subject to get right.”
Particularly when, like Barthelmess, me, and this book’s main character, you have the privilege of passing for white. “Even though I’d thought about the hardships my family members had faced before writing this book—which was part of my inspiration— diving deeper helped me to learn more about assumptions people have about Latinx people, both outside and inside of the Latinx community.”
Just as for Ri, and for Barthelmess, it was about listening and learning, it should be the same way for all of us. We never stop doing that, or at the very list, we shouldn’t.
We closed the interview asking what was next for Nikki Barthelmess, and the answer was vaguer than we would have liked because I’m the curious kind, but still intriguing. “I’m working on a YA contemporary that I can’t talk much about at the moment. I will say that includes a few of the topics readers have probably come to expect from my novels, including challenging family dynamics, characters learning about themselves and their families, and grief. Add in some found family and romantic elements in the mix, and there you have it! I’m really excited about this story that, like my other books, is inspired by things I’ve gone through in my own life. I hope to be able to share more about it soon!”
Count us in for this – and for more of what Nikki Barthelmess has to offer.
Nikki Barthelmess’ Everything Within And In Between is available wherever books are sold.