Guest Post by Author NoNieqa Ramos: I Don’t Eat Mangoes or Oye Mi Canto!–Gloria Estefan

 

By NoNieqa Ramos

“What are you?” I can’t express how many times I’ve been asked this exact question by white girls. No joke. What preempted this comment, you ask? Perhaps I was wearing some sort of costume? Perhaps it was dark? Try again. It was because I was speaking in grammatically correct sentences and making allusions to books. Me. The same person who wore baggy pants, hoodies, bright red lipstick, had giant Dep-gelled hair, and dropped the F bomb.

I mean “word to your moms, I came to drop bombs. I got more lyrics than the bible got psalms.”- House of Pain

Just sayin. But really who was I? Who am I as a person of color?

To Puerto Ricans on the island, I’m gringa city. And they are right. How can I understand what it is like for the President of the United States to throw me paper-freakin-towels when I’m dealing with the spill of a hurricane?

That being said, my great-grandmother came from the mountains of Puerto Rico and brought my great-aunts to the Bronx. To every POC I ever knew, I was 100 percent Boricua from my knock-off Timberlands to my hoopie earrings. To the principal at my high school who called me Ms. Ramirez, and responded to my correction with “same thing,” I was everyone and nobody.  To the white girls at my high school, I was definitely not a virgin. For every book that I read as a kid, I didn’t exist.

Image result for like water for chocolate bookEven with the books I finally did find in GRAD SCHOOL, like “Like Water for Chocolate” or ANYTHING by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, I still didn’t see myself. I grew up on rice and Goya oh Boya!–beans from a can–seasoned with jarred Sofrito, Recaito, sprinkled with Sazon.

My single-dad didn’t have time to do all these romantic things to food that books like Isabel Allende described– like soaking the beans overnight–not getting them from a can–slicing up fresh avocado–in my childhood only white people getting their buzz on with Margaritas ate guacamole. You know how expensive avocadoes are?

Yet, there was never a time when the radio wasn’t blaring with meringue, salsa, free-style music by TKA (Maria! The most beautiful sound I ever heard…), Jodeci, Gloria Estefan and the like. There was never a time when my dad wasn’t telling me if I didn’t get 99s, I was gonna end up cleaning floors for a living–like every brown person represented in all of the movies I had ever seen.

When I looked in the mirror, everybody else’s image of what a Puerto Rican is supposed to be crowded in with my image of self. When I was sixteen, we moved out of the Bronx and into a white suburb of NJ. One day our white neighbors called my stepmother Rosie in alarm. She should call the police. “A black man” was on our property.

My stepmother had white skin and blonde hair, but she spent half her life in PR. In fact, she was the reason I grew up hearing Spanish. She was 100 percent Puerto Rican and 100 percent sure the “black man” on our lawn was my dad trimming the hedges. My dad.

100 percent used to this type of shit. 100 percent used to being called gringo by other Puerto Ricans for not speaking the Spanish he was forced to unlearn as a child. 100 percent representing the black and brown in our gene pool with his gorgeous face and fabulous mustache.

Who am I as a POC? On those surveys, I answer, race human. Ethnicity, Taino. Yes, Taino. Not white. I don’t identify with the oppressors who slaughtered my people. I’m not the image that people want to project into my mirror, but that person in the mirror combing her bushy hair, dancing to old-school Eddie Palmieri. Getting ready to sit myself and my daughter down to learn Spanish from our tutors who come every Sunday to help us reclaim the language that should have been our own in the first damn place. So, quien soy yo?

Soy un maestra. Soy un autor. Soy un madre y un esposo. So un activista. Soy una Boricua. Lo entiendes, holmes?

The Disturbed Girl's Dictionary Cover

CLICK HERE  for our review of The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary.

CLICK HERE  for another guest post from NoNieqa.

 

 

NoNieqa Ramos spent her childhood in the Bronx, where she started her own publishing company and sold books for twenty-five cents until the nuns shut her down. With the support of her single father and her tias, she earned dual master’s degrees in creative writing and education at the University of Notre Dame. As a teacher, she has dedicated herself to bringing gifted-and-talented education to minority students and expanding access to literature, music, and theater for all children. A frequent foster parent, NoNieqa lives in Ashburn, Virginia, with her family. She can be found on Twitter at @NoNiLRamos.

 

 

Guest Post by Author NoNieqa Ramos: Voice Lessons

 

By NoNieqa Ramos

I’ll never forget the sweltering summer in NY, when my soul mate and I dined with a friend and editor from a NYC publishing house, partially because we spent 300 dollars on appetizers. I mean for 20 bucks we could have had arroz con habichuelas y maduros and a friggin bistec, you know?

But we had all gotten into the friend zone–where you want to be when your friend happens to be a Big Wig–and I was loving being back in Manhattan, where I used to bus to the Port Authority and cab it to the Village to get various body parts pierced.

The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary was a Work-in-Progress. I met said editor at an SCBWI pitch conference and she had told me, “I was the reason she came to these conferences.” That even though the plot of my manuscript was “crazy town”– I was writing about a Korean boy named Yin Coward who shot his nemesis and true love and ended up hiding in the walls of his Catholic school–my “voice” was “OMG.”

Yin Coward later got rejected by a hotshot agent who said “Alas, it had too much voice,” and was eventually put to bed in a C drive. Ultimately, years later, when my agent Emily Keyes sent the completed The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary to my friend and editor at the aforementioned publishing house, she declined, saying “It was too beautiful.” Now I sit with reviews from Kirkus calling my voice “hard to process” but “inimitable” and “unique.” I’m speaking at the ALAN Conference at NCTE to discuss The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary on the Panel: “Giving Voices to Difficult Experiences.” BookList says my writing is “exceptional” and “I’m a voice to watch.”

It fascinates me that Kirkus called the syntax of DDG a “stylistic choice.” What’s of great fascination to me, is as a Nuyorican from the Bronx, it wasn’t until my thirties that I found my own voice, my own place at the table, so to speak. I’ve spent my life, like my protagonist Macy Cashmere, being defined by other people.

In the Bronx, I was 100 Puerto Rican. Let me ‘splain. With my people, it was a source of pride and defiance. In my family, my elders had started in the barrio and worked their way from poverty to being lab techs, social workers, principals, and vice-presidents in the ‘burbs.

In my reality, I learned, there were hidden definitions. So there was this Italian boy I had a crush on. He used to give me extra cannolis with my orders. I’m thirteen. One day I’m walking home and he’s standing on the corner.

He’s saying things like come over here and talk to me. I smiled, but kept walking, not knowing, really, what to do with my skinny-ass self. Then the cursing started. I was a Puerto Rican slut. (Whaaat?) etc. etc. This was one of many delightful experiences with race. I learned boobs weren’t the only thing to enter a room first. My brownness did, too.

Back to that editor and friend. There was wine and three-hundred-dollar lobster rolls. Did I want an actual entree? Well, having a need for food, shelter, and insurance–I had a Catholic teacher’s budget at the time–made that a hard NO.

Anyway, there was witty repartee to fill me up. Have I mentioned, I’m that English teacher that delights in witty repartee, the use of active voice, and sentence diagramming? Then I did it. I code switched. Can’t remember exactly what ungrammatical thing I said. But I do remember being corrected by this friend, this editor, this white lady in public like I was a child.

About the English teacher thing. Command of the English language has empowered me (and my family) throughout life to get awards, attention, scholarships, employment, respect, and lots of comments like “What are you?” (Puerto Rican and literate, that’s what I am bee–)

Losing the Spanish language has done the same, and is one of the biggest tragedies in my cultural life. My protagonist Macy Cashmere’s ungrammatical language is not a “stylistic choice.” It is an outright rebellion. Nod if you feel me. As Macy would say, “Just because you monolingual motherfoes can’t speak my language ain’t my problem. I mean, you could read Faulkner, but you can’t get me because I say ‘a’ instead of ‘an’?”

The thing is, we need diverse voices that speak grammatically correct. We need diverse voices that crush stereotypes like cockroaches under chancletas. We writers love to write from the perspective of the diamonds-in-the-rough who also happen to be literary geniuses. Well, guess what?

Macy’s there, too. If you’re not going to make room at the table for her, she’s bound to do something about it. Maybe sit right on your lap. Maybe toss the table. You find her story hard to read? Intense? Remember the Macys of the world are living that story. She’s been silenced all her life. She doesn’t look right. She doesn’t act right. But she’s stronger than you. If the whole damn world ended, she’d still be standing because her world has ended a thousand times. But what, you want to filter her? Don’t get me wrong, I gave Macy Miss Black. I want Macy to make it. I  want to get her counselors and tutors and have her rescued by librarians.

But Macy doesn’t exist for me or for you. The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary is BY Macy and FOR Macy. As Kirkus said, Macy is “aggressive, angry, and intimidating.” And, hello, that’s because she doesn’t get the luxury of magic powers or magic foster parents. One of my foster kids left me to be adopted by her aunt. Years later, I found her back on a foster kids website–now having been abused by her mom and rejected by the only sane relative she had—hoping desperately for someone to be her “forever family” at the age of thirteen. The age kids almost NEVER get adopted. This book is for that kid. Take a listen.

CLICK HERE for our review of The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary.

 

NoNieqa Ramos spent her childhood in the Bronx, where she started her own publishing company and sold books for twenty-five cents until the nuns shut her down. With the support of her single father and her tias, she earned dual master’s degrees in creative writing and education at the University of Notre Dame. As a teacher, she has dedicated herself to bringing gifted-and-talented education to minority students and expanding access to literature, music, and theater for all children. A frequent foster parent, NoNieqa lives in Ashburn, Virginia, with her family. She can be found on Twitter at @NoNiLRamos.

 

Book Review: The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary by NoNieqa Ramos

 

Review by Mark Oshiro

The Disturbed Girl's Dictionary CoverDESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Macy’s school officially classifies her as “disturbed,” but Macy isn’t interested in how others define her. She’s got more pressing problems: her mom can’t move off the couch, her dad’s in prison, her brother’s been kidnapped by Child Protective Services, and now her best friend isn’t speaking to her. Writing in a dictionary format, Macy explains the world in her own terms—complete with gritty characters and outrageous endeavors. With an honesty that’s both hilarious and fearsome, slowly Macy reveals why she acts out, why she can’t tell her incarcerated father that her mom’s cheating on him, and why her best friend needs protection . . . the kind of protection that involves Macy’s machete.

MY TWO CENTS: The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary is unlike any YA I’ve read in 2017. A raw, unflinching, and surprisingly hilarious book, it’s organized as a series of definitions, like a dictionary, but with vignettes instead of sentence-long explanations. This is an ambitious book with a concept that is effortlessly pulled off, and it has one of the most compelling and authentic voices I’ve come across in a long time. The entire book is presented as the writings of Macy Cashmere MYOFB in real time, and I never once questioned it; that’s just how good this story is. Macy is self-aware of her challenging predicaments—a mother who seems to care more about the men who visit her than her own daughter, a brother stuck in another family’s home due to a CPS intervention, a father in prison—but the book is vibrant in discussing such weighty issues. As dark as this book gets at times (I flat-out bawled the final thirty pages or so), Nonieqa Ramos never lets this book fall into despair. No, Macy is unbelievably alive, and the energy conveyed through Ramos’s immersive writing is one of many things that makes this a compelling, electrifying read. There’s a chapter here where Ramos manages to reference a machete, Fabuloso, and Agüeybaná in the span of a few pages, and not once does it come across inauthentic.

There’s no mistaking how vulgar and gritty the text feels at times, but it’s all part of the convincing, believable world that Ramos builds. These people feel so real, so completely fleshed out that you begin to ache for them before you’re halfway through The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary. And the bulk of that sympathy lands on Macy. While Ramos doesn’t shy away from portraying the full experience of a young girl with ADHD, compulsive behavior, and who has been deemed “emotionally disturbed,” I can only imagine the sheer power this must give to people like Macy who have never seen themselves in a book, let alone as the protagonist. Simply put, this book feels larger-than-life, the kind of endeavor you’d expect from someone who had been publishing novels for years. Somehow, this is Ramos’s debut, which makes me eager to see what they’ve got up their sleeves.

For now, though, this is a book that is easy to devour, but will haunt you long after you finish it. It is unique, shocking, and heartbreaking; it is also the kind of novel I want kids everywhere to read. It is certain to be one of my top recommended novels for 2018.

TEACHING TIPS: There are a number of issues that Ramos speaks on through Macy that are ripe for a moderated class discussion: drug use, sex work, mental illness (and the stigmas that come with having a mental illness), foster care, misogyny, and racism. The book is populated with a diverse cast—many of these people are not common in YA in general!—and the language/slang is modern and convincing, so I expect students will find themselves captivated by Macy’s unique voice. Because of the way that the book is broken up, it will be easy to assign writing prompts or topics based solely on one of the definitions. I would recommend discussions about “CLANG,” “DOLPHIN,” “FEED,” and “GOOD-BYE.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: NoNieqa Ramos spent her childhood in the Bronx, where she started her own publishing company and sold books for twenty-five cents until the nuns shut her down. With the support of her single father and her tias, she earned dual master’s degrees in creative writing and education at the University of Notre Dame. As a teacher, she has dedicated herself to bringing gifted-and-talented education to minority students and expanding access to literature, music, and theater for all children. A frequent foster parent, NoNieqa lives in Ashburn, Virginia, with her family.

WHERE TO GET IT: The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary releases a week from today! To find it, check your local public library, your local bookstore, or IndieBound. Also, check out GoodreadsAmazon, and Barnes & Noble.

 

Oshiro_Mark.jpgABOUT THE REVIEWER: Mark Oshiro is the Hugo-nominated writer of the online Mark Does Stuff universe (Mark Reads and Mark Watches), where he analyzes book and television series unspoiled. He was the nonfiction editor of Queers Destroy Science Fiction! and the co-editor of Speculative Fiction 2015. He is the President of the Con or Bust Board of Directors and is usually busy trying to fulfill his lifelong goal to pet every dog in the world. His YA Contemporary debut, Anger is a Gift, is out May 22, 2018 with Tor Teen.

 

COVER REVEAL! The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary by NoNieqa Ramos

 

Today, we’re excited to host the cover reveal for The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary, a debut young adult novel by NoNieqa Ramos that has already gotten a starred review from Booklist and a glowing response from Kirkus.

What’s it about? Here’s the official description:

Macy’s school officially classifies her as “disturbed,” but Macy isn’t interested in how others define her. She’s got more pressing problems: her mom can’t move off the couch, her dad’s in prison, her brother’s been kidnapped by Child Protective Services, and now her best friend isn’t speaking to her. Writing in a dictionary format, Macy explains the world in her own terms complete with gritty characters and outrageous endeavors. With an honesty that’s both hilarious and fearsome, slowly Macy reveals why she acts out, why she can’t tell her incarcerated father that her mom’s cheating on him, and why her best friend needs protection . . . the kind of protection that involves Macy’s machete.

How could anyone resist a description that involves both dictionaries and machetes? What?!

Before we get to the cover, the author tells us how she responded to getting her Advance Reader Copies and viewing the cover for the first time.

I have to admit I didn’t open up my ARCs for two weeks. I hugged them. I #bookstagrammed them. I clutched them while flashbacking to all the work that led up to this moment. But what did opening the book mean? I had nightmares that opening my ARC would be like opening Pandora’s box. Because writing a book is like standing outside naked and not expecting anyone to comment on the fact that you have no space between your thighs. But then my soul mate made a comment. Apparently on the inside of the book, lay the real cover, the cover my protagonista Macy Cashmere made for her dictionary, and I thought, that sounds amazing. SOUNDS amazing. Time to crack it open. I peered inside the cover like you’d stare through a keyhole. I could almost feel Macy’s reaction as I did the unthinkable. Read the dictionary “By Macy Cashmere… FOR Macy Cashmere” without her permission.

The cover design by Lindsay Owens and Danielle Carnito is PSYCHEdelic; disturbing and hypnotic just like my Macy. A conduit for Macy’s rage, the imagery surges from page to page until the harrowing end. Thank you Carolrhoda Lab. Thank you, Lindsay and Danielle. Macy would approve.

Now for the cover reveal!

 

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The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary releases February 1, 2018 (Carolrhoda Lab). You can pre-order it at Indiebound, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble, among other places. You also have a chance to win a copy by entering this GoodReads Giveaway!

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: NoNieqa Ramos spent her childhood in the Bronx, where she started her own publishing company and sold books for twenty-five cents until the nuns shut her down. With the support of her single father and her tias, she earned dual master’s degrees in creative writing and education at the University of Notre Dame. As a teacher, she has dedicated herself to bringing gifted-and-talented education to minority students and expanding access to literature, music, and theater for all children. A frequent foster parent, NoNieqa lives in Ashburn, Virginia, with her family. She can be found on Twitter at @NoNiLRamos.