ALL FOUR KIDS: An Interview with Maria E. Andreu, THE SECRET SIDE OF EMPTY


Today, we welcome OneFour KidLit author Maria E. Andreu to the blog to discuss her debut novel, THE SECRET SIDE OF EMPTY. Here’s the book’s official blurb:

TSSoE_CoverAs a straight-A student with a budding romance and loyal best friend, M.T.’s life seems as apple-pie American as her blondish hair and pale skin. But M.T. hides two facts to the contrary: her full name of Monserrat Thalia and her status as an undocumented immigrant. But it’s harder to hide now that M.T.’s a senior. Her school’s National Honor Society wants her to plan their trip abroad, her best friend won’t stop bugging her to get her driver’s license, and all everyone talks about is where they want to go to college. M.T. is pretty sure she can’t go to college, and with high school ending and her family life unraveling, she’s staring down a future that just seems empty. In the end, M.T. will need to trust herself and others to stake a claim in the life that she wants.

KS: You’ve said THE SECRET SIDE OF EMPTY has some autobiographical elements. Which parts are based on your own experiences?

MA: Well, the big one obviously is that I too was undocumented. I went to a small parochial school. I wondered how I was going to build a “normal” life when so many things seemed stacked against me. And some small details are nods to real life too. I really met my high school boyfriend the way the protagonist meets hers. I really did have a Ms. North in my life. Things like that.

That said, the book is mostly fiction. Real life is messy, lessons take a long time to learn, things stop and start and stop in ways that don’t make for a very clean narrative. I took the real emotion of it and put it to snappier, grander action.

KS: You take exception to the term “illegal immigrant” to describe your main character, MT. Can you explain?

MA: There is a wonderful quote from Elie Weisel, author of Man’s Search for Meaning, that says, “No human being is illegal.” Calling a human being “an illegal” as if it were a noun, or even an “illegal immigrant,” has a dehumanizing effect which then opens the door for people to pile on other judgements. It basically says that the human being is illegal, not their actions. In M.T.’s case, it’s not even her own actions that have made her undocumented. Her parents brought her as a baby.

If you get ticketed for speeding, are you an illegal driver? If you’re late on your taxes, are you an illegal taxpayer? Being undocumented isn’t even a violation of criminal law. It’s a violation on confusing and conflicting civil statutes. No human being is illegal.

-steps off soapbox-

KS: MT’s major secret is that she’s undocumented. What are the other “secret sides” to MT?

MA: M.T. hides a lot of secrets. She doesn’t tell her friends what’s going on in her life, not just her undocumented status but everything that’s happening at home. She doesn’t tell her boyfriend Nate her fears and vulnerabilities. She doesn’t tell people at school what’s causing her grades to slip. When stuff finally starts to hit the fan she doesn’t want to tell anyone the truth about herself. So she’s just a bundle of secrets. She wants to go it alone. Or, rather, she thinks she has to.

The other characters have their secrets too. Her best friend Chelsea’s life isn’t as perfect as it seems. Her boyfriend Nate has something he’s not telling her. Even Quinn, whom some might consider something of an unlikeable character, has a story we don’t know at the start which reveals something unexpected about her character. Part of what I wanted to say with this book is that everyone’s got something they’re hiding or not fully revealing. No one’s life is really as it seems from the outside.

KS: MT’s future is shaped by federal regulations, laws, and policies that are out of her control. Did you have to do a lot of research on immigration policy to write it?

MA: As someone who has been undocumented, I knew a lot of the background. I’ve also volunteered for a non-profit that lobbies for immigration reform and awareness, so I get some of it there. But TSSoE isn’t a policy book. There’s actually not a lot of that in there. I’ve tried to let the reader into M.T.’s experience of being undocumented, complete with the confusion, fear and lack of information.

KS: As this community is fearless, we’d like to know something you’re afraid of and something you are not afraid of.

MA: I can almost always trace anything that’s making me afraid – problems with mates, kids, work – to the fear of not being heard and considered. Of not mattering. That is probably my biggest fear. Probably not surprising given my story.

As for what I’m not afraid of: I’m no longer afraid that I won’t do what I’d dreamed of with my life. I don’t know if ten people or a million people are going to read this book, but I know I’ve written it. How the world feels about it is out of my hands. But I can live the rest of my life knowing I put it out there. And that feels amazing.

Go Fearless Fifteeners! Can’t wait to read your wonderful stories!

Author Maria E. Andreu draws from her personal experience as a (formerly) undocumented immigrant to explore an issue that affects over one million children in the U.S. But while the subject matter is timely, it is M.T.’s sharp, darkly funny voice and longing for a future that makes this story universally poignant.
Kim Savage is the author of AFTER THE WOODS, a debut psychological thriller for young adults coming in 2015 with Farrar, Straus and Giroux/MacMillan. She is working on CELLOPHANE SISTERS (working title), also with FSG/MacMillan, her second thriller for young adults. Before writing fiction, she worked as business journalist, pitching stories along the lines of “Stigmatized Properties: When Murder Kills Property Values”. You get the idea.

Introducing: Kim Savage


I’ve scared away the sweet old man again.

Explaining why nice people flee me seems like a good way to introduce myself. I’m Kim Savage, and I write psychological thrillers for young adults. My novel AFTER THE WOODS will be released by Farrar, Straus & Giroux/MacMillan in 2015, and a second, stand-alone thriller, CELLOPHANE SISTERS (working title) will be released in 2016.

You see, when I write, especially first-draft stuff, I look like a keening witch doctor. I sway as I type, and whisper, looking for lyricism. Working my way into a trance, I tap with grand, oversized strokes, closing my eyes to envision scenes. I read dialogue in character, making sure it sounds authentic. Sometimes, I model my characters’ actions. What does Deborah look like when Shane shows up in Liv’s hospital room? Does she draw in her chin? If so, would her waddle flatten and spread? Wait, I can check this on my mirror app! Oh yeah: major spread. It all adds up to one freaky scene, made worse by the fact that I write in my public library. Choose another table, sweet old man who scans the Globe every morning. Vodoun priestess is in da house!

The magic started when I stalked my dream agent, Sara Crowe, at a Society of Children’s Books Writers & Illustrators retreat and signed with her a month later. She sold my book in a pre-empt to Janine O’Malley at FSG, which I’m pretty sure is entered through pearly white gates inlaid with gold. Next time I’m in NYC, I’m checking that out.

I live with my husband and youngish kids just north of Boston. I’ve spent most of my life as an introvert in disguise, because extroverts have more fun. Though I’ve had careers in journalism and development, writing fiction is the only thing I’ve truly wanted to do. So I shake my head over the fact that I get to write, tics in full force, every single day.

I’m starting to suspect all this conjuration has sparked some supernatural mischief. Because during the last few weeks, my novel has been haunting me.

By way of background: in AFTER THE WOODS, a man tries to abduct Julia and her best friend, Liv. One year later, everything is turned upside down. Liv freezes out Julia, whose terrifying flashbacks of the attack make reassimilating to high school life impossible. When Liv’s risqué new habits include Shane Cuthbert, a violent addict whose temper Liv cultivates, Julia realizes she must remember what really happened that day in the woods before she loses Liv forever.

Back to the magic. Recently, while watching the news, I saw my opportunistic reporter, Paula Papademetriou—not all of her, just her man-hands—attached to a local newscaster.

Last month, I was eased off the road by Shane Cuthbert’s matte black muscle car.

On the same road, I pulled over to send a text and saw the house my predator, Donald Jessup, lives in with his mother. The brown vinyl siding, the yellow mail exploding from the mailbox, the frayed lawn chairs were all there.


I think I know what’s up. I’ve been going hard at Novel Two, and my first baby will not be ignored. The doppelganger body parts and suspiciously similar settings are just Novel One’s way of reminding me it’s there. After all, you can’t summon magic and expect it to stay dormant (see “Frozen”).

AFTER THE WOODS began with flipping a question. Would you sacrifice yourself to save your best friend? Then: would you sacrifice your best friend to save yourself? What follows isn’t easy. Neither are my characters. I’m with Clare Messud when she asks, “The relevant question isn’t ‘is this a potential friend for me?’ but ‘is this character alive?’ ”

I want readers to care as deeply about Julia and Liv as I do. About them, if not for them. Understand their hard choices, then agree, or disagree. Ultimately, I hope my characters come alive for readers, which would, in fact, be a little bit of magic.

I’d love to hear from you, especially about your favorite “tough” YA characters. Tweet me @khsavage


Kim Savage is the author of AFTER THE WOODS, a debut psychological thriller for young adults coming in 2015 with Farrar, Straus and Giroux/MacMillan. She is working on CELLOPHANE SISTERS (working title), also with FSG/MacMillan, her second thriller for young adults. Before writing fiction, she worked as business journalist, pitching stories along the lines of “Stigmatized Properties: When Murder Kills Property Values”. You get the idea.