Female friendship literature, at this point, is a genre in itself: from classics like Mary McCarthy the group To more recent books such as Rovi Thorpe Girls from Corona del MarWe have a long tradition of novels that focus on platonic love just as important, exciting, and sometimes overwhelming as the romantic genre. Kristen Kandyk Torres describes her first novel, Girls in Queens“Nuorikan my brilliant friend(Which, in case you haven’t read it yet, is a reference to the first book in the Neapolitan series of novels by Italian author Elena Ferrante), and he offers that comparison.
Like Ferrante, Kandic Torres has been interested not only in the intimate interior of friendship but also how it is shaped by outside forces—in this case, the currents and pressures of working-class Queens in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Girls in QueensReleased on June 14, it follows best friends Brisma and Kelly through childhood and into their late adolescence as their loyalty to one another is solidified and then tested over and over again. When Prisma’s ex-boyfriend, a talented baseball player named Brian, is accused of sexual assault, they must confront a number of tough questions — including how to name the traumas their lives have experienced and how to deal with them, and whether it was worth it that would potentially ruin a boy’s life. They loved to tell the truth about the violence he committed.
Shondaland spoke to Kandyk Torres about her love for Queens, how baseball creates a strong sense of community, the joy of time travel in the writing process, and more.
ZAN ROMANOFF: How did this book start for you?
Kristen Kandyk Torres: I wasn’t necessarily a baseball fan, but because I grew up in Queens, I’ve always supported the Mets. The 2006 team was called the Los Mets because it was a heavy Latino team – or it was marketed as such by the new general manager at the time, Omar Minaya – and I was very fascinated by them. The idea for the book first came to me during the 2015 Mets World Championship Series. I won tickets to a game, and I thought the last time the Mets bid for the world championship was 2006. It was a heartbreaking loss.
Then around the same time, in late 2015, early 2016, Brock Turner’s horrific case got even more attention. This helped me focus my interest in women who protect men accused of violent acts. I [then] I realized I had a novel-length story. Until then, I was writing short stories.
ZR: 2006 Mets and their season form the backbone of this book as the girls follow their matches on the court and play their playoffs in several bars. People often think of baseball as a very white sport, but it’s actually a popular passion in a lot of communities of color, including Latino communities. Can you talk about the diverse cultural heritage of sport?
CKT: Baseball is very popular in Latin America and the Caribbean. But in this country, it is very white bread, very American. For me, as someone who grew up in Queens as a Puerto Rican in the shadow of a 7 train, which is the train you take to go to the stadium where the Mets play, it was a new thing that your hometown team messages are all about. I think this was very intentional. It has succeeded! It was amazing for me and my friends to feel represented, and I wanted to write about it. Fans can feel overwhelmingly white and excluded; For the first time I felt like the team was welcoming us.
ZR: I’ve only started playing sports recently, and it’s amazing to me how much I’ve missed before, when I was just dismissing them as a gym ball. There is a lot that sport can teach you about culture and society if you pay attention to it.
CKT: I think baseball is very exciting! There is drama and history that you can read about in any game – the rivalry between players and between clubs. I find this fixation even though I know baseball’s reputation is that it’s boring as hell.
ZR: The book falls into two timelines — did you always know this was going to be the Hulk? How did you know how to write it?
CKT: I hadn’t necessarily discovered the Hulk, but I knew there would be different time periods. I knew I needed the ’90s, and I knew I needed 2006 to talk about the Mets. I let myself continue writing those chapters, and at one point I created an outline with index cards and everything. It really helped me visualize how the timelines are grouped and how they are related.
I realized that I could switch between timelines to fill in what is happening in the present, and that it would reflect, roughly, the memory of the trauma victim. The first half of the book is the novel Prisma told herself, and then the second half, after you’ve learned something, tells us about the liberated seed aspects.
ZR: There are many cases and aspects of trauma covered in the book — how did you approach complex, multi-layered trauma writing as something that happens in networks and communities, not just individuals in a vacuum?
CKT: I wanted to question how we got to the point where we protect abusers, including women who have survived sexual assault; I wanted to make this world to give us a mirror to question that. What has happened in our lives and created this anger that we carry? How do we treat it? How do we treat it so we don’t continue the course? This is the story I wanted to tell. The story is not really about sexual assault. It’s about how we treat each other better.
ZR: One of the people who commits assault is a brown boy, and he studies the book and talks a lot about the intricacies of accusing someone from your community, who is already marginalized, of committing a crime. How did you handle that conversation? Why did you feel it was important to have?
CKT: We cannot ignore that sexual assault occurs in all population groups, and it is important to discuss that there is an additional nuance in the situations in which a brown boy is accused of sexual assault. There is an extra nuance when you are part of a community of color, something happened to you, and you dare to step up. You are adding to the already strong hand that this person has been dealt with in life. You add to what is stacked against them. Do you really want to do that?
It’s a tough position to be in. But we cannot ignore that all kinds of people from all walks of life perpetrate violence.
ZR: What is your relationship with Queens?
CKT: I think it’s clear in the book that I love Queens. It is the most diverse county in all of the United States; There are 170 or more languages spoken. I love that for first- and second-generation immigrant children who may feel crammed between the cultures of their families of origin and that of Americana, Queens has become our true home. I don’t live there anymore, unfortunately, and many of my friends are gone too, but we all look fondly at Queens as our true home. This is what we are most proud of. Queens is the community that we hold.
ZR: Are there other books about the town that you’d recommend? I’ve read a lot about Manhattan and Brooklyn but little about Queens.
CKT: Matt Thomas wrote a book called We are not ourselves, and it concerns a few generations in an Irish American family. Books by Daphne Palassi Andreas brown girls earlier this year, and it’s also a beautiful novel that I highly recommend. I’m so happy to see more and more books about Queens or set in Queens or for Queens writers – not just writers who have moved to Queens, but people who are from Queens. I think this is an important distinction. Oh, also Stephanie Jimenez They can call it anything He does an excellent job of comparing working-class Queens to Manhattan’s elite.
ZR: 2006 Both were not long ago. How do you feel when you write about a place that still exists – okay queens; It didn’t go anywhere – and it didn’t go either, because so much has changed during that time?
CKT: It was awesome! It was like traveling through time, almost, trying to imagine what it would feel like to be in Shea’s court and where things were at the time. 2006 isn’t that long ago, but it was before everyone was on Facebook, before the social media giant rained down on us. So, it feels like a completely different time. I had so much fun looking at the city as it was, and it helped me feel closer to it when I walked away.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Zhan Romanov writes essays, journalism and fiction, and is the author of three YA novels. She lives and works in Los Angeles. Follow her on Twitter at Tweet embed.
Get Shondaland directly in your inbox: Subscribe today
This content is created and maintained by a third party, and is imported into this page to help users provide their email address. You may be able to find more information about this and similar content at piano.io