Our Friend is Here! is a guest feature at The Quiet Pond, where authors, creatives, and fellow readers, are invited to ‘visit’ the Pond! In Our Friend is Here! guest posts, our visitors (as their very own unique character!) have a friendly conversation about anything related to books or being a reader — and become friends with Xiaolong and friends.
Our Friend is Here: Latinx Heritage MonthEditionis a month-long event at The Quiet Pond, where between September 15th and October 15th, Latinx authors and bookish content creators are invited to celebrate being Latinx and Latinx books. Find the introduction post for Latinx Heritage Month at The Quiet Pond here.
2020 has certainly been a year. In some ways, the occurrences have been moreso a set of consequences that we are enduring for a lack of government response to requests for systemic change and response to climate change, and less happenstance. It almost feels like an alternate reality, and here is when many readers turn to fantasy novels and stories to instill and explore ideas of hope, strategy, and compassion to continue fighting and moving forward. Lobizona by Romina Garber is by far one of my favorite books of 2020 for this reason. It is a mirror to the realities of our current world in a fantasy setting.
Romina Garber is the author of the four-book Zodiac series as well as the Wolves of No World series, in which Lobizona is the first book. In her interview, she talks about how the book and publishing community has shifted since Zodiac was published in 2014, some kickass athletes that could be Septibol stars, and the importance, gravity, and deep love for her Argentine roots. Today she visits us as a she-wolf (inspired by the cover of Lobizona!) wearing pink sunglasses!
Lobizona by Romina Garber
Some people ARE illegal.
Lobizonas do NOT exist.
Both of these statements are false.
Manuela Azul has been crammed into an existence that feels too small for her. As an undocumented immigrant who’s on the run from her father’s Argentine crime-family, Manu is confined to a small apartment and a small life in Miami, Florida.
Until Manu’s protective bubble is shattered.
Her surrogate grandmother is attacked, lifelong lies are exposed, and her mother is arrested by ICE. Without a home, without answers, and finally without shackles, Manu investigates the only clue she has about her past–a mysterious “Z” emblem—which leads her to a secret world buried within our own. A world connected to her dead father and his criminal past. A world straight out of Argentine folklore, where the seventh consecutive daughter is born a bruja and the seventh consecutive son is a lobizón, a werewolf. A world where her unusual eyes allow her to belong.
As Manu uncovers her own story and traces her real heritage all the way back to a cursed city in Argentina, she learns it’s not just her U.S. residency that’s illegal. . . .it’s her entire existence.
In Lobizona, Romina Garber tackles issues such as being oppressed for being othered by individuals and larger systems, detention of undocumented immigrants by ICE, and various relationships and identities discriminated against by policies, which bleeds into individual ideologies. She blends Argentine folklore with classic fantasy elements, such as a magical school (with sports! My favorite!) and complex relationship dynamics.
Author Interview: Romina Garber
Joce: Hi Romina! Thank you for joining us at the Pond, and welcome! We are so excited to have you here to celebrate Latinx Heritage Month. Can you please tell us about yourself?
Romina: Hi Joce! Thank you so much for having me and for celebrating Latinx voices! I was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and I immigrated to the US with my family when I was five years old. I grew up in Miami, Florida, and as a teen I wrote a nationally-syndicated Sunday column for the Miami Herald called “College She Wrote.” I’m a Virgo to the core, and my first published series is ZODIAC—a YA SFF quartet set in a galaxy of planetary systems (or Houses) inspired by the Zodiac signs.
Joce: Let’s talk about your recent release, Lobizona. First of all, I ADORE it and it is absolutely one of my favorite books of the year, and also, congratulations! Apart from what readers can find on the dust jacket, please tell us something special about the book or your characters.
Romina: Thank you! I have to confess, your Lobizona review is one of my favorites.
The best part of writing, for me, is worldbuilding. I had so much fun designing El Laberinto, which looks like an ancient city that got swallowed up by the Everglades. Giant stone structures rise from the soil, as deeply rooted to the land as the foliage ensnaring them. Brujas have classes in the massive trunk of a teaching tree named Flora that grows right through the ceiling of a crumbling manor. What I love most about Flora is her living library that births books before one’s very eyes and shuffles shelves to recommend titles.
I also have to mention Lunaris, the supernatural realm the brujas and lobizones return to every full moon. It’s a land of magic and mist and monsters. There’s the golden grass that ticks off time by turning silver as the day ages; the black-leaved trees that can cry up storms, their dewdrop tears rolling down their barks to form rivers; the colorful waterfalls that warn onlookers of oncoming danger; the hope-sucking Sombras that dwell in darkness and attach like parasitic shadows—and maybe I’ll stop there to let readers discover the rest!
Joce: As readers, we sometimes turn to fantasy when our actual lives become so distressing or outside of what we expected that it almost feels like another world. What was your process like, mapping out the world (including, ahem, the best magical school!), and blending the fantastic with the realistic?
Romina: Haha, thank you! As I said, I love worldbuilding. It’s probably my controlling Virgo nature, but I take great joy in designing new universes and determining every detail about them. The first thing I did for Lobizona was figure out the history of the Septimus—how did the species originate, what is its history, how has it evolved—then I built the physical spaces, like Lunaris and El Laberinto.
I based the fantasy elements on a superstition that claims the seventh consecutive son will be a lobizón, or a werewolf, and the seventh daughter a bruja. Since I wanted to write about how it feels to come from two worlds but belong to neither, I knew my main character had to be ostracized in her supernatural heritage too. So I made Manu the first ever lobizona.
I decided that rather than stick with the traditional transformation lore, I wanted to explore this species’ unique sense of identity, given their dual supernatural and human heritage. So I created Lunaris, a physical representation of their power source, where they return once a month to connect with their roots.
I also wanted to emphasize the characters’ connection to Nature. The werewolf myth already fit in so organically with the lunar cycle and the menstrual cycle, and I wanted the brujas’ magic to sprout from the soil and grow like the trees. I hoped to remind the reader that the lines we draw on this Earth are invisible to the universe, because we are all children of this entire planet.
Joce: In Lobizona, Manu’s experience as a Septibol player is layered with challenges like gender discrimination and misogyny from some school staff and teammates. Who are some current athletes you see being a star on the Septibol field and why?
Romina: Of course I have to say Lionel Messi, who is my inspiration for Tiago, and in my humble opinion the best fútbol player in the world! I also think Megan Rapinoe would be incredible on the team, and she would tear up the field. Plus, I’ll add Simone Biles, simply because to me she’s a real life superhero who can do anything!
Joce: You explored a lot of different types of relationships in Lobizona, including friendship, found family, family of origin, and romance, among many others. Whose relationship was your favorite to explore thematically and why?
Romina: I think what I enjoyed exploring most was the Manu-Saysa-Cata dynamic, as it pertains to feminism and how the word’s meaning is different for each of us. I think for a long time, women had to almost morph into a monolith just to make our voices loud enough to be heard. Now we’re in the messy process of detangling our individual ideas. I love the conversation they have in the locker room before the Septibol championship because each of these characters has a unique notion of what their personal liberation looks like, and I think that’s something worth celebrating. The freedom of choice.
Joce: Switching gears a little, what are some similarities and differences in your experience as a Latinx author in the publishing/writing/book community in 2014 when the first book in your Zodiac series was published as versus now in 2020?
Romina: I believe the conversations we’re having now are everything. From the covers to the characters, there is so much more nuance in #ownvoices stories.
I remember when Zodiac came out, I fought to be included in talks about diversity and inclusivity in publishing, yet I wasn’t on those panels. Even though when I’d speak at schools, teens would come up to me to ask about my experiences learning English and tips for handling the anxiety that comes with writing in one’s second language. It’s disappointing to me that I had to write a book about being Latinx for my personal journey and immigrant identity to become relevant—and thankfully, I do think we’re moving away from that sort of narrow thinking. I hope we’ll reach a point where marginalized authors can write about subjects other than their own marginalization and still be able to contribute to the conversation about being marginalized.
Joce: Inquiring minds want to know… is there anything you can tell us about the sequel? Not to sound desperate or anything, but I am absolutely parched and waiting on the edge of my seat for it!
Romina: AHHH! I am so excited for Cazadora. My favorite thing is that it takes place in a supernatural Argentina, and I had so much fun basing each manada we visit on a different geographical region of my homeland. Most powerful of all was living through Manu’s experience of setting foot on her native soil and coming to terms with her supernatural Argentine immigrant lobizona heritage!
Joce: Let’s do a couple book recs!
What is your favorite recent release you’d like to bring attention to by a Latinx author?
FURIA by Yamile Saied Méndez! The book is about a rising soccer star who must put everything on the line—including parental approval and societal expectations and first love—to pursue her dreams. It’s amazing to read a story set in Argentina, bursting with my foods and expressions and traditions, and I will be shouting about it forever! I didn’t have books like these when I was a teen, but I am so thrilled for future generations who will get to read Camila Hassan’s story.
What is your favorite book you’d like to bring attention to that discusses immigration by a Latinx author?
WE ARE NOT FROM HERE by Jenny Torres Sanchez is a gut-wrenching novel about three unforgettable teens crossing the border from Guatemala through Mexico, following the route of La Bestia. The research that went into this book comes across in the vivid storytelling of the journey and the poignant portraits of the main characters. The beauty of the writing combines with the grittiness of the experience to juxtapose an immigration system that’s broken against a survival spirit that’s unbreakable.
What is your favorite fantasy or SF book you’d like to bring attention to with a Latinx author?
DEALING IN DREAMS by Lilliam Rivera! I am obsessed with this revolutionary tale. I read it in a day because I could not pull away from the legendary luchadoras Latinas, Las Mal Criadas, and their apocalyptic world ruled by fierce all-girl crews who party at boydega clubs and pop pills called sueños. Chief Rocka is a powerhouse, the worldbuilding is sensational, and the themes are as relevant as ever.
Joce: Lastly, as this is a celebration of Latinx Heritage Month and we really want to bring the celebration, could you please tell us about an Argentinian creator (artist, musician, author, really anyone!) whose work you enjoy? What is your favorite work of theirs?
Romina: My favorite writer and thinker of all time is Jorge Luis Borges. He was a fellow Argentine and Virgo who wrote short stories, all of which challenged the notion of immortality and originality and the nature and nuance of existence. I love all his stories, but I recommend beginning with the collection called Ficciones.
Joce: Thank you so much Romina for visiting the Pond, and also for creating the magical world that Manu lives in. I cannot wait (truly… literally on the edge of my seat!) for Cazadora!
About the Author
Romina Garber is a New York Times and international bestselling author whose books include Lobizona & the ZODIAC series. Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and raised in Miami, Florida, Romina landed her first writing gig as a teen—College She Wrote, a weekly Sunday column for the Miami Herald that was later picked up for national syndication—and she hasn’t stopped writing since. She is a graduate of Harvard College and a Virgo to the core.