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: Latine Heritage Month Edition is a month-long event at The Quiet Pond between September 15 – October 15, where we invite Latine authors to celebrate being Latine and Latine books! Find the introduction post for Latine Heritage Month here.
I crave any book where characters are faced with confronting truths about themselves. So when Aaron H. Aceves announced his YA book, This is Why They Hate Us, about a Latino teen who is determined to get over his crush on his best friend, I was immediately sold. On top of that, if you know me, you will know that I love ‘messy’ characters – characters that explore vulnerability, mistakes, and the quiet yet big things we are afraid to admit to ourselves – so when Aaron said that This is Why They Hate Us was going to be a ‘messy’ story? I was sold once more.
I am incredibly excited to have Aaron himself visiting us, today as a green penguin friend wearing a Hawaiian t-shirt! I cannot wait to share with you my interview with Aaron, where we talk about his YA published debut, the story and characters within, and also about his short stories (which I recommend that you read; it’s compelling and fascinating).
In case you haven’t heard of this book yet, then I’m delighted that I can formally introduce to you This is Why They Hate Us a story that I’m really looking forward to reading next year and one that we should all keep our eyes on! And now, behold its gorgeous bisexual cover —
This is Why They Hate Us by Aaron H. Aceves
Enrique “Quique” Luna has one goal this summer—get over his crush on Saleem Kanazi by pursuing his other romantic prospects. Never mind that he’s only out to his best friend, Fabiola. Never mind that he has absolutely zero game. And definitely forget the fact that good and kind and, not to mention, beautiful Saleem is leaving L.A. for the summer to meet a girl his parents are trying to set him up with.
Luckily, Quique’s prospects are each intriguing in their own ways. There’s stoner-jock Tyler Montana, who might be just as interested in Fabiola as he is in Quique; straight-laced senior class president, Ziggy Jackson; and Manny Zuniga, who keeps looking at Quique like he’s carne asada fresh off the grill. With all these choices, Quique is sure to forget about Saleem in no time.
But as the summer heats up and his deep-seated fears and anxieties boil over, Quique soon realizes that getting over one guy by getting under a bunch of others may not have been the best laid plan and living his truth can come at a high cost.
Author Interview: Aaron H. Aceves
CW: Hi Aaron! A big welcome to The Quiet Pond; it’s awesome to have you visit us today for Latine Heritage Month! I feel like this has been quite some time in the making, so it’s great that you’re here! For our friends out there who may only be meeting you for the first time, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and a book that you will always recommend?
Aaron: Thank you so much for having me! I love your interviews, so I’m excited to be here.
I’m a 28 year old bi Chicano born and raised in East LA. I’m currently living in Austin because I’ll be teaching creative writing at UT in the spring.
I will always recommend Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin to people looking for life changing literary fiction and More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera to people looking for life changing young adult fiction.
CW: I’d love to learn more about your writing journey! How has your writing – from your completed works, style, craft, to the themes you explore – evolved over your writing career? And what is something that you are proud of?
Aaron: I wrote my first book in college (a YA contemporary rip-off of Mean Girls), and it was so bad. So straight, so bad. Since then, I’ve written three more books and a dozen or so short stories that I’m actually proud of. I’m really glad I eventually started writing about my queerness. I used to be so worried and ashamed about exploring my sexuality on the page, but now I’m the definition of shoving my “lifestyle” down people’s throats lol.
CW: I’m incredibly excited to read your upcoming YA debut, This is Why They Hate Us, which releases next year on March 29th. Can you tell us what it’s about, and what is something you are looking forward to readers discovering in your story?
Aaron: Thank you! I’m excited to finish it lol. TIWTHU is the story of Enrique “Quique” Luna’s ~summer of discovery~. He’s falling in love with his close friend, Saleem, and when Saleem leaves for a family vacation, Quique sets out to get over him by getting under some other crushes. I’m looking forward to readers realizing that the book isn’t just a raunchy teen comedy, that it has a heart, a big one.
CW: I’d love to learn more about Enrique “Quique” Luna, your main character of This is Why They Hate Us! Without giving too much away, what is Quique like and how did you approach crafting his character?
Aaron: I’m gonna be real honest and say all of my narrators are similar to me. Quique and I share our bisexuality and mental illness, which happen to make up 95% of our personalities. But really, he’s anxious and funny and really wants to be Good. He’s different in that he’s bolder. I think that results from the fact that he’s Gen Z and I’m a Millennial. Thanks to the Internet, Gen Z has access to a lot of information that I didn’t as a kid, and I feel like they find their identities a lot sooner.
CW: It sounds like relationships are going to be central to your story and I’m really excited to see how Quique will navigate the different relationships in his story. What drew you in to explore relationships in This is Why They Hate Us?
Aaron: There’s a scene in the book where Quique says, “I’m a malleable person. Who I am and how I act depends on who I’m with,” and I think that’s probably true of everyone. But Quique hides different aspects of himself from his family and friends because he’s scared they won’t love him in totality. It was interesting to see what he hides from whom, how he’s purposely chaotic around Saleem, how he kind of takes a backseat to his best friend Fabiola because she’s such a firecracker, how he acts more “macho” around his crush Manny Zuniga. All of those dynamics make for funny, sometimes heartbreaking situations.
CW: A while back, I said on Twitter that I loved messy characters, and you strongly hinted that This is Why They Hate Us is messy – which amplifies my excitement for your book tenfold. What does writing ‘messy’ characters mean to you? And do you love messy stories – if so, why?
Aaron: Quique is 17 years old, and even though he’s smart and mature for his age, he makes a lot of mistakes. He lies, he drinks, he’s prone to impulsive decisions. And I love him for that. I love messy stories in general because they’re realistic, they make us all feel better about our mistakes, and they’re just more entertaining. Who wants to read about someone who only makes responsible choices? Not me!
CW: I’d also love to talk about your queer short stories. Across your work, you explore queerness but your characters seem to occupy that fuzzy space of uncertainty, like the characters are suspended at the crossroads of their lives. In particular, I liked that Natural Affairs and The Damn Season are linked, and I like that you explore that emotional relationship between two boys who are unsure of where they fit with one another. What, where, or who do you draw from for inspiration when you write your short stories? What themes are you interested in?
Aaron: Whenever people ask me what I write, I say, “YA novels and queer, depressing short stories.” My YA can be sad, but I don’t think it’s ever depressing, the difference being that “sad” works end with hope and “depressing” ones don’t. I think teens, especially queer teens, especially queer teens of color, deserve hope. But my short stories are written for adults (with the exception of a recent story called “i”), and because of that, I feel free to end them with a feeling of unresolve or futility. It’s interesting that you mention Natural Affairs because that story encapsulates the “unresolve” I was talking about, but the thing is that story is 100% Taylor Swift’s Folklore fanfiction, and because she released Evermore, I felt I had to write a sequel. The sequel (“The Damn Season”), though, feels more like my YA. I don’t know why. I think I’m always exploring wanting in my writing because desire (yearning) makes up such a big part of my life as a queer man, and maybe I wanted to give the protagonist from those two stories a proper ending.
CW: Thanks so much for visiting, Aaron! It was awesome to have you and I can’t wait to have you back next year. My last question is one that I ask all of our friends of the Pond: What is a food that reminds you of ‘home’ – wherever or whoever that may be?
Aaron: Thanks again for having me! This was great.
My home food is anything involving chorizo. Mexican chorizo is a soft, greasy sausage that’s usually incorporated into other things. This morning I saw a tweet about chorizo con papas (potatoes), so I’ve been craving that. Growing up, though, my mom always made chorizo and eggs (which is mentioned in TIWTHU) for breakfast, and I would gladly go to town on some right now if I could.
About the Author
Aaron H. Aceves (he/him) is a bisexual, Mexican-American writer born and raised in East L.A. He graduated from Harvard College and received his MFA from Columbia University. His fiction has appeared in jmww, Epiphany, and them., among other places. He currently lives in Texas, where he serves as an Early Career Provost Fellow at UT Austin, and his debut novel, This Is Why They Hate Us, will be released March 29, 2022 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.