This post is sponsored by Harper360.
Everything Within and In Between is a new deeply honest story about the bonds between families and defining who you are for yourself from acclaimed author Nikki Barthelmess. We managed to catch up with Nikki to talk about her writing process and get to know more about her latest YA offering.
Hey Nikki, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us! For those who haven’t yet picked up a copy of Everything Within and In Between, can you tell us a bit about it?
My quickest way to describe Everything Within and In Between is that it’s about Ri Fernandez, who is bicultural but has light skin and is perceived as white to the outside world. The story follows Ri as she tries to connect with her Latinx heritage by reconnecting with her absent mom and learning Spanish while keeping it secret from her strict Mexican grandma—who has kept her away from both.
If you could describe Everything Within and In Between using only emojis, what would they be?
🇲🇽 🇺🇸 🤔 🏃♀️ 🌊 🌴 👵 ❤️🩹
The book begins with a letter. If you could write a letter now to your younger self, what would it say?
When I was Ri’s age, I was in foster care and preparing to “age out” of the system and be on my own after turning eighteen. Although I am closer with a few relatives now, I didn’t have a lot of support back then. Also, I had some very unhealthy relationships inside and outside of my family dragging me down. I felt I had to prove to the world and to myself that I was worthy of being loved. And I was convinced the only way I could do that was to show everyone that I wasn’t the person they thought I was—some troubled foster kid who wouldn’t amount to much—but someone who was special and would do important, noteworthy things. It was a lonely and scary time, but I was excited and hopeful to leave my small town and make my mark on the world.
So, in a letter to 17-year-old Nikki, I would say: Don’t worry so much about what other people think! (Full disclosure: I’m still working on this.) Instead of trying to impress others, spend time figuring out who you want to become and make decisions you can be proud of. Focus on what you’re good at and find a way to help others while you do it. You’ll see that doing this will both build self-esteem and, crucially, give you purpose. But most importantly, take care of yourself, love yourself, and surround yourself with people who treat you well.
What advice would you give to someone struggling with their identity?
You’re not alone! Figuring out who you are can be a challenge, and that’s okay. It might even be a good thing because, after some deep self-examination, you might have a much more solid understanding of yourself than you would otherwise. Try to remember that no one can decide or tell you who you are. That’s for you to define for yourself. When someone tells somebody else who they are or who they should be, it usually has more to do with the person doing the judging. So, try not to listen! Or set some healthy boundaries, if you can. Who or what you are doesn’t have to make sense to anyone other than you—although it is healthy to surround yourself with those who can love and respect you for who you are.
For the most part, people are multi-faceted and complicated. That’s part of what makes someone interesting. Life would be boring if we were all carbon copies of each other. You don’t have to be just one thing. Have fun figuring out the pieces of yourself that make you who you are—your roots, family, traditions, who and what you love, what matters to you, and so much more.
Did you have to do much research for the book (e.g. Día de Los Muertos) or was this something you grew up celebrating?
I did research some cultural traditions such as Día de Los Muertos. I didn’t grow up celebrating Day of the Dead, so I looked it up and asked some relatives and friends how they celebrate—not only for Everything Within and In Between but also for myself! Writing about the holiday inspired me to create my own ofrenda earlier this year to honor some of my departed loved ones such as my mom and little brother. Also, my abuela told me all about how she celebrated Mexican Independence Day growing up in Mexico and how she continues to honor the occasion with the big Latinx community at her senior center. That’s where I got the idea to have Ri’s friend Edgar and his family celebrate Mexican Independence Day by volunteering at a senior center!
What’s one character you wish you created?
My characters are so personal to me and my experiences. Though they aren’t based directly on me or people I know, my books and the characters who inhabit them are made up of many important pieces of my history and what matters to me. If I don’t create a character for one story, it means they didn’t fit in that book but maybe they will appear in a future novel. So, although there are a bunch of characters who I adore in the books I read, none are ones I wish I created because they aren’t coming from an important piece of me, but rather another author’s wonderful imagination!
You recently admitted on your Twitter to eating too much Nutella! What’s your go-to snack when you’re writing?
Awkward. I’m eating Nutella with little breadsticks in this very moment! I tend to not snack while I work on my books too much, though, because I get hyper focused. And I’m a messy eater and don’t want to get food all over my laptop. I caved again today, but I’ll blame that on my toddler, who started bugging me for a snack. I gave her one of these Nutella snack packs from Costco in hopes that it would distract her enough to let me finish answering these interview questions! And then once I gave her one, I had to take one for myself because, apparently, I can’t say no to Nutella.
What’s one book you could read over and over again and not get bored?
I’ve got to go with The Hunger Games. It’s been a long time since my last reread, but I’ve read the trilogy several times and watched the movies a ton, too. I really love the tension between Katniss and Peeta, the slow burn, and pretty much everything about Peeta. He’s so good and pure but still believable, and I can’t help but rooting for him!
Nikki Barthelmess’s Everything Within and In Between is available to buy now here.