Author Interviews

Interview with Nikki Barthelmess

After finishing Everything Within and In Between I knew I had to see if Nikki Barthlemess would let me interview her. And Barthelmess said yes! I am so excited because Ri’s journey navigating her own privilege and identity was amazing. You all need to go read it today!

Everything Within and In Between

For Ri Fernández’s entire life, she’s been told, “We live in America and we speak English.” Raised by her strict Mexican grandma, Ri has never been allowed to learn Spanish. What’s more, her grandma has always pushed Ri away from the neighborhood they call home and toward her best friend’s world of mansions and country clubs in the hopes that it’ll bring Ri closer to achieving the “American Dream.”

In her most private thoughts, Ri has always believed that her mother, who disappeared when she was young, would accept her exactly how she is. So when Ri finds a secret unanswered letter from her mom begging for a visit, Ri decides to reclaim what her grandma kept from her: a language and a mother. But nothing goes as planned. Her mom isn’t who Ri imagined she would be. And Ri’s struggling to navigate the different interweaving threads of her mixed heritage that make her who she is. Nobody has any idea of who Ri really is—not even Ri, herself.

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Find Everything Within and In Between on Goodreads, Amazon, Indiebound, & The Book Depository.

Author Interview

I love that EVERYTHING WITHIN AND IN BETWEEN examines the privilege of passing for white. Can you talk about what it was like to explore that in this book? 

When I first started thinking about Ri and the story I wanted to tell, I knew I wanted to explore some of the ways I struggled coming to terms with my identity as a mixed heritage Latina who has light skin. Initially, I considered how I had a hard time growing up around Mexican family members who I felt wanted to assimilate and force me to identify as white or Caucasian only. While thinking about that and how it affected me, I explored where some of my family members and others who may feel the same way were coming from. I thought a lot about colorism and how that way of thinking touches many people in different ways. There is an extreme privilege that comes with passing for white, regardless of if someone wants to or not. Even though I’d thought about the hardships my own family members had faced before this, diving deeper helped me to learn more about assumptions people have about Latinx people, both outside and inside of the Latinx community. And I’m still listening and learning! As I think we all should be.

How was writing EVERYTHING WITHIN AND IN BETWEEN different/similar than your other previous books? 

Like my other books, EVERYTHING WITHIN AND IN BETWEEN was inspired by my life. I don’t mean that the book is autobiographical, a memoir, or that the plot was based off events that happened to me. I often say that the plots of my books aren’t taken from my past, but the emotions the protagonists feel are feelings I’ve had. Writing this way allows me to create realistic stories and characters while exploring concepts I have struggled to understand. I would also say that EWIB is similar to my previous books, THE QUIET YOU CARRY and its sequel QUIET NO MORE, because although it focuses on what some would consider serious issues, there’s always hope. It’s important to me to leave that with readers because that’s how I live, how I see the world. Always have hope!

What are some of your other favorite mixed heritage main characters? 

One of the first mixed heritage characters I found myself relating to was Danny in MEXICAN WHITEBOY by Matt de la Peña. Danny was the first character I can remember reading about who was half Mexican and half white and so him living in that in-between really resonated with me. More recently, I enjoyed reading about Nevaeh in COLOR ME IN by Natasha Díaz. Nevaeh is half black and half Jewish, and since I’m half Jewish but didn’t grow up knowing much about the Jewish culture and wasn’t in touch with that side of my family until I was an adult, I really enjoyed learning through Nevaeh’s story!

How has releasing EVERYTHING WITHIN AND IN BETWEEN been different than the publication of your previous two books? 

EWIB is my third published book, which feels strange and incredible to say! The release of my debut novel, THE QUIET YOU CARRY, was such a different experience than my next two books, because it was the only book that came out prior to the pandemic. And it was my first book, so the celebration aspect was heightened. It was a decade long dream finally coming to fruition. I had several book signings and parties, I traveled to give speeches and present at conferences, and I got to do a lot of promotional stuff, including a couple TV interviews in the area I grew up in. When QUIET NO MORE came out, the pandemic was in its first year, but I still found ways to celebrate. I had a virtual launch, ate a special cake that was decorated to look like my book cover, and I continued to do promotional things such as be interviewed for podcasts and blogs.

This time, with EVERYTHING WITHIN AND IN BETWEEN, it’s a little bit of a combination of each experience I had before. I’m still not traveling for events and I had a virtual launch, but I’m also going to have one outdoor reading and book signing locally, which I’m really excited about. It’s great that we’re able to do that now that we have vaccines and that it’s possible to keep everyone safe as can be with adequate social distancing and other measures like being outside. In addition to doing Q and As with wonderful sites such as Utopia State of Mind, I’m doing interviews with a couple newspapers and podcasts, but I’ve also been writing essays for publications such as Newsweek, Writer’s Digest, and Female First. It’s been really great to take advantage of all the different formats to get the word out about EVERYTHING WITHIN AND IN BETWEEN, and I hope doing so will help get the book into the hands of more readers!

Do you have a favorite line from the book? 

I don’t have one that comes to mind immediately. But I’m curious if any readers do, and I hope some reach out to tell me!

Complex family dynamics is one of my favorite themes and certainly something that EVERYTHING WITHIN AND IN BETWEEN explores. Can you talk about how it was to write this family and what were the challenges? 

I tend to write complex family dynamics into all my books. It’s probably because I come from a very complicated family! Ri’s grandma and mom were tricky to write because I wanted to show these imperfect people who have hurt or are hurting Ri but who still love her, and who she still loves. At times, Ri doesn’t know when her mom or grandma are telling the truth or if they are keeping important information from her. They do things that hurt her. Yet Ri tends to want to see the best in her mom and the worst in her grandma.

Ri’s abuela is very strict and doesn’t always make good decisions when it comes to how she treats Ri, but Ri learns more about her reasoning as the story progresses. Ri’s mom also makes many mistakes. Even when they aren’t doing the right thing, they think they are. Although readers might be judging Ri’s grandma or mom at times, I wanted them to be rooting for these women or at least curious about them to some extent. So, I tried to show where they were coming from and their deep love for Ri to balance everything else out.

Do you have other favorite Latinx book recommendations? 

I, like so many others, highly recommend I AM NOT YOUR PERFECT MEXICAN DAUGHTER by Erika L. Sánchez. More recently, I read BLAZEWRATH GAMES by Amparo Ortiz, which has magic in it and a sport that is played on the backs of dragons. I think that’s so cool! The sequel, DRAGONBLOOD RING, just came out in October and I’m looking forward to reading it!

Find Everything Within and In Between on Goodreads, Amazon, Indiebound, & The Book Depository.

About the Author

Nikki Barthelmess is an author of young adult books, including The Quiet You Carry , Quiet No More , and Everything Within and in Between . While growing up in foster care, Nikki found solace in books and writing. A former journalist, Nikki lives in sunny Santa Barbara with her husband, daughter, and diva of a corgi. When not reading or working on her books, Nikki loves advocating for the rights of current and former foster youth, jogging near the beach, and trying to convince her abuelita that feminism means it’s okay that her husband does all the cooking.
TWITTER: @nikkigrey_


Do you have other favorite Latinx books?

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