Having loved This is Not a Personal Statement, I knew I had to interview Tracy Badua! This was such a fabulous book, so definitely check out my review if you haven’t read it! Keep reading this interview for all my burning questions.
Summary of This is Not a Personal Statement
An incisive, relatable tale of acceptance, self-discovery, and the infinite possibilities that await when we embrace our imperfections.
As the youngest graduating senior at her hypercompetitive high school, Perla Perez is certain all the late nights, social isolation, and crushing stress will be worth it when she gets into the college of her (and her parents’) dreams: Delmont University.
Then Perla doesn’t get in, and her meticulously planned future shatters. In a panic, she forges her own acceptance letter, and next thing she knows, she’s heading to Delmont for real, acceptance or not. Perla’s plan? Gather on-the-ground intel to beef up her application and reapply spring semester before she’s caught.
But as her guilty conscience grows and campus security looms large, Perla starts to wonder if her plan will really succeed, and if this dream she’s worked for her entire life is something she even wants.
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Interview with Tracy Badua
Your book examines the toxic pressure of college admissions, but also the intersection of generational struggles and also family expectations. Can you talk to me about the inspiration for your book and specifically also the intersection for Perla between her actions and her family?
Years ago, I saw on the news that someone had been caught on the campus of an elite university, pretending to be a student. That person had gone to an academically competitive school like I did, and that story stuck with me because, deep down, I understood why someone could feel compelled to go to such lengths. On the road to elite universities like that, we put so much pressure on young people to do everything and be everything: if they don’t get in despite it all, how does that make them feel?
This is what I brought in This is Not a Personal Statement. We see Perla striving to get into her dream school. She and her parents have had Delmont University in their sights for ages: to her family, her attendance at this top university would be the culmination of all their work and hardship stemming back from her grandparents’ struggles to succeed in American society. In Perla’s case, not only does her family impress on her the need to portray a certain brand of success, but so does everyone at her school and in her appearance-focused world. For her, it’s Delmont University then medical school, or nothing.
Too bad she doesn’t actually get into Delmont after all.
As an Asian-American, I deeply felt Perla’s feelings that as a person of color she has to be the perfect example. That anything less is not only a bad image of herself, but also of her entire culture. Would you like to discuss how it felt for you to write Perla’s story? And maybe a bit more – for readers who haven’t read your book yet – about Perla’s feelings of pressure specifically as a POC at the beginning of the book?
Early in the book, I delve into the idea that Perla and her family’s drive to appear successful is in part because they felt pressure as brown Asian immigrants to not only fit in but to excel. It was a bit gut-wrenching to write that part because I was born and raised in the US like my main character, but I and others like me know all too well how quickly we can become the other when convenient for someone else’s narrative. It was important for me then to write Perla and her family as complex and multi-dimensional, to portray their lives beyond the stereotypes that are often pinned on Asians as model minorities and explore the damage such ideas can do. I wanted to emphasize that we are not the other – we are you in so many ways.
Another theme I loved in your book was this idea of being so focused on a goal, we don’t even think about what we truly want. What drew you to this theme specifically? I think it’s such an important one for teens and readers of all ages.
I feel like it’s a running joke among certain immigrant groups that we all have to be doctors, lawyers, engineers, or some other high-paying, white-collared job that our parents can proudly insert into every conversation. Granted, some of those nudges to pursue specific professions come from the desire to see younger generations more financially and socially secure—something that seemed elusive for so long to those who came here decades ago. But even this well-meaning wish can warp into trap, like it does for Perla. Through her, I explore the impacts of the pressure to do and be everything her family wants, even when it means suppressing the parts of herself that don’t neatly fit within that image. I feel like everyone can relate to this somewhat, whether it’s telling a white lie to get out of a gathering you’re too tired for or pretending to love a band the rest of your friends like, and I wanted to take this a few steps too far in This is Not a Personal Statement.
Now that your book has released, what’s a piece of advice you’d want to give to yourself before release?
This is the silliest piece of advice, but I would’ve told myself to order a cake with my book cover on it. I see plenty of other authors do this and it always looks so fun!
Do you have a favorite writing routine or inspiration?
This may not be a surprise to those who have read This is Not a Personal Statement and have seen Perla plot out her fake first year in college, but I love spreadsheets. One of my favorite things to do when starting a new project is to map out the whole thing – chapters, characters, and even fake academic year timelines in Perla’s case—before I start writing.
What are some other recommendations you have for readers after they’ve finished your book?
For those who love the college scene that Perla explores, I’d recommend Gloria Chao’s American Panda. And if you just want to see more messy Asian girls who couldn’t care less of your idea of perfect, Boys I Know by Anna Gracia hits all the right notes.
About Tracy Badua
Tracy Badua is an award-winning Filipino American author of books about young people with sunny hearts in a sometimes stormy world. By day, she is an attorney who works in national housing policy and programs, and by night, she squeezes in writing, family time, and bites of her secret candy
stash. She lives in San Diego, California, with her family.