Friday, March 14, 2014

Hello everyone,
I am so excited to share with you Maria E. Andreu's amazing debut novel, The Secret Side of Empty. This post will include my review as well as our interview with the main character, M.T.

Seriously, you guys, I haven't been this into a book in a very long time. I started reading The Secret Side of Empty late Saturday night and at 11 o'clock Sunday night I was done. I finished it in about 24 hours because once I started reading it was hard to stop.

It is such a timely novel, with main character dealing with being an undocumented immigrant living in suburban New Jersey but I think everyone will find something in M.T. that they can relate to as well. Anyway, more about all that in my review below.

Here's some book details just in case you haven't come across this novel before.

Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Running Press Kids
Pages: 336 pages
Source of my copy: publisher
Synopsis (from Goodreads)
As a straight-A student with a budding romance and loyal best friend, M.T.’s life seems as apple-pie American as her blondish hair and pale skin. But M.T. hides two facts to the contrary: her full name of Monserrat Thalia and her status as an undocumented immigrant.

But it’s harder to hide now that M.T.’s a senior. Her school’s National Honor Society wants her to plan their trip abroad, her best friend won’t stop bugging her to get her driver’s license, and all everyone talks about is where they want to go to college. M.T. is pretty sure she can’t go to college, and with high school ending and her family life unraveling, she’s staring down a future that just seems empty. In the end, M.T. will need to trust herself and others to stake a claim in the life that she wants.

Author Maria E. Andreu draws from her personal experience as a (formerly) undocumented immigrant to explore an issue that affects over one million children in the U.S. But while the subject matter is timely, it is M.T.’s sharp, darkly funny voice and longing for a future that makes this story universally poignant.




I won't be surprised if The Secret Side of Empty wins a bunch of awards. Because, yep, it's that good. The novel is a little over 300 pages and I read it within 24 hours. I haven't read a 300+ book that fast in... well, forever. Right from the get go M.T.'s (her full name was Monserrat Thalia) voice and situation sucks you in and you pretty much have to keep reading until you're done.

The main theme of The Secret Side of Empty was being an undocumented immigrant or, as M.T. calls it, an "illegal." Her parents illegally came to the United States from Argentina when she was a baby. Her dad had big dreams of starting his own business and making it big in the U.S. and they will all eventually go back to Argentina. But over the years, it never happened and it left M.T.'s dad very bitter and abusive. So, M.T.'s home life wasn't a happy place. 

School was her happy place--she's a straight-A student, the vice-president of the National Honor Society, she has a great best friend in Chelsea and was falling in love with her first boyfriend. But they were in their senior year and everyone was talking about college. Being an undocumented immigrant and her family poor, college wasn't an option for M.T. Seeing her friends' lives moving on to greater and grander things while she's stuck with no true options, she felt empty.

M.T. was an intriguing character. I felt for her and her situation but she wasn't entirely a sympathetic character either. She made some bad decisions. She's book smart but she also drinks at parties. She's outspoken but she's keeping a huge secret about her and her family. She sees her mother as a doormat and doesn't always appreciate all the things she did for M.T. or see her mom's inner strength. In her most darkest moment she contemplated suicide. She's imperfect and very human. There were times I didn't like her and there were times I wanted to give her a hug and I really liked that. I think all readers will see a bit of themselves in M.T.

The secondary characters were fleshed out as well. I love M.T.'s best friend Chelsea--she's the kind of friend you want in your corner. And M.T.'s love interest, Nate, was lovely. Everyone's first boyfriend should be like Nate. M.T. and Nate's relationship was bittersweet in the sweetest possible way. 

After I finished reading The Secret Side of Empty it stayed with me for days. Such as fantastic debut novel by Maria Andreu! I cannot wait to read more by her. The entire story just felt so real and written so well that it sucks you in. The characters were imperfectly perfect and M.T.'s situation is real because there are millions of undocumented immigrants in the United States going through what she went through. But even if you're not an "illegal," you can still relate to the story because it is more than about being undocumented. The novel also touched on issues of physical abuse and suicide but, really it's more than about all the issues. The Secret Side of Empty is about growing up, making decisions, finding inner strength and finding yourself. You need this book in your life. Read it.

Read more about The Secret Side of Empty on Goodreads 
Buy the book from Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Powell's or borrow/request it from your local library.

 *****


What's your favorite song and movie? What titles can we find on your bookshelf?
I am just crazy looking forward to the movie Maleficent with Angelina Jolie. I know everyone liked Aurora in Sleeping Beauty, but I was always intrigued by Maleficent. What had happened to her to make her the way she is? When I heard they were making that movie I started counting the days. To stay on that theme, when I heard Lana Del Rey was singing the song for Maleficent, "Once Upon a Dream," I totally fan-girled. I love Lana Del Rey!!! "Once Upon a Dream" by her is kind of creepy and dark and awesome. My other favorite song from Lana Del Rey is "Ride."  I really relate to that song.

As for books, there is this book called Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson that I read for English class junior year that totally blew my mind. It's one of those books I think I'll re-read over and over again.

If you can live off of 3 foods alone, what would those three foods be?
My mom makes these things called empanadas. They're like these little meat pies with hamburger meat inside, wrapped up in this awesome flaky crust. When I was little it was my job to put in one olive and one piece of hard-boiled egg inside each of them. She only makes them on holidays but I could eat them for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day.

Besides that, I'm a fan of Cheetos and pizza. I know I'm supposed to like vegetables, but blech.

What is the most romantic thing a guy can do for you on a date?
I think it's romantic to have a really real conversation, which probably makes me a total dork. My boyfriend, Nate, and I can talk about, like, the third grade or the subplots of movies or whatever for hours. I think that's super romantic. I like romance that's not really trying too hard.

Leslie is about to graduate from high school in a few months and my friends and I want to make as many memories as we can. What is your favorite memory from high school?
There was this time my sophomore year the last day before Christmas break when a bunch of us got on a bus to go to the mall. None of my friends had a car yet and someone had this crazy idea to ride the bus. I was surprised to see the bus was almost full. There were like 10 of us and we went all the way to the back. We started goofing around, singing T.V. show jingles, first just among ourselves. But we started to notice people looking at us so we began singing louder. Then we started on Christmas carols. By the time we got to the mall we were singing full volume and a few of the other passengers had joined in. When we got off the bus everyone clapped. That was an awesome day.

So, yeah, Leslie, totally enjoy it and make all the memories you can.

Where do you see yourself in five years?
I'm sorry, I know you're just making conversation, but as a senior in high school, I'm SOOOO tired of this question. "I don't know" is the short answer. Everyone is all like "college" and "study abroad" and "career" and I'm just like... I can't... that's not how my life is going to go. I can't explain, but my future isn't going to be like yours or Leslie's or anyone else's. It's... I don't think I have a future. Not like normal people. I don't mean to get all dark and depressing, but I think some people can plan five years ahead and some people can't. I'm one of those people who can't.

If I was just making some crazy story up, like if a fairy godmother came and could wave a wand and make my life less weird and I COULD plan five years ahead, I could see myself living in New York, doing stand-up or community organizing or something kind of fun and off the grid. I want to be with people who are true to themselves and not living life by someone else's rules.

Thanks for interviewing me!

Thanks for answering our questions M.T.! And a huge thank you to Maria for making this interview possible. 
*****

If you guys want to know M.T.'s story and whether or not she can finally plan for the next five years by the end of the novel, read The Secret Side of Empty! It is not to be missed. For more info about Maria, The Secret Side of Empty and her future novels, visit her on her website, Twitter and Facebook.

Happy reading,
Michelle

3 comments:

  1. This was awesome. First, the review totally made me want to read the book., but the interview made me think that I would totally be friends with M.T. I am SO excited for Maleficent too! And I've also been raving about Lana Del Rey's Once Upon a Dream! That was one of my favourite Disney songs ever. Also, the "see yourself in five years" bit is so true. I'm planning on university but as a senior, it's the one question everyone keeps throwing at you: your future. It just feels so personal to answer it.


    Anyway, great review and character interview. I had never heard of The Secret Side of Empty but now I'm totally looking forward to checking it out.


    -P.E. @ The Sirenic Codex

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  2. Awwww, this sounds so cute. I can't wait to dig into this one. I should be starting it next week. Thanks for this, Michelle!

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  3. Ha, cute interview! I liked Adam (: The side of the road bathroom thing with Amy totally cracked me up. Thanks for sharing!

    Here was my review if you're interested!

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