age range: 10 and up
genre: contemporary fabulism
Loriel Ryon’s website
An Indies Introduce Top Ten Title
Featured at Publisher’s Weekly’s Winter Institute Roundup
An Indies Next Spring 2020 Title
This heartfelt family saga weaves together science and magic believably and sensitively.
— Kirkus Reviews
A must-have tale, perfect for fans of emotionally resonant magical realism like Karen Strong’s Just South of Home.
— School Library Journal, starred review
Please tell us about your book.
Yolanda Rodríguez-O’Connell has a secret. All the members of her family have a magical gift—all, that is, except for Yolanda. Still, it’s something she can never talk about, or the townsfolk will call her family brujas—witches. When her abuela, Wela, falls into an unexplained sleep, Yolanda is scared. Her father is off fighting in a faraway war, her mother died long ago, and Yolanda has isolated herself from her best friend and twin sister. If she loses her abuela, who will she have left?
When a strange grass emerges in the desert behind their house, Wela miraculously wakes, begging Yolanda to take her to the lone pecan tree left on their land. Determined not to lose her, Yolanda sets out on this journey with her sister, her ex-best friend, and a boy who has a crush on her. But what is the mysterious box that Wela needs to find? And how will going to the pecan tree make everything all right? Along the way, Yolanda discovers long-buried secrets that have made their family gift a family curse. But she also finds the healing power of the magic all around her, which just might promise a new beginning.
What inspired you to write this story?
It started with a memory from my childhood. I must’ve been about 4-5 years old. My mother had taken us to stay with our grandparents for the summer and hired a person to take care of cutting the grass while we were away. But the man only cut the front yard, and didn’t go in the backyard the entire time we were gone. Which was the entire summer. I remember when we finally came home, my grandfather opened the curtains to the sliding glass window and the grass was as tall as our house. I remember standing there in awe, feeling very small and amazed at how tall it was. I even asked my mother recently if that was true or if my childhood memory had made the grass taller than it actually was.
She confirmed that it had been as tall as our house.
So that image is what I started with when drafting INTO THE TALL, TALL GRASS. What came after changed and evolved over time, but that image of grass and awe stayed the same.
Could you share with readers how you conducted your research or share a few interesting tidbits you learned while researching?
Originally this story had a lot of science in it, including a family pedigree with genetics. Most of that changed with revisions and editing, but the premise of mitochondrial DNA being the key to the magic did not. Meaning, a little bit of maternal DNA is in all of us from our mothers and daughters pass it on to their children all the way down the line linking everyone. I just find that so fascinating.
What are some special challenges associated with introducing a setting your audience might be unfamiliar with?
This story takes place in the desert of New Mexico, and many people may not be familiar with that setting. Or they may have ideas of it being quite boring or ugly. At least, I know I did when I found out we were moving here when I was twelve. I had a lot of strange ideas of what I thought it was going to be like. I really wanted to show how beautiful the desert can be, with its beautiful native plants, the changing weather, the vast blue sky. There is so much beauty in the desert and I wanted to bring that to life, with a little bit of magic, for readers.
What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?
Grief and loss, family relationships, friend relationships, finding your footing when coming of age. It does have some hints of STEM in there too.
Natalie Aguirre says
I’m super excited to read Loriel’s book, especially because it combines science in her magical system. Thanks for sharing a great interview with her.
Happy to hear it!