Hello! It’s Isela here and I’m joined by Brandy Colbert as we talk about her new YA novel Finding Yvonne! In her third book, Brandy brings us into the world of Yvonne and her struggles with figuring out what to do after high school. While reading, you can’t help but feel for the characters and want the absolute best for them. Finding Yvonne is out already so go grab a copy for yourself today! And while you’re at the bookstore, be sure to pick up her other novels Pointe and Little and Lion as well! You won’t be disappointed. Now let’s get on with the interview! Oh, and be sure to stick around until the end for a chance to win a copy of Finding Yvonne signed by Brandy herself!
Isela: Glad to have you back, Brandy! After you and I talked last year, I know some of our readers were really excited to hear that you had a third novel in the works. Well, Finding Yvonne is finally here! What can you tell us about it?
Brandy: Thanks so much, Isela—thrilled to be back! And I'm so happy to have another novel out this year. Finding Yvonne is about an 18-year-old violinist who has to confront her changing relationship with music, her strained relationship with her emotionally detached father, and budding romances with two very different guys.
Isela: Omar performs on the street for cash, whereas Yvonne's father owns an upscale restaurant in LA. Why was it important for you to show these contrasting lifestyles in your book?
Brandy: I think socioeconomic status within the black community isn't something we don't talk about much, and I wanted to explore the various types of ways that affects and, unfortunately, defines people. Most people would judge Omar and Yvonne's father immediately, based on their occupations, but once they got below the surface, what would they actually think? Would they think differently of her father because he's a daily pot smoker, even though he runs a successful restaurant and is revered in his field? And—without spoiling anything—what would they think about Omar once they truly got to know him, though he lives in a communal house and makes his money from street performing? I'm always interested in exploring those nuances in my work.
Isela: I couldn't help but notice that both Warren and Yvonne were raised by one parent. Was that an intentional choice on your part?
Brandy: It's always hard to say what's intentional since I don't outline, but once I made that choice, it definitely shaped the story. Warren's father shows up in his life after abandoning him when he was a baby, and Yvonne's mother also abandoned their family when she was six years old. Yvonne has always felt comfortable around Warren because they share that early childhood pain that will likely never truly heal, and she's there for him as he struggles with his father's re-emergence in his life.
Isela: Yvonne's father talks about how he has to work twice as hard to be respected and successful. Little and Lion focused on racism as well. Is it safe to say that racism will continue to be an important part of your books as long as it is an unavoidable part of reality?
Brandy: Absolutely. I tackled it a bit in my first book, Pointe, as well, and it's a part of my upcoming projects. I've been exposed to racism since a young age and have heard countless stories from family, friends, and strangers that, unfortunately, mirror my own experiences. The United States has never truly dealt with its racist history and the fact that enslaved Black people built this country, and I believe it's more important than ever to have these conversations, in both real life and in fiction.
Isela: Finding Yvonne focuses on the theme of discovering who you really are. Do you have any advice for those teens who are having trouble doing just that?
Brandy: I'd advise them to try to listen to their gut instead of other people. It can be so difficult to be a teen, since you have little control over finances and large decisions like where (or if) you'll go to college and what you want to do with your life. I think it's absurd that we expect 17- and 18-year-olds to have it all figured out by that age, especially when they're often thrust into hobbies and interests when they're too young to make that decision for themselves. I was lucky to have parents who paid for my college education, and while I loved studying journalism, I don't think they would have been so keen to fund a creative writing degree. I also feel lucky to be able to work in both the journalism and writing fields now, both of which I love, but that lots of teens don't know what they want to do at such a young age. Sometimes you have to make compromises, but try to stand up for yourself and what you want as much as you can while still staying safe and supported. You only get one life.
Isela: Yvonne and her best friend get into arguments centered around their sex lives. And Yvonne, despite using contraceptives, still gets pregnant. What advice would you share with teens who are still figuring out what safe, healthy, happy sex looks like?
Brandy: My advice tends to always go back to trusting your gut, and that rings true in this case, too. I was not having sex in high school, but I was very interested in sex. Several of my friends were sexually active, whether in relationships or not, and I think they were early models of sex positivity. There was little shame about it, the majority of the people I knew practiced safe sex, and—gasp!—their lives weren't ruined because of their physical desires. I don't think I was emotionally ready to have sex back then; growing up in the church, I was taught to wait until marriage. That wasn't the right choice for me, but I think listening to yourself is what's best instead of comparing yourself to others and what they're doing, no matter what you decide.
Isela: You write a lot about being a teenage girl. I’m curious... What were you like as a teenager?
Brandy: On the surface, I was a well-adjusted kid. I went to church every Sunday with my family, I did my chores, I had a part-time job, I was heavily involved in dance and school activities, I made good grades, and I had an active social life. But deep down, I was sad and confused. My parents divorced when I was 12, and that really wrecked my world and everything I thought to be true. But therapy wasn't really a thing in Southwest Missouri in the 1990s, and especially not among Black people in general. I never talked to anyone about how I was feeling because of the unspoken pressure to make it look like everything was okay. I fought off a deep loneliness that I didn't recognize at the time since I was often surrounded by people. I'm grateful for the chance to write books about girls who can express themselves in ways I didn't know how to, and hopefully show other girls that they're not alone.
Isela: Your book featured several interesting hobbies. Are any of these hobbies similar to your own?
Brandy: I do enjoy cooking and baking, though I'm better at baking. I've loved watching cooking shows since I was a little girl, but back in the '80s, there was no Food Network or Cooking Channel. So I'd post up in front of the TV on weekend mornings to watch cooking shows on PBS hosted by chefs like Julia Child, Jacques Pépin, Graham Kerr, and many more I don't remember. I'm a vegetarian and somewhat picky eater, but I love watching people cook all the things I won't eat. Like Yvonne, I prefer baking because of the science and rules behind it, but I think any form of working with food is fascinating. I never played violin, but I did play the clarinet for four years, from fifth through eighth grades.
Isela: How do you imagine Yvonne after high school? Is she a pastry chef or a music therapist?
Brandy: I never really imagine my characters off the page. My novels are typically slice of life, so things aren't always resolved in the end. I just like to think my characters are doing what's best for them in the moment and hopefully living happier lives than they were in my books!
Isela: So what’s next for you, Brandy? Are there more novels in the works?
Brandy: Yes! My next YA novel, The Revolution of Birdie Randolph, will be released in August 2019. It's set in Chicago and follows a girl named Dove (aka Birdie) who lives with her family above her mother's hair salon. There are lots of secrets, romance, family strife, and gray areas, and I'm so excited for people to read it. I'm also working on a couple of other projects that I can't talk too much about yet, but hopefully in the near future.
That’s it for today’s interview with Brandy. But don’t leave just yet! We’re teaming up with Brandy to give away a signed copy of Finding Yvonne! You can enter by clicking on the image below. And be sure to come back again next week when Daniela will be chatting with bestselling author Megan Shepherd about her new book Grim Lovelies. Be sure to come back then!