Monday, February 22, 2021

Maria E. Andreu Interview - Love in English

Photo Content from Maria E. Andreu

Maria E. Andreu is a writer and author of the forthcoming Love in English (Balzer + Bray, 2021) as well as an as-yet untitled book (B+B, 2022) . Her work has appeared in Newsweek, The Washington Post,, and the Newark Star Ledger. Her debut young adult novel, The Secret Side of Empty is a Junior Library Guild Selection, a National Indie Excellence Book Award winner, an International Latino Book Awards Finalist and has been called “captivating” by School Library Journal. Maria is Latinx and Argentinian-American and currently lives in New Jersey with her two children.

Maria’s interest in the immigration rights movement stems from her own childhood and adolescence experiences with being undocumented in the United States. She obtained her U.S. citizenship thanks to the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
The road to publication on LOVE IN ENGLISH was all so much fun there are a thousand little moments, like the first time I saw that beautiful cover and the first time I held it in my hands. But, frankly, the best part of getting a book out in the world is hearing from readers about what moved them or what they liked in the story or the characters.

What inspired you to pen your first novel?
I’ve wanted to be a writer for a long time, since I was a kid. I’d had essays published but hadn’t found my way into publishing a book. I began a memoir about my experiences as an undocumented immigrant. But over time I realized that in order to “get the story right,” ironically, I needed the distance of writing it as fiction. Ultimately that work turned into my first book, THE SECRET SIDE OF EMPTY.

Tell us your latest news.
LOVE IN ENGLISH is out in the world!

Can you tell us when you started LOVE IN ENGLISH, how that came about?
I began working on LOVE IN ENGLISH in 2018. I wanted to share what the experience of not speaking English feels like. I didn’t speak English as a kid but do now, so I figured I could write about it in an authentic and unique way.

What do you hope for readers to be thinking when they read your novel?
First and foremost, I hope they’ll be engrossed in the story and the characters and see them as unique, interesting people. I hope the book makes them see the shared humanity we all have, regardless of what language we do or don’t speak.

What was the most surprising thing you learned in creating Ana?
Ana helped me dig into the feelings behind words and how to show those things while still showing her struggles with finding the words. I had to break things down into their parts to convey them to the reader while also allowing Ana to struggle with acquiring language.

If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
Oh my goodness, so many great choices! My friend Yvonne Ventresca wrote a book called PANDEMIC back in 2014 (she was prescient!) and that character is tender and scrappy and a real survivor in the face of the scary situation of finding herself having to make it alone as a pandemic starts. I think she’d be fast friends with Ana.

I also really love the main characters in I’M NOT DYING WITH YOU TONIGHT by Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal. They’re both so different, but they’re smart and they have so much heart. I think Ana would find a lot of common ground with them.

What was the single worst distraction that kept you from writing this book?
I was pretty focused while I was writing it, so I can’t say anything distracted me too much. But since I turned in my final edits I discovered the video game Red Dead Redemption 2 and I am obsessed. I may never be able to tear myself away.

What is something you think everyone should do at least once in their lives?
I recommend skinny dipping in the ocean.

  • 1. It’s the story of a girl who comes to the U.S. and doesn’t speak much English, as I once didn’t. It’s light and has a love story in it, but I also wanted readers to get a glimpse into the experiences of non-native English speakers.
  • 2. Altagracia, the girl who befriends Ana when she’s new at school, is loosely based on a composite of people I met when I worked in Washington Heights in New York City when I was working my way through college.
  • 3. I watched The Breakfast Club with the sound off to try to get into the headspace of what it would be like to watch it without understanding the dialogue for the scene where Ana and Neo watch it. As it began, I thought, “If you didn’t know what was going on here, this could easily be a horror movie about a bunch of murders at an isolated school.” The silliness of that observation led to what I hope is one of the funnier lines in the book.
  • 4. If you’ve ever been confused by the sound at a fast food drive-through, there is a scene in LOVE IN ENGLISH for you.
  • 5. The scene on the Empire State Building originally had an old movie in it, Sleepless in Seattle (which also has an Empire State Building scene in it!). It took place on a rooftop overlooking the Empire State, not on it. But ultimately I wanted to put them on the building itself and that scene got cut.
  • 6. In an early draft, Ana had a brother. (In LOVE IN ENGLISH, she’s an only child).
  • 7. I won’t spoil too much of the plot, but in an earlier draft, Ana ended up with someone else!
  • 8. All the break-outs about the quirks of English come from my own fascination and confusion with the English language. Why dough, rough and bough? As someone who had to learn it as a second language, I had a lot of the same thoughts and feelings Ana expresses in the book.
  • 9. One of the boys the main character gets to know is from an island called Cyprus. I picked that country because I’ve spent a fair amount of time there. It’s a beautiful place with the warmest people.
  • 10. A fact a lot of early readers seem to mention in their emails and reviews: when Ana doesn’t understand a word, I made the choice to put ###### in its place. I wanted the reader to feel the confusion the character feels as she tries to make sense of her new language.
Meet the Character, Ana.
Ana comes to the U.S. from Argentina and doesn’t speak much English. Back home, she considered herself a poet and a person with a way with words. But when she gets to the U.S., she feels like the way she made sense of her world is stripped away. It triggers some fundamental questions: who are you if you can’t do the thing you’ve always felt you’re good at?

Throughout the book, she communicates in poems and break-outs as she works to figure out her new world. One is below

A bit of set-up: in Spanish, there are two ways to say “I am.” One, “estoy,” is about being in a temporary way (like “estoy enojada” means “I am angry,” since anger is a thing that passes. But “soy la hija de Millie,” “I am Millie’s daughter” is a permanent condition, so you use “soy”). Early on in LOVE IN ENGLISH Ana shares these thoughts:

“I am” is the shortest sentence I know in the English language.
“Soy” and “estoy” mezclados, like here there is only one way to be, all permanent.
I am Ana.
I have sixteen years.
I am sixteen years old.
I am in this place, a “soy” kind of am, not an “estoy” kind of am.

In Spanish, “estoy” gives you a way out. Here, “I am” makes everything sound like an identity. Not a thing that can pass, like in Spanish.

I am a poet.
I am a poet without words.

I am.
I am.
I am.

Best date you've ever had?
A guy once made me a picnic and set it up on a gazebo overlooking the water and brought everything: hummus, chips, grapes. It was awesome.

If you could go back in time to one point in your life, where would you go?
Right now. I’m a big believer in a no regrets/no do-overs kind of life, and wanting to go back to another time would sound, to me, like not being happy with where I am now. But I’m pretty darn happy.

Have you ever stood up for someone you hardly knew?
I have a big mouth, so yes. In the fourth grade, a teacher asked me if I was another kid’s lawyer, because I believed she had mistakenly scolded him and I made my case to her while we were all standing in line waiting to go to recess. It’s been like that since.

First Heartbreak?
Probably when I first realized Ray from Menudo was not going to ever be my boyfriend.

What is your most memorable travel experience?
I have been pretty fortunate in my travels. I once had dinner at a Venetian sailor’s house. He’d home cooked the dinner himself and served a few tourists in his 500-year-old palazzo. It was some of the best food I’ve ever had. That was pretty cool.

Which would you choose, true love with a guarantee of a heart break or have never loved before?
Gotta take the heartbreak, I guess. “‘Tis better to have loved and lost” and all that.

Where can readers find you?
I send out a newsletter that keeps readers up to date with news and events about once a month. It’s at I have a love/hate with Twitter, so I’m sometimes on, sometimes not. I’m @WriterSideofM. Instagram is @MariaEAndreu.

Sixteen-year-old Ana has just moved to New Jersey from Argentina for her Junior year of high school. She’s a poet and a lover of language—except that now, she can barely understand what’s going on around her, let alone find the words to express how she feels in the language she’s expected to speak.

All Ana wants to do is go home—until she meets Harrison, the very cute, very American boy in her math class. And then there’s her new friend Neo, the Greek boy she’s partnered up with in ESL class, who she bonds with over the 80s teen movies they are assigned to watch for class (but later keep watching together for fun), and Altagracia, her artistic and Instagram-fabulous friend, who thankfully is fluent in Spanish and able to help her settle into American high school.

But is it possible that she’s becoming too American—as her father accuses—and what does it mean when her feelings for Harrison and Neo start to change? Ana will spend her year learning that the rules of English may be confounding, but there are no rules when it comes to love.

With playful and poetic breakouts exploring the idiosyncrasies of the English language, Love in English tells a story that is simultaneously charming and romantic, while articulating a deeper story about what it means to become “American.”
You can purchase Love in English at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you MARIA E. ANDREU for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of Love in English by Maria E. Andreu.


  1. I have always dreamed of writing a book. I honestly don't think it will ever happen. But it's still a long time dream of mine.