A book. A movie. A secret brother.
What do these three things have in common?
Maybe nothing to you, but for me, these were the inspiration for my new middle-grade novel Meet Me Halfway.
I was an avid reader as a kid. Even before I could read on my own, I was lucky enough to have a mom and grandparents who read aloud to me. I loved every kind of book: Little WomenJack London, Alice in WonderlandBeverly Cleary.
One of my favorites was From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.
As you can see, my copy of EL Konigsburg’s 1967 book is well-worn from multiple re-readings throughout my life. The story of two runaways captured my imagination partly because of the location (the Metropolitan Museum of Art!) but also in the unique and responsible way in which Claudia runs away. As a sufferer of anxiety, I appreciated the planning that went into her hijinks. I also loved the way Claudia took charge of her life to make a change. Plus, she got to boss around a little brother (something that I, as an only child, found fascinating).
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I was born in Colombia, but when I was a toddler, my parents got divorced and my American mother brought me back to the US. For many years, it was just the two of us—mother and daughter. As the child of a single mom, I loved everything she loved (except mysteries—I do not like to read mysteries, something that greatly disappoints her) including the 1961 Parent Trap film—starring Hayley Mills and Hayley Mills.
We both laughed at the antics of Susan and Sharon as they first hate each other and later collude with one another. The film was also poignant for me on another level, although I maybe didn’t understand this at the time, because of its depiction of children of divorce, something I didn’t see much of as a kid growing up in the midwestern suburbs in the 1980s.
A secret brother.
Although I grew up as an only child, when I was twenty-five, I found out that I had a half-brother, just a few months younger than me. The son of my Colombian father, my brother had grown up in California, thousands of miles apart from me and my mom in Minnesota.
My husband and I were living in the San Francisco Bay Area at the time, and it turned out that my brother lived just a few miles away from us. (You can read more about my family drama in my memoir Magical Realism for Non-Believers: A Memoir of Finding Family.) When we first met, I was shocked at how much he looked both like my dad and like me. And I found myself wondering what it would have been like to run into him before we knew each other. Would we recognize each other? Would it be obvious we were related? Would we have been surprised? Angry? Excited?
All of these questions—and more—swirled.
Putting the inspiration together.
And questions are the best way to start a novel.
The writing of Meet Me Halfway began with the question: what it would be like to meet your half-sibling as a child—would you love them or hate them?
The novel opens in September at Poppy View Middle School in Santa Cruz, California. Mattie Gomez and her mom have just moved to California from Minnesota to live with her new stepfamily. On the first day of seventh grade, Mattie meets a girl who looks just like her, and she’s filled with curiosity. Meanwhile, for her doppelganger Mercedes Miller, the resemblance is less than welcome. Mercedes already knows about Mattie’s existence and is focused on preserving her own spot in the seventh-grade hierarchy. For Mercedes, meeting her half-sister fills her with rage and embarrassment.
Mattie’s and Mercedes’s conflicting personalities were inspired by Susan and Sharon in the Parent Trap (or Hallie and Annie in the Lindsay Lohan version): Mercedes is alternatingly condescending and angry, but also pragmatic, while Mattie is homesick and anxious, but also intensely curious. In order to set the girls off on a Mixed-Up Files-inspired runaway adventure, I send them in search of the father neither has ever met. When they discover that Fransisco Gomez, the renowned Colombian anthropologist, is teaching at a nearby college, the two head out on a road trip to find him. In keeping with Claudia’s careful planning that I loved from EL Konigsburg’s book, they organize their running away, attempting to control the unknowns at a crunchy liberal arts college.
Throughout their journey, the two half-sisters learn to first tolerate each other and then get along. They are introduced to their father and the indigenous Colombian cultures he studies. And they each find their places—both at school and within their families.
While my inspiration for the novel is very specific and personal, I hope that readers will find their own connections and that they will also resonate with the story of family and forgiveness. Along the way, I hope readers also have a fun adventure and learn something new about Colombian mythology, college life, and maybe even themselves.
Meet the author
Anika Fajardo was born in Colombia and raised in Minnesota and is the author of a book about that experience: Magical Realism for Non-Believers: A Memoir of Finding Family. Her newest book for middle-grade readers is Meet Me Halfway. She is also the author of the award-winning What If a Fish and the Disney tie-in novel Encanto: A Tale of Three Sisters. A former librarian, she lives with her family in Minneapolis, where she teaches creative writing.
About Meet Me Halfway
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When new classmates Mattie and Mercedes meet and realize they have the same Colombian dad, the two team up in a Parent Trap–inspired misadventure to meet him for the first time in this sharp and poignant middle grade novel about the bonds that make a family.
Mattie Gomez feels directionless after being uprooted from her beloved Minnesota and forced to move in with her new stepfamily in California. So when she meets a girl at her new middle school who looks exactly like her, she’s not sure what to make of it.
But her doppelganger, the popular Mercedes Miller, doesn’t like it one bit.
Mercedes is used to getting what she wants, when she wants; Mattie would rather be invisible and blend into the background. Mercedes lives in a big empty house with her nanny; Mattie’s new home is packed-to-the-gils, twenty-four/seven chaos. Mercedes has a short fuse; Mattie is a planner. Though they may look alike, the two of them couldn’t be more different.
Soon enough, however, Mattie and Mercedes learn that they have at least one thing in common: a dad from Colombia that neither of them has ever met. Determined to meet the father they’ve never known, these polar opposites suddenly have to work together to fake sleepovers, evade their friends, and plot daring escapes from school field trips in an effort to track down him down.
If only they could stop bickering long enough to get the show on the road.
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
Publication date: 09/13/2022
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years
Filed under: Guest Post