YA Novel ‘Iveliz Explains Everything’ Sheds Light on Mental Health of Latinx Kids

As an intermediate-level educator and English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher, it’s no surprise that Boricua author Andrea Beatriz Arango decided to write her first novel in verse. Iveliz explains everything to you, which was just released on September 13. Aimed at middle school readers, the novel follows Iveliz, a young mixed-race Puerto Rican as she enters the second semester of seventh grade, fresh from last year’s suspension. She struggles with anxiety, depression, bullying from classmates and grief over the loss of her father, but promises herself that she will try to obey her mother and keep her mental health issues under control. control, until it becomes too much for her to bear. only. This book is one of the few of its kind to speak openly about youth mental health in an accessible and approachable way and to challenge mental health stigma, especially in the Latinx community.

“There aren’t a lot of verse writers and even fewer verse writers who identify as Latinx,” Andrea says. HipLatina. It is these last years that I discovered authors who made that, like Elizabeth Acevedo. They are the ones who inspired me in a way. We can also tell these stories, we can write in verse, and we can write in verse for children.

Before becoming a teacher, Andrea always had a love for poetry, even writing some of her own. Today, she still sees it as a powerful tool for making the genre “more accessible and engaging for students in the classroom.” She particularly found spoken word poetry a great way to get words off the page and bring them to life for young learners, who otherwise couldn’t read poems on their own.

“I’ve worked with ESL students for my entire teaching career and none of my students were reading at grade level, even though they were already somewhat fluent in oral English,” she explains. “For [Iveliz Explains It All]it was important to me to tell a story that was mature and something that 12-year-olds go through, but someone who wasn’t reading at a 12-year-old level could still access.

For Andrea, the timing of the book seemed fatal. Early drafts of the book were written when schools closed in response to the first wave of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Suddenly, she didn’t have to travel or interact face-to-face with her students and felt a greater urgency to write a book centered around the themes of well-being and empathy. Since young people’s mental health was at an all-time low and she herself suffered from an anxiety disorder, she felt called to write about the real issues they face. Mental health issues can occur at any age, but, as she points out, children are less likely to know how to explain what they are going through. And in the Latinx community, they’re less likely to be taken seriously.

“I have not been diagnosed [with anxiety] or even knowing that’s what I had until I was an adult because when I was a kid nobody talked about mental health that way. And I grew up in Puerto Rico where people talk even less about mental health,” she says. “I definitely didn’t have the vocabulary for what was going on with me, so most of the time people equate what I had with just being stressed out. Even though these conversations are happening more now, there are still a lot of students who don’t have the vocabulary for the things they’re going through. There’s still a lot of shame around that too, because people don’t tend to talk about it openly.

In fact, one of the most striking scenes in the whole book is when Iveliz’s grandmother, Mimi, who has Alzheimer’s disease, throws Iveliz’s anxiety medication in the trash. . When Iveliz can’t find them, she suffers a particularly traumatic anxiety attack, which marks the beginning of her journey of recovery but also leaves her with a deep sense of loss. While Mimi clearly loves her granddaughter — cooking her meals, holding her — she’s also quick to dismiss Iveliz’s struggles and question her use of medication and therapy. Through these interactions, Andrea makes a profound statement about the complex and nuanced relationship between mental health and immigrant/Latinx families.

“Sometimes people can love us and still hurt us,” she explains. “People can love us and not understand us or support us the way we should. I was really trying to show with scenes like that that even someone who loves you so much just can’t understand you at all.

There are many reasons why mental health continues to be difficult to discuss and understand for Latinx people of all age groups in their daily lives. And it’s not that Latinx people don’t struggle with their sanity, either. Anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts and even PTSD can be symptoms of generational trauma, transmitted through colonization, immigration, assimilation and forced or prolonged separation. But therapy is still seen as a sin or an example of your personal failures or those of your parents, and can make you a family outcast when you suffer from unseen rather than physical symptoms. Among men in particular, the culture of machismo can prevent them from being vulnerable and seeking outside help. There are also issues of affordable health care, language barriers, and ease of access to therapy for Latinx people in the United States in the first place. For the children in the community, these problems only increase tenfold.

She notes that many older readers may find her story extreme, with everything Iveliz goes through at such a young age. But she argues that it’s not that extreme compared to real life. “I’m not highlighting that single example of something great there,” she says. “It’s happening to a lot of kids right now, but they just don’t know who to talk to about it. And we don’t do a good job as adults of addressing them first either.

As a teacher, Andrea has witnessed the shortcomings of the school system and the resources staff have to deal with the mental health of their students. Ultimately, she notes, her book is not just about giving children a voice, helping them name their experiences and opening up conversations with adults they trust, but also to help parents and schools gain the understanding and empathy they need to participate. in these conversations too. Schools may have returned to some type of normalcy, but mental health issues — not to mention COVID — continue to be ongoing issues.

“We are short of mental health staff and support in schools, although now more than ever we have all been through this collective traumatic experience and children really need support,” she says. “But most of the time there is only one guidance counselor for an entire school. I’ve worked in schools that have a great support system. I’ve worked in schools that don’t. Either way, when children are especially vulnerable these days, it’s up to adults to offer their support and guidance as best they can.

With a second book already on the way, also about mental health, Andrea remains optimistic about her writing career thus far and its potential to change lives and provide much-needed representation for young Latinx readers. But it has not always been so.

“It’s very weird to think about it now, because I was this kid blowing out my birthday candles and thinking, ‘I want to be a published author,'” she explains. “There were definitely times in my life when I was writing all the time, writing every day, thinking it was something I would always do. And then there were times when I was very pessimistic about it. Like, ‘What am I doing? This will never happen for me. Obviously, it’s a tough industry to break into, and there’s no guarantee that everyone will be successful.

But to writers hoping to see their own work in print, she offers simple but wise advice: “Don’t give up. Keep doing it.”

Robert M. Larson