Young adult novel explores body image messages and dress codes in schools – WABE

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Does my body offend youis a new young adult novel about two girls who start a movement to protest their high school’s dress code after one of them is humiliated by school administrators. The story is told in chapters alternated by Mayra Cuevas and Marie Marquart. The Atlanta-based authors joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom to talk about their new book and how it challenges young women to think critically about body image messaging.

Interview Highlights:

How a protest against problematic dress codes led to friendship:

“It’s the story of two very different high school girls who come together after this strange encounter in the bathroom related to their breasts,” Cuevas explained. “They are coming together to start a dress code revolution at their school. My character, Malena, is a hurricane evacuee who just moved to Florida from Puerto Rico, and she came to school without a bra because she had a sunburn on her back, and then the school nurse made her go to the bathroom and put panty liners on her nipples. Then Marie’s character, Ruby, is this fierce feminist activist… We wanted to explore not just the student protest part, but what happens after the protest.

“Ruby is also someone who has recently moved; it’s a transplant. She moved from Seattle to North Florida at a time when her beloved grandmother was sick and in need of care,” Marquardt recounted. “Ruby, when she sees Malena [in] their very first bathroom encounter and Malena is so upset and confused; Ruby reaches out her hand in a way that is, in some ways, inappropriate. She crosses some boundaries, but she also reflects on how she remembers what it was like to show up in that place and just feel like she was on edge, not really knowing what the rules were.

On the many shades of feminism in various communities:

“We wanted to write a book that explored feminism from an intersectional perspective,” Cuevas said. “A lot of the books we had read so far explored the themes of youth activism, feminism, but they were all written with a very white eye. They haven’t explored this idea that feminism looks very different for brown girls, for black girls, for indigenous girls; and also that social justice movements sound very different for students from marginalized backgrounds and the voices of marginalized communities.

“As Malena works to rediscover her sense of voice and purpose, and to develop the courage to speak up and sometimes shout when she needs to, Ruby is really working for herself, ‘What does it mean? to be an ally?’ “, said Marquardt. . “‘When is it important to learn to listen and to learn to step back, to work with others, to open space for important voices to be heard?'”

How Malena and Ruby reflect the authors’ real-life friendship and alliance:

“It’s also really a story about building friendship through differences and how powerful and deep and difficult that can be, and those are the hardest scenes to write,” Cuevas said. “They discuss racism, alliance, working across differences; and Marie and I would spend days basically sitting across from each other at a table, reciting dialogue, going back and forth on stage over and over and over again, to make sure that thread of compassion was really flowing . And that, at a time when people were calling out to each other and there was so much division in our world, that these two girls were working hard to build bridges in their relationship.

“Does my body offend you? co-authored by Mayra Cuevas and Marie Marquardt, is now available through Knopf Books for Young Readers and can be purchased here.

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