They Call Her Fregona by David Bowles

Hello, David Bowles! Welcome to Watch. Connect. Read! I’m a big fan of you and your work! Thank you for stopping by to share Zeke Peña’s cover illustration and Jasmin Rubero’s cover design for They Call Her Fregona. What ran through your heart the first time you saw the final cover?

David Bowles: I literally started to cry! Zeke has perfectly captured the feel of first love on the border, the shade-tree mechanic work that anchors the family life of Joanna “la Fregona” Padilla, the stark but beautiful landscapes of my community. I was instantly transported to my own early teens, the furtive handholding and quick kisses in the sun-dappled shade of mesquite trees.

And I’ll be honest: to see the Mexican Spanish slang word “Fregona” (tough girl, an epithet both my wife and daughters proudly embrace) emblazoned so boldly across the top of the scene made me want to let loose a “grito” (traditional triumphant shout). The cover is instantly iconic!

Imagine you’re booktalking They Call Her Fregona to middle school librarians. What do you share with them?

David Bowles: Like Güero, it’s a book that uses poetry to explore the ups and downs of being a middle school student, focusing on eighth grade this time. It has special appeal to Latinx readers, as it focuses on the lives of Mexican American kids on the border from different social strata. But from that cultural and geographical specificity arise universal lessons about family, community, friendship, romance—and how they can be sorely tested by moments of tragedy and social inequity.

Above all, Fregona is a more tightly plotted novel-in-verse than Güero, focused on the sweet first love between Joanna Padilla and Güero Casas and how it is put to the test by a shocking series of events that rock their community. We all want to believe that love can conquer all, but Güero and Fregona learn the hard lesson that sometimes the best love can do is endure. Sometimes that’s enough. Middle-grade readers who are beginning to have crushes and the first inklings of mutual romantic attraction often struggle to figure out where those feelings fit in school, community, family. They Call Her Fregona, I think, offers some compelling answers to their concerns.

Also, hello, it has a bunch of cool poetic forms and A MIDDLE SCHOOL MUSICAL GROUP formed by Güero and his friends Los Bobbys, as well as an exploration of how folks from other backgrounds (Korean Americans, Dominicans) fit into this rich, complex border town.

Love, laughter, tears, solidarity. Fregona covers lots of bases.

Please finish the following sentence starters:

Güero grows a lot in this companion novel. He deepens his poetic ability, earns the respect of his girlfriend’s father, stops trying to control his friends in their collective musical project, and learns that being a good boyfriend sometimes means admitting you can’t fix the world for the girl you love—sometimes all you can do is be there for her, listening and showing support.

Story is one of the most important elements of identity. We construct ourselves out of the stories our family and community tell about us (as individuals and as a group), and we shape our personalities through the story we tell ourselves internally about the lives we’re living. The kids in They Call Her Fregona respond in different ways to their own rootedness in these collective stories about past and present. Revelations about “cosas de adultos” (grown-up stuff) that has been left out of that communal history cause Güero and Fregona to re-write their own individual stories as well—when the town is shown to have a darker side, they have to find greater courage to continue as active protagonists in their families’ ongoing saga.

John Schu, you should have asked me whether there’s rematch between Joanna la Fregona and Snake Barrera, the bully she saved Güero from in the first book. Spoiler alert—they definitely come toe to toe again. In fact, you might say that Snake’s desire for revenge is crucial to the plot of They Call Her Fregona. As Mr. Padilla, Joanna’s father, warns Güero at one point—what comes around, goes around. Another hard lesson this group of friends learns during the first half of eighth grade.

Thank you, David! Congratulations! 

David Bowles grew up in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, where he teaches at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. He’s the author of several award-winning titles, including They Call Me Güero, The Smoking Mirror, the 13th Street series, and Feathered Serpent, Dark Heart of Sky: Myths of Mexico. His picture book debut, My Two Border Towns, is available in English and Spanish. In 2020, David co-founded #DignidadLiteraria, a grassroots activist hashtag and movement dedicated to promoting equity for Latinx people in publishing.

Look for They Call Her Fregona on September 6, 2022. Pre-order here.


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