Crystal Maldonado, a University of Connecticut alum and debut author, shared the first two chapters of her book “Fat Chance, Charlie Vega” over Zoom. The call opened with a brief introduction from the presenters. ASL interpreters were present, and closed captioning was provided.
“We used to joke that Crystal was so efficient that she was going to graduate from UConn and then in a few years, she would just be running a country,” Professor Penelope Pelizzon remarked before Maldonado started reading.
Maldonado lives in Western Massachusetts with her husband, her daughter Maya and her dog Obie. She began reading her story, emoting with a personalized inflection of her voice for each character complete with hand gestures and expressive eyebrows.
Chapter One opens with the protagonist Charlie wondering what her first kiss will be like, using thought as escapism. It is told in a first person perspective, with ample details from her internal monologue — elements necessary for character development. She has much anxiety surrounding this kiss, especially because her best friend Amelia, “who always looks beautiful,” is kissing her boyfriend at this very moment.
It’s intrusive and she feels like a third wheel, but she toughs it out. Charlie narrates, “Their kissing basically makes me have an existential crisis.”
Amelia, who has identified as pansexual since sixth grade, is conventionally attractive and makes Charlie feel insecure. Charlie muses, “She’s tall and thin and everything looks good on her … Amelia and I probably don’t make much sense on paper … an athlete who does track and volleyball.” Despite this, she is proud of Amelia and describes her as “Black excellence.”
Charlie reflects on when she was first bullied for being fat, noting, “I didn’t know that I was fat with a capital ‘F’ until a fourth grade field trip.” However, she reclaims the “fat” label in her quest for self love.
Chapter Two opens in a library with Cal Carter. “What is it about people with alliterative names that makes them so much better?” Charlie wonders.
Then, the story moves scenes to history class, where the boy with the alliterative name borrows Charlie’s notes. They have a moment where their hands briefly touch on the page — instant chemistry. This presents two problems: One, this boy is interested in Amelia, calling her “boo,” and two, the history notes he is borrowing have Charlie’s math homework on them too, which she needs for next period. The chapter ends with Amelia retrieving the notes from Charlie. I am curious to learn what happens next.
“You’re such a great performer of the text,” Pelizzon told Crystal Maldonado. “It’s kind of fun,” Maldonado agreed. “You’re kind of acting.”
The next portion of the discussion with the author was her giving advice to aspiring authors at UConn. My favorite nugget of wisdom that she gave is the ever-true, “There’s no one right way to write.”
Finally, the event ended with a Q&A section. I spoke to Maldonado about being dismayed by a textbook that praised literary fiction at the expense of other genres. Maldonado told me about mitigating the literary fiction focus in creative writing classes.
“That’s a tough one … I had those same thoughts,” Maldonado said. “I thought ‘Oh, my God, I can’t write young adult fiction because the only legitimate fiction is literary fiction,’ and I do think there’s still somewhat that attitude in publishing and you’re gonna get that. Like, some people have called my book ‘cute.’ It’s cute that you wrote a book for teens, but teenagers are big readers and they want to see themselves on that page and so, I think that that can be incredibly meaningful work and very important storytelling that we’re doing … and so if we just sort of … shift perspective on it and … don’t even listen to people on what genre is better. They’re all wonderful. Like, all books are great.”
Overall, I would say the event was a success. Maldonado is an excellent storyteller, and as someone who appreciates both the romance and young adult genres, I cannot wait to read what she has next.