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Lit Squad: A young girl dives into her family's past in 'Tumble' by Celia Pérez

A 12-year-old girl decides to look into her family history when her stepfather proposes adoption. When she starts investigating her biological father, who she’s never met, she finds an extended family of Luchadores, or professional wrestlers.

The novel "Tumble" takes us along on the journey with Adela Ramirez. It’s written by Celia Pérez, whose other novels include "The First Rule of Punk."

As part of The Show's ongoing series of conversations with the authors of children's and young adult books, called Lit Squad, we spoke with Pérez and discussed Adela’s story, and how it’s not unique to her — that there are many kids going through similar journeys.

Interview highlights

CELIA PERÉZ: Yeah, I imagine so, maybe not with professional wrestlers but definitely, you know, definitely that, that search for whether it's a parent that they've never met or family members that they've never known. Or in her case, you know, it's, it's the bigger story is about her trying to define what family means for her and what role this person with whom she has biological ties, but who she has no relationship with, what role he plays in her life, could play in her life.

MARK BRODIE: How does her perception of family evolve over the course of the story?

PERÉZ: So at the start of the, of the story, Adela's family is very small. It's her mother and her stepfather, but she has this community of people that she's grown up around that she in some ways thinks of this family, but in, in this search for her father, I think she sort of, sort of has to question, you know, who, who in her life makes up her family. And so we, I think we see her go from having this sort of small, maybe, maybe limited definition of what family is to something that, that is bigger and that, that she recognizes is not necessarily tied to biology that can be friends and just community members who support her.

BRODIE: So when she finds that she has a family full of luchadores, like, what does she think about that? And how does that maybe change how she feels, not just about family, but maybe about life in general?

PERÉZ: So she, she discovers this family that she didn't know she had and and in her, in, in spending time with them, she starts to learn things about the history of, of herself, you know, what her roots are and her father's story and this sort of kind of generational pattern that, that affects her and has affected her and she had no awareness of because she had no connection with this family. And I think in developing relationships with these family members, with her uncle and with her grandparents. and in learning that that story that is, that is her father's story. But, but by default is her story, too. She starts to, I think sort of define for herself what, what family is and also maybe start to recognize what some of these patterns are that have affected her life. And in doing that, being able to in the future, not repeat some of the patterns that maybe have had negative, negative impact on her.

BRODIE: So, were you a fan of luchadores growing up?

PERÉZ: I was, I was, I watched a lot of, I watched some Mexican Lucha when I was a lot younger, including some of the movies from the '60s and '70s. But during middle school, I was a huge professional wrestling fan. I watched anything and everything that I could possibly catch on weekends on TV. So, yeah, for, for a few years there, it was a really big, big part of my life.

BRODIE: Well, so is there something about that activity and maybe the people who do it that, that made those characters a good metaphor in some way or, or a good part of this particular story?

PERÉZ: That's a good question. I, you know, I, I really, I love the personalities. I was also a big mythology fan when I was a kid and in writing this story, lucha libre and professional wrestling reminded me a lot of, of mythology in that. I think the characters are just kind of larger than life and sort of dazzling, but there's a lot of like tragedy and drama, that's also part of both of those things of, you know, mythology and, and lucha libre. And I think in choosing to have wrestlers as her family, they're sort of representative of, of, sort of like the fantasy for her, of, of the fantasy of what a family would be like or what it would be like to have this big family. And to her it's, I think she has these like, really, these ideas that it's gonna be something that it's not and she has to actually experience being with them to, to discover the reality and, and to see that there's this façade and it's not everything that she imagines it's gonna be.

BRODIE: That's really interesting because, and I don't think this is a spoiler in any way here, but as you point out a lot of professional wrestling is not real, like, people don't get hit over the head with folding chairs. But like when you juxtapose that with, you know, a 12-year-old girl who's trying to figure out what is real about her own life, something very, very important and very, very personal. So it's just a really interesting juxtaposition, I think.

PERÉZ: Yeah. And she's at an age and, and this, this is one of the reasons why I, I love writing for, for the audience that I do, where she is, I think partly in a world that is fantasy and childlike, but also moving into this, this stage of life in which she's starting to realize that the world isn't black and white and that not everything has an answer or, you know, the answer that you hope to, to hear. And so there's a lot of those like kind of the dichotomy, like those 22 sides to, to this experience that she's having with this family that she meets.

BRODIE:  So you talked about writing for this particular age for, you know, young adult, middle-grade type readers. What do you hope that they take away from this story?

PERÉZ: I hope that they take away that family is what you, how you define it. It's what you define family to be. I know this is kind of getting into a like, kinda, kinda heavy for, for children's books. But you know, a lot of times we, we have family that we feel because of biological ties that we have to, you know, sort of endure abuse or just things that are not good for us. And, and that the, the truth is that family is, is what you make it and it doesn't necessarily have to be biological. There are all kinds of families and they can be tied by biology and they can be, you know, people that are in your community and friends and those that support you and love you and, and lift you up.

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Mark Brodie is a co-host of The Show, KJZZ’s locally produced news magazine. Since starting at KJZZ in 2002, Brodie has been a host, reporter and producer, including several years covering the Arizona Legislature, based at the Capitol.