“I’ve also never dated anyone. And I’m fat. Those things don’t necessarily go hand in hand, but for me, I think they do,” narrates Charlie Vega, the character in author Crystal Maldonado‘s book, “Fat Chance, Charlie Vega.”
The book is a body-positive, empowering, coming-of-age story about Charlie, a plus-sized Latina teen exploring complex relationships, especially with herself.
“Inside, on the kitchen counter, there’s a note that just says Enjoy,” recounts Charlie. “It’s propped up on a meal-replacement shake, and suddenly my good mood dissipates. My mom swears by these shakes. They’re what got her thin, she says to anyone who’ll listen. For a while now, she’s been trying to get me to drink them, too. Like it’s impossible for me to live now in this body I have. I’m ashamed that I often look at my body and I secretly agree.”
“Fat Chance, Charlie Vega,” Maldonado’s first book, draws from her own life growing up Latina in Plainville. “I wasn’t like other people,” says Maldonado. The daughter of a white mother and Puerto Rican father, who didn’t speak Spanish, made it difficult to define her identity.
Charlie, like Maldonado, struggles to fit in and feels singled out as nobody can see past her weight and that she is the only Latino at her school.
Things start to look up for Charlie when the most popular boy asks her to the school dance, but then things suddenly go wrong. Charlie realizes that the pressure to become thinner and lose weight is very overwhelming.
The genre is romance, one that Maldonado said people have preconceived notions about. It can be fluffy, with hand-holding and kissing, but this, Maldonado said, is intentional.
“I felt like fat girls, and especially fat brown girls never got to have that experience. And in media, not just books, but when we were watching TV and watching movies, we rarely got to see characters that look like us as that heroine,” Maldonado told MassLive. “We were usually the bestie, we never would get to have our own storyline.”
Maldonado attended a book signing at the Barnes and Noble at the Brass Mill Commons in Waterbury this December, where she talked about her book and looked to inspire future writers who came to listen.
“Hearing from readers who identify with Charlie or who want to be her best friend is everything,” she says. “I’m appreciating everything as it comes and enjoying all of the big and small moments.”
Maldonado is focused on representation when writing about characters that are real to her but admits she is just one person with specific experiences. “That’s why I think we need to have more authors who are marginalized, more authors of color because the more room that we can make for those stories, the less pressure there is to get everything exactly right, and we make room for these different experiences,” she said.
A graduate from the University of Connecticut, Maldonado began her career working in the journalism field and published in Latina magazine, the Hartford Courant, and BuzzFeed.
She now lives in Springfield, Massachusetts with her husband and daughter.
“Fat Chance, Charlie Vega”, originally scheduled to be published in 2020, made its debut in February 2021 due to the pandemic. It is a 2021 New England Book Award winner, a Cosmopolitan Best New Book, and a POPSUGAR Best New YA Novel.
Her next novel, “No Filter and Other Lies”, set to be released in February 2022, explores the life of 16-year-old Kat Sanchez in the social media age—and the lies we tell to ourselves and others.