Growing up in Miami, Celia Perez always had a desire to see more representation of her Latina culture in children’s books. “I was a pretty hardcore reader, but I didn’t read a book that verified my own experiences and background until I was in my third year of college, which is pretty sad,” said Perez earlier this week.
The author of “The First Rule of Punk” — the first novel by the City Colleges of Chicago librarian — noted that as a kid she did connect with certain aspects of characters in her favorite Beverly Cleary or Judy Blume books, but “it was in different ways and for different reasons. I was so much older when I started reading books that mirrored my life and culture as a child of immigrants.”
In her novel, her central character Malu has moved to Chicago and has a hard time fitting in at her school. Perez thinks many “girls and also boys in middle school and high school will relate to the feelings of being an outsider, having trouble fitting in — as Malu does in my book.”
Malu — a nickname for the girl’s real name of Mary Luisa (which she hates!) — also has a love of punk music, and starts up a punk band.
Edgewater resident Perez shares that love, but for her it “came a lot later. I was in college when I got into punk,” said the University of Florida alum, who got her first job as a librarian in Chicago at the Regenstein Library at the University of Chicago in 2001. She moved to the City Colleges the following year.
“I now definitely consider myself to be a real Chicagoan,” said Perez proudly, noting she is already at work on another YA novel. “I’ve always loved to write, and I’ve always made zines — like my character does in the novel.”
The author was deeply moved by a woman who told her, after reading an early copy of the book, “she was past 48, and admitted to me she hadn’t seen herself in a novel until she read this. That’s heartbreaking on one level, but I’m glad it touched her so much.”
A launch party for “The First Rule of Punk” begins at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Women & Children First Bookstore on Clark Street in Andersonville. Perez will sign books, do a reading and talk about the experience of writing her first novel.