Launch Day for Pardalita!
April 18, 2023 is another big book birthday for me. It’s the launch day for the first YA book I’ve translated, the hybrid graphic novel/verse novel Pardalita, by author-illustrator Joana Estrela. The publisher is Levine Querido, a major publisher of books in translation for children and teens.
Set in a small town in Portugal today, Pardalita is the story of 16-year-old Raquel, who sees an older schoolmate from afar and becomes infatuated with her. At the time, Raquel has just been suspended for cursing a school aide who asked her about her father’s second marriage — a sensitive topic for this child of divorced parents. The story unfolds with two separate timelines — one in the present and one flashing back to episodes in Raquel’s past that have stayed with her over the years. Among them are her parents fighting, her relationship with best friend Luísa, and her attraction to girls. At age 12 Raquel is stung by a poisonous fish at the beach:
I don’t recall how I got to the hospital, but I do remember the girl stilling in the bed next to me. She was blond and had freckles all over. I could even see them through her black sheer stockings and was mesmerized. It nev er occurred to me that someone could have freckles on their legs. It was the most beautiful thing I’d see on anyone’s body.
The older student at Raquel’s school, Pardalita, turns out to be a gifted artist who is graduating and moving to Lisbon in the fall to attend art school. When Luísa’s boyfriend, Fred, decides to audition for a community theater, Raquel agrees to go with him to cheer him on, and to her surprise, Pardalita is there, the assistant director of the play, an adaptation of the Greek myth of Hero and Leander. Unaware of Raquel’s crush on her, she invites Raquel to audition as well, and Raquel, who believes she has no special talent or direction for her life, ends up a member of the stage crew. What are the chances that Pardalita is also attracted to girls, and attracted to Raquel?
This gentle coming-of-age story has already received four starred reviews and two other very positive reviews that you can read on my Translations page. It’s a window into life in another country — a country that has become very popular with travelers and migrants from the United States, as many of my blog pieces attest. At the same time, it touches on universal themes, from small towns where everyone knows each other’s business to parents who have fallen out of love with each other to knowing that you don’t fit the norm and worrying if your longtime friends will accept you for it.