In 2020, books – especially those in the fantasy genre – have helped us process and understand the world we live in today.
Lobizona by Romina Garber is no exception. With a combination of brilliant world-building influenced by Argentinian folklore and addressing the immigrant experience under the current United States administration, Garber’s first book in her newest series is truly enjoyable and thought provoking.
I am thankful I was able to sit down and talk with Garber about her own life experiences and heritage that influenced this work as well as what we can expect next from the series.
The Young Folks (TYF): In your own words, can you please explain what Lobizona is about?
Romina Garber (RG): Lobizona is the book teen-me needed—a YA fantasy about supernatural creatures who speak my languages, share my cultures, and make me swoon!
To me, the story is an exploration of the immigrant identity. Lobizona is about what it’s like to come from two worlds but belong to neither. To speak two languages but still lack the vocabulary to define yourself. Manu’s dual identity as a human and a werewolf is a threat to both her worlds, and rather than having two homes, she’s left with none. As an immigrant, this sense of homelessness is one I’ve struggled with my whole life.
TYF: Where did the idea for this story come from? What was it influenced by?
RG: Like Manu, I was flipping through the pages of a newspaper when I discovered the Argentine law that inspired this story—ley de padrinazgo presidencial 20.843. It declares the President of Argentina godparent to the seventh consecutive son or daughter in a family.
When I researched the history of this custom, facts seemed to bleed into folklore, until I stumbled across a superstition that claims these children are born cursed: Seventh daughters are brujas, and seventh sons are lobizones. Werewolves.
TYF: Why did you decide to write a fantasy story that bridges our world to that of the lobizones and brujas?
RG: What fascinates me most about this concept is the thin border separating fact from fiction. Was the Argentine law simply a tradition brought over by dignitaries visiting from Europe in the early 1900s? Was it a government countermeasure to stop parents from abandoning children they feared had been born cursed? Was it both? And why is it still in effect today?
My parents met at the end of the Guerra Sucia, a violent dictatorship during which dissidents disappeared overnight and children were ripped from their families. To this day, the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo continue to search for their lost grandchildren.
So I wove Argentinian fantasy into my contemporary tale to sound a warning of how thin the line is between policy and public sentiment. There’s a moment in the book when Manu asks Perla why so many Latin American authors employ magic in their stories, and Perla says, “Sometimes reality strays so far from what’s rational that we can only explain it through fantasy.”
That pretty much sums up this book.
TYF: This book does a really great job acknowledging ICE and the current administration’s focus on the deportation of undocumented immigrants as well as the immigrant experience. Why was this such an important aspect for the book and for its characters?
RG: Over a decade ago, I had written a very different book inspired by the same Argentinian law and folklore. Yet when I tried to land representation, I was told that US teen readers didn’t care about Argentine immigrants. (In other words, they didn’t care about me.) So I let the idea go.
Yet when this new administration took power, the situation for people coming to this country in search of a safer future became so harrowing that I realized I’d made a mistake giving up on this story and these characters. I should have fought harder for their right to exist.
So when I wrote this new version, I wanted to draw a parallel between human and supernatural law enforcement to remind the reader that this isn’t just escapist fun. Rather, this is a book about worlds and who gets to live in them–and the border between fantasy and reality is as thin as the edge of the page you’re turning.
TYF: There are some really great feminist characters in this book – and Manu and her story really bolsters their ideas. What inspired this underlying theme and why did you decide to tie it in throughout the book?
RG: Thank you! I wanted to present an array of paths and perspectives that portray what it’s like for girls growing up in a patriarchy. I believe there are so many ways to be a feminist, and that’s the point these characters are making: Women should be empowered to make their own choices.
TYF: As someone who was born in Argentina and raised in Miami, what was it like to bring your heritage and Argentinian folklore to the forefront?
RG: Sharing this book with readers is everything to me. I didn’t realize how limiting language was until I wrote this story in my true tongue—Spanglish.
It felt so liberating to be able to think and write in both Spanish and English for this story. To be able to feed my characters the foods I’m most familiar with, to play with folklore that’s always fascinated me, to design a supernatural Argentina (to be seen in the sequel) . . . It was one of the most freeing writing experiences of my life.
TYF: Lastly, what was it like to go from writing the Zodiac series to Lobizona? What should readers look forward to next?
RG: I won’t lie, I had a hard time at first! Not so much technically, but emotionally. After four books set in the Zodiac Galaxy, I was not ready to move on. It took me a while to let myself fall in love with my new universe and its characters, but now that I have, I can’t imagine leaving Lunaris. She’s my home, and she’s teaching me so much about myself.
I’m working on the sequel to Lobizona now, and I cannot wait to share it with you! Thank you so much for these seven questions . . . what an intriguing number. ;)
About the Author:
Romina Garber is a New York Times and international bestselling author whose books include Lobizona & the ZODIAC series. Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and raised in Miami, Florida, Romina landed her first writing gig as a teen—College She Wrote, a weekly Sunday column for the Miami Herald that was later picked up for national syndication—and she hasn’t stopped writing since. She is a graduate of Harvard College and a Virgo to the core.