Check out previous interviews in the One Thing Leads to Another series here.
I remember thinking when Ball Don’t Lie came out that it was going to be a perfect book to share with the teen patrons of our library. I hadn’t read it yet, but I booktalked it like crazy and honestly, it practically sold itself. That book was always checked out. I also remember when I moved from the public library to a high school library that it was literally one of the first books I ordered for the collection. The school hadn’t had a librarian for eight years so there were a lot of holes to fill; Ball Don’t Lie was in the first order I placed. Why? Because in between those two jobs I’d actually snagged a copy for myself, read it, and fell in love. I was expecting to like it because the reviews were crazy good, and I was so happy to have what I thought was a book that filled a need, that would appeal to certain readers, a book about sports, with a memorable voice and great characters. But it was so much more than I was expecting
It’s kind of funny that this particular book stands out for me, among the hundreds and hundreds of books I’ve purchased for various collections over the years, but it does. I’ve been trying to figure out why, and I think it’s partly because even though I expected to like it, Ball Don’t Lie confounded all my expectations and (I hate to say it, but it’s true!) taught me a valuable lesson. I dove into that book expecting to find a story I could wholeheartedly and enthusiastically recommend to others, but what I found was a story for me.
Ever since then Matt de la Peña has been on both my “books to recommend” list and my “must-read author” list, and he’s never disappointed. In fact, just the opposite. And that was before he wrote some books about natural disasters (my obsession with natural disaster tales is a whole different post.)
Thanks, Matt, for taking the time to talk with me, and for earthquakes and sharks and biker gangs and Shy. And thank you for Sticky and the quiet stories and for bouncing back and forth.
Always Something There to Remind Me
Please describe your teenage self.
I was a basketball junkie. I’d take buses to the best hoop courts in southern California to see what the regulars there were all about. I had no money. I never went to parties. I didn’t drink. I was a mediocre student who wrote secret spoken word poetry in the back of class. I was very into the ladies.
What did you want to be when you grew up? Why?
I couldn’t see that far ahead. My dream was to be the first de la Peña to go to college, and I needed basketball to pay my way. That was as far out as I could see. Every night I’d assess whether or not I got closer to my dream that day. I’d think about how cool it would be to go to college as I lay on the floor in my room, shooting a basketball up at the ceiling and letting it fall back into my hands. I wouldn’t let myself go to sleep until I did that for an hour.
What were your high school years like?
I liked school, but I also knew I was never going to get money for college because of my grades. I think I could have done really well in my classes if I would have spent more time on them. But I did the math. If I spent more hours on the game of basketball, I’d have a better chance of getting a free college education. It’s counterintuitive, I know. But I had to study less to go further academically. There were, however, a few teachers who “captured” me. English teachers. Mrs. Blizzard, my 11th grade English teacher was probably the most influential. She told me I was a great writer. And even though I didn’t believe her at the time, I loved her class. She allowed me to keep the school copy of The House on Mango Street.