In OLGA DIES DREAMING, Xochitl Gonzalez follows the life of Olga and her family, against the backdrop of New York City in the months following the most devastating hurricane in Puerto Rico’s history. Today, Xochitl joins us with a letter to librarians to share how it feels to have her book in the hands of others.
It’s a personal honor for me to have my book—OLGA DIES DREAMING—in your hands and on your library’s bookshelves. As a person who grew up in the stacks and common tables of my local library, I recognize what important roles libraries play in our communities. They are places of discovery: of knowledge, of history, of other human experiences and of one another and the librarians that work there are stewards and guides of all of this. My local library was where I learned to read, where I found out how to apply for financial aid, and even where I met my oldest friends. (We were, admittedly, in the robust V.C. Andrews section.)
Perhaps this is why, in the nine months since my first novel, OLGA DIES DREAMING has been published, my first time seeing her stocked in a public library—wrapped in clear plastic with a decimal number on her spine—still ranks as one of my greatest thrills. I imagined all the people who grew up like me—working class Latinas in outer borough New York—who might check that copy out and see themselves between its pages. I imagined all the people who grew up nothing like me—from backgrounds more diverse than I can even imagine—who might check the novel out for a spell and find themselves transported, for a time, to Olga’s Brooklyn. I hoped that she would stay with her future readers long after the copy was returned back to the branch.
And Olga does seem to have a certain stickiness. In some way this is by design. I set out to write a book about a middle-aged woman like myself, one whose life is complicated and full of challenges, but also full of joy. And full of love: for family, for community, for home, for heritage. It’s a complex story, yet when people ask what its about, I often say resilience. And I think in these challenging times, that spirit of resilience is what has made readers so passionate about the book. I am continually moved by the emails and direct messages that I receive on social media—every day—from Olga readers.
Some have stayed up all night reading and couldn’t wait another minute to tell me what it meant to them, to see their lives on these pages. Others from readers who had read the book months ago, had never been to New York, knew nothing about Puerto Ricans, but can’t stop thinking about Olga, her family and Brooklyn. I’ve gotten notes from readers who were the only Latino in a community and felt a new found pride in their identity after reading Olga. Letters from people who decided to come out to their families after finishing the book. Notes from readers who’ve made the book a family read and used it as a way to talk about things too long left unsaid. But my favorite messages are from the people who really get what the book is truly about: that yes life is hard, but we can find strength in the people around us.
With that in mind, as you consider books for your community’s One Reads program, I hope that you might consider OLGA DIES DREAMING. A book about one very specific woman and family, but with a message that I believe is truly universal.