Stories As Mirrors: An Interview with Elisabet Velasquez on "When We Make It"

Debut novelist Elisabet Velasquez talks with SLJ about weaving joy into the heaviness of life, helping young people feel heard, and how stories can give readers a mirror to see their reflections.

In her debut novel-in-verse When We Make It, Elisabet Velasquez shares the story of Sarai, a first-generation Puerto Rican eighth grader living in Bushwick, Brooklyn, as she navigates family traumas, toxic masculinity, gentrification, and more. Velasquez talks with SLJ about weaving joy into the heaviness of life, helping young people feel heard, and how stories can give readers a mirror to see their reflections.

You've worked in lots of heavy topics in this novel-in-versegentrification, mental illness, the sexualization of girls. And yet, you manage to weave in things like the power of the sisterly bond and the intricate details that make Bushwick, Bushwick. How were you able to balance these two narratives into one novel-in-verse?
I was really aiming to write in a way that felt true to how life happens sometimes. The world is really heavy, and you have to try to weave in joy and not feel guilty for it either. I didn't want to write a fairy tale, and I also didn't want to dismiss reality. 

You're an established poet and essayist. What drew you to  writing YA? 
I knew that this was a story that I wanted to tell, and so I started writing this story as an adult in hindsight. But the story actually did not budge until it was told from the point of view of a young adult trying to grow up in the middle of Brooklyn in the 1990s. I think young people are some of the most brilliant observers of our time. As a young adult, I often had a lot to say about what was going on around me and no one to say it to. I wasn't heard. I hope this story helps young people feel heard and connected to their own experiences and stories.

A lot of blood, sweat, and tears go into this. What, if anything, surprised you while writing When We Make It?
That I finished! Some days I didn't know if I had it in me to weave a complete narrative together using verse form. I don't say this enough, but I am definitely proud that I did it. 

What would 12-year-old you think about Sarai? Would they be friends? I think 12-year-old Elisabet would be kind of amazed at how Sarai is navigating her life. I think she would look up to her.

What book (if any) made you fall in love with reading?
I credit Sandra Cisneros for introducing me to stories that gave me a mirror to see my reflection. I was able to connect to my story through Esperanza's, and that's what I hope Sarai's story does for young people reading it today. 

What are you working on next?
I'm hoping to adapt When We Make It into a film. I don't know how that's gonna happen yet, but that's kind of the point. Say the thing you hope for out loud and figure it out later. I'm also looking forward to taking lots of naps. Naps are life. 

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing