Reese’s Book Club spotlights San Diego author, Laura Taylor Namey
“A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow” is the November YA pick in Reese’s Book Club
As many readers of modern novels know, actress Reese Witherspoon has a book club with an impressive list of picks: “The Library Book” by Susan Orlean, Delia Owens’ “Where the Crawdads Sing,” “Such a Fun Age” by Kiley Reid and Celeste Ng’s “Little Fires Everywhere.”
And the latest author to join Reese’s Book Club is San Diego’s Laura Taylor Namey.
Her novel, “A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow” was Reese’s Book Club’s November YA selection thanks, perhaps, to the many traits it shares with the other picks — complex female characters, multicultural points-of-view, family connections and, of course, romance.
“It’s absolutely amazing,” Namey says about her novel being selected. “Working with Reese Witherspoon’s team has been life changing ... just the exposure and the opportunity, and the way that they’re showcasing my story and how it relates to ‘Cuban Girl.’”
“A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow” is a coming-of-age story about Lila Reyes, a recent high school graduate who loses her grandmother, her boyfriend and her best friend practically at the same time.
Though Lila is meant to take over her grandmother’s Cuban bakery, her family instead sends her to stay with relatives in England to relax and recover from her various losses. Of course, that’s where she meets Orion Maxwell, forcing Lila to reevaluate her plans.
The book showcases the Cuban customs and family-centric environment in which Namey was raised. It also incorporates lots of words and phrases in Spanish.
The story is partly set in Miami, Florida, and the chapters are filled with vivid descriptions of the city’s colors and flavors. They’re so descriptive, it’s actually a surprise to find out that Namey is a San Diego native. She grew up in Crown Point, graduated from Mission Bay High and the University of San Diego, and currently lives in Tierrasanta with her family.
“Well, I do come from a huge Cuban family and most of my relatives are in Florida,” Namey says. “I spent many summers in Florida, and my time in Miami is really embedded in my childhood and in my coming-of-age.”
Namey was able to use her own experiences and memories to craft the Miami storyline — everything from conversations overhead in the panadería, or bakery, to the sticky summer humidity.
But “A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow” is also set in Winchester , England (hence the tea). And those chapters took a bit more creativity and research, which Namey explains she did in various “tiers.”
Aside from her own memories of being in England, the author relied on a friend who once lived in Winchester to help with accuracy in everything from neighborhood haunts to the the subtle differences in speech.
“I did get some tidbits wrong,” Namey admits. “Like, in England they don’t say the word ‘blocks,’ they say ‘streets.’ They wouldn’t say ‘I live two blocks away,’ they’d say ‘I live two streets over.’”
Another tier in her research was good, old fashioned internet searches. Thanks to Google Maps technology, Namey was able to plop into the middle of the city and virtually wander around.
But most important, Namey says she has a deep — though somewhat unexplained — connection to England.
“Even though I’m a California girl, I always felt I was born for a different place,” she says. “I love England’s antiquity, the cold weather, the cottages ... I decided to marry (Miami and Winchester) in a Yin/Yang way because I believe as an author, when you write something, you can showcase each element more by pairing it with its opposite.”
This unique blending of cultures caught the attention of Reese’s Book Club, an impressive feat for it just being Namey’s second published book.
The mother of two (ages 16 and 19) came into writing when her youngest was in fifth grade. Namey found herself coming up with story concepts and writing at soccer matches, in the back of a car during cheerleading practice and even at “the jump place.”
After years of ideas and drafts, her first book, “The Library of Lost Things” was released in 2019 and made its way to the top of year-end YA book lists. “A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow” was released in 2020, and Taylor Namey is already finishing up edits on her next novel.
Though the title hasn’t been revealed, she can say that it takes place in San Diego — specifically her old neighborhood.
“Crown Point is so important to the book that it’s almost a character,” she says. “I always think of Crown Point of being this little peninsula that has parenthesis of water around it that hug this little, tightknit community. That’s how I felt growing up there.”
That book focuses on how a watchful community affects friendships, sometimes in negative ways. It’s scheduled for release in 2021.
But for now, Namey is enjoying the whirlwind that comes from being a Reese’s Book Club pick. And, of course, she’s coming up with new ideas to bring to her growing young audience.
“I try to write for a universal teenage experience,” she says. “When there’s something I see in the world, I like to explore it and frame that for a teenage audience. I think teens need to see models of themselves, not to learn a lesson, but just to see themselves in the kinds of stories and in struggles that we all go through.”
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