Hello everybody. Today’s post is a spoiler free review of Raquel Vasquez Gilliland’s YA Sci-Fi/Fantasy Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything, followed by an interview with the author.
It’s been three years since ICE raids and phone calls from Mexico and an ill-fated walk across the Sonoran. Three years since Sia Martinez’s mom disappeared. Sia wants to move on, but it’s hard in her tiny Arizona town where people refer to her mom’s deportation as “an unfortunate incident.” Sia knows that her mom must be dead, but every new moon Sia drives into the desert and lights San Anthony and la Guadalupe candles to guide her mom home. Then one night, under a million stars, Sia’s life and the world as we know it cracks wide open. Because a blue-lit spacecraft crashes in front of Sia’s car…and it’s carrying her mom, who’s very much alive. As Sia races to save her mom from armed-quite-possibly-alien soldiers, she uncovers secrets as profound as they are dangerous in this stunning and inventive exploration of first love, family, immigration, and our vast, limitless universe.
My review of Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything
Characters and relationships
Sia is a very compelling main character. The book opens with her still trying to come to terms with her mother’s disappearance. Along with this, she also suffers from PTSD resulting from something traumatic happened to her when she was still with her ex-boyfriend. Her father, whose character I also really loved, is not only very understanding of everything she’s going through, but he is also very supportive, going as far as teaching her self-defense. I also liked the friendship between Sia and her best friend Rose. It was portrayed very realistically, including both painful falling outs and heartwarming moments. The book also featured a well developed romantic subplot between Sia and new student Noah and although this was developed very well throughout the book, I also liked that it did not take away from the larger events happening in the story and the other themes being explored in the book.
Culture and racism
Sia is a Latinx girl and at the beginning of the story, we are told that her mother disappeared after trying to cross the desert to be reunited with her family after being previously forcibly deported to Mexico. The book does a great job of exploring Latinx culture, as well as depicting the often bleak reality faced by immigrants in the US. Racism is also vastly discussed in the book. The book does not shy away from showing a reality faced by people of colour that is all too often either brushed over or ignored. The book looks at racism within the school system and also within the police force. It also looks at the racism faced by young people of colour at school, often from their own classmates.
Myths and folklore
Both Sia’s mother and her abuela used to share myths and stories from their culture with her and these stories play a significant role throughout the book. I really enjoyed reading about these various myths and stories and they definitely add an element of magic and mysticism to the story that I really liked.
Conspiracy theories and otherworldly plot twists
I won’t say too much about the sci-fi elements teased in the book’s blurb, because I think it’s best to go into the story without knowing too much. I will say however that you if enjoy stories with sci-fi elements and if you like a good alien related conspiracy theory, you will definitely enjoy this book.
Interview with Raquel Vasquez Gilliland
QaS: Myths and folktales feature heavily in the book, many of which being stories that Sia’s mother and abuela passed on to her. For example, my favorite is the story about how the universe was born from a woman. Where did you get your inspiration for the various myths and stories that feature in the book?
RVG: If one were to examine my poetry (I have two books published), one would find that I love to make up and write creation myths. Although I have studied myths and folklore since my undergrad days as a major of cultural anthropology, my main influences have been the stories my grandmother tells us, and the stories I have heard from her family, biblical influences, and also inspiration from my research into Mesoamerican cosmology.
QaS: I also enjoyed the key role that space and astrological bodies play in the story, especially the moon, which is my favorite astrological body. What drew you to the moon in particular as a thematic element in this book?
RVG: Again, I am going to point to my poetry as evidence—I have always been interested in the moon! It has been such a key factor in the development of cultures, myth, lore, and civilization, from appearing in stories that explain our place in the world to helping early humans keep track of time. There is a magical quality to moonlight that is even more amplified in the US Southwest. There is a thickness to it, the feeling like it is rain. I felt like the setting and the moon went hand in hand for that reason!
QaS: Two of the characters in this book, Noah and Omar, absolutely love conspiracy theories. What are some of the conspiracy theories that you either drew inspiration from for this story, or that you find fascinating?
RVG: I first got into alien conspiracy theory as a teenager and loved visiting various forums until my early twenties. There are so many really awesome— as well as really wacky— ideas out there. Some of what I remembered in those days went into developing Omar as a character, especially the idea that aliens have infiltrated politics. What I find most fascinating about alien conspiracy theory actually didn’t make it into the book, and that’s specifically on crop circles. Crop circles are very strange, and they are near-impossible to replicate. Maybe someday I will write a book that touches on that conspiracy lore!
QaS: In the book, Sia’s science teacher, Mr Woods, gives the students the following assignment: “What unusual question would you ask if you were getting to know someone better?” Sia’s answer to this is: “Which plant are you a descendant of?” If you were to pick an unusual question of your own to ask someone, what would you pick?
RVG: This is great, because one of the unusual questions I like to ask people when I first meet them is, “What is the weirdest thing you have ever eaten?” It really can tell you a lot about a person—what they find weird to eat, to how adventurous they are, to how they react to unusual questions like that. The weirdest response I have received to that question, believe it or not, was coyote dung.
QaS: One of the topics that the book touches upon is how school management responds to issues to do with race and racism within its student body. For instance, in the book, Sia gets suspended following a fight with a student, during which he uses a racial slur to refer to her. After Sia is suspended, it becomes very clear that the principal deliberately wants her to get behind on her schoolwork, even making sure that the teachers don’t allow Sia to work on her assignments during the period of her suspension. With regards to this, what do you think schools could do better to support their non-white students, especially in situations like this, where these students have to deal with racism in a school setting and sometimes even from their own peers?
RVG: I am not a teacher, nor have I ever taught in a public school setting, but I have many family members who teach and have taught. From what they have said, it seems one of the biggest problems in schools is administration treating students of color as though they need to be controlled, with the implication that otherwise, they would be out of control. Because of this, there are so many issues that develop between students of color and those in power. Teachers and administrators may see students of color as older than their actual age, or see them as inherent troublemakers, and treat them accordingly. When facing racism within student conflicts, teachers, especially white teachers, may wish to avoid it altogether, because it is such an uncomfortable subject for them. The solutions, I’d hope, would include not ignoring racism, either within student conflict or within how teachers and administration view and interact with students of color. In order to heal, you have to acknowledge the racism is there in the first place.
QaS: Although the book wraps-up very satisfyingly, the ending definitely leaves the possibility for more stories. So for our final question, would you potentially like to revisit this world at some point, and maybe even write a sequel?
RVG: It is possible for me to write a sequel, of course, but I don’t have plans for that right now! As much as I would love to see what happens next—because as an author, not having written it, I know very little—it’s difficult to stay with such heavy material for long for me. My next books are romances, probably because I needed some cheering up! But again, you never know! Maybe I will get around to a sequel. In the meantime, SIA MARTINEZ is optioned by Annapurna TV, and I’m excited to see where they take the story after the events in the book!
About the author
I’m a Mexican American poet, novelist, painter, mother and aspiring micro-farmer. In my work, I explore myths and folklore as well as motherhood, plants and the lineages of all things. I was born in West Palm Beach, Florida and I grew up there with my parents, brother and sister. I studied fine art for many years, specializing in painting, both in high school and college. I have a B.A. in cultural anthropology from the University of West Florida and an M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of Alaska, Anchorage. My first poetry collection is Dirt and Honey and my second is Tales From the House of Vasquez. My debut YA novel, Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything, was published on August 11, 2020 by Simon Pulse, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. I’m represented by Elizabeth Bewley of Sterling Lord Literistic.
You can follow Raquel online at the following: