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Mirror to Mirror by Rajani LaRocca

Rajani LaRocca shares Mirror to Mirror (Quill Tree Books), an evocative novel in verse  about identical twin sisters who do everything together--until external pressures threaten to break them apart.


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About the book: Mirror to Mirror  by Rajani LaRocca. Published by Quill Tree Books.



Rajani LaRocca, recipient of a Newbery Honor and Walter Award for Red, White, and Whole, is back with an evocative novel in verse about identical twin sisters who do everything together--until external pressures threaten to break them apart.


Maya is the pragmatic twin, but her secret anxiety threatens to overwhelm her. Chaya is the outgoing twin. When she sees her beloved sister suffering, she wants to tell their parents--which makes Maya feel completely betrayed. With Maya shutting her out, Chaya makes a dramatic change to give her twin the space she seems to need. But that's the last thing Maya wants, and the girls just drift further apart.


The once-close sisters can't seem to find their rhythm, so they make a bet: they'll switch places at their summer camp, and whoever can keep the ruse going longer will get to decide where they both attend high school--the source of frequent arguments. But stepping into each other's shoes comes with its own difficulties, and the girls don't know how they're going to make it.


This emotional, lyrical story will speak to fans of Ali Benjamin, Padma Venkatraman, and Jasmine Warga.



Episode Transcript:


INTRO


Matthew: Welcome to the Children’s Book Podcast. I’m Matthew.


I am a teacher, a librarian, a writer, and a fan of kids. 


Having a sibling can be awesome, but it can also be difficult. And if that sibling is a twin? That might mean years of comparison and grouping that drive a need to set yourself apart.


Today I’m excited to welcome back Rajani LaRocca to the podcast.


We spent time in conversation around Mirror to Mirror (Quill Tree Books), Rajani’s novel in verse about identical twin sisters who do everything together--until external pressures threaten to break them apart.


Let’s step into my conversation with Rajani LaRocca. Ready? Here we go.



INTERVIEW


Rajani: Hi, my name is Rajni LaRocca. My pronouns are she/her. And I am the author of Mirror to Mirror.


Matthew: Okay, so… for not just the readers that have read Mirror to Mirror, but those also that have not been introduced yet. Who are Chaya and Maya? How would you introduce them? Or how would they introduce themselves to your readers if they showed up at a school visit?


I thought that's probably the best way to ask you, who are these characters in the context of the readers listening? 


Rajani: Yes. 


So Maya and Chaya are identical twin sisters who are about to start seventh grade at the beginning of the book. And they are very close to each other. They really, really love each other and are connected on a very deep level.


And they're both pretty amazing musicians. They both play classical piano. But, Maya has a secret that she is not sharing with the world at large. She's got terrible anxiety and feels a lot of guilt and shame and doesn't want her parents in particular to know about that. 

So Chaya knows about it because they're so close, but even Chaya at the beginning of this book is beginning to realize that she can't be the only person who's trying to help her sister.



So she's encouraging Maya to tell their parents.


Matthew: I should tell you because I didn't, I didn't tell you this yet. I should just tell you that I think this book is exceptional Rajani. I read Red, White, and Whole when… I don't know when. It must've been over the pandemic or something. And then it was selected for the Black-Eyed Susan [Book Award] and that was all great. 


This was one, this was a really, it was a special one. There was a lot of moments of, I don't know, we all put ourselves onto the characters that we're reading, but there was a lot of like, Well, like the question I'm about to ask you where you can see that the girls are sort of coming to know each other better And you know your identity in the context of the people that are around you, right?


And so I think I was sort of unexpectedly caught in moments of introspection as I was reading this and it I just want to share with you that that that was really special. You did a really effective job with your characters. You took great care with them, but also I think you, you, you allowed them to be able to assert themselves in ways that, that was needed.


So just good on you. That was great. 

Rajani: Thank you. I really appreciate that. 



Matthew: Yeah. So the, the question I want to lead you into is that, you know, in this story, we, as you said, are coming into Chaya where it is this coming into their own identity. And what does it mean to be a twin, but to be yourself, to be your own and to really, I think, push against what other people might be expecting you to do or to be or to like.


And so I thought I would just ask you if there's any experiences in your life where that you would be comfortable sharing, where you began to see yourself or your path. is potentially different from what others expected of you or thought of you, or maybe even that you thought of yourself?



Rajani: That's such a good question. I don't know if I have a specific moment from my own life, but I do remember growing up wondering at times whether the person that people saw was actually me. You know, I think you know, in general, I was a really good student. I seemed to like every subject in school.


I did well in music. I, you know, acted on stage. I did dance stuff. But inside, I mean, I definitely had plenty of insecurities that probably didn't show when I was in class or on stage or, you know, whatever. And, uh, I think that I spent a lot of my You know, younger years wondering, or worried about what other people thought of me all the time.

And, um, you know, I think it wasn't until I was kind of later in high school that I realized that, that people didn't see me like that. But that's how I felt inside. And so, uh, you know, then kind of, figured my way through how do I align these things more carefully, or how do I become, how do I express my true self in a, in a way that is respectful, but also kind of requires people to see me the way that I see myself.


So it was interesting. And, and part of that has to do with Um, names had to do with the fact that I think for most of my childhood, most of the people that I spent time in school with, you know, including my teachers and my friends didn't say my name right. And I don't think I like didn't. I didn't think it was a thing that I should care about, so I didn't really say anything about it.


And it wasn't until I went to college that I was like, you know what, I'm going to pronounce my name the way that it should be pronounced, and kind of nicely ask people to say it that way, and see what happens.


Matthew: I love that for you, that there was a moment of just, I sort of brush this off all the time, but I don't have to. Uh, there's a point in the book, gosh, it must be at least halfway through, but there's a point in the book that the, the sisters are involved in this argument. Uh, remember Rajni, the part in the book where the sisters are involved in the argument?


That's how I, like, realized that I'm telling you, I'm telling you your book. Um, but where, where there's this moment that turns into a literal dare. to experience life from the other perspective. Let's switch. Let's just switch. You think it's easy. Let's switch. Um, for me, not having a twin, not being a twin, not having twin kids or anything like that, experiencing it outside of that, still, it strikes me as such a true and real experience for so many of us wanting, as you were just sharing, wanting, when you were asking, I wonder I wonder how people see me.


The experience of wanting to feel seen as we are. I would love, uh, to hear more of you talk on that because that, to me, is how I experienced that, that, that part of the book, that part of the plot, that it was these girls saying, you think you know what my, even if you're my twin, you think you know what my experience of life is like.

And I think the only way you're going to believe or understand me is to just go experience it as me as really only a twin could. But I wonder sort of emotionally your connection to that.

Rajani: This is such a great question. So. This is my, this is my thought on this. Um, okay, so first of all, wanting to be seen for who you are, and understood and accepted for who you are, is such a primal human need, right? Like, this is what we're all searching for. I mean, we're especially searching for it during adolescence, but really all of our lives, this is what we want.




We want people to understand who we are and love us for it, right? Okay, so this is my take. So most of us are not Identical twins, right? We can't literally go live somebody else's life and know what that's like, but the way we do that is through books. So we live other people's lives through books. This is why it is so important not only to see yourself in a book and to say, Oh, I am reflected in this book.


I get what this character is going through because that feels like me. But it's also important to read books about people who are not like us because this is the only way as humans that we're going to be able to experience what somebody else has experienced. It's through reading about it. And, um, of course non fiction is awesome.


There are some of us for whom fiction is an easier in to this. You get wrapped up in a story, you go along with the character, you're like, I, I feel what that character feels, even though they're not at all like me. So, in a way, the way to be the identical twin that you never had, is to be a character in literature and understand what it is just for a little, just for a small amount of time to be another person.

Matthew: Gosh, I love that. And it does make me wonder leading into our next question, what moment or idea, or just what was the point of inspiration that w

hether it was Maya and Chaya speaking to you, um, whether it was just, you had this nugget of an idea. I would love to know where this idea started for you to explore this story.

It is universal. I agree. But yeah, tell me more. 



Rajani: So, okay, the, the idea for this story started, uh, with a, a virtual poetry workshop in April 2020 with Leslie Newman. So I signed up for this workshop and she talked about different types of poetry and, you know, it was COVID, it was early days of COVID. We were all stuck in our houses.


We had no place to go, nothing to do. I was like, Oh, this is good. I'll just expand my mind a little bit. And, um, one of the poetry forms that she talked about was called a guzzle, which is a type of poem that is, um, popular in South Asia and the Middle East. It is often set to music, like it's almost always a song, it's sung like a song, and it has a repeated refrain at the end of each line.


So she showed us a guzzle, and then she showed us kind of like takes on this form. And oh, and they're often sad, and they're often about love. So, kind of lamenting about love kind of thing. So, I was so inspired by this workshop that I wrote a guzzle. And it was about identical twin sisters. It was about one twin lamenting that her twin had changed.

And she didn't know why. And she felt like they used to be so close, but now they were growing further apart. And I finished that poem and I revised it. And then I thought, who are these twins? Like, where did this come from? And that was the start of this book.


Matthew:  I love that, I love that you just wrote this poem, and then was like, what happened?


Who are these people? That's neat. I, I, I know that muse. I know writing to something that I need to relent to the words that want to come onto the page. I know that. Um, it's neat Rajini to hear that that was, that that happened. That's really neat. And I'm glad that you explored it. Were there any, I don't know if there was research in this book, if there was exploring, if there was talking to family members, if there was talking to whatever.


But I would love to know if there were any interesting or new to you, things that you learned or moments that occurred throughout this process of writing Mirror to Mirror. Because I mean, I, I think writing in two voices and allowing them to be distinct, but also intertwined, that feels like a challenge to me.


And I think, again, I mentioned to you earlier, I think you really handled it really well, but, um, I'd love to hear a little bit again about your journey there. Absolutely. 



Rajani: The original draft of this book, uh, had the two voices, but one of them was in verse and one of them was in prose. And, um, that was my original idea.


And it was hard to write because I felt like I kept, my brain didn't know what to do going from verse to prose and back again, so I just wrote chunks of it in prose and chunks of it in verse. And then I turned in that first draft and, um, my editor was the one who suggested that I change them both to verse.


And she said it was hard to go back and forth and I said, I know it's hard to go back and forth because it's hard for me and I'm the writer. So, okay. So then I was a little bit, I mean, I was challenged, uh, because I thought, okay, I mean, I have to write them both in verse. How do I make them distinct from one another?


And how do I, uh, still make it feel like it's the same book? And, um, I think this is a case where, uh, you know, it took some time because it was during COVID and, you know, like, everything was upside down. Lots of people were busy and it took some time for her, for my editor to get back with her notes. And I actually think that the time was useful to me because she, she'd already told me, um, I think we need to put them both in verse.


So my brain was kind of working on it subconsciously before I even got her notes. And by the time I got her notes, I was like, I mean, I know, I know exactly how I want to do this. And okay, like I can, I can do it. And I'd already kind of written a few new poems and, um, thought about it. And, and I think that, um, sometimes when you're faced with a challenge, I think this just reinforces it.


Time is the best thing you have, because time away from your project means that your brain, when it looks at it again, sees it in a new way. And so I was, you know, I was grateful for that. Um, so yeah, that was my, that was my big challenge. You know, I had written one previous book of mine in dual POV, and I swore to myself I would never do that again because it was so hard.


And here I am again! That's the way it always happens, I think. So yeah, um. And then the other thing, uh, just in terms of new to me, I did some, uh, interviews with identical twin sisters for this book. So not only am I not a twin, I don't have siblings. I'm an only child. I don't even know what it's like to actually have a sibling, but I mean, I have children who are siblings, so I have more of an inkling of that, but I, when I researched this and I, when I interviewed those twins, I was


I was just like, really? Like, I mean, a relationship that was so close that I was kind of, I couldn't believe it. One of them said, you know, these are all women. Um, and one of them said, you know, that feeling when you have a baby and you think here's the person that I would do anything for, like, I would literally die for this, this child.


I was like, yeah. And they said, well, I, I've known what that feels like all my life and I was like, Oh my goodness. Like that was incredible. That was incredible. I was like, wow. So, um, there was that. My mother in law is an identical twin. She has told me through the years, all these stories of kind of spooky things where like they were separated and one of them got hurt and the other one felt it.


And it was like this weird connection. I know. Um, they often, uh, she and her twin sister often still by each other at the identical present without. They just went off independently and they come back and they're like, look what I got you. And it's the same thing. It's very funny. So, um, I just was fascinated by this spooky connection that twins can have, but the other side to this, you know, as a, as an author is that.


You know, central to all, to every book is conflict. So for me, I was looking for, where is the conflict in the middle of people who are this close to each other? And, um, so that's what I, that's what I really worked on for this book.


Matthew: That's, that's so terrific. There were, there are a couple of things there that I was like, as soon as you were getting on the, that in writing, it would be pre writing all that work we do in our, in our brains before getting onto paper, but thinking like, I bet.


I was older when I realized that that's what I was doing, that that was part of my process. When I was a kid, I did not realize that. Um, but I, I thought like, I bet I'll make sure in the episode that I say something in my narration to that effect. Cause I'm sure even when we're preparing for tests or events or whatever, we do a lot of pre, pre, uh, prep.


Of course we would. Um, but even like thinking prep, um, but that notion that having a twin, I just haven't ever heard it put that way. It's like the feeling of what you would do for your child. Only it's your, it's your other half. Wow. Uh, Roger, do you have the book in front of you? Would you mind reading an excerpt to us?


Of course, whatever, whatever you'd like. Oh, feel free to set it up so that we know what's going on, but. Yeah, I love that. Yeah. 


Rajani: So, um, this is a poem from Chaya's point of view. It's called Identical. And, um, basically this is a poem. So at this point in the book, we already know that Maya has anxiety that she doesn't want to tell anybody about.


And we already know that Chaya feels like she is her defender. that she's the one that protects Chaya, Maya from the rest of the world. Um, but this is Chaya kind of, uh, merging what she feels about her sister with some science that she's learning in her science class. Chaya. Identical. I look up twins for science class.


If an embryo splits into two within the first week, they become identical twins, like Maya and me. If the split happens between days 8 and 12, they are mirror twins, mirror images of each other, often left and right handed. And if the twins split after that, day 13 or later, they're conjoined, physically connected, forever.


I stroke the tiny birthmark on my left wrist that Maya doesn't have. Maya and I have the same DNA, almost. We started off identical, but each time a cell divides, it can change. And as a person grows, their DNA changes even more. So, science supports what I already know, that Maya and I, who started the same, grow more different with every breath.


I want to return to that time, when we were the same, to that time, before her sadness began. 

Matthew: Thank you. Before I ask you our closer, is there anything else that you had a mind that you wanted to talk about. 



Rajani: I just wanted to say one thing, which was, um, you know, this book was written almost entirely during COVID and, um, it was a time when it. As a doctor, I was challenged with all kinds of stuff at work, but also on a personal level, we had illness and, um, uh, death in our own family, and it was really difficult.


It was a really hard time, and I think one of the reasons why I'm proud of this program book is that, uh, it proved to me that even when things are really hard, that you can still dig deep and come up with something, um, meaningful. And so I just wanted to share that. That we've all been through a really, really difficult time that we're emerging from now, thank goodness.

But, uh, even during the bad times, we can still find ways to create. 



Matthew: Yeah, not to push yourself even harder or make things even worse, but know that there's, I don't know, a bit of hope inside of you. There's a reserve there that you can tap into. I think that, I think, I, I think that as you're saying that, I, it's resonating with me and it's making me think of, of those places that I dug.


Yeah. Rajani, I will see a library full of children tomorrow morning. Is there a message that I can bring to them from you? 


Rajani: Oh, yes. So what I want to say is, uh, that worry, and happiness and sadness and joy are not things that exist independently of each other. That we all go through times, uh, where we are struggling and, uh, that's okay. Uh, that sometimes, um, the struggle is there, uh, and then it's almost because the struggle is there that the joy afterwards feels even better.


And the other thing I want to tell them is that people who love us may understand more about us than we think. But, they can't understand everything about us. And if something is really bothering you, you should share that with somebody you love and trust.


Matthew: Um, Rajani, where can people find you online? 


Rajani: Yeah, the best place is my website, www.rajanilarocca.com. R A J A N I L A R O C C A dot com And I'm also on Twitter and Instagram, uh, at Rajani Larocca. Alright, that's it.



OUTRO


Matthew: Thank you to Rajani LaRocca for joining me on The Children’s Book Podcast. 


You can pick up your own copy of Mirror to Mirror wherever books are found. Consider supporting independent bookstores by shopping through Bookshop.org. You can also use my affiliate link by clicking on the book’s name in our show notes.


Our podcast logo was created by Duke Stebbins (https://stebs.design/). 


Our music is by Podington Bear. 


Podcast hosting by Libsyn. 


You can support the show and buy me a coffee at www.matthewcwinner.com.


And on that note…


Be well. And read on.



End Of Episode

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