If you haven't heard of young adult author Jennifer Mathieu, you will soon: Her most recent novel, Moxie, is a feminist call-to-action about one teenager's riot grrrl-inspired mission to take down the patriarchy at her high school. It scored starred reviews from Booklist and School Library Journal, and earned blurbs from All The Bright Places author Jennifer Niven and actress Amy Poehler. Yes, that Amy Poehler. The very same Amy Poehler who — it was announced on Wednesday — is directing the movie adaptation of Moxie for Netflix. ("I'm still pinching myself over this incredible news!" Jennifer Mathieu tells Bustle.)
But the Moxie movie isn't the only thing to get excited about: Mathieu's new book, Liars of Mariposa Island, will be released later this year.
Here's what to expect:
"Summer begins when the Callahans arrive on Mariposa Island, and Elena gets to escape her controlling mother by babysitting for their two children. The summer of 1986 promises to be extra special when she meets J.C., the new boy in town whose kisses make Elena feel woozy.
Joaquin can’t imagine why anyone would want to come to Mariposa Island. He just graduated from high school and dreams about going to California to find his father and escape his mother’s manipulation.
The Liars of Mariposa Island follows siblings Elena and Joaquin, with flashbacks about their mother's experience as a teenage refugee fleeing the Cuban revolution. This multilayered novel explores the illusive nature of truth, the danger of keeping secrets, and the fierce, sometimes destructive, love that can exist in families."
The novel is partially inspired by Mathieu's own family history: Her mother left Fidel Castro-controlled Cuba and came to the United States as a young girl via Operation Pedro Pan, a program that helped 14,000 children immigrate to the U.S. between 1960 and 1962.
"The seed for The Liars of Mariposa Island was planted when my editor Kate shared an eerie episode of the radio program This American Life about a troubled woman and her two teenage children, a boy and a girl. It haunted me, and I couldn’t get it out of my mind," Mathieu tells Bustle. "As I pondered how to make it my own and as I imagined back stories for these characters, I was taken with the idea of exploring the Cuban Revolution. My own mother is Cuban and came to this country as a young girl after Fidel Castro took power, so it’s something very close to me, and I’ve always wanted to make it part of one of my stories."
According to the author, this is her most ambitious book yet. "There are multiple story lines, it’s mostly set in the 1980s with a few flashbacks to the '50s and '60s, and my narrators aren’t always the most reliable, which is something new for me, too," Mathieu says. "These characters felt very real and even dangerous, and sometimes I was even a little bit scared of them. I’m so ready for this book to be out in the world, and I can’t wait to hear what readers have to say about it."
The Liars of Mariposa Island doesn't hit bookstores until Sept. 19, 2019, but Bustle has an exclusive first look at the cover and Chapter One below:
Excerpt: Liars of Mariposa Island
I push Mami’s bedroom door open just a crack. I see the lump of her on the bed, curled up on her side. One of her romance novels is open in front of her. Her rum and coke is drained down to nothing. Even the ice cubes are gone.
“Mami?” I ask, my voice soft.
“Yes?” she answers, not looking at me but at the book. That’s not a promising sign.
“I’m just checking on you,” I ask. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” she says.
“The spaghetti was good. I finished mine.”
“Can I get you anything?”
“No, thank you.”
At least she said thank you.
“I’ll get the glass for you,” I say. I walk to her nightstand and take the tumbler, its sides wet with condensation. Mami shifts and flips the page of her book as soon as I get close. Only Mami can turn the page of a paperback novel and make it the loudest sound on earth.
I hear the phone ringing in the kitchen. Mami doesn’t move.
“If it’s for me, tell them I’m not here,” she says to her book. We both know it’s not going to be for her because it never is. Other than the occasional call to confirm an appointment or try and sell her something, no one ever calls Mamí. Especially not on a weeknight.
“If it’s for me, tell them I’m not here,” she says to her book. We both know it’s not going to be for her because it never is.
“I will,” I say. The ringing has stopped. Joaquin has picked up.
After I shut the door behind me, I walk into the living room and see Joaquin standing by the kitchen phone, his hand pressed over the receiver.
“I think it’s Grateful Dead guy,” he says, raising an eyebrow. “Asking for you.”
I’m not sure how I don’t drop Mamí’s glass.
“What?” I ask.
“Like you didn’t hear me,” says Joaquin, snorting. “Grateful Dead guy is on the phone for you.”
Since I make no movement, Joaquin walks toward me, takes Mamí’s glass, and hands me the phone. It feels heavy and electric in my hand.
“I’m going to watch television, so take it into your bedroom,” he says, gently turning me and pushing me in the direction of my room.
A boy has never called me before. Not ever in my life. If Mami knew it was a boy on the other end of the line, she’d rip the phone from my hand and slam it into the receiver. Then she’d lay into me about what nasty thing I’d done to make a boy call me in the first place.
My heart hammering, I stretch the cord and step inside my bedroom, shutting the door and sliding to the floor.
“Hello?” I ask.
“Hey,” says the voice on the other end. I’m used to the bubbly, dizzy voice of Michelle. Or the thick, pressing voice of Mamí. J.C.’s voice sounds deep. Deeper than it did at the beach or in his car. It isn’t really a boy’s voice. More like a man’s.
“How did you get my number?” I ask. I wince immediately. It’s kind of a stupid thing to say right off the bat.
“Michelle,” J.C. says. “I hope that’s okay.”
“Yeah, of course,” I say. My heart is hammering even faster now. The inside of my mouth is dry.
“You doing okay?” he asks.
“Yeah, I just finished dinner. Spaghetti.” Why did I just say that?
“Was that your brother who answered?” J.C. asks.
“Yeah, my older brother.”
“Cool,” he says.
My heart is hammering even faster now. The inside of my mouth is dry.
Silence. As I scramble for what to say next because it’s my turn to talk, J.C. says, “So . . . about that joint.”
“Wow, you really get right to it,” I answer, pleased with myself for my quick comeback.
“Ha,” says J.C. “Seriously, I was just wondering if you wanted to hang out tonight?”
I tug at the cheap tan carpet underneath me, twisting it anxiously. Through the door I hear Joaquin watching some game show. Muffled sounds are punctuated with forced cheers and claps. I glance at my watch. Seven o’clock.
“Like hang out and . . . ?”
J.C. laughs again, but it’s a kind laugh. “Hey, we don’t have to get high,” he says. “We could just hang out or whatever. You know. Nothing too intense or anything.”
I remember his dark eyes and black hair. I remember the way he wouldn’t let go of me after he helped me up off the sand. I remember his infinite hotness.
But I’ve never gone on a date with a boy. Not for real. My kissing experiences are limited to stupid summer beach parties with a random boy after we each had a few beers, and once we’re back at school we ignore each other. But now this nineteen-year-old wants to spend time with me. The thought that races through my mind at first is that nineteen is really close to twenty, which sounds impossibly grown-up to me.
But he wants to go out. With me. Away from the four walls of my living room. Away from slumping, sighing, scary, page-turning Mamí. Out. Somewhere. Anywhere.
“So what do you think?” J.C. asks again. He coughs. I wonder if he could actually be nervous. The idea seems ridiculous.
The thought that races through my mind at first is that nineteen is really close to twenty, which sounds impossibly grown-up to me.
“You know . . .” I take a breath. I listen to the game show. I picture Mami in her bed, shut up for what will probably be the rest of the night, unless she stumbles out for another cocktail. I hear my voice saying, “Okay, sure.”
“Cool,” says J.C. “Want me to pick you up in, like, half an hour or so?”
“Yeah,” I say, and now my heart is running so fast I think it might give out. But I keep talking. “Just pick me up on the corner where you dropped me off this afternoon.”
“Yeah. It’s better that way. You could say I have, like, an overprotective mom or whatever.”
“I’ve heard of that type,” J.C. says. “My mom’s the opposite.”
“Like she didn’t care that you followed the Dead?”
J.C. laughs. “Seeing as I haven’t talked to my mom in five years, I don’t think so.”
“Oh,” I say. “I’m . . . sorry?”
“Don’t be,” says J.C., and the way he says it I know he’s done talking about it. “Okay, so I’ll pick you up in half an hour?”
“Okay, cool,” I say, and before I know it we are saying goodbye and I am sitting on the floor of my bedroom and I am grinning and nauseated all at once.
Joaquin is standing in my bedroom. I’ve motioned him inside because I can’t risk having this conversation in the living room. It’s weird to see my brother in here. After I started wearing a bra and putting posters of Ralph Macchio on my walls, it was like he didn’t ever want to come in here.
“You want me to say you have a babysitting job?” Joaquin says. “Why not just say you’re out with Michelle?”
“Shhh . . . ,” I say, as if Mami could open the door any second, which she could. She’s so small and sneaky you never hear her coming. “You know I can’t just go out with Michelle,” I answer. “I can’t believe you would even suggest that.” I check my wristwatch again then glance at my reflection in the full-length mirror on the back of my bedroom door. Ugh, I look like shit.
“You never even ask if you can,” Joaquin says. “You just assume.”
I slide open my closet doors and pick through my limited options. “I’m assuming right and you know it,” I say, pulling out a light blue top and tossing it onto my bed. I’m on edge and need Joaquin to help me out right now. “You don’t know what it’s like because you can go out anytime you want. You can see Amy whenever you feel like it.”
Joaquin jumps a little. Frowns slightly. “How’d you know about her?”
“I saw it on that mixtape.”
“What were you doing, spying on me?”
“I was just putting your laundry away, so calm down,” I say as I squat and dig through the bottom of my closet for my best Keds.
"You don’t know what it’s like because you can go out anytime you want."
“Okay,” he says.
I find the shoes. Success. When I turn around to face Joaquin, his mouth is twisted up in thought.
“Hey,” I say, taking a breath. “Please, if she comes out of her room or wonders where I am, just tell her the Callahans had an emergency and they needed me? That’s who was calling on the phone? And I didn’t want to disturb her? Please, Joaquin. I never get to do anything.” The way it comes out makes me sound pathetic, I realize. But it isn’t that far off from how I really feel.
“What time will you be back?” he asks. “And are you sure this guy is okay?”
“He’s the nephew of Michelle’s boss,” I say, and I realize my breathing is a little shallow. Nerves.
“The nephew of Michelle’s boss?” Joaquin asks, incredulous. “So he’s essentially a stranger, right? How old is he?”
“Seventeen,” I lie. “And he’s really nice.”
Joaquin scratches at the back of his neck. He exhales, loudly.
“I have to get changed,” I say.
Joaquin nods, his face still lost in thought.
“That means you have to leave,” I say, spelling it out for him.
After he finally does, a flurry of activity follows, but everything from my hair to my outfit to my makeup feels like it’s coming out wrong. I wish I had time to call Michelle. For her first date our freshman year, her mom did her hair in a French braid and let Michelle wear some of her Chanel No. 5 behind her ears. I briefly imagine calling Mrs. Callahan and asking her for advice, but that would be way too weird. We’ve never spoken on the phone about anything but babysitting. Still, for a moment I can picture her sweeping blush over my cheeks and smiling at me with reassurance, making me feel like the most beautiful girl on the island.
I listen for Mami but there’s nothing.
Please, God, don’t let her come out.
I need at least five minutes to walk down to the corner where I’ll meet J.C. I can’t rush or I’ll get all sweaty. Taking a breath to calm myself down, I check my lipstick in the mirror. It’s a soft pink color called Gum Drop. I purse my lips together one more time to even out the coverage. I frown. It’s not a hundred percent perfect, but it’s going to have to do.
I step out into the living room, my breath held, bracing myself for Mamí. She’s still in her bedroom.
I think I’m going to pull this off.
“Let me give you some cash,” says Joaquin, getting up from the couch and digging his beat-up leather wallet out of his back pocket and pulling out two wrinkled bills. Tips from El Mirador.
“Here’s ten bucks,” he says, straightening the bills out neatly before folding them up and pressing them into my palm.
“Thanks, Joaquin,” I say, grateful. I slip the money into my jeans.
“So you’re really sure this guy is okay?” he asks, his eyebrows sliding toward each other in concern.
“Yeah, I really am,” I say. He’s a cute pothead who followed the Dead for a whole year, I think to myself. I wonder what Joaquin would do or say if I told him that. I think he wouldn’t let me go, more because of the following-the-Dead thing than the pot thing.
“Well, I’ll cover for you if she comes out,” he says, nodding toward the back bedroom.
“Thanks,” I say. Suddenly, we hear a cough over the sound of the television. She’s still awake. My eyes grow big.
“You should probably go,” says Joaquin, lowering his voice. “Just . . . be careful, all right? And don’t be too late. And . . . call if you need me. I’ll come get you. No questions asked.”
I smile, and for a moment I feel a bit of the same closeness we had as kids when we would wake up early to watch television on Saturday mornings, slumped together on the couch while Mami snored through a hangover.
“I promise I’ll be careful,” I say. “And I won’t be too late.” And then, before my nerves or my mother can stop me, I’m opening the front door and slipping out into the dusk of early evening, skipping down the porch steps, my heart thudding inside me, my mouth turning into a hesitant smile, the word freedom spinning over and over in my mind on some frantic, endless loop.
From LIARS OF MARIPOSA ISLAND © 2019 by Jennifer Mathieu. Reprinted by permission of Roaring Brook Press, an imprint of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group, a division of Holtzbrink Publishing Holdings Limited Partnership. All rights reserved.