Fresh Voices: Q&A with Louisa Onomé
Like Home By Louisa Onomé
Fans of Netflix's On My Block and readers of Elizabeth Acevedo and Angie Thomas will love this debut novel about a girl whose life is turned upside down after one local act of vandalism throws both her relationships and neighborhood into turmoil.
Chinelo, or Nelo as her best friend Kate calls her, is all about her neighborhood Ginger East. She loves its chill vibe, ride-or-die sense of community, and the memories she has growing up there with her friends. Ginger East isn't what it used to be though. After a deadly incident at the local arcade, most of her friends' families moved away. Kate, whose family owns the local corner store, is still there and as long as that stays constant, Nelo's good.
When Kate's parent's store is vandalized and the vandal still at large, Nelo is shaken to her core. And then the police and the media get involved and more of the outside world descends upon Ginger East with promises to "fix the neighborhood." Suddenly, Nelo finds herself in the middle of a drama unfolding on a national scale.
Worse yet, Kate is acting strange. She's pushing Nelo away at the exact moment they need each other most. Now Nelo's entire world is morphing into something she hates and she must figure out how to get things back on track or risk losing everything--and everyone--she loves.
What inspired Chinelo’s character and her neighborhood, Ginger East?
I’m not sure if Chinelo’s character was inspired by any one thing in particular. I think she came into my head partially formed, and the rest of her was filled out with the idea of who I thought I was at sixteen. Ginger East is also a bit of a reimagining of the neighborhood I grew up in, although way more commercial. The way I describe the street, the park, the bus stop at the top of the hill–all of it is right from my memory of the place I grew up in. It was pretty cool to include those details and see how they fit in with my idea of Ginger East.
What was the most difficult part about writing LIKE HOME? What part was the easiest?
The most difficult part was writing the eventual deterioration of Nelo and Kate’s friendship. Maybe deterioration isn’t the best way to describe it, but the subtle way their interactions change was hard for me to tackle at first because writing a friendship breakup is never an easy thing. On the flip side, I really liked writing the scenes with Nelo and Rafa because I love writing banter. It’s easily my favorite thing!
What character do you identify with the most and why?
In a small way, I identify with all of them, but maybe Bo and Nelo the most. Parts of Nelo are a (bolder) version of myself, and Bo is that classic “I was kinda nerdy and now I dress better” story that I am embarrassed to say I relate to! Although, just like Bo, I never really grew out of being a nerd.
If you could put any character from another book into this story, who would it be and why?
My first thought would be a character like Penny from Mary HK Choi’s Emergency Contact. To me, she’s someone who would’ve wanted to escape Ginger East the second she could, and I feel that would’ve put her in direct opposition with someone like Nelo who absolutely loves Ginger East. It would’ve been an interesting dynamic.
What do you want teens today to take away from this story?
I’d love for teens who aren’t familiar with the world of Ginger East, and neighborhoods like it, to recognize the humanity in the people who live there. I think it’s important that we come to an understanding of what it’s like to grow up in neighborhoods like these, primarily immigrant neighborhoods, and see the good in them as well.
What are you currently reading?
I just finished reading Kiley Reid’s Such a Fun Age and Jason June’s Jay’s Gay Agenda, and I’m waiting impatiently for my copy of Courtney Summers’ The Project to arrive!