By Jaime DeJesus, Writer and Editor at the Home Reporter Newspaper and Writer for the Brooklynreporter.com
Brooklyn College graduate Christine Kandic Torres is a rising star in the literary world. Her debut novel The Girls in Queens, released June 14, displays her exceptional talent of storytelling.
Torres, a Queens native, spent five years writing the novel and shopping it around before it was bought by HarperVia.
The story is about two Latinx friends named Brisma and Kelly that grew up in Queens in the ‘90s that share a strong bond which is tested over the years. Their mutual friend, a former charismatic high school baseball star, is accused of sexual assault years later. Now entering adulthood, the friends find themselves on opposite sides of the accusation, resulting in compelling questions and difficult realizations.
Torres conceived the idea of the story in 2015 while at Citi Field when the New York Mets played in the World Series against the Kansas City Royals.
“Sitting there in the new stadium made me sort of nostalgic for Shea Stadium and the 2006 team which was very heavily Latinx and felt for the first time we were being marketed to,” she said. “I was in that headspace when the Brock Turner case got more attention in the news.”
Turner was a student athlete at Stanford University and was convicted by jury trial of three counts of felony sexual assault. He served three months in jail.
“I was fascinated by particularly the women in his life defending him despite clear evidence of bad behavior,” Torres explained. “That’s really when my focus on women came in the mix, especially those who have survived sexual abuse and assault who defend men instead of supporting women when they come forward.”
In the book, Brian’s Latinx identity plays a role in how the girls respond to the sexual assault allegation.
“Too often, women are encouraged to stay silent (even by the older women in their lives they look to for guidance) in order to not add to the odds already stacked against the marginalized perpetrator–to not make his life even harder,” she said. “It’s a unique pain and burden women of color are sometimes asked to carry that’s definitely at play in The Girls in Queens.”
The book takes place in alternating timelines of 1996 and during the Mets playoff run in 2006.
While sexual assault was central to the initial idea of the story, Torres pivoted to creating an authentic and complicated female friendship influence by the patriarchy and rape culture.
“I wanted to explain what happens in these young girls’ lives that turn them away from sisterhood towards aligning with structures of power,” she said. “And you see them toughen up over time. They curse more as they grow older. They are rough with each other, but there’s always this deep love and joy that connects them. Even though they are torn in their reaction to this bombshell, they continue to have love and a pride in each other’s survival. I felt it was important to depict an important messy at times gross female friendship because it felt authentic.”
While at Brooklyn College, she took several classes that inspired her to eventually have a career in writing, including a creative writing class taught by Christina Fitzpatrick, who saw early on that Torres was a special writer.
“That was a very good class for me,” she said. “[Reading] her book and taking her class was inspirational in the sense I felt like I was connecting with the possibility that this could be something I could do.”
Torres was also influenced by a Latino literature class taught by Lenina Nadal.
“She had fun creative approaches to literature,” she said. “I filmed a pot of beans boiling. I took some very inspirational classes and workshops at Brooklyn College.”
While shopping the story, Torres admitted she received many rejections before it was eventually sold, which provided a vital lesson for the author.
“I tell people all the time that you need to make friends with rejection and be comfortable with it,” she said. “You will always be rejected and it’s not personal.”
“It’s important for publishing as an industry to become more diverse and have more people of color working within publishing houses,” she explained. “It’s important to read out of our experiences too.”
Queens, one of the country’s most diverse cities, plays a huge role in the book, with scenes taking place in the former Shea Stadium and the original Georgia Diner.
“It’s not without its complications and racial tensions,” she said. “The Queens I wanted to depict are for kids that grew up pulled between the cultures of their families of origin. For these first- and second-generation kids of immigrants, Queens became a true homeland that we have a lot of pride in. Other people will find that compelling even if they haven’t been there.”
The book has already received praise by critics and fans that have paid her a visit during one of her many appearances at bookshops in the northeast.
“I hope that if people read the book, it provides an opportunity for reflection on ways in which they haven’t shown up for the women in their lives or for themselves and to consider ways forward that involve more healing and involve valuing each other as complete human beings deserving of dignity and compassion,” she said.
For more information, visit https://christinekandictorres.com.