It’s time to Kick Back with Kick-butt!
Today we’re chatting with Christina Matula, the author of
THE NOT-SO-UNIFORM LIFE OF HOLLY-MEI
Holly-Mei Jones couldn’t be more excited about moving to Hong Kong for her mother’s job. Her new school is right on the beach and her family’s apartment is beyond beautiful. Everything is going to be perfect . . . right?
Maybe not. It feels like everywhere she turns, there are new rules to follow and expectations to meet. On top of that, the most popular girl in her grade is quickly becoming a frenemy. And without the guidance of her loving Ah-ma, who stayed behind in Toronto, Holly-Mei just can’t seem to get it right.
It will take all of Holly-Mei’s determination and sparkle (and maybe even a tiny bit of stubbornness) to get through seventh grade and turn her life in Hong Kong into the ultimate adventure!
Let’s talk to this terrific author about her fantastic book!
This is Christina. Everyone say, “Hi, Christina!”
Welcome to Kick-Butt Kidlit, Christina! Tell us about yourself!
Thank you so much for having me! My name is Christina Matula and I’m a Canadian author of Taiwanese and Hungarian heritage. I mention my heritage right off the bat as the main character in my debut Middle-Grade novel, THE NOT-SO-UNIFORM LIFE OF HOLLY-MEI, is also a Canadian of mixed-Asian descent. I love playing field hockey and swimming, as well as bubble tea, all things in common with Holly-Mei.
What was the inspiration behind THE NOT-SO-UNIFORM LIFE OF HOLLY-MEI?
Until recently, I had been living in Hong Kong for 14 years and it was the most fantastic place: a cosmopolitan center; lush green hills; and a unique mix of Chinese and Western culture. I really leaned into my Asian heritage when I moved there – studying the language and learning about the wonderful local customs, festivals, and folktales. I wanted to share this magical part of the world with others, as well as share a story about someone with a similar background to mine, a Canadian of mixed Asian descent, who moves internationally and learns more about their heritage while also learning more about themselves.
Always love when you get to travel somewhere via a good book!
What were three interesting things you discovered while working on THE NOT-SO-UNIFORM LIFE OF HOLLY-MEI?
i) All the places the kids in the book visit in Hong Kong are places I’ve been many times but writing about them allowed me to take a deeper and slower look at everything, making me appreciate my surroundings even more.
ii) There is a lot of talk about food in the book and whenever I would re-read or edit, I would get cravings for all the amazing food and snacks I got to eat in Hong Kong.
iii) I loved writing about girls who play sport and thought that I’d like to see more books focusing on that aspect of their lives, so keep your eye out for Book 2 in the Holly-Mei series.
Navigating friendships (and frenemy-ships) is an important part of Holly-Mei’s journey in this book. How did you tackle writing the ups and downs of a realistic middle grade friendship
Friendships are definitely key for this age group. When I had to be more specific in certain scenes, such as come up with conflict or instances where Holly-Mei stumbles, I had to revisit events and feelings from my own time in middle school. Sometimes that was fun, other times (most times), a bit cringe inducing. But I was always left with a feeling of hope.
If you could transport your characters across book dimensions, which book would you most like them to end up in and why?
I would love to put Holly-Mei and her friends in the plot of The Mysterious Benedict Society so they can solve mysteries and save the world. I would love to see them use unique ways to figure out solutions to puzzles and problems.
Why were you drawn to writing middle grade?
I love this age. It’s a magical time where kids are starting to question their surroundings but still see things as right and wrong and in black and white – there are no grey areas yet. Their innocence makes me want to root for them and also makes me hopeful that our future is in good hands. Both my kids were in middle grade as I wrote the book, so I was inspired to write something they could both relate to and enjoy.
That’s so wonderful that you were able to share that with your kids.
Any hints about your next book project?
I’m thrilled there will be three books in the Holly-Mei series, all set in Hong Kong at Tai Tam Prep. The next adventure sees Holly-Mei and her friends compete in an all-city sports tournament. Although Holly-Mei tries hard to keep her faults in check, some new insecurities surface, and her competitive nature comes to the forefront. But will her push to win push her friends away? Book 2, The Not-So-Perfect Plan is out April 2023.
Yay! That’s great news!
What has been the most surprising part of your publishing journey?
I started out writing picture books and THE SHADOW IN THE MOON, about the lunar Mid-Autumn festival, came out in 2018 with Charlesbridge. But I found that I couldn’t tell the stories I wanted to within the tight word count (under 1000 words). I was too nervous at first to try anything longer, but I decided to let go and see where my thoughts would take me. I found that my stories and voice gravitated towards middle grade.
What are you reading right now?
I just finished BORDERS, a graphic novel by Thomas King, illustrated by Natasha Donovan. It’s about a young Blackfoot boy and his mother who are stuck in limbo between the US and Canadian borders. It touches on the complexities of Indigenous identity while remaining hopeful that understanding is within reach.
What’s your favourite piece of kick-butt advice?
The simplest advice but the hardest to do: start writing and don’t stop until you’ve finished your story. I spent two years talking about Holly-Mei’s story before actually starting to write – it seemed so daunting to write a whole novel. I found it immensely helpful to outline the whole book before starting and then I chipped away at it one chapter at a time. It’s much less scary in bite-sized pieces.
‘Bite-sized pieces.’ LOVE THAT.
Thank you so much for joining us, Christina!
Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out THE NOT-SO-UNIFORM LIFE OF HOLLY-MEI.
It’s on shelves now!
Click here to enter to win a copy of THE NOT-SO-UNIFORM LIFE OF HOLLY-MEI!
Giveaway closes Friday, August 19th at 11:59 pm EST
Thanks for reading!