Recently we were given an amazing opportunity. We were able to work with Torrey Maldonado, author of Tight and Secret Saturdays, to preview the book and ask him some questions. In addition to being an author Torrey Maldonado is a teacher. Since we are also teachers here at Thrice Read we thought it would be an awesome opportunity for our students to be able to be the ones that created the questions. Our students were excited for the novel and this opportunity. Torrey Maldonado was gracious enough to agree to this idea. So, here is a Q&A with Torrey Maldonado featuring questions from our middle school students.
What inspired you to make this book? – 7th grade student
Are you a superhero fan? Wakanda Forever, right? The other day I spoke to 230 7th graders and their school mascot is a black panther. On stage, I flashed the Black Panther gesture and said, “Wakanda Forever,” and that room transformed into the movie’s Challenge Day scene or something. Almost all 230 students exploded out of their seats, flashing the sign and yelling back, “Wakanda Forever.” Yoooooo! That’s part of why I wrote Tight! Most of us like cool 21st century heroes and we want more. So I wrote Tight to show a middle school boy living in our real world discovering a superpower we all have. It’s a power you, your friends, and everyone really has—not an imaginary, fictitious one. I also was inspired to make it feel NOT like a book. Because a lot of readers are like me—they aren’t feeling boring books. So in Tight you have language, references, and middle school dialogue that readers say is “popping” and adults say “feels real.”
How old were you when you realized you had a passion for writing? – 6th grade student
If you ask my mom, my passion for writing began when I was in diapers. Is that true though? Unless you’re Baby Genius from Odd Squad or Boss Baby in that movie, you’re not in diapers writing books. Have you ever heard “You sometimes find what you like from what you DON’T like”? In the third grade, I realized I DIDN’T like boring books. I also DIDN’T like ones that threw a Harry Potter invisibility cloak on my neighborhood and family. So I almost stopped reading, but my Mom made me a deal—just read comics. Boom! It got me hooked on reading, and soon I got hooked on the right books. Soon, I realized I wanted to write stories as good as the best comics. That all happened in the fourth, fifth grade.
Did you have a father that expected you to be hard? Is that why you chose to write from Bryan’s perspective? – 6th grade student
Tight is about what your surroundings present and how you react. Have you ever heard, “Man up”? You have because boys everywhere since maybe forever have been told “man up,” meaning be hard and not “soft.” We have our hit songs today pushing that message. The rap group Mobb Deep raps, “We livin’ this til the day that we die/ Survival of the fit only the strong survive.” We have Migos’ “Walk It Talk It.” In the 1960s, the hit song my dad was hearing was “Walk Like a Man.” Even Black Panther had to “man up” on Challenge Day. My dad had to make the same choice all men and Bryan in Tight do: “Man up” or be your own kind of person. My dad chose to be hard because it helped him survive my Brooklyn hometown, which is the same neighborhood where Bryan lives. If boys don’t project toughness, they get called “soft” and bullied. Bryan’s story is a window that lets us see the pressure all boys feel trying to live freely while being told to “man up.”
Did you like writing as a kid? – 7th grade student
First, drawing. Then, writing. Both were my escapes.
What neighborhood was the story based on? Would we know it? – 8th grade student
If you know the Grand Theft Auto game, you know my neighborhood and the setting of Tight. In 1988, Life magazine called my projects “the crack capital of America” and one of the ten worst neighborhoods in the U.S. The neighborhood in Queens where rapper 50 Cent grew up was like mine, and he raps in “Hate It or Love It”: “Different day, same ****, ain’t nothing good in the hood/ I’d run away and never come back if I could.” But, it’s not true that “ain’t nothing good in the hood.” If you have anyone in yours who looks out for you, you know my neighborhood. Have you heard, “It takes a village to raise a child”? People in Bryan’s family and neighborhood help him figure out which way he should go.
Did you grow up in a place like Bryan?
Biggie raps, “Where Brooklyn at? Where Brooklyn at?” I was born and raised in the same Brooklyn neighborhood where Bryan lives in the Red Hook projects.
Who inspires you? – 7th grade student
My mom inspires me to be a writer. She took me far out of our projects the way Bryan’s mom takes him out. My mom brought me to authors’ readings, and now I’m an author. For a while, I thought the world was my block, and she showed me the world was bigger than my zip code.
What is your favorite book that you’ve written? – 6th grade student
Both, Tight and Secret Saturdays are equally my favorites for different reasons. With Secret Saturdays, I get my rap and hip-hop fix. Readers across the country have approached me and have memorized raps that the boys and Black Bald in the book spit. The back of Secret Saturdays has a list of songs they listen to when they freestyle, including T.I., Eminem, Jay-Z, and more. With Tight, I get my superhero fix. So many Marvel and DC characters show up in Tight, and Bryan and Mike bond over the Netflix, CW, FX, and other shows and movies.