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Villanova’s Diana Rodriguez Wallach explored the occult in her first YA thriller, 2021’s Small Town Monsters. For her new book, Hatchet Girls (Delacort Press, 336 pages), the Latinx author touches on the vulnerability of people of color entrenched in a wealthy white culture as she delves into a high-stakes love triangle in Lizzie Borden’s hometown of Falls River, Massachusetts. Look for it online and in stores this month.
MLT: This is your second—and possibly creepier—YA thriller. What’s the draw?
DRW: There’s a trend in publishing that’s put a lot of creative brains in that space. Hatchet Girls has a little more gore, but there’s little concern about it. At a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators event in Bible-belty Lancaster, teachers were more concerned about actual sex or drug scenes.
MLT: Romance plays a much bigger role in Hatchet Girls.
DRW: Yeah, romance in YA is very popular. I tried my hand at a love triangle in this one. I wanted to use a Puerto Rican cast of characters. My character was picked as a scapegoat because he was easier to set up. They chose him for a reason—his vulnerability.
MLT: There are also some well-developed scenes of Latinx family life.
DRW: I definitely tried to include a family element. We rarely get to experience that in the media. I wanted to show how united they are—and to contrast it with the wealthy white family that looked so perfect on the outside.
MLT: Tell us a little about the book’s Lizzie Borden connection?
DRW: My husband and I visited Falls River. We spent the night in the Lizzie Borden house and hiked the nearby Hockomock Swamp, which was way scarier than her house. There were no animals—not a bird, a deer, a rabbit—which is just bizarre and creepy. It’s part of Massachusetts’ Bridgewater Triangle, with strange disappearances and sightings.
Hockomock means “where spirits dwell,” thanks to the first documented—and bloodiest—war between the Wampanoag and colonists in the 1600s, among other dark events in the centuries before Lizzie. I wondered if these events happen because of its dark history or because it’s already a dark place.
MLT: Have you chosen your next historic event to explore?
DRW: Maybe. This one could be a little more local. The abandoned Sleighton Farm School in Glen Mills has totally creepy vibes.
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