A journey of self discovery
In Ana Reyes’ debut thriller 'The House in the Pines,’ a young Latina confronts her Guatemalan past.
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Ana Reyes’ grandfather came to the U.S. from Guatemala as part of a program to bring more skilled workers to the U.S.
“He was a bootmaker, made beautiful boots out of leather and snakeskin, and was able to buy a house and support his family this way,” she explained in a recent interview with AL DÍA.
As a second generation Latina (her father was 11 when he arrived in the U.S.), Reyes is proud to say that her Hispanic origins “are a well-spring of inspiration for me as a writer, as I often feature Latino characters and aspects of our culture.”
That’s exactly what she did in The House in the Pines, her debut novel, starring Maya, a young Latina from Massachusetts trying to find out the mystery behind the enigmatic death of her high school friend, Aubrey, seven years ago. The investigation leads her to her mother’s house, where she excavates fragments of her past and notices hidden messages in her deceased Guatemalan father’s book that didn’t stand out to her earlier.
“Maya’s father’s book was never finished because he was killed at the end of the Guatemalan Civil War. She lost him before she was born, and his absence affects her profoundly. The pages from her father’s book she’s been given are the closest she’ll ever get to talking to him so they’re important to her.But she can’t quite tell what his story was about, or what he’d been trying to say,” Reyes explained.
It’s not until she begins investigating Frank’s death that she begins to see a similarity between a mountain village in her father’s book and a strange house Frank built in the woods. The clue is metaphorical and buried deep but if she can understand it, she’ll understand the danger she’s in with Frank and know how to fight it.
“To save herself, in other words, Maya must understand a story written before she was born, which, for me, symbolizes inherited trauma”, Reyes explained. “So many people are affected by events (wars, colonization) that occurred not just before they were born, but in places they’ve never been. For Maya, this is true in a literal sense,” the author added.
An avid reader as a child, Reyes didn’t find out she wanted to be a writer, or at least take her writing more seriously, until she was in her late 20s, when she applied to an MFA program in Louisiana State University and began to work on what eventually would become The House in the Pines.
“I read a lot of YA horror and thrillers growing up by authors like Christopher Pike and R.L. Stine. And as I got older, it felt natural to write that type of story though it took me a while to learn the tropes and put them into practice in my own writing,” she said.
In addition to the thriller component, the book focuses on identity issues. “Growing up in Massachusetts with a white mother, Maya isn’t very connected to her family in Guatemala. Part of her journey is about discovering and understanding that part of her family and heritage,” Reyes said.
The novel also has autobiographical elements. Like Maya, Reyes was going through Klonopin withdrawal when she started writing The House in the Pines. Klonopin is a commercial brand of Clonazepam, a medication used to prevent and treat seizures, panic disorder, anxiety disorders.
“Writing about Klonopin withdrawal allowed me to distance myself from the experience and afforded me perspective. The compassion I had for Maya helped me have compassion for myself,” she explained.
Based in Los Angeles, Reyes used to teach memoir writing to older adults at Santa Monica College, where she had several Latino students. However, what she noticed most was that, despite the different origins of their students, they all tend to share certain themes: love, loss, parents, children, siblings and friends, love and its lack, change, laughter, and death.
“This was true for students from Iran, Australia, the San Fernando Valley, and many other places, and has helped me think about what’s important to me too,” she said.
Growing up, Reyes didn’t speak Spanish at home, but spoke it whenever she visited her grandparents and has worked to become more fluent as an adult, she said. She wrote The House in the Pines in English, but will soon see a dream come true when the novel is acquired by the Spanish publisher Roca editorial.
“This is incredibly meaningful to me because it means that my family in Guatemala will be able to read my book,” she concluded.
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