A book that burns through history

Hamline MFA faculty book chosen for Read Brave Saint Paul.

Sabrina Merritt, Reporter

Strong girls, tough circumstances and connections through culture are the values of faculty member Meg Medina, according to her personal website. Medina, who joined Hamline’s MFA in Children and Young Adults program in July 2018, is a young adult and children’s author with a long list of awards and honors. Now, through the Read Brave Saint Paul Program, the city will be flipping through the pages of her 2016 novel, Burn Baby Burn.

Presented by the Saint Paul Public Library, the reading program will focus on a particular theme relevant to St. Paul as a city. In its inaugural year, the 2019 theme will be housing, which the Saint Paul Public Library considers a critical topic among the city’s residents. The program hopes to unite the city through an intergenerational reading experience built on experiencing the same books.

To work alongside Matthew Desmond’s nonfiction book Evicted, Medina’s Burn Baby Burn is a piece of young-adult historical fiction set in 1977 in Queens, New York. The book follows teenager Nora Lopez who dreams of turning eighteen, leaving her apartment and disco dancing all night long. Nora’s world, however, is one of arson, a large blackout and a loose serial killer named Son of Sam.

Medina, who grew up in Queens herself, feels strange classifying the work as historical, as this was a part of her own life.

“I lived in an apartment in New York that summer,” Medina said. “The novel gets deep into what New York was in that year.”

Medina further described the number of buildings burned down in the city, as they were worth more in insurance money. This topic of affordable housing is prevalent throughout the novel. Medina’s favorite character in the book is a tenant’s rights activist who learns the rules concerning why someone can be evicted from a home.

“There are people all over the country who fight for that,” Medina said. She emphasized that issues such as rent or access to hot water are in the eyes of many teenagers.

While the details of Burn Baby Burn may be fictional, a lot of historical research went into the writing process.

“Fiction has lots of space to tell the truth in complete fabrication,” Medina said. Medina believes that nonfiction can lead to great works of fiction and that both her own book and Desmond’s nonfiction about Milwaukee families in low-income living situations shed light on housing issues in productive ways.

The ability fiction has to teach and connect to readers is one of the reasons Medina joined Hamline’s faculty. After previously teaching high schoolers, this new position will challenge a learning experience for her and her students. Medina is known for writing Latina characters, and she feels the diversity in the other faculty reflect the diverse world of children and young-adult readers. Medina sees the low-residency program as a convenient way for her and her students to develop.

Medina is now promoting her newest book Merci Suarez Changes Gears, a children’s book about a strong-willed sixth-grader navigating middle school life. The book hit shelves Sept. 11.