Ophelia After All was one of our most anticipated reads this year, and we had the chance to chat with author Racquel Marie about all things Ophelia!
Summary: Ophelia Rojas knows what she likes: her best friends, Cuban food, rose-gardening, and boys – way too many boys. Her friends and parents make fun of her endless stream of crushes, but Ophelia is a romantic at heart. She couldn’t change, even if she wanted to.
So when she finds herself thinking more about cute, quiet Talia Sanchez than the loss of a perfect prom with her ex-boyfriend, seeds of doubt take root in Ophelia’s firm image of herself. Add to that the impending end of high school and the fracturing of her once-solid friend group, and things are spiraling a little out of control. But the course of love––and sexuality––never did run smooth. As her secrets begin to unravel, Ophelia must make a choice between clinging to the fantasy version of herself she’s always imagined or upending everyone’s expectations to rediscover who she really is, after all.
Content Warnings: mentions of underage drinking and vaping, topical mentions of sex, cut-off use of a homophobic slur (challenged), condemned homophobia, discussion of anti-Blackness within a mixed-race Latine family (challenged).
This debut YA contemporary follows Ophelia, a hopeless romantic questioning her sexuality and exploring all that it means to accept new kinds of love and uncover who you really are. The hopeful, sweet, heartfelt story found a special place in our hearts this year with its messy, beautiful friendships, honesty, and themes of self-love and discovery. You can read more in our review here!
In our interview with Racquel Marie below, we learned more about how Ophelia came to be, what music the characters are into, and more!
Welcome to The Honey POP! We’re so excited to chat with you! Firstly, can you introduce yourself to our readers in whatever way you’d like?
Thank you for having me! I’m Racquel Marie, an author who mainly writes YA contemporaries starring queer Latines like myself!
Ophelia After All is your YA debut, congratulations! We loved it so much. How does it feel to finally have it out in the world?
Thank you! It’s been a very surreal experience. I’ve received everything from glowing reviews to heartfelt messages about representation, to tweets about tear-jerking scenes, to texts threatening to sue me for emotional damage. Words cannot encompass how much it means to me to see a book I poured myself into for years have such an impact on other people. Rewarding doesn’t begin to cover it, but it’s been my go-to description for how it feels to finally have Ophelia out in the world.
When and where did writing Ophelia begin? How long did it take you to reach the final version?
I started writing Ophelia in November 2017 for National Novel Writing Month right after turning nineteen, searching for an outlet for all the complicated feelings brewing inside me about my own queer identity. I won NaNoWriMo’s challenge but didn’t finish that full draft until spring 2018. After that, I spent the next year and a half revising on my own and then with insight from trusted friends. I began querying in September 2019 and signed with my current agent, Thao Le, by the end of the month. After a few more rounds of minor revisions, we put Ophelia on submission in early 2020 and she was sold to Rachel Diebel at Macmillan’s Feiwel and Friends in the spring! From there, we made even more revisions, and the finalized version was finished back in June 2021.
Do you have any specific routines or rituals when it comes to writing?
I tend to listen to one song on repeat for entire drafting sessions to get myself in the right headspace but have veered away from listening to music when I’m revising unless I’m in public/around other noise. Eating candy like Starbursts, Tootsie Rolls, and lollipops also helps me focus somehow. I’m convinced my senses just need something to keep them busy. I also used to wear a flower crown when working on Ophelia in college to signify to my roommates not to disturb me unless it was important, haha.
We love Ophelia’s passion for botany and roses! How did you come to that character-wise? Did Ophelia as a character evolve a lot throughout the entire process of writing the book or has she always been close to what we have now?
In early drafts, Ophelia was a little flat as a protagonist, but I had the random bolt of inspiration to make her a rose gardener during a college lecture one day—playing off of the floral imagery of Shakespeare’s Ophelia, since both I and her mom named her after that character. She bloomed into her own person from there. Rose gardening emphasized her romantic nature, gave her a setting that reflected her emotional state, and established one of her founding conflicts regarding expectations and legacy, since her greatest passion in life is inspired by the name her parents chose for her.
How did you balance the big, beautiful friend group Ophelia has? Was it easy or difficult to write those dynamics?
Crafting the friend group’s dynamics was one of my favorite aspects of working on this book. I adore writing dialogue, especially between multiple people, and so much of their relationships come out in how they talk with one another. I also wanted each of them to feel like a main character in their own life—like we could switch to their POV and still follow a compelling plot—so I tried to highlight what each of them are going through without cluttering the story. I think that helped create more intricate connections between the characters, since they don’t just feel like set pieces in Ophelia’s life.
If Ophelia’s friends were real, who would you want to be BFFs with most and why? Personally, we’re partial to Ags!
I think I’d want to be best friends with Wesley! He’s such a sweetheart and would probably give great life advice, not to mention help with my aspirations to become a good drawer one day. He tends to be a fan favorite though, so I’m glad Agatha is being paid her due! I definitely see a lot of my real life best friends in her.
How did your childhood and journey with identity inform the creation of Ophelia After All?
While drafting this story about a teenage girl questioning and accepting her sexuality, I was going through the same journey in my real life. I wanted to write about a character like me who always felt so sure of herself and never really considered the possibility that she was queer, until one day she did. It also felt important that this isn’t a conventional love story, and that the focus is on Ophelia learning to love herself and embrace the love she receives from her friends and family. I was a huge romantic like Ophelia growing up and often idolized that as being the solution to all my problems, including my queer identity crisis. The book’s theme of appreciating the equal value of all kinds of love stems from me needing to have learned that myself at Ophelia’s age.
What would you say now to younger you or any readers who feel as confused as Ophelia and are figuring things out?
I would tell younger me that we receive messages every day from people of all ages who relate to something we created from a place of pain and loneliness. I truly believe that everything we went through regarding our sexuality was worth it, to feel this particular joy now. And to anyone out there who’s confused about their identity: take as much time as you need to figure it out. Life can often feel like a race, and being uncertain about who you are can sometimes send you spiraling for quick answers. But we all operate at our own pace. It’s okay not to have everything all worked out. It’s okay to keep conclusions to yourself if you don’t feel ready to share them with the world, and it’s okay to never share them with the world at all if that’s what you decide. Just show yourself as much patience and kindness as you can. You deserve it.
Lastly, what kind of music did you listen to while writing, or were inspired by when it came to Ophelia After All? Is there a particular song that would be Ophelia’s theme song? (Feel free to tell us about the other characters’ musical tastes too, if you want!)
I always say that ‘she’ by dodie is essentially the plot of Ophelia After All, but some other artists whose music pairs well with the book and Ophelia are Conan Gray, Lauv, Luz, Jensen McRae, Phoebe Bridgers, Jill Baylon, Olivia Rodrigo, Yoste, MUNA, L Devine, and Hayley Kiyoko. Lots of soft, emotional pop music for my soft, emotional girl. Sammie, Wesley, and Talia all love indie alternative stuff, but Talia and Wes are also into K-pop. Agatha goes between classical music, top 40s, and R&B depending on her mood. Zaq has an eclectic taste across the board—from jazz to rap to rock to experimental—and Lindsay is big on EDM.
Ophelia After All by Racquel Marie is out now!