After a lifetime of reading books set in various East Coast cities and suburbs, I knew that when it came time for me to write my books, I would faithfully represent Southern California, the sun-drenched land where I was born and raised. My first book took place in San Diego, where I went to college and where my characters could spend days on the beach. My second book took place in Orange County, home to many of my best friends, and an area whose placid cul de sacs are ideal for teen drama.
But Los Angeles…that was one I was saving for the right book. My love for my city is really intense, I admit it. Anyone who speaks to me for any period of time will inevitably hear some sort of “Why LA is the greatest city” spiel. So I knew that if I set a book there, the city would have to be a character.
The Way You Make Me Feel is that book. In it, the main character, Clara Shin, is forced to spend a summer in LA running her dad’s food truck alongside her archenemy. I loved the idea of their working in a food truck because it would let the characters traverse the city all summer, exploring the many pockets of LA that aren’t always represented in Hollywood films. Because my LA isn’t movie stars and the beach (although you can’t avoid either of them). It’s strip malls with Korean barbecue. It’s hot summer days on the perpetual hunt for a free swimming pool. It’s bounce-house birthday parties in the park.
But to me, the true essence of LA, the reason why I love it so much, is that it’s so many different things. It’s filled with so many different people. People who come from all over the world to forge a life, to follow their dreams. And in Clara’s LA, her dad came from Brazil, by way of Korea, to open a Korean Brazilian food truck. The Way You Make Me Feel is a family story, a friendship story, and a love story, too. But it’s also my LA story. Which doesn’t involve rich people complaining about traffic.