Debbie Rigaud is one of my favorite young adult authors. I thoroughly enjoyed her debut, Truly Madly Royally and was excited to read Simone Breaks All the Rules, especially after seeing that cover! Today, Debbie and I talk about having a dark-skinned girl on the cover of her book, her ideal YA love interest, and loving Haitian culture. Debbie is also giving away a copy of her newest YA! Enjoy!
Hi Debbie, what a pleasure to be chatting with you about Simone Breaks All the Rules! I really liked this story. You know how to write fun stories about Black girls finding their way in the world. YES to a dark-skinned Black girl on the cover! Was it important to you to have that representation?
YES! I join you in that celebration of dark-skinned Black girls, because most definitely, it was important to me to have that representation. I remember the shameful era of the blatant whitewashing of characters on book covers when it was called out in publishing maybe a decade ago. It’s a callout that’s been made before then, and one that will continue to be made as long as that erasure keeps occurring. But it feels amazing that this right here is not one of those instances.
Simone looks shea-butter glowy on this cover, and her glorious dark skin is poppin’! Now, in part, it’s up to the readers to continue to prove that whitewashing is a practice that won’t haunt a future generation of dark-skinned book characters and the readers who love them.
Simone and her friends (who all have overprotective parents) make a senior year bucket list of “rebellious” things to do. What inspired you to write this story? I have to ask: did you also have overprotective immigrant parents? Did you ever consider doing what Simone and the HomeGirls did?
Haha. Yes, like Simone, I’m from a loving, joyful, but overprotective household. My immigrant parents not only left the familiarity of Haiti for Brooklyn, but a decade in, left their close-knit community in Brooklyn for New Jersey. I think being away from their network of support made them extra cautious and a bit fearful, which manifested itself in the type of rules Simone wants to break from so badly.
Just like with Simone’s big sister, my eldest sister actually had her prom date arranged by my mom! I faintly remember the arranged prom discussion, and I held onto that memory for years. It sparked so many What If scenarios in my mind! What if there was a girl who was absolutely against the idea of having an arranged prom? That “What If” girl became Simone, and her story explores her quest to gain some type of agency over her life before graduation.
Sure, I had some HomeGirls moments in my life where friends and I would get our lies straight enough to back each other up. But I was never as clever or as organized as Simone to make that an official function of my friend group or to come up with a joint bucket list. Teen me would find Simone very inspirational! Haha.
Haitian culture plays a major role in this book. I loved seeing the Creole and learning about Haitian art, Haitian immigration, and even Haitian food. Why did you want to share more of that in this book?
I’m a firm believer that more people should know about Haiti’s singular legacy, especially all Black people who strive to learn more about our historical contributions. Haiti is a place that’s been so vilified and caricaturized, but Haiti has a fascinating origin story. Simone is a history buff who is learning about heroic teen figures in history, so naturally she’s also jazzed about the revolutionary aspect of Haitian history and culture.
For readers I say, experience Simone Breaks All the Rules as you would a summer street festival. Come, sample the culture, sample the food, groove to the music, appreciate the art. Everyone is invited to partake and enjoy, and when you get to The End, you’ll leave a little bit Haitian. 🙂
I loved Gabby’s and Simone’s relationship, as well as their differences. Family plays such a huge role in both their lives. Did you have a family member who inspired their relationship?
Based on reader reaction, I’m realizing now that a lot of other people have that one cousin like Gabby in the family. I was particularly hearing this from Caribbean people. And yes, I too have a cousin like Gabby. Several of them. Some of my cousins are firecrackers, and their dynamic personalities definitely influenced the way I developed Gabby’s character.
Everyone needs someone close to them who tells it like it is. They hold up the cold hard truth like a mirror in your face, until you have no choice but to reckon with it. Sometimes all you want is to see the filtered version of yourself, but there’s little personal growth to gain if that’s the only reflection you choose to focus on. We owe a great debt to the Gabby’s of the world. They help expand our thinking.
Gavin was such an interesting character, especially as we got to learn more about him. It was also amazing to see how much Simone projected her feelings on him. What did you hope to highlight using that narrative arc?
As a teen I had a really hard time seeing past my favorites. No amount of reasoning from loved ones could sway me. I would be like, Nope, I still want it. It was very much THIS is the boy for me and no one can tell me different, or this is the ONLY college I can see myself going to, and that’s final. And sometimes that IS the boy you’ll end up with or the college you’ll attend, but what if it’s not? How do you prepare your heart for that disappointment? And how do you come to recognize your fuzzy projections on that object of desire is clouding your true view of it? These are some of the questions I posed through that narrative arc.
Ben was the sweetest! I loved his gentleness, kindness, and how full of depth he was — my kinda guy. What are the characteristics of your ideal love interest when you’re creating a YA romance?
Thank you! I’m so glad to hear you express that about Ben. My ideal love interest is ultimately someone for whom Black girls are not an afterthought. Someone who values Black girls, checks for them, and enjoys being in their company is my ideal LI. And you’ll pick up this value in the way he looks at her, the things he says to her, and the way he reacts to her when she walks in a room. And for readers who have love for the Black girls who show up in their lives as sisters, cousins, friends, friend of friends, classmates, neighbors, whatever—this Black girl appreciation will delight your heart, because…why wouldn’t it?
Simone and her mother have a very realistic mom-teen daughter relationship. I loved the humor, disagreements, similarities, and all-round love between them. What do you enjoy about writing mother-daughter relationships?
So many of us can attest that our relationships with the mothers or mother figures of our lives are among the most soulful yet the most layered or the most complicated. There’s a rawness to it. I love examining how we show up for each other, and the baggage we bring when we do. It’s pretty fascinating. These foundational relationships shape us in ways sometimes we don’t fully understand until we’re confronted with the evidence. Are we really worlds apart from each other, or is there much more overlap than we realize?
New York comes alive in this story! I’ve visited once and I enjoyed visiting again on the page with the girls. Do you live in New York? What is your favorite thing about the city?
I don’t live in New York anymore, but I was born there and I like to imagine that you absorb the essence of the place you’re born. Even after my family moved across the river to Jersey, NYC is where we commuted to on a regular basis. It’s homebase because, for a time, my grandparents and extended family all lived in Brooklyn and my parents both worked in Manhattan until they retired. My favorite thing about the City is maybe that essence I mentioned. It conditions the air with possibility, innovation, ingenuity, culture and drive.
Which great YA or middle grade books have you enjoyed recently?
Like you, I love MG and I started reading more MG books these past years. When Life Gives You Mangoes by Kereen Getten is one book I enjoyed recently. And at the moment I’m enjoying Cece Rios and the Dessert Souls by Kaela Rivera. Depending on what I’m working on, I’ll go and read not so new YA books. When it comes to reads, I always feel I have so much catching up to do. To put me in a Brooklyn state of mind for my WIP, I read Tiffany Jackson’s Let Me Hear a Rhyme, and as a rep for a late bloomer teen who has not yet kissed a boy, I read The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli. And I still think of Love from A to Z by S. K. Ali because the characters in that book have lingered on my mind for a while.
Can you share anything about your next project(s)?
I’m currently working on revisions for my next Scholastic YA that’s releasing next summer. And speaking of NYC, this book is set at Brooklyn’s Caribbean carnival—the lively West Indian Parade held on Labor Day each year. Prior to that, I have an early MG project releasing this fall from the digital reading platform Epic!. It’s an illustrated chapter book titled SOUND OF MAGIC, and I believe it’ll also be available in book form under the Epic Originals banner. I’m super excited about this friendship story that celebrates the magic of music and culture, and I hope readers will enjoy it.
Thank you so much, Debbie!
Thank YOU, Afoma. I am a fan of your work and it is an honor to be invited to chat with you. This is really exciting for me.
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Meet Debbie Rigaud
Debbie Rigaud is the co-author of Alyssa Milano’s New York Times bestselling Hope series and the author of Truly Madly Royally and Simone Breaks All The Rules. Debbie grew up in East Orange, New Jersey, and started her career writing for entertainment and teen magazines. She now lives with her husband and children in Columbus, Ohio. Find out more at debbierigaud.com and check her out on her Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.