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Camille Gomera-Tavarez on Magical Realism & Teenagehood in ‘The Girl, the Ring & the Baseball Bat’

Updated: Apr 5

By Amaris Castillo



Meet Caro and Rosie, two Dominican American sisters from Jersey City, and new friend Zeke – a recent transplant from Miami. Each teen is navigating their own personal struggles.


Caro harbors a lot of anger inside her. At school, they call her Crazy Caro. At home, she clashes often with her mother and yearns for a closer relationship with her estranged father.


Rosie, frustrated with being kicked out of the Accelerated program after a physical altercation between Caro and another classmate, wants nothing more than to leave their high school for the prestigious Innovation Technical Institute.


And there’s Zeke, who lives with his aunt in cold Jersey City. Still reeling after losing his grandmother, he is under the cloud of depression. Zeke is also coping with complicated feelings after his mother’s passing. And his father is thousands of miles away in London.


In their own time, the teens stumble into magical items – talismans. Rosie’s is a jacket from her mother’s past that gets people to go whatever she says. Caro’s is a baseball bat that breaks things and immediately mends them. And Zeke’s is a manifestation stone that will make anyone fall in love with him.


That’s when things get really interesting in The Girl, The Ring & The Baseball Bat, a forthcoming YA novel by Camille Gomera-Tavarez. Out on Feb. 6, 2024 from Levine Querido, the Pura Belpré Honor winner brings us an entertaining tale that merges magical realism with real-life issues affecting teenagers. Gomera-Tavarez drew from the stories she heard about her mother’s youth as well as her own experiences in school systems to write her sophomore book.


The Girl, The Ring & The Baseball Bat follows Caro, Rosie and Zeke as they deploy their newfound powers in different ways. Gomera-Tavarez addresses many themes with deep nuance including intergenerational trauma, sexuality, and inequity in education. The novel will appeal to readers who are fans of magical realism. “I always like it when any story has just a touch of magic,” Gomera-Tavarez told the Dominican Writers Association. “I feel like it’s also an extension of storytelling in the Caribbean. Those types of stories are just commonplace and taken as reality.”


Ahead of the book’s release, Gomera-Tavarez spoke with the Dominican Writers Association about the inspiration behind The Girl, The Ring & The Baseball Bat, magical realism, and more.


This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.


Congratulations on The Girl, The Ring & The Baseball Bat. What inspired you to tell this story?

I’ve had the characters for a while, probably since freshman year of college. It started out as a drawing assignment to make a comic. And so I did this little comic of Rosie and Caro in this Grease-inspired girl gang where they were just going around, getting into fights, and having slushies afterwards. That initial comic was inspired by my mom and her sister, and stories of them and their cousins when they would visit DR or Brooklyn. I would hear about them wandering the streets, going to clubs and getting into trouble. So I just really gravitated towards that.


My mom’s side of the family is very woman-heavy. My great-grandmother divorced her husband, and my grandmother also left her husband and came to the US. Even now when we sit with the generations at a table, it feels very warm and special. I just wanted to write towards that sisterhood. 


And then later on as the story developed, I was more inspired by my own experiences of going to a public school that was underfunded and (by) the injustices that I faced in my life and in school systems… And the anger that I felt towards adults for putting me in certain situations, and remembering that I was a child. Those were the things that went into the writing process. 


Your debut book, High Spirits, was a collection of short stories. This is your first full-length novel. What was it like to write this book?

It was definitely a very different process. I really enjoyed writing short stories, because it’s almost like poetry; you just have the idea, then it’s down, and then you’re done. And then you revise it a bunch. Versus like telling a story; everything has to connect to one another, and you have to do all the in-between parts. It feels like this colossal thing that you’re tackling as a whole. I don’t have an English degree. I never had any formal training in how to do that, so I just had to figure it out as I went along. And it’s also the first thing I’ve written on a deadline, so there was that extra pressure as well. It was not fun at parts, but I am proud that I got through it and finished it… But yes, it was a lot harder than writing short stories.


The Girl, The Ring & The Baseball Bat centers on New Jersey sisters Rosie and Caro, and their Zeke – who is a recent transplant from Miami. What word would you use to describe each character?

Caro is a loudmouth and outspoken. For Rosie, definitely more type A. And then Zeke, I would say dreamy. Maybe not sleepy, but dreamy.


Rosie, Caro, and Zeke each are navigating their way through life when they stumble into a talisman – an object with magical powers. Tell us about the decision to give them each a talisman. What purpose do these objects serve in these teens’ lives?

At first it was just Rosie that had an object. That was my pitch for the book that they bought. And as I was writing it and then deciding to include more perspectives, the idea just popped in my head: What if they all had objects? And then I was like, No, that sounds like a lot of work. I sort of gasped and I was just like, Yes, they all have to have objects. It was right for it not to center one person, but to show a diversity of perspectives and things that teens might be going through.


Rosie feels like she doesn’t have a voice and power. She has everything that she needs in terms of her smarts and her abilities, but there are obstacles in the way. So if there was a way to remove those obstacles, that was the idea behind the jacket that makes people do whatever she wants them to do. So what can she do once all of those barriers are out of her way?


For Caro, it’s definitely dealing with anger issues. In school systems I’ve seen kids getting judged for how they handle their emotions, so Caro has an outlet for her to be able to do that – that doesn’t cause destruction all of the time. She has a baseball bat that fixes everything that it breaks. Anger and these emotions aren’t necessarily bad things. They can be constructive as well as destructive. 


And then for Zeke, his was from the idea of love and passion turning into obsession, and not necessarily needing to be the center of everyone’s lives and not the solution to all of life’s problems as it’s sometimes presented. He has a magical ring that can be used to attract lovers, but also helps him be like a cupid in a way. Most of the things are things that are inherent in the characters already before they even find the objects. They (the talismans) help amplify all the powers that they already have.


The talisman is a return to magical realism for you after High Spirits. What draws you to this style of fiction?

Personally it’s just what I like to read, and I always like it when any story has just a touch of magic. I feel like it’s also an extension of storytelling in the Caribbean. Those types of stories are just commonplace and taken as reality. Something might have happened. Maybe the neighbor saw something on the roof the other day, and people just sort of accept it as fact. And I want to honor that style of storytelling. 


It’s kind of like cooking. You make your own meal. This was my first chance to write a full book, and I could just put into it the things that I like in other books, and that I would like to read. I can make my own recipe. And it doesn’t really matter what other people like. As long as I like the book then that’s fine, too.


If you personally had a talisman, what would it be and what would it do?

One of my college mentors is a jewelry artist who once made us all go around and say the one thing that we usually carry with us all the time. To our surprise, everyone had something and had a story to share. He had this idea that the objects and the jewelry that we wear have special powers and connections, and keep us grounded. So I usually have a bracelet that’s like a rosary that was from my grandmother when she passed away. It’s pink and has stones on it. I usually wear that to keep me grounded. So it would probably be that, and (the power) would probably have something to do with connections to ancestors.


There are many things happening in your characters’ lives, which is understandably messy. Can you talk about some of the struggles facing your characters and what was it like to put that on the page, because you had to channel your teen years?

In terms of remembering teen years, that was easier because I kept journals since middle school. At one point, I was like, What do teenagers talk like? I’m getting old. (Laughs) Then I just went back to my journals and I was like, Thank God I recorded everything in here. So I pulled from that a little bit. It always felt like everything was like the end of the world… What could I possibly have been going through in middle school? Did I have too many tests? What was it? So I definitely culled from that voice of feeling like a lot of things are happening all at once, and at the same time you’re figuring out who you are and what you want your future to be like. 


For the characters in particular, Zeke was going through a depression period because his grandmother and his mother had passed away. He feels a lot of guilt towards the fact that he didn’t have a great relationship with his mother and is maybe not mourning her the way that he properly should be. That also connects to Rosie and Caro, and their estrangement from their father figure. I wanted to create a story where, yes, they have these things going on with their parents and their estranged parental figures in their lives. But not every family situation is going to be perfect and traditional. And that’s OK, too. You don’t have to apologize or make up, or be the one to foster that great relationship. Sometimes, it just doesn’t work out and that’s OK, too. And I feel like that would have been a good thing for me to know, also, as a teenager as well.


In the book, you take us to the Dominican Republic – where Caro goes for her father’s wedding. I really enjoyed reading those chapters because you capture so well what it’s like to be of the diaspora. While there, Caro faces a lot of difficult truths about the life her father is living far away from her and her sister. What message were you hoping to send by focusing on this strained father-daughter relationship?

Caro and Rosie are on two sides of this same relationship. Rosie has given up and realized how much work her mother puts in, whereas Caro is still seeking that approval in that relationship with the father figure. Because the book is more focused on sisterhood, I wanted to focus more on the struggles that women go through in relationships and in marriages, and how that goes undervalued. Their father is not up to par on what he should be doing as a father, but he gets a pass for it because he’s a man. 


It’s a growing-up period for Caro, and her seeing the way that he is. That he’s not this perfect person, and that he is just like a human. But at the same time, also seeing that their mother is also a human and not this big figure that we often see our parents as. That’s what I was trying to get across through having her (Caro) go there and have this realization, and then come back and be hopefully a more changed person with more compassion for her mother.


In your acknowledgements you write about how, as a teen, you were angered by the fact that some kids were granted more resources than others. You address this inequity in your book. Why was it important for you to focus on this?

I don’t see it talked about as much as I would like to. I feel like the way school systems are set up based off of income and wealth is one of the biggest divides in American society. And this is done through the way that our neighborhoods are set up based off of wealth. It was something I really noticed a lot as a kid; the fact that we have to buy everything, and our class assignments are to bring in pencils and tissues and chalk and stuff for the board. Otherwise, there’s just none there. And there’s no heating in the school, and just knowing that kids in other schools didn’t have to think about stuff like that. 


Once I got to college and started talking to people from other schools, I was just like, ‘Y’all had all these AP classes and all of these options. Those were not even available to me. And that’s really effed up.’ I think that because a kid is born in a certain neighborhood or with a certain income, they’re not even given access to the opportunity to do well. There are lots of studies out there about how certain testing, AP scores, and city testing aren’t really a great measure of someone’s abilities, or whether someone is smart or deserving of certain things. There’s just a lot to go into, and I did a lot of further research about it. 


What do you hope people take away from The Girl, The Ring & The Baseball Bat?

I hope they see the joy in the book. I feel like it’s also a very humorous book, and that’s also what I took away from going to my public high school. I loved Clifton High. I especially loved our graduation. It was just mayhem all the time. It was mayhem every day, but there’s a lot of joy to be found in that, that I feel like doesn’t get highlighted as much. I just watched the Netflix movie, “The Kitchen,” which Daniel Kaluuya directed. It’s about like a (housing) project, but in between people are having parties and there’s all this joy that happens in between… And I feel like that joy part sometimes gets undervalued. So I hope people get that out of it at least.

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Visit our Bookshop to purchase a copy of The Girl, The Ring & The Baseball Bat.

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About the Author:

Camille Gomera-Tavarez is an Afro-Dominican graphic designer, illustrator, and authoress from Clifton, NJ. She graduated with a BFA in Graphic Design and a minor in Creative Writing from the Maryland Institute College of Art. Her first book, High Spirits, was a Publishers Weekly Flying Start, earned three starred reviews, and called a “soulfully crafted debut.” 

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Amaris Castillo is a journalist, writer, and the creator of Bodega Stories, a series featuring real stories from the corner store. Her journalism has appeared in The New York Times, the Lowell Sun, the Bradenton Herald, Remezcla, Latina Magazine, Parents Latina Magazine, and elsewhere. Her creative writing has appeared in La Galería Magazine, Spanglish Voces, PALABRITAS, Dominican Moms be Like..., and is forthcoming in Quislaona: A Dominican Fantasy Anthology. Her short story, "El Don," was a finalist for the 2022 Elizabeth Nunez Caribbean-American Writers’ Prize by the Brooklyn Caribbean Literary Festival. Amaris lives in Florida with her family. You can follow her work at amariscastillo.com.

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