The author of Fat Chance, Charlie Vega talks about her debut novel and the meaning behind her writing.

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Earlier this month, Puerto Rican author Crystal Maldonado released her debut novel Fat Chance, Charlie Vega, which follows a girl named Charlie as she deals with various pressures of teenage life: her mother wanting her to lose weight, her best friend rejecting her crush then asking Charlie out instead, and her place as a Latina in a mostly white community.

"It's a coming-of-age story," Maldonado tells People CHICA. "She's fat, she's Puerto Rican, and she's never been kissed. She really enjoys reading and writing and envisioning herself as these main characters, but never actually in real life feels like she gets to have the opportunity to be a main character." The author was partly inspired to write Charlie Vega because of the lack of representation she saw in media when she was younger.

"I really have always loved reading books and I loved romance books especially," she shares. "When I was growing up, I never really got to see a fat main character in those books. Usually they were nonexistent at all, or if they were there then that fat character really wanted to lose weight, or maybe they didn't love themself very much. I always thought, 'Why don't we get to be the main character?'"

In Fat Chance, Charlie is learning how to love her friends and her family, but most importantly, herself. "Basically it's her quest for all different kinds of love," says Crystal. "She's exploring love with friends, and how you balance friendship. She wants to fall in love so badly while also figuring out how to love herself. Love is the central theme of the book."

The novel was also inspired by Maldonado's true-life love story with her husband, who she met as a senior in high school. "Obviously a lot of it was fictionalized," she explains, but "Charlie and I have a lot of similarities. Physically we share a lot of the same traits. Her story about coming into her own, and she meets this cute boy who really likes her and they are in high school — that was inspired by me and my husband."

Fat Chance Charlie Vega
Credit: Courtesy of Holiday House

Now working on her second novel, Maldonado wants readers who struggle with their weight to see themselves in her work — to be the main characters in their own stories. "The number-one message I really want people to walk away with is just this feeling of being understood, to take a minute and be a little kinder to themselves," she says. "Make room for their experience without feeling like they need to change at all. Charlie is not a perfect character and she is sort of figuring things out. We need more of that, especially when it comes to brown characters, fat characters, and any character that would be marginalized. We need our imperfect characters as well because we're not all perfect. I really want people to walk away being seen, validated, and understood."

For more with Crystal, look for the March issue of People en Español, on stands this Friday.