'Meet Me Halfway' explores classmates who find out they have the same Colombian father and begin a mission to find him

'Meet Me Halfway' debuts

Mattie Gomez feels directionless after being uprooted from her beloved Minnesota and forced to move in with her new stepfamily in California. So when she meets a girl at her new middle school who looks exactly like her, she’s not sure what to make of it. That’s how award-winning author Anika Fajardo’s new book begins.

Based in Minnesota, she writes books for adults and young adults and her most recent book comes out Tuesday. It’s called “Meet Me Halfway” and she joined Cathy Wurzer to talk about it.

Click the audio player above to listen to the full episode. 

Subscribe to the Minnesota Now podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle PodcastsSpotify or wherever you get your podcasts.  

We attempt to make transcripts for Minnesota Now available the next business day after a broadcast. When ready they will appear here. 

Before you keep reading ...

MPR News is made by Members. Gifts from individuals fuel the programs that you and your neighbors rely on. Donate today to power news, analysis, and community conversations for all.

Audio transcript

CATHY WURZER: Let me introduce you to another amazing woman. Anika Fajardo is an award-winning author who was born in Colombia, grew up in Minnesota. Based here now, she writes books for adults and young adults, and her most recent book comes out today, today. It's called Meet Me Halfway, and Anika is here to talk about it. Hey, welcome to Minnesota Now and congratulations. Happy Book Launch Day.

ANIKA FAJARDO: Thank you so much, Cathy. I'm excited to be here.

CATHY WURZER: Well, this is a big day for any author, when your book comes out. Do you ever get sweaty-palmed even after all this time?

ANIKA FAJARDO: Oh, yes, definitely. In fact, I have sweaty palms at this moment. But we call it a book birthday, and so that makes it feel a little bit more like we should have cake and ice cream kind of day. So that helps to take away the nerves of it.

CATHY WURZER: Some balloons. Happy Book Birthday. This is your fifth book. Tell us about Meet Me Halfway.

ANIKA FAJARDO: Well, Meet Me Halfway is for readers ages 8 to 12, so that middle grade, middle school. It is about two half-sisters who discover one another and then go in search for the Colombian father, who was an anthropologist, that they share and that they've never met before. It is inspired by the sister antics of The Parent Trap movies and the sibling adventure in EL Konigsberg 1967 novel From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, where the siblings go and hide out in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This book, the girls end up at a liberal arts college in California and have some adventures there.

CATHY WURZER: This feels like it might be also based a little bit on your own life.

ANIKA FAJARDO: It is. So both of the sisters then are half-white and half-Colombian. They grow up not knowing their father, their Colombian father, which is what I had happened to me. I was born in Colombia, but when my parents got divorced when I was little, I grew up here in Minnesota and did not know my father as I was growing up.

And then, I also found out that I had a half-sibling, a brother, actually, when I was an adult. And so I kind of got started on this book with the question of, what if I had met him by surprise somewhere, just ran into him? And also, what if I had met him when I was young? What would that be like?

CATHY WURZER: I love that. I mean, yeah, those are questions that are interesting to ask. Do you have any memory from the first time you meet your dad that sticks out?

ANIKA FAJARDO: Well, I first met him when I was 21 years old. I was a junior in college. And I had just spent the semester in Spain, and so I spoke Spanish and was feeling pretty adventurous, as you feel when you're 21. And so he called me up one day and asked me if I would like to come and visit him for a month, and I think part of just young adult naiveté, I just said, sure, why not?

And so he sent me a ticket, and I jumped on the plane. And I just remember getting off the plane-- the whole experience was so just completely different from anything I had ever had happened to me. But I got off the plane, and there he was.

And even though I hadn't seen him since I was two years old, I immediately recognized him, and we ended up kind of figuring out who-- was I, an adult? Was I a child? Going back and forth with just getting to know him and his wife and the rest of my family that lives in Colombia.

CATHY WURZER: Any moment of surprise in that meeting or a revelation of any kind?

ANIKA FAJARDO: Well, the most amazing thing was one time, we were out walking in the evening, just my dad and I, in one of the cities in Colombia, and we stopped at a plaza. And there was a fountain in this plaza, and I just randomly told him the story about how I had fallen into a fountain when I was little.

And he stopped, and he said, I was there. And it turns out that it happened at the Black Forest Inn in Minneapolis, which has a little fountain. And I was walking along it fell into it, and the waiter wrapped me in a tablecloth and handed me back to my parents. And he had been there.

And so it was this amazing moment, where I remember the moment and he remembered it. He was there. Even though I didn't have memories of him, it was like we had this shared moment suddenly, and that really struck me that, yes, this is my father. This is meant to be.

CATHY WURZER: So let's talk about your writing. As an adult, you were at St. Cate's. You're an academic librarian, which, of course, helps you pay the bills, but you were also thinking, I want to be an author. I should be writing. So how did you decide to leap into that pool?

ANIKA FAJARDO: Well, I'd always wanted to be a writer, but I didn't really think that was a job you could have, which is how I ended up first as a teacher and then as a librarian. And I was working part time, which was nice, because I started taking classes at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, just very beginning classes, kind of creative. How do you tell a creative story?

And then, as I kept working, I started telling my own stories, stories about my dad and about my family, and discovered that writing my own story was really resonating with readers and my teachers. Various teachers and mentors that I had were really encouraging, and that's when I started working on writing my memoir.

CATHY WURZER: And then, you also, of course, have written children's literature. We should say, for folks who don't remember, your book What If a Fish won the 2021 Minnesota Book Award in Middle Grade Literature. Congratulations. I don't think I had a chance to tell you that. Congratulations.

ANIKA FAJARDO: Thank you.

CATHY WURZER: What do you like writing about-- why do you like writing for children?

ANIKA FAJARDO: Part of the thing is that I really remember very, very clearly what it was like to be a child. And I don't know if everyone has those memories. I also kept journals from the time I was in fourth grade, and so I have this archival evidence of how your brain works when you're young.

And so it's partly just that the child characters really come to me. I know many writers talk about this. They kind of just appear to me and that they're the ones that want to tell these stories. And I always write about family and identity and place, and so it depends on what characters pop up in terms of how I want to explore those issues.

CATHY WURZER: So let me ask you a little bit about the Children's Book Festival this Saturday. You're going to be there.

ANIKA FAJARDO: Yes. It will be my first time there. I have been told that it is a really, really fun event. Other authors who have been there before have told me that there's just kids running around everywhere. It's a great event for families. Lots of adults and educators who are really interested in children's literature come to see the presentations from the authors. There's also going to be time for signing, and Red Balloon Bookshop is selling books there.

CATHY WURZER: And by the way, you have a book release event tonight. We should talk about that too.

ANIKA FAJARDO: Yes. Red Balloon Books in St. Paul at 6:30, and I'm going to be speaking with Jacqueline West, the author of Long Lost, which won the Minnesota Book Award in Middle Grade Literature last year. I mean, this year.

CATHY WURZER: This year, exactly. Now, Meet Me Halfway comes out today. In case you're just tuning in, we're having kind of a little bit of a book birthday celebration here on the air. Have your parents read the book yet? I'm curious. If they did, what do they think?

ANIKA FAJARDO: They have.

CATHY WURZER: They have? Oy.

ANIKA FAJARDO: Yes, my dad actually happened to be here in Minnesota in the fall, for the first time in 40 years. I just happened to have an early release copy of the book, and so I was able to give it to him. And he was able to read it. And his wife contributed a lot to this story because she's an anthropologist, which the dad in this story is a Colombian anthropologist, and she helped me track down the stories, that mythology that I used in the book. She does not speak English, so she has not had a chance to read it.

But my dad really liked it. My mom also read it. The book is dedicated to my mom, and she was the one who first told me how much she loved the Haley Mills' The Parent Trap movie. So that was part of the inspiration for the book.

CATHY WURZER: Well, I wish you all the best, and I'm so happy that we could talk about your book today on the air. Thanks so much.

ANIKA FAJARDO: Thank you. Thank you so much.

CATHY WURZER: Anika Fajardo is the Minneapolis author of the new middle grade title released today, Meet Me Halfway. She's going to be reading from her book tonight at the Red Balloon in St. Paul and this Saturday, 1:00 PM, at the Minnesota Children's Book Festival in Red Wing. For more on the festival, you can go to andersoncenter.org.

Download transcript (PDF)

Transcription services provided by 3Play Media.