Book Birthday and Author Interview: LIKE HOME by Louisa Onomé

Fans of Netflix's On My Block, In the Heights, and readers of Elizabeth Acevedo and Ibi Zoboi will love this debut novel about a girl whose life is turned upside down after one local act of vandalism throws her relationships and even her neighborhood into turmoil.

Chinelo, or Nelo as her best friend Kate calls her, is all about her neighborhood Ginger East. She loves its chill vibe, ride-or-die sense of community, and her memories of growing up there. Ginger East isn't what it used to be, though. After a deadly incident at the local arcade, all her closest friends moved away, except for Kate. But as long as they have each other, Nelo's good.

Only, Kate's parents' corner store is vandalized, leaving Nelo shaken to her core. The police and the media are quick to point fingers, and soon more of the outside world descends on Ginger East with promises to "fix" it. Suddenly, Nelo finds herself in the middle of a drama unfolding on a national scale.

Worse yet, Kate is acting strange. She's pushing Nelo away at the exact moment they need each other most. Nelo's entire world is morphing into something she hates, and she must figure out how to get things back on track or risk losing everything⁠—and everyone⁠—she loves.

About the Author

Louisa Onomé is a Nigerian-Canadian writer of books for teens. She holds a BA in professional writing and is an all-around cheerleader for diverse works and writers. When not writing, her hobbies include picking up languages she may never use, crying over her favourite video games, and perfecting her skincare routine. She resides in the Toronto area.

Twitter: @louisaonome

Interview (by Kalena Miller)

I was lucky enough to read an advance copy of Like Home (I was hooked by page one, by the way), and I’m so excited to be interviewing author Louisa Onomé about her debut novel! So let’s start at the very beginning. When did you first begin working on Like Home?

Thank you! I first began working on it back in 2017, I think. Telling time is not my strength. I believe it was the summer 2017, because that was also the year I got into round 3 of Author Mentor Match (again, no one quote me on the timing!).

And what do you remember about that very first day of brainstorming or drafting?

Very little! I had been thinking about writing something with strong community themes for a while by that point because I had grown up in a similar community-oriented neighborhood, but I had no good ideas. Then, I watched the Korean drama Reply 1988 and spent half an hour crying at the ending. Thankfully no one was home! I just loved how the main characters lived in the same compound and treated each other like siblings, even though the majority of them weren’t related. That, and the family dynamic on that show, gave me the push I needed to start writing. I came up with the characters first, as that tends to be my method, and then the story shaped itself around them.

How did the story evolve throughout the writing process?

If you can believe it, almost nothing happened in the first draft. By comparison, it was pretty dull because I was so used to focusing on characters and not on plot. The climax of the story was also very different, and many of the secondary characters, namely Paco, weren’t in the first few drafts at all. As time went on, I had to really fill out the story and the neighborhood.

Community and belonging are obviously central themes throughout the novel. What can you tell us about your community?

To be honest, a part of me feels a bit disconnected from my physical community, so maybe that’s why Like Home came to me when it did. But community is definitely more than physical, and I also consider my community to be anywhere I have friends and anywhere I can be as authentic as possible.

Okay, so let’s say a teenager picks up your book because the cover is gorgeous (which it is) and then gets hooked and stays up all night reading the entire thing. What book would you recommend they read next?

Ooh! I guess this is pretty indicative of my personality, but I actually don’t have a book recommendation--I have a TV recommendation! Watch On My Block (and especially now before the final season airs!). I hadn’t watched it when I first started drafting, but it’s the perfect comparison for Like Home. It features a diverse group of friends who are as close as family, and it also has that same strong community aspect I’m so fond of. It has a lot of heart, the actors are so talented, and it’s really, really funny.

And one final question! (This one is mostly for me because I’m a nerd about this kind of thing.) Who are your biggest literary influences and how did they help shape this incredible novel?

Once again, I have an unconventional answer! When I was a teenager, I read and loved JD Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. I know this is not a popular choice, and to be fair, I haven’t actually read it in full since. But I devoured it and what I loved most was that the main character was quite annoying. He was mouthy and strange and awkward and he complained about everything, but I loved that I got such a strong reaction because, suddenly, a book character had made me feel something other than “mildly interested” or “meh”. I want to write characters that get some kind of a reaction from my readers which is why voice is so important to me. My second literary influence isn’t necessarily literary or very specific, but I’m a huge fan of music, especially music in other languages, and there was a time when I would do language study by reading lyrics and trying to translate them. In a way, it was like studying poetry. I think many other languages are so lyrical, compared to English, and by studying those words and dissecting how to write feelings into fiction, I feel I became a better writer. My favorite thing is actually listening to a song and then trying to write a scene or a story as an accompaniment. I guess at this point, no one would be surprised to know I sort a lot of things into “vibes”.

Thank you so much for chatting, Louisa! I absolutely adored Like Home, and I’m so happy that everyone now gets to experience that same magic. To everyone who made it to the end of this blog post: 1) Yay for you! 2) GO BUY LIKE HOME. IT’S AVAILABLE NOW. YOU WON’T REGRET IT.

Pick up a copy of Like Home at your favorite indie bookstore or at the following retailers:

Barnes & Noble




Book Depository