Yamile (pronounced sha-MEE-lay) Saied Méndez, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often referred to as “the Mormon Church”), is a Picture Book (PB), Middle Grade (MG), and Young Adult (YA) author. She currently resides in Utah with her Puerto Rican husband, their five children, two dogs, and a “majestic” cat. According to her official website, she is also “a fútbol-obsessed Argentine American who loves meteor showers, summer, astrology, and pizza.”
Yamile is a Walter Dean Myers Grant inaugural recipient. The Walter Dean Myers Grant is a grant named in honor of the celebrated children’s book author Walter Dean Myers (1937-2014) who was a lifelong advocate for diversity in youth literature, and a National Book Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. She is a graduate of Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation (VONA) and received a master’s degree from the Vermont College of Fine Arts in its Writing for Children and Young Adults program. She is also part of Las Musas, the first collective of women and nonbinary Latinx MG and YA authors. She is represented by Linda Camacho at Gallt & Zacker Literary.
Her first novel for young adult readers titled Furia was published on 15 September 2020. The 368-page novel published by Algonquin Young Readers is the second September young adult pick for Reese’s Book Club, headed by actress Reese Witherspoon. Chicago Review of Books reports, “In Furia, Saied Méndez captures both the breathless beauty of fútbol and the depth of its political power. Sports intersect with gender, class, race, and identities around the world, and there’s still so much ground to be covered in telling the stories that live at these intersections.”
Yamile Saied Méndez was born and raised in Rosario, Argentina. She is the first member of her family to graduate from college. She studied English on her own — and later with the help of a teacher — so she could come to the United States and attend school at Brigham Young University (BYU).
She always aspired to be a writer. However, after leaving her homeland of Argentina and attending school at Brigham Young University (BYU), she decided to pursue something a little more “practical” like international economics. She also spent some time working as a translator.
She told the Deseret News, “I wasn’t going to go to the end of the other end of the world to study art. You know how it is.” Nevertheless, the desire to be a writer continued to beckon her, so she wrote. Now, she is on a virtual book tour for her newest novel, Furia. In a video shared to Instagram, Witherspoon said of Furia, “This book will set your dreams on fire.”
Yamile says that she is grateful for the “life changing opportunity” to have her novel chosen by Witherspoon and has high expectations that the story will resonate with a much wider audience. Though the novel tells the story of a young girl from Argentina, Yamile said she believes that — for readers of all backgrounds — the novel can be “a glimpse into a different world.”
Read about Camila whose goal is to play soccer. But, getting in the way are her parents, a society fighting for gender equality, and the ultimate obstacle – Diego, the love of her life. #ReesesBookClub pic.twitter.com/WrP9Jo5YY4
— Reese's Book Club (@ReesesBookClub) September 15, 2020
Furia is not Yamile’s first book. Her first, inspired by a question that she says she hears on almost a daily basis, was a picture book called Where Are You From? That book was published in June 2019. She told the Deseret News that the words of the book are based on a poem that she wrote for her children as she watched them trying to discover who they were, having a father from Puerto Rico and a mother from Argentina.
Yamile also sold several manuscripts to Scholastic, as well as a middle grade novel called On These Magic Shores. That book was published in June 2020.
Though it is not an autobiographical novel, Furia in some ways is based on her early life in Argentina and set in her childhood neighborhood. The novel is based on her own love of soccer (or futbol as it is called in several Latin American countries) and follows the story of a girl named Camila who has dreams of being a soccer player, even though her parents and society do not necessarily approve.
Yamile told the Deseret News that growing up in Argentina, girls were often not allowed to play soccer. In fact, until the 1970s, women’s soccer was banned in places like England and Germany. In countries like Brazil, female soccer players still face significant challenges and come up against discrimination and other obstacles.
Yamile wishes she could do live events and meet readers in person but due to the COVID-19 pandemic that is not possible at this time. She says that she is grateful for the support she’s seen from independent bookstores, including The King’s English Bookshop in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Looking ahead, Yamile said she is “fully booked” for the next couple of years, with more books already planned for 2021 and 2022. A companion to her picture book Where Are You From? called What Will You Be? and a middle grade novel called Shaking Up the House will both be published by HarperCollins in 2021.