Translator Larissa Helena in conversation with Lawrence Schimel

Here The Whole Time and Where We Go From Here are two queer YA novels in translation from Brazilian Portuguese published by Scholastic this year. In a Brazilian LGBT sweep, both titles won the #2021GLLITranslatedYALitBookPrize this week. Translator and World Kid Lit co-founder Lawrence Schimel spoke to their translator Larissa Helena about the books last September. Indeed, Lawrence had picked these two titles as his favorite World Kid Lit Young Adult picks of 2020 in December. This interview originally appeared on the World Kid Lit blog. GLLI thanks the World Kid Lit blog for permission to post it here.

Lawrence Schimel: This is quite a year for you, to be publishing not one but two translations of YA novels from Brazil. I know you work in publishing, but had you done much translation (for adults or younger readers) before?

Larissa Helena: Before these two projects, I had already translated quite a few books into Brazilian Portuguese – nearly all of them for kids or young adults, as that is where my heart truly lies. Some of my favorites were Maureen Johnson’s The Name of the Star (because I love her twitter and it was so much fun to render her unique voice into Portuguese), Derek Landy’s Skulduggery Pleasant series (because it was started by another translator, Edmo Suassuna, who set the tone for the jokes and wordplay, and following the rules he established was like playing a one-sided game with Edmo), and Laura Ruby’s Bone Gap (because its poetic nature presented exciting challenges).

LS: I know that David Levithan was in Brazil as an author, where he met Lucas Rocha’s editor, and when he got back to Scholastic (where he is an editor) he told his colleague Orlando Dos Reis (who is Brazilian and could read the originals) about these books. How did Scholastic make the connection to you?

LH: I’m glad you asked, because it’s a funny story. When I was an agent, we received an e-mail from Orlando detailing his acquisitions wishlist. I immediately wrote back, my message something like “Hello, are you Brazilian? Your name sounds Brazilian!”, and Louis, it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Fast-forward to Orlando falling in love with a couple of projects from Brazil and convincing me that we would be the dream team to get this book just right in English. He was, of course, absolutely correct!

LS: Do you do a lot of pitching of other Brazilian children’s books you’d like to translate? Or do projects mostly come to you?

LH: I am glad to have left the “a lot of pitching” part behind me, it belongs to my agenting past. But I am a natural connector – of people and projects, of agents and authors, even of friends looking for a new apartment and people looking for a new tenant… So if I spot something that looks like a great opportunity, I can’t help but pitch it to someone, even if I’m not necessarily going to be the translator. It just feels really good to be in a position to facilitate great things!

LS: I have been following the various stories in the Brazilian media about two novels being translated into English and published in the US by Scholastic (and at least one is forthcoming in the UK via Hodder as well, I believe). It has made quite a splash. But aside from the noteworthiness of not just one but two Brazilian queer YA novels being published in the US, which is famously resistant to translations, can you tell us briefly about the two books.

LH: I am so fortunate for having translated these two gems, and love talking about them!

Where We Go From Here by Lucas Rocha, published by Scholastic

In short, WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE by Lucas Rocha is the tale of three lives that come together because of HIV. It starts, ominously, in a testing clinic, but the ensuing journey is one of new friendships, understanding, forgiveness, and new beginnings. Some older relatives read this book and were amazed that our generation has the opportunity to engage with such a positive outlook for a character with HIV, which is one of the many achievements of this book.

HERE THE WHOLE TIME by Vitor Martins is a heartwarming take on a favorite YA trope: a protagonist suddenly forced to spend time with a crush. It presents hard themes of body-shaming and parental pressure in a surprisingly funny, powerful and loving way. If you don’t fall in love with Felipe, I didn’t do my job right.

LS: For these books, were there any difficulties about not so much the themes but the language as you were working on the translation? Whether about body shaming or HIV or queer slang, as a translator you need to fully grasp both the original and the appropriate vocabulary for the target language–and in the case of these books for teens, the target age group. What research or resources, if any, did you rely on?

LH: For WWGFH my research time was split between checking that I was getting the medical jargon right, and just as importantly, that I was getting the drag terminology right!

The first one was way easier – I found a lot of reliable resources online for the questions I had about the precise names for tests and medications.

As for the latter, the internet helped, but the truth of the matter is that apart from anglicized expressions (drawn from RuPaul’s for instance), terms in Brazilian drag terminology usually refer to different signifiers, or concepts, than their English counterparts. So for the translation, the array of expressions that I had at my disposal had different meanings from the ones in the original. “But Larissa,” you will say, “ain’t that always the case with slang?” It is, and that is why slang is so hard to translate. I’ll argue though that while most slang has smooth edges from overuse, and can be more or less bent to fit a translator’s purposes, in drag each word carries a ton of meaning, plus there is a very limited pool of words that will make that variant recognizable. The solution here was to change where the terminology entered the conversation, so that non-slang words in the original were translated as slang, and vice-versa.

With HTWT, the challenge was completely different. Its main character has such a charming and unique voice that much of the work for me was getting this voice just right. It took me a lot of tries in the beginning, and I wrote and rewrote several paragraphs of the first few chapters. However, once when I got in the groove, the translation flowed beautifully. There were points where I felt like Chico Xavier – a psychic embodying this character’s personality. I hope it reads as fluid as translating it felt!

Here The Whole Time by Vitor Martins, published by Scholastic

LS: Do you know what either author has published since or is working on now?

LH: Vitor Martins published another book, “Um milhão de finais felizes” (A Million Happy Endings) back in 2018. And I know they are both working on their next projects, to be released in Brazil in 2021, but we’ll have to stand by for more details.

LS: Are there any more translations for you on the horizon?

LH: No new translations for the time being, but both books we discussed in this interview will be published in the UK next year!

Larissa Helena
Photograph: Mark Clennon

Larissa Helena is a translator, editor and rights manager. She is proud of having created the YA imprint Fantástica Rocco in Brazil, of having negotiated international and adaptation rights to hundreds of books around the world, and of her dozens of translations, particularly of Here The Whole Time (Scholastic Press) and Where We Go From Here (Scholastic PUSH).

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