Interview: Ann Dávila Cardinal clues us in on the mystery of Category Five

Category Five by Ann Davila Cardinal. Image Courtesy She/Her
Category Five by Ann Davila Cardinal. Image Courtesy She/Her /

If you’re looking for a spooky summer read, look no further than Category Five by Ann Dávila Cardinal. Read our interview with the author to find out why.

Ann Dávila Cardinal’s latest novel, Category Five, follows Lupe, Javier, and a full cast of Latinx characters in Puerto Rico after the destruction of Hurricane Maria.

While Puerto Rican native Javier is trying to piece his life back together after the tragedy, Vermonter Lupe is solving the latest supernatural mystery on the island revolving around a possible serial killer taking out the hearts of local jerks.

However, after a run-in with ghosts, Lupe wonders whether the two incidents could be connected and what the larger mystery entails.

Category Five is a fun summer beach read like none other, perfect for fans of supernatural mysteries looking for something new to dig into.

Get your own copy on June 2 from Tor Teen or anywhere books are sold. Until then, tide yourselves over with this interview with the author herself.

Culturess: How does Category Five tie into your previous novel Five Midnights? Do readers need to read Five Midnights before they read Category Five?

Ann Dávila Cardinal: Category Five features several of the characters from Five Midnights, but is its own story. There are events from the first book that are talked about, but it’s not necessary to know the references.

It’s really more of a companion book. But I have to say, I like the way the characters evolve from one book to the next. I swear, they evolved all on their own and I just picked up their story from the following summer!

Culturess: How are the characters of Category Five doing right now? I assume they’re socially distancing.

Cardinal: Oh yes! Puerto Rico is actually having a rather strict lockdown. Like my cousin Tere said, sadly they got really good at sheltering in place during Hurricane Maria. Oh, and the earthquakes of this past winter.

So those characters have some serious resilience! And Lupe, well, here in Vermont it’s easy to social distance since it’s so rural. I’m sure she’d be running up and down the trails of Elmore mountain!

Culturess: Tell me about your writing process. How has the pandemic and stay at home order influenced it?

Cardinal: Since I write horror, it’s actually going pretty well. I mean, these are scary and unprecedented times, but I have to tell you, I imagined pandemics SO much worse that I’m just glad there aren’t zombies.

But I have the privilege to work for Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA) from home, so the division between work time and writing time is blurred since they both involve sitting in my home office hammering away at a keyboard.

I actually wrote a short horror story for a collection called Lockdown about the ghost from VCFA haunting us through Zoom. It was very cathartic.

Culturess: What books would you recommend to readers who are thirsting for more Latinx supernatural mysteries? Are there particular authors who inspired you?

Cardinal: Oh my, SO many! Anything from Zoraida Cordova. Seriously, I’d read her listing the ingredients of her morning cereal. And Anna-Marie McLemore; their writing is STUNNING.

I’m also obsessed with the work of V. Castro. She writes sexy, Latinx horror for adults, with strong-ass supernatural female leads. Maria the Wanted is the book I’ve been looking for my whole life.

Culturess: Which of your characters are you most like and why?

Cardinal: This is such an interesting question because it has changed. Obviously, I share more than just a last name with Lupe: I’m half Puerto Rican, live in Vermont, and had an addict parent, but she’s WAY more secure and pushy than I was at her age. I think she’s who I might have been without the tamping that came with my youth.

In Five Midnights, Marisol is where I put my anti-colonialist anger. She mellowed by Category Five, and in this book, Javier is where my rage about the neglect of the island after the hurricane came out. I think the real answer to this question is that they all represent parts of me.

Culturess: Marisol, Lupe, and Javier are all in counseling. Why is this something you chose to include?

Cardinal: Oh, I LOVE therapy! I’ve been in and out of counseling my entire life, and to deal with the traumas those three have dealt with? It’s a necessary thing. I have always been totally open about being in therapy and medicated for anxiety and having teen characters who own that is important to me.

Culturess: Hurricane Maria is a big theme in the book. Each of the characters has a different connection and response to it. What do you most want for your readers to understand about it?

Cardinal: That despite the neglect and corruption, the people of that island are beyond strong. That they take care of each other. And that they will survive whatever is thrown at them.

Culturess: Any chance of a Sam and Carlos spin-off?

Cardinal: Wouldn’t that be fun? I LOVE Carlos, I think he’s my favorite character to write. But no, I don’t think that’s my story to tell.

Culturess: Anything else you’d like to add?

Cardinal: That I hope Category Five captures the love I have for the island, and that we need to publish more voices from the island. I cannot WAIT for Amparo Ortiz’s Blazewrath Games! Puerto Rican dragon rider? Yes, please!

And thank you, Culturess! These are great questions!

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What is on your summer reading list? Tell us in the comments below.