Here the Whole Time by Vitor Martins, translated by Larissa Helena (Scholastic, Nov. 10), is both witty and poignant. Brazilian teenager Felipe spends his winter break hosting Caio, the dishy neighbor he’s secretly in love with. Felipe’s single mother is a warm, unconditionally loving parent, supportive of her lonely, anxious son who is bullied for his weight. Meanwhile, Caio’s controlling, homophobic parents make his home life less welcoming. This is a delightful romp as well as an uplifting and affirming read; the film rights were recently purchased by the Brazilian production company Conspiração. Martins spoke with me from his home in São Paulo, Brazil; the conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

How did you end up writing YA?

I decided to go to journalism college because I like to write—but writing news was so boring. When I left school, I started to illustrate picture books, and it was great to meet authors. Writing a book was always a dream, and I had this idea for short stories based on classic fairy tales. Here the Whole Time was my attempt to do a “Beauty and the Beast” retelling: We have this character who thinks he’s ugly and doesn’t deserve love, and we have this other character who’s beautiful, and they are brought together by destiny. I knew one [publishing] intern who today is my main Brazilian editor. She told me, pick one [story] and turn it into a novel.

What kind of responses have you had from readers?

I feel so lucky to have such passionate readers. It’s the old story: I’m writing this book because I wanted to see the younger version of me in a book. When the book was published [in Brazil in 2017], I got to meet people who could relate to [it] for so many different reasons. There was this young reader [at] one book signing, and she told me about this side character, [Caio’s best friend] Becky’s girlfriend. Melissa has a scar on her chest, due to heart surgery, and the reader also had a scar, and she was also bisexual [like Melissa], and for her that meant so much. Melissa is such a small character, she talks so little, and I felt so guilty! I was like, “Oh my God, I want to write a whole book about Melissa just for you because you make this character so special!” It was beautiful to see people that are struggling with body issues and people that are not fat, but through Felipe they could empathize.

It’s rare for books to actually make me laugh out loud like yours did.

As Felipe says, when you grow up fat, you feel like you always have to compensate. I always thought if I make everybody laugh, they will not laugh at me, they’ll always be laughing with me. So, when I decided that Felipe would be this shy and very awkward kid, it was hard because all the jokes are inside his head. I felt like this could be good—for the reader to see how Felipe is a funny guy and an adorable kid, but he’s not able to show that. For me, it’s easier to deal with hard topics when you’re being funny. We don’t have to take ourselves so seriously when we’re talking about serious issues. The book deals with some very difficult and personal topics, but dealing with them with jokes was my way to get through it. We never actually get over anything; we just learn how to control our demons.

Felipe’s size is woven throughout as a central part of his character.

We don’t discuss enough how body image affects teenage boys. As boys, we grow up learning that caring about your body is “girly,” and this resonates in a man’s life on so many levels: These kinds of boys become men that don’t care about their health. [However] gay culture is so focused on hot bodies; growing up fat and gay you think that you are never going to be loved. Even though in the past few years we have had cute rom-coms about gay boys, it’s always [about] twinks. Growing up fat, it’s like a message that love stories are not for you; you were born to be the best friend, the comic relief. Deciding to write about a fat gay boy seemed like, who’s going to read this, who’s going to care? But I discovered that it wasn’t only me. It took me a while to learn that I deserve love, and I hope that teenage boys can learn quicker than I did.

Consent plays such an important role in the story.

Growing up fat, you feel that your body doesn’t deserve to be touched, you don’t want anyone to touch your body, and you don’t know how good this can feel. For Felipe, being gay around his mom? It’s so easy. For Caio, being shirtless is so easy. Not everything that’s easy for us is going to be easy for our loved ones. About Caio not being ready to come out, that’s something tricky to write about, because when you start writing for a young adult audience—and I think this is something every queer author can relate to—you start to receive messages from teenagers asking for tips on how to come out. This is terrible because it’s not like a YouTube tutorial. It’s different for everyone. What I wanted to tell [readers] is that it’s OK if you’re not ready to come out yet, because you have your whole life to come out and live proudly; your safety always has to come first. This has everything to do with consent: Felipe had to feel comfortable being touched the same way Caio needed to feel comfortable in his own home.

What is the world of YA like in Brazil?

The YA community is growing so fast—we read a lot of translated books, [but] we’re starting to see ourselves as a community that can write stories that talk to our young adults about our issues that sometimes can be universal but sometimes can be very specific, because Brazil is a giant country; you can experience so many different cultures [here]. I cannot represent Brazil, because it’s huge. Brazilian readers are craving diversity and more resonant stories. Even though the world is a mess, we are very excited because we are able to use all the anger, the hunger for change, to create something good, to create beautiful stories.

You translated Abdi Nazemian’s American YA novel Like a Love Story into Portuguese, and now you are on the other side of the process.

For me, it was a huge honor to translate it because it’s a beautiful story, a universal story for queer people. [Being on] the other side is so interesting. Translation is not just knowing the language; many things can get lost in translation if you don’t know the context. [Larissa] is also Brazilian, and she’s been living in New York for such a long time. I knew she would know [my] meaning in Portuguese, and she would translate that into English that felt natural. She did such an amazing job.

Laura Simeon is a young readers’ editor.