Time travel, romance, and mother-daughter issues—the laughs, tears, and insights in acclaimed author Maurene Goo’s upcoming novel Throwback made it one of the most sought-after YA acquisitions of last year, setting off a 10-house auction that was won by Tiffany Liao, who joined independent publisher Zando as executive editor in May 2021. Partially inspired by Back to the Future, Throwback was pitched as a John Hughes movie meets Freaky Friday meets The Joy Luck Club. It’s scheduled for release April 11, 2023, and its cover, designed by Natalie Sousa and featuring illustrations by Kemi Mai Willan, is seen here for the first time.
Throwback centers on Samantha Kang, a Gen Z Korean American girl often at odds with her first-generation American mother Priscilla, whose unrealistic expectations continually cause friction. After a big fight, Sam mysteriously finds herself back in the ’90s coming face-to-face with her high-school-aged mom. Along with the shock of being a digital native in an analog world, Sam encounters the casual racism and misogyny of the time. She begins to wonder if she has had some fundamental misunderstandings about both herself and her mother as she is reluctantly pulled in to helping her mom win Homecoming Queen. Mixing humor, romance, and heartfelt emotion, it’s a story that Liao said she “inhaled” after receiving it from Goo’s agent, Faye Bender of the Book Group. It’s “compulsively readable, fresh, and funny, but layered with smart observations and rich themes about the immigrant experience and intergenerational healing,” Liao said, adding that she pursued the book “as soon as I dried my tears.”
For Goo, the story fulfills a long-held ambition. “I always knew that I wanted to write a mother-daughter book, but it took years for me to figure out a way to write one that wasn’t just overwrought with angst,” she said. “My own relationship with my mom in my teens was fraught—like Priscilla and Halmoni’s [Priscilla’s immigrant mother]—and I needed to find an entry into the subject that was fun, somehow. I got to thinking about time travel, because I love time travel stories, and realized my favorite movie, Back to the Future, was a perfect inspiration point. What if you could go to school with your Korean mom? That concept alone is so loaded with possibility.”
Still, it wasn’t easy considering the weighty themes inherent to the story. “I never want to write anything that feels didactic,” she said. Instead, she leaned into the humor. “Comedy is a space that I feel very comfortable in as a writer, so I knew that if I stayed true to the character’s voice, we’d find the right balance. My talented editor Tiff helped me with this, too!” she said.
In her blurb for the book, author Marie Lu said of Throwback, “No one can blend family, humor, satire, and love into a single perfect story like Maurene Goo can. I laughed, I sobbed, and now I want to hand this book to everyone I know.” That praise was echoed by author Nicola Yoon, who said, “Throwback is one of those rare books that manages to unearth deep truths with the lightest of touches. It’s funny and big-hearted, romantic, and delightfully unexpected in the best way.”
Goo said she reached into her own memories to create the world of the book and in doing so realized “much of what I and my peers dealt with was so messed up. When you’re a teen, I think you let a lot of things bounce off of you; you’re pretty tough. It’s only when you’re an adult looking back that you recognize a lot of things for what they were.” Despite the time-travel twist in the book, she says she wasn’t feeling nostalgic for the ’90s until she started researching music. “I created a playlist of ’90s music while writing this, and it took me back immediately. I became one of those boring people who says stuff like, “I lived in the best era of music. Sorry to the kids today.”
Liao called Throwback the perfect story for the moment in which the ’90s are back on the pop culture radar. Along with the nostalgia for fashion and outdated tech, Sam experiences the very real differences between being a modern Korean American teen today and one “before BTS world domination and Squid Game,” adding “I feel like Throwback is in conversation with stories like Turning Red and Everything, Everywhere All at Once that play with time, space, and genre to expand our imaginations about how we can begin to talk about and heal these intergenerational hurts.”
On the Flip Side
Goo had ideas for what the jacket might look like, drawing inspiration from Sweet Valley High covers. She was looking for something “poppy and fresh,” but also wanted readers “to look at the cover and know immediately that they would be taking a trip to the ’90s.” That’s evident in Priscilla’s Clueless-inspired plaid suit.
Liao said that art director Lindsey Andrews and Sousa came up with the “flip-flop” concept. “You have modern-day Sam on the cover, and then you turn the book upside down to see Priscilla in her full ’90s Cher Horowitz glory,” she said. “It’s a subtle way to nod to the time-travel element, and the vivid palette evokes the bright, playful tone of the book. Kemi Mai Willan really captured Sam and Priscilla’s distinct personalities, and she added all these fun little touches, from the birth-year necklaces to Sam’s AirPods to signal the time jump.”
All these elements hit the right notes for Goo. “There are so many things to love about this cover!” she said. “I am an annoying author to work with as a designer. I used to do graphic design, so I have way too many opinions and the Photoshop skills to make it doubly annoying. That said, Natalie Sousa knocked it out of the park.” She noted that Sousa also designed the cover for her debut novel Since You Asked 10 years ago. “What a lovely way to come full-circle.”
Goo’s other books include I Believe in a Thing Called Love and Somewhere Only We Know. She’s also written for Marvel’s Silk series.
Liao said Throwback is “the epitome of the kind of brilliant, bold, inclusive, culture-shifting book that we strive to publish at Zando Young Readers. We’re so proud and grateful to be publishing Maurene.”