We make a ton of money off Christmas in July, because customers have too much hope. It’s not their fault. Me and Rubina feed it to them. We decorate Paradise Pawn with tinsel and lights. We smile and hold…
My family owns a pawnshop in the Cayman Islands. I have worked behind the counter selling everything from wedding rings to chainsaws. When I decided to tell the story of this place and the people who bring it to life, I chose to show it through the lens of a thirteen-year-old girl. Margaret Atwood once wrote, “Little girls are cute and small only to adults. To one another they are not cute. They are life-sized.” Jackie and Rubina, the novel’s two thirteen-year-old protagonists who help their fathers run Paradise Pawn, see themselves as anything but cute. They are ruthless negotiators who will stop at nothing to make a sale. They recognize their own value, power, and dignity, as well as the value, power, and dignity of their customers.
I have written much of the book’s opening chapters in the first-person plural to illustrate the intensity and power of Jackie and Rubina’s connection to each other. This choice was inspired by Lorrie Moore’s Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? and Karen Shepard’s “Popular Girls.” In the world of a pawnshop and the world of teenage girlhood, trust is at a premium. Jackie and Rubina spend their days lying and being lied to, both at the pawnshop and at school. They do not see their friendship as “cute,” they see it as a means to survive. As the book progresses, the girls learn that Rubina’s family cannot pay her private school tuition, so they hatch a plan to embezzle money from Paradise Pawn. Over the course of a semester, they steal thousands of dollars as the world chips away at their innocence and their connection to each other—their sense of “we.”
I also chose to write the book in the present tense to help readers see the world of Paradise Pawn as Jackie does. Much like young girls, the people who spend time in pawnshops are not often portrayed as “life-sized” in literature and the media. While I can’t pretend to understand the life story of every customer I’ve met at my family’s store, and it would not be my place to tell those stories, I want to make readers of Paradise Pawn aware that these stories exist—that each person who passes through a pawn shop is a “life-sized” human being. Jackie meticulously analyzes her customers, but doesn’t look down on them the way an adult might. Working at Paradise Pawn has rocketed Jackie into the adult world in some ways, but in other ways she is still a child. Her interactions with people are not fueled by racism, sexism, or classism, as many adult interactions around her are. I have written the book in the present tense to allow readers to press their faces against Jackie’s lens on the world. I have tried to leave little to no space between Jackie’s first-person perspective and my authorial presence so that readers will see Jackie, Rubina, and their Paradise Pawn customers as Jackie does—not as cute or small, but as life-sized and powerful.
MEG RICHARDSON is a writer living in New York City. She is a Creative Writing Teaching Fellow at Columbia University, where she is earning her MFA in writing and translation. Her work has been published in The Rumpus, Lit Hub, Chaleur Magazine, and elsewhere. Her translation from French to English of Marie Robert’s book When You Kant Figure It Out, Ask a Philosopher was published by Little, Brown and Company in November of 2019. More of her work can be seen at meg-richardson.com.