Riviera Author Pens Debut Young Adult Novel
By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor
It is safe to say Cambria Gordon has found her calling.
Since she quit her day job as an advertising copywriter and began writing for young readers, she has not only inspired and educated others, but has learned more about herself and her heritage in the process.
Her new young adult/crossover novel, “The Poetry of Secrets,” is a timeless love story about identity, religious intolerance and female empowerment.
“It’s the account of a converso girl who falls in love with the wrong man on the eve of the Spanish Inquisition,” the Palisadian author described.
Since the book was released February 2, she has been on a virtual tour to promote it.
Co-author of the award-winning “The Down-to-Earth Guide to Global Warming” and winner of the National Green Earth Book Award, Gordon has written for Los Angeles Times Magazine, Boys’ Life, Parent Guide News and The Jewish Journal of Los Angeles. Her one-act play, “Within Reach,” was produced by Jewish Women’s Theatre. She has also held numerous nonprofit board positions, including chairing the LA Leadership Group of Natural Resources Defense Council.
“My family and I have lived in Pacific Palisades for 30 years, but we moved to Madrid in 2016 for a sabbatical year,” Gordon explained. “There, I became curious about the lack of physical evidence of ancient Jewish life and read all I could on the Spanish Inquisition.
“There are various regions where Jews originated. Sephardic Jews came from the Iberian Peninsula. Ashkenazi Jews came from Germany and Eastern Europe. Mizrahi Jews came from the Middle East. I was born Ashkenazi but my adoptive father is Sephardic, so I was raised with Ladino—a mixture of Spanish and Hebrew—spoken in my grandmother’s home along with Sephardic cooking.”
Spending 12 months in Spain proved to be life changing.
“For our sabbatical year, we wanted to have an adventure outside of our comfort zone,” she said. “We thought a big city with a metro system where we could walk to the grocery store and museums—some place that felt different from the suburban, car-dependent life we’ve had in the Palisades—would be fun. Having our youngest son become fluent in Spanish was also a goal. He did seventh grade there at a bilingual school. He was very exotic to those kids. They’d never met a Jewish boy.”
Now, Gordon said she considers Madrid her second home.
“My older daughter was in college and my older son just graduated college and was beginning his career, so they stayed in the United States,” Gordon said. “Madrid has always held a place in my mind as a romantic ideal. My grandfather spent a year there filming a paella western in the 1960s starring William Shatner and my older cousin had been a bull fighter there. My grandmother had brought my sister and I back flamenco dresses and heels that I wore until the dress wouldn’t zipper up and the leather had worn out on the shoes. There’s a photo of me in the back of the book wearing that costume.”
Living on another continent was partly what motivated Gordon to pen “The Poetry of Secrets.”
“I flew to Madrid for the first time, and found an apartment and a school, and we moved that summer,” Gordon recalled. “When we lived there, I became fascinated with the Jewish quarters we visited and wondered why there weren’t more archaeological remnants.”
Gordon explained that the streets were marked, but that was all she saw. She said that she wondered what happened to the Jewish people of Spain.
“I hadn’t studied the Inquisition in school, so I read all I could—both fiction and non-fiction,” she said. “We visited a small town called Trujillo where many Jews had lived, and the moment I saw those winding alleys, I started to imagine myself as a young woman there.”
Gordon said that she asked herself what she would have done if she were Jewish and forced to convert, and then fell in love with the wrong man.
“Would I defy my family?” she asked herself. “Would I abandon my religion? Would I risk death? What does it mean to be a Spaniard? A Jew or Muslim dominated by Church and Crown?
“It resonates today with the identity politics of all our social movements. Also, my main character, Isabel, is a crypto-Jew, a converso on the outside and hiding her Jewish practices on the inside. How many cryptos are walking among us today? Those too afraid to express their gender identity or even their politics for fear of being canceled?”
“This historical romance is a fast-paced, plot-driven tale with feminist main characters whom readers will root for from the very beginning,” Kirkus Reviews touted. “A charming Jewish love story set against the bleak backdrop of the Spanish Inquisition.”
Cambria, who also goes by Cami, is married to television writer/producer Howard Gordon. They now reside in the Riviera neighborhood, but when her older kids were young, they lived in El Medio Bluffs, in the college streets, the hills off Bienveneda and the Huntington.
The mother of three is a third-generation Angeleno. Her oldest son went to Palisades Charter Elementary School for a few years, played in the Pacific Palisades Baseball Association, and played basketball and tennis at the Palisades Recreation Center, while her youngest graduated from Canyon Charter Elementary School. She and her family are members of University Synagogue in Brentwood.
Asked her favorite things to do, she lists several: picking up trash on the beach (which she said is fun and satisfying), eating tortilla de patata, cooking for the family, singing loudly to Taylor Swift songs, conjugating Spanish verbs, rewatching “Velvet,” geeking out on research and rereading from “The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.”
“The Poetry of Secrets” was published by Scholastic Press. It is available in hardcover or paperback on Amazon or at Target, Walmart and Barnes & Noble.
To learn more about the author, visit her on Instagram at @cambrialgordon or cambrialgordon.com.
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