Character Interview: Leila & Sarika, The Girl and the Grove

Hello, little foxes! Welcome to Let’s Fox About It’s first character interview with Leila and Sarika, the dynamic duo at the center of Eric Smith’s The Girl and the Grove, which came out on May 8 from Flux Books.

I read The Girl and the Grove as an eARC and reviewed it for my personal blog, but I couldn’t myself from reaching out to Smith for some more information about it. Thus, this character interview was born.

Teenager Leila’s life is full of challenges. From bouncing around the foster care system toThe Girl and the Grove Cover living with seasonal affective disorder, she’s never had an easy road. Leila keeps herself busy with her passion for environmental advocacy, monitoring the Urban Ecovists message board and joining a local environmental club with her best friend Sarika. And now that Leila has finally been adopted, she dares to hope her life will improve.

But the voices in Leila’s head are growing louder by the day. Ignoring them isn’t working anymore. Something calls out to her from the grove at Fairmount Park. Goodreads

I highly recommend The Girl and the Grove. You’ll get a great sense of Leila’s voice from this character interview, and I hope it’ll be enough to nudge you into buying it for yourself or for the teen readers in your life.


What do you like best about yourselves, and each other?

Sarika: Oof, this is hard. Best about myself, well, I make a mean cup of coffee. And I can tell you just about everything there is to know about how it gets into that cup. As for each other… I mean, Leila is perfect.

Leila: Sarika.

Sarika: Flawless.

Leila: Can you not-

Sarika: I’m just telling the truth. No, but really, I’m loyal. That’s my best trait, I think.

Leila: *sighs* I guess what I like the best about Sarika, is that she’s a good friend that gets really excited about her friends? Please see her previous statements. Me, I don’t know. I’m starting to get a handle on really standing up for myself, so, that’s a thing, I think. Right? I’m finding my voice, and I like it. I like what I hear.


What do you like the least about yourself, and each other?

Leila: Maybe that it’s taken me this long? I wish I’d had a bit more fight in me earlier. But, it’s here now. As for Sarika… I’m sorry, it’s just really hard to answer this question when you’re staring right at me like that.

Sarika: I just want to be here to receive this criticism. I want to be open to it.

Leila: Okay, okay. I don’t like that you bottle things in. You keep all that rage in a little glass jar inside, and that’s no good.

Sarika: I’ll have you know I let my rage out at perfectly acceptable times.

Leila: And that you use humor to mask how you’re really feeling.

Sarika: Fine, fine. I don’t like that you’re so hard on yourself. You should see yourself the way I see you, as well as the way everyone else seems to. As for me… I guess I do have a hard time dealing with change. But I have my reasons.


What is your go-to coffee order?

Leila: An Americano. Cold brew is good too.

Sarika: UGH. Black. The end. That’s the only way to drink a proper cup. I hate that I have to make it any other way. I mutter a soft apology to every cup I have to ruin.


If you had a free day with nothing to do, what would you do?

Leila: Probably explore, wander around outside. I like fussing in my little garden, well, my dad’s mess of a garden, and making my way around the parks in Philadelphia. There are a bunch of them smattered about, and as a whole Fairmount Park is just enormous. There’s so much to see.

Sarika: You got that right.

Leila: Stop nudging me.

Sarika: Just saying. I see what you did there. Me… I have a soft spot in my heart for used bookshops, so maybe rummage at Giovanni’s Room and Philly AIDS Thrift? MASSIVE stacks of used books, I could seriously spend the whole day there. That’s how I got into Fran Wilde. I found an early copy of Updraft in a used bin, and that was it. I’ve read everything she’s written.


If you could spend a day with someone you admire (alive, dead or fictional) who would it be?

Leila: Maybe Herman Schwarzmann? He designed a bunch of building in Philadelphia during the big centennial fair, and a few of them are still left in the city. I love the old buildings in Philly, and the few that remain by him are amazing. The Please Touch Museum is unreal.

Sarika: Hm, maybe Fran Wilde? I just love her books, her or Tara Sim. Their novels are my favorites. I’d try to get them to read my fanfiction. I wrote a story where Danny from Timekeeper comes to hangout in the clock in Philadelphia’s City Hall and we become best friends.

Leila: Wow that was a really loud sigh there.

Sarika: Shut up.


When do you consider it an appropriate time to lie?

Leila: When you’re protecting someone, maybe? But like, protecting them from something major. Not like, petty stuff. Real stuff.

Sarika: Agreed. If you’re saving someone from getting hurt, like really hurt, I think it’s okay.


What is the happiest day of your life?

Sarika: Wow Leila, you are blushing so hard right now.

Leila: Now it’s time for you to shut up.

Sarika: I’m just saying, it’s weird, I didn’t know you could blush.

Leila: Probably when I met Sarika here. I didn’t realize what a great friend I was meeting at the time, and– okay can you stop laughing?!

Sarika: I’m just saying, I know what your happiest day was, and it has nothing to do with me.

Leila: Stop making kissing faces!!!

Sarika: THIS is actually the best day of my life.


If you were in need of comforting, what would be the best thing that someone could do for you?

Leila: Give me space?

Sarika: Same.

Leila: Don’t get me wrong, I really appreciate it when I’m having a rough time, and someone wants to come hang out. But most of the time I just need that down time to myself to… I don’t know, get my head together.

Sarika: It’s nice to have the option though, to know someone could potentially come through. You know I always will.

Leila: I know.


If you could teach everyone in the world one thing, what would it be?

Leila: Be kind to one another, and to everything around you. I know it probably seems… I don’t know, tree-hugger-ish or whatever, but the way you treat the natural world around you means something.

Sarika: I agree. Even the little creature deserves a bit of kindness, and it takes no effort.