Pura Belpré Honor author Celia C. Peréz’s Tumble is the story of Addie Ramirez, who discovers that the biological father she’s never met is part of a family of legendary professional wrestlers. It’s a complex, emotional novel about loss, self-discovery and belonging—and a warmhearted ode to the art of professional wrestling.
Here, Pérez offers a peek into her childhood diaries, where she chronicled her love of wrestling and began a writing practice that hinted at the storyteller she would one day become.
When I was in middle school, I owned one of those faux-leather-bound diaries, the kind of item that comes to mind when you think of a 1980s childhood. It had a blue cover with One Year Diary in gold script and a little clasp that locked with a tiny key. The lock and key, a thin piece of metal, gave the illusion that the book could not easily be pried open, that you could really keep snooping siblings from reading your most personal thoughts.
According to 1986 me, reading was one of my two favorite things. I was into mysteries, teen romance series like Sweet Valley High and the novels of S.E. Hinton. (Yes, one could love the Wakefield twins and Ponyboy Curtis.) Still, it came as a surprise to adult me to discover that there was a time in my life when there was something I loved even more than reading. But there, in the entry for the second day in January, I declared my true love: watching professional wrestling.
My 1986 diary is a time machine of cultural references. There are mentions of the Chicago Bears’ Super Bowl win, the Challenger explosion, the opening of Al Capone’s vault, the royal wedding of Andrew and Fergie. Prince, Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, Wham and Duran Duran, as well as Simon Le Bon’s post-Duran Duran band, Arcadia, all make appearances. And there’s wrestling. A lot of wrestling.
Occasionally, I wrote about typical adolescent things like unrequited crushes and too much homework, but I didn’t devote much space on the already limited pages to nonwrestling matters. The only mention of my birthday was squeezed in as a postscript—literally, “P.S. Today is my birthday”—at the bottom of the corresponding page, an afterthought to the more important event that was happening on May 28: wrestling at the Coconut Grove Exhibition Center!
I wrote about WrestleMania II and The Wrestling Album, the record of songs performed by WWF stars that was released at the end of 1985 and included such classics as Junkyard Dog’s “Grab Them Cakes.” I detailed my viewing schedule: every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and then at 7, 10 and 11 in the evening and on Sunday nights at 8. Apparently, out of desperation, I even watched “Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling.”
By the end of the year, I was watching more than eight hours of wrestling every weekend. I watched anything that aired on our cableless TV, from Vince McMahon’s WWF (now the WWE) to the smaller productions coming out of different areas, or territories, of the country. On weekends in Miami, you could still watch Championship Wrestling from Florida, World Class Championship Wrestling from Texas, NWA Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling from North Carolina, and AWA wrestling from Minnesota. In one entry, I even mention a new wrestling show called G.L.O.W.
At the time, the WWF was eating through territories like Pac-Man inhaling dots. Despite its popularity and ubiquitous presence, the WWF was my least favorite of the hourlong shows I watched every weekend. It was the junky cereal in my wrestling diet.
While the smaller territories didn’t have the same flashiness or production quality as the WWF, there was something about them that appealed to me. They felt real in a way the WWF did not. Their rings felt less a stage for actors than a space for real people to settle scores. Wrestlers seemed more like everyday people. Among these were the Von Erichs, who were my favorites. (Yes, I was a member of the Von Erich Fan Club.) The villainous heels, wrestlers like Kevin Sullivan and Abdullah the Butcher, were less clownish and truly terrifying. There also seemed to be a lot more blood in the territory matches.
My childhood diary also reminded me that I kept several “wrestling notebooks,” though these have sadly been lost to time. I didn’t just fill these notebooks with profiles of wrestlers and recaps of matches; I also wrote stories in them. It wasn’t until I was an adult, long after I’d stopped watching wrestling, that I learned that the world of wrestling had its own storytellers, the “bookers” who created storylines. In hindsight, perhaps I recognized that at the core of all the brawling was the thing I loved most: story.
Wrestling is reminiscent of other forms of storytelling I’d grown up enjoying—namely, mythology and telenovelas. All three have a larger-than-life quality. There are secrets, betrayals, vengeance, tragedies and triumphs. The line between good and bad is at once clearly drawn and also sometimes nebulous. At times we find ourselves sympathizing with the heels, especially when we get a glimpse of their humanity. There are families—and where there are families, there is drama. There is always a hero who takes us on their journey in search of something that is missing: home, a championship belt, an origin story. There is always a villain who poses obstacles. We go along for the ride with the hope of a satisfying ending for the hero and for all of us.
Tumble, my third novel for young readers, was inspired by these storytelling forms that were such significant parts of my childhood. It’s a story about wrestling and about family. It’s a story about grappling with the scary feelings that come with growing up. It’s about hidden identities, origin stories and traveling between worlds. It’s a story about a hero, a girl named Adela Ramirez, who is tasked with finding the courage and wisdom to make her own choices and who invites readers to join her on the journey.
Author photo of Celia C. Pérez courtesy of Celia C. Pérez.