We recently published Melissa Llanes Brownlee’s stellar “Kona Boy Made Good.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

1) What I love about this story is you take this event that so many people remember and remind us of how much was lost for so many people. Do you think the narrator understood that loss at the time or is this an insight that came with age, as they look back at this moment?

I am sure the narrator was impacted by the event as a child as I am sure most people who witnessed the Challenger’s explosion were but this particular narrative lens is definitely from an adult making connections a child wouldn’t necessarily make, understanding that Onizuka General Store was actually owned by Elison’s family and how they had lost their son, so publicly and so brutally, knowing that the man talking about NASA to classes full of children from his hometown would be gone in an instant and those same children would bear witness, realizing that dreams of escape and reaching for the stars could dissipate in a matter of moments.

2) I like the contrast between the hard work of picking the coffee beans and the kindness of the astronaut’s parents, giving the narrator ice cream and kettle chips. What do you think those moments of kindness meant for this child?

I think that the child would have basked in the glow of that kindness as they shovelled ice cream on kettle chip spoons into their mouth, the salt and the vanilla mingling on their tongue, teaching them that with the bitterness of having to pick coffee for their family, there can be this kind of sweetness, too.