Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA Sicence Fiction and Fantasy Stories

By Julia Rios

rios-kaleidoscopeWhat do a disabled superhero, a time-traveling Chinese-American figure skater, and a transgendered animal shifter have in common? They’re all stars of Kaleidoscope stories! Kaleidoscope collects fun, edgy, meditative, and hopeful YA science fiction and fantasy with diverse leads. These twenty original stories tell of scary futures, magical adventures, and the joys and heartbreaks of teenage life.

Featuring New York Times bestselling and award winning authors along with newer voices: Garth Nix, Sofia Samatar, William Alexander, Karen Healey, E.C. Myers, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Ken Liu, Vylar Kaftan, Sean Williams, Amal El-Mohtar, Jim C. Hines, Faith Mudge, John Chu, Alena McNamara, Tim Susman, Gabriela Lee, Dirk Flinthart, Holly Kench, Sean Eads, and Shveta Thakrar.

  • Edited by Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios
  • Releases 5 August 2014 (1 October 2014 in Australia)

Alisa and I have both been extremely interested in the work Malinda Lo has done to bring statistics about diversity in publishing out into the open. In fact, this project was actually conceived after I was on a panel that Malinda moderated at WisCon in 2012. The panel was about heteronormativity in dystopian YA novels, and I recorded it for the Outer Alliance Podcast. Alisa, who lives in Australia, was not able to attend WisCon, but she listened to the recording of the panel and then emailed me to ask about a possible collaboration.

At first Alisa thought of us co-editing an anthology of dystopian YA stories with QUILTBAG protagonists, but as we talked more about what we both longed for in stories, the idea grew and changed until in the end, we settled on a far less limited anthology of science fiction and fantasy stories with diverse protagonists. Kaleidoscope has several QUILTBAG characters, but it also has characters of color, disabled characters, mentally ill characters, non-neurotypical characters, and intersectional characters (whose identities are complex and not just one thing or another—like real people in the real world).

As a bisexual Mexican-American woman, I didn’t see myself reflected very often in books I read as a child or teen. To be honest, I still rarely see characters who are just like me. As a teen, especially, I really longed for some kind of affirmation that my being attracted to other girls was okay. I didn’t believe it was. I was so far in the closet that I faked crushes on (white male) movie stars and (always carefully selected so as to be unattainable) boys at school. Once I even made out with a boy I didn’t like in an attempt to prove to myself that I was totally only attracted to boys (this was not actually effective at proving anything to myself or anyone else). In secret, I listened to Melissa Etheridge, who was openly gay, and I felt ashamed. Now I see more role models for people like me, and more acceptance of QUILTBAG identified people, but I still think there’s a lot of room for growth. I want to pave the way for others to come along this road and build bigger and better communities for those who are underrepresented in fiction.

Working on Kaleidoscope has been more wonderful than I could have imagined. Not only did I get to read a bunch of amazing stories, but I also feel more connected to the community of people who are, like me, striving for more visibility. There are a lot of us, and together we can do so much more than any one of us can do alone. I couldn’t have imagined all the perspectives that are represented in Kaleidoscope because so many of them are completely outside of my experience. Each story that shows me a new perspective feels like a special gift from the author, who has shared something secret and personal. Together they glitter and shine, showing that the world we live in is so much more dazzling and beautiful than any fictional world where only one type of perspective exists.

juliariosjpgJulia Rios is a Hugo nominated fiction editor at the online magazine, Strange Horizons. She’s also the co-editor with Alisa Krasnostein of Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories, and with Saira Ali of In Other Words, an anthology of poems and flash fiction by writers of color. When not editing, she writes, podcasts, and occasionally narrates audio stories and poems. She’s half-Mexican, but her (fairly dreadful) French is better than her Spanish.

Kaleidoscope is now available.

Diversity in YA is going on vacation for August…

… because it’s August! And August means it’s time to chill out and enjoy the long hot days of summer (unless you live in San Francisco like Malinda, in which case it means it’s time to make winter stews and shiver in the fog, but you’ll enjoy it because you live in San Francisco!), so Diversity in YA is going on vacation, too.

What this means is that we are going on a much lighter posting schedule. We’ll still post new releases every week, and we have a couple of posts already scheduled in the queue, but we will be much less present online this month.

Never fear, though, we will be back in September! Have a great August, everyone!

Malinda and Cindy

New Releases – July 2014

Let’s Get Lost by Adi Alsaid (Harlequin Teen)

“Leila’s road trip to see the Northern Lights in Alaska takes her across the U.S. and into the lives of a series of desperate teens. In five multichapter vignettes, readers meet these characters in crisis. … debut author Alsaid creates enough adventure to make the stories feel breathless.” — Publishers Weekly

Before You by Amber Hart (KTeen)

“The daughter of a pastor and a young man on the run from a Cuban drug cartel get past their initial animosity to fall in love in this sexy romance. … This riff on West Side Story is torrid and heartfelt if not at all subtle, with a sequel featuring Faith’s best friend still to come.” — Kirkus

Tristant and Elijah by Jennifer Lavoie (Bold Strokes Books)

Book Description: Tristant Whitfield has had a secret crush on straight Elijah Cambridge since the start of high school. He’s okay keeping his distance, but when Elijah starts visiting him at work and bringing his favorite coffee, Tristant begins to wonder if there’s something more there.

Then Elijah uncovers a scandalous old letter from Tristant’s great uncle tucked away in a book, and the two boys begin a journey through journals and letters to discover the real Uncle Glenn and the secrets he hid from his family. And Tristant realizes that Elijah has been hiding something as well.

A secret that just might change everything.

The Half Life of Molly Pierce by Katrina Leno (HarperTeen)

“In this mystery unraveled in reverse, Molly begins to fit together pieces of a life only half-remembered, due to frequent blackouts. … The protagonist’s Dissociative Identity Disorder allows her characterization to unfold slowly, the narrative building on short bursts of memories that go further back in time, revealing more secrets further in to the story. … The race to uncover Molly’s truth will keep readers turning pages.” — School Library Journal

Illusive by Emily Lloyd-Jones (Little, Brown)

“Boasting a complex plot, heart-stopping bursts of action, and questions regarding human nature, Lloyd-Jones’ thought-provoking, multifaceted narrative neatly sidesteps categorization as just another superhero or dystopian novel—though fans of both will be drawn to the material and be pleasantly surprised. An impressive debut guaranteed to disappear from the shelves before your very eyes.” — Booklist (starred review)

Dirty Wings by Sarah McCarry (St. Martin’s Griffin)

“[A] lyrical stand-alone prequel…The prose is exquisitely crafted, moving effortlessly from dizzying to heartbreaking…A breathtaking companion volume, fully readable on its own and devastating in the context of its predecessor.” — Kirkus (starred review)

The Fourth Wish (The Art of Wishing: Book 2) by Lindsay Ribar (Kathy Dawson Books)

“After taking a fourth wish from her genie-turned-boyfriend Oliver in order to save his life, Margo McKenna has become a genie herself. Picking up right from where The Art of Wishing (Dial, 2013) left off. … Ribar has delivered fans a fun romantic read with some deliciously exciting paranormal elements (shape-shifting anyone?) while casually tackling bisexuality, consent, and the importance of balancing power with humanity. A strong sequel.” — School Library Journal

Idols by Margaret Stohl (Little, Brown)

“Following Icons (2013), the Icon Children run for their lives while the mysteries behind the alien invaders unravel. With only the briefest of recaps, the narration drops the readers straight into action. … A fast, fun read for fans of the first.” — Kirkus

The Young World by Chris Weitz (Little, Brown)

“Screenwriter/director Weitz (The Golden Compass; About a Boy) kicks off a post-apocalyptic trilogy with a riveting adventure in which teenagers—the only ones immune to a fatal plague known as the Sickness—have inherited the Earth and are fighting over the remnants of New York City. … Weitz offers a satisfying YA interpretation of the Greek classic Anabasis, brimming with grisly encounters and gallows humor. He also finds room to touch upon issues of race, class, commercialism, and sexuality in nuanced moments that are sharply juxtaposed with the near-constant dangers and seeming hopelessness of the larger picture.” — Publishers Weekly

The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew (First Second)

“Yang further establishes himself as one of YA’s leading voices on the Chinese-American experience by inventing a backstory for a forgotten comic-book character who was arguably the first Asian superhero. … Racism, romance, humor, and identity all play important roles in Yang and Liew’s evocation of Hank’s life in pre-WWII San Francisco as they create an origin story that blends classic comics conventions … with a distinctly Chinese perspective.” — Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Diversity Links – July 2014

We link to a lot of things over on Tumblr, but in case you missed them, here they are rounded up for you all in one place:

Diversity News

In late June, the Cape Henlopen School Board in Cape Henlopen, Delaware, voted to remove The Miseducation of Cameron Post by emily m. danforth from its summer reading list for incoming freshman, citing parental concerns about explicit language. Catch up on the whole story here. Unfortunately, despite much public discussion about censorship and literature, last week the school board voted to remove the entire summer reading list, not just Cameron Post. This is not only a sad end to a wonderful and diverse reading list, but the board’s decision, as former librarian Kelly Jensen noted, “undermine[s] the knowledge and experience of the educators employed by this school to do right by those kids.”

Yes, that is super depressing, which is why we need to take steps to change the way people think about books that depict kids who are different from them. If you’re part of the kid lit blogging community, you can join in by going to the 8th Annual KidLitCon, this Oct. 10–11 in Sacramento, CA. Their theme this year is “Blogging Diversity in Young Adult and Children’s Lit: What’s Next?” And you can submit proposals right now!

Reading Diversity

Latin@s in Kid Lit dedicated all of July to Latin@s in science fiction and fantasy! SFF lovers, go visit them to check out interviews with Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Sara Fine, and Steven dos Santos; guest posts by Stephanie Diaz and Zoraida Córdova; and book reviews too.

Sometimes people read a book and have no idea that a character is not white. (Remember Rue?) Author Justina Ireland has gotten enough questions about the race of the main character in her novel, Promise of Shadows, that she was moved to clarify the fact that her main character is black.

Looking for some great books about disabled characters to read? Check out this list of the Top Ten Schneider Award Favorites of the 2014 Schneider Award Jury.

Latinas for Latino Lit offers up 10 Latino Books for Teens.

Seeing Diversity

To celebrate the publication of The Shadow Hero, Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew’s reimagining of the Green Turtle, the first Asian American superhero, 27 artists have illustrated the superhero in various ways. Check out the master list of artists here. and view many of the Green Turtle pinups at Sonny Liew’s blog. Here’s a fantastic Green Turtle pinup by Dan Santat:

The Green Turtle by Dan Santat

Writing Diversity

Author Corinne Duyvis talks about diversity, getting published, and why her YA fantasy isn’t an “issue book” (xoJane).

Disability in Kid Lit celebrated their one-year anniversary this past month with a slew of interviews (Shannon Hale! Hilary T. Smith! April Henry! Shaunta Grimes! Jennifer Castle! Rachel M. Wilson!), discussion posts (useful both for readers and writers), guest posts (Cece Bell on El Deafo), and more. What are you waiting for? Disability in Kid Lit, folks.

Diversity in Publishing

Scholastic editor Cheryl Klein has some advice on how to build a bestseller with non-white characters (School Library Journal).

Author Shannon LC Cate talks to Gay YA about race and gender histories, the importance of small-press or self publishing, and her debut novel, Jack, about a biracial orphan girl who lived as a man in the 1870s.

Last but not least…

We were saddened last month to hear that children’s and YA author Walter Dean Myers had passed away. A towering figure in the kid lit community and a champion of diversity for his whole career, he will be sorely missed. Read the New York Times obituary here, and read these tributes at The Brown Bookshelf.

Zooming In

Adi Alsaid, author of Let’s Get Lost, in which a cross-country road trip changes the lives of four different teens, says that writing what you know is the wrong advice.

By Adi Alsaid

alsaid-letsgetlostPeople say write what you know. But, like any even halfway decent philosopher, I know that I know nothing.

In Let’s Get Lost, the only character that is maybe a little like me is Elliot, a lovelorn teen with Israeli parents. The rest of the book is told through the eyes of people wholly unlike me. Three different American girls and a Mississippi teen who part-times at his dad’s mechanic shop. People often ask me why I chose to write a female protagonist. The more direct ones ask what makes me think I can write in the point of view of a female.

The answer is by zooming in. Whether I’m writing about a middle-aged bowler, a single father, a rabbi quitting his religion, a mixed race girl after a one-night stand (all characters that appear in short stories I’ve written), or most of the cast of Let’s Get Lost, I’m trying to make made-up people feel real. I don’t know anything about being any of those people, but I have learned a thing or two about being a person (most of it by reading, some of it by being alive). So first and foremost, I have to make my characters feel real as people. And to do that, I zoom in past those superficial ways in which they are not like me.

If I limited my fiction to only places I’ve been and characters that are like me, I wouldn’t be writing fiction at all. I write fiction because I want to stretch my imagination elsewhere, I want to use lies and made up people to explore whatever truths I may have discovered about life, as well as truths I am yet to find. The more varied those lies and characters are, the more interesting the writing is for me. It makes those truths feel more universal, which, of course, many of them are.

Hudson’s section begins with him standing outside the garage, listening to the sound of a far-off engine. I didn’t try to imagine what a teenager living in Mississippi who loves fixing cars might be like, I tried to image a kid who simply loves where he’s from and what he does. A kid with no plans for the day other than to focus on this one task. Sonia’s section begins a few months after the death of her boyfriend. I’ve never lost a significant other, so rather than try to imagine all that might entail, I had her listening to the murmur of a crowd and trying to pick out words. I had her missing someone, being confused about where life was taking her. I wrote the little details until she felt human enough, and then I made up the rest.

Will every character I ever write be a completely accurate representation of their real-life counterpart? I doubt it. Do I care? Absolutely not, as long as stay faithful to the humanity in that character.

The challenge in writing fiction is not to write what you know, but to make lies ring true.

adialsaidBorn and raised in Mexico, Adi Alsaid graduated from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Though he graduated with a marketing degree, Adi says that he spent most of his time there reading and writing fiction. He currently lives and writes in Mexico City, where he also coaches basketball. His contemporary YA novel, Let’s Get Lost, is coming soon from Harlequin TEEN this August.

Jump In, or Die

By Amber Lough

lough-thefirewishWhy is this white, straight, cisgendered girl writing for Diversity in YA? Well, besides the obvious being that I bribed Cindy Pon with copious amounts of azuki-bean dumplings, it’s probably because I wrote The Fire Wish, a distinctly Middle East-focused Fantasy.

I’d say it all goes back to when I was the first foreigner in my school in Japan, English-speaking and wide-eyed with awe and fear. I chose to go to the school because I was obsessed with Indiana Jones, and he always took the route that taught him a new language. He wanted to understand—and be a part of—each place he visited. Now, he stuck out like a sore thumb most of the time, but he did learn to respect the people he visited without romanticizing them.

That’s what I try to do, always.

My sister and me, on the right, in the geekiest Indiana Jones moment of my life.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Going to Japanese 4th grade sucked. At least, it did the first 6 months. I didn’t know the language, I was either a celebrity or a pariah, and I went from feeling pretty smart to feeling really, really stupid.

Also they made us wear these gym uniforms that exposed both my thighs and my self-consciousness. Need I say more?

Fast-forward a few years, and I was part of the school. I could speak with the kids about most things, I was passing my tests (sort of), and on good days I could pretend I was just one of the Japanese kids. I say pretend because they never let me forget who I was. They never stopped pointing it out. But we were 12. Things were mostly good.

Right then, we moved to Bahrain. I was thrust into an American-style middle school in the middle of 7th grade, in the Middle East, about one month after Aladdin came out. (Yeah that’s a lot of Middles.)

I was shocked. Shocked, I tell you! Kids were dating. And all they talked about were bands. And they passed notes in class. Also, I wasn’t able to take Arabic, which smashed my Indiana Jones dream into little bits. It took me a week to realize I had to act just like them or be excluded in all things. (Exclusion in middle school = death, just so you know.)

And that’s pretty much the root of why I wrote The Fire Wish: sometimes, we show up in a strange place, and we have to jump in with both feet or die. (With a strong undertone of “beneath the trappings of society, skin, and superstition, we all have the same fears and feelings.”)

In The Fire Wish, my two main characters trade places and must pretend to be the other one. It’s not an easy thing to do when you’ve been given no choice in the matter and failing will bring you much pain or death.

I feel very comfortable in the Middle East, and recently I’ve heard so many people naively talk about Arabs as though they are a “thing,” lumping them into one huge collective society, like they’re some sort of regional Borg. I wanted to show people that, despite what the news or their neighbor says, the Middle East is not merely a bunch of religious zealots, harems, and camels. First off, the topography is as diverse in Iraq (just to pick one country) as much of Europe. There are deserts, rivers, marshes, mountains, and fields. Second, the people are not all Muslim (and FYI, not all Muslims are Arab). Third, the people are people.

I also wrote The Fire Wish because I believe in magic and fun and am not afraid to say so.

Amber Lough lives with her husband, their two kids, and their cat, Popcorn, in Syracuse, NY. She spent much of her childhood in Japan and Bahrain. Later, she returned to the Middle East as an Air Force intelligence officer to spend eight months in Baghdad, where the ancient sands still echo the voices lost to wind and time. For a pronunciation guide, a cast of characters, and more, please  visit www.amberlough.com. Follow Amber on Twitter at @amberlough.

On Illustrating Asian Characters

The illustrator of The Shadow Hero, the new graphic novel about an Asian American superhero written by Gene Luen Yang, writes about representing Asians in comics.

By Sonny Liew

yang-liew-theshadowhero“Ching Chong!”

It took me a second to realise he was shouting at me. This complete stranger, white, male, red-faced, and very likely inebriated. In his teens or possibly early 20s, sitting in the back seat of a car with his head sticking out the window, just on his way with his friends somewhere in Rhode Island.

I’d lived most of my life in Singapore, with its population made up of 70% ethnic Chinese. You could make sub-divisions, of course — Hokkiens, Cantonese, Hakkas, Teochews and so on … but that for the most part would be quibbling. The Chinese as a whole dominate the social, economic and political landscape here, despite fairly serious gestures towards multiculturalism. And being part of a majority shapes the way you think about race — or more accurately, not think about it at all. There’s much less need for introspection when every other face on the streets feels familiar; when you’re living in an environment where your race is hardly ever a barrier to entry or a source of discomfort.

The years I spent studying and living in the UK and US took some adjustments. Sure, my real problem with skin was fitting comfortably inside my own, still caught up in the awkward adolescent years of not-quite-fitting-in. But beyond that, there was still this brave new world, a minority all of a sudden, all those years of listening to the Smiths and Echo and the Bunnymen, and reading the Beano, Dandy, and 2000AD somehow not quite anywhere near helping me fit in.

You became acutely aware of race as a means of identification, the way others looked at you, and the way you saw yourself.

Those were also the years when I started taking drawing comics seriously, and fed by this newfound awareness/paranoia, it soon became apparent how little representation there was of Asian characters in the comics mainstream. Or any other medium, really. Outside of martial arts exponents and fetishized women, they felt near invisible. And what was more — it was clear how much of a non-issue this was for non-Asians. It was simply how things were, a sort of casual, institutionalized racism that you didn’t really have to think about. The white faces felt familiar, after all.

So when it came time to draw my first comic for DC Vertigo (“My Faith in Frankie”), about a deity named Jeriven whose sole worshipper is a young white female, I convinced Mike Carey and Shelly Bond that we should make Jeriven Asian. It was to be my own small battle in favour of diversity in comics. Of course the script was already written, and Mike had his own ideas for the story, so aside from a visual representation of ethnicity, it wasn’t ever really an issue explored in the comic.


Illustrator Sonny Liew

Having returned to Singapore since those days aboard, other divisions have come to the fore: rich-poor, citizen-immigrant, liberal-conservative etc. But in drawing comics, I still wrestle with visual ways of depicting Asians. Ways of avoiding caricature without losing recognisability. The size and slant of character’s eyes, the shape of their noses, it’s always something that needs thinking about. Sometimes  it was an issue that never came up (“Sense and Sensibility,” “Wonderland”), other times it was something of paramount importance (“Re-gifters,” “The Shadow Hero”).

Maybe there’ll come a day when all divisions are dissolved, when we’re human beings first and everything else second. In the meanwhile, we’ll fight for our own corners, as we’ve always had.

Sonny Liew is a Malaysian-born comic artist and illustrator based in Singapore. He is best known for his work on Vertigo’s My Faith in Frankie together with Mike Carey and Marc Hempel, and Marvel’s adaptation of Sense and SensibilityThe Shadow Hero, a graphic novel written by Gene Luen Yang, is his most recent work.

The Shadow Hero, written by Gene Luen Yang and illustrated by Sonny Liew, is available July 15th from First Second Books. We’re thrilled to share two sneek peek pages with our DiYA readers below!

liew-panel1 liew-panel2



Different Viewpoints, Different Worlds

By Livia Blackburne

blackburne-midnightthiefFlashback 1: I finish outlining my new WIP and realize it’s the most Chinese story I’ve written to date, though it doesn’t contain any Chinese characters.

Flashback 2: In my predominantly white/Hispanic middle school, we watch Disney’s The Little Mermaid and discuss the themes.  I’ve drawn the conclusion that the story is a fairy tale about a young girl who’s rewarded for disobeying her parents.  To my surprise, everybody else frames it as a positive story of Ariel following her dreams, breaking free of societal expectation and finding true love.   

Fast forward several years and I’m in college, hanging out with a group of Asian American friends.  The Little Mermaid comes up in conversation, and someone remarks that the story is a fable about selfish behavior paying off.  This time, people nod in agreement and the conversation moves on without a hiccup.  Apparently that conclusion is a no brainer for a group of people who grew up in a society that valued filial piety above all else.

Flashback 3: I’m discussing Lord of the Rings with a friend. She argues that many fantasy novels trying to emulate LOTR actually miss the point. In The Lord of the Rings, Frodo fails to complete his quest and it’s Gollum who accidentally destroys the ring by biting off Frodo’s finger. My friend thinks that this is a reflection of Tolkien’s Catholic worldview, in which humans are too weak to resist the lure of evil and God’s intervention is needed to destroy it.  Many fantasy novels following in Tolkien’s tradition, however, take the trappings of middle earth and turn it into stories of a hero fighting evil and emerging triumphant.

Until recently, it made me very uncomfortable to be identified as a “diverse writer.” I’m Chinese American.  That part’s undeniable, and I’m proud of my heritage.  But my debut novel Midnight Thief is a Western medieval fantasy, simply because that was the genre I’d read and loved as a teenager.  Did it make any sense for me to get extra attention as a Chinese writer when the actual book I wrote wasn’t recognizably Chinese?

But here I am writing a blog post for Diversity in YA, so I obviously got over my discomfort with being labeled diverse.  What changed?

It was, in fact, the flashback described at the beginning of this post.  I’d outlined a new novel, one that told the story of two lovers bound by duty to the point of tragedy. One character was a brown skinned desert dweller, and the other was a pale skinned visitor from the forests — definitely not recognizably Asian, but the story still felt strongly Chinese to me.  If I had to describe it, I’d say had a Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon vibe.

Author Livia Blackburne

Author Livia Blackburne

That was when I realized that writing diverse fiction wasn’t simply about including people who looked, dressed, or spoke differently.  Diverse fiction certainly encompasses those things, but at its core, diversity in fiction is about presenting the world through different viewpoints. Everyone’s life experience, regardless of their ethnic or cultural background, gives them a unique lens through which they see and interpret the world.  My Asian American friends told the little mermaid’s story in a very different way than my Caucasian classmates.  Likewise, Tolkien’s view of humanity had huge implications for Middle Earth.

Once I understood this, I realized that Midnight Thief, though a western fantasy, still deals with themes that were core to my experience as an Asian immigrant.  My main character Kyra is an orphan, a child of one people who’s raised by another.  Kyra wrestles with whether she’s a product of her ancestry or the culture she grew up in — certainly questions that I also faced while growing up.  In addition, early reviews have pointed out the moral complexity of Midnight Thief’s warring people groups.  One race in particular at first seems evil, but eventually becomes more sympathetic as the reader learns more about their worldview. I like to think that my experience straddling two different cultures helped me slip into different perspectives and tell that tale.

I do plan to write an Asian-inspired fantasy at some point.  I have a soft spot for kung fu movies and would love to work some drunken boxing into a storyline.  But even before that happens, my cultural background will still be influencing my fiction in other ways.

Livia Blackburne was born in Taiwan.  She spent her childhood in Albuquerque, her twenties in Boston, and now lives in Los Angeles. Midnight Thief, her debut novel, is now available.

“The Miseducation of Cameron Post” Removed From Delaware Summer Reading List – UPDATED

By Malinda Lo

danforth-cameronIn 2012, I was invited by NPR to review an about-to-be-published young adult novel titled The Miseducation of Cameron Post by debut author emily m. danforth. I was a little nervous about it because I don’t like to criticize about my colleagues’ novels in public. But I didn’t need to worry — Cameron Post blew me away. It was the coming-of-age, coming-out novel that spoke to me in in such a deeply personal way that it felt like it was written for me.

Maybe that’s why I was so ticked off to hear that Cameron Post was recently removed from a summer reading list in Delaware due to parental complaints about its explicit language. Cameron Post is a complex, multilayered, award-winning novel that cannot by any means be reduced down to the number of times the word fuck in used in its 470 pages. And yet that is what has happened.

The Story So Far

As first reported by the Cape Gazette, on June 12, 2014, the Board of Education of Delaware’s Cape Henlopen School District removed the novel The Miseducation of Cameron Post by emily m. danforth from the summer reading list for Cape Henlopen High School’s incoming ninth graders. During the June 12 board meeting, board member Sandi Minard noted that the book contains explicit and inappropriate language.

Board president Spencer Brittingham, who had not read the book but found some passages online, told the Cape Gazette that “I knew in less than three minutes that this wasn’t a book I wanted on the list.” In an interview with Delaware radio station WXDE, Minard clarified, “I have read the book.”

Shortly after the news of the removal of Cameron Post from the summer reading list, concerns were raised that the removal was related to Sandi Minard’s association with the Delaware Family Policy Council and the 9–12 Delaware Patriots, both conservative, religious-based activist groups. Minard denied that the book removal was related to these groups, telling WXDE,

“This had nothing to do with the Delaware Family Policy Council and it had nothing to do with the 9-12 Delaware Patriots. It had to do with concerned parents that came to us about the book. … There were about three actual complaints that came in. Then whenever the book became an issue, I sat down with a group of different parents — these are people that I work with, that are in my neighborhood. They’re not part of one group that these people like to come on and say that oh because she’s a member of the Delaware Family Policy Council it’s their baby, it’s their agenda. It’s not their agenda. I have not talked to anyone that’s a part of the Delaware Family Policy Council about this book. There’s been no discussion with them, but there has been discussions with neighbors and coworkers and other parents … those people have sat down and said, ‘No way, no way, this should not be on the suggested reading list.’”

The primary reason for the removal of Cameron Post from the summer reading list, according to Minard, was the usage of the word fuck. “I think that the number of times that the F-word is used in this book is way out of proportion for the other books,” Minard told WXDE.

When AfterEllen, a major website focusing on the representation of lesbians and bisexual women in the media1, heard about the removal of Cameron Post from the Cape Henlopen summer reading list, they took action, calling on readers to contact the Cape Henlopen school board to express their concern about censorship. They also reached out to a local bookstore, Browseabout Books, to make sure that the book was available to interested readers. Several people (including myself) have called Browseabout Books and purchased copies of Cameron Post to be given away free to people in the community.

In the wake of the AfterEllen coverage, board president Spencer Brittingham probably heard from plenty of irate readers, because two days later, on July 3, he responded by telling one reader that he would “request a reinstatement of this publication to the list, but a suspension of the list until our curriculum folks can vet this list appropriately.”

Yesterday I wrote to Brittingham on behalf of Diversity in YA and asked when he would request this reinstatement. Brittingham did not answer that question directly, but he did write back with this statement:

“I have to say from the start the book was not banned.  It was removed from our incoming Freshman’s reading list for the language content.  I have been informed from other outlets that some other books on the list also contain excessive amounts of profanity and that is why I will request the reinstatement of this book and request a review of the entire list for acceptance of the content of profanity.  Our code of conduct and school discipline arena has rules against profanity in our buildings and I don’t think we have adequately communicated this to our committee.  I don’t believe it is a school system’s responsibilty to say a child can curse and then attempt to punish for a code violation, if taken out of context.  What is the parent’s role in this?  Some parents are saying, we are right , some are saying, they don’t care, either way it needs more debate and follow  thru.  Thank you for your correspondence and please be patient with us, we will get this right.  I promise!”

The Pink Elephant in the Room

The Cape Henlopen summer reading list for incoming ninth graders is comprised of the 2014 and 2015 winners and nominees of the Blue Hen Book Award, which is an award administered by the Youth Services Division of the Delaware Library Association. Among the other books on the summer reading list are The Fault in Our Stars by John Green and Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, both of which include the word fuck as well as other words that could be considered profanities. In fact, using curse words is not uncommon in fiction — especially fiction that seeks to represent the real world.

As emily danforth told me via email:

“[I]f you have to ask teens NOT to curse in school (and enforce that) then clearly it’s an inclination of many teens, right?—so it stands to reason that those of us who write about teens might likely try to write dialogue and thoughts using vocabulary that’s true to the ways we know that teens (some teens—clearly not all) speak and think. I understand that some parents object to this and might say—’elevate their discourse, don’t just mimic it’—I do understand that—and certainly not every character in my novel uses profanity (nor do the characters who do use profanity ONLY use profanity) but how strange, to me, to equate these usages in works of literature with what you do or don’t want your students saying in the classroom.”

According to the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom, which tracks banned and challenged books, between 2000–2009 they received 1,291 challenges due to “offensive language.” The only type of challenge to outnumber “offensive language” was “sexually explicit material,” which generated 1,577 challenges during this same time period.

Anyone who has read The Miseducation of Cameron Post is unlikely to conclude that it is a book focused on profanity. It is clearly and obviously a book about coming of age as a young lesbian. There is, indeed, sexuality in the book, though whether it’s “explicit” truly varies according to one’s perspective on what “explicit” means. It is explicitly clear that the main character, Cameron, falls in love with other girls. They do more than hold hands and stroke each other’s hair, too — as do most young people in love.

The pink elephant in the room, as I noted when I posted about this on tumblr last week, and as AfterEllen noted in its first article, is the fact that Cameron Post could understandably be challenged for its lesbian content. For many of us — especially those of us who are LGBT, who have faced both direct and indirect homophobia for much of our lives — the idea that a book like Cameron Post would be challenged for curse words rather than lesbianism might seem a bit like protesting too much.

In her interview with WXDE, which brought up the question of the book’s lesbian content, Sandi Minard insisted, “It is only the language issue that was brought up.”

Board president Spencer Brittingham told the reader who wrote to him: “I can assure you that I am not homophobic and never did this area of the book enter the conversation.”

Is this really the truth? To me, it sounds like the argument that women aren’t hired (or reviewed, or acknowledge, or heard) not because they’re women, but because they’re not as qualified as men. Is the real issue that these parents have with Cameron Post the fact that she uses the word fuck, or is it easier — and more politically correct these days — to point the finger at the F-word than to acknowledge any discomfort with same-sex relationships?

We may not ever know the truth behind the “about three actual complaints” that Sandi Minard received. The fact is, the goal of book challenges is to silence people — and that silencing may begin at the very start, even with the true nature of why a book is challenged. If you deny that homophobia is on the table, it makes it very hard to fight back on those grounds.

The Context on Book Challenges

In the press about the removal of Cameron Post from the reading list, board members are quick to stress that the book has not been “banned”; it has simply been “removed” from a reading list. Yes, the book is still available in libraries and bookstores, but this is where book challenges happen now: on school reading lists and in some cases in author visits. This is the local stage on which censorship is enacted, debated, and sometimes (thankfully) successfully fought.

Here are a few links to coverage of recent book challenges:

  • The Los Angeles Times reports on the removal of John Green’s Paper Towns from a summer reading list in Florida.
  • Here’s The Guardian reporting on the removal of Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother from a summer reading list in Florida (again).
  • Bill Moyers reports on the removal of Sherman Alexie’s Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian from the curriculum of an Idaho school district.
  • Last September, NPR reported on Rainbow Rowell being disinvited to a Minnesota school after Eleanor & Park was on a summer reading list because parents were concerned about the book’s profanity.

emily m. danforth isn’t as big of a name as John Green, Cory Doctorow, Sherman Alexie, or Rainbow Rowell, but exactly the same thing has happened to her novel as has happened to these other books. When it comes to book challenges, the mainstream media tends to focus on those who are already famous. A book like The Miseducation of Cameron Post, an award-winning literary novel that hasn’t hit the bestseller lists, risks slipping through the cracks in these situations, and I don’t want that to happen. This happens far too often to other books that aren’t huge bestsellers: people don’t pay attention. Let’s not let this happen this time around.

What Can You Do About This?

As of today (July 7), many things are happening both behind the scenes and out in the open. If you’re concerned about the removal of Cameron Post from the Cape Henlopen summer reading list — and if you’re concerned that the board might realize that other books on that list also contain profanity and thus might also be removed — there are certainly things you can do.

  • Follow AfterEllen’s lead and buy a copy of The Miseducation of Cameron Post from Browseabout Books either to give away to a local reader or even for yourself.
  • emily m. danforth is giving away the entire uncensored Blue Hen list to a lucky reader: “All you have to do to enter is to use your twitter account (easiest for tech-challenged me to track and collate) to explain, in not very many characters, why you want/need these books. Use the hashtag #LeaveTheBlueHenListAlone so that I can find your entry.” So far, Rainbow Rowell (Eleanor & Park), Erin Jade Lange (Butter), and Gene Luen Yang (Boxers and Saints) are also donating signed copies of their books to the giveaway.
  • If you’re near the Cape Henlopen school district on July 10, 2014 at 6 p.m., you might consider attending their school board meeting, which is open to the public. Here’s the agenda. I’ve been digging around in the Cape Henlopen school district board policies (download PDF), and it’s pretty clear that the board itself hasn’t followed its own rules regarding book challenges. According to section 110 on Instructional Methods, Materials, and Supplies, challenges must be registered in writing with the school principal, using a specific form; the principal must then appoint a committee composed of a librarian and two teachers to evaluate the challenge. None of this has been done yet. In her interview with WXDE, Sandi Minard repeatedly expressed frustration with local parents who don’t come to board meetings and then complain after the fact, declaring, “Come to the school board meetings. Show up and let’s talk.” I suggest we answer Minard’s invitation on Thursday, July 10.

Meanwhile, I will be following this story as it develops. I’ve been told that the National Coalition Against Censorship is stepping in, and if there is any news I’ll update this post when I can.

Updates: July 12, 2014
Update: July 24, 2014

  1. Full disclosure: I was managing editor at AfterEllen from 2006-08, and a regular contributor from 2003-2006. 

Notable Novels for Teens About the Arab World

By Elsa Marston

Abdel-Fattah, Randa. Where the Streets Had a Name (Scholastic 2010). Palestine, MG/YA. On a secret mission of mercy, a girl makes her way—strictly forbidden without permission from Israeli authorities—from her village into Jerusalem. [Also see this author’s books about Arab immigrants in Australia: Does My Head Look Big in This? and Ten things I Hate About Me. Both have appealing teen voice.]

Al-Maria, Sophia. The Girl Who Fell to Earth (Harper Perennial 2012). Arabian Peninsula and Egypt, YA. The daughter of a mixed marriage spends time with her father’s family in a Gulf State, tries to reconcile her two radically different heritages.

Barakat, Ibtisam. Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood (Kroupa/Farrar Straus Giroux 2007). Palestine, MG/YA. Memoir of a young girl set in a time of war and displacement, but revealing solid family experience.

Carmi, Daniella. Samir and Yonatan (Levine/Scholastic 2000). Israel/Palestinians, MG/YA. A Palestinian boy being treated in an Israeli hospital relates to the children and medical staff.

Carter, Anne Laurel. The Shepherd’s Granddaughter (Groundwood 2008). Palestine, MG/YA. In a rural village under attack from a nearby Israeli settlement, a young teenaged girl starts to broaden her horizons.

Clinton, Cathryn. A Stone in My Hand (Candlewick 2002). Palestine, MG/YA. During an outbreak of violence, a young girl in Gaza copes with loss: her father’s death and her brother’s participation in the insurrection.

Laird, Elizabeth. A Little Piece of Ground (Haymarket 2006; originally Macmillan UK 2003). Palestine, MG/YA. A boy defies Israeli-imposed curfew in his efforts to claim a place to play soccer.

Nye, Naomi Shihab. Habibi (Simon & Schuster 1997). Palestine, MG/YA. An Arab-American girl visits her father’s natal village in Palestine, under occupation, and absorbs experiences both exhilarating and distressing.

Marsden, Carolyn. The White Zone (CarolRhoda 2012). Iraq, MG. Two boy cousins cope with the sectarian strife that separates them during the fighting in Baghdad.

Marston, Elsa. Santa Claus in Baghdad and Other Stories About Teens in the Arab World (Indiana University Press 2008). Several countries, MG/YA. Young teens in eight contrasting Arab societies face universal challenges of adolescence; the most adult story in subject matter is “Honor” (Jordan).

Perera, Anna. The Glass Collector (Whitman 2011). Egypt, YA. Valuable chiefly because of its setting in the “trash-collectors community” in Cairo.

elsamarstonWith an M.A. in international affairs from Harvard University in hand, Elsa Marston attended the American University of Beirut on a Rotary Foundation Fellowship. Sojourns in different countries, especially Lebanon, Egypt, and Tunisia, have helped inspire Elsa’a work as a children’s/YA author and specialist in literature about the region. Her most recent books are a YA biography of a remarkable Arab hero, The Compassionate Warrior: Abd el-Kader of Algeria (Wisdom Tales 2013), and Santa Claus in Baghdad and Other Stories About Teens in the Arab World (Indiana University Press, 2008), a collection of stories set in different Arab societies, focusing on growing-up experiences that young Americans can relate to. A picture book about post-civil war Lebanon, The Olive Tree, is forthcoming in 2014.  Her website is www.elsamarston.com.