Representing Diversity on 2014 YA Book Covers

By Malinda Lo

Representing non-white, non-straight, disabled characters on a book cover is a complicated thing to do well. A book cover must represent the story told in the book, of course, but it also must speak to genre (a science fiction cover looks quite different from a romance cover) and work for both online booksellers and brick-and-mortar bookstores. A good book cover grabs your attention from across the shop — or stands out legibly in thumbprint-sized images online.

Making things even more complicated is the fact that not all people of a particular race/ethnicity look like stereotypical images of that race/ethnicity. For example, not all people who are “Asian” look like stereotypical images of Asians, which are dominated by often Orientalist stereotypes of Chinese or Japanese people. Asia itself is huge and contains many more nations than China and Japan, and translating a specific character into an image that can be read as “Asian” by people who aren’t familiar with that specific character’s heritage can sometimes fail.

The following images are 2014 book covers that feature main characters of non-white descent, disabled characters, LGBT characters, and covers that suggest non-Western cultures. There is a wide range of representations of characters, from full-face head shots to images of a character’s back or silhouette. Not all images may read as non-white to every reader/viewer, but the question is: Does an image need to read exactly the same way to every reader/viewer?

Obviously, sometimes images of non-white people have been whitewashed on book covers, and that is problematic. But is there a gray area between full-face photographic images of a non-white person, and the wrong that is whitewashing? Is it possible to be more subtle in representing diversity while still speaking to those who are able to read those images clearly?

The fact is: not every book is best represented by a full-face photograph or illustration. Also, many readers don’t like to be confronted with pictures of the characters in the books; they like to cast these characters themselves, in their heads, while they read. And as I stated above, ethnic identity isn’t always clearly recognizable to everyone. I think it’s interesting to look at the entire year’s crop of representations of minorities on book covers to gain some perspective on how identity is depicted in different ways.

People of Color

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Native and Indigenous Peoples

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Disabilities

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LGBT People

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Representations of Non-Western Cultures

There is another way to represent non-white and specifically non-Western characters on a book cover: using an image that suggests the non-Western culture that the character lives in.

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A Diverse Cast

One book that was published this year depicts a number of non-white characters, and fittingly, it was written by Walter Dean Myers, one of publishing’s greatest advocates of diversity.

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Which covers work for you? Which covers do you have problems with?

2014 Holiday Gift Guide

For the last two and a half weeks we’ve been posting our Holiday Gift Guide daily on tumblr. Here’s our baker’s dozen of gift-shopping suggestions rounded up in one big post for your shopping and reading convenience! Happy reading, everyone!

2014 LGBT YA by the Numbers

By Malinda Lo

For the last three years I’ve been tracking the number of young adult novels about LGBT1 characters. Here are my statistics from 2011, 2012, and 2013, as well as an overview of LGBT YA published by mainstream publishers from 2003–13. Anyone who reads these posts can see that the topics I’ve been interested in unpacking have changed and focused, my methodology has been refined, and the language I’ve used to describe gender has evolved as I’ve learned more and as the language itself has evolved.

I use the term “LGBT YA” to identify a young adult book with an LGBT main character or that has a plot primarily concerned with LGBT issues. Some books have multiple main characters, and if one of that cast of primary characters is LGBT, I also count that book as an LGBT YA book (e.g., Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater). In the cases of books about LGBT issues, those issues typically focus around a straight person’s relationship with an LGBT person who comes out to them (e.g., The Boy I Love by Nina de Gramont). I do not include YA books with supporting LGBT characters because I think it’s important to focus on books where the LGBT person is the star of the story, but I recognize that the dividing line between supporting and main can be pretty blurry. Nor do I include YA books that have subtextual gay story lines (e.g., The Girls of No Return by Erin Saldin; and more recently, Dirty Wings by Sarah McCarry), because I’m focused on books where the gay story line is overt. (In other words, I’m tracking openly gay YA!) That means I may have left out some YA titles that others would count as “LGBT YA,” either on purpose or by accident.

LGBT YA is published by several different kinds of publishers ranging from small independent presses and LGBT-specific publishers to major global conglomerates. I am primarily interested in books published by mainstream publishers. By “mainstream” I mean the Big 5 publishers (Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon and Schuster), as well as general interest publishers that do not focus on LGBT books. These general interest publishers include: Akashic Books, Algonquin Young Readers, Amulet, Big Bang Press, Bloomsbury, Booktrope Editions, Candlewick, Carolrhoda Lab, Flux, Harlequin Teen, K-Teen, Merit, Ooligan Press, Pulp, Red Deer Press, Scholastic, Sky Pony Press, Sourcebooks Fire, Spencer Hill Press, and Strange Chemistry.

In 2014, mainstream publishers published 47 LGBT YA books. This is a 59% increase from 2013, when only 29 LGBT YA books were published by mainstream publishers.

The category of “mainstream publishers” includes tiny presses like Big Bang, a startup with only one book out, as well as global giants like Penguin Random House; they don’t always have the same resources or the same distribution levels. That’s why, when I did my analysis of LGBT YA from 2003–13, I focused on “major commercial publishers.” That was an attempt to look at the biggest producers of YA books — they truly aim to reach the masses, which I think is something important to think about. In my analysis, major commercial publishers are the Big 5 plus three major US publishers: Disney Book Group, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and Scholastic.

In 2014, out of those 47 LGBT YA books, 24 or 52% were published by major commercial publishers. The other 23 or 48% were published by small publishers.

(Edited 12/10/14, 1 PM: Initially my math was wrong on the above statement because I’d accidentally omitted one title. It has now been corrected above, as well as in the third chart below.)

This year I’ve chosen not to analyze the output of LGBT publishers simply because they produce too many titles for me to manage. I think that LGBT presses still play an important role in producing stories about LGBT experiences, but since my interest lies in analyzing mainstream production of LGBT books, they fall outside the scope of this project at this time. For those who are interested in looking at how LGBT presses represent LGBT experiences, I encourage you to look up the catalogs of Bold Strokes Books, one of the leading publishers of LGBT fiction, as well as Harmony Ink Press and Queerteen Press. I don’t know how many LGBT YA titles Queerteen Press released in 2014 (it was hard to tell from their website), but Harmony Ink informed me via email that they released 52 YA books this year. Bold Strokes Books published 15, and Lethe Press released at least one title (Red Caps, a collection of fantasy short stories by Steve Berman), adding up to at least 68 YA books published by LGBT presses in 2014. Continue reading


  1. LGBT stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender. It is currently most widely accepted English term used to identify sexual and gender minorities, but its initials omit other identies such as queer, intersex, asexual, and more. While I could add more initials (e.g., LGBTQQIA+) or use a term such as QUILTBAG, I believe that would simply be too confusing for the general reader, so I’ve chosen to follow the standards in the GLAAD Media Reference Guide – AP and New York Times Style

Revolutionary Diversity

Rebels by Accident is about an Egyptian-American teen in Cairo during the revolutionary protests of the Arab Spring.

By Patricia Dunn

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The Egyptian youth led their people into revolution so that I could write Rebels by Accident. Ok, maybe it’s not really all about me, but it was during the Arab Spring when the youth of Egypt took to the streets in protest of the thirty years of repression and censorship under the Mubarak regime that inspired me to finish Rebels by Accident. However, the inspiration for starting the book was my son Ali, who like the central character, Mariam, is an American-Egyptian-Muslim who had been bullied by other kids.

When called “son of Bin Laden,” hit on the head, and ordered to go back to where he came from — even though he was in the same New York suburbs where he was born — Ali had no problem speaking up for himself. Ali is clear about who he is and proud of his cultural identity. This incident helped me to discover that there are many kids who struggle with their cultural identities and often try to hide from the world. I wanted to write a story about how an Egyptian-American teen living in our post 9/11 world, disconnected from her culture, figures out what it means to be Egyptian and American.

I think all books of fiction, even fantasies, draw from reality and life and try to capture, in some way, the essence of our humanity. Some stories take place in the future or the past, and others depict events that are happening in the times in which we live. Rebels by Accident is a book written about a time when the teens in Egypt were using social media like Facebook to organize and speak up against the injustices they saw in their society. Yes, they were talking about music and clothing and other things that teens talk to each other about, but they were also talking about protesting in support of workers’ rights, and against government corruption and the horror of people starving while waiting in line for bread, and against censorship — some of the same struggles we experience here in our own country.

At its core this book is about revolution — the kind that happen out in the streets as well as the ones that happen inside us.

I think diversity is important in all literature but especially in YA. As a kid I grew up in a small town called the Bronx. Everyone in my immediate neighborhood was originally from Italy. My family was the “Americans” on the block. So I grew up knowing that I was different, but it was because of the stories that I read, the books I would lose myself in, books recommended to me by my school and neighborhood librarians, that I learned there was a whole world full of people who were “different,” and different was not bad, it was good, very good.

These differences made the world a place I wanted to explore and ironically, the more I did, the more I traveled, the more I learned that as diverse as we are, we also have so much in common. It’s our need to love and be loved that makes us all one people. I think so much of the hate that exists in the world, exists out of fear, fear of the unknown. I believe the more we learn about other cultures the more we grow as people, and that the more understanding we are of what we once feared, the more we find ourselves welcoming into our homes. The optimistic teen in me will forever believe that to change the world you start with one person, one voice, one story, and then you go from there. As my friend Hassan in Morocco says, “step by step.”

My hope is that Rebels by Accident will help readers to see that it’s our differences that make the world full of wonder.


patriciadunn175Patricia Dunn has appeared in Salon.com, The Christian Science Monitor, the Village Voice, the Nation, LA Weekly, and others. With an MFA in creative writing from Sarah Lawrence College, where she also teaches and is the Director of the Writing Institute, this Bronx-raised rebel and former resident of Cairo settled in Connecticut, with her husband, teenage son, and toddler dog. Visit Patricia at http://ift.tt/1wpBfAg.

Rebels by Accident is now available.

A Mistake in The Shadow Hero

Gene Luen Yang, who most recently won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in young adult literature for his graphic novels Boxers and Saints, discusses a mistake he made in his latest novel, The Shadow Hero.

By Gene Luen Yang

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Gene Luen Yang began drawing comic books in the fifth grade. He has since written and drawn a number of titles, including the comics series Avatar: The Last Airbender. American Born Chinese, his first graphic novel from First Second, was a National Book Award finalist, as well as the winner of the Printz Award and an Eisner Award. He also won the LA Times Book Prize for Boxers & Saints. Yang lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Political Agendas, Norse Gods, and the United States (of Asgard)

Tessa Gratton’s new novellas in her United States of Asgard fantasy series tackle queer identity and race head on.

By Tessa Gratton

gratton-goldrunnerAll my books are about politics. If you write about people engaging with their world, so are yours.

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I joke about being the person you shouldn’t invite to dinner because all I do is talk about religion and politics, but that’s because on some fundamental level I believe there’s nothing else to talk about. Politics is how we govern ourselves; personally, within our families, communities, nationally. Every action we take has political ramifications: not just who we kiss, who we indict, who we elect, but also where we shop, whether we rent or buy, what we major in, whether we go to school at all, who we call when we need help, how we die.

But Tessa, how is where I shop political? Well, every decision from why a specific site was chosen for a specific store to where that store sources its potatoes is a political one. What communities have nice grocery stores and what communities have tiny convenience stores? Who has access to farmers markets, who has access to fast food? Who bags your groceries? Which workers have health insurance? What meat packing plant provides those chickens and did they cut off their beaks? Who can afford to buy organic? Maybe you think about all these things, maybe you just run in for a basket of strawberries (who harvested those strawberries?), but regardless of your conscious participation, there are political consequences to where/how/when you get your food and where that money goes.

Everything is politics.

That’s especially true for the books we read and the stories we tell.

Back when I was in grad school, trying to learn how to fix the world through feminism and activism, I was so frustrated with American politics that I quit school. I didn’t believe anymore that I could make anything better through academics or in policy or government. What other way could I try to make the world a better place for everybody? How could I even begin?

I realized it was books that changed me more than anything else on its own. They helped me understand my world and helped me see other human beings — especially humans different than myself. That’s what I wanted — and still want — to do. There are many reasons to write stories and probably all of them are valid ones. Mine is ambitious: I want to change the world.

That’s why I created The United States of Asgard, the world that’s introduced in my novel The Lost Sun. The USAsgard is this giant metaphor for American culture that lets me talk about stuff in ways I couldn’t if I was just writing about USA as it is instead of an alternate version founded by Vikings and their gods. It’s an America where the warrior culture is front-and-center, where politics and religion are overtly determined by violence and money and living gods. It’s full of larger-than-life characters I can use to play out stories that center around those “taboo” topics that I’m so desperate to come to your house and talk to you about over dinner.

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Sometimes I start writing a book because of an image or “what if” question, sometimes I start with a character’s conflict. But to be honest, the idea that became the novella Gold Runner started with a political agenda.

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I originally imaged the USAsgard series as five books, each one about a teenaged narrator involved intimately with one of the major gods and what that god stands for. The gods were: Baldur, Odin, Thor, Loki, and Freya.

Baldur’s book (The Lost Sun) is about a boy learning what to believe in when his friends, family, society, nation, tell him he is not deserving of life, trust, love. It’s about being an outcast and finding hope. Odin’s book (The Strange Maid) is about a girl taking ambition and power into her own hands despite teen girls not being supposed to want or care for those things. Freya’s book (The Apple Throne, coming in April 2015) is about a girl taking the power to shape destiny out of the hands of authority and making that power her own. Loki’s book is a novella now, Lady Berserk, and is less about Loki and more about a young girl discovering she loves herself because of the dragon in her heart, not despite it.

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I always knew, even when the books were hard or revision was killing me, that those were the core issues I needed to discuss with regards to those themes/gods and American politics/society.

But Thor was always difficult because I thought he was boring. In the Norse mythology, Thor represents family, family values, strength and loyalty and protection. I prefer the gods of war and poetry and sacrifice and sex. Then I realized Thor also tends to be the butt of sexual and gendered jokes. One time he’s forced to dress up like the goddess Freya and marry a giant in order to get his hammer back (seriously) and this other time he’s defeated by a giantess who basically drowns him with her menstrual blood (SERIOUSLY).

It finally, finally dawned on me that I needed to confront Thor head on in every possible way.

Though there’s a lot of world building in the United States of Asgard series that reveals some of the ways that queer identities and communities exist in the USAsgard (especially through that most gender-fluid of gods Loki and his followers) none of the three novels is narrated by an explicitly queer character. Signy of The Strange Maid would probably argue otherwise on her own behalf, but it’s not part of her story or self-identity.

I wanted to write a story in this world narrated by a queer person. Wouldn’t Thor hate that.

So that’s where I very purposefully and politically started Gold Runner. A thematic place of confrontation: confrontation with all the traditional values Thor represents. In the USAsgard (and the USA) those values are very white and very straight.

Amon, Thor’s son, is Black (or rather, Amon is the social, political, racial USAsgard equivalent of being Black in America). The world looks at Amon and sees the lightning eyes he inherited from his father in the dark face of his Black human mother — a constant reminder that Amon is not Thor’s son by his goddess wife or even by a mortal woman who looks like the elite, white Asgardian society. Amon literally embodies — through no doing or consent of his own — political conflict.

But he’s aware of that conflict playing out on and in him. It’s part of why he’s struggling with whether or not he’s bisexual (spoiler: he totally is). He’s the son of the straightest, most overtly heterosexual god in New Asgard, and was raised to be suspicious of the gender-fluidity of the Lokiskin or the so-called “rampant homosexuality” in Odinist ranks. Despite his other rebellions, this one hits him uncomfortably close to the heart of what he resents so much about Thor: the god’s sexual hypocrisy. He can’t forget he’s the son of family values, the son of a god of loyalty who regularly has affairs with women not his wife. And Amon knows that if he acts on his desires it will bring a whole new level of political and personal trouble down on him.

I knew all of that before I even began to find a story for Amon to tell. Turns out it’s a wild tale of stolen elf gold and shape-shifting and kissing. (My stories are always also about kissing.) (Kissing is my favorite politics.)

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All books are political, and the act of writing is political, but it’s easy to forget that, or to pretend otherwise if you’re privileged enough. I choose again and again every day to not forget, to not pretend. It’s hard thinking about politics constantly and not shying away from hard choices. I’ve made good ones and bad ones, and sometimes those bad ones horrify me when I realize it later. Sometimes I catch myself being afraid or lazy, and I hope I haven’t let too many such moments slip past my notice. All I know is that in order to write the kind of story that has even the slightest chance of connecting to readers in the complicated, political, meaningful way I want to, I have to keep honestly trying.


tessagratton200wTessa Gratton has wanted to be a paleontologist or a wizard since she was seven. Alas, she turned out too impatient to hunt dinosaurs, but is still searching for a someone to teach her magic. After traveling the world with her military family, she acquired a BA (and the important parts of an MA) in Gender Studies, then settled down in Kansas with her partner, her cats, and her mutant dog. She now spends her days staring at the sky and telling stories about monsters, magic, and teenagers. Visit her at tessagratton.com, @tessagrattontessagratton.tumblr.com.

Gold Runner is now available. All three United States of Asgard novellas are also available as a compilation, The Weight of Stars.

New Releases – November 2014

Caught Up by Amir Abrams (K-Teen)

Book Description: Straitlaced and a self-proclaimed good girl, sixteen-year-old Kennedy Simms does what’s expected of her and it couldn’t make her parents happier. Still, Kennedy is bored. Good girls don’t get invited to parties and they certainly don’t hang out on the other side of town—the heart of the ’hood.

But now that school’s out, the rules are all about to change—especially when Kennedy starts hanging out with Sasha, her co-worker at the mall and a party girl from the other side of the tracks. Soon Kennedy is rocking sexy outfits, lying to her parents, and has even snagged herself a nineteen-year-old boyfriend. Malik Evans is a bad boy, and he’s about to take Kennedy on a whirlwind ride full of drama and lies that could throw her perfect life upside down…

Revolution (Replica Trilogy #3) by Jenna Black (Tor Teen)

Book Description: In Revolution, Nadia Lake and Nate Hayes find themselves at the center of a horrifying conspiracy in the action-packed finale of Jenna Black’s SF romance series that began with Replica

Paxco has a new ruler.

Dorothy Hayes claims to be the secret daughter of the recently-assassinated Chairman. She also claims that Nate Hayes, the true heir and her supposed brother, was the one who murdered their father.

Nate and his best friend, Nadia Lake, are the only ones who know the truth about what really happened to the Chairman, and more importantly, the truth about Dorothy.

But with Dorothy in power, Nate and Nadia know their days are numbered. They have nowhere to run except the Basement, Paxco’s perilous and lawless slums. But Dorothy is far from content with driving her enemies into hiding.

She wants them dead.

Stranger by Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith (Viking)

“Yes, it’s another post-apocalyptic series opener, but it’s infused with a generous spirit—call it a utopian dystopia. The small, walled community of Las Anclas bears little resemblance to Los Angeles, whose ancient ruins sprawl nearby. … The five dynamic narrators and action-packed plot deliver thrills while slyly undermining genre clichés. A first-rate page turner that leaves its own compelling afterimage.” — Kirkus, starred review

The Bane Chronicles by Cassandra Clare, Sarah Rees Brennan, and Maureen Johnson (Margaret K. McElderry Books)

“Eleven short stories about two centuries in the life of everyone’s favorite bisexual, biracial, immortal warlock from Clare’s hyperpopular Shadowhunters series, most previously published in electronic-only editions. … the collection shows compelling development of Magnus from flirtatious playboy to flirtatious playboy with a secret heart of gold to the fashionable-but-serious High Warlock of Brooklyn who throws himself between innocents and danger.” — Kirkus

Switch by Douglas Davey (Red Deer Press)

Book Description: Sheldon Bates wants to share his story — the story of what it was like when he was seventeen. Sheldon was an ordinary high school student until he started noticing something changing about himself. It was then that Sheldon started feeling the same way about boys that he did about girls. It was at seventeen that Sheldon desperately tried to figure out the truth and accept the fact of his bisexuality. And trying to find someone to talk to brought its own set of complications — especially when he found himself at the centre of a scandal that he was ill-equipped to handle. But he also discovered he was not alone and that he would survive his seventeenth year.

Empire of Shadows by Miriam Forster (HarperTeen)

“In this prequel to City of a Thousand Dolls (2013), Forster creates a vast novel rich with Asian-inspired mythologies and an extensive cast of characters. … Fans of fantasy will enjoy the magical elements, while the subtle commentary of the novel’s stratified society lends it a dystopian vibe similar to Veronica Roth’s Divergent (2011, both HarperCollins) that will appeal to readers outside of the fantasy genre.” — School Library Journal

The Walled City by Ryan Graudin (Little, Brown)

“Heroin addicts, crime lords and murderers wreak havoc upon the residents of Hak Nam Walled City, a neglected, filthy place in this teen thriller told in alternating viewpoints. Inspired by Hong Kong’s Kowloon Walled City, Graudin’s prose uncovers a contemporary dystopia where despair is so rampant, ”even the sunlight won’t enter.“ … Readers, rapt, will duck for cover until the very last page.” — Kirkus

Forbidden by Kimberley Griffiths Little (HarperCollins)

“In this novel set in ancient Syria at the time of Hammurabi, 16-year-old Jayden is betrothed to Horeb, future king of her tribe, a contract she views with apprehension. When her mother dies in childbirth, Jayden, her sister Leila, and her father are left behind to bury the dead. While mourning at her mother’s gravesite, Jayden meets a mysterious young man from the south who tells her his name is Kadesh and that he has been stranded in the desert after an attack on his trading caravan. As Kadesh travels with her and her family, Jayden falls in love with him, a forbidden romance because of her betrothal to Horeb. … this is a fast-paced, entertaining choice which will appeal to fans of historical fiction and romance.” — School Library Journal

The Name of the Blade by Zoe Marriott (Candlewick)

“Marriott (Shadows on the Moon) launches a trilogy that draws from Japanese mythology to deliver an action-packed story with a romantic undercurrent. When nearly 16-year-old Londoner Mio Yamato “borrows” the katana that has been in her family for centuries to flesh out a Christmas party costume, she inadvertently awakens an ancient evil. … Strong characters and an intriguing premise make this a solid, enjoyable story.” — Publishers Weekly

The Unhappening of Genesis Lee by Shallee McArthur (Sky Pony Press)

“At 17, Mementi Genesis Lee and friend Cora are out on the town, their primary worry escaping parental notice and keeping their memory-filled Link beads covered just enough for safety. Someone (suspicion falls on the Populace) has been stealing the Mementi’s prized objects and with them, entire lives. … For readers hooked on earbuds and constant social networking, the storyline should be intriguing, the ambiguities and plot twists reasonable. But it’s the sensitive handling of emotional details and the trauma of too much connection that make this a story of interest. … For anyone fascinated with thoughts of omniscience and total social connection—and who isn’t?—McArthur’s debut suggests fascinating and chilling possibilities.” — Kirkus

Mr. Samuel’s Penny by Treva Hall Melvin (Poisoned Pencil)

“A city girl from Queens, New York, is thrust into the slowed-down homeyness of a small North Carolina town in 1972, but the summer she fears will drag on intolerably soon turns into the mystery of a missing penny and an unknown killer. … A smart, funny pleasure, as satisfying as sipping lemonade on the front porch with a favorite grandparent.” — Kirkus

The Melody of Light by M.L. Rice (Bold Strokes Books)

Book Description: Siblings Riley and Aidan Gordon are survivors. Together, they survived an abusive childhood, and when a fiery accident incinerates all they have—except for each other—they survive that, too. The tragedy leaves them with burdens and pain beyond their years, but it also sets them free to forge their own paths. Aidan’s road to happiness seems smooth and carefree. But Riley continues to struggle, her only saving grace being a passion for music that helps soothe her damaged soul. As their paths diverge and college looms, Riley will have to depend less on Aidan and more on herself. Fear of failure drives her, but will finding love derail her single-minded determination to succeed, or will it open the door to the family she’s always wanted?

Autumn Falls by Bella Thorne (Delacorte)

“In actress Thorne’s YA debut, sophomore Autumn Falls, stuck with a name ”that calls me out as a complete klutz and seasonally challenged,“ moves with her family to Florida after her father’s accidental death. There, Autumn’s Cuban grandmother gives her a magical journal and tells her it ”could change your life.“ … Thorne’s book has a fun premise.” — Publishers Weekly

On the Edge by Allison van Diepen (HarperTeen)

Book Description: Wrong place. Wrong time.

Maddie Diaz never should have taken that shortcut through the park. If she hadn’t, she wouldn’t have seen two gang members attacking a homeless man. Now, as the only witness, Maddie knows there’s a target on her back.

But her courage has also caught the attention of Lobo, the mysterious leader of a rival gang, who promises to protect her. Lobo might be out for his own revenge, but Maddie knows she can trust him. And even though Lobo tries to push her away, she is determined to find out the truth about him. As sparks fly between them, Maddie is drawn deeper into his dangerous world … until there’s no turning back.

When you live on the edge, any moment could be your last.

Like Water on Stone by Dana Walrath (Delacorte)

“Walrath’s debut vividly renders the atrocities of the Armenian genocide in the early 20th century, using multiple first-person narratives in delicate verse. … A shocking tale of a bleak moment in history, told with stunning beauty.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

Slump by Kevin Waltman (Cinco Puntos)

“Derrick ”D-Bow“ Bowen returns for his sophomore year at Indianapolis’ Marion East and this second volume in the D-Bow’s High School Hoops series. … With its deft balance of play-by-play action and off-the-court drama, this series scores.” — Kirkus

Diversity Digest – November 2014

By Malinda Lo

Author Jacqueline Woodson with her National Book Award for BROWN GIRL DREAMING

Author Jacqueline Woodson with her National Book Award for BROWN GIRL DREAMING

November is a short month, but it’s been big on diversity news and the month isn’t even over yet. In case you missed it, the incredibly talented Jacqueline Woodson won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature for her memoir in verse, Brown Girl Dreaming, published by Nancy Paulsen Books (Penguin). Jackie was one of the authors who joined Cindy and me for our Diversity Tour back in 2011, and her work has always pushed children’s and YA literature to be more inclusive of diverse experiences. If you missed her recent guest post about Brown Girl Dreaming, check it out here, and buy a copy of her book, too.

Unfortunately, Jackie’s win was marred by racist remarks made by the awards ceremony’s emcee, Daniel Handler (a.k.a. Lemony Snicket), which set off a firestorm of discussion on Twitter and other online forums. In response, Handler apologized and acknowledged that his remarks were racist; he also donated $10,000 to We Need Diverse Books and offered to match donations to the WNDB fundraising campaign up to $100,000. (See the whole story, along with Jackie’s response, at Publishers Weekly.) And guess what? As of Monday, Nov. 24th, WNDB confirmed that Handler is sending them a grand total of $110,000. That’s right! Over $200,000 was raised for WNDB in a period of only 24 hours! Is that incredible or what?

Clearly, a lot of people are putting their money where their mouth is when it comes to diverse books — except there’s still a ways to go. Over at The Horn Book, one of children’s literature’s most prominent review journals, editor Roger Sutton posted a brief accounting of his reaction to Handler’s racist jokes at the National Book Awards. Given the title of Sutton’s post, “Being a White Guy in Children’s Books,” you should expect it to stir up a controversy — and it has.

In the many, many comments, publishing industry pros and authors have offered several nuanced responses to Sutton’s post. It is BRACING READING. While reading the comments is generally a bad idea, especially when it comes to posts about race, I recommend reading the comments this time around. It’s an amazing (and sobering) snapshot of where a lot of people in children’s and YA lit are these days in relation to the diversity discourse that has been saturating the internet lately. One could conclude, glumly, that it shows that we have a long way to go, but while I do think that’s true, the discussion also shows that many smart people are paying attention and trying to make a change.

The fact is, this dialogue that everyone in kids’ and YA lit is having about diversity is hard. And just think: If it’s that hard to talk about it, how much harder is it to change one’s actions?

This is a long, uphill battle. I’m a little tired these days. So I was grateful to read this interview with Jackie Woodson at The Guardian in which she says, “I feel like, as a person of color, I’ve always been kind of doing the work against the tide. … I feel like change is coming, and change sometimes comes too slow for a lot of us. But it comes.”

I really hope that Jackie’s right, and I’m very thankful that WNDB is fighting so hard. And you know, their campaign isn’t over yet. It’s gonna take a lot more than $200,000 to change the publishing industry, so if you haven’t given yet, consider giving now.

Cover Girl

I only found one cover reveal to share this month, but it’s a good one. Coming June 30, 2015, from Arthur A. Levine Books is Daniel José Olders YA debut, Shadowshaper:

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Add it to your Goodreads now.

Advice Roundup: Thoughts on How To Do Diversity

Are you a reader who wants more diverse books in your local library but aren’t sure how to get them there? Librarian Angie Manfredi offers advice for how you can talk to your local librarian about diversity.

Are you querying a novel with diverse characters and don’t really know how to mention that in your query letter? Literary agent Amy Boggs of the Donald Maass Literary Agency has some suggestions on how to do it.

Are you a writer who is writing about people who are of a different racial/ethnic background than yourself? MariNaomi at Midnight Breakfast offers some useful tips on Writing People of Color (if you happen to be a person of another color)

Are you a book reviewer who struggles with how to mention a book’s diverse characters? Roger Sutton, editor of The Horn Book, has some thoughts on mentioning race in book reviews. (Yes, this is another post from Roger. Yes, I think this one is worth a read, as well as the comments — seriously, the commenters at The Horn Book are high-quality folks.)

Let’s Make a Deal

Here are some of this month’s diverse book deals. If you have sold a diverse book recently (or in the future!) and want to tell us about it, please email us at diversityinya@gmail.com.

Author Robin Talley (Lies We Tell Ourselves) has sold a contemporary retelling of Macbeth titled As I Descended to Kristen Pettit at HarperCollins. The novel, which Talley describes as “a horror novel,” is set around a lesbian couple at a contemporary Virginia boarding school, and involves some gender-flipping of Shakespeare’s play. It’s due out in summer 2016.

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Sarah Everett

Everyone We’ve Been and an untitled second book by debut author Sarah Everett have been acquired by Julia Maguire at Knopf for publication in fall 2016. According to Publishers Weekly, Everyone We’ve Been is “about a girl whose heart is broken so badly she resorts to having her memories erased.”

Future Shock and its sequel by Elizabeth Briggs have been acquired by Wendy McClure of Albert Whitman. The science fiction novels are about “a Latina teenager raised in Los Angeles’s foster care system with an eidetic memory is recruited by a tech company for a mission — a trip 30 years into the future,” and the first book is due out in March 2016 (Publishers Weekly).

Brazen, the third book in Christina Farley’s Gilded series, has been sold to Miriam Juskowicz at Skyscape, for publication in September 2015. The trilogy is about a 16-year-old Korean American girl who battles a god of darkness.

What To Read Next

Robin Talley has a list of her top 7 LGBT young adult characters of color.

Disability in Kid Lit put together several great book lists recently, including YA books with deaf teenagers as main characters, YA modern-day fantasy novels with disabled protagonists, and YA non-contemporary fantasy novels with disabled protagonists.

Want a sneak peek at 2015? Stacked has a list of Fabulously Diverse YA Book Covers We Should See More Often and that will be hitting bookshelves next year.

Think About It

We Need Diverse Books hosted a twitter chat focused on LGBTQ books, and if you missed it you can read the full-length Storified version of the chat here.

Author Cammie McGovern (Say What You Will), has some thoughts on writing “Beyond the Magically (Dis)abled.”

Farrar, Straus and Giroux editor Grace Kendall says nothing is holding her back from publishing diverse books (CBC Diversity).

Ellen Oh, president of We Need Diverse Books, talks about her Prophecy trilogy, WNDB, and exoticism at Bloom. She also reminds us exactly why we need diverse books.

Last But Not Least

November is Native American Heritage Month, so Lee & Low has a list of 10 Children’s Books by Native Writers. WNDB held a #SupportWNDB twitter chat focused on Native American representation in books earlier this month, but if you missed it you can read the Storify version here.

I also have two fresh books with Native American characters to share with you. First is Crazy Horse’s Girlfriend by Erika T. Wurth (Curbside Splendor Publishing), a gritty, contemporary novel about a 16-year-old Native American girl which came out back in September (we missed it back then). Second is Joseph Bruchac’s Rose Eagle, an ebook companion novella to his dystopian thriller Killer of Enemies (Tu Books). Both are available now:

On Gender, Leslie Feinberg, and Liberation

Nora Olsen’s latest novel, Maxine Wore Black, is a retelling of Rebecca with a transgender lesbian main character.

By Nora Olsen

oldsen-maxineI was all fired up to write my guest blog post about gender diversity. Then on Monday (November 17) I learned that Leslie Feinberg has died. Leslie Feinberg wrote the legendary novel Stone Butch Blues as well as nonfiction about transgender topics, and was also an activist. Feinberg was only 65 years old and was taken from this world too soon. It’s a hard thing when our heroes die. Stone Butch Blues means a lot to me. I first read it in 2007 and it opened my eyes in a lot of ways. In the last two years I have given away literally hundreds of books as I try to create more space in my life and on my bookshelves, but Stone Butch Blues is one that I can never let go of. Feinberg’s death has made me feel very reflective. That’s a good thing, but not in a way that helps with a blog post. I don’t think there’s anything I can say about gender diversity that would be more helpful than, “Go read or re-read Stone Butch Blues.” But that word count is too low. So I will tell you about my favorite eatery, Village Yogurt in New York City. And it will all come back to Leslie Feinberg in the end.

I have been eating at Village Yogurt since it opened when I was six. The elderly owners, Mr. and Mrs. Kim, used to give me a cookie because I was so cute. Alas I am no longer that cute and I no longer get a cookie. Recently the place had a big makeover, and when I saw the new storefront my heart skipped a beat because I thought Village Yogurt had closed. But no. They still have the same headshots of not very famous people on the wall and the same 1970s foods on the menu. But now the place looks more contemporary and there are some new items on the menu. Mr. and Mrs. Kim retired or possibly moved into the kitchen, which is no longer visible to customers. Now surly, gum-snapping young people take the orders and mix up the shakes.

The one shake which has always been on the menu is called Special Shake. It is frozen yogurt, milk, honey, and wheat germ, which were all perceived as health foods in the 1970s. But now there are also non-dairy shakes which contain fruits, which are perceived as health foods today. My favorite has strawberry, banana, orange juice, protein, ginseng, and flax seed. It is called the He Man/Wonder Woman. In a way, I like this name because I loved both of those TV shows as a kid. I can’t tell you how many times I lifted a pencil over my head and shouted, “By the Power of Grayskull! I have the power!” and then pointed it at my cat Amber, hoping she would turn into a mighty battle cat. And even more times I wore my Wonder Woman underroos and spun around and around, just like Diana Prince does when she turns into Wonder Woman. But mostly I don’t like the name because you’re supposed to order “He Man” if you’re a man and “Wonder Woman” if you’re a woman.

Yes, really. That is what all the people do. Umm, it’s a drink. It doesn’t have a gender. And it has the same ingredients no matter who orders it. At every encounter with the He-Man/Wonder Woman I am confronted again with the knowledge that I live in a strange, mixed-up science fiction universe. Just as the characters in Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series think radical cosmetic surgery is totes normal, just as the characters in Alex London’s Proxy series think it’s normal for poor people to take punishment for the rich, just as the people in Alaya Dawn Johnson’s The Summer Prince think human sacrifice is completely regular, we have ideas about gender that are absolutely bananas. We have built incredibly complex rules that most people don’t even think about. And it’s all based on … nothing. Even if there really were only two genders, there’d be no need for all these taboos and barriers. But there aren’t.

Most of my books have been about gender in some way. In my first YA novel, The End: Five Queer Kids Save the World, one of my main characters was genderqueer, except that I had never heard the word genderqueer when I wrote the book. My second novel Swans & Klons was set in a world where there are no men. The protagonist of my most recent novel, Maxine Wore Black, is a young woman who is transgender and a lesbian. Most YA novels with transgender protagonists are focused on the character’s coming-out process and transition. You cannot say that theme has been done to death because there are only a handful of these books, unfortunately. But I decided to go down a different road, focusing instead on a troubled love interest, an untimely death, and a house haunted by tragedy. This is because Maxine Wore Black is a retelling of Daphne du Maurier’s classic novel Rebecca, so gothic thriller was the way to go. I wanted the fact that my main character, Jayla, is transgender to be an important part of who she is but not really a plot point.

When I write a story, I’m basically writing it for myself. Sure, there are a lot of other things to take into consideration like, who would want to publish this story? Has this story been told before? How might a young person feel when they read this story? Are the characters real or based on stereotypes or lazy thinking? But basically, the first person I’m trying to please is myself. I’ve written numerous times that I write so that QUILTBAG (LGBTQ) youth can see themselves reflected in the pages of a book and know that their experience counts. And that is true. But really? If I’m honest? It’s the part of me that is a queer teen that I am writing to.

I think this is probably true for many other writers too. So, you other writers, I have a tip for you. Write about gender. If you are writing a story set on another planet or in another world, you don’t have to make it so there are only two genders. That’s not even true right here at home on Planet Earth, so why would it be true on Xabulox–6? In addition, transgender people don’t have to be erased from fiction. They exist all over the place in real life and they can exist all over the place in the pages of your book if that’s what you want. Why am I telling you this? Is it to help your readers, the teens of today and the teens of tomorrow? No. This is about what your writing does for YOU.

Writing about gender is amazing because it makes you question everything you thought you knew about it. It changes you. And that’s a good thing! If you write a book about pirates and you are not already a pirate, it won’t make you a pirate. If you are writing about a Ghanaian math genius and you are not already a Ghanaian math genius, it won’t make you one. But if you are writing about defying the deeply ingrained gender rules and gender roles in our society, I bet money that would turn you into a gender warrior even if you are not already one. That might sound scary, but actually it is a really positive and fun development.

Leslie Feinberg said, “Gender is the poetry each of us makes out of the language we are taught.” When you begin to create that poem, you don’t know what you will discover about yourself. You may discover that the gender you’ve been assigned fits you like a glove, or that it does not. That knowledge will help you be the truest self you can be, which is as fulfilling as it gets. Somewhere along the way you discover that a person’s sex assigned at birth based on their anatomy does not necessarily dictate their gender. That knowledge liberates other people, and it liberates you too. If you begin to see that there are people all around you who do not fall into the gender binary and do not identify as male or female, that greater understanding of the world around you will help you make authentic connections in this life.

Leslie Feinberg also said, “More exists among human beings than can be answered by the simplistic question I’m hit with every day of my life: ‘Are you a man or a woman?’” If you can see people you encounter in social situations as person without feverishly needing to immediately classify them as man or woman, that knowledge will allow the door of your cage to swing open.


Nora Olsen was born and raised in New York City. Nora’s YA novels are Frenemy of the People, Swans & Klons, The End: Five Queer Kids Save The World, and Maxine Wore Black. Nora lives in New York’s Hudson Valley with her girlfriend and their cat. You can learn more at http://noraolsen.com.

Maxine Wore Black is now available.

Ask & Answer: Books about queer girls on road trips

Over on tumblrdontrushthenoises asked:

Is there any good queer girls book with a road trip them that you know???

I really loved Tripping to Somewhere by Kristopher Reisz (Goodreads). It’s urban fantasy about two girls following something known as the witches’ carnival — it’s fantastic and weird and wonderful (and not your typical “road trip”). It’s also kind of hard to find these days; you may have to seek it out at your library or through interlibrary loan, or buy a used copy. But it’s really good.

That’s all I know of, though. Anybody else have queer girl road trip recommendations?

Malinda


Several suggestions have cropped up in the notes, so here they are:

  • Kiss the Morning Star by Elissa Janine Hoole
  • Finding H.F. by Julia Watts
  • A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend by Emily Horner
  • Crashing America by Katia Noyes
  • The Second Mango by Shira Glassman