Gay Without the Gay Angst: 10 Books About Lesbian/Bi/Queer Girls

By Malinda Lo

Following up on my post last month, “Gay Without the Gay Angst: 12 Books About Gay/Bi/Queer Boys”, here is a list of 10 books about lesbian/bisexual/queer girls without a lot of coming-out angst.

If you’re looking for a complete lack of coming-out angst, it’s better to stick to the fantasy and science fiction; the realistic titles listed below do address coming out, though with much less angst than in some older titles. Also note that these titles are not all happily-ever-after romances; characters do face challenges and relationships may be full of conflict, but the conflicts and challenges are not primarily due to homophobia.

Admittedly, I found it more difficult to find books about queer girls that don’t contain a lot of coming-out angst. This may be because fewer books about queer girls are published in general. All I know is: We need more of them.

Fantasy and Science Fiction

  • Love in the Time of Global Warming by Francesca Lia Block — now available; also has a companion novel, The Island of Excess Love
  • Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis — now available
  • Radiant Days by Elizabeth Hand — now available
  • Huntress by Malinda Lo — now available; Lo’s other books (Ash, Adaptation and Inheritance) also feature queer girls without the gay angst
  • Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld — now available

Realistic Fiction

  • Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan — now available
  • No One Needs to Know by Amanda Grace (Flux) — now available
  • Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour — now available
  • Lies My Girlfriend Told Me by Julie Anne Peters — now available; Peters has written many YA books about lesbian/bisexual girls with varying amounts of gay angst
  • Far From You by Tess Sharpe — now available

A Letter to a Young Writer

Claudia Guadalupe Martinez, author of the recently released Pig Park, has some advice for young writers.

By Claudia Guadalupe Martinez

martinez-pigparkAs a kid, I had more dreams than could fit in my head—the biggest was to be an author. My school didn’t have money for new books, let alone an author to ask for advice, and Skype hadn’t been invented yet. But here is some of what I wish someone had shared, some of what I’ve learned about writing so far:

Dear Young Author,

1. Read everything you can get your hands on. Reading teaches us what we like and don’t like, what works and doesn’t work. A great piece of writing can be mirror, window, door, roadmap or all. Reading shaped me even when it was hard to find more than a handful of protagonists that looked or sounded like me. I found other ways of identifying. Reading Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, I imagined I was poor Huck. Likewise, I imagined myself the immigrant subject of Willa Cather’s My Antonia. That was the beauty of reading books at that age. That said, it was the writing of Sandra Cisneros that encouraged me to pursue publication, that showed me that people read stories about Chicano kids too. As readers and writers we have the power to change books as the world around us changes too.

2. Look for stories everywhere. My first book, The Smell of Old Lady Perfume, started from a short story I wrote for a class. I used it as a skeleton and attached words like chunks of flesh until my book took shape. Conversations with my family helped a great deal because the story was based on real events they took part in. Chela, my protagonist, struggles through the sixth grade. Her life doesn’t exactly happen like mine did. Nevertheless, writing allowed me to remember many things about that time in my own life. Some were painful. Some were great, like the rumble of my father’s laughter. With Pig Park, my characters started out as strangers that I slowly got to know. The idea came to me while reading an old article about the plump delicious bread at my favorite bakery. I grabbed ideas from all around me.

3. Work out problems through writing. During middle school, I hated everyone and everything. My dad had just passed away, and I lashed out. But, experimenting with poetry finally allowed me to express myself in a way that didn’t get me in trouble. It wasn’t just a matter of venting or professing emotion. Writing became a problem-solving tool. The thing about written words is that they have a permanence that requires careful consideration. They allow us to get down the facts and sort out events so we don’t get carried away in the moment. Simply put, writing slowed down the thinking process, helping me to see more clearly before I opened my mouth.

4. Don’t worry too much about what others think. It’s understandable that you should feel some apprehension about sharing your work. However, don’t let that dictate what you write. One day, I poured my soul onto a piece of paper and turned it into my ninth grade English teacher. She took me aside after class and asked if I’d copied it. I ground my teeth and blinked back tears that she thought so little of me. “She must’ve thought the poem was that good,” my sister said. This is a humble brag, of course. But if you’re serious about writing, you have to learn to take the criticism. When I have a new piece, I share it in a safe place like my writing group. Once your work is published, you don’t have this luxury. Editors, publishers, reviewers, teachers, librarians, and all sorts of other people have something to say — good and bad. Of course, these are individual opinions. You can grow from them, or decide they offer you nothing and move on. A friend used to say, “I don’t believe there is such a thing as an ugly girl, just girls who aren’t of my taste.” Writing is exactly the same. Writing that one person hates, can find another person to love it.

5. Don’t just talk about writing, write. If you have a story in you, sit down and go at it. Write and don’t stop until you’ve told it. Writing is hard work in many ways. Baring our souls isn’t always easy, but I suppose it’s the nature of the creative process. Developing your ideas will require effort and commitment. When I found out my first book would be published, my editor called me on the phone and said, “You know it won’t be glamorous. You still have a lot of work do.” And, that’s the truth.

Sincerely,
Claudia


claudiamartinezClaudia Guadalupe Martinez is the author of The Smell of Old Lady Perfume (Cinco Puntos, 2008) and Pig Park (Cinco Puntos, 2014). She grew up in sunny El Paso, Texas where she learned that letters form words from reading the subtitles of old westerns with my father.  At age six, she already knew she wanted to create stories. She now lives and writes in Chicago. For more updates follow her on Twitter or like her on Facebook.

Pig Park is now available. 

We Don’t Need Another Straight, White, Able-bodied Hero

When Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith initially sent their postapocalyptic YA western, Stranger, out on submission, agents asked them to de-gay the book. They refused but persevered, and Stranger has just been published by Viking Juvenile. This is the story of that book’s inspiration.

By Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith

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Rachel Manija Brown: A number of years ago, I was working at the Jim Henson Company (The Muppets; Labyrinth), optioning books to be made into movies and TV shows. But what I really wanted was to create my own stories.

I’ve always loved the images and story elements of Westerns — the stranger who comes to town and shakes things up, the desperate chase through the desert, the man with no name, the tough sheriff, the saloon where everyone in town comes to gossip. But I wanted one where the characters were more like me, and more like the people who live in the west now.

The real California of the Gold Rush was much more diverse than it’s usually portrayed: Jews were there, and free black people, and Chinese people; Indians from various tribes, and people from Mexico, Chile, and Peru. Not to mention a whole lot of incredibly tough women. It was by no means a multicultural paradise. But it also wasn’t a place where everyone was white and women existed only as saloon girls, loyal wives, and prizes to be won by the male hero.

Then I imagined a future west: a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles where technology had reverted back to Gold Rush levels, but which was still as diverse as the real city I lived in. An image came to my mind, of a teenage boy desperately fleeing through the desert, without food or water but carrying something precious in his battered pack. A bounty hunter was relentlessly tracking him, and the desert was full of mutated bloodsucking plants. Could he reach the refuge of a small frontier town before he succumbed to thirst, or deadly wildlife, or a bullet?

I could see that boy in my mind’s eye. He didn’t look like the typical tall, light-skinned, blue-eyed hero of a western. He looked like the young men I saw every day in Los Angeles, the young men who had really lived in the California of the Old West. His skin was brown and his hair was black; he wasn’t tall or burly, but he was stronger than he looked. I wondered what it was that he had in his pack, that he was so desperate to protect…

Years later, I met Sherwood to collaborate on a TV show, and I told her about that idea. By then the young man had a name: Ross Juarez.

Sherwood Smith: I loved it! We talked back and forth, scribbling down our favorite ideas: mysterious ruins and super powers, and taking familiar tropes and turning them inside out. The brainy mechanic sidekick, who’s always a guy, would be a girl who has trouble getting outside of her own head. And she wouldn’t be a sidekick, but the heroine. The tough sheriff would be a woman — a super-strong woman, with half her face beautiful and half a skull! The town was guarded not only by adult men, but by all the townspeople — including teenagers. Some with powers, some not! And if a love triangle developed, we’d take it in a completely new direction.

In listing all our favorite tropes (super-powers! Bad-ass teens! Weird flora and fauna! Interesting food from many cultures!), we discovered that we were also on the same wavelength concerning diversity.

Rachel: I’d volunteered with the Virginia Avenue Project for years. It’s a program to mentor low-income kids and teenagers through the arts. I used to take the kids to a bookstore and let them buy anything they wanted to read. One day an African American girl mentioned that every time she picked up a book with a cover that showed a girl like her, she’d find that it was about gangs, drugs, or teen pregnancy.

“I don’t relate to that!” she said. She wanted to read about black girls who were like her: who read books, who had many interests and a loving family, and who had absolutely nothing to do with gangs or drugs. And she wanted them to have the sorts of adventures that you can only have between the pages of a book.

Sherwood: When I was in high school, I had a friend of color who admitted that much as she loved fairy tales, she wished that just once the heroine wouldn’t be pale, with golden hair, and eyes like sapphires. What would be so wrong about a heroine with brown skin, eyes, and hair?

Because both of us have people in our lives — friends, brothers, sisters, aunts, great-uncles, and so forth — who happen to be gay or disabled, we wanted not only to reflect the patterns of ordinary life in our story, but to write one in which people who seldom get to see characters like themselves as heroes get to do just that. And, of course, in many ways we ourselves don’t fit into the standard heroic mold.

It seemed natural to map our future Los Angeles over the actual demographics of LA. White people are already a minority; 50% of the city is Hispanic/Latino. Today many people face prejudice based on their race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion. After an apocalypse, we thought that many old prejudices would die out, once the power structure that sustained them was gone.  But humans being humans, new ones have replaced them, specifically a bias against the mutated “Changed” folk.

We began the story as a screenplay, but the worldbuilding and the story became so involved that we turned it into a book.  Because we wanted the story to be about a community, we wrote it as an ensemble piece. The points of view rotate between five main characters. Selling this book, however, was difficult —

and for unexpected reasons: “Authors Say Agents Try to ‘Straighten’ Gay Characters in YA” (Genreville at Publishers Weekly)

There are two important takeaways. First, it wasn’t just one agent who wanted us to make one of our protagonists straight. That agent was just more upfront about it — and made it very clear that it wasn’t because they were personally anti-gay, but because they believed that no one would buy a book with a gay hero.

The second important takeaway is that when we discussed this in private with some other writers, we got an outpouring of letters from other writers who’d had similar experiences, with agents or editors or simply family members who earnestly warned them that received wisdom stated you can’t sell a book with a gay hero, or a Hispanic hero, or a disabled hero.

Our article prompted fantasy writer Malinda Lo to analyze all YA novels published in the US. She found that fewer than 1% of all YA novels have any LGBTQ characters at all, even minor supporting characters. A slightly larger number have heroes (as opposed to sidekicks and supporting characters) who are anything other than white, straight, and able-bodied.

We are not the only writers would like to see more types of heroes, in more types of stories. If you’re interested in reading more YA fantasy and science fiction with diverse heroes of various sorts, try books by Malorie Blackman, Joseph Bruchac, Sarwat Chadda, Sarah Diemer, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Cynthia Leitich Smith, David Levithan, Malinda Lo, Marie Lu, Patrick Ness, Ellen Oh, Nnedi Okorafor, Tamora Pierce, Cindy Pon, Rick Riordan, Sherri Smith, or Laurence Yep.  And they’re not the only ones writing diverse characters. There are more extensive book lists here.

Our belief is that if these books exist and readers can find them, they will buy them. And that will send a signal to publishers that anyone can be a hero.


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Rachel Manija Brown is the author of all sorts of stories in all sorts of genres. She has also written comic books, short stories, poetry, television scripts, plays, video games, and a memoir. She writes the “Werewolf Marines” urban fantasy series for adults under the name of Lia Silver, and lesbian romance (also for adults) under the name of Rebecca Tregaron. In her other identity, she is a trauma/PTSD therapist.

Sherwood Smith (http://ift.tt/1kXCqRM) is a retired teacher, and the author of many fantasy novels for teenagers and adults, including Crown Duel and the Mythopoeic Award Finalist The Spy Princess. She lives in Southern California.

You can purchase a copy of Stranger here.

Finding Yourself in Fiction

The hero of A. R. Kahler’s new YA fantasy novel, Martyr, is gay, but that’s beside the point.

By Alex R. Kahler

kahler-martyrI still remember the first time I read a book with a gay character.

I was thirteen, reading “The Last Rune” series, and near the end of a book it’s pointed out that one of the side characters—a male knight—is in love with the male protagonist. The woman who says this asks the protagonist, point blank, could you love him like that? and the protagonist responds, I think so.

I was struck by that entire situation. I looked up and around and made sure that no one else was watching (which was silly because I was alone in my room) because obviously, if my parents walked in, they’d know what I’d just read. They’d assume something not even I had had time to consider.

We’ve all had that moment, when we stumble upon a character or situation that intrigues us—not because it’s strange, but because it resonates in a way we aren’t used to. We relate. Even if we don’t quite grasp why.

A few years ago, when I was writing Martyr, there weren’t many books with LGBTQ protagonists. There were even fewer such stories where sexuality wasn’t the main topic. In most of the fiction I’d read, LGBTQ characters were relegated to tropes or stereotypes. We were the martyrs—sexually confused/deviant, struggling with our identity, sick (physically or mentally), or militant. And there was a good chance we’d be killed off by the end of the book.

I was tired of it.

I’d struggled with my sexuality as a teenager. I grew up in small-town Iowa, which probably sums everything up. I rarely had positive gay role models I could relate to, in fiction or real life. I’d been bullied and harassed, considered suicide and praying really hard to be straight. Which is why I don’t condemn writing characters who struggle with that—I’ve been there. Most of us have. I just wanted to show what happened after. I wanted to prove our story could be more.

Author A.R. Kahler

Author A.R. Kahler

It took years, but I finally came to peace with who I was. More importantly, I realized I was more than a label. I was gay, sure, but I was also an artist and a world traveler and a wicked good vegetarian chef. I had stories that didn’t circle around who I chose to sleep with, and I wanted to write a book that exposed that truth: every single one of us is composed of hundreds of stories, and they deserve to be heard. No one is simply a cliché, no one is struggling with only one thing. We are diverse and complex, and we have more to say than what greater society thinks we do.

Which is why I wrote Martyr. I wanted to treat a gay protagonist in the same way I’d treat a straight protagonist—in other words, make sexuality a non-issue. Martyr centers around Tenn, a teenage remnant from the apocalypse cursed with the duty to keep mankind in the fight. He faces off against hordes of monsters and terrible magic. He has a boyfriend that means the world to him. Love is important. Orientation is not.

It’s my hope—and I think it’s the hope of every author—that readers will open Martyr‘s pages and feel that same sort of resonance. I want LGBTQ youth to see that they are so much more than a label. Due to some fantastic social media campaigns and reader outcry, there’s been a burst of new fiction for teens and adults that are filling this need. Mainstream society is realizing that “minority” characters can no longer be distilled to tropes and stereotypes. And that’s exciting.

You are the hero, and you can fight off any monster you wish.


Alex R. Kahler was born in rural Iowa, but he didn’t stay there long. He’s lived and studied across the globe, and even managed to spend some time working for various circus groups. He’s the author of the Immortal Circus trilogy and Martyr, the first book in a new YA fantasy series. He currently lives in Seattle. Emphasis on ‘currently,’ as the horizon is always beckoning…. You can follow his adventures at www.arkahler.com or @ARKahler.
Martyr is now available.

Making My Self Visible

That one time I read a book and it changed my life and the author spoke Spanglish and made me want to do the same thing.

By Isabel Quintero 

quintero-gabiI’ve always had body issues. When I was in fourth grade, it was pointed out to me that I was getting as bad as a pregnant woman. When I wanted to dance ballet folklorico, I felt too fat to be able to keep up with the rest of the girls and instead stayed home and dreamt of colorful dresses, bright red lipstick, and beautiful braids. Throughout high school, I was scared to speak with boys, especially once I realized there was a possibility that they would like me, because I really (and I mean really) thought that it was all some big joke they were playing on me and in the end I would end up getting hurt.

And so, whenever a boy got too close my defenses would go up; I’d tease him, make fun of him, or even run and hide in the bathroom red faced and on the verge of tears (yes, that actually happened). That scene in Gabi, A Girl in Pieces, where Gabi almost gets kissed by Eric, well something like it really happened, except I didn’t have the ovaries Gabi did and never kissed the boy. It wasn’t until I got to college that I began to feel like I owned my body. Like it really belonged to me. Like it didn’t matter that I was fat or that I was a white ass Mexican. Heck, I even accepted that I had small boobs and stopped wearing a bra — that’s how liberated I felt, that first quarter at Cal State San Bernardino.

I really don’t know what changed. It may have been that I began writing more. Or that I made friends that were the same level of different that I felt. Or that I was taking women’s studies classes, and Chican@ studies classes, and that I began seeing myself as belonging somewhere. I think that was it — seeing myself in the readings that constructed the world I wanted to be a part of: literature and academia.

I mean, think about it: before I entered college, all I read (all that built that academic world that I loved so much) were stories written by dead white guys and a few women. I was completely absent. There were no overweight white-skinned Latinas in my textbooks. Heck, there were no skinny dark-skinned Latinas or Latinos to be found in any of my textbooks. But during my first year of college all that changed.

I was in a Chicano lit class and we were assigned Michele Serros’s Chicana Falsa. (If you have never read this book, you need to take a break from reading this blog post, open a new window and order it. Then, please finish reading.) As an English person (that is the technical term for someone who teaches English) and as a writer and lover of words, we often construct a timeline of our life in terms of books read. Chicana Falsa: And Other Stories of Death, Identity, and Oxnard marks the moment on my timeline when I discovered that I had a voice, and that that voice was bilingual and it was just as valid as any other voice. It was truly an awakening. Bilingual people wrote stories, poems, and books that were taught in colleges? And even used SPANGLISH?! WTF? And then I read Sandra Cisneros, Cherie Moraga, Pat Mora, and eventually Gloria Anzaldua, and it was like, Holy shit, why wasn’t I taught these texts in high school? And the frightening answer to that question is exactly why I write.

I write because I can, and throughout my early education by simply omitting the writing of people like me, I was taught that Mexicans/Chican@s/Latin@s or people of color in general didn’t write anything worthy of teaching or discussing. We were absent because we weren’t taught that we have a voice. And this is what happens when there is a lack of diversity in literature for young people — they are denied the right to see themselves as significant members of the world in which they reside in.

Was it on purpose, the omission of people of color in literature for young people? Maybe. How else are people oppressed and kept in line if not by making them invisible even to themselves? When I became aware of this I knew I wanted to help change that narrative. I wanted to do for others what Michele Serros had done for me — make my self visible to myself.

I know, now, after talking with so many others and working in education for the last 15 years of my life, that I am not the only person who grew up feeling that she was too fat and her body wasn’t her own, or was made to feel different, and that she didn’t belong because of her culture, or the only one who grew up around addiction. I wrote this book because if we don’t see ourselves — fat, thin, white/dark skinned, bilingual, bicultural, LGBTQ, disabled — in the words we read, in the worlds that are created in those pages, how do we know we exist and matter? How do we know we have a voice, if the only literature we are taught that is important is written by dead white men and women who only speak English? Or by living white men and women who only speak English? How do we become visible and real to ourselves?

Ultimately, Gabi, A Girl in Pieces is a story of a young girl trying to figure out who the Hell she is and is going to become, and how writing, her body, culture, and identity (whatever that is) fit into that world; you know, like every other American girl.


isabelquinterosmall

Isabel Quintero is a writer and adjunct faculty instructor who resides in Southern California’s Inland Empire with her husband. She is the daughter of Mexican immigrants who made that journey for a better life many, many years ago. She got her love of words from her mother and her love of chorizo asado from her father. She has one brother with whom she likes to exchange cute and funny animal pictures. In addition to writing fiction, Isabel also writes poetry, and is on the board for a non-profit literary arts organization, PoetrIE. Gabi, A Girl in Pieces from Cinco Puntos Press, is her first novel. She is very excited about that.

Gabi, A Girl in Pieces is now available.

10 Recent Diverse Contemporary Reads

Here’s a list of 10 diverse contemporary YA books released in the last six months. Now is a great time to check them out!

Walking the Walk

Tricia Sullivan, author of Shadowboxer, on the complexities and challenges of writing about a culture that is not her own.

By Tricia Sullivan

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun is a harrowing novel set before and during the Biafran war in 1960s Nigeria. It has a character called Richard, an Englishman who goes to Nigeria to learn about its art and ends up involved in the struggle and suffering of the Igbo people. Richard is a nice guy, but he can’t make himself into an African no matter how he tries. He tries to understand the postcolonial horror that Nigeria is going through. At any time he could get on a plane and go, but he stays. He loves an Igbo woman, learns the language, and tries earnestly to be an advocate for the Igbo people. And in all sympathy and earnestness, he begins to write about the war, draft after misguided draft. Richard’s book is a white man’s version of an Igbo story, but Richard can’t see how his Igbo friends feel about this. They have a range of opinions from mildly amused tolerance to real anger. At one point Richard’s lover burns the book.

In the end, broken by the horror he has witnessed, Richard comes to understand that the war is not his story to tell. The person who ends up writing a book about Biafra is a young man who has lived through the war first as a houseboy, then a schoolteacher, and finally a conscript.

The implication here is clear: marginalized people need opportunities to tell their own stories. Mainstream writers need to stop crowding the airwaves. We need to make room for the voices from within the cultures themselves. Because invariably we appropriate, even when we don’t mean to.

In the last few years I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I’ve been trying to work out how to write about the small world we live in where cultures frequently collide and where understanding of strangers can be hard to come by. I have done a lot of soul-searching.

***

sullivan-shadowboxerMy novel Shadowboxer features a Dominican-American teenager who goes to Thailand to train in Muay Thai fighting. I was able to research this and get feedback from a Latina-American reader, two Thai readers (who didn’t agree with one another on all points) and from people from the West who, like Jade, had trained in Thailand. The novel also includes Mya, a young Burmese refugee, as one of the protagonists. I could not find a Burmese reader. It has been asked of me — and I have asked of myself — what right have I got to take the point of view of a Burmese refugee child and tell a story that I have made up? I, whose understanding of reality comes from growing up in the US suburbs watching Bowling For Dollars on TV?

It’s a problem. I see this. Yet I wrote the character Mya. I used some of Thailand’s mythos knowing these things are problematic. I don’t feel one tiny bit easy or certain about the approach I’ve taken. I can’t justify the decision by ideology. For those who hold themselves to the highest standards of correctness, my decision to publish is an obvious fail.

But. If as a group we demand perfection, then we are into the business of choosing “correct” books and “incorrect” books. That’s a bit of a slippery slope. Who gets to decide? How do we divide the world? Whose opinion is privileged? Who represents a culture? Who gives permission? Messy things are messy. They can’t be made simple and easy just because we wish they could.

Writing is how I try to understand the world. Trying to imagine myself in someone else’s mind is what I do. I turn on my imagination, I go down into that murky subconscious place where somehow we all have some common human ground, and I try to bring up whatever I can find. Sometimes I come up with treasure and sometimes I come up with crap, and the judgement as to which is which is largely down to readers who bring their own thinking to the enterprise. So depending on who you are you may love my work, you may want to kill it with fire, you may go “meh” — and all responses are valid. But for me as a writer, the bottom line is this: if I can’t engage in that process of trying to empathize, then I can’t write. It’s simple.

Writers don’t always choose their stories. Sometimes a story chooses a writer. If a story leads me into terra incognita, I do the best I can and I rely on the judgment of other professionals and trusted readers to let me know if I’ve gone off-course. If they tell me there are problems with what I’ve written, I listen and I do whatever I can to ameliorate the problems. Ultimately, though, my work is my own and I’ve got to make the final decisions about what I sign my name to. This process doesn’t feel safe or easy to me, and I have come to recognize that one of the risks I take is the risk of having to be the bad guy, the offender, the jerk, the one who harms. Some people enjoy being the bad guy; I don’t. I mean, I really, really don’t. But if that ends up being my part, I accept it.

When it comes to diversity issues, it’s much easier to talk the talk than to walk the walk. The latter is difficult and uncertain, and there is no ultimate authority to tell you whether you are doing it well or badly. For myself I walk the walk by putting my best efforts on the page, including the imperfections. I walk the walk of someone who opens herself and lets the world have at what she’s written. There isn’t any other walk I need to be walking.

Some people believe that the problem of cultural appropriation is best handled by white writers stepping back and getting out of the way. This comes from the idea that marginalized writers — specifically writers from outside the white Anglo world — would get more notice if their efforts weren’t being drowned out by the culturally amplified voices of people like me. I’m wary of this rationale. I agree that writers from outside the West are badly marginalized, but I think the way to fix that is to actively seek out and nurture and promote and read and talk about those marginalized writers. Bringing more of the world into literature will reinvigorate the reading landscape, and it will increase understanding between cultures.

Toward this, I recommend checking out this list of writers or picking up a copy of an anthology like AfroSF or Long Hidden or We See A Different Frontier.

There’s also this: sometimes even a flawed book can offer a way in. For many readers, Shadowboxer may be the first they’ve heard of Muay Thai or Thailand. It may be the first they’ve heard of Burma. My book may be an opening into finding out more. I think it’s preferable to offer readers a culturally imperfect book like Shadowboxer than no books involving Burma or Thailand at all — and right now, Anglophone culture is still very short of writers from those cultures. I would love to be able to point people to novelists from Burma and Thailand whose work they should read. At the moment I can’t do that, but I hope it won’t be too much longer before I can.


triciasullivanTricia Sullivan is an Arthur C. Clarke Award winning author of science fiction novels for adults. Shadowboxer is her first YA. She lives in Shropshire, UK with her partner, MMA trainer Steve Morris, and their three children. She has a six foot Muay Thai bag in her shed. On a bad day she can hit it pretty hard.

Shadowboxer is now available.

 

Beyond the Headlines

In Kekla Magoon’s How It Went Down, a racially charged shooting throws a community into an uproar.

By Kekla Magoon

Trayvon Martin. Michael Brown. When I think these names, a flurry of images comes to mind. I think about violence, racism, innocence, prejudice. I think about guns and communities and appearances and judgment. I feel a deep sense of sorrow and a deeper sense of despair.

In the spring of 2012, I found myself engrossed in the media cycles reporting on the controversial shooting death of Trayvon Martin. The coverage lasted months, it seemed, and while this type of painful, tragic incident was not new to our country, the level of attention paid to this particular case seemed to be. It was simultaneously riveting, and difficult to witness, night after night on television, and all day long on social media.

Watching all this coverage, I had one prevailing question that returned to me over and over: where are the youth voices in the conversation? How are young people responding and reflecting upon these incidents? Why do we turn primarily to talk show hosts, political analysts, and African American studies scholars to contextualize them? Why not bring forward other young people like Trayvon and talk about the experience of walking down the street day after day, feeling afraid of what could happen?

I was interested in looking behind the headlines, at how members of a community respond when such a tragedy occurs in their midst. When I sat down to write How It Went Down, I did so in the spirit of wondering what happens off-camera. How does it feel when the boy whose face appears on CNN every night used to sit across from you in chem lab? What if he was your best friend, your brother, or the boy who bullied you? How It Went Down compiles the voices of eighteen different individuals in the fictional community of Underhill, after a controversial shooting occurs there.

When Trayvon Martin was killed in Florida, communities around the country rose up in peaceful protest, calling for “Justice for Trayvon.” When Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, Missouri, we saw a different kind of response: angry and frustrated young people rioting in the streets, demanding that attention finally be paid to an issue that has troubled their lives for far too long. I’ve heard it said that rioting—or violence in general—is the last recourse of the desperate, the unheard. Young people have plenty to say about racism in America, and we need to start listening closer.

I recently visited a high school classroom to talk about How It Went Down. Their teacher asked me to address the issue of social media, and how it seems at times like teens today are not engaged in the real world, but only active online and in their own insular world. Why aren’t our youth more engaged in real-world organizing? Yes, we have an undercurrent of youth activism in this country—we always have—but why don’t we see that reflected in the national media? One student in the class commented specifically on the role of social media in teens’ lives. She said, “A lot of times it feels like no one is listening. But when you update your status or post a picture you know people will see it. You know you will be heard.”

It is my hope that the fictional teens in How It Went Down can help inspire us to start listening more closely to the voices of real teens. Everyone has a perspective on Trayvon, and Ferguson. What’s yours?


Kekla Magoon is the author of five young adult novels: How It Went Down, Camo Girl, 37 Things I Love, Fire in the Streets, and The Rock and the River, for which she has received an ALA Coretta Scott King New Talent Award and three NAACP Image Award nominations. She also writes non-fiction on historical topics. Kekla teaches writing, conducts school and library visits nationwide, and serves on the Writers Council for the National Writing Project. She holds a B.A. in History from Northwestern University and an M.F.A. in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Visit her online at www.keklamagoon.com.

You can purchase a copy of How It Went Down here.

New Releases – October 2014

Some Assembly Required: The Not-So-Secret Life of a Transgender Teen by Arin Andrews (Simon & Schuster)

“In a plainspoken and sometimes-humorous memoir, transgender teenager Andrews discusses his life so far. Andrews received national recognition when he was profiled on television’s Inside Edition as one half of a transgender teen couple (the other half, Katie Rain Hill, has written her own memoir, Rethinking Normal). In a conversational tone, the author describes events from his childhood and teen years. … Friendly and informative.” — Kirkus

The Doubt Factory by Paolo Bacigalupi (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)

“In this provocative thriller, Bacigalupi (The Drowned Cities) traces the awakening of a smart, compassionate, and privileged girl named Alix Banks to ugly realities of contemporary life, while seeking to open readers’ eyes, as well. Alix’s life is thrown into disarray when an activist group targets her family, its eyes on her father’s powerful public relations business. Moses is a charismatic black teen living off the money from a settlement with a pharmaceutical company after one of its medications killed his parents. Along with four other brilliant teens who have lost family to this sort of legal/medical maleficence, Moses hopes to enlist Alix’s help to release incriminating data from her father’s files, à la Edward Snowden.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

Boy Trouble by ReShonda Tate Billingsley (K-Teen)

Book Description: Maya’s best friend Kennedi has flipped head over heels for her new boo, Kendrick. But when Maya learns Kennedi and Kendrick’s relationship is full of violence—and Kennedi is the aggressor—will she get her best friend to see love shouldn’t hurt? Meanwhile, Sheridan has found love too, but her Prince Charming isn’t all that he seems, and Sheridan won’t listen to anything her friends try to tell her. Maya is trying to navigate all of that while dealing with her own family drama as her parents go through a nasty divorce. How is a diva supposed to stay sane when everything around her is falling apart?

Double Exposure by Bridget Birdsall (Sky Pony Press)

“Alyx, an intersex teen, leaves California for Milwaukee to live as a girl for the first time. … Tall and a lover of basketball, Alyx becomes quick friends with her school’s varsity team, including pushy and dangerously hot-tempered Patti ”Pepper“ Pitmani. Background information about intersex conditions and Alyx’s own experience of her body are woven easily into the text, informative without being either dry or sensationalistic.” — Kirkus

Night Sky by Suzanne Brockmann and Melanie Brockmann (Sourcebooks Fire)

“Best known for her romantic thrillers, Suzanne Brockmann teams up with her daughter Melanie for a YA adventure set in her Fighting Destiny world. Sixteen-year-old Skylar Reid is shocked to discover that she’s a Greater-Than, born with superhuman powers. … Skylar joins her wheelchair-bound friend Calvin, motorcycle-riding bad girl Dana, and mysterious hottie Milo to rescue a missing child and bring down those who would exploit people like her.” — Publishers Weekly

Laughing at My Nightmare by Shane Burcaw (Roaring Brook Press)

“In this no-holds-barred autobiography, 21-year-old Burcaw sheds light on what it has been like to grow up with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a deadly disease that has left him confined to a wheelchair and dependent on others. … His honesty, tempered by mordant humor and a defiant acceptance, is refreshing, even as he thumbs his nose at the disease that is slowly stripping him of the basics.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

The Sorcerer Heir (The Heir Chronicles, Book 5) by Cinda Williams Chima (Disney-Hyperion)

Book Description: The delicate peace between Wizards and the underguilds (Warriors, Seers, Enchanters, and Sorcerers) still holds by the thinnest of threads, but powerful forces inside and outside the guilds threaten to sever it completely.

Emma and Jonah are at the center of it all. Brought together by their shared history, mutual attraction, and a belief in the magic of music, they now stand to be torn apart by new wounds and old betrayals. As they struggle to rebuild their trust in each other, Emma and Jonah must also find a way to clear their names as the prime suspects in a series of vicious murders. It seems more and more likely that the answers they need lie buried in the tragedies of the past. The question is whether they can survive long enough to unearth them.

Old friends and foes return as new threats arise in this stunning and revelatory conclusion to the beloved and bestselling Heir Chronicles series.

Alice + Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis by Alexis Coe (Pulp/Zest)

“The year was 1892, and 19-year-old Alice Mitchell was in love with Freda Ward, 17. She determined that if she couldn’t marry Freda, nobody else would, either. … This is a captivating account, and readers will quickly become absorbed in the suspense surrounding Freda’s murder. Additionally, the book provides a foundation for discussion of sociocultural themes, such as how LGBT relationships have historically been viewed by society, gender and femininity, and even journalism.” — School Library Journal, starred review

Earth and Sky by Megan Crewe (Skyscape)

Book Description: Seventeen-year-old Skylar has been haunted for as long as she can remember by fleeting yet powerful sensations that something is horribly wrong. But despite the visions of disaster that torment her, nothing ever happens, and Sky’s beginning to think she’s crazy. Then she meets a mysterious, otherworldly boy named Win and discovers the shocking truth her premonitions have tapped into: that our world no longer belongs to us. For thousands of years, life on Earth has been at the mercy of alien scientists who care nothing for humans and are using us as the unwitting subjects of their time-manipulating experiments. Win belongs to a rebel faction seeking to put a stop to it, and he needs Skylar’s help to save the world and keep the very fabric of reality together. Megan Crewe’s latest tale takes readers on a mind-bending journey through time with a cast of unforgettable characters.

Exquisite Captive by Heather Demetrios (Balzer + Bray)

“Nalia lives in a mansion in the Hollywood Hills, a glittering world of parties and fast cars. She can have anything she wants—except her freedom. Nalia is ”just another jinni on the dark caravan“ of the slave trade, forced to spend her days granting wishes on behalf of her human master, Malek, in order to advance his wealth and power. … The story unfolds at a swift, even pace, and the worldbuilding is superb; the jinn inhabit an intoxicating, richly realized realm of magic, politics, spirituality and history. Readers will wish they had a jinni to grant them the next book in the series.” — Kirkus, starred review

Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina by Michaela DePrince with Elaine DePrince (Knopf)

“A compelling narrative of the journey of an African orphan whose hard work, emotional strength, and supportive adoptive American parents helped her build a life as a professional dancer, 19-year-old Michaela DePrince’s memoir, coauthored by her mother, holds many stories. … There is plenty of ballet detail for dance lovers to revel in, and the authors achieve a believable, distinctive teenage voice with a nice touch of lyrical description.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

In Real Life by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang (First Second)

“Online gaming and real life collide when a teen discovers the hidden economies and injustices that hide among seemingly innocent pixels … Through Wong’s captivating illustrations and Doctorow’s heady prose, readers are left with a story that’s both wholly satisfying as a work of fiction and series food for thought about the real-life ramifications of playing in an intangible world. Thought-provoking, as always from Doctorow.” — Kirkus

Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan (Algonquin)

“With self-deprecating wit and a keen eye for interpersonal dynamics, Iranian-American narrator Leila Azadi details the dramas taking place in the intersecting circles of her elite New England private school and high-achieving Persian community. When a family friend comes out, his parents’ obnoxious bragging turns to silence, causing Leila to fear being disowned for her “lady-loving inclinations.” … Farizan exceeds the high expectations she set with her debut, If You Could Be Mine, in this fresh, humorous, and poignant exploration of friendship and love, a welcome addition to the coming-out/coming-of-age genre.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

Rethinking Normal: A Memoir in Transition by Katie Rain Hill (Simon & Schuster)

“Katie knew she was a girl on the inside, even when she was a suicidal kid named Luke growing up in a disjointed family in Oklahoma. Bullied relentlessly at school and unsupported by administrators, other students’ parents, and even her own father, Katie finds an ally in her mother, who stands by her child as she starts dressing like a girl, legally changes her name, and travels to get genital reconstruction surgery the day after turning 18. … Being so open—and openly imperfect—makes Katie relatable on a human level, not just as a spokesperson.” — Publishers Weekly

Love Is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson (Arthur A. Levine Books)

“Lost memories, a deadly pandemic flu and the children of D.C.’s elite come together in this sophisticated bio-thriller. … Johnson, who astounded with her cyberpunk teen debut, The Summer Prince (2013), immerses readers in the complexities of Bird’s world, especially her fraught relationship with her parents and the intersections of race and class at her elite prep school. The often lyrical third-person, present-tense narration, the compelling romance and the richly developed cast of characters elevate this novel far above more formulaic suspense fare. Utterly absorbing.” — Kirkus, starred review

Martyr by A.R. Kahler (Spencer Hill Press)

Book Description: Three years have passed since magic destroyed the world.

Those who remain struggle to survive the monsters roaming the streets, fighting back with steel and magic–the very weapons that birthed the Howls in the first place.

Tenn is one such Hunter, a boy with the ability to harness the elements through ancient runes. For years, the Hunters have used this magic to keep the monsters at bay, but it’s never been enough to truly win the war. Humans are losing.

When Tenn falls prey to an incubus named Tomás and his terrifying Kin, Tenn learns there’s more to this than a fight for survival. He’s a pawn in a bigger game, one with devastating consequences. If he doesn’t play his part, it could cost him his life, his lover and his world.

The Family by Marissa Kennerson (Full Fathom Five)

Book Description: Just like any average seventeen year old, Twig loves her family. She has a caring mother and a controlling father. Her brothers and sisters are committed to her family’s prosperity…

All one hundred and eighty three of them.

Twig lives in the Family, a collective society located in the rainforest of Costa Rica. The Family members coexist with the values of complete openness and honesty, and a shared fear of contagious infection in the outside world.

So when Adam, their Father, prophet, and savior, announces that Twig will be his new bride, she is overjoyed and honored. But when an injury forces her to leave the grounds, Twig finds that the world outside is not necessarily as toxic as she was made to believe. When she meets Leo, an American boy with a killer smile, she begins to question everything about her life within the Family, and the cult to which she belongs.

But when it comes to your Family, you don’t always get a choice.

The Young Elites by Marie Lu (Putnam)

“A new series—fantasy, this time—from the author of the best-selling Legend dystopia. … In a gorgeously constructed world that somewhat resembles Renaissance Italy but with its own pantheon, geography and fauna, the multiethnic and multisexual Young Elites offer a cinematically perfect ensemble of gorgeous-but-unusual illusionists, animal speakers, fire summoners and wind callers. A must for fans of Kristin Cashore’s Fire (2009) and other totally immersive fantasies.” — Kirkus, starred review

How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon (Henry Holt and Co.)

“A racially charged shooting reveals the complicated relationships that surround a popular teen and the neighborhood that nurtured and challenged him. Instead of a gangster after retribution, 16-year-old African-American Tariq Johnson’s killer is a white man claiming to have acted in self-defense. Despite their failure to find a weapon on the black teen, the police release the shooter, rocking the community. … Magoon skillfully tells the story in multiple, sometimes conflicting, voices. This sobering yet satisfying novel leaves readers to ponder the complex questions it raises.” — Kirkus, starred review

Pig Park by Claudia Guadalupe Martinez (Cinco Puntos)

“Residents of a declining neighborhood band together to turn their economy around by building a tourist attraction. Masi spent her life working in her family’s bakery in Pig Park, so named for the lard company that, until outsourcing, provided most of the area’s jobs. The multiethnic Chicago neighborhood agrees to the outlandish scheme of building a ‘Gran Pirámide’ in their park, as a famous community developer suggests. … The story of a community working together is uplifting.” — Kirkus

Kiss Kill Vanish by Jessica Martinez (Katherine Tegen Books)

“After discovering that her father and boyfriend are killers, 17-year-old Valentina Cruz runs away to Montreal. Penniless, she lives in a rented closet, works as an artist’s model, and practices her stolen mandolin by night in an empty cafe. She thinks the music will sustain her good memories of her boyfriend, Emilio, who taught her to play. … Valentina’s decision making is sometimes opaque, but her strong voice, full of sensory imagery, and her exquisitely drawn relationships with Emilio, Marcel, and her father make this a memorable thriller.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

Beau, Lee, the Bomb & Me by Mary McKinley (K-Teen)

“When 16-year-old Rusty sees new boy Beau appear at her school, she’s relieved—he’ll be ”fresh meat“ for the bullies who torment Rusty for being fat. She’s right; they paint ”Die Fag“ on Beau’s locker and beat him up. Desperate, he decides to run away in search of his gay uncle in San Francisco. Rusty goes with him, as does Lee, a girl who’s sex-shamed at school and happens to be sleeping with a teacher. … Pair this love letter to the West Coast and to the victims and survivors of the gay American AIDS crisis with David Levithan’s Two Boys Kissing (2013).” — Kirkus

Bottled Up Secret by Brian McNamara (Bold Strokes Books)

Book Description: Brendan Madden is in the midst of his senior year of high school and couldn’t be happier. He has a great group of friends, his pick of colleges, and he has recently come to terms with his sexuality. One night, he meets Mark Galovic, a gorgeous, younger classmate of his. In a matter of minutes, Brendan is hooked. As the friendship between them grows, Brendan reaches his breaking point when he spontaneously confesses his feelings to him. Brendan is shocked and elated to find out that Mark feels the same way about him. The two begin to date, but because Mark is not out, it must remain a secret. As their friends and family become suspicious, openly gay Brendan becomes increasingly frustrated with their discreet relationship, while Mark becomes more and more paranoid that they’re going to be found out.

Maxine Wore Black by Nora Olsen (Bold Strokes Books)

Maxine is the girl of Jayla’s dreams: she’s charming, magnetic, and loves Jayla for her transgender self. There’s only one problem with Maxine—she already has a girlfriend, perfect Becky. Jayla quickly falls under Maxine’s spell, and she’s willing to do anything to win her. But when Becky turns up dead, Jayla is pulled into a tangle of deceit, lies, and murder. Now Jayla is forced to choose between love and the truth. Jayla will need all the strength she has to escape the darkness that threatens to take her very life.

Crazy by Linda Vigen Phillips (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers)

“Told in first-person free verse, Crazy is a beautifully written and emotionally impactful novel about growing up around bipolar disorder in a time period when even doctors didn’t truly understand the ramifications of such a disease. Laura’s shame about her family and her guilt for hating her mother for something she cannot control are heartrending. Phillips’s poetry coupled with her personal experiences truly make this a poignant read. It should be in the hands of anyone—teen and adult—who has ever felt powerless at the hands of mental illness.” — School Library Journal

The Gospel Truth by Caroline Pignat (Red Deer Press)

Book Description: Award-winning author Caroline Pignat’s new historical novel recreates the world of a Virginia tobacco plantation in 1858. Through the different points of view of slaves, their masters and a visiting bird-watcher the world of the plantation comes to live in this verse novel. Phoebe belongs to Master Duncan and works in the plantation kitchen. She sees how the other slaves are treated — the beatings and whippings, the disappearances. She hasn’t seen her mother since Master Duncan sold her ten years ago. But Pheobe is trying to learn words and how to read and when she is asked to show the master’s Canadian visitor, Doctor Bergman, where he can find warblers and chickadees she starts to see things differently. And Doctor Bergman has more in mind that just drawing the local birds. Pheobe’s friend Shad works on the plantation as well — but mostly he worries about his brother Will. His brother is the last member of his family and he is determined to escape from the master and the tobacco plantation. He has already been caught and beaten more than once. And the stories about life in Canada can’t be true, can they? How does a man survive without the master there taking care of everything?

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero (Cinco Puntos)

“Struggles with body image, teen pregnancy, drug addiction, rape, coming out, first love and death are all experiences that touch Gabi’s life in some way during her senior year, and she processes her raw and honest feelings in her journal as these events unfold. … Readers won’t soon forget Gabi, a young woman coming into her own in the face of intense pressure from her family, culture and society to fit someone else’s idea of what it means to be a ”good“ girl. A fresh, authentic and honest exploration of contemporary Latina identity.” — Kirkus, starred review

The Only Thing to Fear by Caroline Tung Richmond (Scholastic)

“That 20th-century speculative-fiction staple, the what-if-Hitler-won-the-war alternate history, meets 21st-century special-girl dystopia. It’s been almost a century since the Axis powers divided a conquered North America among them: Japan in the west, Germany in the east, and Italy in the Dakotas. In the Nazi-controlled Shenandoah Valley, 16-year-old half-Japanese Zara is an Untermensch, a half-breed fit only for scut work. Though she works all hours as both a janitor and a farm girl, Zara desperately wants Uncle Red to allow her to join the Revolutionary Alliance, the anti-Nazi underground. … Overall, a satisfying and appropriately hectic action adventure.” — Kirkus

Schizo: A novel by Nic Sheff (Philomel)

“Sheff’s novel reveals the painful and confusing world of teenage schizophrenia through the experience of Miles, a junior at a small San Francisco private school. … Readers fascinated by the dark side of the human mind in realistic fiction will enjoy this deft portrayal of a brain and a life spiraling out of control. Miles is an endearing character whose difficult journey will generate compassion and hope.” — School Library Journal

UnDivided by Neal Shusterman (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)

“In the final book of the ”Unwind Dystology,“ everything comes full circle. Shusterman expertly reminds readers about the characters and their current situations without distracting from the current plot. Teens gain information on all of the key players, and each well-crafted narrative moves at a refreshing pace. … Characters old and new are integrated into the story line, providing insight and closure. Shusterman generates a lot of thought-provoking topics for discussion. The story is intriguing: a wonderful end to a unique and noteworthy series.” — School Library Journal

Forgive Me If I’ve Told You This Before by Karelia Stetz-Waters (Ooligan Press)

Book Description: Shy, intellectual, and living in rural Oregon, Triinu Hoffman just doesn’t fit in. She does her best to hide behind her dyed hair and black wardrobe, but it’s hard to ignore the bullying of Pip Weston and Principal Pinn. It’s even harder to ignore the allure of other girls. As Triinu tumbles headlong into first love and teenage independence, she realizes that the differences that make her a target are also the differences that can set her free. With everyone in town taking sides in the battle for equal rights in Oregon, Triinu must stand up for herself, learn what it is to love and have her heart broken, and become her own woman.

Shadowboxer by Tricia Sullivan (Ravenstone)

“In this adrenaline-fueled supernatural adventure, a young woman channels her anger into fighting, only to risk losing everything due to her lack of control. Jade Barrera, 17, is a rising star in the mixed martial arts (MMA) circuit, but after she snaps and hurts the wrong person, she’s sent to regain her focus by training in Thailand, where she’s exposed to new ways of thinking and living. … SF author Sullivan (Lightborn) spins a kinetic, violent, and magical tale that makes excellent use of Jade’s hard-edged voice. Sullivan brings to life the beauty of Thailand and the sweat and blood of the gym, infusing them with magic and danger.” — Publishers Weekly

Stray by Elissa Sussman (Greenwillow)

“Fairy-tale tropes are turned on their heads in this exploration of class and ideology. Aislynn is a princess who has always intended to follow the Path. However, her wicked heart is often at odds with her desperation to obey the rules that state she must resist the curse of her innate magic. … The creative use of the role of fairy godmother is fascinating, as is the fantasy world.” — Kirkus

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley (Harlequin Teen)

“Sarah Dunbar, a black high school senior in the graduating class of 1959, is nervous about entering the formerly all-white Jefferson High School with nine of her black classmates. … The big issues of school desegregation in the 1950s, interracial dating, and same-sex couples have the potential to be too much for one novel, but the author handles all with aplomb. What makes it even better is that both Linda’s and Sarah’s points of view are revealed as the novel unfolds, giving meaning to their indoctrinated views. Educators looking for materials to support the civil rights movement will find a gem in this novel, and librarians seeking titles for their LGBT displays should have this novel on hand.” — VOYA

Beauty of the Broken by Tawni Waters (Simon Pulse)

“Mara Stonebrook knows she does not belong; she is ”different.“ Her small town is conservative and strictly religious. … Mara has managed to escape her father’s abuse for 15 years, but she knows that if anyone finds out her deepest secret, that she is a lesbian, she will be punished as an abomination in the eyes of their conservative church. If her father finds out, she will be lucky to live. Keeping her secret is easy until Xylia comes to town. … Emotionally wrenching, this novel will resonate with students struggling with their own sexual orientation.” — School Library Journal

Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer (Dutton)

“When 10th grader Jam Gallahue meets British exchange student Reeve Maxfield, she fees like she finally understands love, and when she loses him, she can’t get over it. Her grief eventually lands her at the Wooden Barn, a therapeutic boarding school for “emotionally fragile, highly intelligent” teenagers. … Making her YA debut, acclaimed author Wolitzer writes crisply and sometimes humorously about sadness, guilt, and anger.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

Increasing the Odds

By Coe Booth

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Two years ago, I visited a class at a school not too far from where I live in the Bronx. The students had read my novel Tyrell, and it was nice to be invited to speak to them about it. The kids were great, and we had a lively discussion. But what makes this visit so memorable was the age of the kids.

This was a sixth-grade class.

Needless to say, Tyrell was not written with sixth graders in mind, and anyone who has even read the first sentence would know why. But this teacher had read Tyrell aloud to her class, editing it as she read, trying to make what is clearly a book for teenagers something that could be appropriate for 11 and 12 year olds.

When I spoke to the teacher after the visit, she said she had run out of books she thought her students would like, books they could relate to. She knew they would connect with my character, Tyrell, because he looked like them and lived the way they did. She just had to adapt the book for their age.

Creative? Yes.

Depressing? Definitely.

imageThe truth is, I was just like those kids when I was growing up. I went to a Bronx middle school just like theirs, and I had a hard time finding books about kids like me, too. Things have gotten better since I was their age, but not that much better.

When my brother was in fifth or sixth grade, he stopped reading altogether, and he never started again, not for fun. Not unless he had to read something for school. His son is at that age now, and like father, like son.

My nephew and that sixth-grade class are what motivated me to write Kinda Like Brothers. I had always wanted to write a middle-grade novel, and I didn’t want to wait any longer. There are so many inner-city kids, especially boys, who don’t have a whole lot of options when they walk through a library or bookstore. Books appear to be about — and for — other people. Not them.

I recently visited another sixth-grade class, this time for Kinda Like Brothers. The students were primarily African American, and they lived in a community much like my main character, Jarrett. It felt good being able to write a book that could be a mirror for these kids, one where they knew I had them in mind when I wrote it.

Middle-grade books are so important. This is the age where kids can begin to excel at reading and start to explore more and more genres, more and more interests. This is the age where they can become real readers. Or they can begin to think of themselves as non-readers, see books as boring, and then turn away from them. And then it’s so hard to get them back.

Diverse books increase the odds. They give all kids that chance to fall into the habit of reading — and hopefully fall in love with reading — before it’s too late.


Coe Booth was born and raised in the Bronx, New York. She has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in psychology, and she has worked as a counselor for teenagers and families in crisis situations. She also has an MFA in creative writing from The New School in New York City. Coe’s first novel Tyrell was published in 2006, and it won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Young Adult Literature. Her novels Kendra and Bronxwood followed, and both were selected by the American Library Association as Best Books for Young Adults. Her first novel for middle-school readers, Kinda Like Brothers, was released earlier this fall. For more information, visit www.coebooth.com.

You can purchase a copy of Kinda Like Brothers here