The Ballet Blanc

By Dhonielle Clayton

charaipotra-clayton-tinyprettyHow far is too far? At one of Manhattan’s most elite ballet schools, wafer-thin ballerinas pull their hair into sleek buns and lace their pointe shoes high, waiting for their chance to shine. But beneath the pretty, polished surface, these girls are hiding some terrible secrets and telling some twisted lies.

Privileged Bette is tiny and beautiful–like a ballerina in a music box. But living forever in the shadow of her ballet-star sister and under the weight of family expectations brings out a dangerous edge in her. 

Perfectionist June can turn a flawless fouette and diligently keeps her weight below 100 pounds. But she’s never landed a lead role. Tired of always being the understudy, this year she’ll settle for nothing but the best–even if she must resort to some less-than-perfect means to get there. 

And new girl Gigi isn’t your traditional ballerina. A free-spirited California girl, she’s not used to the fierce competition. Still, that doesn’t stop her from outperforming every dancer in the school. But even she is hiding a ticking time bomb, and the very act of dancing just might expose her secrets to everyone.

Being a prima isn’t all satin and lace; sometimes you have to play dirty. With the competition growing fiercer with every performance, and harmless pranks growing ever darker, it’s only a matter of time before one small spark ignites … and even the best get burned.


“Brown bodies look different on stage and Asian faces can sometimes be distracting in classical ballet productions.”

While I was an academic teacher at a pre-professional ballet academy, I asked the other teachers in our shared office about why there weren’t any black and Latin@ dancers at the academy, and about how the Asian dancers fit in during the holiday and spring performances. After being at the school for a few months, I was secretly dismayed by the lack of varied diversity at the school, and by the social dynamics. Dance is such a vital part of many communities, so I wasn’t sure why it wasn’t reflected in the student body. I had a few Jewish girls, an Argentinian girl, a Hawaiian boy, as well as a group of girls and boys from Korea, a Taiwanese girl, and one boy and one girl from Japan.

The ballet historian at the time gave me a quick lesson on how diversity in ballet worked. Or, in actuality, how it didn’t work. She started with the quote above, and boiled it down to the Russian aesthetic: a desired body type, a long silhouette, a certain muscle-fat ratio, proper technique, flexibility, the look of one’s face and more. She used stereotypes about lean Asian bodies to explain their entry point into the art form, and how Asian ballerinas couldn’t be denied due to their small frames and discipline-oriented cultural backgrounds. She also referenced the phrase ballet blanc several times.

A quick search of the term ballet blanc will give you definitions such as ballets danced in the romantic styling of the 19th century, referring to ballerinas wearing all white, and considered to be the pure classical form of ballet.

The great classical ballets — the ones we all sort of know a little bit about because they’ve seeped into popular consciousness — are those that magnify white fairies, white sylphs, white swans, white wilis, and white shades. The term develops a deeper meaning and moves from a discussion of costumes and stage aesthetics to actual bodies. From Giselle to Swan Lake to La Sylphide, the image of a ballerina is marked with whiteness and exclusivity.

However, I wasn’t satisfied with her answer. So I asked a few of my students. One mentioned a talented black girl who had attended the school and left after a few “stressful” incidents and issues with ballet teachers. I didn’t get any more details, but it piqued my curiosity enough to think about how race plays out in the pre-professional ballet world.

I also thought about what it might be like for an Asian dancer, whose body and technique and stereotypically perceived compliance might please the ballet gods, but how those dancers still had uphill battles when it came to being cast as leads in traditionally ballet blanc productions. After all, for all their desired qualities, they still don’t fit that old school ballet russe aesthetic.

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The seeds for the characters in Tiny Pretty Things started to bud. I thought about what it might’ve been like to be that lonely black girl or the overlooked Asian girl at a cut throat ballet conservatory. I danced for several years in the suburbs of MD, and Sona danced in New Jersey, so we’d experienced the feeling of being the only “other” sort of girls in a ballet class. Brown arms, brown legs, brown faces on stage and photographed, never quite fitting in.

Thankfully, just as Tiny Pretty Things is hitting shelves, we’re starting to see change, with rising stars like Misty Copeland, Hee Seo and Michaela DePrince changing the face of modern ballet. As in publishing, diversity is still the exception, rather than the rule — and there’s a long road ahead. But as more and more dancers of color step into those toe shoes, they give the next generation of petit rats hope that they, too, can follow in those hallowed footsteps.

Want to read more about diversity in the ballet world?

Check out these links:


Dhonielle Clayton

Dhonielle Clayton spent most of her childhood under her grandmother’s table with a stack of books. She hails from the Washington, D.C. suburbs on the Maryland side. She earned an MA in Children’s Literature from Hollins University and an MFA in Writing for Children at the New School. She taught secondary school for several years. Now, she is a librarian at Harlem Village Academies and co-founder of CAKE Literary, a creative kitchen whipping up decadent — and decidedly diverse — literary confections for middle grade, young adult, and women’s fiction readers. Her YA fantasy series THE BELLES is coming soon from Disney/Hyperion. Twitter: @brownbookworm

aa-charaipotraSona Charaipotra is a journalist published by the New York Times, People, ABC News, Cosmopolitan and other major national media. A collector of presumably useless degrees, she double-majored in journalism and American Studies at Rutgers before getting her masters in screenwriting from New York University (where her thesis project was developed for the screen by MTV Films) and her MFA from the New School. When she’s not hanging out with her writer husband and two chatter-boxy kids, she can be found poking plot holes in teen shows like The Vampire Diaries and Pretty Little Liars. Call it research: a strong believer that three-act structure can work in fiction, Sona puts her outline-obsession to good use as the co-founder of CAKE Literary, a boutique book development company with a decidedly diverse bent. Tiny Pretty Things hits shelves May 26. Twitter: @sona_c

Tiny Pretty Things is available for purchase here.

Cover reveal: SERPENTINE by Cindy Pon

We are soooo excited to help reveal, in conjunction with Month9Books, the cover for DiYA co-founder Cindy Pon’s next YA fantasy, Serpentine, which will be published Sept. 8, 2015!

Be sure to enter the giveaway found at the end of the post!

pon-serpentine-700w

SERPENTINE is a sweeping fantasy set in the ancient Kingdom of Xia and inspired by the rich history of Chinese mythology.

Lush with details from Chinese folklore, SERPENTINE tells the coming of age story of Skybright, a young girl who worries about her growing otherness. As she turns sixteen, Skybright notices troubling changes. By day, she is a companion and handmaid to the youngest daughter of a very wealthy family. But nighttime brings with it a darkness that not even daybreak can quell.

When her plight can no longer be denied, Skybright learns that despite a dark destiny, she must struggle to retain her sense of self – even as she falls in love for the first time.

“Vivid worldbuilding, incendiary romance, heart-pounding action, and characters that will win you over–I highly recommend Serpentine.” ~ Cinda Williams Chima, best-selling author of the Seven Realms and Heir Chronicles fantasy novels

Serpentine is unique and surprising, with a beautifully-drawn fantasy world that sucked me right in! I love Skybright’s transformative power, and how she learns to take charge of it.” ~Kristin Cashore, NYT Bestseller of the Graceling Realm Series

Serpentine’s world oozes with lush details and rich lore, and the characters crackle with life. This is one story that you’ll want to lose yourself in.” ~ Marie Lu, New York Times bestselling author of Legend and The Young Elites

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

cindypon2015Cindy Pon is the author of Silver Phoenix (Greenwillow, 2009), which was named one of the Top Ten Fantasy and Science Fiction Books for Youth by the American Library Association’s Booklist, and one of 2009′s best Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror by VOYA. The sequel to Silver Phoenix, titled Fury of the Phoenix, was released in April 2011. Serpentine, the first title in her next Xia duology, will be published by Month9Books in September 2015. She is the co-founder of Diversity in YA with Malinda Lo and on the advisory board of We Need Diverse Books. Cindy is also a Chinese brush painting student of over a decade. Visit her website at www.cindypon.com.

Connect with the author: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Tumblr | Goodreads

WIN A DIGITAL ARC OF SERPENTINE!

Month9Books is giving away 1 digital copy of Serpentine. The giveaway is open internationally, and a winner will be drawn May 29, 2015. Enter the giveaway below or at Rafflecopter.

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10 New & Debut Asian American YA Authors

In honor of Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, here are 10 new and debut Asian American YA authors for you to check out. Support them today so they can publish more books tomorrow!

Sona CharaipotraTiny Pretty Things co-written with Dhonielle Clayton (HarperTeen, May 2015)
Get to know her: Goodreads Voice: Interview with Sona Charaipotra

Kelly Loy GilbertConviction (Disney-Hyperion, May 2015)
Get to know her: DiversifYA: Kelly Loy Gilbert

I. W. GregorioNone of the Above (Balzer + Bray, April 2015)
Get to know her: One Asian Book is Quite Enough (Diversity in YA)

Fonda LeeZeroboxer (Flux, April 2015)
Get to know her: Get to Know Asian American Children’s Authors: Fonda Lee, Author of Zeroboxer (amithaknight.com)

Stacey LeeUnder a Painted Sky (Putnam, March 2015)
Get to know her: DiversifYA: Stacey Lee

Valynne MaetaniInk and Ashes (Tu Books, June 2015)
Get to know her: Valynne E. Maetani’s website

Caroline Tung RichmondThe Only Thing to Fear (Scholastic)
Get to know her: Me, My Daughter, and the Babysitter’s Club (Diversity in YA)

Aisha SaeedWritten in the Stars (Nancy Paulsen Books, March 2015)
Get to know her: On Asian-Americans and why we are #NotYourAsianSidekick (aishasaeed.com)

Sabaa TahirAn Ember in the Ashes (Razorbill, April 2015)
Get to know her: DiversifYA: Sabaa Tahir

Amy ZhangFalling into Place (Greenwillow, September 2014)
Get to know her: An Indies Introduce New Voices Q&A With Amy Zhang (Bookselling This Week)

The Time I Drowned in My Own Sweat

By Francesca Zappia

zappia-madeyouupIn January, I spoke on a panel at ALA Midwinter ’15 with a wonderful and diverse group of debut authors, talking about a wonderful and diverse group of debut books. Attendees had filled the seats and lined the edges of our small area, packing even the entryway.

I was sweating. First, because I’m terrible in large groups of strangers; second, because I was at the end of a long panel of authors who are confident, knowledgable, and wonderful people; and third, because I was there representing the mental illness piece of the diversity spectrum.

My debut book, Made You Up, is about Alex, a girl with paranoid schizophrenia.

I was sweating. I was sweating a lot.

Normally, I write science fiction and fantasy. I like sea monsters and nightmare hunters, underwater prisons and skysurfers. I like things that are just silly enough to make sense. If something is cool, then it’s ninety percent of the way to getting into one of my stories.

Paranoid schizophrenia is not cool. Paranoid schizophrenia is a serious and debilitating mental illness.

I didn’t write about paranoid schizophrenia because I thought it would make for interesting themes and symbols. I did it because I never saw it in books, and when I did see it in movies and television, the person with the illness was always relegated to two positions: either the dangerous criminal or the invalid who teaches life lessons to harried and well-meaning family members.

Alex is a teenage girl. A teenage girl with paranoid schizophrenia, yes, but still a teenage girl. She likes history, playing chess, and slacking off at work. She butts heads with her mom. She messes with her little sister. She wants to fit in but isn’t quite sure how to do it. She never forgets she has schizophrenia, and she never stops fighting it (though of course, at times, her resolve wavers). Above all else, it was important to me that Alex didn’t end up either dangerous or a decoration.

At ALA Midwinter, I felt a little out of my depth. But Made You Up is a story I worked very hard on for a very long time, and it’s a story I believe in. After that panel was over, a lot of people came up to me and told me they were excited to read the book, and while that, too, made me sweat, it also made me happy.

I’m happy I wrote something that people want to read.

I’m happy I wrote something people are recommending to their friends. I’m happy it’s about Alex and her schizophrenia, so the more it gets around, the more people will think about it. I’m happy, despite the sweating.

I hope it lives up to expectations.


Francesca Zappia lives in Indiana and majors in Computer Science at the University of Indianapolis. She spends most of her time writing, reading, drawing, and playing way too much Pokémon.

You can find her on Twitter @ChessieZappia, Tumblr (exeuntstormtroopers.tumblr.com), and on her website, www.francescazappia.com.

Made You Up is available for purchase here.

You’ve Got Mail, Young Writer

By Lamar Giles

newbird

The one secret she cares about keeping—her identity—is about to be exposed. Unless Lauren “Panda” Daniels—an anonymous photoblogger who specializes in busting classmates and teachers in compromising positions—plays along with her blackmailer’s little game of Dare or … Dare. But when the game turns deadly, Panda doesn’t know what to do. And she may need to step out of the shadows to save herself … and everyone else on the Admirer’s hit list.

Three weeks ago I got an email from a 15-year-old girl in Ohio. I’ve been waiting on her email for 20 years. That math is weird, but not a typo. More on that in a bit…

I remember when email became a thing (yes, I’m THAT old).

In 1995, America Online was the most popular way to access the Internet, and you paid by the hour (unless, of course, you had those FREE TRIAL disks that came in the mail…10 hours at no cost to you). When someone contacted you through your AOL Account, a perfectly chipper synthesized voice announced, “You Have Mail.” If you’re not ancient, like me, this probably sounds like nonsense. Hang on, this rabbit hole gets wider and brighter. I promise.

With increased web presences, a bunch of writers opened up a new corridor of accessibility by adding a simple “contact” link. Not the super famous writers mind you. You weren’t going to send Stephen King a .jpg of you and your cat in your Pet Sematary Halloween costumes. Though, many of the mid-listers, including some of my very favorite writers, were suddenly a click away. I wasn’t shy about sending a note to a writer I liked, particularly after reading their latest. I complimented them, asked questions, and told them about my aspirations because I knew, even then, what I wanted to do. Most were extremely cool, and gracious, and encouraging.
However, none were like me.

I didn’t know of any black males who liked horror and fantasy stories, let alone wrote them. When I asked for recommendations at my local library, I got pointed towards Alex Haley and Malcolm X…great men and writers, but not quite what I was looking for. As much as the Internet and email opened up the world of pro-writers to me, I felt as lonely and isolated as ever. Perhaps moreso. In all the World Wide Web, I felt like an anomaly. Until, I wrote to a man named Brandon Massey.

Brandon was me. An older, wiser, published version of me. A black male who liked and wrote fantastic horror stories. I enjoyed his first novel, Thunderland, a great deal and I told him so, via email.

I expected the sort of responses I’d been getting. Polite, encouraging, but essentially an upgrade on the form Thank You letters from the pre-email days. Not so this time. Brandon answered all of my questions in detail, asked about the sort of things I wrote, and what I was working on currently. For the first time in all of my letter writing campaigns, I sensed I wouldn’t be overstepping my bounds by writing him again. And again. And again.

I’d moved on from America Online by that point, but I was more excited than ever to know that I had mail. I won’t bore you with extensive details of what happened next, because it’s a retread of my publishing history, from my first major short story sale to the Dark Dreams anthology to Endangered, on shelves now. I just want to stress the importance of connecting with Brandon.

I saw what I COULD be.

It only took a total overhaul of the way the world communicated to make it possible. Imagine that.

What Diversity in YA, and We Need Diverse Books, and The Brown Bookshelf, and everyone else raising diversity awareness in the industry does isn’t just about showing the books. It’s showing the possibilities. All of these groups are the AOL of modern publishing. A new way of doing things, with no hourly charges. Yay!

For those aspiring kids who, for far too long, were unable to find the books and writers that represent them, there are resources. They can tweet the writers, and follow all those awesome Instagram photos from conferences. The modes of connecting are changing daily (I’m still trying to figure out SnapChat). By comparison, simple emails seem way obsolete. That’s okay. Change is good (despite what the haters say).

While email might be doing a slow fade, I’m so happy it hasn’t gone away completely. Remember that 15-year-old girl I told you about? Right.

She read Endangered, and likely clicked the contact link on my website. She loved the book, specifically the character Panda, who reminded her of herself, and wasn’t a stereotypical sidekick to a more important dominant character, and she hopes to be a writer someday.

That. Last. Part.

I was in a time loop. Back to ’95, writing to writers, waiting for responses. But, wait, I was on the other side now. In the present, connected to the past, or something…didn’t I just see this in INTERSTELLAR?

It’s amazing to be doing what I’m doing, and to be in the position to respond to her email. I gave her her first editorial note. Cut “hopes to” and “someday”. Just be a writer.

I shared a bit of my personal story, passed on some advice that Brandon Massey once gave me, and invited her to ask more questions as needed. Then, I gave her my expectation…that she do the same for the young writer who contacts her through whatever means are available (Mind-Mail?) in 20 years.

Maybe, by then, the massive gap in publishing representation will be as outdated as screaming modems, those AOL trial disks, and all that other stuff that seems so ridiculous now.

Though I wouldn’t mind more notes like the one I told you about. It’s still quite nice to know when you’ve got mail.


Lamar Giles

Lamar Giles writes novels and short stories for teens and adults. He is the author of the 2015 Edgar® Award Nominee FAKE ID, a second YA thriller ENDANGERED, a third, currently untitled YA novel from HarperCollins, as well as the forthcoming YA novel OVERTURNED from Scholastic Press. Lamar Giles is a founding member of We Need Diverse Books. He resides in Virginia with his wife. Check him out online at www.lamargiles.com or follow @LRGiles on Twitter.

ENDANGERED is available for purchase here.

To Tell or Not to Tell

By Lisa Freeman

freeman-honeygirlBack in 1972, when my novel Honey Girl is set, secrets were whispered into someone’s ear or mumbled to a priest in a stuffy, wooden booth. Secrets that take root in young people can cost a life, but they can also save it. I wanted to write a novel that allowed the reader to peek into another world, a world where pink and dolls were for girls, blue and sports were for boys, and there was no in-between. I wanted to explore sublime everyday relationships, where mundane activities like waking up and going to sleep could bookend a day that changed a life forever. I wanted to write a story about the last place I would have wanted to be caught as an out lesbian when I was a teen. So I took the reader back to State Beach in Santa Monica, California, which is a real place I bring to life with fictional characters, a place where I once roamed with my own secret about my sexuality. Back then, being queer was something you took to the grave. There was no Tyler Oakley on YouTube. Telling was never a possibility.

Honey Girl is written in a close first-person narrative, which invites the reader to share in the narrator’s secrets without her revealing them. Haunani Grace Nuuhiwa is hapa haole, half Caucasian, half Hawaiian, and recently transplanted to the mainland from Hawaii after her father’s sudden death. Although she can’t keep her skin color a secret, she can protect her true identity by having a boyfriend, especially when he’s one of the hottest surfers on the beach. I can’t even count how many boyfriends I had before I came out. Like Nani, I tried to negotiate with myself, and I fluctuated between being straight and being gay. This, in my experience, was not bisexuality. It was conflicted homophobia, and this time of my life is a painful reminder of the days I spent trying to determine what degree of acceptance I would tolerate within myself, constantly battling between telling or remaining silent.

The Latin word secretus means to set apart or separate, and that is what a secret does. It’s hidden information that incites a deep fear of being hurt or shamed. So what does this have to do with a beach story about surfing the in 1970s? It’s a mirror of the reality that I grew up with—a reality that still exists, although we have made large strides in ending persecution due to sexual orientation in many parts of the world. The physical act of coming out is still, for most, a daunting process of negotiation and surrender.

Nani is a Virgo, which means she is tuned in to details and focuses intently on others. By learning their secrets, she is unimpeded by her own. It is very important to me that the reader always knows the truth about Nani. Although she never speaks it aloud, her internal monologue about being a funny kine girl rings louder than the dialogue she vocalizes. No one suspects she likes girls except one counterpart: the beautiful leader of the beach, Rox, who is attracted to girls as well. It’s interesting how we find each other on our path to coming out. Maybe two can keep a secret after all.

In order to capture history accurately in this novel, it was imperative that Nani wasn’t capable of even thinking the word lesbian let alone coming out publicly as one. This conflict is just beginning to erupt because Nani has other secrets she needs to deal with first. She stole her father’s ashes in order to perform a secret funeral, keeps a copy of Playboy hidden in her closest, and eavesdrops on her new friends. Nani believes secrets are doorways to power. Like Nani, my greatest strengths were once my greatest weaknesses, or should I say, my greatest secrets.

I wanted to bring to life a time when teens were not monitored, photographed, or Instagrammed every moment. It seems nowadays teens have to go deeper into their minds to keep their secrets safe, until they are ready to reveal them. Everything is public. Maybe that’s why anonymous blogs like PostSecret go viral; they provide a platform on which people can reveal their one truth that can never be spoken.

Whatever your secret may be, it’s been my experience that in order to survive a secret big or small, eventually it must be told. And if you’re being honest, nobody else’s opinion would stop you from feeling good about your authentic self. In the meantime, be safe, be strong, and don’t give up. To tell or not to tell is not a question: it’s a choice. The only question is when.


imageLisa Freeman started her work as an actor and has been in numerous TV productions and films (Mr. Mom and Back to the Future I & II to name a few). She performed at the Comedy Store, which led to her writing career in radio and spoken word. Freeman has a BA in liberal studies and Creative Writing, an MFA in Fiction, and a certificate in Pedagogy in Writing from Antioch University. Inspired by Hawaii and the Los Angeles region, Honey Girl was written about a time when girls were the color of tan-before-sunscreen, drank Tabs by the six-pack, smoked Lark 100’s, and were not allowed to surf. Honey Girl is her debut novel.

Honey Girl is available for purchase.

New Releases – April 2015

Diva Rules by Amir Abrams (Dafina)

Book Description: Fiona Madison has being popular on lock. She’s everywhere everyone wants to be—and she knows just how to keep frenemies, haters, and admirers guessing. Fiona keeps it cute and knows how to turn a party out no matter how tough things get at home—or how lonely she really is. The only relationship a guy can have with her is BWB (Boo-With-Benefits). Anything more is a major not-going-to-happen…Until someone Fiona never sees coming is suddenly too close, understands her all too well—and is turning this diva’s life upside down…

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli (Balzer + Bray)

“After a “goobery nerd” named Martin discovers Georgia teen Simon Spier’s secret email relationship with a boy who calls himself “Blue,” Martin blackmails Simon into helping him romance Abby, a new girl who has been welcomed into Simon’s lunchroom clique. The threat of being outed by Martin forces Simon to come to terms with his sexuality, and his wise insights—Why do only gay people have to come out? Why is that the default?—add heft to a plot that is both hilarious and heartbreaking. … [R]eaders will fall madly in love with Simon.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

I Will Always Write Back: How One Letter Changed Two Lives by Caitlin Alifirenka & Martin Ganda with Liz Welch (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)

“In 1997, a 12-year old girl from Hatfield, Pa., and a 14-year-old boy from Mutare, Zimbabwe, began a pen-pal relationship. In alternating chapters, Alifirenka and Ganda recount how their mutual curiosity led to an increasingly honest, generous correspondence. … Sensitively and candidly demonstrating how small actions can result in enormous change, this memoir of two families’ transformation through the commitment and affection of long-distance friends will humble and inspire.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough (Arthur A. Levine Books)

“The odds against Henry and Flora becoming a couple are significant: Henry is white, Flora is black, and this is Depression-era Seattle. But their similarities outweigh their differences; at 17, they’re both orphans, musicians, and—unbeknownst to them—the current players in the centuries-old contest between Love and Death. … Brockenbrough (Devine Intervention) never sugarcoats the obstacles facing Henry and Flora’s love—whether human prejudices or supernatural manipulations—in this inventive and affecting novel, and the ending … is beautiful.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

Changers Book Two: Oryon by T Cooper, Allison Glock-Cooper (Akashic Books)

“The body-swapping Changer who spent her freshman year of high school as Drew (Changers: Drew, 2014) now spends his sophomore year as Oryon. Changers spend each year as a different version, or V, and must keep their true nature hidden from non-Changer Statics. For Oryon, this means remeeting Audrey, the girl he fell in love with last year as Drew, as a stranger. … Oryon’s winning and witty narrative voice is consistently engaging. Unlike Drew or his parents, Oryon is African-American, and much of what he observes is about race. … Oryon’s humor and insight will keep readers turning pages.” — Kirkus

Becoming Jinn by Lori Goldstein (Feiwel & Friends)

“In Becoming Jinn, Azra is not your typical teenager, despite going to high school, having a crush on the lifeguard, and avoiding the resident mean girl. When she turns sixteen, she will receive her bangle bracelet that will allow her to grant wishes to humans. Azra is a genie (in training). All her life she has resented this upcoming birthday and being trapped for the rest of her life doing what she is told, rather than what she wants to do. Her birthday arrives, along with the dreaded bangle and some surprises about her unexpectedly strong abilities. … The genie theme is original and appealing (vampire story lines are mentioned for a laugh). Azra is likable; her struggles—even factoring in the genie issue—are real and relatable.” — VOYA

None of the Above by I. W. Gregorio (Balzer & Bray)

“Cross-country runner Kristin Lattimer is devastated when an OB-GYN diagnoses her with androgen insensitivity syndrome, an intersex condition.Exuberant after being voted queen at the homecoming dance, Kristin decides she’s finally ready to have sex with her boyfriend, Sam. Their attempt at intercourse, however, turns out to be prohibitively painful, and Kristin promptly schedules an appointment with her best friend’s gynecologist. Her pelvic exam and a series of follow-ups reveal that Kristin has AIS. … The particulars of AIS are explained in matter-of-fact detail and filtered effectively through Kristin’s point of view. … Sensitive, informative and a valuable resource for teens in Kristin’s shoes.” — Kirkus

The Truth About Us by Janet Gurtler (Sourcebooks)

Book Description: The truth is that Jess knows she screwed up. She’s made mistakes, betrayed her best friend, and now she’s paying for it. Her dad is making her spend the whole summer volunteering at the local soup kitchen.

The truth is she wishes she was the care-free party-girl everyone thinks she is. She pretends it’s all fine. That her “perfect” family is fine. But it’s not. And no one notices the lie…until she meets Flynn. He’s the only one who really sees her. The only one who listens.

The truth is that Jess is falling apart — and no one seems to care. But Flynn is the definition of “the wrong side of the tracks.” When Jess’s parents look at him they only see the differences-not how much they need each other. They don’t get that the person who shouldn’t fit in your world… might just be the one to make you feel like you belong.

Taking Hold: From Migrant Childhood to Columbia University by Francisco Jiménez (HMH Books for Young Readers)

Book Description: In this fourth book in his award-winning memoir series, Francisco Jimenez leaves everything behind in California—a loving family, a devoted girlfriend, and the culture that shaped him— to attend Columbia University in New York City. With few true accounts of the Latino experience in America, Francisco Jimenez’s work comes alive with telling details about the warmth and resiliency of family and the quest for identity against seemingly impossible odds.

Lying Out Loud by Kody Keplinger (Scholastic Press)

“Seventeen-year-old broke-ass Sonny (nee Sonya) can’t bring herself to tell the truth, especially when it means playing a sort of twisted Cyrano via her BFF, Amy, to nab the hot, new hipster boy at her school, Ryder. She finds herself up all hours of the night chatting and instant messaging with him under the guise of Amy, at whose house she’s crashing since her mom has kicked her out of her own house. At first it’s all fun and games (neither girl really wants to go out with him), but when she finds that she truly does have feelings for Ryder, the truth begins to come out, and the cost is high. … Keplinger creates vivid, believable characters that are full of spunk and joie de vivre. She plunges them into an utterly realistic work that feels familiar and contemporary. … Fierce, fresh, total fun.” — Kirkus

Zeroboxer by Fonda Lee (Flux)

“Carr Luka is the king of the Cube, a zero gravity cage fight arena. In his upcoming championship fight, Luka will represent Terrans against a Martian colony and his supporters will cheer, ”Make him float!“ highlighting the grisly implications of a knockout. Luka’s confidence is shaken, however, when a visit to his mother reveals that his physical prowess is a result of illegal genetic enhancements, making his participation in the sport potentially criminal. Zeroboxer is a delicious mix of two genres: sports and science fiction. The colony rivalry and futuristic details are riveting, and martial arts followers hungering for fight action will not be disappointed. … This gripping sci-fi novel will have teens screaming for a sequel.” — School Library Journal

Legend: The Graphic Novel by Marie Lu (Putnam Juvenile)

Book Description: Born into an elite family in one of the Republic’s wealthiest districts, fifteen-year-old June is a military prodigy. Born into the slums of the Republic’s Lake Sector, fifteen-year-old Day is the country’s most wanted criminal. But his motives are not as sinister as they often they seem. One day June’s brother is murdered and Day becomes the prime suspect. Now, Day is in a race for his family’s survival, while June tries desperately to avenge her brother’s death. And the two uncover the truth of what has really brought them together and the lengths their country will go to in order to keep its secrets.

Nobody’s Goddess by Amy McNulty (Month9 Books)

Book Description: In a village of masked men, magic compels each man to love only one woman and to follow the commands of his “goddess” without question. A woman may reject the only man who will love her if she pleases, but she will be alone forever. And a man must stay masked until his goddess returns his love—and if she can’t or won’t, he remains masked forever. Where the rest of her village celebrates this mystery that binds men and women together, seventeen year old Noll is just done with it. She’s lost all her childhood friends as they’ve paired off, but the worst blow was when her closest companion, Jurij, finds his goddess in Noll’s own sister. Desperate to find a way to break this ancient spell, Noll instead discovers why no man has ever loved her: she is in fact the goddess of the mysterious lord of the village, a Byronic man who refuses to let Noll have her right as a woman to spurn him and who has the power to fight the curse. Thus begins a dangerous game between the two: the choice of woman versus the magic of man. And the stakes are no less than freedom and happiness, life and death—and neither Noll nor the veiled man is willing to lose.

When Everything Feels like the Movies by Raziel Reid (Arsenal Pulp)

“Reid introduces readers to Jude, a gay teen who fantasizes about being a movie star. Jude, who has been given the nickname Judy by some classmates, is fairly comfortable with his sexual orientation as well as his desire to wear his mother’s beautiful dresses and makeup. In order to deal with the homophobia he confronts at school and home, Jude slips into his fantastical life as a movie star constantly tortured by paparazzi. … This story is a whirlwind of gender-bending drama with plenty of pop culture references.” — School Library Journal

Taking the Stand by Juliann Rich (Bold Strokes Books)

Book Description: There’s a time for justice. Then there’s a time for action. And Jonathan Cooper knows exactly what time it is.

It is time to lie. To his parents, who think he’s on a ski trip with Pete Mitchell when he’s really gone to Madison to search for one person willing to testify for his boyfriend, Ian McGuire, who is facing the charge of assault and battery. To Ian’s parents, who have erased him from their lives. Even to himself. Because admitting his feelings for Mason Kellerman isn’t an option.

It is also time to face the truth. That Jonathan may have lied for nothing. That he may be powerless to save Ian from a guilty verdict. That whether he likes it or not, it is time for taking the stand.

Fig by Sarah Elizabeth Schantz (Margaret K. McElderry Books)

“Fig is six years old and spends a lot of time worrying about her mother, Annie. Her mother talks of fairy land, feral dogs lurking in the woods, and the importance of rituals. It is only after her mother attempts suicide that Fig learns the truth: her mother is schizophrenic. The story unfolds over the next 11 years, detailing the many ways Annie’s schizophrenia changes her and affects her family. Through it all, Fig remains determined to save her mother. … The teen exhibits many troubling behaviors and is eventually diagnosed with OCD, but her health is overlooked as the focus remains on her increasingly unwell mother. … This dense, literary tale starts slowly, but builds to become an incredibly haunting story about mental illness and family bonds.” — School Library Journal

The Shark Curtain by Chris Scofield (Akashic Books)

“In this novel set in 1960s Portland, OR, 14-year-old Lily Asher hears voices. Not just any voices—Jesus (SOG, as she calls Him), her dead dog, and others regularly make appearances in her mental world. She also feels as though she is becoming a dog, believes that she’s growing a tail, and often randomly barks. Her highly active imagination is frequently misunderstood. The teen is dubbed a ”weirdo“ by her younger sister and has few friends. Her unconditionally loving but completely dysfunctional parents try their hardest to help Lily deal with her schizophrenia. … The family, despite their plethora of issues, genuinely loves Lily and each other. This is a difficult story to read in part because the author brings readers into Lily’s mind so successfully.” — School Library Journal

Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman (HarperCollins)

“With lyricism and potent insight, Shusterman (Unwind) traces the schizophrenic descent and return of Caden Bosch, an intelligent 15-year-old and a gifted artist. His internal narratives are sometimes dreams, sometimes hallucinations, and sometimes undefinable, dominated by a galleon and its captain, sailing with an enormous, sullen crew to the deepest point of the Marianas Trench, Challenger Deep. … Shusterman has mined personal experience of mental illness with his son Brendan, whose line drawings mirror Caden’s fragmentation in swirling lines eerily reminiscent of Van Gogh. It’s a powerful collaboration, and crucial to the novel’s credibility.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir (Razorbill)

“As one of the conquered Scholar people, Laia has grown wary of the ruthless Masks that enforce the Martial empire’s laws. But the lesson doesn’t hit home until Masks imprison her brother for aiding the Scholar Resistance. Desperate to save him, Laia agrees to spy for the rebels as a slave in Blackcliff, the hellish school where Masks are trained. … Tahir’s deft, polished debut alternates between two very different perspectives on the same brutal world, deepening both in the contrast. In a tale brimming with political intrigue and haunted by supernatural forces, the true tension comes from watching Elias and Laia struggle to decide where their loyalties lie.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

A Kaleidoscope of Inspiration

By Martha Brockenbrough

brockenbrough-gameofloveOne of the most common questions I get at school visits is, “Where do you get your ideas?”

For some reason, a lot of writers grouse about this question and give glib answers, which I hate. But I get it. It can be a tough question to answer, because for me there is never one point of origin or moment of inspiration. There are a million, a kaleidoscope of people and places and songs and experiences and stories … the list is endless.

The Game of Love and Death owes its origins to many things: the Hindenburg broadcast I heard when I was in sixth grade. The Enigma Variations I played in an orchestra when I was in high school. To Picasso’s “Guernica” painting, which I first saw when I was 16.  To books I read in my early 20s, including Passing by Nella Larsen, about light-skinned black people who were able pass as white, as well as the books of David Leavitt, which helped me understand and empathize with the gay male experience.

All of this, plus the Greek mythology and philosophy I devoured, as well as my love of Seattle and jazz music, and finally a real-life love story between teens who’d loved each other since childhood made its way into the book.

But one character—one vital character—came into being because of this woman. This is Bessie Coleman. Just look at her.

The picture on the right was taken in 1922, two years after women finally won the right to vote, the year radio first arrived at the White House, and the year Annie Oakley blasted a record-setting 100 clay targets in a row. So, ages ago, in another world, really. But Bessie Coleman was proof to me—and then some—that my character Flora could have been a pilot in 1937.

Coleman was the first black woman to become a pilot, and the first black American to receive an international pilot’s license, which she earned in France because programs here wouldn’t take her. Even male black American pilots refused to teach (gasp!) a woman.

After two training stints in Europe, Coleman became a stunt pilot in the U.S., and used her celebrity to oppose segregation, even as people complained about her for being a showboat. She also had plans to found a school for young black aviators. Alas, she never did. She died in 1926 after falling out of a poorly maintained plane that spun out of control during a rehearsal.

Despite her story’s awful end, I was thrilled to discover it, not just because her life is breathtaking, but because it made my book feel possible—even probable.

In a small homage to Coleman, I had Flora learn from a French pilot as well, which was also historically possible because in World War I, French soldiers served alongside African American ones.


Martha Brockenbrough is the author of two books for adults and five books for young readers. She’s the founder of National Grammar Day (every March 4), and she’s written game questions for Cranium and Trivial Pursuit. The former editor of MSN.com, Martha has been published in a variety of places, including The New York Times. She also wrote an educational humor column for the online encyclopedia Encarta for nine years. She lives in Seattle with her family.

The Game of Love and Death is available for purchase.

5 Things I Learned While Writing “Nobody’s Goddess”

By Amy McNulty

mcnulty-nobodysgoddessI began work on a manuscript that led to my YA romantic fantasy debut, Nobody’s Goddess, twelve years before its publication. What I wrote then bears little resemblance to what will be published April 21st, but some of the images that first popped into my mind back then became the groundwork for the finished product. It all started with a cavern bathed in violet light, a cavern that made it into the finished manuscript even when characters, the plot and the role of the cavern did not. Writing Nobody’s Goddess taught me a lot of things, but these five are the most important:

1. Stories can evolve. Many authors talk about shelving early manuscripts they wrote, claiming their writing skills weren’t polished at the time or citing a long list of rejections. I believe that even if the earliest work you do on a project doesn’t see the light of day, if you believe in the core of your story, you’ll eventually figure out how to make it work—even if you have to rewrite the story from page one more than once.

2. Write at your own pace. If you can write every day, you’ll get a lot done and improve much quicker than writers who don’t. That said, it’s not a feasible schedule for every writer. It’s been a long journey, but I discovered that I write best when I write every day (or nearly every day) for a few months at a time and then let myself rest for a few months, using that time to edit and outline other projects. I wrote what became the original finished first draft of Nobody’s Goddess in just nine days. (I’d scrapped most of what I’d written on the project before that, although the bare bones of some of it made it through.) I made far more significant progress in those nine days than I had in the nine years before that.

3. Prepare to revise. When I finished the first draft of Nobody’s Goddess, after years of writing aimlessly, I thought the hardest part was behind me. Over the next few years, I revised it significantly for: an agent (which led to me signing with another agent), an editor at a publisher, a second round of submissions with my agent’s help after that didn’t work out, and for my publisher after signing, with a number of smaller revisions with the help of beta readers and editors along the way. It takes a lot to shape your ideas into something that’s ready to share with readers, and you won’t have to go it alone, but you should be ready to rip up your manuscript and rework scenes if necessary. Some of the characters in the final version of my book didn’t even appear in the version we first sent out to publishers.

4. Write what you love. When I first wrote what would in some form become Nobody’s Goddess (then called, embarrassingly, Dreamalgam; at least the next working title, The Veiled Man’s Goddess, was an improvement), I lacked passion for the project because I was focusing on writing a story that didn’t speak to me as a reader. I wanted to write a YA fantasy, and romance was an afterthought; I wasn’t sure it was going to appear at all. I was focused on fantasy and dreams, even though I usually found dream scenes irritating in the entertainment I consumed. Eventually, I remembered how much I adore a twisted kind of romance and decided to scrap the dream angle entirely, instead writing a story I hoped would prove in the vein of Pride and Prejudice or Jane Eyre or even Jim Henson’s Labyrinth, with a Byronic hero and a heroine who stands up for herself and what she believes in rather than simply caving in to his affections. Because I love those types of stories, going in that direction made writing easier.

5. Focus on scenes that speak to you. If you’re having difficulty writing, think about the scenes you’ve yet to write. If one seems really exciting, go ahead and skip to it. Rediscover that passion you feel for the project as you write that scene, and then go back and fill in the gaps in the plot later. The more organized-minded might not like to write that way, but it’s important you keep writing any way you can rather than letting yourself get stuck because you’re not sure how the next chronological scene should go.
Write to bring the characters in your head to life. Write to promote more diverse reading, with worlds more accurately reflective of the world we live in. Write just because you want to. Most importantly—just write.


Amy McNulty is a freelance writer and editor from Wisconsin with an honors degree in English. She was first published in a national scholarly journal (The Concord Review) while in high school and currently spends her days alternatively writing about anime and business topics and crafting stories with dastardly villains and antiheroes set in fantastical medieval settings. Nobody’s Goddess, the first book in The Never Veil Series, is her debut YA romantic fantasy. You can find her on Twitter and Facebook.

Nobody’s Goddess is available for purchase.

Envisioning a Diverse Science Fiction Future

By Fonda Lee

lee-zeroboxerBy now, we all know that diversity in books is a big deal. We’ve seen the statistics about how the skewed demographics of protagonists in YA novels doesn’t come close to reflecting the reality of our society. We’re aware that readers are very much in need of books that present minority perspectives in both historical and current day stories.

But how does the concept of diversity come into play when you write, oh, say, action sci-fi about futuristic zero-gravity prizefighting?!

My novel Zeroboxer released last week, and amid the reviews describing it as “gripping,” “smart,” and “action-packed,” nowhere is it being hailed as advancing the cause of diversity or shining a light on underserved segments of the population. It’s just not that kind of book, nor was that my intent as the author. However, writers like me, who write commercial genre fiction, play as much a role as anyone in making sure diversity is part of the literary landscape. We all make choices in our writing that send messages to readers.

Remember the 1996 alien invasion movie Independence Day? It might as well have been sub-titled America Saves The World because in the film, the population of Earth presumably sits around waiting for the Americans to figure out how to defeat the aliens before belatedly joining in to support Bill Pullman’s heroism. Contrast that with the 2013 film Pacific Rim, which depicts a diverse cast of characters waging an international effort to combat the Kaiju monsters. Both films are big-budget commercial spectacles—but the choices the scriptwriters made regarding characters, story, and setting result in very different depictions of the future—one far more inclusive and diverse than the other.

When I was a child, I devoured fantasy and science fiction that was, to put it gently, lacking diversity in all respects. They were written in different times, but it’s still a downer to look back on works that I greatly enjoyed and realize now, as an adult, how misogynistic and euro-centric they are. When I was creating the futuristic world of Zeroboxer, I thought about what kind of future I wanted to portray. More accurately—what kind of future would be plausible. Because any plausible future that extrapolates from our society today would be a diverse one.

In Zeroboxer, humans have colonized the inner solar system, and Mars is emerging as the fast-growing, more economically and scientifically advanced planet. In many ways, the relationship between Earth and Mars has parallels to our current global state—the economic rise of Asian countries in the last several decades, and the resultant anxiety that has provoked in the West.

That’s reinforced by assumptions that I make in my world building; the early colonists of Mars would be ones motivated to leave Earth because of environmental chaos and limited economic opportunities. They would come predominantly from parts of Asia and South America disproportionately affected by climate change and overpopulation; only a minority would hail from first-world nations like America that are already at the top of the pecking order on Earth.

So in the future, Mars has cities like New Nanjing, and a space station named after the Hindu sun god. The main character in Zeroboxer, Carr Luka, has a girlfriend that is half-Martian of Asian descent, and back on Earth, mixed race lineage is so prevalent that it’s a marketing boon that Carr is an ethnic mash-up and thus representative of typical Terrans. The future is diverse—but it’s not without problems. New racial tensions emerge between Martians, who’ve embraced genetic enhancement, and Terrans, who’ve outlawed it. None of these aspects of the story ever takes center stage in my high-action sports sci-fi novel—but they’re there, subtly but deliberately painting diversity into the background.

Even so, sometimes you slip up. In one of my early drafts, I had Carr fighting a major match on Thanksgiving Day. One of my beta readers astutely pointed out, “Thanksgiving is an American holiday. Isn’t this an international city space station? Why would Thanksgiving be a big deal?” Good point, and nice catch. It saved my book from an Independence Day style gaffe.

Diversity isn’t just a cause to be advanced by authors who write “issues novels” about characters living in the Civil Rights era, or immigrant stories, or coming out as gay in small town stories. All those stories are incredibly important and will always be the ones that get spotlighted for exemplifying minority perspectives. However, just because you’re writing sci-fi thrillers, romance, or funny middle grade books about dinosaurs, doesn’t mean you aren’t part of the conversation. If anything, unsung depiction of diversity in commercial genre fiction is the subtler and truer measure of progress.


fondalee

Fonda Lee writes science fiction and fantasy for teens and adults. She is the author of the high-action YA science fiction novel Zeroboxer (Flux/Llewellyn, April 2015). Fonda is a corporate strategist who has advised and worked for several Fortune 500 companies, a black belt martial artist in karate and kung fu, an action movie buff, and a fan of tasty breakfasts. Born and raised in Canada, she now lives in Portland, Oregon.

Zeroboxer is available for purchase.