New Releases – February 2015

The Many Faces of Josephine Baker: Dancer, Singer, Activist, Spy by Peggy Caravantes (Chicago Review Press)

“An honest, revealing portrait of the famed entertainer and activist who was born into extreme poverty and became an international iconic star of the Jazz Age. … This warts-and-all portrait reveals that Baker was a complex, enigmatic personality who could be as selfish as she was generous, as mean-spirited as she was compassionate, and as inconsiderate as she was thoughtful. A fascinating, compelling story of a remarkably resilient woman who overcame poverty and racial prejudice to become an international celebrity.” — Kirkus

The Oathbreaker’s Shadow by Amy McCulloch (Flux)

“In a fantasy world with the flavor of the Central Asian steppes, Raim is a 15-year-old nomad determined to join the elite forces of the Khanate. Since he was a child, he’s been best friends with the Khan’s heir, and if he passes his tests he’ll be young Khareh’s most trusted fighter. He need only make an Absolute Vow, an oath sworn on a knot. If the maker of a knotted promise is forsworn, the knot burns a hideous scar on the oathbreaker’s body, and a grotesque shadow appears, haunting the breaker of the promise and causing his countrymen to drive him into the wilderness.” — Kirkus

Soulprint by Megan Miranda (Bloomsbury)

“Miranda (Vengeance) introduces a heroine with a strong voice and a thirst for freedom, thrust among a vividly delineated supporting cast with competing agendas. In a future where reincarnation can be scientifically tracked, 17-year-old half-Hispanic Alina Chase has spent her life isolated, allegedly for her own protection. She carries within her the soul of a charismatic and destructive whistleblower turned blackmailer, June Calahan. … The beauty of Miranda’s latest novel is in watching Alina, unused to human relationships, fall in love, earn trust, and form fast friendships in a high-adrenaline atmosphere, as she and her companions fight to stay ahead of the authorities while following the trail left by June.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

The Third Twin by CJ Omololu (Delacorte)

“Twins Lexi and Ava have been playing a game since they were little girls: they have created an imaginary third twin, Alicia. … Now as teenagers, the sisters vicariously imagine the free-spirited Alicia indulging in the wilder side of life. … Then the game begins to have dangerous consequences. … This compelling story filled with serpentine twists and turns will leave readers guessing at every step, and breathless at the climactic conclusion. Hand to readers who crave suspenseful, plot-driven thrillers.” — School Library Journal

When Reason Breaks by Cindy L. Rodriguez (Bloomsbury)

“This realistic novel invites readers into the lives of two high schoolers, Elizabeth Davis and Emily Delgado, as they struggle with unrelated painful events, reacting in ways as different as their personalities. … Latino culture, and bicultural and gay family relationships are woven easily into the story; popular culture references and some romance will also resonate with adolescents. Overall, this text provides important insights into the various stressors that can lead to depression and suicide, as well as the type of support required to move toward potential healing.” — School Library Journal

Hold Me Down by Calvin Slater (Dafina)

Book Description: Xavier Hunter’s dreams of graduation and college are even more crazy-impossible this sophomore year. Flipping on his former BFF has put more than one target on his back. And thanks to vicious baby-daddy lies, his dream girl Samantha Fox has quit him for good. The only person who seems to understand what he’s going through is Nancy Simpson. She’s a gorgeous chance to make things right—but she’s more dangerous drama than Xavier has ever seen.

Samantha isn’t going to let heartbreak break her. Maybe Xavier wasn’t the down-deep-decent guy she thought. And maybe what they had wasn’t as true as she hoped. But there’s something about his new boo, Nancy, that’s screaming bad news. And exposing what’s real means she and Xavier must face some hard truths—and survive.

Feral Pride by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick)

“A battle pitting a group of werepeople and their vampire compatriot against demons in disguise concludes this trilogy that began with Feral Nights (2013). … As in previous volumes, the wickedly funny, quickly paced style is anchored by the novel’s underlying theme of the marginalization of people and its effects, both those obvious (”Our legal rights are slippery,“ explains Kayla) and more insidiously subtle. … A final episode that is witty, smart and moving—sure to satisfy those who’ve been following the series.” — Kirkus

This Side of Home by Renée Watson (Bloomsbury)

“The summer before Maya and Nikki’s senior year of high school brings new challenges as their previously all-black neighborhood becomes attractive to other ethnic groups. The twins, while still close, have been changing in recent years and now find they have very different views about the changes. … Maya’s straightforward narration offers an intriguing look at how families and young people cope with community and personal change. Maya and her friends are well-drawn, successful characters surrounded by a realistic adult supporting cast.” — Kirkus

“The Third Twin” Is a Twisty YA Thriller with a Latina Protagonist

By Malinda Lo

omololu-thirdtwinUsually here at Diversity in YA we ask authors to guest blog about their own books, but today I’m doing something different for a special reason. My friend C. J. Omololu, author of the new book The Third Twin, is currently fighting stage four cancer. I’m not going to sugarcoat this: It’s serious. That’s why many of her friends and fans have banded together to help Cynthia (that’s C. J.) with the launch of The Third Twin, and that’s why I’m blogging about the novel here.

The Third Twin is the kind of diverse book I am always looking for: one in which the main character is of color (in this case she’s Latina) and yet the story doesn’t revolve around a racial or ethnic identity crisis. What’s even cooler in this case is that The Third Twin is a thriller that is totally about identity, but it’s not about someone struggling with racism or coming to terms with their ethnic background. It turns the identity tale inside out — as a good thriller should do. Let me tell you more about it.

In The Third Twin, identical twin sisters Lexi and Ava are totally different from one another: Lexi is an academic star and hopes to go to Stanford, while Ava’s all about having a good time with the right kind of guy. And then there’s Alicia — the sisters’ childhood imaginary friend who has turned into something much more dangerous … and fun. Lexi and Ava have been taking turns pretending to be carefree and self-confident Alicia, dating cute guys and never getting hurt, but one night while Lexi is on a date as Alicia, something goes really wrong. The next day, the boy “Alicia” went out with is discovered dead — murdered — and “Alicia” is the prime suspect.

Lexi and Ava start to notice some pretty odd things. “Alicia,” for example, seems to be doing things without either of their knowledge, and someone seems to be following and spying on them. It soon becomes clear that Lexi is going to have to figure out who killed Alicia’s last date, or else she’s going to end up taking the fall for her imaginary triplet sister.

Early on in the book you learn something that might make you wonder if Lexi and Ava really are Latina, but don’t worry — they are. I wouldn’t be blogging about this book on Diversity in YA if they weren’t. One thing I enjoyed about the way ethnicity is represented in The Third Twin is that it’s simply present, the way it is in reality. It’s not a big issue; it simply exists in everyday details that underscore the characters’ reality. This is the kind of “casual diversity” that is so important, because even though we need books that talk about race and racism, we also need books where characters of color can simply have the same kind of plot-driven adventures that white characters have all the time.

And The Third Twin was such a fun read: the kind you want to tear through in one sitting because the surprises just keep coming. It’s a story about the love between sisters despite their differences; it’s a story about finding romantic love in an unexpected place. It’s also chock full of page-turning reveals.

Several years ago I had brunch with Cynthia and several of our local young adult author friends, and at this brunch, Cynthia told us about the premise behind The Third Twin. (It takes a looong time for books to become reality!) I thought the twists she had come up with back then were fantastic, and I was so excited to read the finished product. Those twists? Still fantastic.

You can purchase a copy of The Third Twin here, or if you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area, come to the book launch on Tuesday, Feb. 24, at Montclair Presbyterian Church (5701 Thornhill Dr, Oakland, California 94611). Books will be on sale from A Great Good Place for Books.

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Find out more about C. J. Omololu’s books at her website or follow her on twitter @cjomololu.

Perceptions of Diversity in Book Reviews

This essay was originally posted in four parts on Tumblr.

By Malinda Lo

For the past few years, I’ve read hundreds of reviews for Diversity in YA. I read them to determine whether a young adult book has a main character who is of color, LGBTQ, and/or disabled, and thus is appropriate to include on DiYA. Sometimes the book’s cover copy reveals this, but often it does not — or it deliberately obscures it — and then I have to read reviews to figure it out.

The reviews I read range from Goodreads reader responses to blog posts to mainstream reviews (like from the New York Times) to trade reviews. Trade reviews are brief reviews published in trade journals such as Kirkus or Publishers Weekly, and I usually start with these for several reasons. First, they’re short, and because I do DiYA in my spare time, I don’t have the luxury to read lengthy critical essays on every single potentially diverse book that’s being published. Second, these brief reviews pack in a lot of detail including spoilers, which are often key to determining if a book has diverse content. Third, they’re edited by the editors of those trade journals, which means they should have been fact-checked. Sometimes trade reviews do contain errors, but generally speaking I believe they are reliable about the facts of a novel’s plot.

If a trade review only hints about race or LGBT or disability issues, then I turn to blog reviews and Goodreads to confirm my suspicions. But more often than not I find that trade reviews do include details about the book’s diversity, and lately it has become increasingly common for trade reviews to state a character’s background quite plainly. I appreciate this because that’s why I’m reading these reviews, and I think an up-front statement that a character is gay is much better than an insinuation that the story has something to do with sexuality. It removes some of the stigma from historically marginalized identities, and it helps those of us who are seeking out these books to find them.

Of course, not all reviews discuss diversity in a skillful way. Frankly, it’s hard to do it in one paragraph, and I recognize that. I’ve encountered reviews that reveal broader assumptions about race, LGBTQ, and disability issues, and sometimes those assumptions are based in unfortunate stereotypes. Over the past several months I’ve been keeping track of reviews that I felt did a disservice to a book’s diverse content, and revealed latent racist, heteronormative, or ablist beliefs.

These reviews reveal a few specific issues or perceptions about diversity: the idea that diversity in a book is contrived; the critique that a book contains too many issues; the question of believability; the demand for glossaries; and finally, unsupported assumptions relating to race. Continue reading

The Heart of the Story

By Cindy L. Rodriguez

rodriguez-whenreasonbreaksMy first teaching job was as an 8th grade English Language Arts teacher in a small Connecticut town. I was the only Latin@ teacher in the middle school, quite possibly in the district. I had a single student who was an English Language Learner, and the entire school contained only a handful of students who identified with racial, cultural, or ethnic minority groups.

Meanwhile, next door was a city whose residents were majority minority. This is Connecticut’s reality; drive a few miles in any direction and the landscape changes significantly.

Fast forward many years later to when I was drafting When Reason Breaks. While writing, I envisioned the setting as a similarly small, not-so-diverse New England town. Drawing on my experience, the English teacher, Ms. Diaz, was the only Latina in the story. Ms. Diaz being the lone representation of diversity in the original manuscript wasn’t a case of me white-washing my novel intentionally or accidentally. Instead, Ms. Diaz’s situation represented a reality for people of color who live in states like Connecticut where racial and ethnic diversity varies tremendously town to town. Sometimes there’s only one of us in the room.

I was okay with Ms. Diaz being the lone Latina in the story because it was a conscious decision, but then my editor asked if I’d consider making one of the main characters Latina. Huh. I didn’t see that coming. So much has been said and written about the lack of diversity in children’s books and publishers’ general tendencies not to push for, seek out, or champion diverse stories. In worst case scenarios, we’ve heard about the white-washing of novel covers, even when characters are explicitly stated to be people of color, or authors being asked by editors to revise characters the other way—to make them white or heterosexual.

And here was my editor asking for more diversity.

Nice!

Okay, then. I could have created an angry Latina Goth—which would have been cool because how often do we see that character—or a reserved, depressed Latina who slowly unravels. After a bit of research, I decided on the latter because, according to the CDC, significantly more Hispanic females in grades 9-12 reported attempting suicide than their non-Hispanic female classmates. So, Emily Daniels became Emily Delgado after much revision and consideration about what it means to be a depressed Puerto Rican teen struggling to manage a politically ambitious father and socially ambitious friends.

Then my editor wanted to know more about Tommy Bowles and why he and Elizabeth Davis, the other main character, spend time in cemeteries, beyond Elizabeth’s general curiosity about death. After much thought, I revised Tommy’s character to be half-Mexican. When he and Elizabeth first meet, Tommy is in the cemetery with his mother, honoring the dead during El Día de los Muertos. Years later, Elizabeth joins Tommy’s family as they decorate sugar skulls. This change not only provides meaning for Tommy and Elizabeth’s visits to the cemetery, but also shows the survival of a holiday in a bicultural family.

When my editor wanted to know more about Kevin outside of school, I decided right away that he’d have two dads, one of whom was Chinese. Here’s why: as each of the teen characters was fleshed out by introducing their home lives, I didn’t want all of the adult relationships to be the same. So, the Delgados are married and dysfunctional, the Davis household is divorced, and the Bowles and Wen-Massey homes have differently bicultural, happily married couples.

Interestingly, as diverse as it is, my novel is not about being Latina or bicultural or the child of same-sex parents. It’s about teen depression and attempted suicide. It always has been. The heart of the story didn’t change even though the manuscript went through multiple revisions.

And when the revision notes specifically asked for more diversity, I didn’t want to just swap last names and declare, “Voila, diversity!” The changes needed to have purpose—to make sense for the characters and the plot—and I needed to approach them with thoughtful intention. Otherwise, the changes would have felt hollow to me—diversity for diversity’s sake—and I would never want to do that.

All of this made me wonder about all of the novels I’ve read without a single character representing a racial, ethnic, cultural, or religious minority, a disabled person, or a member of the LGBTQIA community. Was that intentional as well? Or was it a case of “default” writing? Or perhaps the writer didn’t want these “issues” to alter the story? My advice to writers is to reconsider this. You can diversify your cast of characters, with purposeful intention, and not drastically alter your story. I did, and I’m glad for it.

In the end, Ms. Diaz was no longer the sole representation of diversity in the story, no longer the only person of color in the room. They represent a different reality, someplace between the almost all-white town I previously worked in and the almost all-minority city that bordered it. It’s a place I’d love to live in, actually, a place that represents a richly diverse happy medium.


cindylrodriguezCindy L. Rodriguez was a reporter for the Hartford Courant and a researcher for the Boston Globe before becoming a public school teacher. She now works as a middle school reading specialist and community college adjunct professor. She is also a founding member of Latinos in Kid Lit. She lives in Connecticut with her young daughter and rescue mutt. Her debut novel, When Reason Breaks, releases February 10, 2015 from Bloomsbury Children’s Books. For more information, visit cindylrodriguez.com.

When Reason Breaks is now available.

Home Is a Complicated Place

By Renée Watson

watson-thissideofhome“Wow, there are black people in Oregon?”

“Are the people in Portland really like the characters in Portlandia?”

These are the questions I get when I tell people where I’m from. I grew up in Portland, Oregon, which means I know the necessity of carrying an umbrella at all times. It means I know the beauty of majestic mountains in my rearview mirror as I drive through the city. It means I know the sour taste of huckleberries and the smell of marionberry cobbler baking in an oven. It also means I know the evils and violence of Skinheads, how to swallow my tears when a white teacher is surprised at how smart I am because I live “over there” on the northeast side of town. It means home, like for so many others, is a complicated place. People know Portland to be a haven for hippies and cyclists. It’s known for its clean air and rolling mountains, but the painful parts, the experiences of blacks in Oregon — our arrival, treatment, and contributions — are often missing.

For Maya Younger, the main character in This Side of Home, home is complicated because everything she’s known is changing. Abandoned storefronts are being renovated, houses are getting facelifts and new faces — white faces — are showing up more and more in her community. Maya isn’t so sure these changes are for the best, but her twin, Nikki, is all for the urban renewal that’s taking place.

I see myself in both twins. I started noticing changes in my neighborhood my junior year in high school. Gentrification was not a word I knew at fifteen but I knew the feeling of not belonging. There was something about the changes that made it seem like they weren’t for the people who already lived there but for the people who were coming. Yet, even with that feeling, I still wanted to go out and enjoy these new places. So for me, I have both of their perspectives — I want the change, appreciate it even, but I question the push out that often comes with it.

I also question the silencing of a people’s story. No one ever talked with me about how African Americans got to Portland, or how The Vanport Flood impacted the black community. When I was in the fifth grade, Skinheads beat an Ethiopian man to death with a baseball bat. Only one of my teachers talked about it in class. I wanted to talk about all of it — needed to know my history, my story. I needed a space to process what was happening in my neighborhood.

In high school, my English teacher, Mrs. Christensen, introduced me to myself through novels and poetry. We read Zora Neale Hurston, BeBe Campbell Moore, Alice Walker, and Lorraine Hansberry.  We studied the poetry of Martín Espada and Sherman Alexie, Gwendolyn Brooks and Lucille Clifton. We watched excerpts from Eyes on the Prize and learned about the unsung heroes of the civil rights movement. I was able to connect the dots and see the bigger picture of the world I was living in. I was able to see myself on the continuum of social change. I learned about white allies and had meaningful conversation with white classmates about race and class.

In our English class, books were not just something to read for entertainment, not something to skim through just enough to be able to write a book report or pass a quiz. Books became essential to our growth as human beings. They were the catalyst for debates and discussions. They were mirrors, sometimes showing me my world, validating its existence. Sometimes books were windows, giving me opportunities to learn about someone else’s experience. I hope This Side of Home does for students and educators what the books I read in Mrs. Christensen ’s class did for me.

It is my hope that readers of This Side of Home not only learn about Portland but that they investigate and find out about their own home towns, that they celebrate and critique the places and people they were raised by, that they tell their stories and learn the stories of others.

Maya learns the history I wish I’d known when I was her age. She gives us all permission to ask questions, to find our beginnings, to hold on to our story.


reneewatsonRenée Watson is the author of This Side of Home (Bloomsbury 2015) and Harlem’s Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills (Random House 2012). Her work has received several honors including an NAACP Image Award nomination in children’s literature. Her novel, What Momma Left Me, (Bloomsbury 2010), debuted as the New Voice for 2010 in middle grade fiction. Her one woman show, Roses are Red Women are Blue, debuted at the Lincoln Center at a showcase for emerging artists. One of Renée’s passions is using the arts to help youth cope with trauma and discuss social issues. Her picture book, A Place Where Hurricanes Happen (Random House, 2010), is based on poetry workshops she facilitated with children in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and was featured on NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams. Renée has worked as a writer in residence for several years teaching creative writing and theater in public schools and community centers through out the nation. Her articles on teaching and arts education have been published in Rethinking Schools and Oregon English Journal. Renée has given lectures and talks at many renowned places, including the United Nations Headquarters and the Library of Congress. Renée grew up in Portland, Oregon and currently lives in New York City.

This Side of Home is now available.

2015 Rainbow List

Congratulations to all the books on the 2015 Rainbow List, “a bibliography of books with significant gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender content, and which are aimed at youth, birth through age 18.” Here are the Top 10 picks:

  • Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World by Janet E. Cameron (Hachette Books Ireland)
  • Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan (Algonquin Young Readers) — Read Sara Farizan’s interview with DiYA
  • I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson (Dial Books for Young Readers)
  • Far From You by Tess Sharpe (Hyperion) — Read Tess Sharpe’s interview with DiYA
  • Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith (Dutton Books)
  • Secret City by Julia Watts (Bella Books)
  • Sweet Tooth by Tim Anderson, Tim (Lake Union Publishing)
  • We Are the Youth: Sharing the Stories of LGBT Youth in the United States by Laurel Golio and Diana Scholl (Space-Made)
  • Not Every Princess by Jeffrey Bone and Lisa Bone (Magination Press)
  • This Day in June by Gayle E. Pitman, illustrated by Kristyna Litten (Magination Press)

Check out the whole 2015 Rainbow List here.

ALA’s 2015 Youth Media Awards

Congratulations to the diverse1 young adult books honored at the American Library Association’s Youth Media Awards on Feb. 2, 2015!

How I Discovered Poetry by Marilyn Nelson, illustrated by Hadley Hooper (Dial Books) — Coretta Scott King (Author) Honor

How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon (Henry Holt and Company) — Coretta Scott King (Author) Honor

When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds (Atheneum Books for Young Readers) — Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Author Award

I Lived on Butterfly Hill by Marjorie Agosín, illustrated by Lee White (Atheneum Books for Young Readers) — Pura Belpré (Author) Award Winner

Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin (Candlewick Press) — Stonewall Honor

Girls Like Us by Gail Giles (Candlewick Press) — Schneider Family Book Award Winner

Laughing at My Nightmare by Shane Burcaw (Roaring Brook Press) — YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults (Finalist)

The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steve Sheinkin (Roaring Brook Press) — YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults (Finalist)

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero (Cinco Puntos Press) — William C. Morris Award Winner

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson (Dial Books) — Michael L. Printz Award Winner, Stonewall Honor

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith (Dutton Books) — Michael L. Printz Honor

This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki (First Second) — Michael L. Printz Honor, Randolph Caldecott Honor

And congratulations to Sharon M. Draper, honored with the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in writing for young adults!

Check out all the winners of ALA’s Youth Media Awards here.


  1. Diverse = A book about a main character who is of color, disabled, and/or LGBTQ; or a book written by an author who is of color, disabled, and/or LGBTQ. 

New Releases – January 2015

The Law of Loving Others by Kate Axelrod (Razorbill)

“Seventeen-year-old Emma returns home from boarding school for winter break to find that her mother is having a psychotic break—her parents never told her that her mother was diagnosed as schizophrenic years ago and has been taking medication for the condition since college. Emma’s mother’s subsequent institutionalization is like an earthquake in Emma’s life. … her actions never feel anything but realistic in this reflective and incisive exploration of the far-reaching effects of mental illness.” — Publishers Weekly

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)

“Fairfold is a contemporary American town long beset by fairies. This isn’t a secret—rather it’s a tourist attraction that provides the citizens with a healthy source of income (although the visitors do occasionally get eaten by the more dangerous fairies). Hazel, a local high school student, is in love with the town’s biggest tourist attraction, a fairy prince who has slept for generations in a glass coffin in the forest. In this, she has a friendly rivalry going with her gay brother, Ben, who also loves the sleeping prince. … An enjoyable read with well-developed characters and genuine chills.” — Publishers Weekly

Alex as Well by Alyssa Brugman (Henry Holt)

“Fifteen-year-old Alex Stringfellow has lived her entire life feeling like she’s two people, male and female. Though previously identified as male, Alex decides to begin living as a female. What Alex doesn’t know is that she was born intersex, and her parents had chosen not to tell her. To make her transition to living as a female easier, Alex enrolls in a new school where she quickly makes friends. While her adjustment is mostly smooth, Alex is concerned about how her friends will react if they find out she’s a lesbian or if they find out about her ”noodle.“ Her transition at home is less easy. … Brugman tackles a sensitive issue with grace and grit.” — School Library Journal

Passenger on the Pearl: The True Story of Emily Edmonson’s Flight from Slavery by Winifred Conkling (Algonquin Young Readers)

“In her first work of nonfiction for young readers (Sylvia & Aki, 2011), Conkling presents the true story of Emily Edmonson and her five siblings who escaped from slavery only to be caught and sent further south. … Clearly written, well-documented, and chock full of maps, sidebars, and reproductions of photographs and engravings, the fascinating volume covers a lot of history in a short space. Conkling uses the tools of a novelist to immerse readers in Emily’s experiences. A fine and harrowing true story.” — Kirkus

The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley by Shaun David Hutchinson (Simon Pulse)

“In this haunting tale of grief and recovery, 17-year-old Andrew Brawley lives like a ghost in the sprawling wings of Roanoke General Hospital, working in the cafeteria, visiting patients, and borrowing what he needs to get by. When he’s not trying to play matchmaker for his friends Lexi and Trevor—both battling cancer—he’s talking to nurses or working on his comic, Patient F, all while avoiding the tragic circumstances that took his family and left him behind. When Rusty, a boy badly burned by homophobic bullies, enters the hospital, Drew finds the courage to reach out, find love, and confront his deep-rooted guilt and confusion.” — Publishers Weekly

The Prey by Tom Isbell (HarperTeen)

“Teens uncover their post-apocalyptic, dystopian society’s secret program that segregates those deemed inferior to use as game in rich men’s hunts. An orphan nicknamed Book who’s grown up in an all-boys government-run camp discovers a strange new boy, near death, in the desert. Book befriends him and learns that after the boys graduate, they aren’t bussed away for leadership positions as promised—instead, they’re hunted by the rich as entertainment. Turns out they’re scapegoated Less Thans—a designation given to undesirable races, religious groups, political dissidents and a variety of other discriminatory categories.” — Kirkus

Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the Selma Voting Rights March by Lynda Blackmon Lowery as told to Elspeth Leacock and Susan Buckley] (Dial)

“In 1965, Lynda Blackmon Lowery turned 15 during the three-day voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery. In this vibrant memoir, Lowery’s conversational voice effectively relates her experiences in the civil rights movement on and before that march. The youngest person on the march, she’d already been jailed nine times as a protester. … Vivid details and the immediacy of Lowery’s voice make this a valuable primary document as well as a pleasure to read.” — Kirkus, starred review

X: A Novel by Ilyasah Shabazz with Kekla Magoon (Candlewick)

“This fictionalized account of the boy who became Malcolm X maintains a suspenseful, poetic grip as it shifts among moments in his life between the years 1930 and 1948. … Shabazz (Growing Up X), one of Malcolm X’s daughters, and Magoon (How It Went Down) capture Malcolm’s passion for new experiences, the defeatism that plagued him, and the long-buried hope that eventually reclaimed him.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds (Atheneum)

“With his mother newly dead, a job in a funeral home somehow becomes the perfect way for Matthew to deal with his crushing grief. … Reynolds writes with a gritty realism that beautifully captures the challenges—and rewards—of growing up in the inner city. A vivid, satisfying and ultimately upbeat tale of grief, redemption and grace.” — Kirkus

The Way We Bared Our Souls by Willa Strayhorn (Razorbill)

Book Description: If you had the chance to shed your biggest burden and trade it for someone else’s, would you do it?

When a mysterious young shaman tells Lo he knows an ancient ritual that will free her from the pain of her newly discovered illness, she’s just desperate enough to believe him. The catch? The ritual only works with five people. Now Lo must persuade four of her most troubled friends to make the biggest sacrifice of their lives.

There’s Thomas, a former child soldier; Kaya, a Native American girl who can’t feel pain; Ellen, a cheerleader with a meth addiction; and Zeke, the skateboarding star whose girlfriend’s sudden death has made him afraid to live. On the night of the ceremony, this unlikely group gathers around a fire deep in the New Mexico desert to share sorrows and swap totems. When the effects take hold the next morning, they embark on a week of terrifying, beautiful experiences that no one, not even Lo, could have imagined.

Hold Tight, Don’t Let Go by Laura Rose Wagner (Amulet Books)

“In this formidable first novel, 15-year-old narrator Magdalie loses everything after the Haitian earthquake of 2010 and is forced to rebuild along with her country. … Wagner’s portrait of Haitian culture is particularly compelling, and her descriptions of the settings of the city and Tonton Élie’s country hometown are lush.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

Poli: A Mexican Boy in Early Texas

This month, Texas Tech University Press is publishing a special 25th anniversary edition of Poli: A Mexican Boy in Early Texas, a story rarely told in YA.

By Jay Neugeboren

neugeboren-poliWhen Poli: A Mexican Boy in Early Texas was originally published in 1989, the Hispanic population of Texas numbered some four and a half million people and represented thirty-two percent of the state’s population. Now, a quarter of a century later, when a 25th anniversary edition of Poli is, happily, being issued, the Hispanic population numbers more than ten million and represents nearly forty percent of the state’s population.

Poli: A Mexican Boy in Early Texas is based on the memoirs of José Policarpo Rodriguez, a Mexican-American—and Texas Téjano—who was central to Texas history during its formative years in the nineteenth century.  With his father, José Policarpo Rodriguez—the “Poli” of our story—came north from Zaragosa, Mexico, to the Republic of Texas in 1839 when he was ten years old, and he and his father settled in the Hill Country near San Antonio. Poli grew up with Comanches, surveyed territory for the Republic of Texas and the United States Army, fought against warring Indians, and mapped settlements for nineteenth-century German settlers in Texas.

He was the first non-Indian to discover the Big Bend Country and Cascades Caverns, and during the Mexican-American War and the Civil War, he was Captain of the San Antonio Home Guard. Caught between the three main elements that made up early Texas—Mexicans, Indians, and Anglos—and often shown contempt both for his age and his Mexican origins, Poli struggled to decide where his true loyalties lay, and his decisions—which, among other elements in his life and character, inspired me to turn his memoirs into a book—showed a kind of courage that was rare in those days, and remains rare.

The memoirs were given to me by a teacher I worked with at the Saddle River Country Day School in New Jersey, Gladys Spann Matthews, who had taught Poli’s grandchildren in Austin, Texas. One of his grandchildren wrote a composition titled, “The Most Famous Guide in Texas History.” One day while Gladys Matthews and I were having lunch together in the kitchen of the estate that served as the school’s makeshift cafeteria—it was the school’s first year of existence—she plunked a fat brown envelope onto the table next to me. “I once tried to make a book out of this and couldn’t do it,” she said. Along with a copy of the memoirs, Gladys Matthews gave me drafts of the book she had tried to write, transcriptions of anecdotes she’d heard from his grandchildren, and a loving admonition: that I use the materials as the basis for a fictionalized biography of Poli.

And so I did, and I trust that Poli and his story will inform and enchant readers in the way I was when, once upon a time, I came to know this extraordinary Texas Téjano.


JayNeugeboren-125x125Jay Neugeboren is the author of 21 books, including award-winning books of fiction and non-fiction, along with four collections of prize-winning stories. A new novel, Max Baer and the Star of David, will be published in the fall of this year.

Poli: A Mexican Boy in Early Texas is now available.

Fundamentally Screwed

In Playing by the Book, 17-year-old Jake Powell deals with coming out, falling in love, and his religious faith while spending a summer in New York City.

By S. Chris Shirley

shirley-playingbythebookWe often hear how “angst-ridden” the teenage years are,” but “angst” hardly begins to cover it when you keep hearing your preacher say from the pulpit that anyone who acts upon same-sex urges is going to hell. So what do you do if these are the only sexual urges you feel? And the preacher making these claims is your father?

At the very least, I’d say we have the premise for a novel, one that took me eight years to write.

Growing up in a fundamentalist Christian household in a small Southern town, I was tortured by my same-sex attractions. There was such shame associated with these urges that I couldn’t discuss them with anyone—not my parents, not my preacher, not my best friend and not even my identical twin, who was having the time of his life in high school, having jumped headlong into the heterosexual dating pool.

So I turned to God, believing with all my heart that if I prayed and fasted and studied the Bible enough, He’d take these urges away. My heart aches for my younger self, who struggled in this way for nearly two decades without anyone to guide him.

And my heart aches for gay kids today who grow up in fundamentalist religious communities (of any faith) where homosexuals are lumped together with murders, adulterers, drunkards, fornicators, the greater populace of Sodom and Gomorra and everyone else who’s destined for hell.

Seeing so many well-adjusted gay high school students on Glee might convince these closeted gay fundamentalist teens that the secular world accepts homosexuality, but these kids are also taught that most of the secular world is going to hell. No amount of well-adjusted secular gay characters from Hollywood or elsewhere will persuade them that they aren’t going to hell too. Theirs is a spiritual journey, one that all too often ends in withdrawal, self-loathing, severe depression, self-destructive behavior, and, all too often, all of the above. They need a spiritual story or at least one that includes the spiritual aspect of this journey.

I wrote Playing by the Book so these kids might at the very least be entertained by the often-humorous story of Jake Powell, boy preacher, who successfully navigates this treacherous spiritual journey by the skin of his teeth and becomes a well-adjusted young man with a very bright future and an incredibly hot Jewish boyfriend in the process. My hope is that Jake will help these kids reconcile their faith and sexuality and come to realize that they are not fundamentally screwed.


schrisshirleyS. Chris Shirley is an award-winning writer/director and President of the Board of Lambda Literary, the world’s leading non-profit organization that nurtures, celebrates and preserves LGBTQ literature. He was born and raised in Greenville, Alabama, and now resides in Manhattan. Playing by the Book is his first novel. Visit Chris online at schrisshirley.com.

Playing by the Book is now available.