Taekkyon and the End of the Prophecy Series

Ellen Oh’s Prophecy trilogy follows the journey of Kira, a young female warrior in ancient Korea; this week the final book, King, is published.

By Ellen Oh


When I first started writing Prophecy, I wanted to develop a kickass girl warrior who was also a master martial artist. But this was set in the 3rd century, and Tae Kwon Do, as we know it, didn’t develop until after the Japanese occupation of Korea ended in 1945. In large part, this was because of the banning of all martial arts by the Japanese. And right there, I was fascinated. Martial arts banned. So how did Tae Kwon do form then? The answer led me to Taekkyon.

Taekkyon is one of the oldest martial arts of Korea, if not the oldest. Research is a bit divided on its relation to Tae Kwon Do. There are some that believe that Taekkyon is the source of Tae Kwon Do, but Taekkyon purists like to point out how different the two forms are from each other. I think the link is kind of clear, but in either case, the history of Taekkyon is fascinating.

Mural paintings dating back to the Three Kingdoms period of Korea (3rd century) show that Taekkyon was a popular art form practiced mostly by the ruling classes and military. In fact, it was part of the soldier’s exam up to the 10th century.

But by the 14th century, Taekkyon had spread to all classes and Taekkyon matches were popular contests at festivals and holiday events, along with archery, sword fights, and wrestling.


This photo above is dated between 1890 and 1900 and was taken by a missionary of a children’s Taekkyon match. Young children competed in Taekkyon and these would be the opening games for annual Taekkyon contests, before the adult matches began.

During the Japanese occupation of Korea, 1910-1945, Taekkyon was completely banned and almost vanished. Legend has it that a sword-wielding Japanese soldier was killed by an unarmed Korean man using only Taekkyon. The Japanese immediately outlawed the practice, stating that it was too deadly, and killing anyone associated with or continuing the teaching of Taekkyon. After many years, the art was nearly forgotten until not that long ago, when an 80-year-old man was seen practicing the movements and an ancient art was reborn.

The truth is probably that Taekkyon was banished because the Japanese did not want Koreans to gather together in large groups — like the Taekkyon contests, and to prevent the spread of Korean nationalism. Because of the Japanese occupation, Taekkyon almost disappeared. After Korea regained her independence, Master Song Duk-Ki (1893∼1987) was the only remaining practitioner of Taekkyon. It was due to his efforts to continue to teach and train people in this ancient martial art form that allowed it to survive. It was designated by the Korean government as an “Important Intangible Cultural Asset No. 76” on June 1, 1983.


In the Prophecy Series, Kira and her brothers are trained in Taekkyon. It is an important part of their military training, but for Kira, it is also something special she received from her father. As she practices, she can hear her father’s voice in her head.

“How you fight in combat and how you practice forms are two very different things. The first is self-defense, but the second is art. It is your connection between mind and body.”



The movements of Taekkyon are graceful. They are, at their root, dance steps.

“She remembered when she was five years old her father had taken her to see saulabi practicing their taekkyon forms. As they watched the perfect choreography of the soldiers in motion, her father had said, ‘There’s no dance as perfect as this one.’” 

King, the final installment of the Prophecy Series, is now out and I am both happy and sad to see the end of the Prophecy Series and Kira’s story. I loved every minute I spent in this fantasy Korea. And I especially loved the characters that peopled the story, especially Kira. I grew as a writer along with Kira (at least I think I did — and belief is a powerful thing!). Kira’s not strong because of her tiger spirit or her Taekkyon training or her proficiency with the bow; she’s strong because of family bonds and love and friendship and a growing belief in her own self-identity. We all have moments where we doubt ourselves and others. Nobody is perfect and nobody has it completely easy. But that is what makes each person so interesting, those moments of humanity where we mess up and learn a lesson. Yeah, I’m mostly talking about myself and my mistakes. :o)

I learned so much from traveling this journey with Kira and her brothers, Taejo and Jaewon, Brother Woojin, Nara and Gom. They will always hold a very special place in my heart. Thank you for letting me share their story with you.


Originally from NYC, Ellen Oh is Co-founder and President of WeNeedDiverseBooks and a former entertainment lawyer with an insatiable curiosity for ancient Asian history. She also loves martial arts films, K-pop, K-dramas, cooking shows, and is a rabid fan of The Last Airbender and the Legend of Korra series. She is the author of the YA fantasy trilogy, The Prophecy Series. Ellen lives in Bethesda, Maryland with her husband and three daughters and has yet to satisfy her quest for a decent bagel.

King is available for order here.

5 Things I Learned While Writing “Written in the Stars”

By Aisha Saeed

saeed-writteninthestars1. You will get criticism. It’s part of putting your work out there in the world.

When I first began writing my novel, a family member asked me what my book was about. When I told her the novel was about a Pakistani American girl who is forced into a marriage against her will, her immediate response was: great, because that’s just what we need, another story to make Pakistanis look bad. That strong reaction really threw me for a loop and worry settled like a seed in my heart. I never considered not writing this novel but I did get worried about how people would react to it. The truth is, I had friends who were pressured into marriages against their will and while yes aspects of this book are not flattering to a culture I belong to and love, I did feel it was an important story to share. The reaction I got about the novel’s premise made me realize I would get pushback and negative responses for writing about a problematic part of my culture. Ultimately, I continued writing it and I stand by what I wrote because while I do address a problem, as a Pakistani American who loves her culture, I wrote this story from a place of love. The novel shows the complexity of Pakistan which includes the warmth of its people, the beauty of its surroundings, and the nuance that abounds. It’s a fine balance and its never fun to get criticism but it’s part and parcel of creating art- it’s subjective and everyone is entitled to how they feel. You have to do the work you believe in anyways.

2. Forced marriages are a cultural problem, not a religious problem. 

As a Muslim I have always known forced marriages are condemned in Islam just as they are in every religion on earth. I did not however know that people thought forced marriages were approved of in Islam until I got asked this question over and over again. The truth is, forced marriages are not a problem limited to Muslim countries, forced marriages happen in many different countries and also take place among different faiths as well. Unchained At Last, a fantastic US based organization successfully challenges this misconception and highlights people here in the United States who were coerced and forced into unwanted marriages. Realizing the link many people would make between the problem highlighted in my book and my religious faith, I felt it was important to include an author’s note to address this misconception. I also made sure it was clear to readers that Naila actually found comfort in her faith and did not blame her religion for the predicament she was in.

3. Writing a book takes a lot of time. Make peace with that. 

I’ve read about how agents brace themselves for the post NaNoWriMo submission surge and tell writers to wait and make sure the book they submit is the best book it can possibly be. They are right. Revising is a labor intensive and exhaustive thing to do. I have lost track of how many revisions I’ve done. For example, Written in the Stars began as a third person past-tense novel. After some time with it though I realized the story would have a deeper sense of immediacy and urgency if it was narrated in the present tense and in the first person by the protagonist, Naila. This required a complete line-by-line rewrite but it was completely worth it because the effect of writing it this way helped the story come to life for me in a way the other format wasn’t doing. It’s frustrating to keep changing things and revising but for me that’s part of the writing journey. I also believe being this critical helps the novel become better and it also helps you become a better writer ultimately.

4. When it comes to writing, particularly writing about marginalized groups, take the time to research and get it right. 

Yes it’s fiction but if you are writing a novel you have a responsibility to do your best to write a respectful and honest representation of whatever it is you take on. That responsibility is huge because what readers are reading may be their one and only introduction to the culture you are writing about. I am Pakistani American and much of my novel takes place in Pakistan but because I haven’t been to Pakistan in some time, it was important for me to make sure the details were accurate. To this end I had many beta readers including my parents. Most of Naila’s time in Pakistan is spent in her parent’s village. That setting is entirely fictional but loosely based on my parent’s ancestral village. For this reason I had them read each line and give me feedback to make sure that the representation was as accurate as possible. Friends also gave me feedback in areas where more nuance could be added and where more complexity could take certain characters from being black and white to more complex. In a world that is still battling racism and bigotry on a daily basis it is so important to not stereotype and resort to clichés and it is also important to portray people, particularly marginalized people, respectfully even if you’re addressing difficult topics. Take the time, even if it delays the manuscript going out on submission, even if it takes going through a lot of people to double and triple check, but get it right.

5. I love writing and I hate writing. 

In the prologue of Amy Poehler’s memoir Yes Please, she says writing is like hacking away at a freezer with a screwdriver. I laughed out loud at her description because that is what writing feels like to me. The truth is, writing is something that feels like a calling and it’s something I love to do, but in the same breath I also find writing one of the most challenging and difficult things I take on. I hate the self-doubt and the frustration of going through the first draft [which is my least favorite draft] and wondering if all the work will even amount to anything or if this will remain the rubbish it seems to be. I’ve learned through reading many memoirs of many lovely writers whom I admire that this is normal. For most writers, writing is hard work and it doesn’t get easier the more you do it. I’ve made my peace with it because while I don’t love the act of writing out the first draft, I do love the feeling of finishing writing a novel. I think it’s the act of finishing writing a story I’m proud of that pushes me through the painstaking process of creating.


Aisha Saeed is a YA author, attorney, and educator and one of the founding members of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign. Her upcoming debut Written in the Stars will be released in 2015 by Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin. She lives in Atlanta with her husband and two sons. Visit her online at www.aishasaeed.com or follow her on twitter and tumblr: @aishacs.

Purchase a copy of Written in the Stars here.

The Cowgirl and Cowboy Behind “Under a Painted Sky”

By Stacey Lee

lee-underapaintedskyThe idea to write a story about a Chinese cowgirl came about more through inspiration than thought.  It was only after writing the story that I examined why I had written it.  I realized that the reason was bifold: mother, and father.  For many Chinese people, family history is important, which might explain why dinners with extended family take so long.  Elders in my family are introduced by their relationships. (“This is your mother’s, father’s second wive’s cousin’s eldest daughter’s first son.  Don’t forget.”.  It could also explain why we eat such elaborate banquets, because by the time we get to the food, we’re starving.

My mother’s first recorded ancestors in the United States came during the late 1800s.  I was intrigued by the attitudes towards Chinese people during this time.  Back then, to catch a glimpse of a “Celestial” was a rarity.  If you saw them at all, they probably would have been sailors, tea merchants, or the occasional circus act.  China at the time had only recently opened its doors to trade, and so not much was known about China by the average American.

My father immigrated to the United States in the 1950s when he was only 11. He came by boat with his brother, who was 14, to a country which didn’t necessarily want two more Chinese kids.  Many people don’t know that up until 1964, the United States was still a segregated society.  Like many who immigrated, the 1950s were a time when the movie western was in its cinematic heyday.  My father loved John Wayne movies, and would often play cowboy music for my sisters and I, so that was essentially the music of our childhood.  I think, like many immigrants of that generation, the western appealed to him because in westerns, the hero is faced with an often-hostile country, and must go it alone.

This is the central problem in Under a Painted Sky.  The heroines Samantha and Annamae quickly realize that they won’t get very far on their own, especially Sammy, who has always been a bit of a city girl.  Their survival is in their own hands.  Not only do they face the problem of being girls, and all the restrictions that go along with that, but they are racial minorities and fugitives.  I think that’s what makes this story quintessentially American, the idea that in America, we are in charge of our own destinies.  And that it helps to have friends.


Stacey Lee is a fourth generation Chinese-American whose people came to California during the heydays of the cowboys.  She believes she still has a bit of cowboy dust in her soul.  A native of southern California, she graduated from UCLA then got her law degree at UC Davis King Hall.  After practicing law in the Silicon Valley for several years, she finally took up the pen because she wanted the perks of being able to nap during the day, and it was easier than moving to Spain.  She plays classical piano, wrangles children, and writes YA fiction. Her historical YA, Under a Painted Sky, debuts March 17 from G.P. Putnam’s Sons. Follow her on twitter @staceyleeauthor.

Get a copy of Under a Painted Sky here.

Diversity in YA’s 2015 Anniversary Giveaway


Diversity in YA launched online in January 2011, and in February 2013 we joined tumblr. This winter marks our fourth anniversary overall, and two years on tumblr. We’re a little tardy on marking our anniversary this year but the wait was worth it, because we have assembled a giveaway of truly epic proportions to celebrate four years of celebrating diversity!

With generous donations from publishers and authors, we are thrilled to be giving away 100 books with main characters who are of color, LGBT, and/or disabled. Here they are:

For a complete list of books in the giveaway, go to this Google doc.

Giveaway Details

  • We will choose 20 winners at random to receive prize packs of 5 books each (we will choose the 5 books for simplicity’s sake).
  • All series titles will be kept together, so you don’t need to worry about getting a random book two in a trilogy.
  • Everyone may enter once for free.
  • Additional entries are available for signal boosting the giveaway on your social media of choice.
  • Teachers and/or librarians can also receive an extra entry.
  • You must have a U.S. mailing address to enter. We’re sorry but the publishers are unable to mail to non-U.S. locations.
  • The deadline to enter is Friday, April 10, 2015.

Enter here via this Rafflecopter form:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Writing Diversity in Dialogue

By Y. S. Lee

lee-rivalsinthecityOne of the delights of the written word is the power — in fact, the necessity — of creating your own mental pictures and soundtrack. Only you know just what the heroine looks like when she’s angry; only you know the precise music of her nemesis laughing. Setting plays a huge role, too: contemporary America vs. medieval France vs. a planet far, far away. As readers, we are our own casting directors, cinematographers, and composers. I’m here today to argue that we should be our own dialogue coaches, too.

As a genre, historical fiction — which I love, and which I write — is prone to spelling out accents. Often, it’s not enough to mention in passing that a character is a stableboy or a visiting German aristocrat; the characters’ words are spelled out so that we can see, on the page, just how outlandish their pronunciation is. And that’s not all. The real problem is that historical fiction is especially prone to spelling out lower-class accents.

See the bias here? Everybody has an accent; that much is obvious. But in novels where lower-class accents are spelled out, the upper-class accents are rendered in standard English spelling. The not-so-subtle subtext is that upper-class accents are “normal,” while lower-class accents deviate from an invisible, correct norm. Add to this the fact that working-class accents are most frequently used to provide comic relief or create pathos, and what we have is proud and unexamined social snobbery written openly on the page. We should be embarrassed. We should repudiate this. We should complain, bitterly, so that writers and editors re-think assumptions about class, accent, and the ways we report speech.

When I wrote the Agency novels, which are set in Victorian London, I solved the problem by representing dialect (irregular grammar) but not accent. I might write a character who says, “I don’t know who done it.” I might even write, “Dunno” instead of “Don’t know,” on the grounds that everybody, across the social spectrum, uses contractions in speech. But I assume that my readers can imagine what “I don’t know who done it” might sound like, spoken aloud. I won’t write, “I daown’t knaow ‘oo dunnit!” It’s patronizing, it’s ugly, and it’s an invitation to readers to feel superior to that character.

But whether they were mudlarks or monarchs, all these characters of mine were native speakers of English. When writing my new novel, Rivals in the City, I found that I had a fresh problem: how to write dialogue for a character who speaks imperfect English. A character, in fact, who spoke only Chinese until a couple of years prior to the action of the novel, and who speaks with a distinct Chinese accent.

I wasn’t going to fall into the trap of spelling out his pronunciation. Still, I felt stuck as to how to convey his accent. Stereotypes of Asian accents in English are usually patronizing and ugly. While French accents are heard as charming, and British accents register as classy, Asian accents are fodder for the unfunniest kinds of jokes. How many times have you heard a French or British person congratulated on speaking “without an accent”? Yeah. Asian accents are the stableboys of the accent hierarchy.

In the end, after a lot of deliberation, I wrote this Chinese character’s dialogue as I would that of any other. His vocabulary is more limited, because he’s relatively new to the language. Figures of speech perplex him. But for me, the clearest and most respectful way of signaling his difference was in giving him words, hearing him speak, and having him articulate his confusion and discomfort with London life in the year 1860. I think that was enough.

I’m curious, though: have you tried or run across other respectful, effective strategies for signaling difference through accent? I’d love to hear them. With any luck — because we’re going to keep reading and writing about diverse casts of characters, right? — this problem will be with us for a long time yet.

ysleeY. S. Lee is the author of the award-winning Agency novels (Candlewick Press), a quartet of mysteries featuring a mixed-race girl detective in Victorian London. She is obsessed with the gritty side of history and often blogs about it at www.yslee.com.

Rivals in the City is now available.

Not Otherwise Specified

Hannah Moskowitz writes about her personal experience with eating disorders, which informed some of the experiences of the main character of her new YA novel, Not Otherwise Specified.

By Hannah Moskowitz


“I don’t think I have an eating disorder,” I told my therapist on Tuesday, after an hour of listening to the nutritibitch talk about my food issues and telling me that my way wasn’t the healthiest to lose weight.

She said, “Oh yeah?”

“I’m not thin.” I shook my head. “And I eat. I eat pizza and ice cream and rice krispies. I don’t think I have an eating disorder. I think I’m an attention whore.”

“Why does that have such a negative connotation?” my therapist said. “Wanting attention? Everyone wants attention.” She sighed. “Let’s check the book.”

She took out her DSM and searched the index, read for a minute, and said, “If I had to diagnose you, I’d say–”

And I could have mouthed the words along with her.

“Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified.”

She said, “Look, Hannah, you don’t do things halfway. You say you’re going to have to write a book, and you get it published. You want to be thin, and you get an eating disorder.”

I didn’t tell her that EDNOS is totally the definition of halfway.

I’m Hannah Not Otherwise Specified.

I wonder how it happened.

I started laughing in the nutritionist’s office because I forgot, for a second, that this was my life.

One thing they don’t tell you is that you have to remember every morning.

Thoughts upon waking up.


Goddamn, it’s early.

That was a weird dream.

I have an eating disorder.

The nutritibitch tried to play the guilt card. She had my mother come in and talk about how this was making her feel.

As soon as my mother left the room, I cried so hard even plastic skinny nutritibitch felt bad.

* * *

I wrote that when I was seventeen, the same age as Etta in Not Otherwise Specified. I’m almost twenty-four now, so that should probably seem like longer ago than it was.

Eating disorders are not exactly uncharted territory in YA. They’ve been done incredibly and painfully and accurately—Wintergirls—as well as every Lifetime-movie issue-of-the-month. The thing is, though, that you’d be hard-pressed to find a girl who had an eating disorder like I did, and I’m actually part of one of the most common groups of eating disordered people.

Everyone knows anorexia and bulimia, and at least some people know binge eating disorder, but EDNOS—Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified—rarely gets mentioned. The simplest explanation is that it’s an eating disorder that doesn’t quite fit in the extremely stringent diagnostic criteria of the named disorders. You don’t purge often enough to be bulimic, or eat enough calories at once for it to be a textbook binge, or weigh little enough that you no longer get your period (and if you’re a guy, until very recently you couldn’t get diagnosed anorexic at all, because of that whole have to stop getting your period thing).

That last one was me, and it’s Etta, and it was the scariest part of writing this book, and it’s the scariest part of its release.

I think a lot of people shy away from writing diverse books because of that fear of messing up the “other.” It’s easy to be annoyed by this, and that’s okay, but it’s also important to keep in mind that these people are trying to be respectful. But the idea of “otherness” can be very intimidating, whether you’re inside of it or out of it. If you’re a white Jewish girl, like me, writing about a black girl. If you’re a girl who couldn’t even spell plie before she started the book, like me, writing about a ballerina.

So it’s kind of funny that even before I started doing all of the research into the worlds I didn’t know, the part of this book that terrified me the most was an illness that I know more intimately than I’ve ever known a person. An illness that makes seven years feel like absolutely nothing.

I don’t talk about it with people. It’s in my past. We talk around it. We don’t mention treatment. We don’t mention self-injury. We don’t mention the time I tried to run away.

I dreamed two nights ago that my mother read the book and called me crying, saying she didn’t realize I was still in “that place.” It was the first time we’d talked about it since the nutritionist’s office, except that was real and this wasn’t.

I wrote about my eating disorder in the Dear Teen Me anthology a few years ago. We got edits back and they wanted me to add the line, verbatim: “But there is hope.” I wouldn’t do it, because that is a ridiculous sentence.

But I think in a lot of ways that’s why I wrote this book. The rest of Etta’s diverse characteristics—her race, sexuality, rich background—have been with her since the very first time I tried to put her in a book six years ago (back when I didn’t realize the girl demanded her own book, none of that split-POV nonsense). But the eating disorder aspect was something I intentionally gave her, and I wanted to show the weird kind of hope that is there.

I’m not recovered 100%, and I don’t think many eating disordered people ever are, and Etta, though she’s deep in recovery for the entire book, probably won’t be. But her life is still okay, and it will keep being okay. It’s something she’ll have to fight on a day-to-day basis, and sometimes that will feel astronomical and sometimes it will be feel like nothing. We look too often at eating disorders as catastrophic events—the bit of writing I posted above is from an essay I wrote called Notes on a Scandal—when really they’re chronic illnesses. And chronic illnesses need more visibility, perhaps mental illness most of all. And I like writing about intersectionality way, way too much to include it with a cisgendered heterosexual white girl.

So, sorry about that, Etta. I wanted to write about a character with an eating disorder and I knew you could handle it.

We’ll be okay.

hannahmoskowitzHannah Moskowitz is the author of over half-a-dozen books for young adult and middle grade readers, including BREAK, a 2010 ALA Popular Paperback for Young Adults, ZOMBIE TAG, TEETH, and GONE, GONE, GONE, a 2012 Stonewall Honor Book. She lives in New York city and tweets a lot as @hannahmosk.

Not Otherwise Specified is now available.

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.


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.


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.