WANT Cover Reveal

By Cindy Pon

Every book I have written is a book of my heart, but WANT is especially dear to me. A near-future thriller set in Taipei, it is an ode to my birth city, the vibrancy of which is deeply rooted in me. The feel of the air, the smells, these colors shaped my childhood and who I am today. I tried to capture that in WANT. This book is also special because it is the first non-fantasy novel I have ever written and challenged me in so many ways as a writer. But I loved my characters in this book, especially my hero and heroine, and I loved portraying this city I adore, a character in itself, so close to my heart. It is the first YA speculative fiction I’m aware of published by a big US publisher set in Taipei, if not the first young adult set there. So many fantastic firsts!

The WANT cover is stunning and amazing and everything I could have hoped for as an author. I hope you love it too!

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Jason Zhou survives in a divided society where the elite use their wealth to buy longer lives. The rich wear special suits, protecting them from the pollution and viruses that plague the city, while those without suffer illness and early deaths. Frustrated by his city’s corruption and still grieving the loss of his mother who died as a result of it, Zhou is determined to change things, no matter the cost.

With the help of his friends, Zhou infiltrates the lives of the wealthy in hopes of destroying the international Jin Corporation from within. Jin Corp not only manufactures the special suits the rich rely on, but they may also be manufacturing the pollution that makes them necessary.

Yet the deeper Zhou delves into this new world of excess and wealth, the more muddled his plans become. And against his better judgment, Zhou finds himself falling for Daiyu, the daughter of Jin Corp’s CEO. Can Zhou save his city without compromising who he is, or destroying his own heart?

Following is a conversation I had with Jen Ung, my Simon Pulse editor, on our thoughts about this cover!

Cindy: I wasn’t expecting it at all when WANT’s first cover iteration dropped into my email. It came as a complete surprise! My reaction? *screaming* and *lying face down* ha! WANT is the first non-fantasy novel I’d ever written, and one of its draws for me was my #cuteasianboy hero Jason Zhou. To see him rendered so wonderfully and featured and centered on the cover, with the lights of Taipei reflected on his helmet—I honestly cannot describe all my feels. I know everyone has a different preference and opinion for book covers. But personally for me, the more Asian faces I can get onto my novels, the better!!

Jen: WANT’s original editor, Michael Strother, and I were also all for showing a #cuteasianboy on the cover! When the designer for the project, Karina Granda, read the first draft of WANT, she described the read as feeling atmospheric and “wet,” and wanted to evoke this with the cover art style. She decided to hire artist Jason Chan, who does a lot of work in the video game space. He also regularly illustrates MG/YA book covers, so she knew he could do a fantastic job applying his video game art style to a YA book cover. The cover you see here is one of Jason’s original concepts, and I think it’s stunning.

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Cindy: I feel so so lucky because Jason Chan is an amazing artist, and he really captured the feel of the novel so well. I also love that Karina described the atmosphere of WANT as “wet”. This novel was truly an ode to my birth city, Taipei, which is a very humid city with many rain showers (and typhoons!), and I wrote all that into the book. I’m just so pleased that she picked up on that as a perceptive designer! When I saw the original cover, with Jason’s white blonde hair and eyes closed, I was already blown away. Michael was kind enough to ask if I had any feedback. I did. My main concern was that readers might not see with this first cover iteration that Jason is indeed Asian. I don’t think it’s an unfounded fear, as there are so few Asians featured in young adult novels today, much less Asian boy leads. In fact, I’m certain that WANT will likely be the only YA cover with an Asian hero so prominently shown in 2017. This representation mattered to me. I really appreciated the dream-like quality of having Jason’s eyes closed, but he is such an active hero in the novel, I felt opened eyes and a direct look from him was more suitable. And although he starts with blond hair in the novel, the majority of the story he wears it black. Jason Chan was able to incorporate both suggestions, and I truly feel so happy and fortunate. I don’t think there is any room for doubt that my hero is an Asian boy on the WANT cover. I adore this cover so much.

Jen: We loved Cindy’s suggested changes, and I agree that the tweaks ultimately made for a stronger, more active image. Representation in YA—in terms of both covers and content—is something near and dear to my heart, and I just know that WANT is going to mean so much to so many readers, for so many different reasons. I’m very grateful to the designer and artist for so perfectly capturing the essence of the book, and to Cindy for writing such a fantastic story!

WANT (Simon Pulse) releases June 2017! Add it to your goodreads shelf!


imageCindy Pon is the author of Silver Phoenix (Greenwillow Books), 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. Serpentine (Month9Books), the first title in another Chinese-inspired fantasy duology, is a Junior Library Guild Selection and received starred reviews from School Library Journal and VOYA. Sacrifice, the sequel, is also a Junior Library Guild Selection and received a starred review from Kirkus Reviews. 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. Learn more about her books and art at http://cindypon.com. Chat with her on twitter: @cindypon or follow her on instagram: @cindyponauthor

Redefining Super

By C. B. Lee

I’ve lived with depression and suicidal ideation since I was a teenager, much of it stemming from an overwhelming need to live up to my parents and my own expectations, along with never feeling I was good enough, and never feeling like I fit in. I was ashamed of myself, ashamed that I was a burden on my family, ashamed that I had failed in every way: school, career, relationships, and more.

It was a long road to recovery with my depression, and it’s still a work in progress. There’s a huge stigma surrounding mental health, especially in the Asian American community where we were raised to “save face.” Learning the patience to work out what I needed emotionally from my family and friends and being able to voice it has been a long journey.

I escaped into books, devouring anything and everything, disappearing into endless possibilities of worlds, delighted in travelling alongside my favorite heroes as they saved the universe.

And yet at the same time I was always a spectator; I felt wrong and broken for being attracted to more than one gender, because I hardly ever saw it portrayed in novels, especially in speculative fiction. I wasn’t white or straight like the heroes of renown, and I had internalized that adventures and saving the world and falling in love and happy-ever-afters were not for people like me.

I started writing because I wanted to write the books I wish I could have read as a teenager. I want romance and adventure and fantasy and science fiction and horror and every genre imaginable.

My novel Not Your Sidekick began as a project that was born out of frustration. I was tired. I was tired of characters of color being sidelined in supporting roles, I was tired of stories where girls who fell in love with other girls were met with tragedy at every front.

I’ve always loved the superhero genre because there are so many ways you can talk about identity, super or otherwise. One of the things Jess struggles with in Not Your Sidekick is living up to expectations. Since she doesn’t think she’s going to get superpowers, she’s struggling to prove herself. Her parents are immigrants, and she and her siblings are the first born in this new country— similar to my own experience growing up, albeit Jess lives in the year 2132. This theme of redefining success really hits close to home for me, and I wanted to show how first-generation children really feel that pressure.

Not Your Sidekick is lighthearted and and often skirts the line of ridiculous. I don’t take myself too seriously, and the novel doesn’t either; I poke lots of fun at superhero tropes and secret identity shenanigans. While I touch on issues that are important to me, like the theme of expectations and defining your own success— I want most of all to bring joy and laughter and silliness and light. I want readers to have fun.

I hope readers will find joy in the novel, as I have bringing it to the world.


C.B. Lee is a bisexual writer, rock climber and hiking enthusiast based in California. She is a first-generation Asian American and has a BA in Sociology and Environmental Science, which occasionally comes in handy in her chosen career, but not usually. Lee enjoys reading, hiking and other outdoor pursuits. Her first novel, Seven Tears at High Tide, was published by Duet Books (Interlude Press) in 2015 and named a finalist for two Bisexual Book of the Year Awards. Ms. Lee is also a Lambda Literary Emerging LGBTQ Voices Fellow.

Not Your Sidekick is available for purchase.

The Stories You Have to Tell

By Traci Chee

When I was in college, I started work on a novel about about a boy who travels into the afterlife to find his dead sister. It was set in a small mountain town similar to my own–it had the same smell of pine, the same dry heat, the same graveyards–and I poured into that manuscript so much of what I loved: beautiful prose, paragraphs that reverberated like the tolling of brass bells, magic (of course), grief, wonderfully twisty formatting.

But when I met with my creative writing professor, a Japanese-American author, her main comments were these:

Why are you writing about a white boy? White boys write about themselves all the time.

Why don’t you write about a Chinese girl? A Japanese girl?

And my reaction was this:

I can write about whoever I want! This is the story I have to tell. The one about this small white town, the one about this white boy grappling with death.

You see, I’d been reading about white boys for years. I studied them in school. I joined them on their adventures in Narnia and Middle Earth and Hogwarts. I watched them battle super villains on TV. I knew white boy stories–perhaps, I think, even better than I knew my own. I could write white boy stories.

However, as with many first novels, it went nowhere. I didn’t even finish it. Didn’t know how. Didn’t feel that driving need to get to the end. As soon as I graduated, I let that story go.

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Years later, I decided to give myself a real shot at being an author, and I thought about the stories I had to tell. The stories that I wouldn’t let go, no matter how difficult or challenging they got. The stories that were a part of me, at my glowing molten core, and wouldn’t let me go.

And I wrote The Reader.

There’s a lot of what I love in this book too: beautiful prose, cowboy-pirates and adventurers, magic (of course), loss, interesting formatting, long hikes through the forest and vast open spaces.

And a main character, Sefia, who looks like me.

To be clear, The Reader isn’t an Asian-inspired fantasy. If anything, the world is more like a heavily romanticized American wild west (which is also near and dear to my heart), and because it’s all made up, our categories of race don’t apply. I can’t say Sefia is Asian or Asian-American because Asia and America don’t exist. But she has straight black hair and teardrop-shaped eyes, and she’s small but mighty, which is generally how I feel about my own stature. She looks like me. (Although if you look closely, you’ll see some hints that in our world, she’d actually be biracial.)

I wrote her this way for a very specific reason.

Because ten years after my creative writing professor suggested I stop writing about white boys, I finally understood why.

When I was a kid, I clung to Trini the Yellow Ranger and Tina Nguyen from Ghostwriter and Mulan and Cho Chang because they were the only sci-fi/fantasy characters, out of all the books and comic books and TV shows and movies, who looked like me. And that made it nearly impossible to imagine myself in these stories. Because among the Goldilockses, Red Riding Hoods, Belles, Auroras, Wolverines, Raphaels, Susan Pevensies, Striders, Samwise Gamgees, Harry Potters, Hermiones, Lyras, and Wills, I–effectively–didn’t exist.

I had no story. I couldn’t even imagine having a story.

So when I set out to find the story I had to tell, I discovered that I needed to write a main character for me, and for girls like me–Asian and Asian-American girls who need more heroes who look like them, heroes whose image they could step into.

I wrote The Reader in 18 months, and not once did I feel like I wouldn’t finish it. I spent another 12 months revising it with my editor, and not once did I feel like I’d run out of power.

This story, with this character, was too important, too much a part of me, to let go.

I’m not sure if this will happen, but if there are readers out there who need this story the way I needed it when I was younger, I hope they find it. I hope it helps them, in some small way, to embrace their own stories, the ones they have at their glowing molten cores. The ones they have to tell.


Traci Chee is an author of speculative fiction for teens. An all-around word geek, she loves book arts and art books, poetry and paper crafts. She studied literature and creative writing at UC Santa Cruz and earned a master of arts degree from San Francisco State University. The Reader is her YA debut.

The Reader is available for purchase.

I Want More Queer YA

By E. M. Kokie

Radical launches tomorrow. It is the culmination of more than four years of hard work. Research about guns and the survivalist movement and what it is like to be a butch queer girl in such a hyper-masculine pocket of America. Multiple drafts of first kisses and first touches and deciphering friends from enemies. And now it is book-shaped and people are reading it. I’m thrilled and excited and anxious.

Part of what is making this launch season even more exciting is the amazing number of young adult novels featuring queer characters out this year, especially this fall. If you aren’t following the #FallLGBTQ hashtag on Twitter, go follow it that to learn about and help celebrate many exciting queer YA books out this fall.

2016 is seeing a bumper crop of queer young adult lit.  There’s even another book about a butch queer girl! I love that like Radical, Girl Mans Up by M-E Girard also features a butch lesbian teen, figuring out what that means for how she sees herself, and how she navigates relationships and the world. So many queer books to love. And yet, we still need so many more.

In the last few years, I have heard and read so many people say LGBTQIAP+ YA needs to “move beyond” coming out stories and stories where the teen character struggles because they are queer. I bristle every time. Because here’s the thing, it may feel to the adult creators of queer books, or the adult teachers or librarians, or maybe even to the queer readers who have seen themselves in queer stories, that there are “enough” coming out stories and struggle narratives out there. That coming out and struggle stories have been “done” to death. I even get that some young readers are personally tired of the coming out and struggle stories. They are hungry for the humor and the light and the stories that aren’t about the character’s gender or sexual identity. But not all young queer teens live in comfortable and supportive communities. Until queer kids and teens don’t have to come out, until they are safe everywhere, we will still need stories about struggles and coming out.

Now, I completely agree that we need more than coming out and struggle stories. That we need much more balance in LGBTQIAP+ young adult literature. Of course we need more teen characters who are out and comfortable and supported and happy. More queer teen romances, especially funny, happy teen romances. And definitely more stories where the character’s sexual identity and gender identity or expression is not the focus of the story. When a funny or fluffy queer teen novel is treated as a rarity, we don’t have balance or parity in YA literature.

But today’s teens also need fresh, evolving coming out and struggle stories. Because they are still coming out. They are still struggling.  The world has changed, and continues to change, some for the better and some not. But the kids and teens coming of age in this changing world need to see their stories – not a version of what their stories might have been eight or ten or fifteen years ago.

I still get letters and emails from kids who are struggling. Teens who are coming out to me because they aren’t safe to come out where they live. And you will notice I didn’t say that they don’t “feel” safe – there are still many places where it isn’t safe for a LGBTQIAP+ teen to come out.  There are teens who are just trying to hold on. And of course they deserve happy stories as lights in the darkness. But they also need stories about the struggle, about coming out when it isn’t easy, so they are not alone where they are.

So when someone says we need to move beyond coming out stories or struggle stories, I always want to jump up and say, well, maybe you are ready to move on because your experiences feel well-represented, but there are too many queer teen identities who are barely represented in young adult literature. We need more stories of all flavors about queer teens of color. And poor queer teens. And many more stories about queer girls and genderqueer, genderfluid, and non-binary teens. More stories about asexual, bisexual, and pansexual teens. More stories about transgender teens, especially transgender boys. And many more stories about our truly questioning teens. And unless we are telling historical stories, those stories should reflect our world and be fresh, modern versions of these stories.

When we use LGBTQIAP+ to describe the literature for teens, it should mean that all of the letters are represented. Too often “LGBTQ” or “LGBTQIAP+” is used as a catchall when we are mostly talking about cis male gay characters, and, to a lesser extent, cis female lesbian characters.  The other letters have meaning, too, and until they are all adequately represented in our literature for teens, then we won’t have “enough” of any kind of story.

I want more queer YA, of all kinds, of all flavors. And maybe the balance in coming years should tip to the light, the funny, the happy, the stories where the characters’ sexual identities and gender identities and expression are not plot points. Queer characters at the heart of horror stories and space odysseys and grand adventures and rom coms. But it comes from a place of privilege to say that “we” don’t “need” any more of any kind of queer book when there is so very much unexplored territory in YA. “We” not only still have room for stories that reflect the tough realities many queer teens still face, but many queer teens still have a very real need for fresh and modern versions of these stories.


E. M. Kokie is the author of Radical (Candlewick Press, 9/13/16), which explores family, identity, survival, and guns, not necessarily in that order. Her first novel, Personal Effects (Candlewick Press, 2012), was a YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults and Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults Top Ten, a Lambda Literary Award Finalist, and a 2013 IRA Young Adult Honor Book. She also contributed to the anthologies Things I’ll Never Say: Stories About Our Secret Selves (Candlewick Press, 2015) and Violent Ends (Simon Pulse, 2015). Visit her online at www.emkokie.com.

RADICAL is available for purchase.

On Finding My Place in Fantasy

By Zoraida Córdova

“Write what you know” is one of the most overused and debatable pieces of writing advice out there. When you’re from a marginalized community this becomes increasingly hard for a few reasons. First, if you write about your own communities (#Ownvoices), you face the burden of representing everyone all at once. The next challenge is more brutal. You wrote what you knew, or thought you knew. You did the thing. Now, your work is suddenly too much your own. Too diverse. Too much of everything. Too unrelatable because, at the end of the day, no one knows you.

Being an Author of Color in the fantasy space is hard. You have to constantly wait for the market to be ready for you as a person. But more importantly, fantasy often borrows from other cultures to make something “new,” and the cultural appropriation line is blurred. Can you appropriate your own culture? What stories are you allowed to tell? Whatever your answer is, you don’t get a pass when you offend a group of people, even if it’s your people.

When I was writing Labyrinth Lost, I knew I wanted to write about witches with a Latin American background, but I also wanted it to completely fictional. So, I went back to basics and trusted my instincts. This is what I know:

BRUJAS

Bruja is the Spanish word for “witch.” The word itself has both negative and empowering connotations. In Latin American countries, like where I’m from in Ecuador, the neighborhood “bruja” might be someone to be feared, but always the person you go to when you think you’re “ojeado” or have the Evil Eye. Brujeria is a faith for many, but it is not the faith in my book. In Labyrinth Lost, I chose to call Alex and her family “brujas” and “brujos” because their origins do not come from European traditions. Alex’s magic is like Latin America, a combination of the old world and new.

CEREMONIES

I never had a quinceañera. I had friends who went all out. They were like mini-weddings. My mother was a single parent and, in my once introverted mind (really, I was), I didn’t want one. But it’s an important part of coming of age for some Latinas. It’s the representation of womanhood and familial responsibilities all at once. I knew I wanted to give my witches something similar because this book, above all, is about family. So I created the Deathday ceremony. A bruja’s Deathday is a magical coming of age, like a Bat Mizvah or a Sweet 16. Even though the Deathday ceremony was created for the world of Labyrinth Lost, aspects of it are inspired by the Day of the Dead and Santeria. The respect for the dead and family comes from the Day of the Dead. The use of singing, shells, small animal sacrifice, and drums comes from Santeria.

FAMILY

While I believe that Latinxs are not a monolith, the one thing we share across the board is family. The opinion that matters the most in my house is our grandmother’s. From tattoos to dating to haircuts; however big or small a decision, what our grandmother says is a big deal! For Alex in Labyrinth Lost, her connection to her sisters, mom, and deceased grandma is the same as her hope. My matriarchy of witches is based on my own experiences of having a close-knit family.

MYTH

“What’s real in Labyrinth Lost?” I’ve been answering a form of this question a lot lately. I think because my background is from South America, there’s an assumption that the stories in Labyrinth Lost are real/taken from stories I heard as a child. Don’t get me wrong; I’m super flattered that my world feels real. It is exactly what I aim for as a fantasy author, and I thank my readers for that.

Let’s unpack Latin America. Latin America has many superstitions, despite the deep roots of Catholicism. There is no all-encompassing Latin American mythology. It’s not real. It doesn’t exist. My brief childhood in Ecuador doesn’t come with all the superstitions of all the other countries in South America. The UN recognizes 33 Latin American countries. That includes U.S. territories, former Spanish colonies, Portuguese and French speaking countries. What we think of Latin America is a U.S. media portrayal of white Mexicans and sexy Colombians and Italian-looking Puerto Ricans. We think of the parts that Spain conquered and colonized. At the end of the day, Latin America is extremely complicated because we are all so different and individual, but also united under region and language.

So what’s real and what isn’t?

We tend to paint Latinos as these magical and superstitious beings, and some of us are. The Native American community knows all to well what that’s like to a much worse extent. In hopes of stepping outside myths associated with Latinos, I decided to make up my own superstitions and my own stories and gods. It was so hard to take out the Llorona myth that everyone knows because even we have that story in Ecuador.

The gods of Labyrinth Lost are all made up. The other realms of Los Lagos is entirely made up. The Meadow is more inspired by Alice in Wonderland than any other culture. One of my favorite parts of writing this book was writing the cantos (spells) and epigraphs at the beginning of each chapter. Writing creation myths is something I love, and the story of La Mama and El Papa (the major gods) was a lot of fun.

There is one monster in particular that is inspired by my childhood in Ecuador. When you’re a kid, everyone scares you with monsters. Duendes are evil elves that can steal you away. The Duendes in Labyrinth Lost are a little different, and hopefully I’ll get to bring them back in another book. But the one that’s stuck with me for a long time is the Cuco. In Mexico, there’s the Cucuy, which is a demon. For us (Ecuadorians), we scare kids with the “Cuco.” It’s a demon that eats children who behave badly. I always pictured a black beast with sharp teeth and claws. So, naturally, I turned it into the Maloscuros in Labyrinth Lost.

It is my sincere hope that readers from all ages and backgrounds find themselves in Labyrinth Lost, whether it’s the search for identity, strong family ties, or a pure love of quests and fantasy.


Zoraida Córdova is the author of The Vicious Deep trilogy, the On the Verge series, and the Brooklyn Brujas series. She loves black coffee, snark, and still believes in magic. She is a New Yorker at heart and is currently working on her next novel. Send her a tweet @Zlikeinzorro.

Labyrinth Lost is available for purchase.

Q&A with M-E Girard, Author of GIRL MANS UP

By M-E Girard

M-E Girard’s debut novel, Girl Mans Up, is a coming-of-age story about a queer girl named Pen and what happens when her best friend and parents keep crossing the line—always blaming it on the fact that Pen looks and acts like a boy. It’s about Pen having to make choices about who deserves her respect and loyalty. It’s also about video games, hot girls, guy-code, and Ninja Turtles.

M-E joins us today to answer some hot button questions about identity, queerness, sexuality, and gender.

What is Pen’s identity? What makes her queer?

When I decided to write Pen’s story, I was most interested in exploring gender norms within the binary (man and woman), and how a teen who doesn’t quite fit on their assigned side of that binary might handle what life puts them through. My character, Pen, is not trans. She is cisgender (or simply “cis”), which means her gender identity is in line with the one she was assigned at birth.

What makes Pen queer is her sexual orientation: she is a girl who is attracted to other girls. Her gender expression and presentation complicate things, because she is also a girl who doesn’t look and act according to contemporary North American ideas about what a girl should look and act like. In fact, she very much conforms to our society’s ideas about what a boy should look and act like.

How much awareness does Pen have when it comes to her identity and queerness?

Pen knows very little about things like the gender binary, non-binary-identified people, transness, the concept of self-identifying, or even queerness. She just hasn’t been that curious about it, and definitely doesn’t have anyone in her life who would facilitate these kinds of conversations. This makes it really hard for her to understand what she’s dealing with. It makes her doubt herself because she doesn’t feel smart enough to “know what she’s talking about.” Words empower us, they help us understand what’s going on around us and within ourselves. Words give us the ability and confidence to work through our feelings and speak about our lives—they validate our existence. I know for myself, my
understanding of queerness and where I fit within it changed and evolved the more I learned about it: listening to other people talk about their queerness, reading theory books, reading novels featuring queer voices, etc.

Still, Pen has a strong sense of self—she’s been that way since she was very little. She’s presented herself in the way that felt natural, and she resisted the pushback she was getting, even as a kid. The older she gets, the more this pushback upsets her. She faces near-constant criticism and policing of the way she performs her “girlness.” She feels very dissatisfied with what it seems to mean to be a girl, and she doesn’t believe that all her masculine characteristics belong only to boys.

She knows everyone thinks she’s “not doing it right.” Part of her wants to redefine what being a girl means, but the other part—the part that feels beaten down by the criticism and judgment—feels like maybe she’s hanging on to an identity that she has no claim to. She wonders if she’s going to wake up one day and realize she was something or someone else altogether, and everyone around her knew it all along.

Was Pen always going to be a lesbian?

Yes. I could have told the story from the point of view of a heterosexual, cis Pen, because all of the gender expression stuff wasn’t dependent on Pen being a lesbian, but her being attracted to other girls was something that was important to me for a few reasons: I have always had a soft spot for girls like Pen, and since the inspiration for her came from my girlfriend (who obviously like girls!), Pen was always going to be attracted to girls. Her sexual orientation was also important because I wanted to explore the fact that the way a queer person looks—how identifiably queer they look—will often determine how much and what kind of negative reactions and treatment they’ll get from others. Pen learns that it’s not the fact that she likes girls that makes her stand out; it’s the fact that she looks the way she does.

You talk a lot about language, so why use sexist expressions like “man up”?

I write about real people, and we real people are not always all that pretty to listen to or watch, are we?! Realistically, a lot of people use these sexist words and expressions—often without even realizing what they’re saying. So with GMU I wanted to incorporate this into the story; I wanted to show the seeds of awareness, when it comes to language, being planted within this character’s consciousness.

Pen manning up never had anything to do with acting like a man. Just like Pen decides certain clothes and behaviors don’t belong exclusively to certain genders, she also realizes the definition of “manning up,” the actions and behaviors that constitute “manning up,” don’t belong to one gender in particular, and don’t describe one gender in particular either.

Anyone who reads GMU will hopefully see my attempts to complicate some of the sexist and misogynistic terms and expressions I used. In this story, words are tested on their meanings, and they’re assigned new meanings as Pen experiences life and decides what is true and what isn’t. It happens with the sexist/misogynistic words and expressions the same way it happens with words like respect, loyalty, friend, family. Pen’s whole world is shifting, and part of that shift involves the language she uses and the ways she understands those terms.

Does GMU engage with trans* issues?

I did not write about a trans character, but I did write about issues that affect gender-nonconforming cis people and trans people, often in very similar ways. Pen is a girl, and for the duration of the story, she struggles to retain the right to be who she says she is. She feels like the world is pushing her out of her identity as a girl because the way she expresses her gender is more in line with being a boy or being neither. There are similarities between the narratives of some trans people and some gender-nonconforming cis people. Pen deals with things like daily microaggressions, being misgendered, and bathroom issues. She may even be dealing with some form of gender dysphoria, depending on what one’s definition of the term is.

I hope many readers will be able to relate to Pen’s struggles—trans, cis, queer, non-queer, and straight alike.


m-e_girardM-E Girard lives just outside Toronto, where she splits her time between writing YA fiction about badass teen girls and working nights as a pediatric nurse. A 2013 and 2015 Lambda Literary Fellow, M-E is a proud feminist who is endlessly fascinated by the good, the bad, and the ugly regarding the concept of gender. Her debut novel GIRL MANS UP was published in September 2016 via HarperTeen and HarperCollins Canada. You can find her online at www.megirard.com and all over social media.

We’re going on hiatus …

Dear DiYA followers,

This is just a little note to let you know that we’re going on hiatus for awhile. We are a volunteer-run blog with only two volunteers, Cindy Pon and Malinda Lo, and we are both about to head into holiday madness combined with many book writing deadlines, which means we’re going to have to put DiYA on the backburner for now.

In the meantime, you can still find plenty of diverse books out there! Here are some places you can go to find your next diverse reads:

If you’d like to keep up with what we’re doing, you can also follow us on twitter (@cindypon, @malindalo) or tumblr ( @cindypon, @malindalo). And of course, all of DiYA’s archives are available here on our website.

Thanks for reading!

Malinda and Cindy

People of Color on YA Book Covers in 2015

We’ve been tracking new releases all year, and as the year comes to a close it’s interesting take a look back and see how people of color have been represented on book covers.

In putting together this collection, I focused on covers that feature photos or illustrations of people who appear to represent the book’s main character(s) of color. I omitted images that were silhouettes that did not seem to speak to race, and images of people from the back or the distance that effectively obscured all their characteristics. I may have accidentally omitted some covers because there were quite a few of them! It’s also important to remember that not featuring a person of color on a book about a character of color is not automatically a negative. There are many evocative covers out there that don’t have any people on them. But if you’re interested in covers that do feature people of color, here is 2015’s batch.

You may also be interested in a similar roundup from 2014 and 2013.

Empathy Machines

By Tim Floreen

floreen-willfulmachinesHere’s the setup of my young adult sci-fi thriller Willful Machines: in a near-future America, conscious, self-aware machines have just become a reality, and it has people seriously freaked. Members of the newly formed Human Values Movement insist machines can never be considered truly alive, like humans, because humans have something special: free will. Unlike computers, people don’t follow programs. Their actions and identities are up to them.

It sounds like a nice idea. But Human Values hardliners are now arguing seemingly fixed traits like sexuality are choices too. That’s bad news for the book’s main character, 16-year-old Lee Fisher, who happens to be both the son of the Human Values Movement’s founder (now the President of the United States) and gay.

In writing my book, I drew inspiration for the Human Values Movement from certain real-world groups and individuals who also call sexuality a choice. According to a recent study by Pew Research Center, four in ten Americans continue to think being gay or lesbian is “the way some choose to live,” and it always intrigues me how anyone could arrive at this belief. I don’t know for certain, but I have a theory it all comes down to a failure of empathy. I’m guessing people who hold this view have a hard time wrapping their heads around the idea that someone else could be so fundamentally different from them, so they end up assuming LGBTQIA folks are just like them but have chosen to be different.

Empathy is the ability to imagine yourself into another person’s place, and people fail to do it all the time. I’m pretty sure you could trace a lot of the world’s problems—maybe even most—to failures of empathy. Luckily, there’s a cure: the novel. When you read a book, it plops you in someone else’s shoes—often someone very different from you—and it takes you on a walk. And hopefully you become a more open-minded and compassionate person as a result. That’s the novel’s super power. Novels are empathy machines. It’s even been scientifically proven! A couple years ago, Scientific American reported on a study that showed reading literary fiction markedly improved subjects’ “ability to infer and understand other people’s thoughts and emotions” and called fiction “a valuable socializing influence.” So there you go. You can’t argue with science. (Unless, of course, you still think sexuality’s a choice.)

Another cool thing about fiction: writing it can be just as mind-opening as reading it. As an author, I try to empathize with all my characters, including the ones whose motivations and values and beliefs differ radically from mine, because I know it’s absolutely necessary if I want to make my characters convincing.  When I wrote Willful Machines, I found Lee Fisher’s dad, the Human Values guy, pretty unsavory. But I did my best to understand him and how he’d arrived at his worldview, and in the end, though I still didn’t subscribe to his beliefs, I found myself caring about him.

In my book, the new (and very cute) kid at Lee Fisher’s boarding school, Nico Medina, has a thing for Shakespeare. He says when he acts in Shakespeare plays, the characters he portrays “might seem really different from me at first, but the more I read the lines and play the parts, the more I can relate to what they’re feeling.” Nico then quotes his drama teacher, who likes to say, “Reading Shakespeare helps us become more human.” (Of course, to complicate matters, Nico may also be an android—which would mean he would really need to study his Shakespeare—but you’ll have to read the book to find out more on that.)

I’d go one step further and say reading just about any literature makes us more human. Especially the stuff written from a point of view far from our own. The novel’s ability to foster empathy, to help us all understand each other a little better, is exactly what makes reading so important. It’s also what makes the We Need Diverse Books movement so vital. Readers—especially younger ones—need to see themselves represented in fiction, and they need to see people very different from them there too. If you ask me, it’s the only way we’re ever going to learn how to coexist peacefully. And then when the conscious, self-aware robots do show up, we’ll know exactly what to do with them too: just hand them a stack of novels. And maybe ask them if they’d like to write a few of their own.


timfloreenTim Floreen lives in San Francisco with his partner, their two cat-obsessed one-year-old daughters, and their two very patient cats. In a starred review, Kirkus called Tim’s first novel, Willful Machines,“gothic, gadgety and gay”—which is an accurate assessment. His second novel, Tattoo Atlas, comes out next year. You can find out more about Tim and his secret obsession with Wonder Woman on the Internet at timfloreen.com and on Twitter at @timfloreen.

New Releases – November 2015

See No Color by Shannon Gibney (Carolrhoda Lab)

“Biracial Alex, 16, high school baseball star and pride of her white, adoptive father and coach, sidesteps thinking about her parentage and racial identity, lying to finesse uncomfortable issues—but hiding her adoptive status from Reggie, an attractive, black player on an opposing team, troubles her. … Gibney, herself transracially adopted, honors the complexities of her diverse, appealing characters. Transracial adoption is never oversimplified, airbrushed, or sentimentalized, but instead, it’s portrayed with bracing honesty as the messy institution it is: rearranging families, blending cultural and biological DNA, loss and joy. An exceptionally accomplished debut.” — Kirkus, starred review

Traffick by Ellen Hopkins (Margaret K. McElderry Books)

“Five white teens move on with their lives after doing sex work in Las Vegas. At the end of Tricks (2009), three of the five protagonists saw glimmers of hope, one was stuck in a rut, and one had been shot. This sequel picks up with Cody in the hospital, awakening to learn that he’s paralyzed from the waist down. Whitney, who had overdosed, heads home to an emotionally distant family, facing PTSD and addictions to drugs and to her pimp. … Farm boy Seth is still being kept by a sugar daddy and tricking on the side. … Less startling than its predecessor; a hopeful aftermath tale for readers already attached to these characters.” — Kirkus

Everything but the Truth: An If Only novel by Mandy Hubbard (Bloomsbury USA)

Book Description: Holly Mathews’ mom is the new manager of a ritzy retirement home, and they just moved in, which means Holly’s neighbors are all super-rich retirees. Still, it’s not a total bust, because gorgeous, notorious Hollywood playboy Malik Buchannan is the grandson of one of the residents. Just one problem: when they meet, Malik assumes Holly’s there to visit her own rich relative. She doesn’t correct him, and it probably doesn’t matter, because their flirtation could never turn into more than a superficial fling … right? But the longer Holly lives in Malik’s privileged world, the deeper she falls for him and the more difficult it becomes to tell the truth … because coming clean might mean losing Malik forever.

Calvin by Martine Leavitt (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

“Calvin’s personality seems to have been destined: he was born on the day comic strip ‘Calvin and Hobbes’ ended, his grandfather gave the infant a Hobbes-like tiger toy that was his constant childhood companion, and his best (and only) friend was always Susie. But now…Susie has abandoned him for more popular kids, and suddenly Calvin is convinced that Hobbes is right there with him. It’s schizophrenia. Calvin is placed on a locked ward for treatment. He decides his last, best hope is to go on a dangerous pilgrimage. … Equal parts coming-of-age tale, survival adventure, and love story, this outstanding novel also sensitively deals with an uncommon but very real teen issue, making it far more than the sum of its parts.” — Kirkus, starred review

Darkness Hidden: The Name of the Blade, Book Two by Zoe Marriott (Candlewick)

“When readers first met Mio Yamato in The Name of the Blade (Candlewick, 2014), she was learning about her unique heritage, mastering the katana somehow bound to her (as well as Shinobu, the compelling boy who emerges from inside it), and protecting her friends from legions of monsters from Japanese myth. After that adventure, she has little time to catch her breath before this sequel begins. … Much like the previous volume, this entry is well paced and exciting and offers a look into Japanese mythology hard to find elsewhere. … this solid and gripping work will keep readers interested in what’s to come.” — School Library Journal

Rules for 50/50 Chances by Kate McGovern (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

“In a strong debut, McGovern investigates mortality, romance, family, race, and class. When Rose and Caleb meet at a “Walk for Rare Genes,” they appreciate not just each other’s company but also the chance to talk honestly about having a seriously ill family member. … Caleb, who has family with sickle-cell disease, and Rose, with a 50/50 chance of inheriting Huntington’s, hit it off, but nothing is simple. … Additionally, Caleb is black, and Rose is white, which makes her realize how much she’s never had to think about. As narrator, Rose is articulate and sympathetic, and though Caleb and his family are a bit too perfect, McGovern skillfully engages with questions of fate, choice, and truly terrible luck.” — Publishers Weekly

Soundless by Richelle Mead (Razorbill)

“Fei lives in a mountain village whose inhabitants have been deaf for generations, relying on artists like her for their daily news. Isolated by rockslides and unable to descend the mountain, the villagers depend on food supplied via a pulley system from the kingdom below. The price of survival is the mountain’s gold and silver, and the majority of the population works in the mines. But now Fei’s people, including her beloved sister, are starting to go blind, which will mean their extinction. After a vivid dream, Fei wakes with the gift of hearing and struggles to comprehend the new sensation of sound. She and her childhood friend Li Wei embark on a desperate effort to avert her people’s horrifying fate.” — Publishers Weekly

Winter by Marissa Meyer (Feiwel & Friends)

“At twice the length of Cinder, Meyer’s 800-page conclusion to her Lunar Chronicles is daunting both in its immensity and in its narrative breadth, shifting among every major character from the series and some new ones. But readers who have invested in Cinder and its sequels won’t be disappointed: this final installment abounds with nail-biting action, suspense, and romance. As Cinder plots a revolution against the exquisitely evil Lunar Queen Levana, readers meet Levana’s stepdaughter, Winter, whose debilitating visions are kept in check by Jacin, her beloved personal guard whom she is forbidden from marrying. …Meyer expertly ties up any and all loose ends, allowing readers to leave behind this saga with a contented sigh.” — Publishers Weekly

Note: According to this interview with the author, Winter is a woman of color.

This Way Home by Wes Moore with Shawn Goodman (Delacorte)

“Lifelong best friends and basketball teammates Elijah, Dylan, and Michael become reluctantly entangled with a Baltimore street gang. When Michael offers his friends each a pair of $400 Kobe 10 sneakers and won’t explain how he got them, Elijah knows he should say no. In the end, loyalty to his friends and the desire to get out of his own ratty shoes prevail. …The portrayal of the gang is pared-down, more symbolic than realistic, but the stakes are high, and the sense of impending doom is heavy throughout. A taut, haunting tragedy.” — Kirkus

Seeing Off the Johns by Rene S. Perez II (Cinco Puntos)

“In Greenton, TX, everything revolves around the Johns, the two star baseball and football players in the local high school. Everyone in town even wakes up before dawn to come out and send them off to college and wish them luck. When a tragic accident occurs, resulting in their untimely deaths, everything changes, especially for 16-year-old Chon Gonzales. Chon is a somewhat average teen working a dead-end job in a gas station and occasionally hooking up with an older female coworker. He’s looking to get out of his small town and win over Araceli, the girl of his dreams who used to date one of the Johns. … This authentic story of loss is powerful and one that many readers will not forget.” — School Library Journal

Dare to Disappoint: Growing Up in Turkey by Ozge Samanci (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

“Humor and youthful angst lighten this graphic memoir of life in a country pulled strongly in different directions by conflicts between Western and conservative Muslim values. Samanci looks back on her youth and schooling with a dual perspective: as a middle-class child caught up in relentless family pressure to excel academically as the only route to a secure future and, in a broader context, as a woman in a country that was forcibly Westernized years ago by the revered Atatürk but is currently experiencing a cultural backlash abetted by a repressive and corrupt government. … A bright, perceptive bildungsroman with a distinctive setting.” — Kirkus, starred review

Autumn’s Kiss by Bella Thorne (Delacorte)

Book Description: Everyone knows how crazy junior year is, but Autumn Falls never imagined it would be so flirty. The wish-granting diary her father left her stopped working, leaving Autumn to decode what’s going on with her and Sean on her own. He seems into her … and he also seems into Reenzie. And when JJ steps up and tells Autumn he’s the one she should be with if she wants someone who really cares about her and a pop star makes a major play for her, Autumn is totally confused. Her friends have Big Drama issues going on too, and Autumn wants to be there for them. Then something mind-blowing happens. She’s suddenly given an incredible crazy-fun opportunity: a map that takes her anyplace she wants to go. At first it seems like an amazing gift. But showing up IRL where you’re least expected has life-changing consequences. Is Autumn ready to handle the fallout?

Light of Day by Allison van Diepen (HarperTeen)

“Senior Gabby Perez is no naïve wallflower, but when a seedy club-goer sneaks roofies in her best friend’s drink, it takes a hot, blue-eyed, square-jawed stranger to warn her to get away. A young Miami radio personality, Gabby uses her weekly show, Light Up the Night, to discuss what (almost) happened and thank the handsome stranger who came to the rescue. The following week, the mystery guy, who goes by ”X,“ waits for her at the radio station and cautions her that she’s getting involved in a dangerous sex-trafficking situation. … Van Diepen returns to her On the Edge (2014) world—the tough streets of Miami—for another exciting story that delivers with a central relationship full of twists and surprising depth. Readers who like their romance on the gritty side will fall for van Diepen’s steamy thriller.” — Kirkus

Hollowgirl by Sean Williams (Balzer + Bray)

Book Description: Clair’s world has been destroyed—again. The only remaining hope of saving her friends is for her and Q to enter the Yard, the digital world of Ant Wallace’s creation. The rules there are the same as those of the real world: Water is real; fire is real; death is real. But in the Yard there are two Clair Hills, and their very existence causes cracks that steadily widen.

Getting inside is the easy part. Once there, she has to earn the trust of her friends, including the girl who started it all—her best friend, Libby. Together they must fight their way through the digital and political minefield in the hope of saving the world once and for all. And this time Clair has to get it right … or lose everything.