Jump In, or Die

By Amber Lough

lough-thefirewishWhy is this white, straight, cisgendered girl writing for Diversity in YA? Well, besides the obvious being that I bribed Cindy Pon with copious amounts of azuki-bean dumplings, it’s probably because I wrote The Fire Wish, a distinctly Middle East-focused Fantasy.

I’d say it all goes back to when I was the first foreigner in my school in Japan, English-speaking and wide-eyed with awe and fear. I chose to go to the school because I was obsessed with Indiana Jones, and he always took the route that taught him a new language. He wanted to understand—and be a part of—each place he visited. Now, he stuck out like a sore thumb most of the time, but he did learn to respect the people he visited without romanticizing them.

That’s what I try to do, always.

My sister and me, on the right, in the geekiest Indiana Jones moment of my life.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Going to Japanese 4th grade sucked. At least, it did the first 6 months. I didn’t know the language, I was either a celebrity or a pariah, and I went from feeling pretty smart to feeling really, really stupid.

Also they made us wear these gym uniforms that exposed both my thighs and my self-consciousness. Need I say more?

Fast-forward a few years, and I was part of the school. I could speak with the kids about most things, I was passing my tests (sort of), and on good days I could pretend I was just one of the Japanese kids. I say pretend because they never let me forget who I was. They never stopped pointing it out. But we were 12. Things were mostly good.

Right then, we moved to Bahrain. I was thrust into an American-style middle school in the middle of 7th grade, in the Middle East, about one month after Aladdin came out. (Yeah that’s a lot of Middles.)

I was shocked. Shocked, I tell you! Kids were dating. And all they talked about were bands. And they passed notes in class. Also, I wasn’t able to take Arabic, which smashed my Indiana Jones dream into little bits. It took me a week to realize I had to act just like them or be excluded in all things. (Exclusion in middle school = death, just so you know.)

And that’s pretty much the root of why I wrote The Fire Wish: sometimes, we show up in a strange place, and we have to jump in with both feet or die. (With a strong undertone of “beneath the trappings of society, skin, and superstition, we all have the same fears and feelings.”)

In The Fire Wish, my two main characters trade places and must pretend to be the other one. It’s not an easy thing to do when you’ve been given no choice in the matter and failing will bring you much pain or death.

I feel very comfortable in the Middle East, and recently I’ve heard so many people naively talk about Arabs as though they are a “thing,” lumping them into one huge collective society, like they’re some sort of regional Borg. I wanted to show people that, despite what the news or their neighbor says, the Middle East is not merely a bunch of religious zealots, harems, and camels. First off, the topography is as diverse in Iraq (just to pick one country) as much of Europe. There are deserts, rivers, marshes, mountains, and fields. Second, the people are not all Muslim (and FYI, not all Muslims are Arab). Third, the people are people.

I also wrote The Fire Wish because I believe in magic and fun and am not afraid to say so.

Amber Lough lives with her husband, their two kids, and their cat, Popcorn, in Syracuse, NY. She spent much of her childhood in Japan and Bahrain. Later, she returned to the Middle East as an Air Force intelligence officer to spend eight months in Baghdad, where the ancient sands still echo the voices lost to wind and time. For a pronunciation guide, a cast of characters, and more, please  visit www.amberlough.com. Follow Amber on Twitter at @amberlough.

On Illustrating Asian Characters

The illustrator of The Shadow Hero, the new graphic novel about an Asian American superhero written by Gene Luen Yang, writes about representing Asians in comics.

By Sonny Liew

yang-liew-theshadowhero“Ching Chong!”

It took me a second to realise he was shouting at me. This complete stranger, white, male, red-faced, and very likely inebriated. In his teens or possibly early 20s, sitting in the back seat of a car with his head sticking out the window, just on his way with his friends somewhere in Rhode Island.

I’d lived most of my life in Singapore, with its population made up of 70% ethnic Chinese. You could make sub-divisions, of course — Hokkiens, Cantonese, Hakkas, Teochews and so on … but that for the most part would be quibbling. The Chinese as a whole dominate the social, economic and political landscape here, despite fairly serious gestures towards multiculturalism. And being part of a majority shapes the way you think about race — or more accurately, not think about it at all. There’s much less need for introspection when every other face on the streets feels familiar; when you’re living in an environment where your race is hardly ever a barrier to entry or a source of discomfort.

The years I spent studying and living in the UK and US took some adjustments. Sure, my real problem with skin was fitting comfortably inside my own, still caught up in the awkward adolescent years of not-quite-fitting-in. But beyond that, there was still this brave new world, a minority all of a sudden, all those years of listening to the Smiths and Echo and the Bunnymen, and reading the Beano, Dandy, and 2000AD somehow not quite anywhere near helping me fit in.

You became acutely aware of race as a means of identification, the way others looked at you, and the way you saw yourself.

Those were also the years when I started taking drawing comics seriously, and fed by this newfound awareness/paranoia, it soon became apparent how little representation there was of Asian characters in the comics mainstream. Or any other medium, really. Outside of martial arts exponents and fetishized women, they felt near invisible. And what was more — it was clear how much of a non-issue this was for non-Asians. It was simply how things were, a sort of casual, institutionalized racism that you didn’t really have to think about. The white faces felt familiar, after all.

So when it came time to draw my first comic for DC Vertigo (“My Faith in Frankie”), about a deity named Jeriven whose sole worshipper is a young white female, I convinced Mike Carey and Shelly Bond that we should make Jeriven Asian. It was to be my own small battle in favour of diversity in comics. Of course the script was already written, and Mike had his own ideas for the story, so aside from a visual representation of ethnicity, it wasn’t ever really an issue explored in the comic.


Illustrator Sonny Liew

Having returned to Singapore since those days aboard, other divisions have come to the fore: rich-poor, citizen-immigrant, liberal-conservative etc. But in drawing comics, I still wrestle with visual ways of depicting Asians. Ways of avoiding caricature without losing recognisability. The size and slant of character’s eyes, the shape of their noses, it’s always something that needs thinking about. Sometimes  it was an issue that never came up (“Sense and Sensibility,” “Wonderland”), other times it was something of paramount importance (“Re-gifters,” “The Shadow Hero”).

Maybe there’ll come a day when all divisions are dissolved, when we’re human beings first and everything else second. In the meanwhile, we’ll fight for our own corners, as we’ve always had.

Sonny Liew is a Malaysian-born comic artist and illustrator based in Singapore. He is best known for his work on Vertigo’s My Faith in Frankie together with Mike Carey and Marc Hempel, and Marvel’s adaptation of Sense and SensibilityThe Shadow Hero, a graphic novel written by Gene Luen Yang, is his most recent work.

The Shadow Hero, written by Gene Luen Yang and illustrated by Sonny Liew, is available July 15th from First Second Books. We’re thrilled to share two sneek peek pages with our DiYA readers below!

liew-panel1 liew-panel2



Different Viewpoints, Different Worlds

By Livia Blackburne

blackburne-midnightthiefFlashback 1: I finish outlining my new WIP and realize it’s the most Chinese story I’ve written to date, though it doesn’t contain any Chinese characters.

Flashback 2: In my predominantly white/Hispanic middle school, we watch Disney’s The Little Mermaid and discuss the themes.  I’ve drawn the conclusion that the story is a fairy tale about a young girl who’s rewarded for disobeying her parents.  To my surprise, everybody else frames it as a positive story of Ariel following her dreams, breaking free of societal expectation and finding true love.   

Fast forward several years and I’m in college, hanging out with a group of Asian American friends.  The Little Mermaid comes up in conversation, and someone remarks that the story is a fable about selfish behavior paying off.  This time, people nod in agreement and the conversation moves on without a hiccup.  Apparently that conclusion is a no brainer for a group of people who grew up in a society that valued filial piety above all else.

Flashback 3: I’m discussing Lord of the Rings with a friend. She argues that many fantasy novels trying to emulate LOTR actually miss the point. In The Lord of the Rings, Frodo fails to complete his quest and it’s Gollum who accidentally destroys the ring by biting off Frodo’s finger. My friend thinks that this is a reflection of Tolkien’s Catholic worldview, in which humans are too weak to resist the lure of evil and God’s intervention is needed to destroy it.  Many fantasy novels following in Tolkien’s tradition, however, take the trappings of middle earth and turn it into stories of a hero fighting evil and emerging triumphant.

Until recently, it made me very uncomfortable to be identified as a “diverse writer.” I’m Chinese American.  That part’s undeniable, and I’m proud of my heritage.  But my debut novel Midnight Thief is a Western medieval fantasy, simply because that was the genre I’d read and loved as a teenager.  Did it make any sense for me to get extra attention as a Chinese writer when the actual book I wrote wasn’t recognizably Chinese?

But here I am writing a blog post for Diversity in YA, so I obviously got over my discomfort with being labeled diverse.  What changed?

It was, in fact, the flashback described at the beginning of this post.  I’d outlined a new novel, one that told the story of two lovers bound by duty to the point of tragedy. One character was a brown skinned desert dweller, and the other was a pale skinned visitor from the forests — definitely not recognizably Asian, but the story still felt strongly Chinese to me.  If I had to describe it, I’d say had a Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon vibe.

Author Livia Blackburne

Author Livia Blackburne

That was when I realized that writing diverse fiction wasn’t simply about including people who looked, dressed, or spoke differently.  Diverse fiction certainly encompasses those things, but at its core, diversity in fiction is about presenting the world through different viewpoints. Everyone’s life experience, regardless of their ethnic or cultural background, gives them a unique lens through which they see and interpret the world.  My Asian American friends told the little mermaid’s story in a very different way than my Caucasian classmates.  Likewise, Tolkien’s view of humanity had huge implications for Middle Earth.

Once I understood this, I realized that Midnight Thief, though a western fantasy, still deals with themes that were core to my experience as an Asian immigrant.  My main character Kyra is an orphan, a child of one people who’s raised by another.  Kyra wrestles with whether she’s a product of her ancestry or the culture she grew up in — certainly questions that I also faced while growing up.  In addition, early reviews have pointed out the moral complexity of Midnight Thief’s warring people groups.  One race in particular at first seems evil, but eventually becomes more sympathetic as the reader learns more about their worldview. I like to think that my experience straddling two different cultures helped me slip into different perspectives and tell that tale.

I do plan to write an Asian-inspired fantasy at some point.  I have a soft spot for kung fu movies and would love to work some drunken boxing into a storyline.  But even before that happens, my cultural background will still be influencing my fiction in other ways.

Livia Blackburne was born in Taiwan.  She spent her childhood in Albuquerque, her twenties in Boston, and now lives in Los Angeles. Midnight Thief, her debut novel, is now available.

“The Miseducation of Cameron Post” Removed From Delaware Summer Reading List – UPDATED

By Malinda Lo

danforth-cameronIn 2012, I was invited by NPR to review an about-to-be-published young adult novel titled The Miseducation of Cameron Post by debut author emily m. danforth. I was a little nervous about it because I don’t like to criticize about my colleagues’ novels in public. But I didn’t need to worry — Cameron Post blew me away. It was the coming-of-age, coming-out novel that spoke to me in in such a deeply personal way that it felt like it was written for me.

Maybe that’s why I was so ticked off to hear that Cameron Post was recently removed from a summer reading list in Delaware due to parental complaints about its explicit language. Cameron Post is a complex, multilayered, award-winning novel that cannot by any means be reduced down to the number of times the word fuck in used in its 470 pages. And yet that is what has happened.

The Story So Far

As first reported by the Cape Gazette, on June 12, 2014, the Board of Education of Delaware’s Cape Henlopen School District removed the novel The Miseducation of Cameron Post by emily m. danforth from the summer reading list for Cape Henlopen High School’s incoming ninth graders. During the June 12 board meeting, board member Sandi Minard noted that the book contains explicit and inappropriate language.

Board president Spencer Brittingham, who had not read the book but found some passages online, told the Cape Gazette that “I knew in less than three minutes that this wasn’t a book I wanted on the list.” In an interview with Delaware radio station WXDE, Minard clarified, “I have read the book.”

Shortly after the news of the removal of Cameron Post from the summer reading list, concerns were raised that the removal was related to Sandi Minard’s association with the Delaware Family Policy Council and the 9–12 Delaware Patriots, both conservative, religious-based activist groups. Minard denied that the book removal was related to these groups, telling WXDE,

“This had nothing to do with the Delaware Family Policy Council and it had nothing to do with the 9-12 Delaware Patriots. It had to do with concerned parents that came to us about the book. … There were about three actual complaints that came in. Then whenever the book became an issue, I sat down with a group of different parents — these are people that I work with, that are in my neighborhood. They’re not part of one group that these people like to come on and say that oh because she’s a member of the Delaware Family Policy Council it’s their baby, it’s their agenda. It’s not their agenda. I have not talked to anyone that’s a part of the Delaware Family Policy Council about this book. There’s been no discussion with them, but there has been discussions with neighbors and coworkers and other parents … those people have sat down and said, ‘No way, no way, this should not be on the suggested reading list.’”

The primary reason for the removal of Cameron Post from the summer reading list, according to Minard, was the usage of the word fuck. “I think that the number of times that the F-word is used in this book is way out of proportion for the other books,” Minard told WXDE.

When AfterEllen, a major website focusing on the representation of lesbians and bisexual women in the media1, heard about the removal of Cameron Post from the Cape Henlopen summer reading list, they took action, calling on readers to contact the Cape Henlopen school board to express their concern about censorship. They also reached out to a local bookstore, Browseabout Books, to make sure that the book was available to interested readers. Several people (including myself) have called Browseabout Books and purchased copies of Cameron Post to be given away free to people in the community.

In the wake of the AfterEllen coverage, board president Spencer Brittingham probably heard from plenty of irate readers, because two days later, on July 3, he responded by telling one reader that he would “request a reinstatement of this publication to the list, but a suspension of the list until our curriculum folks can vet this list appropriately.”

Yesterday I wrote to Brittingham on behalf of Diversity in YA and asked when he would request this reinstatement. Brittingham did not answer that question directly, but he did write back with this statement:

“I have to say from the start the book was not banned.  It was removed from our incoming Freshman’s reading list for the language content.  I have been informed from other outlets that some other books on the list also contain excessive amounts of profanity and that is why I will request the reinstatement of this book and request a review of the entire list for acceptance of the content of profanity.  Our code of conduct and school discipline arena has rules against profanity in our buildings and I don’t think we have adequately communicated this to our committee.  I don’t believe it is a school system’s responsibilty to say a child can curse and then attempt to punish for a code violation, if taken out of context.  What is the parent’s role in this?  Some parents are saying, we are right , some are saying, they don’t care, either way it needs more debate and follow  thru.  Thank you for your correspondence and please be patient with us, we will get this right.  I promise!”

The Pink Elephant in the Room

The Cape Henlopen summer reading list for incoming ninth graders is comprised of the 2014 and 2015 winners and nominees of the Blue Hen Book Award, which is an award administered by the Youth Services Division of the Delaware Library Association. Among the other books on the summer reading list are The Fault in Our Stars by John Green and Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, both of which include the word fuck as well as other words that could be considered profanities. In fact, using curse words is not uncommon in fiction — especially fiction that seeks to represent the real world.

As emily danforth told me via email:

“[I]f you have to ask teens NOT to curse in school (and enforce that) then clearly it’s an inclination of many teens, right?—so it stands to reason that those of us who write about teens might likely try to write dialogue and thoughts using vocabulary that’s true to the ways we know that teens (some teens—clearly not all) speak and think. I understand that some parents object to this and might say—’elevate their discourse, don’t just mimic it’—I do understand that—and certainly not every character in my novel uses profanity (nor do the characters who do use profanity ONLY use profanity) but how strange, to me, to equate these usages in works of literature with what you do or don’t want your students saying in the classroom.”

According to the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom, which tracks banned and challenged books, between 2000–2009 they received 1,291 challenges due to “offensive language.” The only type of challenge to outnumber “offensive language” was “sexually explicit material,” which generated 1,577 challenges during this same time period.

Anyone who has read The Miseducation of Cameron Post is unlikely to conclude that it is a book focused on profanity. It is clearly and obviously a book about coming of age as a young lesbian. There is, indeed, sexuality in the book, though whether it’s “explicit” truly varies according to one’s perspective on what “explicit” means. It is explicitly clear that the main character, Cameron, falls in love with other girls. They do more than hold hands and stroke each other’s hair, too — as do most young people in love.

The pink elephant in the room, as I noted when I posted about this on tumblr last week, and as AfterEllen noted in its first article, is the fact that Cameron Post could understandably be challenged for its lesbian content. For many of us — especially those of us who are LGBT, who have faced both direct and indirect homophobia for much of our lives — the idea that a book like Cameron Post would be challenged for curse words rather than lesbianism might seem a bit like protesting too much.

In her interview with WXDE, which brought up the question of the book’s lesbian content, Sandi Minard insisted, “It is only the language issue that was brought up.”

Board president Spencer Brittingham told the reader who wrote to him: “I can assure you that I am not homophobic and never did this area of the book enter the conversation.”

Is this really the truth? To me, it sounds like the argument that women aren’t hired (or reviewed, or acknowledge, or heard) not because they’re women, but because they’re not as qualified as men. Is the real issue that these parents have with Cameron Post the fact that she uses the word fuck, or is it easier — and more politically correct these days — to point the finger at the F-word than to acknowledge any discomfort with same-sex relationships?

We may not ever know the truth behind the “about three actual complaints” that Sandi Minard received. The fact is, the goal of book challenges is to silence people — and that silencing may begin at the very start, even with the true nature of why a book is challenged. If you deny that homophobia is on the table, it makes it very hard to fight back on those grounds.

The Context on Book Challenges

In the press about the removal of Cameron Post from the reading list, board members are quick to stress that the book has not been “banned”; it has simply been “removed” from a reading list. Yes, the book is still available in libraries and bookstores, but this is where book challenges happen now: on school reading lists and in some cases in author visits. This is the local stage on which censorship is enacted, debated, and sometimes (thankfully) successfully fought.

Here are a few links to coverage of recent book challenges:

  • The Los Angeles Times reports on the removal of John Green’s Paper Towns from a summer reading list in Florida.
  • Here’s The Guardian reporting on the removal of Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother from a summer reading list in Florida (again).
  • Bill Moyers reports on the removal of Sherman Alexie’s Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian from the curriculum of an Idaho school district.
  • Last September, NPR reported on Rainbow Rowell being disinvited to a Minnesota school after Eleanor & Park was on a summer reading list because parents were concerned about the book’s profanity.

emily m. danforth isn’t as big of a name as John Green, Cory Doctorow, Sherman Alexie, or Rainbow Rowell, but exactly the same thing has happened to her novel as has happened to these other books. When it comes to book challenges, the mainstream media tends to focus on those who are already famous. A book like The Miseducation of Cameron Post, an award-winning literary novel that hasn’t hit the bestseller lists, risks slipping through the cracks in these situations, and I don’t want that to happen. This happens far too often to other books that aren’t huge bestsellers: people don’t pay attention. Let’s not let this happen this time around.

What Can You Do About This?

As of today (July 7), many things are happening both behind the scenes and out in the open. If you’re concerned about the removal of Cameron Post from the Cape Henlopen summer reading list — and if you’re concerned that the board might realize that other books on that list also contain profanity and thus might also be removed — there are certainly things you can do.

  • Follow AfterEllen’s lead and buy a copy of The Miseducation of Cameron Post from Browseabout Books either to give away to a local reader or even for yourself.
  • emily m. danforth is giving away the entire uncensored Blue Hen list to a lucky reader: “All you have to do to enter is to use your twitter account (easiest for tech-challenged me to track and collate) to explain, in not very many characters, why you want/need these books. Use the hashtag #LeaveTheBlueHenListAlone so that I can find your entry.” So far, Rainbow Rowell (Eleanor & Park), Erin Jade Lange (Butter), and Gene Luen Yang (Boxers and Saints) are also donating signed copies of their books to the giveaway.
  • If you’re near the Cape Henlopen school district on July 10, 2014 at 6 p.m., you might consider attending their school board meeting, which is open to the public. Here’s the agenda. I’ve been digging around in the Cape Henlopen school district board policies (download PDF), and it’s pretty clear that the board itself hasn’t followed its own rules regarding book challenges. According to section 110 on Instructional Methods, Materials, and Supplies, challenges must be registered in writing with the school principal, using a specific form; the principal must then appoint a committee composed of a librarian and two teachers to evaluate the challenge. None of this has been done yet. In her interview with WXDE, Sandi Minard repeatedly expressed frustration with local parents who don’t come to board meetings and then complain after the fact, declaring, “Come to the school board meetings. Show up and let’s talk.” I suggest we answer Minard’s invitation on Thursday, July 10.

Meanwhile, I will be following this story as it develops. I’ve been told that the National Coalition Against Censorship is stepping in, and if there is any news I’ll update this post when I can.

Updates: July 12, 2014

  1. Full disclosure: I was managing editor at AfterEllen from 2006-08, and a regular contributor from 2003-2006. 

Notable Novels for Teens About the Arab World

By Elsa Marston

Abdel-Fattah, Randa. Where the Streets Had a Name (Scholastic 2010). Palestine, MG/YA. On a secret mission of mercy, a girl makes her way—strictly forbidden without permission from Israeli authorities—from her village into Jerusalem. [Also see this author’s books about Arab immigrants in Australia: Does My Head Look Big in This? and Ten things I Hate About Me. Both have appealing teen voice.]

Al-Maria, Sophia. The Girl Who Fell to Earth (Harper Perennial 2012). Arabian Peninsula and Egypt, YA. The daughter of a mixed marriage spends time with her father’s family in a Gulf State, tries to reconcile her two radically different heritages.

Barakat, Ibtisam. Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood (Kroupa/Farrar Straus Giroux 2007). Palestine, MG/YA. Memoir of a young girl set in a time of war and displacement, but revealing solid family experience.

Carmi, Daniella. Samir and Yonatan (Levine/Scholastic 2000). Israel/Palestinians, MG/YA. A Palestinian boy being treated in an Israeli hospital relates to the children and medical staff.

Carter, Anne Laurel. The Shepherd’s Granddaughter (Groundwood 2008). Palestine, MG/YA. In a rural village under attack from a nearby Israeli settlement, a young teenaged girl starts to broaden her horizons.

Clinton, Cathryn. A Stone in My Hand (Candlewick 2002). Palestine, MG/YA. During an outbreak of violence, a young girl in Gaza copes with loss: her father’s death and her brother’s participation in the insurrection.

Laird, Elizabeth. A Little Piece of Ground (Haymarket 2006; originally Macmillan UK 2003). Palestine, MG/YA. A boy defies Israeli-imposed curfew in his efforts to claim a place to play soccer.

Nye, Naomi Shihab. Habibi (Simon & Schuster 1997). Palestine, MG/YA. An Arab-American girl visits her father’s natal village in Palestine, under occupation, and absorbs experiences both exhilarating and distressing.

Marsden, Carolyn. The White Zone (CarolRhoda 2012). Iraq, MG. Two boy cousins cope with the sectarian strife that separates them during the fighting in Baghdad.

Marston, Elsa. Santa Claus in Baghdad and Other Stories About Teens in the Arab World (Indiana University Press 2008). Several countries, MG/YA. Young teens in eight contrasting Arab societies face universal challenges of adolescence; the most adult story in subject matter is “Honor” (Jordan).

Perera, Anna. The Glass Collector (Whitman 2011). Egypt, YA. Valuable chiefly because of its setting in the “trash-collectors community” in Cairo.

elsamarstonWith an M.A. in international affairs from Harvard University in hand, Elsa Marston attended the American University of Beirut on a Rotary Foundation Fellowship. Sojourns in different countries, especially Lebanon, Egypt, and Tunisia, have helped inspire Elsa’a work as a children’s/YA author and specialist in literature about the region. Her most recent books are a YA biography of a remarkable Arab hero, The Compassionate Warrior: Abd el-Kader of Algeria (Wisdom Tales 2013), and Santa Claus in Baghdad and Other Stories About Teens in the Arab World (Indiana University Press, 2008), a collection of stories set in different Arab societies, focusing on growing-up experiences that young Americans can relate to. A picture book about post-civil war Lebanon, The Olive Tree, is forthcoming in 2014.  Her website is www.elsamarston.com.


New Releases – June 2014

The Book of David by Anonymous (Simon Pulse)

“The narrative gives readers realistic insight into the often heartbreaking and confusing world of sexual identity and acceptance. … This compelling story is good for young adults who are quietly struggling with their own sexual identity and need to know they are not alone.” — School Library Journal

“When gay teens need an example of pride, an ‘Anonymous’ byline is a giant leap backward; and with a penultimate paragraph concluding ‘I feel like I don’t have anything to hide,’ that ‘Anonymous’ is ironic to a fault. Ten years (or more) ago this might have been an important book; but even with its positive close, today it is an embarrassment.” — Kirkus

Awkwardly Ever After: The Smith High Series #4 by Marni Bates (KTeen)

Book Description: It’s prom season at Smith High School and love is in the air…for some people.

Melanie Morris knows she shouldn’t keep flirting with her best friend’s brother, Dylan Wellesley, even though the last thing she feels is “sisterly” around the cute soon-to-be freshman. But attending prom with somebody else might mean losing him for good…

Isobel Peters accepts the fact that she’s a huge geek, but she never expected renowned player, Spencer King, would want to get his hands on…her reputation. What begins as a bargain could turn into something real–or a Notable disaster!

Corey O’Neal is dating the boy of his dreams, rockstar Timothy Goff. But it isn’t easy to trade in anonymity for instant celebrity status, especially now that swarms of protesters want them both banned from prom. Dating Prince Charming in real life is a whole lot harder than it sounds in fairytales.

Happily ever after? Try awkwardly ever after!

My Best Friend, Maybe by Caela Carter (Bloomsbury)

“Two former best friends raised by families with markedly different values take a trip to Greece in this poignant story that is centered around themes of sexuality, acceptance and belonging….Vivid descriptions of the unusual landscape of Santorini will fascinate readers looking for a good travelogue, and the perceptive and heartfelt relationship dynamics will only add to the appeal.” — Kirkus

WARP Book 2: The Hangman’s Revolution by Eoin Colfer (Disney-Hyperion)

“Undoing the catastrophically altered present wrought in The Reluctant Assassin (2013) requires further immersion (not just figuratively) in Victorian London’s noxious stews for teenage, time-traveling special agent Chevron Savano. … Chevie is of Shawnee lineage. … A grand yarn told with a wink and kitted out with high stakes and broadly drawn characters for maximum fun.” — Kirkus

When Mr. Dog Bites by Brian Conaghan (Bloomsbury)

“Sixteen-year-old Dylan Mint has Tourette’s syndrome. He attends a special school with his best friend, Amir, who has autism. When he overhears a doctor telling his mother that he is going to die in March, Dylan makes a short list of things to accomplish before he ‘cacks it.’ … This is an unusual coming-of-age tale that is thoroughly engaging.” — VOYA

Dark Metropolis by Jaclyn Dolamore (Disney-Hyperion)

“A decadent populace, a totalitarian state and a plague of vanishing people bring three young people into the heart of an anti-government plot. … This postwar, Jazz Age–inflected, slightly steampunk magical world is revealed through the eyes of these three teens as they try to save all their world’s victims, even those long since doomed.” — Kirkus

Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis (Amulet Books)

“Worlds collide as two teens fight for their lives. … Rich worldbuilding, convincing nonheteronormative relationships, balanced class issues, and nuanced, ethnically diverse characters add to the novel’s depth. The well-paced action builds toward an unexpected, thrilling conclusion that will leave readers eager for more from this promising new author. Original and compelling; a stunning debut.” — Kirkus, starred review

Push Girl by Chelsie Hill and Jessica Love (St. Martin’s Griffin)

“Co-writer Hill draws on her own experience as a teen coping with paraplegia to tell a hopeful story. … A light, ultimately upbeat look at life after spinal cord injury.” — Kirkus

Drift by M. K. Hutchins (Tu Books)

“Original worldbuilding and cosmology spice up a save-the-world romantic adventure. … Readers will find watching Hutchins’ unusual magical rules bring about startling consequences for family and political structure utterly fascinating.Totally fresh.” — Kirkus

Complicit by Stephanie Kuehn (St. Martin’s Press)

“Kuehn’s second novel, after her Morris Award–winning Charm & Strange, powerfully examines how mental illness can turn into family tragedy that ripples far and wide beyond a single event. The prose is as hallucinatory as the madness Jamie seeks to uncover in a novel that’s tense and ambiguous from start to finish.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review

Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern (HarperTeen)

“As she enters her senior year of high school, Amy—hemiplegic due to an aneurism following her premature birth and near the top of her class—uses her augmentative and assistive communication device to argue successfully that she needs peer helpers in school rather than adult aides. … McGovern’s triumph is how well she normalizes and highlights the variety of disability experiences among teens and their often circuitous journeys toward claiming their voices and right to self-determination.” — Kirkus

Lies My Girlfriend Told Me by Julie Anne Peters (Little, Brown)

“Alix’s world is turned upside down after falling for popular and confident Swanee, so much so that ditching her friends and playing by her love’s rules seems almost too easy. When her mom breaks the news that Swanee has suddenly died of an unexpected cardiac arrest, Alix has a hard time accepting that her vivacious and seductive girlfriend is really gone. In Peters’s newest offering, questions of love and honesty abound. … The book does not focus on sexuality, and it’s a pleasure to read a typical teen romance that just happens to be between two girls.” — School Library Journal

Caught in the Crossfire by Juliann Rich (Bold Strokes Books)

Book Description: Two boys at Bible camp; one forbidden love.

That is the dilemma sixteen-year-old Jonathan Cooper faces when he goes away to Spirit Lake Bible Camp, an oasis for teen believers situated along Minnesota’s rugged north shore. He is expecting a summer of mosquito bites, bonfires with S’mores, and photography classes with Simon, his favorite counselor, who always helps Jonathan see his life in perfect focus.

What he isn’t expecting is Ian McGuire, a new camper who openly argues against phrases like pray the gay away. Ian is certain of many things, including what could happen between them if only Jonathan could surrender to his feelings. Jonathan, however, tosses in a storm of indecision between his belief in God and his inability to stay away from Ian. When a real storm hits and Ian is lost in it, Jonathan is forced to make a public decision that changes his life.

Rebellion by Karen Sandler (Tu Books)

“Surprising new obstacles crop up in the Tankborn series finale. … With rebellions, ideological questions and a nonwhite, not-entirely-heterosexual cast, this series is a strong addition to the genre.” — Kirkus

Rain by Amanda Sun (Harlequin Teen)

Book Description: When she first moved to Japan, American Katie Green had no idea she would get caught in a battle between the Japanese mafia and the supernatural forces that have governed Japan for most of its history. Despite the danger, Katie is determined to stay put. She’s started to build a life in the city of Shizuoka, and she can’t imagine leaving behind her friends, her aunt and especially Tomohiro, the guy she’s fallen in love with.

But the decision to stay is not as simple as she thought. She’s flunking out of Japanese school and committing cultural faux pas wherever she goes. Tomohiro is also struggling—as a Kami, his connection to the ancient gods of Japan and his power to bring drawings to life have begun to spiral out of control.

When Tomo decides to stop drawing, the ink finds other ways to seep into his life—blackouts, threatening messages and the appearance of unexplained sketches. Unsure how to help Tomo, Katie turns to an unexpected source for help—Jun, her former friend and a Kami with an agenda of his own. But is Jun really the ally he claims to be? In order to save themselves, Katie and Tomohiro must unravel the truth about Tomo’s dark ancestry, as well as Katie’s, and confront one of the darkest gods in Japanese legend.

Fan Art by Sarah Tregay (Katherine Tegen Books)

“A high school literary magazine becomes the vehicle for a number of awakenings in Tregay’s (Love and Leftovers) tender coming-of-age-and-coming-out story. … The fact that even with supportive adults, encouraging friends, and a gay-straight alliance, coming out can be a daunting prospect will make this story resonate with readers.” — Publishers Weekly

Summer of Yesterday by Gaby Triana (Simon Pulse)

“Seventeen-year-old Haley lives in present day Florida and has suffered one seizure, so she is carefully monitored by her divorced and remarried father. Forced to go on an unwanted summer trip to Disney’s Fort Wilderness with her Dad, her stepmother, and their twins, she meets a few teens. While participating in a scavenger hunt, she has another seizure and wakes up in 1982 in River Country, a now-closed water park in Disney World. Culture shock is ever-present from the clothes to (horrors!) no cell phones or mainstream personal computers.” — VOYA

Relax, I’m a Ninja by Natalie Whipple

Book Description: A Clan of ninjas in San Francisco may sound improbable-but as the son of a ninja Master, Tosh Ito knows what lurks in the shadows of his city. Or at least he thought he did. When a killer with a poisoned blade starts cutting down teens, Tosh enlists Amy Sato-newest ninja recruit, and his best friend’s crush-and sets out to uncover the killer’s identity. What they find is ninjutsu more evil than they could have ever imagined. As Amy and Tosh grow closer, they discover their connection unleashes a legendary power that could stop the murders. Problem is, that power may be exactly what the killer is looking for, and wielding it could cost them their souls.

Diversity Links – June 2014

We link to a lot of things over on Tumblr, but in case you missed them, here they are rounded up for you all in one place:

Diversity News

This weekend is the American Library Association’s Annual Convention, where thousands of librarians, teachers, and bloggers will converge on Las Vegas for a long weekend packed with books. If you’re going to ALA and you’re also interested in supporting diversity in books and reading, why not tweet about it using the #DiversityatALA hashtag? Find out more at YALSA’s The Hub. To make finding those diverse books easier, we’ve compiled a giant list of events where you can find diverse books and authors, and YALSA has put together a list of diverse YA titles to look for.

In case you couldn’t be at BookCon earlier this month there in person, Eunice Kim has written up a recap of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks panel at BookCon (Rich in Color). You can also listen to an unedited audiostream of the entire panel.

Reading Diversity

We Need Diverse Books has launched a Summer Reading Series in which they recommend diverse books for you to try.

In a School Library Journal series of essays about diversity, Ellen Oh says we should avoid categorizing diverse books as “special interest” only.

Over at YALSA’s The Hub, Kelly Dickinson takes you on a tour of LGBTQ representation in young adult science fiction and fantasy.

David Levithan talks to the Associated Press about LGBT books for young people.

Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, an assistant professor at Penn GSE, has launched The Dark Fantastic, a blog “about race and the imagination in children’s and young adult books, media, and associated cultures.”

CBC Diversity has compiled a list of 14 Books for Children & Teens About the Freedom Summer of 1964.

Need more summer reading ideas? Lee and Low offers up 20 YA Novels for Thinking Adults: A Diverse List.

Writing Diversity

Attention aspiring middle grade and young adult writers of color: Lee and Low is now accepting submissions for its New Visions Award! The deadline is Oct. 31, 2014.

Cynthia Leitich Smith urges authors to write outside their comfort zones (School Library Journal) when it comes to diversity.

Here’s a video of a panel talk held at the Asian American Writers Workshop in New York last month, featuring author Matt de la Peña, Tu Books publisher Stacy Whitman, and others, discussing Stories Untold: Race, Representation, and Politics in Children’s and Young Adult Books.

Author Kirstin Cronn-Mills talks to Gay YA about the research and thought processes that went into writing her novel Beautiful Music for Ugly Children, about transgender character Gabe.

Author Gene Luen Yang talks to School Library Journal about writing The Shadow Hero, a graphic novel about America’s first Asian American superhero, the Green Turtle.

Author Corinne Duyvis talks to xoJane about the publication journey of her debut YA fantasy, Otherbound.

Last But Not Least …

We were thrilled to be recognized by YA Highway for Overall Contributions to the Community and Outstanding Support of LGBT Community during their YA Web Awards. Thank you!

First Second Acquires KISS NUMBER EIGHT, a Graphic Novel About Growing Up Queer in a Conservative Community

First Second Books has recently acquired Kiss Number Eight, a YA graphic novel written by Eisner-nominated author Colleen AF Venable and illustrated by newcomer Leela Wagner. Due out in 2016, here is First Second’s tantalizing description of the book:

Amanda can’t figure out what’s so exciting about kissing. It’s just a lot of teeth clanking, germ swapping, closing of eyes so you can’t see that godzilla-sized zit just inches from your own hormonal monstrosity. All of her seven kisses had been horrible in different ways, but nothing compared to the awfulness that followed Kiss Number Eight. An exploration of sexuality, family, and faith, Kiss Number Eight is a coming-of-age tale filled with humor and hope.

Here are a few words from the author, illustrator, and editor behind Kiss Number Eight:

Author Colleen AF Venable: “I wanted to write a hopeful book about growing up queer in a conservative community—both in the present day but also in the past—inspired partially by my older sister’s coming out and the reaction of my very Catholic family, both good and bad. (How Catholic you may ask? Let’s just say it includes multiple nuns…who wound up being incredibly supportive.) There’s this obsession to box things in: Blue on this side. Pink on this side. But gender lines are much more fluid. Love is love, and if we had any control over it the world would be a lot less interesting. The first time I saw Leela’s art it was like an emotional train ran me over, backed up and ran me over again. All I kept thinking was ‘she is going to be a STAR.’ It’s so rare to find someone who can do depth and emotion but also brings the humor to a new level. I’m so honored to being working with her on her first book!”

Illustrator Leela Wagner: “When I read the script for Kiss Number Eight, I had this fantasy about if I were a decade younger, and I got to read this comic for the first time when I was Amanda’s age, and how much it would mean to me.  I remember the teenage feeling of a book having been written for me, and I think probably it would be one of those ‘I want to make comics’ or possibly ‘I want to be Colleen AF Venable’ moments.  So it’s an understatement to say I’m pretty pumped that I was born when I was and I get to be a part of bringing this story into the world.”

:01 Senior Editor Calista Brill:Kiss Number Eight is beautiful, witty, sincere, and surprising. Colleen AF Venable brings her pitch-perfect ear for dialogue to the table and Leela Wagner meets her stroke for stroke with some of the liveliest, most beautiful cartooning around. They’re a dream team, and this is a dream project: a teen graphic novel that tackles the biggest topics in teen life: sexuality, family, love, loyalty, religion, and, of course, minor-league baseball.”

We’re pleased and honored to share a sneak peek at two of the pages below (click to enlarge), and we’ll be sure to keep you posted about Kiss Number Eight’s release!

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge



10 Recent Contemporary LGBTQ YA Books

In honor of Pride month, here are 10 YA books about contemporary LGBT experiences just published this year. If you haven’t had a chance to check them out yet, now’s a great time!

Secondary Worlds, Choices, and OTHERBOUND

By Corinne Duyvis

duyvis-otherboundThis week sees the release of my YA fantasy debut Otherbound. For this book, I designed my first secondary world ever—and for all its challenges, it also opened up possibilities.

A different world means different cultures. Different norms.

I could play with disability and class: several significant characters, including my main character Amara, are mute servants who communicate solely via sign language. These servant signs—which are separate from sign languages used by this world’s deaf people—thus became a class marker and are intricately tied into Amara’s and other servants’ sense of identity and culture.

I could play with appearances and assumptions: Amara is bony and lean, with thick eyebrows. She’s attracted to a freckled boy with curly hair to his elbows and to a fat girl with deep black skin. None of these characters are conventionally beautiful in our society—and our society would make damn sure they knew it, too.

But why should a secondary world be just as hung up on beauty norms as we are? The people in the world I created are more concerned with politics of class, race, and magic. Physical attractiveness is rarely commented on.

I could play with race and identity: Amara is not only from a different country than the one the book takes place in, she’s from an ethnic minority within that country—and not only that, she was separated from her family at a young age after being selected as a servant. What does her identity mean to her, in light of all that? And in light of this world’s complex political history?

I could play with gender and sexuality: Amara never thinks twice about her attraction to both men and women. In this world, non-hetero sexual and romantic orientations are normal and integrated to the point where different words for them don’t even exist, akin to various actual cultures throughout history.

In a further attempt to battle heteronormative assumptions, I made it a point to refer to a female character’s late husband as her partner, rather than her husband, implying a less gendered approach to marriage. When someone tries to bribe another character with sex, they offer options beyond men and women. A male character enjoys watching long-legged dancers—gender unspecified.

To establish gender equality, I slipped in casual mentions of female marshals, female captains, female fishers. When an adult character protects a teenage girl, I had them say “She’s just a child” rather than “She’s just a girl” to avoid the implication that girls are seen as less or as vulnerable. One male character is adorned with jewelry, which is entirely unremarkable.

I had a lot of fun putting this world together, and many of these elements emerged naturally. Still, as I edited the book to keep all these social norms consistent, I realized just how many corrections I ended up making. We’re so brainwashed by our society’s attitudes that they feel normal to us, and it takes conscious thought to root them out.

That’s what it comes down to, for me—being aware. I didn’t write this post to imply that this type of worldbuilding is the best one—it depends entirely on the story you’re writing. Besides, I can list all kinds of things I wish I’d included or been more explicit about. I simply wanted to offer some examples to illustrate that, when we build a new world, everything is under our control. We’re the ones who determine the social norms, the histories, the oppressions. It’s important to wonder: Is this element necessary to the plot or characters? Am I purposefully including this to make a statement, to explore a particular situation? Or am I unthinkingly replicating elements from our world?

If everything is under our control, then everything we write in the book is a choice. Often, that choice is a subconscious one.

It’s up to us to be conscious about it.

corinneduyvisA lifelong Amsterdammer, Corinne Duyvis spends her days writing speculative young adult and middle grade novels. She enjoys brutal martial arts and gets her geek on whenever possible. Otherbound, her YA fantasy debut, will release from Amulet Books/ABRAMS on June 17, 2014. It has received starred reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, and BCCB. Kirkus called it “original and compelling; a stunning debut,” while BCCB praised its “subtle, nuanced examinations of power dynamics and privilege.”

Find Corinne at her Twitter or Tumblr.