Monthly Archives: May 2011

June’s New Books

Every month we feature all the new middle grade and young adult releases that include diversity. June brings six new middle grade and 14 new young adult titles, including a new middle-grade fantasy from Laurence Yep, a third book in the popular Dork Diaries series, and a nonfiction guide for LGBT teens titled Queer.

By “diversity” we mean: (1) main characters or major secondary characters (e.g., a love interest or best friend kind of character) who are of color or are LGBT; or (2) written by a person of color or LGBT author. Unfortunately due to time constraints we are unable to include each book’s summary, but we encourage you to click on the book covers to be taken to Indie Bound, where you can read a description of the book.

.

Middle Grade

.

Young Adult

Did we miss any books? Tell us about them in the comments!

Writing Outside Your Experience

“What do YOU know about being a teen girl?”

That’s generally the first question I get asked when I tell people that I write books about shopping and celebrities for teens and tweens. Usually my answer consists of “I grew up with a twin sister so I was steeped in all of her Sweet Valley Twins, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Baby-Sitters Club, Big Bopper, NKOTB, and Anne of Green Gables stuff.” (In return she got a childhood full of pro wrestling, fantasy sports, video games, and Dragonlance.) That answer usually gives people enough to accept that I know something about being a teen girl, even if tangentially.

Additionally, when I tell people that my first YA book, Exclusively Chloe, is about an adopted girl from China, their usual follow up question is: “Oh were you adopted?” Um, nope. “So you did some research or something?” I certainly did! I read articles, I looked up studies, I interviewed a few adoptees and their parents, and I kind of just projected what I thought it might feel like to be adopted. Did all that qualify me to write from an adoptee’s perspective? To be honest, I don’t know.

It’s a question I’ve been struggling with as I think more about what qualifies anyone to write a particular story. For example, I would have been uncomfortable having Chloe-Grace be from any foreign culture except China, because that’s the culture I know and was raised in. Writing as an adoptee from Russia, South Korea, or Guatemala (along with China, the top four countries who send adoptees to the U.S.) may not have been dramatically different but I would have felt inauthentic as a writer. Then again, I felt entirely comfortable writing about celebrity life even though the closest I’ve come to Hollywood is through television and the movie screen. And magazines, we can’t forget the weekly magazines.

Usually when I’m flipping through a book, I’m also scouring online to find information about the author. My knee-jerk reaction is to see if the author has the “credentials” to write the story I’m reading. If the book is centered around an HIV-positive teen, or say, set in a secret NASA base in the 1960s, I wonder how the author has related to that subject in their personal life. The question of whose perspective I’m reading from can make a huge impact on how I feel about a book, even transforming my experience entirely. I’ll admit that sometimes I’ll look at a book’s subject matter and wonder if the author is a cultural tourist. That “culture” could be anything. Ethnicity, economic background, gender identity, geographic background, professions, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, etc.

I was recently reading a book from a very respected and well-reviewed author. One of the side characters in it was such a grotesque stereotype that I had to put the book down. “What does this foreign guy know about growing up black and hip-hop in America?” I dismissed everything in this book because I couldn’t see this character as anything but a sick caricature. I made a judgement call about the author’s lifestyle and experiences, and then proceeded to totally reject his novel. My reasoning was that if I wrote from a perspective that was totally foreign to me, and I was making gross overgeneralizations and offensive remarks, I’d expect to be similarly dismissed by some readers too.

This was definitely a case where I felt the author hadn’t “earned” his authority.

But what about the flip side of this? As an Asian American author, my heart swells with pride whenever I hear about another Asian American author’s success. But what if we were all shoehorned into writing stories about Asian Americans just because we’re Asian and it’s assumed that’s what we know best? If the only authentic stories we could tell were related to our personal experiences, wouldn’t that be horribly limiting?

I mean, part of the fun of writing fiction is that we can let our imaginations run, we can skirt reality if we want to, and we can allow ourselves to be carried away by other people’s stories. As with any art, we’re often not just channeling our stories but also serving as a conduit for others. And as writers, we are all cultural tourists in some ways. So lately I’ve been trying to rid myself of pre-conceived notions about who has the authority to write what and trying to take a more “biography blind” approach to the relationship between author and product.

While it’s important and interesting to know about an author’s identity and background, I’m learning that “diversity” means not only having the room to represent yourself, but also allowing other people to lend their perspective to your world. Nobody owns a particular experience, not with legitimate viewpoints from all over, each one capable of shedding additional insight. So while I may not personally be __fill the blank__, I feel like as long as it’s coming from an informed and respectful space, I should feel more confident about writing from the perspective of different characters and situations unfamiliar to me.

What about you? How often does who the author is affect what you’re reading? Or for writers, how do you approach writing outside your personal experiences?

.

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.diversityinya.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/jon_bio1.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]J.A.Yang has slummed it in the valley with the Wakefield twins; slumber partied with Huey, Dewey and Louie; joined Krakow in stalking Angela; and climbed every mountain with the Von Trapps. He is the author of Exclusively Chloe. He lives online at www.jonyang.org. [/author_info] [/author]

It’s a wrap!

We can hardly believe it, but the May 2011 Diversity in YA tour has officially wrapped! We’d like to thank all the authors who participated in the tour, and we also thank everyone who came out to see us. We had wonderful audiences who asked thoughtful questions, and we are so happy and proud to have made this tour a success!

Here are some recaps of a couple of the events:

And here are photos from the tour (for San Francisco pics, read this post)!

Austin: Cindy Pon and Malinda Lo at Book People before the event


Austin: The panel included (from left to right) Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Dia Reeves,
moderator Varian Johnson, Jo Whittemore, Bethany Hegedus, Cindy Pon, and Malinda Lo


Chicago: The panel at Barbara’s Bookstore included (left to right) Cindy Pon, Malinda Lo,
Nnedi Okorafor, and Claudia Guadalupe Martinez


Boston (from left to right): Sarah Rees Brennan, Francisco X. Stork, Deva Fagan,
Malinda Lo, Holly Black, moderator Roger Sutton, Cindy Pon,
and Maya Escobar (Cambridge Public Library teen librarian)


The awesome audience in the Cambridge Public Library’s beautiful lecture hall!


New York: The panel at the LGBT Center included (from left to right) Malinda Lo, Cris Beam,
Jacqueline Woodson, David Levithan, and moderator Cindy Pon


New York: Malinda Lo and Cindy Pon with the gorgeous DIYA display at Books of Wonder


New York: Some of our Books of Wonder panelists included (from left to right)
Neesha Meminger, Malinda Lo, Cindy Pon, moderator Cheryl Klein,
Kekla Magoon, and Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich


The fabulous audience at Books of Wonder (click to enlarge)


If you came to one of the Diversity Tour events and blogged about it, please leave a link in the comments so we can check our your post. And if you took photos of our tour, feel free to email them to diversityinya at gmail dot com so we can post them, too.

Finally, stay tuned — just because the May tour is over doesn’t mean we are. We have lots more fun (with prizes!) coming in the very near future.

We are on tour!

On Saturday, May 7th, we kicked off the Diversity in YA book tour at the San Francisco Public Library with an awesome event co-sponsored by the Kearny Street Workshop, the Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Center, the Oakland Asian Cultural Center and the Philippine American Writers Association. Eastwind Books, a wonderful Asian American bookseller (Asian American bookseller!) from Oakland, came across the bridge to sell books.

We had a full house! Say hello to San Francisco:

Our wonderful audience!

Here are the authors who spoke at the event, from left to right, J.A. Yang, Malinda Lo, Cindy Pon, and Gene Luen Yang:

And here are the authors with our co-sponsors, from left to right, J.A. Yang, Ellen Oh (Kearny Street Workshop), Malinda Lo, Betsy Levine (San Francisco Public Library), Cindy Pon, Gene Luen Yang, Claire Light (Kearny Street Workshop):

We hope to see you at our other tour stops this week! Be sure to follow @cindypon and @malindalo on Twitter for on-the-road tweets (Cindy and Malinda will make attempts to retweet other DIYA tweets, too).

The Rest of the Tour:

Austin, Texas

Monday, May 9 at 7:30 p.m.
BookPeople
603 N. Lamar
Austin TX 78703

With authors Bethany Hegedus, Malinda Lo, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Cindy Pon, Dia Reeves, and Jo Whittemore, and moderated by Varian Johnson

Chicago, Illinois

Tuesday, May 10 from 5:30 to 6:45 p.m.
Barbara’s Bookstore
1218 South Halsted Street
Chicago, IL 60607

With authors Malinda Lo, Claudia Guadalupe Martinez, Nnedi Okorafor, and Cindy Pon

Cambridge, Massachusetts

Thursday, May 12 at 7 p.m.
Cambridge Public Library (Main Library)
Lecture Hall
449 Broadway
Cambridge, MA 02138

With authors Holly Black, Sarah Rees Brennan, Deva Fagan, Malinda Lo, Cindy Pon, and Francisco X. Stork, and moderated by Roger Sutton. Books available for sale from Porter Square Books.

New York, New York

Friday, May 13 at 6:30 p.m.
The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center
208 West 13th Street
New York, NY 10011

Highlighting LGBT YA books with authors Cris Beam, David Levithan, Malinda Lo, and Jacqueline Woodson. Books available for sale from Mobile Libris.

Saturday, May 14 at 1 p.m.
Books of Wonder
18 West 18th Street
New York, NY 10011

With authors Matt de la Peña, Malinda Lo, Kekla Magoon, Neesha Meminger, Cindy Pon, Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, Rita Williams-Garcia, and Jacqueline Woodson, and moderated by Cheryl Klein

Spotlight on Asian American YA

In honor of Asian American Heritage month, we’ve invited librarian and blogger Trisha Murakami to write about her thoughts on the state of Asian American young adult fiction.

I’ve complained a lot in the past about what I consider to be stereotypical elements in YA fiction about Asian-Americans. In fact, I think you could probably make the argument that there is actually a stereotype of Asian-American YA fiction:

  • about a girl
  • Chinese-American, Indian-American, or Korean-American
  • whose parents immigrated to the United States
  • and said parents are pretty strict
  • so because the girls are good girls to begin with, “rebelling” against their parents generally means having a love interest of a different race or ethnicity, breaking their curfew, and/or lying about their grades (not actually as good as the girl pretends they are)

Okay, maybe stereotype isn’t the right word; perhaps prototypical is better. Either way, it’s always bothered me because this is not representative of my experience of growing up Asian-American, nor is it reflective of the experiences of millions of other Asian-Americans.

This is not to say that books that include one or more of the aforementioned characteristics aren’t valid or worthwhile. But to me, it also serves to highlight that wanting more diversity in books doesn’t just mean wanting more books with African-American, Asian-American, Pacific Islander, Hispanic-American, and/or GLBTQ protagonists in general — it also means that we need books with more diversity within these populations. Asian America is not a monolithic culture or race or experience, but it’s hard to tell based on the YA novels available.

Asia’s a big place, after all, and it’s not just comprised of China, India, Japan, and Korea. People of various Asian nationalities have been immigrating to the US for over 150 years, and not all immigrants or children of immigrants are straight, able-bodied females. Some families are wealthy and educated, some are not. Some are of multiple races or ethnicities, others are not.

So here’s a short list of some of my favorite titles that explore a bit of the diversity and variety that comprises Asian America.

Cheva, Cherry. She’s So Money. HarperTeen, 2008.
A rarity: a hilarious Asian-American YA novel. When Maya’s parents leave her in charge of the family restaurant for the first time ever, she is excited. Until one of her decisions leads to the Health Department fining the restaurant $10,000. Afraid her parents can’t afford the fine, Maya decides to find a way to earn the money herself and agrees to take part in what turns into a cheating ring.

Crutcher, Chris. Whale Talk. Greenwillow, 2001.
The Tao Jones, better known as TJ, is a standout athlete who refuses to join any of his high school’s sports teams until he reluctantly agrees to help start a school swim team. What better way to stick it to the letter jacket-obsessed jocks who rule the school than by fielding a team composed of students who “would look most out of place in a Cutter High School letter jacket”? Ignore the book’s cover and read Whale Talk in spite of the whitewashing.

Headley, Justina Chen. Girl Overboard. Little, Brown, 2007.
Girl Overboard stands out to me because of how it integrates a lot of specific cultural details in a story about a girl who just happens to be Asian-American. It’s easy to imagine a white girl dealing with the same problems in a book with the same basic storyline.

Kluger, Steve. My Most Excellent Year. Dial, 2008.
One of the happiest, most positive and exuberant YA novel you’ll find. Among the narrators is Augie Hwong, who finally realizes what practically everyone else has known for years: he’s gay.

Smith, Sheri L. Hot Sour Salty Sweet. Delacorte, 2008.
Ana Shen’s Chinese-American father’s parents and African-American mother’s parents will eat together, but cooking together is another story. In honor of Ana’s eighth grade graduation, her grandmothers, both accomplished cooks, insist on preparing special dishes in her honor. Does disaster loom or will food bring everyone together?

Yamanaka, Lois-Ann. Name Me Nobody. Hyperion, 1999.
Abandoned by her mother, Emi-Lou lives in Hilo, on the Big Island of Hawaii, with her grandmother. Self-conscious about her weight and an outsider at school, Emi-Lou has only friend. But as Von starts spending more time with another girl (and is the other girl her girlfriend?), what will happen to Emi-Lou and Von’s friendship? Although several of Yamanaka’s adult novels feature teenaged characters, this is her only novel for teens.
.
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.diversityinya.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/050211trishamurakami.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Trisha Murakami blogs at The YA YA YAs. As an Asian-American and YA librarian, she has decidedly strong opinions on Asian-American YA fiction, though she admits that her opinions on this topic may be skewed by being born and raised in Hawaii.[/author_info] [/author]