Monthly Archives: June 2011

July’s New Books

Every month we feature all the new middle grade and young adult releases that include diversity. July brings eight new middle grade and seven new young adult novels, including a novel in verse from veteran author James Howe.

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.

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Middle Grade

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Young Adult

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

Diversify Your Reading!

Now that the Diversity Tour is over, Diversity in YA is moving on to our next big DiYA endeavor: the Diversify Your Summer Reading Challenge!

This summer, we’re challenging readers to read books that feature a diverse world, to read beyond their comfort zones, and to just plain dive into some wonderful stories. Our challenge will have two components: one for libraries, one for readers and book bloggers. At the end of the summer we’ll be giving away some wonderful book prizes donated by publishers.

Here are the details:

Libraries: We invite librarians to incorporate diverse middle grade and young adult novels into your summer reading programs, whether it’s as a book display, a book club event, or a book list you’ve created to share with your patrons. Please take photos or shoot video of your display or event and share them with us!

Readers and Book Bloggers: We invite readers and book bloggers to read diverse MG and YA books throughout the summer (you choose the books!) and write an essay (at least 500 words) about your experience. You can post it on your website, Blogger, LiveJournal, Tumblr, or on Facebook; we only ask that your post be publicly readable.

What to read: You can read whichever diverse books you like! By diverse 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. If you need some suggestions, check out our monthly lists of new books, and these book lists at Black Teens Read.

Judging: Cindy Pon and Malinda Lo will select one grand prize winner in each category, and that winner will receive a giant collection of fabulous MG and YA books. In addition, our favorite blog posts may be posted on www.diversityinya.com later this year.

Prizes: Many major publishers have generously donated books to serve as prizes for our challenge. You can check out the preliminary list of prizes here, and we will update the page as more donations come in.

Fine Print: This challenge is open to US libraries only, and prizes can only be sent to a US mailing address.

How to enter: Go to this page and fill out the form when you are ready.

Deadline: The deadline for all entries is September 1, 2011.

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But wait, there’s more! A kick-off giveaway!

To start this challenge off and help get the word out, we’re offering a great giveaway of ARCs to those who blog about this challenge and link back to our challenge page. Here are all the ARCs you could win:

You do not have to participate in the actual reading challenge to win this kick-off giveaway! All you have to do is blog about the Diversify Your Reading Challenge and link back to this page. The deadline to enter is July 31, 2011, and this giveaway is open to US mailing addresses only.

To enter the Diversify Your Reading Challenge Kick-off Giveaway, fill out this form:

Updated 8/16/11: The Kickoff Challenge is over! Congratulations to the winner, Dorine White, and thanks to everyone who helped to spread the word about the Diversify Your Reading Challenge. You still have until Sept. 1 to enter that!

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A note to publishers and authors: if you’d like to donate novels that fit our reading challenge criteria, please email us directly (diversityinya at gmail dot com).

Any questions? We’re so excited to dive into some great books this summer!

The World’s A Stage, Or Is It?

The Demon’s Lexicon series is all about roles.

I started the first book, The Demon’s Lexicon, thinking about the role of Mr. Tall, Dark, Handsome and Morally Really Freaking Dodgy, and how we almost never get that guy’s point of view, and what he’d be like from the inside. Almost unforgivably awful, maybe, because you know how bad he is from the start, and you aren’t distracted by his good looks and dashing ways. What’s it like to look into the abyss? And what makes an abyss, anyway?

That was the role that started the ball, ahem, rolling. (Everybody groans and tosses rotten fruit.) From there I thought about roles, and the different ways I could play with them, like genderswitching: what if the hero of an epic fantasy — you know the type, rash and brave and honest and initially clueless — was a girl, what if the Mother Who Would Give Up/Do Anything For Her Kid was a boy?

Some of my ideas were just about going beyond a role, because some roles are true as far as they go, but people are so complex they never go far enough. Such as the gay guy who presents as weaker than other guys — what if he was physically weaker and smaller, and also quite deliberately presenting himself in a certain way, and also a huge magical badass?

All three books are told from a different point of view, which is a weird move generally speaking, but which I felt was right for this series: seeing the world wider, and people in a million different ways, is how you explore roles.

UK cover

The third and final book in the series, The Demon’s Surrender, is told from the point of view of Sin, a biracial girl who helps run a secret magical market and who dances up demons.

Here’s a role for you: the role of the “exotic dancer.” I have seen them in several zillion movies and books and TV shows, some good and some bad. Most recently in Game of Thrones, which I like quite a bit in other ways! I recall them from in between episodes of passing out with rage during the movie Alexander. I vividly recall reading the phrase “dusky-skinned charmer” in H. Rider Haggard.

Break a role to pieces and you can examine them. A woman who’s a PoC being a good dancer, or being sexy? Nothing wrong with that. But it’s complicated, because of people’s attitudes to women being sexy at all, especially black women: because of people’s assumptions. (And you know what people say about those who assume. But people do it anyway.)

In most of the books and movies and shows I saw, these women were put in the background, not front and centre. So, first move for any character: give her a voice. You can bet they’ll have something to say.

The second book of the series, my agent and editor suggested I change narrators from the one I originally intended, and I think they were totally right. But for the third book, from the start, from before I wrote a word of the first, I said: Sin, Sin, Sin. It has to be her, please can it be her, I want her. This book is hers.

And they said yes, for which I will forevermore be thankful.

US cover

There’s another thing about dancers, about entertainers of all kinds: they’re performing. They more than anyone else are consciously acting out a role. So why is she acting, how much of her act is real, what is she doing it for? It’s Sin’s job to be aware of how people perceive her, and she takes on some of it and uses it, takes some of it to heart, and takes some of it and tosses it aside. The situation becomes immediately more complex, once you start thinking of whys and wherefores. The role’s a job: she has to make money because she’s responsible for her much younger half-siblings — and those half-siblings she holds so dear are white, and people who see them on the street assume she’s not even related to them. The role’s a vocation, so it’s part of who she is, but not all she is.

Here’s a problem: the role Nick, Mr. Tall Dark &c, plays in the series is a role played by a white guy with a bunch of issues: that’s a main role we get to see every day, a role that gets forgiven a lot of things, a role that if I didn’t get right a bunch of other people would. Let’s face it, “White Dude With Some Issues” could be the title of seventy per cent of movies and books out there. (We switch it to “White Dude With Some Issues (Who Is My Boyfriend)” I think we could make it to eighty per cent.)

I’m a girl, not a guy, and I’m white, not black, so in both cases I was writing from the point of view of someone I wasn’t. But there’s a lot more hurt to be inflicted if I got Sin wrong. And with writing, the chances of getting something wrong are high indeed. But it was something I felt I had to do. And it is something I feel like writers should do: write what they want and feel called to write, and write about the world the way it is. Writers should give every story in them a voice and a time to speak.

E.M. Forster was a gay guy who wrote about how it was kind of hard to be a lady in A Room With A View, and most people think that’s a pretty good book. 😉 Swati Avasthi is a woman and a PoC, and she wrote Split, a truly wonderful book about brotherly bonds and messed-up family, from a white guy’s point of view. I’m grateful for both those books, and many many more, for people who write outside and inside their experience and try their best to say everything they have to say. I did try my best: I may have got it entirely wrong, for which I apologise! But I think it’s best to try.

And it was a lot of fun. The world’s at its best to write about when it’s the real world, with things added and not taken away.

People talk about writing characters “who just happen to be” something, and in some ways I see what they mean. Sarah Jae-Jones, a wonderful editor at St. Martin’s Press, and I were walking through a bookshop the other day talking about how we always avoided issue books as kids. Because they were just going to be about someone being one thing! Because they were always depressing, and the dog always died!

I’m grown up now (kinda … officially, anyway) and I love a lot of issue books. But I still want to see people in books that are magical adventures who are diverse, and informed by that. Nobody “just happens to be” anything. Harry Potter wouldn’t have been the character he was if he wasn’t informed by his background. Everybody is. But that wasn’t all he was, and he also got to have millions of adventures that had nothing to do with said background. That, I think, is what people are asking for.

The Demon’s Lexicon universe was enormously fun to play with, and designed to talk about who people are in the context of magical adventures. That’s what fantasy does: lets you write about the real world in words that shine crimson and gold. Demons in that world steal bodies, so — how far does a body determine who you are? Name a demon, and you control it — what is the power of a name, or in a renaming? What do you call yourself?

One of the main characters in the series is re-named by his brother. One of them names herself after an icon she admires. Sin’s full first name is Cynthia, and when she hits puberty people start spelling her nickname “Sin” instead of “Cyn — and after being taken aback and somewhat hurt, she embraces that as a stage name: takes other people’s perceptions of her and uses it. But it’s also not the only name people call her. Her father calls her Thea.

One of the main characters presents as stereotypically “manly” — but this is meant to challenge the idea of what makes a “real man” as he’s a demon, who can choose and switch their genders, and change their bodies in other ways. The bodies of all the human characters are in a very real way under threat: of possession, of control, which lets you talk about the threats human bodies face in the real world.

Sin’s body is something she uses, that it’s vital for her to use: for performances, and also to fight with, in a world of constant danger where she has people to protect — but other people are wrong when they see it as theirs to use. When a demon takes a romantic interest in her, it’s simply an extension of the way other people have seen her: something that can be possessed. Sin also feels plenty of sexual attraction herself, and how do you negotiate that — it’s complicated to be seen as sexy and other things besides sexy. What’s love but really being seen, and how do you learn to see others, and how do you get other people to see you?

These issues are really, really complicated. So are people. I don’t think there are any simple answers — I think there are billions, because every person has to decide on their own, and sometimes people change their minds — and I don’t think there should be.

But to keep on thinking, keep on talking, keep on turning ideas like these over and over, on their heads, seen from all the angles — that’s what I want to do as a writer, and what I tried to do with this series.

I’m so glad I got to.
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[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.diversityinya.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/sarah3b.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Sarah Rees Brennan was born and raised in Ireland by the sea,where her teachers valiantly tried to make her fluent in Irish (she wants you to know it’s not called Gaelic) but she chose to read books under her desk in class instead. Her Irish is still woeful, but she feels the books under the desk were worth it. The Demon’s Lexicon, her first novel, was published in summer 2009 and received three starred reviews, was one of Kirkus’ Best Books, ALA’s Top Ten Best Books, a Best British Fantasy book, shortlisted for the Cybils and longlisted for the Carnegie medal. It was followed by The Demon’s Covenant in 2010, and the trilogy concludes with The Demon’s Surrender in 2011. Her next book, a co-written secret project, comes out in 2012. Visit her website at http://www.sarahreesbrennan.com/.[/author_info] [/author]

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Sarah Rees Brennan has generously offered to give away a signed copy of the UK edition of The Demon’s Surrender to one reader. To enter the giveaway, simply fill out the form below; commenting does not enter you for the giveaway (but please comment if you wish!). The deadline to enter is Monday, June 27, and the contest is open internationally. A winner will be drawn at random and will be notified via email. Ready? Go:

The giveaway is over! Thank you all for entering!

Gene Luen Yang on Thien Pham

Thien Pham is the illustrator of our upcoming graphic novel Level Up.  Superficially, at least, Thien and I are a lot alike.  We’re both Asian American cartoonists in our mid-thirties. In addition to making comics, Thien and I also teach at the same high school.  We both have younger brothers working in the medical field.  (We refer to them as the good Asian sons.)  Thien and I even grew up in the same town and went to the same comic bookstore when we were kids, though we didn’t know each other at the time.  On those surveys where you bubble in little dots with a #2 pencil to describe who you are, most of our dots would probably match.

But honestly, I don’t think Thien and I could be more different.  This became increasingly apparent as we worked together on Level Up.  I like planning things out.  I like outlining before I start writing.  I like getting feedback and revising, and then getting more feedback and doing more revising.  I like figuring out exactly how big a word balloon ought to be before ever setting pencil to paper.

Thien has a completely different philosophy of art.  He likes putting lines and colors down as quickly as he can, “capturing the inspiration” (his words) before it disappears.  When he writes a story of his own, he likes making it up as he goes.  And when he gets to the end, it’s the end. No revisions necessary.  He likes drawing word balloons without measuring, light-boxing, or using any of the other tricks most cartoonists use on word balloons.  Thien just trusts that they’ll be big enough when the time comes to letter.

It took us years to make Level Up.  And I must confess, I spent a significant amount of that time rubbing my temples and explaining to Thien the importance of rulers and deadlines and knowing the average number of words that will fit in a square inch of white space.  Thien would nod, chuckle to himself, and then keep making comics his own way.  Eventually, he took to calling me “Tiger Partner.”

Here’s confession #2: Despite Thien completely ignoring most of what I had to say, Level Up turned out all right.  When Thien’s on, he’s really on.  That “capturing the inspiration” stuff actually seems to work.  The book’s art has a looseness to it that makes for a breezy, endearing read.  And the word balloons… well… word balloons can always be resized in Photoshop.

Working with Thien and seeing his process up close has even changed my own work.  I still like planning things out, but I no longer use rulers when I ink backgrounds. Letting those little inconsistencies creep into your drawings makes them more alive.  Life, after all, is inconsistent.

So here’s a shout-out to diversity in partnership.  Working closely with someone who’s very different from you — and not necessarily in the bubbled-dots ways — can be frustrating, but it can also be rewarding.  You can learn a lot about what makes art, and what makes people, work.

So thanks, Thien, for putting up with your Tiger Partner.

Preview Level Up:

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.diversityinya.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/geneYang3501.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Gene Luen Yang began self-publishing comic books in 1996. In 1997, he got the Xeric Grant for Gordon Yamamoto and the King of the Geeks. Since then he has written and drawn a number of stories in comics. American Born Chinese, released by First Second Books in 2006, became the first graphic novel to be nominated for a National Book Award and the first to win the American Library Association’s Printz Award. It also won an Eisner Award for Best Graphic Album – New. The Eternal Smile, a collaborative project with Derek Kirk Kim in 2009, won an Eisner for Best Short story. In addition to cartooning, Gene teaches computer science at a Catholic high school in California. Find out more about Gene at www.humblecomics.com.[/author_info] [/author] 

Books That Are Loud and Proud

Pride! June isn’t Gay Tolerance Month, or Gay Awareness Month, or Gay History Month, or Gay Acceptance Month. It’s all about PRIDE in ourselves, in our partners, in our history, in our future, or maybe just in our new leather chaps.

YA literature hasn’t always reflected this sense of pride. Until the 1990s, nearly every book written about a gay teen was a typical problem novel. Each of these books features a teenager who fears s/he is gay; feels attracted to someone of the same sex; tries desperately to hide it; and then eventually accepts her/himself and comes out. Generally, life outside the closet is dangerous and scary, as parents, teachers, or peers may be angry or violent toward the teen.

For Pride Month, however, I encourage you to read outside of these scary coming-out stories. Yes, bullying, queer-bashing, and parents who just don’t understand are real problems today, as they have been throughout the twentieth century. But many teens today face far less of this than kids did even ten years ago. The generations before paved the way for today’s teens to not only feel pride in their queerness, but to show that pride, to celebrate it.

Fortunately, today we have some proud and passionate authors out there who are able to put this feeling in writing. Some of their characters are actually out and proud, while others are closeted due to their culture or era, but nonetheless demonstrate what it means to live a courageous queer life.

Candy Everybody Wants by Josh Kilmer-Purcell (2008) falls into a subgenre of queer YA that I call Big Gay Books: splashy, chaotic, happy, slangy novels narrated by protagonists who exemplify pride. Check out the silver cover and hot-pink lettering – this is one novel whose cover art is evocative of the content. Narrator Jayson is the kind of kid who writes scripts for a Dallas/Dynasty crossover (called Dallasty, naturally) and casts himself in the lead female role. He also finds himself in bizarre situations, like visiting his father’s house and being mistaken by guests as a new rent boy. A romp of a read.

My Invented Life by Lauren Bjorkman (2009) is equally dramatic but takes a different angle: an identity crisis with Shakespearean overtones. Roz has a lot going on: her sister Eva, might be gay, although Eva does have a boyfriend, Bryan, but he keeps flirting with Roz. Roz, in turn, flirts with Jonathan, who turns out to be actually gay. Then there’s Carmen, bitchy genius and surprisingly good theatrical director, and Nico, whom no one can quite figure out. Eyeliner Andie, who describes herself as “no-sexual,” rounds out the ensemble of teens putting on a production of As You Like It. The book tells the story of their complicated-to-the-point-of-farcical love lives as Roz pretends to be gay in order to find out if Eva is, and then has to figure out how to get a boyfriend despite pretending to like girls, and then has to deal with the possibility that she does indeed like girls. This is complicated by her role as Rosalind in the school play, for which she has to dress as a woman dressing like a man. Lots of fun on a lot of different levels from the literal to the postmodern.

A quieter book that nevertheless celebrates pride is John Green & David Levithan’s Will Grayson, Will Grayson (2010). Two teenage boys with identical names happen to meet in a porn store that neither of them planned to enter – really – and their lives begin to intertwine in interesting ways. One Will Grayson is straight with a proudly gay best friend; the other is gay and way into that friend. Funny, complicated, and brilliantly written. Also see Levithan’s Boy Meets Boy (2003), a sweet romance that takes place in a gaytopian world where the football quarterback is a drag queen.

It would be nice to see more books written from the perspective of trans characters. Jumpstart the World by Catherine Ryan Hyde (2010) is told instead by a straight girl confused about her feelings for a trans man. Hyde escapes the clichés of the genre by not allowing her trans character to be hurt or changed by the protagonist’s fear and self-doubt. Instead, trans Frank is proud to be who he is: a man.

Beautiful by Amy Reed (2009), on the other hand, is all about the chicks. Thirteen-year-old Cassie and Sarah are BFFs, serious partiers, and occasional lovers; they sleep with other characters of both genders, with no worrying about how this affects their identities. Is it because they’re really bisexual or because the drugs cause them not to care or notice? Cassie’s lack of self-awareness means she isn’t really proud in the sense I’ve been using it, but her perspective of sex as a behavior rather than an expression of self bodes well for her future as a bisexual woman. Let’s call Cassie pre-proud.

How Beautiful the Ordinary, edited by Michael Cart (2009), is a mixed bag of average stories and great ones. The best of the bunch is Jennifer Boylan’s “The Missing Person,” about a trans girl borrowing her sister’s clothes and sneaking out to the town parade in them. “It was the first time in my life I had ever felt the sun on my face as a girl,” says the narrator. “I felt like someone who had been released from jail, like someone who’d spent her whole life in a prison only to be unexpectedly paroled, at the age of fourteen, and set loose upon the world.” Damn.

Hidden Voices: The Orphan Musicians of Venice by Pat Lowery Collins (2009) is a refreshing take on unrequited love. The story is set in early-eighteenth-century Venice at the orphanage where Antonio Vivaldi trained young girls to sing. Anetta is our lesbo heroine – she has a huge crush on her friend Luisa that, of course, she can’t voice or even identify with, considering the era.  She knows she has a yearning to be close to Luisa but can’t relate that to the sort of desires her friends have for boys. A sad, moving story with a fascinating historical backdrop.

Randa Jarrar’s A Map of Home (2009) is set in Kuwait during the invasion by Saddam Hussein. Nidali’s family — including an abusive father, a confused but loving mother, and a little brother she mainly ignores — moves first to Egypt and then to Texas. The war and politics are relegated to the background in this coming-of-age story in which Nidali never actually quite comes of age. It’s her attitude about her sex life that really makes her character shine. When she describes orgasm via the bathroom bidet, there is no confession in her tone (and her dismay upon moving to Texas and finding that American bathrooms lack this fixture is hilarious); she then experiments with her female friend because “I wanted to be the first one Jiji kissed instead of some slimy toad of a guy.” That’s a sex-positive teenager for you.

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[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.diversityinya.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/060611daisyporter.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Daisy Porter is Manager of Innovation at San José Public Library, where she leads efforts at continuous improvement in user experience, staff empowerment, and reimagined environments. A lifelong reader, Daisy has been reading YA fiction since well before she was a young adult herself, and has reviewed it for VOYA and ALA’s GLBT Newsletter as well as on her own blog: daisyporter.org/queerya. She lives in San Jose with her fiance, two dogs, and two cats, and still reads at least 250 books per year.[/author_info] [/author]