Monthly Archives: August 2011

September’s New Books

Every month we feature all the new middle grade and young adult releases that include diversity. September brings a bumper crop of 26 new titles: 16 new middle grade and 10 new young adult novels. This month also marks the publication of the first three titles from Tu Books, a multicultural imprint from Lee & Low that focuses on fantasy, science fiction, and mystery.

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!

Diversity is in the Eye of the Beholder

One of the frequently asked questions I get about Possess is “Why did you choose to write a non-Caucasian main character?” And since this is the Diversity in YA blog, I thought this was the perfect forum to address the topic.

It all goes back to the beginning, the plot bunny for Possess: teen exorcist. Something about that subject matter just screamed out to be set in my hometown of San Francisco — the fog-blanketed streets, the murkiness of late fall, the oldness of the city, the Catholic heritage. Fantastic! I hold a special place in my heart for the city, especially the neighborhood in which I set the majority of the novel. Even the homes I describe in the book are part of me — my grandmother’s house, my aunt and uncle’s house. My San Francisco.

And if I was going to write about “my San Francisco,” I wanted it to look the way it did in my experience. And that is decidedly not white.

I grew up in suburb of the city and my high school was 40% Asian. Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, Filipino, Taiwanese. There was a tremendous range of diversity just within the Asian community. I grew up surrounded by all different types of Asian culture, so much so that I never considered any of my non-white friends to be a minority. Because in my world, they weren’t.

For example, my close-knit group of friends looked like this: Chinese, Chinese, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Armenian, Pacific Islander, Hispanic, Filipino/Irish, and three white kids — one a mutt, one Jewish, and me, the Irish Catholic girl.

So I wanted the San Francisco of Possess to reflect the San Francisco I know and love. Bridget Liu — half Irish, half Chinese — raised Catholic.

The funny thing is that some of my Asian friends from home kind of looked at me askew when I talked about Bridget. One friend said that she didn’t know any Chinese Catholics. Another said she didn’t know any biracial Chinese like that. Funnily enough, I know plenty of both. It’s all about frame of reference.

I’ve also had some pushback in regards to Bridget’s Asian heritage. In the book, it’s not something Bridget mentions, and I had a reader or two early on comment that Bridget should be more inquisitive about and referential of her Chinese roots.

My argument here is that the Chinese side of Bridget’s family has been in the United States longer than her Irish side. This, too, isn’t uncommon in San Francisco, where Chinese immigration to the area was in full swing by the mid-19th century. Heck, my family didn’t immigrate to the U.S. until 1906! So Bridget doesn’t really feel a connection to China, or Ireland for that matter. Once again, frame of reference.

In the end, the greatest contribution to color blindness I could make with Possess was to treat Bridget as…Bridget. A fifteen-year-old Catholic high school student who just happens to be half-Chinese and can exorcise demons. That’s it. She is who she is. And I wouldn’t have her any other way.

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[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.diversityinya.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/082211gretchenmcneil.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Gretchen McNeil is an opera singer, writer and clown. Her YA horror/paranormal Possess debuts with Balzer + Bray for HarperCollins on August 23, 2011. Her second novel, Ten — YA horror/suspense about ten teens trapped on a remote island with a serial killer — is tentatively scheduled for a Fall 2012 release. Gretchen is a former coloratura soprano, the voice of Mary on G4’s Code Monkeys and she currently sings with the LA-based circus troupe Cirque Berzerk. Gretchen is also a founding member of the vlog group YARebels where she can be seen as “Monday.”[/author_info] [/author]

Don’t forget to Diversify Your Reading!

It is approximately two weeks until the Sept. 1 Oct. 1 deadline to enter the fabulous Diversify Your Reading Challenge, where one lucky library and one lucky reader will each win all 53 of these awesome diverse middle-grade and young adult novels!

The challenge rules and entry forms for both librarians and regular readers are on this page here.

We’ve gotten some questions about the contest particulars, so today we’re posting this FAQ with some answers for you. You can also peruse the comments in our original blog post announcing the challenge for other Q’s and A’s, or leave additional questions in the comments on this post.

Diversify Your Reading Challenge Frequently Asked Questions:

1. What do you mean by “diverse”?

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.

2. What does LGBT mean?

Lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

3. What does “person of color” mean?

A person of color is someone who is not white. You can check out this Wikipedia page for a useful analysis of the term. It does not mean all different ethnicities, because many ethnic groups are white.

4. Why isn’t disability or religion included in your definition of “diverse”?

When we (as in, Malinda Lo and Cindy Pon) launched this site, we knew that we personally did not have enough knowledge or time to make sure we included every possible type of diversity in the books we’d be featuring. Disability has certainly been a topic of discussion at our tour stops, and you’re welcome to write about disability in your essay. But please also write about people of color and/or LGBT people.

5. Do you want us to focus on our experience as we read the books or on the books themselves?

We’d like you to write about how the books affected you as a reader. Did they challenge your assumptions? Did they force you to read outside your comfort zone? Or, did they make you feel seen or heard? Did you identify strongly with the characters’ experiences? If you’re a writer as well, what did reading these books show you about how authors can write about diversity?

So, in writing this essay, of course you’ll need to mention aspects of the books you’ve read, but we’re not looking for straightforward book reviews.

6. Is there a list of specific books we should read?

No, you can read any diverse books you want! If you need help finding books to read, you can check out our monthly lists of new books, and these book lists at Black Teens Read.

7. When is the deadline?

September 1, 2011. October 1, 2011.

8. When will the winners be announced?

After Sept. 1! Oct. 1!:)

Go here to enter the Diversify Your Reading Challenge! And if you have additional questions, please leave them below in the comments.

The Demonization of Complexity

Then He asked him, “What is your name?” And he answered, saying, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” — Mark 5:9

Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes. — Walt Whitman

I was about seven years old when my mother remarried and I gained a stepbrother and a stepsister. Their father (now my stepfather) was of Slavic descent and their mother was of African decent, making them biracial, or as some called them in the early 1980’s in Ohio, “mixed.” As an only child, I had always wanted siblings, so I was thrilled. At first, the fact that they were biracial was something I barely even noticed. I was far more interested in the fact that I now had a brother with whom I could talk Star Wars and professional wrestling, and an older sister whom I could torment. But people kept bringing up the fact that they were biracial. Generally, it was well-meaning adults (including my mother and stepfather), who knew that I was a rather sensitive boy, easily upset by harsh words from others. The adults warned me that some people thought it was “wrong” and might say “mean things” and I was not to pay those racists any mind.

I don’t recall anyone ever actually saying anything mean or racist, at least not to me. But it made me suddenly very aware of that aspect of my siblings. I begin to think about it a lot and could not for the life of me understand how anyone could possibly think it was wrong. If it was okay to be white, and it was okay to be black, why wasn’t it okay to be both?

I was raised Catholic and attended Catholic school from kindergarten through senior year in high school. Many people thought it was strange, then, that I attended a Jewish camp every summer and knew nearly as much Hebrew as I did Latin. I saw no conflict there and was actually very fond of both religions. Someone once asked me if I wanted to become Jewish. The question surprised me because until that moment, I hadn’t realized I wasn’t. Why couldn’t I be both?

The university I attended had two primary specialties: Fine Arts and Computer Science. I was in the Fine Arts program, studying theater. But I also loved computers, and could often be seen down in the subbasement computer clusters teaching myself HTML or gaming with the CS majors. Other fine arts students were shocked. They wanted to know how I could possibly have anything in common with “those people” and if I was losing interest in theater. But why couldn’t I be passionate about two completely different fields of study?

I still don’t know the answer to these questions. Why do so many people take issue with the fact that we contradict ourselves? Why can’t we accept that, as Whitman says, we contain multitudes? And yet, I have spoken to many people who feel split between two races, or two religions, or two cultures, and who feel this pressure to “pick a side.”

The anthropological definition of “demonization” is the process by which one group portrays themselves as correct and/or good and an opposing group as wrong and/or evil. Black vs. white, Christian vs. Muslim, conservative vs. liberal, etc. We all know this is oversimplification. Lazy thinking that fosters an unrealistic, polarized perspective on people. So why do people do it? What is so scary about embracing our inherent complexity?

That’s one of the main questions I explore in my new novel, Misfit. I take the concept of demonization and make it quite literal. Syncretism was a process used by the Catholic Church when attempting to convert practitioners of polytheistic religions to monotheism. In polytheistic religions, most gods were neither fully good nor fully bad, usually falling somewhere in between. Obviously, that didn’t really work in the Church’s Heaven vs. Hell binary, so what they did was to sanctify some gods, explaining to the practitioners that these were actually saints, not gods. Other gods, they demonized, explaining that those were not gods but demons.

Most of the images we associate today with demons or “the devil” were inherited from some rank polytheistic fertility or trickster god half a millennia ago. This is how Dagon, depicted in the Old Testament and Torah as god of the Philistines, lands several hundred years later in some demonology roll call as “baker of Hell.” Quite a demotion, really.

So what I asked myself in Misfit was: What if these “gods” had existed in some way, feeding off the worship of countless little polytheistic religions? And what if, through the sheer force of a shift in collective belief (hello Jung!), these creatures were transformed into demons?

But a story isn’t about concepts or themes. It’s about people. And so I took this idea and brought it down on the shoulders of poor little teenage Jael Thompson and I asked her the question. Can she fit in with the Catholic church of her ex-priest mortal father and the Hell of her demon mother? Her mother urges her to believe that she has a right to both heritages, and that’s a lovely sentiment, but is it realistic? Or must she choose one and reject the other? There are many who say that being a “halfbreed” like her is forbidden by both Heaven and Hell. And that the punishment is death.

I wanted to take this whole thing full circle back to race, my initial inspiration for complexity, and make it a little more concrete. So I worked through the logic of what physical characteristics Jael might have inherited from her mother, the demoness/goddess Astarte. Astarte’s origins go way back, fading into the fuzzy realm of prehistory, but it’s pretty clear that she can at least be traced back to the regions of present day Syria and Lebanon, which gives her daughter Jael a vaguely Middle Eastern appearance. This is a stark contrast to the predominantly Northern European look of Seattle. It’s also a detail that Jael’s blond best friend, Brittany, brings up twice in the first few chapters of the book.

And just because that’s how I roll, I also made Jael’s antagonist, Belial, the Grand Duke of the Northern Duchy of Hell, obsessed with maintaining the purity of demons and upholding the ban on “halfbreeds.”

Whether or not the story answers the questions I put forth, and what those answers might be, is for the reader to decide. My primary goal was to show that a world where there are no easy answers can still be satisfying, rather than merely frustrating. That contradiction can be a virtue, and complexity can be a joy.
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[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.diversityinya.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/080811jonskovron150.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Jon Skovron has never really fit in, and has no plans to start now. After twelve years of Catholic school, he went on to study acting at a conservatory program for four years before returning to his first love, writing. Best-selling author Holly Black called his new novel, Misfit, “A diabolically delightful paranormal” and Kirkus (Starred Review) called it, “Thoughtful, scary and captivating.” His first novel, Struts & Frets, was published in 2009. Washington Post Book World said, “Skovron perfectly captures that passion–sometimes fierce, sometimes shy–that drives so many young artists to take the raw stuff of life and transform it into something beautiful.” Bestselling author Cory Doctorow said, “Struts & Frets will feel instantly authentic to anyone who’s ever felt the pride and shame of being an outsider.” Jon lives with his two sons outside Washington, DC. Visit him at jonskovron.com.[/author_info] [/author]

August’s New Books

Every month we feature all the new middle grade and young adult releases that include diversity. August brings seven new middle grade and eleven new young adult novels, including the third book in Simone Elkeles’ bestselling Perfect Chemistry series, Chain Reaction, and a graphic novel adaptation of Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Tantalize.

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!