Monthly Archives: March 2014

Is it still a dystopia if it’s really happening?

By Alexandra Duncan

Recently, I was discussing the difference between dystopian fiction and post-apocalyptica with some friends and fellow writers. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell which category a book maps most closely to because writers purposefully genre-bend or blur the boundaries. Sometimes a book ends up being labeled one thing or another for marketing purposes or we have to pick one thing to call a book for brevity’s sake. Sometimes a book is simply mislabeled.

The librarian in me is fascinated by this taxonomy and wants to spend her afternoon making Venn diagrams. What’s that? No Venn diagrams? Not even a small one? Ugh, okay.

So, what makes something dystopian rather than post-apocalyptic?  Usually in order for a society to become a dystopia, its creators have to have started out with the intention that it would be a utopia — a perfect world that circumvents the messy everyday problems we suffer from, like war, heartbreak, and the danger of free will. And then something has to go horribly, catastrophically wrong with that utopia. It has to fail and become a nightmare version of what its creators intended — a dystopia — usually through order being valued above all else. They’re often meant to be a warning about what we might become. Think George Orwell’s 1984 or Ally Condie’s Matched.

Sometimes, though, an aspect of a book will map so closely to reality that I find myself questioning whether the book should really be called dystopian, or if it’s something else altogether. For example, my own novel, Salvage, which occasionally ends up labeled as dystopian, includes both a polygamist society where teenage girls are married off to older men and a whole city of people who earn their livelihood by harvesting recyclable refuse from a floating trash dump in the Pacific Ocean. Both of these situations exist in the real world. Teenage girls are forced in polygamist marriages with older men. People really do live in trash dumps and try to make a living picking through garbage and recyclables.

Garbage dump outside Managua, Nicaragua – 1999. I was there with a group of other teenagers from the non-profit Witness for Peace.

These situations aren’t the result of a utopian experiment gone wrong, they’re part of the chaotic, ugly nature of the world. They’re not a nightmare scenario we’re being warned against, they’re the everyday reality for millions of people worldwide. They’re the result of entropy, not order.

That leads me down a frightening path, because entropy and chaos are the defining characteristics of the post-apocalyptic novel. In post-apocalyptica, people’s lives aren’t planned to a stifling degree, as they are in dystopias. They have to fight to survive from one moment to the next, with no sense of security, no plan for the future. And if those things are as true of the real world as they are of books like Mindy McGinnis’s Not a Drop to Drink or Paolo Bacigalupi’s Ship Breaker, does that make the real world post-apocalyptic?

I was reading a blog post by Victoria Law recently that posed an interesting question – Why would readers want to escape to a world that so closely mirrors the injustices and horrors they face in everyday life? If, for example, people live lives that resemble a dystopian novel (constantly being stopped and asked for identification by police) or a post-apocalyptic novel (living in constant deprivation of food, water, medical care, etc.), what purpose does reading about a similar world serve? It’s certainly not escape. It’s not a warning about what could be. It’s a reflection of reality.

I don’t believe there are easy answers to the problems most people in the world face on a daily basis. I spent a long time as a teenager and young adult wishing I could fix everything and stop all the world’s suffering, only to end up too emotionally exhausted to really be of help to anyone. What I’ve come to believe is that all of us can do small things in our everyday lives to make the world better. (See this page on my web site for ideas.) As for writers, if we remember that some people are actually living our worst nightmares, it gives us a chance not simply to provide the lucky among us with a metaphor and a warning, but to give voice to the people whose lives our stories reflect. It gives us the chance to let other people know they’re not alone. It allows us to mirror the problems of reality in a new way — a way that might just lead to people changing their minds and then changing the world.


Alexandra Duncan is a writer and librarian. Her first novel, Salvage, is due to be released by Greenwillow Books on April 1, 2014. Her short stories have been featured in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy. She loves anything that gets her hands dirty – pie-baking, leatherworking, gardening, drawing, and rolling sushi, to name a few. You can find her online at Twitter, Goodreads, Facebook and her web site.

New Releases – March 2014

The Secret Side of Empty by Maria E. Andreu (Running Press Kids)

“In her first novel, Andreu examines immigration from a distinctive angle through the story of Monserrat Thalia, aka M.T., whose family illegally immigrated to New Jersey from Argentina when she was a baby. Now it’s her senior year, and the bright future she’s imagined for herself is threatened by her abusive, embittered father, who’s determined to return to their homeland. … M.T’s immediate, jaundiced, and worldly perspective is eye-opening and wrenching, particularly when it comes to how she weighs her own worth as a human being.” — Publishers Weekly

Lost Girl Found by Leah Bassoff and Laura DeLuca (Groundwood Books)

Much ink has been worthily spent calling attention to the harrowing experiences of the Lost Boys of Sudan. So what of the girls? Addressing a severe imbalance in the amount of attention paid to girls and women victimized in Sudan’s long civil war, the co-authors (one of whom has worked in East Africa) offer a fictional memoir. … Readers will come away with clear pictures of gender roles in Poni’s culture as well as the South Sudan conflict’s devastating physical and psychological effects. Two afterwords and a substantial bibliography (largely on the Lost Boys, perforce) will serve those who want to know more. Moving and necessary.” — Kirkus

Resistance by Jenna Black (Tor Teen)

Book Description: Resistance is the second installment in acclaimed author Jenna Black’s YA SF romance series. Nate Hayes is a Replica. The real Nate was viciously murdered, but thanks to Paxco’s groundbreaking human replication technology, a duplicate was created that holds all of the personality and the memories of the original. Or…almost all. Nate’s backup didn’t extend to the days preceding his murder, leaving him searching for answers about who would kill him, and why. Now, after weeks spent attempting to solve his own murder with the help of his best friend and betrothed, Nadia Lake, Nate has found the answers he was seeking…and he doesn’t like what he’s discovered. The original Nate was killed because he knew a secret that could change everything. Thanks to Nadia’s quick thinking, the two of them hold the cards now—or think they do. Unfortunately, neither of them fully understands just how deep the conspiracy runs.

Returning to Shore by Corinne Demas (Carolrhoda Lab)

“In this coming-of-age novel, Clare must also decide how she feels about her father’s identity, especially when faced with friends’ homophobia. A quiet, thoughtful story for sophisticated readers.” — Booklist

The Sowing by Steven dos Santos (Flux)

Book Description: Lucian “Lucky” Spark leads a double life. By day, he trains to become one of the Establishment elite. At night, he sabotages his oppressors from within, seeking to avenge the murder of his love, Digory Tycho, and rescue his imprisoned brother. But when he embarks on a risky plot to assassinate members of the Establishment hierarchy, Lucky is thrust into the war between the Establishment and the rebellion, where the lines between friend and foe are blurred beyond recognition. His only chance for survival lies in facing the secrets of the Sowing, a mystery rooted in the ashes of the apocalyptic past that threatens to destroy Lucky’s last hope for the future.

Silver People: Voices From the Panama Canal by Margarita Engle (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

“In melodic verses, Engle offers the voices of three [Panama Canal] workers…Taken together, they provide an illuminating picture of the ecological sacrifices and human costs behind a historical feat generally depicted as a triumph.”
—Horn Book Magazine

Gilded by Christina Farley (Skyscape)

Book Description: Sixteen-year-old Jae Hwa Lee is a Korean-American girl with a black belt, a deadly proclivity with steel-tipped arrows, and a chip on her shoulder the size of Korea itself. When her widowed dad uproots her to Seoul from her home in L.A., Jae thinks her biggest challenges will be fitting in to a new school and dealing with her dismissive Korean grandfather. Then she discovers that a Korean demi-god, Haemosu, has been stealing the soul of the oldest daughter of each generation in her family for centuries. And she’s next.

Dangerous by Shannon Hale (Bloomsbury)

“Her middle name may be Danger, but Maisie “Danger” Brown doesn’t seem a likely action heroine. She is a homeschooled half-Latina science geek with a special love for physics and astronomy, and she has an artificial arm. When she wins a contest to go to astronaut camp with other teens, her life changes dramatically. … This fast-paced science fiction novel with echoes of the “Fantastic Four” comics doesn’t let up for a moment. Maisie is a strong, smart heroine with a wry sense of humor, and readers will be rooting for her to save the world. A must-read for fans of superhero adventures.” — School Library Journal

Alpha Goddess by Amalie Howard (Skyhorse Publishing)

Book Description: In Serjana Caelum’s world, gods exist. So do goddesses. Sera knows this because she is one of them. A secret long concealed by her parents, Sera is Lakshmi reborn, the human avatar of an immortal Indian goddess rumored to control all the planes of existence. Marked by the sigils of both heaven and hell, Sera’s avatar is meant to bring balance to the mortal world, but all she creates is chaos. A chaos that Azrath, the Asura Lord of Death, hopes to use to unleash hell on earth.

Torn between reconciling her past and present, Sera must figure out how to stop Azrath before the Mortal Realm is destroyed. But trust doesn’t come easy in a world fissured by lies and betrayal. Her best friend Kyle is hiding his own dark secrets, and her mysterious new neighbor, Devendra, seems to know a lot more than he’s telling. Struggling between her opposing halves and her attraction to the boys tied to each of them, Sera must become the goddess she was meant to be, or risk failing, which means sacrificing the world she was born to protect.

Promise of Shadows by Justina Ireland (Simon & Schuster)

“A reluctant Harpy discovers her destiny in an elaborate Greek-mythology–based fantasy. … Zephyr’s narration hooks readers with snappy, hilarious one-liners. A dark, slyly funny read.” — Kirkus

The Violet Hour by Whitney A. Miller (Flux)

Book Description: Some call VisionCrest the pinnacle of religious enlightenment. Others call it a powerful cult. For seventeen years, Harlow Wintergreen has called it her life. As the adopted daughter of VisionCrest’s patriarch, Harlow is expected to be perfect at all times. The other Ministry teens must see her as a paragon of integrity. The world must see her as a future leader. Despite the constant scrutiny, Harlow has managed to keep a dark and dangerous secret, even from her best friend and the boy she loves. She hears a voice in her head that seems to have a mind of its own, plaguing her with violent and bloody visions. It commands her to kill. And the urge to obey is getting harder and harder to control …

Black Sheep by Na’ima B. Robert (Frances Lincoln Children’s Books)

Book Description: Sparks fly when sixteen-year-old Dwayne meets high-flying, university-bound Misha. To Misha, it feels like true love, but her mom is adamant that Dwayne is bad news and forbids her to see him. When Misha decides to follow her heart, the web of secrets and lies begins to tighten, for Dwayne is not quite who he says he is. And as he struggles to turn his life around while hiding his darker side from Misha, his ties with Trigger, Jukkie, and the rest of his boys draw him deeper and deeper into gang violence, more serious and bloody than any he has ever seen. One night, Dwayne’s two lives collide, with devastating consequences.

Because of Her by KE Payne (Bold Strokes Books)

Book Description: For seventeen-year-old Tabitha “Tabby” Morton, life sucks. Big time. Forced to move to London thanks to her father’s new job, she has to leave her friends, school, and, most importantly, her girlfriend Amy, far behind. To make matters worse, Tabby’s parents enroll her in the exclusive Queen Victoria Independent School for Girls, hoping that it will finally make a lady of her.

But Tabby has other ideas. Loathing her new school, Tabby fights against everything and everyone, causing relations with her parents to hit rock bottom. But when the beautiful and beguiling Eden Palmer walks into her classroom one day and catches her eye, Tabby begins to wonder if life there might not be so bad after all.

When Amy drops a bombshell about their relationship following a disastrous visit, Tabby starts to see the need for new direction in her life. Fighting her own personal battles, Eden brings the possibility of change for them both. Gradually, Tabby starts to turn her life around-and it’s all because of her.

The Unwanted by Jeffrey Ricker (Bold Strokes Books)

Book Description: Jamie Thomas has enough trouble on his hands trying to get through junior year of high school without being pulverized by Billy Stratton, his bully and tormentor. But the mother he was always told was dead is actually alive-and she’s an Amazon! Sixteen years after she left him on his father’s doorstep, she’s back… and needs Jamie’s help. A curse has caused the ancient tribe of warrior women to give birth to nothing but boys, dooming them to extinction-until prophecy reveals that salvation lies with one of the offspring they abandoned. Putting his life on the line, Jamie must find the courage to confront the wrath of an angry god to save a society that rejected him.

Ruins by Dan Wells (Balzer + Bray)

“Wells concludes his post-apocalyptic, action-packed trilogy with a literal bang and a lot of blood. Believable characters face tough moral choices, and though the end is tidy, the twists and treachery that get readers there are all the fun. It’s enjoyable alone but best read after the first two. Science (fiction) at the end of the world done right.” — Kirkus

Drama Queens in the House by Julie Williams (Roaring Brook)

“Williams (Escaping Tornado Season) puts her theater background to good use in this novel about a biracial girl struggling to find her footing in life. … family drama keeps getting in the way, including her father’s affair-turned-committed-relationship with a man, her ‘religious fanatic’ aunt Loretta’s obsession with Arma-geddon, and her mother’s refusal to talk about her collapsing marriage.” — Publishers Weekly

Diversity in Publishers Weekly’s 2013 Young Adult Bestsellers

By Malinda Lo

On March 14, 2014, Publishers Weekly released its annual accounting of children’s bestsellers for the previous year. Continuing Diversity in YA’s efforts to analyze diversity in the book market, I’ve taken a look at the 2013 figures to determine how characters of color, LGBT characters, disabled characters, and authors of color are represented in these bestselling titles.

In comparison to 2012 (you can read those results here), there was a tiny uptick in 2013 in terms of overall numbers of titles that incorporate characters of color, LGBT and/or disabled characters, but that increase is due to errors I made in calculating diversity in the 2012 list. Last year was my first attempt to count diversity in bestsellers, and I missed the House of Night series by P.C. and Kristin Cast (published by St. Martin’s Press), whose main character, Zoey Redbird, is part-Cherokee. I also missed Michael Grant’s Gone series; I explain more about that series later in this post.

Additionally, last year I did not count Lois Lowry’s Gathering Blue as including a disabled character because I thought Lowry’s Giver Quartet was middle grade. While the series was originally published as middle grade, in recent years the publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, has repositioned the series as young adult. (See the search results at Edelweiss, where the 2002 publication is categorized for ages 8–12, whereas the 2012 reprint is for ages 12 and up.) This clearly indicates that “young adult” is a marketing category, but because I rely on publishers to categorize their own books, I have to follow my own rule. That means this year, Gathering Blue and the other books in the Giver Quartet count as YA.

What this means is that the number of diverse YA titles — when diverse means main characters of color, LGBT and/or disabled main characters — has remained flat. There has been no improvement overall.

Before I continue to the rest of the analysis, first I’ll define my terms and explain some background information. If you’re not interested in this you can skip down to the next section, Overall Diversity in Publishers Weekly’s 2013 YA Bestsellers. Continue reading Diversity in Publishers Weekly’s 2013 Young Adult Bestsellers

Diversity Links – March 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

YA author Meg Medina (Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass) is profiled as one of CNN’s 10 Visionary Women.

The Lambda Literary Awards have announced their finalists for 2014, including these 11 titles in the LGBT Children’s/Young Adult category.

According to People magazine, Oklahoma teens Katie Hill and Arin Andrews, who are transgender and were in a relationship with each other during their transitions, will share their stories in two memoirs to be published Sept. 30, 2014, by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers.

Last week a bunch of upcoming YA covers featuring Asian characters were revealed.

Reading Diversity

Walter Dean Myers asks “Where Are the People of Color in Children’s Books?” for the New York Times.

Christopher Myers writes about “The Apartheid of Children’s Literature” for the New York Times.

At the Pirate Tree, author E.M. Kokie interviews Susan Kuklin about her new book, Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out. Here’s Part 1 and Part 2.

Lynn Miller-Lachmann interviews author Maria E. Andreu about her new novel, The Secret Side of Empty, about an undocumented high school senior from Argentina, for CBC Diversity.

Literature OUT Loud: A Guide to Young Adult Literature for Trans Teens, a book list from librarian Jackson Radish.

Here’s a list of 100+ Asian speculative fiction authors, including those who write young adult.

YA Interrobang offers a list of 10 YA books with Native American protagonists.

Writing Diversity

Author Diana López on Migas, Confetti, and Martha Stewart (Latin@s in Kid Lit), or how she decides which cultural details to explain and which ones to allow the reader to figure out.

Malinda Lo on writing dialogue about race, and why it’s often awkward.

Supporting Diversity

Emerging from a monthlong discussion about diversity in children’s literature on the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s mailing list, here are several suggestions on how you (yes, you!) can support and spread the word about diversity in children’s and YA books.

Author Meg Medina offers her suggestions for what you should do if you want more diverse literature.

Tu Books has a great list of places (bookstores, publishers, etc.) where you can find and buy diverse books for young readers.

There’s More to Making Non-Sexist Art Than Not Being Sexist, just as there’s more to incorporating diversity than not being racist.

Last but not least…

Don’t forget to enter our massive anniversary giveaway of 55+ diverse YA books! The deadline is March 31, 2014.

Don’t Be Afraid

By Christina Farley

image

When I first read the Korean myth of Haemosu and Princess Yuhwa, the story spoke to me and I knew their story had to be told. But there was that hesitation. Could I write a story based on a culture that was not my own? There is definitely the fear of not getting it right and falling short of the bar.

There are legitimate concerns about misrepresenting a culture and transferring one’s own culture into the story. But the story wouldn’t leave me and I knew I needed to write it.

In order to write Gilded correctly, I need to be aware of common pitfalls that writers face when writing outside of their cultural background. Here are some obstacles I faced and how I dealt with them.

1. Authenticity

I didn’t grow up in a Korean home, which was my weakness in tackling this story. But I was lucky to have lived in Seoul, Korea for eight years and be immersed in the culture. I also taught and mentored Korean-American students so I was able to be a part of their lives and see the struggles that they went through. I took my experiences with them and wove them into the story.

Tip: I suggest interviewing teens from the ethnic background you are writing from, hanging out with them, and being a part of that culture for a time period. Those details will show in your work. Don’t write from the culture from afar, be a part of it. Live it.

2. Accuracy

Again there was the fear that I would mess something up in the story. Every little detail needed to be correct in order to be true to my readers. To help me with this, I wrote many of the scenes in their actual locations so all I had to do was look around me and write what I saw, smelled, and felt. The extremes I went to making sure GILDED was accurate was a bit over-the-top even to the point of making sure the seat colors on the train were the correct color. I relied heavily on experts in Korean culture and history and had the manuscript fact checked by Chanwoo Park of the Literature Translation Institute of Korea.

Tip: Perhaps you don’t have the privilege of living in the location that you are writing about. If that’s the case, I suggest watching videos on YouTube, conducting interviews and reading firsthand accounts. I feel strongly that you should make every effort possible to make sure your story is as accurate as humanly possible. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and seek advice from those who are from the culture you are writing about.

3.  Passion

Without passion, without a love for the culture that you are writing about, your story will be dull and uninspiring. You must LOVE that culture as if it’s your own. You must be able to embrace all the good and the bad and then draw from those emotions in the book. While living in Korea, I completely fell in love with the country, the people and the customs. It’s my hope that my readers will come away from reading GILDED with a love for Korea and a desire to visit it.

Tip: Write what you love. If you don’t love that culture or that ethnic background, don’t write about it.

4.  Purpose

You must know why you are writing this book. Just to write a book with a multicultural bent in hopes to sell isn’t going to cut it. When writing GILDED I knew most of my American students had no clue about Korean culture. Meanwhile I wanted the students I taught in Korea to have a story where the main character was someone from their ethnicity. My purpose was for my readers to fall in love with Korea as I had and then to want more.

Tip:  Knowing the purpose of your story will help focus your writing. Determine what your aspirations are for your book and the reasons you are writing it. Your story will flow from there.

Not being part of a culture or ethnicity should not be a barrier to write a story, but it does create challenges.  A writer must always view the creation through the lens of a person from that culture.  Telling stories always has been and still is an essential part of every culture. If a story calls at your heart, it needs to be written. So don’t be afraid to listen to its call.


CHRISTINA FARLEY, author of Gilded was born and raised in upstate New York. As a child, she loved to explore, which later inspired her to jump on a plane and travel the world. She taught at international schools in Asia for ten years, eight of which were in the mysterious and beautiful city of Seoul, Korea that became the setting of Gilded. Currently she lives in Clermont, FL with her husband and two sons—that is until the travel itch whisks her off to a new unknown. Gilded is her first novel. For more details, check out her website at www.christinafarley.com. Christina holds a master’s degree in education and has taught for eighteen years. She is represented by Jeff Ourvan of Jennifer Lyons Literary.

The Diversity Dilemma

By Amalie Howard

AmalieHoward
Author Amalie Howard

I’m what society calls a Person of Color. I literally just learned that term. I’m a POC. Kind of sounds like a Prisoner of War or a Point of Contact. Maybe that’s what it feels like—as if I’m being tagged, placed in a box and categorized for future reference.

I grew up in Trinidad and Tobago, twin islands in the Caribbean, where people of color are the majority. However, I had a healthy awareness of the color of my skin because the culture of my country was so polarized between browns and blacks especially post-colonization. Color was extremely divisive—in politics, in the economy, in schools, in geography. I suspect that this of course was a remnant of our tumultuous history, i.e., black slaves and Indian indentured laborers brought to work the plantations during the early days of colonization. Notwithstanding those divides, my best friend in my first year of high school (Trinidad follows the British educational system so high school starts at eleven years old) was a girl of African descent, and we remain good friends today. I attribute that to my parents, who taught us that color was never a basis by which to judge someone else—it was about who they were on the inside. The fact that we travelled often as a family also gave me a great foundation for appreciating other colors and cultures early on.

However, this “color appreciation” got sorely tested in college when I attended Colby College in Maine at seventeen. Not only was I a student of color in a predominantly white school, I stuck out like a sore thumb, and I found myself hiding like one. I had no idea who I was—I felt like a stranger in my own skin, the very same skin I had known for seventeen years. In a country with a cultural history very unlike Trinidad, color polarization was based on black and white, not black and brown. I didn’t fit in anywhere. I wasn’t white. I wasn’t black. I was something else— the box on those social information forms called other.

Identity crises suck. And I was stuck in a pretty bad one. I changed my name from my middle name back to my first name, which was more Indian. I dressed like a lumberjack. And I ate like one, too. I’m not sure what I was trying to do—maybe become invisible and more visible at the same time. I wanted to fit in, but I didn’t want to be seen.

I’m of East Indian descent on my father’s side and Middle Eastern/East Indian/French descent on my mother’s. How’s that for a diverse ethnic mix? I grew up in a multicultural, multi-religious, multilingual home. Most would consider that as an incredibly cool background, but the truth was, it made it even harder to figure out who I was. I was confused, and for a long time, I tried to fit in, pretending to be someone I was not. It took a while, but eventually, I had to figure out who I was before I could stand on my own to accept and value my differences. I had to understand what being brown meant. And to tell you the truth, I’m still learning what that means.

As a Person/Author of Color, there’s an expectation that you’re going to write a book about a person of color or about different cultures. Hence the title of this post—the diversity dilemma. When I wrote my first book, a fantasy story about a witch, my agent got a lot of feedback from editors saying, “why doesn’t she write a book about her background and her culture? It’s so interesting.” The thing is I wasn’t ready to write that kind of book. Yes, I do incorporate a lot of my background in my stories, but I’m not going to write a book about Indo-Caribbean culture because that’s what is expected of me. I grew up reading fantasy and sci-fi because that’s what I loved. My favorite book as a child was Grimm’s Fairy Tales—I loved how dark they were and the feeling of being drawn into some fantastic universe. I devoured C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, Greek mythology, and pretty much anything I could get my hands on. And most of the protagonists in these books were white or their skin color wasn’t defined. That made no difference to me—it didn’t impact my reading experience (or make me think about skin color) one bit. It was all about the story.

That said, as an older reader, I can be quite conscious of color when it’s in a novel, especially if it is used in an authentic and judicious fashion. I don’t appreciate if it’s in there for gratuitous commercial reasons or a marketing ploy to hit a diversity target—the, “hey, let’s pop in the gay, black best friend because it will diversify our market.” The people you’re trying to reach see right through that—it’s gimmicky. For me, it has to be real and applicable to the story that is being told. It has to be meaningful.

howard-alphagoddessWhen I wrote Alpha Goddess, I knew it was going to be a different kind of story that heavily leveraged my Indian background. I wanted to bring something fresh to the table—something that hadn’t been written about, but would appeal to YA readers. As a child in a Hindu household, I was lucky to grow up with a different kind of mythology, one steeped in East Indian culture. Inspired by another tale of star-crossed love—the epic tale of Rama and Sita—I decided to focus on that mythology as the foundation for my story. Known as the Ramayana, it is a timeless Indian love story in which prince Rama and his wife Sita were tricked from the throne and sent into exile, where Sita was stolen away by a ten-headed demon, Ravana, who tried to convince her to marry him. However, her love Rama came to save her, battling the demon to the death with the help of the monkey-king, Hanuman. My retelling begins with a fictional account of how Rama and Sita find each other in another future lifetime—this time within the world of Alpha Goddess in a contemporary setting. I wanted to remain true to several key elements of the Hindu mythology, but I also wanted to use my creative license to really make this story my own.

With Alpha Goddess, it isn’t just the skin color of the protagonists that makes it different or diverse, or even that a Person of Color wrote it—it’s also because it brings a whole new cultural mythology to the YA table. At the end of the day, my hope is that Alpha Goddess will make readers curious to learn more about actual Hindu mythology. If that means that they do an online search for the story of Rama and Sita, or seek out more information on Indian gods and goddesses, then I have accomplished my goal. Part of reading is knowledge—introducing readers to new ideas and new cultures. We live in a world that is becoming smaller by the day … why not learn more about the people surrounding you?

I think diversity in YA is becoming more and more widespread, especially given the popularity of the genre. Authors are looking for ways to give YA fiction more depth and breadth. YA, like its constantly evolving audience, seems to be more amenable to exploring and embracing distinctive characters or storylines, and authors are responding to that. I think we as human beings are inherently complex, and we are an incredibly diverse species. Why shouldn’t we embrace all facets of ourselves and incorporate that into YA, or any fiction, for that matter? A huge part of reading is education. We live to learn, to expand our minds, and to appreciate our differences. Books are only one medium to bring us closer together. And as an AOC (Author of Color), I intend to do everything possible to make that happen.

Alpha Goddess is now available. Find out more about Amalie Howard at her website or follow her on Twitter @amaliehoward.

Ask & Answer: Latina/o and immigrant identity

Over on tumblrdacrayzblaze1 asked:

You tagged a recent post about a book about a girl from Spain as Latin@. However, Spain is not considered a part of Latin@ identity. Latin@ identity encompases people from Latin America, which Spain is not a part of. HIspanic identity encompases Spanish-speaking people, which Spain is a part of.

Hi! Malinda here. Thanks for your ask. It reminded me of a similar ask we got back in October.

In reference to your question, I think you’re talking about this interview that CBC Diversity did with Maria Andreu about her novel, The Secret Side of Empty. I did tag it as Latin@. I am aware that the terms Latino and Latina do not incorporate Spain, which is why I didn’t include Andreu’s book in the new releases the week it came out. When I was researching new releases and came across Andreu’s book, I was confused by the cover copy and the various other promo materials with the book, which made me think that the book was about an immigrant from Spain.

However, if you read the rest of Andreu’s interview at CBC Diversity, you’ll see that the main character of The Secret Side of Empty is from Argentina, and even the author’s background shows that ethnicity and “where are you from?” questions can be fraught with many complexities. Here’s an excerpt from the interview:

Why did you choose Argentina as your protagonist’s country of origin, and what kind of research did you do to learn about that country’s situation and that of its migrants to the United States?

My own background is more complicated than just “Spaniard.” It’s kind of tough to explain to people, so I made M.T.’s story easier. My parents were born in Spain and emigrated to Argentina as toddlers. They met and married in Argentina. When I was going to be born, they moved to Spain briefly, so it was kind of a fluke that I was born there. They speak Spanish with an Argentinian accent, as do I. But my passport (before I got my fabulous American one thanks to the 1986 amnesty) was from Spain. Their whole immediate family—brothers, sisters, cousins—are all in Argentina. Then they emigrated to the U.S. when I was an infant. The plan was to work for six months, save up money and go home to Argentina. And… well, life had other plans.

Because the character is an immigrant from Argentina in the United States, I’m fairly certain that she is considered Latina in the US. Of course, this is a complicated issue; I’m also fairly certain she might prefer to be identified as Argentinean, or even (possibly) American. See this article at the LA Times about usage of the terms Latino and Hispanic.

As an immigrant myself, even I find these situations really difficult to parse. Life is complicated, and an immigrant’s identity by definition crosses boundaries. In the context of Diversity in YA, these complexities are part of the challenge of identifying which books we want to showcase. We don’t want to miss anything, but at the same time we risk missing things if we have too narrow of a definition of certain identities.

In this case, I do believe the book fits our parameters, and when we round up all of the new releases at the end of the month, I’ll add Andreu’s book to the list.

10 Diverse YA Historicals About Girls

In honor of Women’s History Month, here are 10 diverse young adult historical novels about girls. Descriptions are from Worldcat.

Mare’s War by Tanita S. Davis (Alfred A. Knopf)

Teens Octavia and Tali learn about strength, independence, and courage when they are forced to take a car trip with their grandmother, who tells about growing up Black in 1940s Alabama and serving in Europe during World War II as a member of the Women’s Army Corps.

Wildthorn by Jane Eagland (Houghton Mifflin)

Seventeen-year-old Louisa Cosgrove is locked away in the Wildthorn Hall mental institution, where she is stripped of her identity and left to wonder who has tried to destroy her life.

The Lightning Dreamer: Cuba’s Greatest Abolitionist by Margarita Engle (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

In free verse, evokes the voice of Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda, a book-loving writer, feminist, and abolitionist who courageously fought injustice in nineteenth-century Cuba. Includes historical notes, excerpts from her writings, biographical information, and source notes.

Willow by Tonya Cherie Hegamin (Candlewick Press)

In 1848 Willow, a fifteen-year-old educated slave girl, faces an inconceivable choice – between bondage and freedom, family and love – as free born, seventeen-year-old Cato, a black man, takes it upon himself to sneak as many fugitive slaves to freedom as he can on the Mason-Dixon Line.

The Fire Horse Girl by Kay Honeyman (Arthur A. Levine Books)

When Jade Moon, born in the unlucky year of the Fire Horse, and her father immigrate to America in 1923 and are detained at Angel Island Immigration Station, Jade Moon is determined to find a way through and prove that she is not cursed.

The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano by Sonia Manzano (Scholastic)

It is 1969 in Spanish Harlem, and fourteen-year-old Evelyn Serrano is trying hard to break free from her conservative Puerto Rican surroundings, but when her activist grandmother comes to stay and the neighborhood protests start, things get a lot more complicated–and dangerous.

Anahita’s Woven Riddle by Meghan Nuttall Sayres (Amulet)

In Iran, more than 100 years ago, a young girl with three suitors gets permission from her father and a holy man to weave into her wedding rug a riddle to be solved by her future husband, which will ensure that he has wit to match hers.

Climbing the Stairs by Padma Venkatraman (Penguin)

In India, in 1941, when her father becomes brain-damaged in a non-violent protest march, fifteen-year-old Vidya and her family are forced to move in with her father’s extended family and become accustomed to a totally different way of life.

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein (Hyperion)

When young American pilot Rose Justice is captured by Nazis and sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious women’s concentration camp, she finds hope in the impossible through the loyalty, bravery, and friendship of her fellow prisoners.

Daughter of Xanadu by Dori Jones Yang (Delacorte)

Emmajin, the sixteen-year-old eldest granddaughter of Khublai Khan, becomes a warrior and falls in love with explorer Marco Polo in thirteenth-century China.

Ask & Answer: Autistic characters by Autistic authors

Over on tumblrfalconwhitaker asked:

Hi there 🙂 Do you by any chance have a list of books about autistic characters by autistic authors?

Hi! After doing some research, it’s pretty clear that there are very few young adult books that fit these parameters. Here are the few that we found:

Colin Fischer by Ashley Edward Miller and Zack Stentz (Penguin) — Zack Stentz “describes himself as ‘on the Asperger’s spectrum’” (NPR).

“The screenwriting team behind X-Men: First Class and Thor make their YA debut with the story of a teenager with Asperger’s syndrome solving a crime, a premise that can’t help evoking Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. … readers will be drawn into the mystery and intrigued by Colin’s vision of the world.” —Publishers Weekly

Rogue by Lyn Miller-Lachmann (Nancy Paulsen Books) — Lyn Miller-Lachmann writes about being “on the autism spectrum” here for DiYA.

“An eighth-grader’s Asperger’s syndrome complicates her navigation of an unpredictable—and often inexplicable—world. … An interesting and somewhat enlightening look at a girl struggling but sometimes making bumpy progress in dealing with Asperger’s.” — Kirkus

Thanks to Corinne Duyvis and Lyn Miller-Lachmann for their input.

Writing About Diversity Is Harder Than I Thought

By Justina Ireland 

ireland-promise_of_shadowsI’ve started this blog post three times.  This is the fourth.

In the first draft I was going to tell you all about the things I learned while writing Promise of Shadows:  how the stereotypes that you grow up with appear like cancer in your pages, sudden and unexpected; how you search for words that mean what you really want to say (like “nappy”) without having the gut punch of an insult; how you’ll agonize and worry that people will think all black women are angry instead of just your flawed main character; how you become terrified that you’ll become one of the voices of your race because you wrote one of the few characters of color in YA, even if you only are half black.

But I didn’t, because that blog post was too long and rambling and no one would care anyway.

So then I wrote a blog post about the problem with only having white characters in literature, how it informs our reading until we see all characters as white characters, making white the default.  I was going to share how I didn’t even realize that Rue was black in The Hunger Games until I read the book for a second time, and how that made her death all the more poignant (of course the black character dies!).

But that blog post was depressing, so I scrapped it.

The third post I wrote was all about the pervading stereotype that black people don’t read fantasy and science fiction, not as teens and definitely not as adults.  I was going talk about how this has led to a very homogenous landscape in genre fiction, of plucky princesses and brooding farm boys, all of them white.  I even had a great anecdote about the man who came up to me once in Barnes and Noble asking me where the African American book section was, and how I had to admit that I didn’t know because I’d never been there.  I was even going to share that I was in my late twenties before I read a book containing a black main character where the story wasn’t about suffering or racism.

But that blog post was angry and alienating, so I decided not to go with that.

JustinaIreland
Author Justina Ireland

So here I am with my fourth attempt at writing this blog post.  And really, I’m not sure what to say.  We need more black characters in YA.  We need more gay and queer and bisexual and transgender and disabled and Asian and Latino and Native American characters in every branch of literature.  We need characters with illnesses where the story isn’t about their illness.  We need stories about the inner city where the story isn’t about how terrible life in the inner city is.  We need characters and stories and books that reflect this big, amazing, screwed up world we live in.  Stories that uplift and emotionally crush, that are terrible and brilliant, forgettable and memorable.

We need to live in a world where having a main character that is black isn’t as equally fantastical as having a main character who is a Harpy.  When did black main characters become equal to creatures of myth?

I don’t want to write about diversity anymore.  It’s too hard.

I’m not that great at writing about things that should be obvious to everyone.


Justina Ireland enjoys dark chocolate, dark humor, and is not too proud to admit that she’s still afraid of the dark. She lives with her husband, kid, and dog in Pennsylvania. She is the author of Vengeance Bound and Promise of Shadows. Visit her at JustinaIreland.com.