Tag Archives: Ashley Hope Perez

New Releases – September 2015

Wonders of the Invisible World by Christopher Barzak (Knopf Books for Young Readers)

“Aidan lives on a farm in Temperance, Ohio, that’s been in his family for generations. When Jarrod Doyle returns to finish his senior year after many years away, Aidan doesn’t recall him at all, let alone believe that they’d been best friends in elementary school. Jarrod reminds him that he used to tell stories of seeing strange things that no one else saw. … Telling the tale in Aidan’s deliberate, meticulous voice, Barzak strikes a nice balance between contemporary teen issues and paranormal adventure. Part ghost story, part love story, this page-turner is a captivating exploration of the power of place, family, memory, and time itself.” — Kirkus

The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow (Margaret K. McElderry Books)

“Once there was war, until an artificial intelligence named Talis took over the world. Four hundred years later, Talis still rules; he has made the world peaceful, but the price is the blood of children. Should a government declare war, its heir, raised in a U.N.- (and Talis-) controlled Precepture, a monasterylike enclave, dies. Greta, Crown Princess of the Pan Polar Confederacy, is one of those Children of Peace. … This is no cookie-cutter dystopia. Talis (whose voice lends a sharp, outsize, and very dark humor to his every word and scene) may not be a bad supreme ruler. The boy (Elián) is not Greta’s love interest (Princess Xie is), and anyway the love story is only a piece of a much larger story about love and war, forms of power, and the question of what is right when there is no good answer, all played out on a small and personal stage.” — Kirkus, starred review

A Whole New World: A Twisted Tale by Liz Braswell (Disney Press)

“In a Disney-authorized riff on the animated film Aladdin, one crucial plot twist has horrifying results. The first quarter of the book serves up a straightforward novelization of the film, until evil vizier Jafar traps the roguish protagonist underground—in this version, without the magical lamp. Aladdin escapes to find that with the genie’s aid, Jafar has publicly murdered the feckless sultan, imprisoned the princess Jasmine, and terrorized the people of Agrabah into submission. Fortunately, Aladdin can call upon the Street Rats to spearhead a revolution, but can a gang of petty thieves prevail over Jafar’s black magic? Briskly paced, with nonstop action and clever allusions to classic horror tales …” — Kirkus

Trail of the Dead by Joseph Bruchac (Tu Books)

“In Volume 2 of this post-apocalyptic series, Lozen leads survivors of the insurrection against Haven’s technically augmented human rulers through gemod-infested wilderness to the hidden valley her Apache family once called home—it doesn’t go as planned. As Lozen’s powers to read the now-unwired world around her have grown, so have the responsibilities and stresses of leadership. … To unravel and heal her PTSD requires confronting the toll that killing takes on warriors, however noble their motives or those of the leaders who’ve ordered it. … Bruchac’s focus on these consequences adds welcome emotional depth to Lozen and to the story itself, while her search for healing and wholeness highlights the strengths of a cultural heritage that is up to the challenge. This second act offering deeper characterization and resonant themes enriches an already compelling tale.” — Kirkus

The Suffering by Rin Chupeco (Sourcebooks Fire)

“Seventeen-year-old Tark has adjusted pretty well to life with Okiku, the vengeful spirit that accompanies him wherever he goes. Tark is able to control Okiku’s blood lust, harnessing and aiming it at only those that truly deserve it. When an old friend, Kagura, goes missing, Tark and Okiku travel to the Aokigahara, a forest in Japan infamous for suicide, to search. As the location’s dark past is revealed, Okiku begins to lose sight of her moral compass, and Tark begins to feel that nothing will ever be the same again. The novel’s horror set pieces are the real highlight. Chupeco establishes a creepy, sinister tone early on but never veers into camp or overwrought darkness.” — Kirkus

One by Sarah Crossan (Greenwillow)

“Grace and Tippi are 16-year-old conjoined twins attending private school after only being homeschooled. With an alcoholic and unemployed father, an anorexic sister, and a mother frantically trying to hold her family together, the girls cling to new friends Yasmeen and Jon, two outcasts who defend the girls and treat them as equals. Just when Grace falls for Jon despite Tippi’s warning—“We can never ever fall in love”—the girls learn that an illness in one jeopardizes both. … In asking important questions about how bodies shape identity, Crossan’s novel achieves a striking balance between sentimentality and sisterly devotion.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

The Courage to Compete: Living with Cerebral Palsy and Following My Dreams by Abbey Curran with Elizabeth Kaye (HarperCollins)

“This uplifting memoir about a young woman living with cerebral palsy who competed in the Miss USA pageant is sure to inspire readers. … Abbey later went on to win Miss Iowa 2008 and to compete in Miss USA. She comes across as positive and hopeful, and her tone is breezy and enthusiastic (”I was just beside myself. I did it! I had made the Top Ten!!! Amazing!!!“). The teenager is honest about her struggles, from wearing leg braces to coping with her parents’ divorce. She exudes hope, confidence, determination, and bravery.” — School Library Journal

The One Thing by Marci Lyn Curtis (Disney-Hyperion)

Book Descriptioin: Maggie Sanders might be blind, but she won’t invite anyone to her pity party. Ever since losing her sight six months ago, Maggie’s rebellious streak has taken on a life of its own, culminating with an elaborate school prank. Maggie called it genius. The judge called it illegal.

Now Maggie has a probation officer. But she isn’t interested in rehabilitation, not when she’s still mourning the loss of her professional-soccer dreams, and furious at her so-called friends, who lost interest in her as soon as she could no longer lead the team to victory.

Then Maggie’s whole world is turned upside down. Somehow, incredibly, she can see again. But only one person: Ben, a precocious ten-year-old unlike anyone she’s ever met. Ben’s life isn’t easy, but he doesn’t see limits, only possibilities. After awhile, Maggie starts to realize that losing her sight doesn’t have to mean losing everything she dreamed of. Even if what she’s currently dreaming of is Mason Milton, the magnetic lead singer of Maggie’s new favorite band, who just happens to be Ben’s brother.

But when she learns the real reason she can see Ben, Maggie must find the courage to face a once-unimaginable future…before she loses everything she has grown to love.

Untwine by Edwidge Danticat (Scholastic Press)

“Giselle, an art lover, and Isabelle, a budding composer, are 16-year-old Haitian-American twins living in Miami. After the SUV carrying the girls and their recently separated parents is hit, Giselle’s world unravels. Danticat (Krik? Krak!) vividly represents the path from shock to healing as Giselle and her parents grapple with Isabelle’s death. … Danticat’s gracious and poetic language haunts as Giselle moves through “star-blinding pain,” both physical and emotional, discovering the inner world of her sister and reconciling the guilt she feels at being the surviving twin.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

Dagger by Steven dos Santos (Evernight Teen)

Book Description: When Ultimate Evil engulfs the entire world, only Dagger can pierce the Darkness—even if the Apocalypse falls on a school night! Dagger Beaumont is a High School senior who’s been recruited by D.U.S.T.—a covert governmental organization dedicated to battling supernatural terrorism all over the globe. However, Dagger’s unresolved conflict over his missing brother could be his undoing, as he races around the world battling the Dark Reich, a diabolical organization on a quest to possess an ancient artifact and unleash a mystical plague to enslave humanity. If that weren’t treacherous enough, Dagger must juggle his life as a secret agent with his social life, where he faces romantic rivalry for the guy of his dreams, a mysterious and handsome new student at his haunted boarding school. But in a high-stakes world where nothing is as it seems, and death lurks in every shadow, love rides shotgun with survival!

Sound by Alexandra Duncan (Greenwillow)

“Miyole forged her papers to work on the Ranganathan, a 128,000-acre research-and-development ship. She’s 16, not the required 18, but she’s always wanted to travel into space and was impatient to leave Mumbai, where she was taunted as ”the darkest“ and ”the exotic outlier“ because she’s Haitian, not Indian. Onboard, she bioengineers bees and butterflies to pollinate terraformed planets. Then life takes a sharp turn: pirates attack a nearby spacecraft, and Miyole meets a girl named Cassia. … Connections among her personal history, her ancestral history (the real-life Haitian Revolution; the science-fictional destruction, centuries ago, of Haiti by floods), and the atrocities she discovers in deep space are meaningful and well-wrought, as is the portrayal of Miyole’s tender and bumpy romance with Cassia. Unpredictable plot, vivid settings, and a queer, dark-skinned black girl as a protagonist in far-future science fiction: essential.” — Kirkus, starred review

Michael Vey 5: Storm of Lightning by Richard Paul Evans (Simon Pulse/Mercury Ink)

Book Description: Michael, Taylor, Ostin, and the rest of the Electroclan go on their most dangerous mission yet as the thrilling action continues in this electrifying fifth installment of the New York Times bestselling series!

The resistance movement has been compromised. The Voice is in hiding. Their families are missing. Can the Electroclan pull together to defeat the Elgen once and for all?

Either the Beginning or the End of the World by Terry Farish (Carolrhoda Lab)

“Almost 17-year-old Sofie lives with her fisherman father and dog on the rugged and unforgiving Pisqataqua River in New Hampshire. … An early closure of the shrimping season forces her father down south to the Chincoteague, but not before he unequivocally warns Sofie not to see Luke, a volatile deckhand returned from duty as a medic in Afghanistan. With her father gone, her long-absent mother and grandmother move in to take his place. She grudgingly begins to learn more about their life in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge … Poetic, spare, and sometimes near stream of consciousness, Farish’s writing is haunting. She paints broad strokes and excels at setting a tone that pervades every word and action. The sexual tension between Sofie and Luke is palpable. Beautifully written and briskly paced, the sparse prose evokes the rugged, bleak landscape, the simplicity of Sofie’s former life with her Dad, and the immediate, unspoken union between her and Luke.” — School Library Journal, starred review

Brazen by Christina Farley (Skyscape)

Book Description:Jae Hwa Lee spent her sixteenth year in Seoul, trying to destroy the evil immortals who had been torturing her family for centuries. The last thing she expected was to be forced to become their assassin. Trapped in the darkest part of the Spirit World as a servant to the Korean god Kud, fighting to keep her humanity, and unable to contact her loved ones, Jae Hwa is slowly losing hope. Kud, god of darkness, will do anything to keep her as a pawn in his quest for power over all of Korea, her entire family thinks she’s dead, and Jae’s true love, Marc, believes she is lost to him forever.

When Kud sends Jae to find and steal the powerful Black Turtle orb, Jae sees an opportunity to break free and defeat Kud once and for all…but first she needs to regain Marc’s trust and work with him to vanquish the darkness that threatens to overwhelm Korea. There’s much to lose as Jae struggles to save the land she’s come to call home.

Juniors by Kaui Hart Hemmings (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers)

“Moving to Hawaii and enrolling at prestigious Punahou midyear, Lea feels isolated and, despite her island roots, uncertain where she fits in the complex cultural mosaic; everything changes when her mother, Ali, accepts Eddie and Melanie West’s offer of their guesthouse in upscale Kahala. … As in The Descendants (2007), Hemmings turns her plot on intergenerational family complexities and contradictions, secrets and revelations. Appealing and volatile, Lea’s a quintessential teen, by turns hypersensitive and hypercritical, impulsive and cautious, insightful and clueless. Hawaii, Hemmings’ closely observed home turf, is more than interesting wallpaper; details of island life (including tensions among natives and newcomers, locals and vacationers) resonate with theme and plot. Wryly funny, generous-hearted, garnished with sun, surfing, and shave ice—a genuinely literary beach read.” — Kirkus, starred review

Edge: Collected Stories by M. E. Kerr (Open Road Media)

“Family, honesty, and status emerge as themes in a collection of prolific author Kerr’s short stories for teens. A girl’s ne’er-do-well adopted brother returns to her as a ghost. A Holocaust survivor understands her lesbian granddaughter better than the girl’s mother fears. A school outcast visits an inmate at the town prison, pretending to be his son, and thinks he’s lucked into a fortune. Most stories here were originally published in the 1990s, but despite occasional dated preoccupations, the subject matter still feels fresh and the telling, crisp. … Expertly crafted, with enduring relevance.” — Kirkus

Don’t Fail Me Now by Una LaMarche (Razorbill)

“After Michelle’s drug-addicted mother is arrested, 17-year-old Michelle is left to fend for her two younger siblings. Again. With virtually no one to help them, Michelle (who is half-black) feels lost until her previously unknown (and “the-color-of-tracing-paper white”) half-sister, Leah, shows up with her stepbrother, Tim. Buck Devereaux—the long-absent father that Michelle, her siblings, and Leah all share—is dying, and he wants to see them. After some persuasion, all five step-siblings pile into Michelle’s broken-down station wagon to travel from Baltimore to California. … [Michelle’s] budding relationship with Tim adds a sweet-natured romantic dimension to this sibling-centered story.” — Publishers Weekly

Dream Things True by Marie Marquardt (St. Martin’s Griffin)

“Sixteen-year-old Alma Garcia-Menendez is a brilliant girl from a loving Mexican family living in Georgia, part of a community of undocumented immigrants. Evan Roland is the privileged son of a socialite, the nephew of a powerful senator, and a friend to boys who think sexual assault is a game. It’s love at first sight for Alma and Evan, but the threat of deportation looms for Alma and everyone in her life. … readers seeking a star-crossed love story with a twist won’t be disappointed.” — Publishers Weekly

The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore (Thomas Dunne)

“Like all Paloma girls, Lace was born with small escalas decorating her body, “a sprinkling of scales off a pale fish, a gift from the river goddess Apanchanej.” Life revolves around performing as sirenas in her itinerant family’s popular mermaid show, a tourist attraction rivaled only by that of their nemesis family, the Corbeaus, who have feathers instead of scales, and dance high in the trees. … when Cluck, a Corbeau, saves Lace during a chemical rainstorm caused by a nearby adhesive manufacturing plant, he unwittingly dooms Lace’s future with her family. McLemore’s prose is ethereal and beguiling … The enchanting setup and the forbidden romance that blooms between these two outcasts will quickly draw readers in.” — Publishers Weekly

Breaking Up Point by Brian McNamara (Bold Strokes Books)

Book Description: Brendan Madden is starting his freshman year of college and, although excited, he is sad to say good-bye to his high school boyfriend, Mark. After a rough transition, Brendan carves out a place for himself at school, where he has new friends and newfound independence. With the added strain of distance, however, he now finds it hard to maintain his relationship with Mark, especially due to the fact that Mark still must hide the relationship from most of his friends. Brendan’s college life allows him to be open and honest about who he is. He debates whether he is willing to compromise this for Mark, especially since staying in the relationship means forgoing the possibility of finding new romance at college.

Cut Both Ways by Carrie Mesrobian (HarperCollins)

“A high school senior struggles to understand himself after he falls for Brandy, a sophomore girl, while at the same time he and his friend Angus, who is openly gay, make out one night while stoned and drunk and then are continually drawn back to one another. … Intense, honestly described, and sometimes awkward sexual encounters will ring true for teen readers, and many will identify with the family strife, too. Pitch perfect, raw, and moving.” — Kirkus, starred review

Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez (Carolrhoda Lab)

“A Mexican-American girl and a black boy begin an ill-fated love in the months leading up to a catastrophic 1937 school explosion in East Texas. … Naomi has begrudgingly left behind her abuelitos in San Antonio for a new life with her younger half siblings, twins, and their long-absent white father, Henry. … Their one friend is Wash, a brilliant African-American senior from the black part of town. … the story ultimately belongs to Naomi and Wash. Their beautifully detailed love story blossoms in the relative seclusion of the woods, where even stepfathers can’t keep them apart. … A powerful, layered tale of forbidden love in times of unrelenting racism.” — Kirkus, starred review

Serpentine by Cindy Pon (Month9Books)

“Pon returns to Xia, a realm inspired by Chinese folklore and introduced in Silver Phoenix (2009), for the first in a duology. Abandoned at birth, Skybright feels lucky to be handmaid to the wealthy, vivacious Zhen Ni, who for 16 years has treated her more as beloved sister than servant. Yet Sky, already bitter with jealousy over her mistress’s new companion and passionately enamored of the charming monk-in-training Kai Sen, hides a dreadful secret: at night, she transforms into a demon, half human, half monstrous crimson serpent. … The economical narrative conjures an entire world, drenched in color and texture and scent, rich in evocative mythology and heady action, and filled with vivid characters. … A fast-paced and engrossing read for anyone weary of the same old hackneyed storylines.” — Kirkus

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely (Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books)

“In this painful and all-too-timely book, two authors—one black, one white—present a story of police brutality. Reynolds (The Boy in the Black Suit) voices Rashad, the innocent victim of a police beating; Kiely (The Gospel of Winter) writes Quinn, a horrified witness. … The scenario that Reynolds and Kiely depict has become a recurrent feature of news reports, and a book that lets readers think it through outside of the roiling emotions of a real-life event is both welcome and necessary.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

The Inker’s Shadow by Allen Say (Scholastic Press)

“In this continuation of Say’s graphic memoir, Drawing from Memory (2011), he travels to the United States and receives a decidedly mixed welcome. Arriving in southern California in 1953, 15-year-old Allen first settles in a military academy but is soon asked to leave because his sponsor comes to believe that he won’t be (as Say’s own openly hostile father puts it) ‘a wholesome American.’ … all along the way, his determination to become a cartoonist never fades, and at low moments Kyusuke, the free-spirited alter ego created for him back in Japan by his mentor and sensei, Noro Shinpei, pops into view to remind him that it’s all an adventure. This small but firm step on an artist’s journey is both inspiration to his fellows and an informative window into a particular slice of the nation’s history.” — Kirkus

Fans of the Impossible Life by Kate Scelsa (Balzer + Bray)

“Scelsa debuts with an evocative novel about finding friendship, love, and oneself, as well as the pain that often accompanies the journey. When Jeremy, a shy artist who has kept to himself after a humiliating incident at school left him scarred and vulnerable, meets Mira and Sebby, two sophomores with troubled pasts, the three form a strong bond. Mira, who is struggling to tame debilitating depression, makes Jeremy feel a profound sense of belonging, while his attraction to Sebby, an openly gay foster kid, ignites a passion he’s never known. … Themes of betrayal, forgiveness, and resilience resonate strongly, while the characters’ stories are so beautifully told and their struggles so hauntingly familiar that they will stay with readers long after they have finished the book. ” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

Lizard Radio by Pat Schmatz (Candlewick)

“In a dystopian future, Kivali Kerwin, nicknamed Lizard, is sent to prepare for adulthood at a government-run CropCamp. Lizard’s adoptive family has always resisted authority, but attending camp as a teen makes it easier to avoid being sent to the prisonlike Blight as an adult. As a midrange bender—roughly equivalent, in today’s terms, to having a nonbinary gender—Lizard is at risk of being sent to Blight. At camp, Lizard unexpectedly forms deep connections to other campers. At the same time, Lizard increasingly suspects something sinister behind the camp’s strong community spirit. … Sophisticated, character-driven science fiction, as notable for its genderqueer protagonist as for its intricate, suspenseful plot.” — Kirkus, starred review

Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash (Candlewick)

“Thrash chronicles one monumental summer at an all-girls’ camp where she experienced her gut-wrenching first love. Every summer, Maggie, an Atlanta native, attends Camp Bellflower, an all-girls’ camp in Kentucky, complete with tents, shooting, and Civil War re-enactments that have been a camp tradition for nearly 100 years. The summer that she turns 15, however, she falls in love for the first time. She meets Erin, a 19-year-old counselor who studies astronomy and plays guitar. … Thrash’s remembrances are evinced with clear, wide-eyed illustrations colored with a dreamily vibrant palette. She has so carefully and skillfully captured a universal moment—the first time one realizes that things will never be the same—that readers will find her story captivating. A luminescent memoir not to be missed.” — Kirkus, starred review

Zeroes by Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan, Deborah Biancotti (Simon Pulse)

“This may not be the first tale of a group of crime-fighting teenagers with supernatural powers, but its talented writing team get points for creating some fresh and original superpowerd abilities. Scam has a seemingly omniscient inner voice, which can speak for him and get him out of trouble or, all too often, into it. Flicker is blind but can perceive what others see. Crash can take down any computer and finds the experience embarrassingly—and dangerously—enjoyable. Bellwether can control the energies of the group and unite them in a common purpose. And Anonymous—well, never mind, no one seems to remember anything about that guy. These five, plus one unpredictable new addition, make up the Zeroes … For fans of superhero fiction looking for a character-driven tale and those who enjoy stellar writing.” — School Library Journal, starred review

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon (Delacorte)

“Suffering from ”bubble baby disease,“ Madeline has lived for 18 years in a sterile, sealed house with her physician mother. … Her life is turned upside down when a troubled new family moves in next door and she sees Olly for the first time. Olly, a white boy ”with a pale honey tan“ and parcours moves, wants to meet her, but Madeline’s mother turns him away. With the help of an indestructible Bundt cake, Olly perseveres until he gets her email address. Madeline—half Japanese, half African-American—chronicles her efforts to get to know Olly as she considers risking everything to be with him. … This heartwarming story transcends the ordinary by exploring the hopes, dreams, and inherent risks of love in all of its forms.” — Kirkus, starred review

Words That Wake Us

By Ashley Hope Pérez

perez-outofdarknessMy third novel Out of Darkness takes the 1937 New London, Texas, school explosion as the backdrop for a secret romance between an African American boy and a Mexican American girl. It’s a book about segregation, love, family, and the forces that destroy people.

When I began Out of Darkness, my goal was to write a historical novel that would capture the imagination of even my toughest, most reluctant readers and expose them to experiences largely excluded from the sanitized historical accounts in Texas history books. I wanted to approach the past in a way that would also prompt my readers to engage in a fuller consideration of the present and the shape of the world around us.

Growing up one county over from New London, I heard powerful stories of loss and of survival related to the explosion, and I felt that a school disaster offered considerable dramatic possibilities for a YA novel. But the most important reason for choosing this particular period, community, and event was what I didn’t know, the stories I didn’t find collected in the archival materials on the disaster. Because New London school was intended to serve white children, historical accounts of the explosion focused on the tragedy as the white community experienced it; no one had recorded how people of color in the area had responded or how they viewed the disaster.

New London School after the explosion
New London School after the explosion

Still, I wondered, for example, what the event meant for African American teens who were spared from the explosion precisely because they’d been denied access to the better-funded white school in the first place. Because I wanted to explore this question, I knew from the start that there would be an important African American character in my novel. Then, early in my research for the novel, while reading through a list of the children who had died in the explosion, I came across a name that surprised me: Juanita Herron. I found a photograph of Juanita and studied it. I imagined her name as it would have been written in Spanish: Juanita Herrón. I wondered, could a Mexican American child have attended the school?

It was possible, at least. Larger cities in Texas with established Latino populations had three-fold segregation: white schools for white children, “colored” schools for black children, and “Mexican” schools for Mexican Americans and other Latinos. In New London, however, there were only white and “colored” schools. This made it more plausible that light skinned Mexican American families—likely new arrivals attracted by jobs related to the oil boom—could have enrolled their children in the New London school. And it would have been an attractive option, especially in comparison to the grossly underfunded and overcrowded “Mexican” schools in other parts of Texas. From there, I began to imagine what it would be like for a Mexican American teenager to enter the black-and-white community of New London.

The gaps in the historical record on the New London school explosion catalyzed my imaginings of the two characters whose fictional story is at the center of Out of Darkness: Washington Fuller and Naomi Vargas. Having always lived in East Texas, seventeen-year-old Wash prides himself on knowing his way around both the woods and the prettiest girls from Egypt Town, where most of the black community lives. Wash’s days as a womanizer come to an end when he meets Naomi Vargas, a beautiful and painfully shy high school senior who has just moved to New London with her younger twin half-siblings, Beto and Cari (short for Roberto and Caridad). Until the opening of the novel, the three of them have lived in San Antonio, but Naomi’s white stepfather convinces the children’s grandparents to send them to live with him in East Texas so that the gifted twins can attend the New London School. The light-skinned twins quickly settle into their new life in New London, but Naomi encounters hostility because of her darker skin and struggles with the demands of living with a stepfather whose own needs trump any concern for his children. Time spent with the twins and Wash is a welcome relief, and Naomi and Wash fall in love through secret meetings in the East Texas woods. They know that they can’t hide forever. What they don’t know, though, is that the worst school disaster in U.S. history awaits, threatening to shatter the school, the community, and their hopes for a future where they can be together.

Given that Out of Darkness is set in the South during the 1930s, it will come as little surprise that racism shapes the direction of the story. In San Antonio, for example, Naomi and the twins are forced to attend “Mexican” schools with overcrowded classrooms and low-quality teachers. Almost invariably white (as college education was very difficult for Mexican Americans to access), many of these teachers found theirs an “undesirable” placement and were quick to underestimate the abilities of their students. Naomi may be able to attend a better school in East Texas, but in the absence of stores that cater to Mexican Americans, she faces blatant hostility when she tries to buy groceries at the one New London general store. Wash attends a “colored” school with a shorter school day and year, not to mention the absence of critical materials and resources.

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Although forced segregation of schools may be a thing of the past, the effects—and reality—of segregation linger on. Unfortunately, racism is not just an unfortunate artifact from our past. The deaths of Trayvon Martin and Renisha McBride—to cite just two examples—make plain the continued relationship between racism and violence in America. In both cases, attackers claimed to feel threatened by unarmed teens. The rationale for that “threat” seems to hinge on the notion that black bodies should not be in (what the killers consider) white spaces. Those who defend the aggressors in these situations tend to focus on the shortcomings of the victims, as if to suggest that their poor decisions were responsible for putting them “in the wrong place at the wrong time” (note the scare quotes).

Readers of Out of Darkness will recognize that the same logic behind the actions of angry white men who feel threatened by Wash’s very presence at the site of the New London explosion. He’s there because the superintendent has hired him to do an afternoon’s work on the grounds, and he rushes into the school, saving several children from being crushed when the building collapses. Instead of being met with gratitude, though, he encounters the suspicion of those who think he has no business being near the white school—or their children.

Rescue workers at the site of the New London School explosion
Rescue workers at the site of the New London School explosion

Factual details influenced how I imagined the fictional events in Out of Darkness, especially Wash’s experiences after the explosion. For example, during my research I learned that an angry mob converged on the school superintendent’s house, hungry for someone to blame for the deaths of their children. In real life, they were turned away by mounted Texas Rangers charged with protecting the school board members from vigilante violence. The crowd dissipated, and no one was harmed. In the fictional world of Out of Darkness, however, this is the point when the mob turns its energies against a scapegoat not granted such protection.

As a black American, Wash experiences the heightened vulnerability that still characterizes the lives of many today. This vulnerability and its terrible consequences have deep roots in our history. Upwards of four thousand people were lynched between 1882 and 1968, and of that number, 3,445 were black. In contrast to the long-overdue mainstream media attention to killings of unarmed African Americans in recent years, news coverage of lynchings—as well as other discrimination endured by African Americans—was either altogether absent or sensationalized and justified the violence against black community members. According to Dr. Richard Perloff, prior to the Civil Rights Movement, news accounts of violence against black Americans generally assumed without question that the victim was guilty of a crime. Newspaper stories often used dehumanizing terms like “wretch,” “fiend,” and “desperado” to refer to the victims.

This historical pattern informs how Wash Fuller’s mistreatment is portrayed in newspaper stories within the world of Out of Darkness. But if I’ve done my job as a writer in Out of Darkness, the whole of the novel refutes the racist narratives perpetuated in the white press, both in how it details Wash’s encounter with those who seek to harm him and in how it portrays his beautifully imperfect and perfectly valuable life.

James Baldwin once noted that, in the U.S., “words are mostly used to cover the sleeper, not wake him up.” Reading fiction is no substitute for engagement with the world around us. I hope, nevertheless, that Out of Darkness confronts readers with words that wake them to the need for change. Perhaps knowing Wash—knowing his brilliance, his sense of humor, his human character, and the tremendous love he has for the people in his life—will lead readers to consider more deeply the human cost of violence against African Americans.


ashleyhopeperezIn addition to Out of Darkness (September 2015), Ashley Hope Pérez is the author of two other YA novels: What Can’t Wait and The Knife and the Butterfly. Out of Darkness has earned starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal, and both What Can’t Wait and The Knife and the Butterfly appear on YALSA reading lists. She has a PhD in comparative literature and is currently a visiting assistant professor of comparative studies at The Ohio State University. She teaches topics that range from global youth narratives to Latin American and Latina/o fiction. She lives in Ohio with her husband, Arnulfo, and their sons, Liam Miguel and Ethan Andrés. Visit her online at http://ift.tt/1hryVm1 or find her on Twitter at @ashleyhopeperez.

Out of Darkness is now available.

Guest Post from Ashley Perez

I’m not a fan of cussing, cockroaches, or conflict. So why do they show up in my new novel, What Can’t Wait?

Because they’re part of life, especially life as my students in Houston know it. I write the world like it is for them, not like I wish it were. That’s also why my main character, Marisa Moreno, moves in a world that is not very diverse.

If Marisa and her buds looked like something out of the promo material for Diversity U, What Can’t Wait wouldn’t reflect the world of my students. Like Marisa in my novel, who goes to a majority minority school, most of the people in my students’ school, neighborhood, job, and church are Mexican-American.

For me, the diversity that matters is less about what the cast of characters looks like and more about the experiences reflected in a book. I guess you could say that even if I didn’t write diversity in What Can’t Wait (most characters are Latino/a), I write toward diversity on the bookshelves of libraries and stores.

In fact, I wrote What Can’t Wait because my high school students in Houston told me that there was a book they wanted to read but couldn’t find. Brace yourselves for the shock of the century: the book they wanted to read was one about them, about their world, about their challenges, about their hopes.

One of Ashley’s high school classes

We read for lots of reasons—to travel, to imagine other realities, to test out alternatives, to be challenged, to be comforted. But almost all of us, at some time or another, read to relate, to recognize a world that is real to us. For teens, this need and desire is especially powerful. Often, the book that served as a gateway drug to reading for my students was one in which some aspect of the story spoke to the reader’s personal experience.

I didn’t write What Can’t Wait out of my own experiences; in fact, I enjoyed so much support for education in my family that it never occurred to me until I started teaching that in many households, making ends meet trumps making it to college. What Can’t Wait is stuffed full of my students’ stories, and it deals with a concern that was particularly salient to them: how does a driven teen—confronted with the daily expectation to drop everything and help out at home—find her or his own path?

Ashley with a former student, Rey Mejía

That’s the challenge my students wanted to see. Too many books, they told me, made it seem easy to go to college, like all it takes is a scholarship and a good work ethic. “In books, everybody’s parents are all about sending them to school,” my student Elizabeth told me one day. “My family doesn’t get why I don’t want to stay at home and help out while I go to community college. They say, why isn’t a school here good enough for you? Why do you want to leave us?”

To write What Can’t Wait, I had to get inside my students’ perspectives, consider the norms of their world, and imagine challenges that would be real to them and avenues to success that they could believe in. Marisa isn’t a copy of any one student, but virtually every situation in the book was influenced by the stories my kids told me and wrote in my class. My goal was not for readers to say “this is my life”—there’s infinite variety in our experiences, after all—but to say “this is my world.”

I don’t send my words out into a void. I don’t write for my agent or my editor. I write for my students. I write because Rey Mejia told me to keep it real. I write because I want Diana Alvarez to know that she’s not alone with a senior year that would break a lesser woman. I write because I want Brianda Morales to see how college is for her. I write because I want my students to find books that resonate with their experiences, books that honor their particular challenges, books that remind them that they can chart their own path, books that don’t pretend that life offers easy answers.

I’ve heard from a few readers frustrated that they didn’t “get” the Spanish the characters in What Can’t Wait sometimes use. They wondered why the book didn’t have a glossary. The answer is that most of my students wouldn’t need a glossary. To include a glossary would have been to say, “Actually, this book is meant as a barrio tour for gringos. See? It comes with a travel guide…”

No. What Can’t Wait has lots to offer to readers of all backgrounds, but I wrote it for my students. My contribution to diversity in YA hinges on the fact that I know my audience, and I care about what they find when they go to the bookshelf.

Este libro es para mis scholars. Les quiero mucho.

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[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.diversityinya.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/ashleyperezcrop.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Ashley Hope Pérez has taught bilingual kindergarten, Montessori grades 1-3, and high school in Houston. Currently she is working on a Ph.D. in comparative literature at Indiana University. She also teaches undergraduate courses for her department, including Vampire Literature and a course on women writers of the Caribbean. What Can’t Wait, published in March 2011 by Carolrhoda Lab, is her first novel. Visit her online at www.ashleyperez.com.[/author_info] [/author]