Tag Archives: Cindy L. Rodriguez

New Releases – February 2015

The Many Faces of Josephine Baker: Dancer, Singer, Activist, Spy by Peggy Caravantes (Chicago Review Press)

“An honest, revealing portrait of the famed entertainer and activist who was born into extreme poverty and became an international iconic star of the Jazz Age. … This warts-and-all portrait reveals that Baker was a complex, enigmatic personality who could be as selfish as she was generous, as mean-spirited as she was compassionate, and as inconsiderate as she was thoughtful. A fascinating, compelling story of a remarkably resilient woman who overcame poverty and racial prejudice to become an international celebrity.” — Kirkus

The Oathbreaker’s Shadow by Amy McCulloch (Flux)

“In a fantasy world with the flavor of the Central Asian steppes, Raim is a 15-year-old nomad determined to join the elite forces of the Khanate. Since he was a child, he’s been best friends with the Khan’s heir, and if he passes his tests he’ll be young Khareh’s most trusted fighter. He need only make an Absolute Vow, an oath sworn on a knot. If the maker of a knotted promise is forsworn, the knot burns a hideous scar on the oathbreaker’s body, and a grotesque shadow appears, haunting the breaker of the promise and causing his countrymen to drive him into the wilderness.” — Kirkus

Soulprint by Megan Miranda (Bloomsbury)

“Miranda (Vengeance) introduces a heroine with a strong voice and a thirst for freedom, thrust among a vividly delineated supporting cast with competing agendas. In a future where reincarnation can be scientifically tracked, 17-year-old half-Hispanic Alina Chase has spent her life isolated, allegedly for her own protection. She carries within her the soul of a charismatic and destructive whistleblower turned blackmailer, June Calahan. … The beauty of Miranda’s latest novel is in watching Alina, unused to human relationships, fall in love, earn trust, and form fast friendships in a high-adrenaline atmosphere, as she and her companions fight to stay ahead of the authorities while following the trail left by June.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

The Third Twin by CJ Omololu (Delacorte)

“Twins Lexi and Ava have been playing a game since they were little girls: they have created an imaginary third twin, Alicia. … Now as teenagers, the sisters vicariously imagine the free-spirited Alicia indulging in the wilder side of life. … Then the game begins to have dangerous consequences. … This compelling story filled with serpentine twists and turns will leave readers guessing at every step, and breathless at the climactic conclusion. Hand to readers who crave suspenseful, plot-driven thrillers.” — School Library Journal

When Reason Breaks by Cindy L. Rodriguez (Bloomsbury)

“This realistic novel invites readers into the lives of two high schoolers, Elizabeth Davis and Emily Delgado, as they struggle with unrelated painful events, reacting in ways as different as their personalities. … Latino culture, and bicultural and gay family relationships are woven easily into the story; popular culture references and some romance will also resonate with adolescents. Overall, this text provides important insights into the various stressors that can lead to depression and suicide, as well as the type of support required to move toward potential healing.” — School Library Journal

Hold Me Down by Calvin Slater (Dafina)

Book Description: Xavier Hunter’s dreams of graduation and college are even more crazy-impossible this sophomore year. Flipping on his former BFF has put more than one target on his back. And thanks to vicious baby-daddy lies, his dream girl Samantha Fox has quit him for good. The only person who seems to understand what he’s going through is Nancy Simpson. She’s a gorgeous chance to make things right—but she’s more dangerous drama than Xavier has ever seen.

Samantha isn’t going to let heartbreak break her. Maybe Xavier wasn’t the down-deep-decent guy she thought. And maybe what they had wasn’t as true as she hoped. But there’s something about his new boo, Nancy, that’s screaming bad news. And exposing what’s real means she and Xavier must face some hard truths—and survive.

Feral Pride by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick)

“A battle pitting a group of werepeople and their vampire compatriot against demons in disguise concludes this trilogy that began with Feral Nights (2013). … As in previous volumes, the wickedly funny, quickly paced style is anchored by the novel’s underlying theme of the marginalization of people and its effects, both those obvious (”Our legal rights are slippery,“ explains Kayla) and more insidiously subtle. … A final episode that is witty, smart and moving—sure to satisfy those who’ve been following the series.” — Kirkus

This Side of Home by Renée Watson (Bloomsbury)

“The summer before Maya and Nikki’s senior year of high school brings new challenges as their previously all-black neighborhood becomes attractive to other ethnic groups. The twins, while still close, have been changing in recent years and now find they have very different views about the changes. … Maya’s straightforward narration offers an intriguing look at how families and young people cope with community and personal change. Maya and her friends are well-drawn, successful characters surrounded by a realistic adult supporting cast.” — Kirkus

The Heart of the Story

By Cindy L. Rodriguez

rodriguez-whenreasonbreaksMy first teaching job was as an 8th grade English Language Arts teacher in a small Connecticut town. I was the only Latin@ teacher in the middle school, quite possibly in the district. I had a single student who was an English Language Learner, and the entire school contained only a handful of students who identified with racial, cultural, or ethnic minority groups.

Meanwhile, next door was a city whose residents were majority minority. This is Connecticut’s reality; drive a few miles in any direction and the landscape changes significantly.

Fast forward many years later to when I was drafting When Reason Breaks. While writing, I envisioned the setting as a similarly small, not-so-diverse New England town. Drawing on my experience, the English teacher, Ms. Diaz, was the only Latina in the story. Ms. Diaz being the lone representation of diversity in the original manuscript wasn’t a case of me white-washing my novel intentionally or accidentally. Instead, Ms. Diaz’s situation represented a reality for people of color who live in states like Connecticut where racial and ethnic diversity varies tremendously town to town. Sometimes there’s only one of us in the room.

I was okay with Ms. Diaz being the lone Latina in the story because it was a conscious decision, but then my editor asked if I’d consider making one of the main characters Latina. Huh. I didn’t see that coming. So much has been said and written about the lack of diversity in children’s books and publishers’ general tendencies not to push for, seek out, or champion diverse stories. In worst case scenarios, we’ve heard about the white-washing of novel covers, even when characters are explicitly stated to be people of color, or authors being asked by editors to revise characters the other way—to make them white or heterosexual.

And here was my editor asking for more diversity.

Nice!

Okay, then. I could have created an angry Latina Goth—which would have been cool because how often do we see that character—or a reserved, depressed Latina who slowly unravels. After a bit of research, I decided on the latter because, according to the CDC, significantly more Hispanic females in grades 9-12 reported attempting suicide than their non-Hispanic female classmates. So, Emily Daniels became Emily Delgado after much revision and consideration about what it means to be a depressed Puerto Rican teen struggling to manage a politically ambitious father and socially ambitious friends.

Then my editor wanted to know more about Tommy Bowles and why he and Elizabeth Davis, the other main character, spend time in cemeteries, beyond Elizabeth’s general curiosity about death. After much thought, I revised Tommy’s character to be half-Mexican. When he and Elizabeth first meet, Tommy is in the cemetery with his mother, honoring the dead during El Día de los Muertos. Years later, Elizabeth joins Tommy’s family as they decorate sugar skulls. This change not only provides meaning for Tommy and Elizabeth’s visits to the cemetery, but also shows the survival of a holiday in a bicultural family.

When my editor wanted to know more about Kevin outside of school, I decided right away that he’d have two dads, one of whom was Chinese. Here’s why: as each of the teen characters was fleshed out by introducing their home lives, I didn’t want all of the adult relationships to be the same. So, the Delgados are married and dysfunctional, the Davis household is divorced, and the Bowles and Wen-Massey homes have differently bicultural, happily married couples.

Interestingly, as diverse as it is, my novel is not about being Latina or bicultural or the child of same-sex parents. It’s about teen depression and attempted suicide. It always has been. The heart of the story didn’t change even though the manuscript went through multiple revisions.

And when the revision notes specifically asked for more diversity, I didn’t want to just swap last names and declare, “Voila, diversity!” The changes needed to have purpose—to make sense for the characters and the plot—and I needed to approach them with thoughtful intention. Otherwise, the changes would have felt hollow to me—diversity for diversity’s sake—and I would never want to do that.

All of this made me wonder about all of the novels I’ve read without a single character representing a racial, ethnic, cultural, or religious minority, a disabled person, or a member of the LGBTQIA community. Was that intentional as well? Or was it a case of “default” writing? Or perhaps the writer didn’t want these “issues” to alter the story? My advice to writers is to reconsider this. You can diversify your cast of characters, with purposeful intention, and not drastically alter your story. I did, and I’m glad for it.

In the end, Ms. Diaz was no longer the sole representation of diversity in the story, no longer the only person of color in the room. They represent a different reality, someplace between the almost all-white town I previously worked in and the almost all-minority city that bordered it. It’s a place I’d love to live in, actually, a place that represents a richly diverse happy medium.


cindylrodriguezCindy L. Rodriguez was a reporter for the Hartford Courant and a researcher for the Boston Globe before becoming a public school teacher. She now works as a middle school reading specialist and community college adjunct professor. She is also a founding member of Latinos in Kid Lit. She lives in Connecticut with her young daughter and rescue mutt. Her debut novel, When Reason Breaks, releases February 10, 2015 from Bloomsbury Children’s Books. For more information, visit cindylrodriguez.com.

When Reason Breaks is now available.