Tag Archives: Jessica Martinez

New Releases – October 2014

Some Assembly Required: The Not-So-Secret Life of a Transgender Teen by Arin Andrews (Simon & Schuster)

“In a plainspoken and sometimes-humorous memoir, transgender teenager Andrews discusses his life so far. Andrews received national recognition when he was profiled on television’s Inside Edition as one half of a transgender teen couple (the other half, Katie Rain Hill, has written her own memoir, Rethinking Normal). In a conversational tone, the author describes events from his childhood and teen years. … Friendly and informative.” — Kirkus

The Doubt Factory by Paolo Bacigalupi (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)

“In this provocative thriller, Bacigalupi (The Drowned Cities) traces the awakening of a smart, compassionate, and privileged girl named Alix Banks to ugly realities of contemporary life, while seeking to open readers’ eyes, as well. Alix’s life is thrown into disarray when an activist group targets her family, its eyes on her father’s powerful public relations business. Moses is a charismatic black teen living off the money from a settlement with a pharmaceutical company after one of its medications killed his parents. Along with four other brilliant teens who have lost family to this sort of legal/medical maleficence, Moses hopes to enlist Alix’s help to release incriminating data from her father’s files, à la Edward Snowden.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

Boy Trouble by ReShonda Tate Billingsley (K-Teen)

Book Description: Maya’s best friend Kennedi has flipped head over heels for her new boo, Kendrick. But when Maya learns Kennedi and Kendrick’s relationship is full of violence—and Kennedi is the aggressor—will she get her best friend to see love shouldn’t hurt? Meanwhile, Sheridan has found love too, but her Prince Charming isn’t all that he seems, and Sheridan won’t listen to anything her friends try to tell her. Maya is trying to navigate all of that while dealing with her own family drama as her parents go through a nasty divorce. How is a diva supposed to stay sane when everything around her is falling apart?

Double Exposure by Bridget Birdsall (Sky Pony Press)

“Alyx, an intersex teen, leaves California for Milwaukee to live as a girl for the first time. … Tall and a lover of basketball, Alyx becomes quick friends with her school’s varsity team, including pushy and dangerously hot-tempered Patti ”Pepper“ Pitmani. Background information about intersex conditions and Alyx’s own experience of her body are woven easily into the text, informative without being either dry or sensationalistic.” — Kirkus

Night Sky by Suzanne Brockmann and Melanie Brockmann (Sourcebooks Fire)

“Best known for her romantic thrillers, Suzanne Brockmann teams up with her daughter Melanie for a YA adventure set in her Fighting Destiny world. Sixteen-year-old Skylar Reid is shocked to discover that she’s a Greater-Than, born with superhuman powers. … Skylar joins her wheelchair-bound friend Calvin, motorcycle-riding bad girl Dana, and mysterious hottie Milo to rescue a missing child and bring down those who would exploit people like her.” — Publishers Weekly

Laughing at My Nightmare by Shane Burcaw (Roaring Brook Press)

“In this no-holds-barred autobiography, 21-year-old Burcaw sheds light on what it has been like to grow up with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a deadly disease that has left him confined to a wheelchair and dependent on others. … His honesty, tempered by mordant humor and a defiant acceptance, is refreshing, even as he thumbs his nose at the disease that is slowly stripping him of the basics.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

The Sorcerer Heir (The Heir Chronicles, Book 5) by Cinda Williams Chima (Disney-Hyperion)

Book Description: The delicate peace between Wizards and the underguilds (Warriors, Seers, Enchanters, and Sorcerers) still holds by the thinnest of threads, but powerful forces inside and outside the guilds threaten to sever it completely.

Emma and Jonah are at the center of it all. Brought together by their shared history, mutual attraction, and a belief in the magic of music, they now stand to be torn apart by new wounds and old betrayals. As they struggle to rebuild their trust in each other, Emma and Jonah must also find a way to clear their names as the prime suspects in a series of vicious murders. It seems more and more likely that the answers they need lie buried in the tragedies of the past. The question is whether they can survive long enough to unearth them.

Old friends and foes return as new threats arise in this stunning and revelatory conclusion to the beloved and bestselling Heir Chronicles series.

Alice + Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis by Alexis Coe (Pulp/Zest)

“The year was 1892, and 19-year-old Alice Mitchell was in love with Freda Ward, 17. She determined that if she couldn’t marry Freda, nobody else would, either. … This is a captivating account, and readers will quickly become absorbed in the suspense surrounding Freda’s murder. Additionally, the book provides a foundation for discussion of sociocultural themes, such as how LGBT relationships have historically been viewed by society, gender and femininity, and even journalism.” — School Library Journal, starred review

Earth and Sky by Megan Crewe (Skyscape)

Book Description: Seventeen-year-old Skylar has been haunted for as long as she can remember by fleeting yet powerful sensations that something is horribly wrong. But despite the visions of disaster that torment her, nothing ever happens, and Sky’s beginning to think she’s crazy. Then she meets a mysterious, otherworldly boy named Win and discovers the shocking truth her premonitions have tapped into: that our world no longer belongs to us. For thousands of years, life on Earth has been at the mercy of alien scientists who care nothing for humans and are using us as the unwitting subjects of their time-manipulating experiments. Win belongs to a rebel faction seeking to put a stop to it, and he needs Skylar’s help to save the world and keep the very fabric of reality together. Megan Crewe’s latest tale takes readers on a mind-bending journey through time with a cast of unforgettable characters.

Exquisite Captive by Heather Demetrios (Balzer + Bray)

“Nalia lives in a mansion in the Hollywood Hills, a glittering world of parties and fast cars. She can have anything she wants—except her freedom. Nalia is ”just another jinni on the dark caravan“ of the slave trade, forced to spend her days granting wishes on behalf of her human master, Malek, in order to advance his wealth and power. … The story unfolds at a swift, even pace, and the worldbuilding is superb; the jinn inhabit an intoxicating, richly realized realm of magic, politics, spirituality and history. Readers will wish they had a jinni to grant them the next book in the series.” — Kirkus, starred review

Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina by Michaela DePrince with Elaine DePrince (Knopf)

“A compelling narrative of the journey of an African orphan whose hard work, emotional strength, and supportive adoptive American parents helped her build a life as a professional dancer, 19-year-old Michaela DePrince’s memoir, coauthored by her mother, holds many stories. … There is plenty of ballet detail for dance lovers to revel in, and the authors achieve a believable, distinctive teenage voice with a nice touch of lyrical description.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

In Real Life by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang (First Second)

“Online gaming and real life collide when a teen discovers the hidden economies and injustices that hide among seemingly innocent pixels … Through Wong’s captivating illustrations and Doctorow’s heady prose, readers are left with a story that’s both wholly satisfying as a work of fiction and series food for thought about the real-life ramifications of playing in an intangible world. Thought-provoking, as always from Doctorow.” — Kirkus

Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan (Algonquin)

“With self-deprecating wit and a keen eye for interpersonal dynamics, Iranian-American narrator Leila Azadi details the dramas taking place in the intersecting circles of her elite New England private school and high-achieving Persian community. When a family friend comes out, his parents’ obnoxious bragging turns to silence, causing Leila to fear being disowned for her “lady-loving inclinations.” … Farizan exceeds the high expectations she set with her debut, If You Could Be Mine, in this fresh, humorous, and poignant exploration of friendship and love, a welcome addition to the coming-out/coming-of-age genre.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

Rethinking Normal: A Memoir in Transition by Katie Rain Hill (Simon & Schuster)

“Katie knew she was a girl on the inside, even when she was a suicidal kid named Luke growing up in a disjointed family in Oklahoma. Bullied relentlessly at school and unsupported by administrators, other students’ parents, and even her own father, Katie finds an ally in her mother, who stands by her child as she starts dressing like a girl, legally changes her name, and travels to get genital reconstruction surgery the day after turning 18. … Being so open—and openly imperfect—makes Katie relatable on a human level, not just as a spokesperson.” — Publishers Weekly

Love Is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson (Arthur A. Levine Books)

“Lost memories, a deadly pandemic flu and the children of D.C.’s elite come together in this sophisticated bio-thriller. … Johnson, who astounded with her cyberpunk teen debut, The Summer Prince (2013), immerses readers in the complexities of Bird’s world, especially her fraught relationship with her parents and the intersections of race and class at her elite prep school. The often lyrical third-person, present-tense narration, the compelling romance and the richly developed cast of characters elevate this novel far above more formulaic suspense fare. Utterly absorbing.” — Kirkus, starred review

Martyr by A.R. Kahler (Spencer Hill Press)

Book Description: Three years have passed since magic destroyed the world.

Those who remain struggle to survive the monsters roaming the streets, fighting back with steel and magic–the very weapons that birthed the Howls in the first place.

Tenn is one such Hunter, a boy with the ability to harness the elements through ancient runes. For years, the Hunters have used this magic to keep the monsters at bay, but it’s never been enough to truly win the war. Humans are losing.

When Tenn falls prey to an incubus named Tomás and his terrifying Kin, Tenn learns there’s more to this than a fight for survival. He’s a pawn in a bigger game, one with devastating consequences. If he doesn’t play his part, it could cost him his life, his lover and his world.

The Family by Marissa Kennerson (Full Fathom Five)

Book Description: Just like any average seventeen year old, Twig loves her family. She has a caring mother and a controlling father. Her brothers and sisters are committed to her family’s prosperity…

All one hundred and eighty three of them.

Twig lives in the Family, a collective society located in the rainforest of Costa Rica. The Family members coexist with the values of complete openness and honesty, and a shared fear of contagious infection in the outside world.

So when Adam, their Father, prophet, and savior, announces that Twig will be his new bride, she is overjoyed and honored. But when an injury forces her to leave the grounds, Twig finds that the world outside is not necessarily as toxic as she was made to believe. When she meets Leo, an American boy with a killer smile, she begins to question everything about her life within the Family, and the cult to which she belongs.

But when it comes to your Family, you don’t always get a choice.

The Young Elites by Marie Lu (Putnam)

“A new series—fantasy, this time—from the author of the best-selling Legend dystopia. … In a gorgeously constructed world that somewhat resembles Renaissance Italy but with its own pantheon, geography and fauna, the multiethnic and multisexual Young Elites offer a cinematically perfect ensemble of gorgeous-but-unusual illusionists, animal speakers, fire summoners and wind callers. A must for fans of Kristin Cashore’s Fire (2009) and other totally immersive fantasies.” — Kirkus, starred review

How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon (Henry Holt and Co.)

“A racially charged shooting reveals the complicated relationships that surround a popular teen and the neighborhood that nurtured and challenged him. Instead of a gangster after retribution, 16-year-old African-American Tariq Johnson’s killer is a white man claiming to have acted in self-defense. Despite their failure to find a weapon on the black teen, the police release the shooter, rocking the community. … Magoon skillfully tells the story in multiple, sometimes conflicting, voices. This sobering yet satisfying novel leaves readers to ponder the complex questions it raises.” — Kirkus, starred review

Pig Park by Claudia Guadalupe Martinez (Cinco Puntos)

“Residents of a declining neighborhood band together to turn their economy around by building a tourist attraction. Masi spent her life working in her family’s bakery in Pig Park, so named for the lard company that, until outsourcing, provided most of the area’s jobs. The multiethnic Chicago neighborhood agrees to the outlandish scheme of building a ‘Gran Pirámide’ in their park, as a famous community developer suggests. … The story of a community working together is uplifting.” — Kirkus

Kiss Kill Vanish by Jessica Martinez (Katherine Tegen Books)

“After discovering that her father and boyfriend are killers, 17-year-old Valentina Cruz runs away to Montreal. Penniless, she lives in a rented closet, works as an artist’s model, and practices her stolen mandolin by night in an empty cafe. She thinks the music will sustain her good memories of her boyfriend, Emilio, who taught her to play. … Valentina’s decision making is sometimes opaque, but her strong voice, full of sensory imagery, and her exquisitely drawn relationships with Emilio, Marcel, and her father make this a memorable thriller.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

Beau, Lee, the Bomb & Me by Mary McKinley (K-Teen)

“When 16-year-old Rusty sees new boy Beau appear at her school, she’s relieved—he’ll be ”fresh meat“ for the bullies who torment Rusty for being fat. She’s right; they paint ”Die Fag“ on Beau’s locker and beat him up. Desperate, he decides to run away in search of his gay uncle in San Francisco. Rusty goes with him, as does Lee, a girl who’s sex-shamed at school and happens to be sleeping with a teacher. … Pair this love letter to the West Coast and to the victims and survivors of the gay American AIDS crisis with David Levithan’s Two Boys Kissing (2013).” — Kirkus

Bottled Up Secret by Brian McNamara (Bold Strokes Books)

Book Description: Brendan Madden is in the midst of his senior year of high school and couldn’t be happier. He has a great group of friends, his pick of colleges, and he has recently come to terms with his sexuality. One night, he meets Mark Galovic, a gorgeous, younger classmate of his. In a matter of minutes, Brendan is hooked. As the friendship between them grows, Brendan reaches his breaking point when he spontaneously confesses his feelings to him. Brendan is shocked and elated to find out that Mark feels the same way about him. The two begin to date, but because Mark is not out, it must remain a secret. As their friends and family become suspicious, openly gay Brendan becomes increasingly frustrated with their discreet relationship, while Mark becomes more and more paranoid that they’re going to be found out.

Maxine Wore Black by Nora Olsen (Bold Strokes Books)

Maxine is the girl of Jayla’s dreams: she’s charming, magnetic, and loves Jayla for her transgender self. There’s only one problem with Maxine—she already has a girlfriend, perfect Becky. Jayla quickly falls under Maxine’s spell, and she’s willing to do anything to win her. But when Becky turns up dead, Jayla is pulled into a tangle of deceit, lies, and murder. Now Jayla is forced to choose between love and the truth. Jayla will need all the strength she has to escape the darkness that threatens to take her very life.

Crazy by Linda Vigen Phillips (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers)

“Told in first-person free verse, Crazy is a beautifully written and emotionally impactful novel about growing up around bipolar disorder in a time period when even doctors didn’t truly understand the ramifications of such a disease. Laura’s shame about her family and her guilt for hating her mother for something she cannot control are heartrending. Phillips’s poetry coupled with her personal experiences truly make this a poignant read. It should be in the hands of anyone—teen and adult—who has ever felt powerless at the hands of mental illness.” — School Library Journal

The Gospel Truth by Caroline Pignat (Red Deer Press)

Book Description: Award-winning author Caroline Pignat’s new historical novel recreates the world of a Virginia tobacco plantation in 1858. Through the different points of view of slaves, their masters and a visiting bird-watcher the world of the plantation comes to live in this verse novel. Phoebe belongs to Master Duncan and works in the plantation kitchen. She sees how the other slaves are treated — the beatings and whippings, the disappearances. She hasn’t seen her mother since Master Duncan sold her ten years ago. But Pheobe is trying to learn words and how to read and when she is asked to show the master’s Canadian visitor, Doctor Bergman, where he can find warblers and chickadees she starts to see things differently. And Doctor Bergman has more in mind that just drawing the local birds. Pheobe’s friend Shad works on the plantation as well — but mostly he worries about his brother Will. His brother is the last member of his family and he is determined to escape from the master and the tobacco plantation. He has already been caught and beaten more than once. And the stories about life in Canada can’t be true, can they? How does a man survive without the master there taking care of everything?

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero (Cinco Puntos)

“Struggles with body image, teen pregnancy, drug addiction, rape, coming out, first love and death are all experiences that touch Gabi’s life in some way during her senior year, and she processes her raw and honest feelings in her journal as these events unfold. … Readers won’t soon forget Gabi, a young woman coming into her own in the face of intense pressure from her family, culture and society to fit someone else’s idea of what it means to be a ”good“ girl. A fresh, authentic and honest exploration of contemporary Latina identity.” — Kirkus, starred review

The Only Thing to Fear by Caroline Tung Richmond (Scholastic)

“That 20th-century speculative-fiction staple, the what-if-Hitler-won-the-war alternate history, meets 21st-century special-girl dystopia. It’s been almost a century since the Axis powers divided a conquered North America among them: Japan in the west, Germany in the east, and Italy in the Dakotas. In the Nazi-controlled Shenandoah Valley, 16-year-old half-Japanese Zara is an Untermensch, a half-breed fit only for scut work. Though she works all hours as both a janitor and a farm girl, Zara desperately wants Uncle Red to allow her to join the Revolutionary Alliance, the anti-Nazi underground. … Overall, a satisfying and appropriately hectic action adventure.” — Kirkus

Schizo: A novel by Nic Sheff (Philomel)

“Sheff’s novel reveals the painful and confusing world of teenage schizophrenia through the experience of Miles, a junior at a small San Francisco private school. … Readers fascinated by the dark side of the human mind in realistic fiction will enjoy this deft portrayal of a brain and a life spiraling out of control. Miles is an endearing character whose difficult journey will generate compassion and hope.” — School Library Journal

UnDivided by Neal Shusterman (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)

“In the final book of the ”Unwind Dystology,“ everything comes full circle. Shusterman expertly reminds readers about the characters and their current situations without distracting from the current plot. Teens gain information on all of the key players, and each well-crafted narrative moves at a refreshing pace. … Characters old and new are integrated into the story line, providing insight and closure. Shusterman generates a lot of thought-provoking topics for discussion. The story is intriguing: a wonderful end to a unique and noteworthy series.” — School Library Journal

Forgive Me If I’ve Told You This Before by Karelia Stetz-Waters (Ooligan Press)

Book Description: Shy, intellectual, and living in rural Oregon, Triinu Hoffman just doesn’t fit in. She does her best to hide behind her dyed hair and black wardrobe, but it’s hard to ignore the bullying of Pip Weston and Principal Pinn. It’s even harder to ignore the allure of other girls. As Triinu tumbles headlong into first love and teenage independence, she realizes that the differences that make her a target are also the differences that can set her free. With everyone in town taking sides in the battle for equal rights in Oregon, Triinu must stand up for herself, learn what it is to love and have her heart broken, and become her own woman.

Shadowboxer by Tricia Sullivan (Ravenstone)

“In this adrenaline-fueled supernatural adventure, a young woman channels her anger into fighting, only to risk losing everything due to her lack of control. Jade Barrera, 17, is a rising star in the mixed martial arts (MMA) circuit, but after she snaps and hurts the wrong person, she’s sent to regain her focus by training in Thailand, where she’s exposed to new ways of thinking and living. … SF author Sullivan (Lightborn) spins a kinetic, violent, and magical tale that makes excellent use of Jade’s hard-edged voice. Sullivan brings to life the beauty of Thailand and the sweat and blood of the gym, infusing them with magic and danger.” — Publishers Weekly

Stray by Elissa Sussman (Greenwillow)

“Fairy-tale tropes are turned on their heads in this exploration of class and ideology. Aislynn is a princess who has always intended to follow the Path. However, her wicked heart is often at odds with her desperation to obey the rules that state she must resist the curse of her innate magic. … The creative use of the role of fairy godmother is fascinating, as is the fantasy world.” — Kirkus

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley (Harlequin Teen)

“Sarah Dunbar, a black high school senior in the graduating class of 1959, is nervous about entering the formerly all-white Jefferson High School with nine of her black classmates. … The big issues of school desegregation in the 1950s, interracial dating, and same-sex couples have the potential to be too much for one novel, but the author handles all with aplomb. What makes it even better is that both Linda’s and Sarah’s points of view are revealed as the novel unfolds, giving meaning to their indoctrinated views. Educators looking for materials to support the civil rights movement will find a gem in this novel, and librarians seeking titles for their LGBT displays should have this novel on hand.” — VOYA

Beauty of the Broken by Tawni Waters (Simon Pulse)

“Mara Stonebrook knows she does not belong; she is ”different.“ Her small town is conservative and strictly religious. … Mara has managed to escape her father’s abuse for 15 years, but she knows that if anyone finds out her deepest secret, that she is a lesbian, she will be punished as an abomination in the eyes of their conservative church. If her father finds out, she will be lucky to live. Keeping her secret is easy until Xylia comes to town. … Emotionally wrenching, this novel will resonate with students struggling with their own sexual orientation.” — School Library Journal

Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer (Dutton)

“When 10th grader Jam Gallahue meets British exchange student Reeve Maxfield, she fees like she finally understands love, and when she loses him, she can’t get over it. Her grief eventually lands her at the Wooden Barn, a therapeutic boarding school for “emotionally fragile, highly intelligent” teenagers. … Making her YA debut, acclaimed author Wolitzer writes crisply and sometimes humorously about sadness, guilt, and anger.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

New Releases – October 2013

Sorrow’s Knot by Erin Bow (Arthur A. Levine Books)

“A lovely gem, dark and quiet as the dead but glimmering with life as well. Not to be missed.” — Kirkus, starred review

The Enchanter Heir by Cinda Williams Chima (Hyperion)!

“Chima returns to her best-selling contemporary fantasy series with an entry that is almost entirely setup—but such delicious setup. … Chima orchestrates a world gravid with smoke and grit and sudden death, throbbing with hopeless longings, messy affections, festering resentments, passionate hungers, inevitable betrayals, and miraculous flashes of beauty and grace. A smoldering story soaked in tears, sweat and blood, constantly threatening to blaze into an inferno. Spellbinding.” — Kirkus

Freakboy by Kristin Elizabeth Clark (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

“Debut novelist Clark uses free verse to write a gripping story about a complex topic: the challenges of growing up transgender or genderqueer.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

The Cutting Room Floor by Dawn Klehr (Flux)

“An aspiring filmmaker exhibits disturbing controlling tendencies toward more than just his art in this interesting but complicated murder mystery. … Though Riley is open about being attracted to girls, she is still working out her sexuality. … A distinctive thriller that is most successful in its nuanced exploration of a young man’s obsession and a young woman’s journey to self-knowledge.” — Kirkus

The Extra by Kathryn Lasky (Candlewick)

“Lasky (the Guardians of Ga’Hoole series) delivers a well-researched and uncompromising standalone novel focusing on the Nazi genocide of the Roma and Sinti peoples. … Lasky draws remarkable depth, realism, and even charm out of a bleak story.” — Publishers Weekly

Meeting Chance by Jennifer Lavoie (Bold Strokes Books)

“In a heartwarming if sometimes clunky dog story, a traumatized teen regains his confidence after a dog attack. … Most refreshing about the book is that Aaron is gay and came out to his parents at age 12 or 13. His sexual orientation matters as he navigates friendships and family relationships, but it is not the core issue here.” — Kirkus

The Vow by Jessica Martinez (Simon Pulse)

Book Description: Mo and Annie are just friends. Close friends, best friends, friends who love each other more than anyone else in the world—but just friends. No matter what anyone thinks, there’s simply no romance between them. Then the summer before senior year Mo’s father loses his job—and his work visa. Even though Mo has lived in America for most of his life, he’ll be forced to move to Jordan. The prospect of leaving his home is devastating, and he’s terrified to return to a world where he no longer belongs.

Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund (Balzer + Bray)

“Peterfreund follows up her post-apocalyptic version of Persuasion (For Darkness Shows the Stars, 2012) with a gender-flipped Scarlet Pimpernel. … A good bet for readers looking for strong female protagonists, characters of color or just an enjoyable romantic adventure with a science-fiction spin—especially if they haven’t read the original.” — Kirkus

Phantom Eyes by Scott Tracey (Flux)

“Tracey nimbly weaves plot threads and character agendas to create intrigue, double crosses and demonic pacts in a race to a conclusion that will change Belle Dam forever. A clever and thoroughly satisfying end to a strong trilogy.” — Kirkus

Made of Stars by Kelley York (Entangled Teen)

Book Description: When eighteen-year-old Hunter Jackson and his half sister, Ashlin, return to their dad’s for the first winter in years, they expect everything to be just like the warmer months they’d spent there as kids. And it is—at first. But Chance, the charismatic and adventurous boy who made their summers epic, is harboring deep secrets. Secrets that are quickly spiraling into something else entirely.

The reason they’ve never met Chance’s parents or seen his home is becoming clearer. And what the siblings used to think of as Chance’s quirks—the outrageous stories, his clinginess, his dangerous impulsiveness—are now warning signs that something is seriously off.

Then someone turns up with a bullet to the head, and all eyes shift to Chance’s family. Hunter and Ashlin know Chance is innocent…they just have to prove it. But how can they protect the boy they both love when they can’t trust a word Chance says?

5 Things Jessica Martinez Learned While Writing THE VOW

By Jessica Martinez

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Book cover for The Vow by Jessica Martinez (left); the author Jessica Martinez (right)

1. No Lying

Let’s start out with a little honesty: I’m not diverse. I won’t pretend to be. I’m a thirty-something, heterosexual, Christian, white woman, which is the exact opposite of diverse in this country. Thanks to my husband, I have a Hispanic last name and kids that are 1/8th Cuban. That’s it.

Now as a writer, I have two choices. I can fill my books with people who check off all the same little boxes that I do, or I can tell the stories that move me. It’s not a tough decision. Writing my own story over and over and over—that’s called writing a memoir, and I’d rather not.

The Vow has two main characters. One of them is Mo, a seventeen-year old guy from Jordan who has been living in Kentucky since he was eight. Now, I get it if Arab American teens look at the author bio at the back of the book and think, “Who does this white Canadian woman with a Hispanic last name think she is???” I totally get it. The answer to that question is I think I’m a writer. I wonder about things. I spend a lot of time imagining about what it would be like to be somebody else, be born somewhere else, be faced with different choices, and I write stories out of all that wondering.

But if I want my stories to be any good, honesty is key—both with myself and with my characters. When I sat down to write The Vow I felt like the combination of my research and my life experiences could take me pretty far into Mo’s world. But I had to be real about what I couldn’t do, which is why this book is not about religion. Part of that is because I wanted immigration and national/cultural identity to take center stage, but it’s also because I know all the research in the world wouldn’t put me in a place where I could accurately portray what it’s like to be raised in a deeply religious Muslim family. I think even if I tried my hardest, I’d get it just a little bit wrong, and I have enough respect for the religion and my readers not to get it wrong. So Mo is Muslim, but he isn’t devout. That’s a choice I made to keep this book honest. Writing good characters means being truthful to what the character was purporting to be, and while I don’t preach “write what you know,” there’s something to be said for “don’t write what you know you’ll never know.”

2. Lie Your Pants Off

So I just said not to lie, except of course you have to lie. Writing fiction is lying. When I write, I morph into my characters, and despite all the borders I had to cross to go from being me to being Mo, I have more in common with him than most of the other characters I’ve written. Mo isn’t so fundamentally different that I couldn’t imagine what it was like to be him. Fiction is what happens when you’re lying so completely that you’ve forgotten you’re lying, which is why Mo made me forget that I wasn’t actually a seventeen-year-old Arab American boy. It was kind of a cool place to be.

3. No Fear

The thing about writing diverse characters when you’re not actually diverse is that you occasionally have to stare at yourself in the mirror and completely freak out. Picture me doing this screaming, “Who do you think you are Martinez?!” I’d generally let the spaz session run its course, and then I’d go back, sit down in front of the computer, and continue writing.

My fear—that everyone was going to think I was full of crap—was legitimate, but even the legitimate fears can kill a book. I learned to ignore it. Now that the book is about to release, the fear rears its ugly head occasionally (cue mirror-screaming fits!) but luckily it’s already out of my hands. I could hold down the delete key on my computer for a week, and The Vow would still be coming out into the world. EEEEEEEEEEK!

4. Be Very Afraid

All that courage notwithstanding, there are healthy things to fear. Like stereotypes. The fear of making Mo a caricature made me determined that the interesting thing about him would not be his ethnicity. In making him a unique person, though, I didn’t want to create a character that Arab American teenagers would look at and feel misrepresented by. I really wrestled with this. In the end, I decided that Mo isn’t an Arab American ambassador to the world. He certainly doesn’t represent all the Muslim teenagers in this country. Mo is just Mo. That’s all. He’s brilliant and hilarious and neurotic and loyal. He’s one person, one story, and those things about him—his ethnicity, his religion—those are crucial elements to his story. They affect who he is, and they can’t be separated from the plot or his character, but Mo doesn’t define those categories. Mo is just Mo.

5. Own It

Somewhere during the writing process, I decided to shove my imposter complex in the closet, and own the research that I’d done. Because I did a lot of research. I have a stack of books marked with stickies and marginal notes, fiction and non-fiction written by and/or about Arabs in America, the Middle East, Europe, etc. And while relatively few of those details made their way into The Vow, the reading gave me a sense of ownership and ease while writing. For example, none of this book actually takes place in the Middle East, but I read several books that do, one written by young American man living in Jordan there for a year. It was fascinating, and his reality gave me some frame of reference for what Mo might face if he was sent back to Jordan.

The research also allowed me to be comfortable straying from stereotypes while still staying within what would be normal or expected of a non-devout Muslim immigrant family in America. Brace for the music analogy: I find research to be like practicing scales. You never actually perform scales, but you can just tell by listening to someone if they haven’t practiced them enough. (Seriously? Must I always make a music analogy? Apparently I must.)

More owning it: I may not be diverse, but I’ve had experiences that make this story mine to tell. I taught a year of school in an east London neighborhood that was almost entirely Bangladeshi immigrants. I saw my students there form identities somewhere between two worlds, and I wondered what would happen if they ever left their unintegrated neighborhood and tried to belong in either the Western world or the Middle East. I’d spent the previous year teaching high school in a small town in Indiana. It was 2001, the year the twin towers fell and the year we went to war with Iraq. I don’t think there was a single Arab student at that school, but the anti-Arab and anti-Muslim comments I heard from my students were staggering. Looking at my sweet, unsuspecting Bangladeshi British students the following year, I had to wonder what would happen if one of them was transplanted into the environment I had just come from.

I didn’t write this book to spice up my work with a little diversity. And I didn’t write it to cater to the cry for more diverse characters, although that would’ve been a valid reason. I wrote it because I felt compelled by that seed that had been germinating in my brain for a decade. The precise idea for the plot came as I was waking up one Sunday morning, and I was so instantly thrilled by it that I practically jumped out of bed. Some writers get a killer idea every other day. I’m more like once a year, so I can’t afford to throw them away because I’m too scared to put the research work in, or because I might not be the right ethnicity/religion/race/sex for the job, or because it pushes me to do something I’ve never done before. No way. I knew this idea was all mine to write.

The Vow is now available. Visit Jessica Martinez at her website or follow her on Twitter.