Tag Archives: Kekla Magoon

New Releases – January 2015

The Law of Loving Others by Kate Axelrod (Razorbill)

“Seventeen-year-old Emma returns home from boarding school for winter break to find that her mother is having a psychotic break—her parents never told her that her mother was diagnosed as schizophrenic years ago and has been taking medication for the condition since college. Emma’s mother’s subsequent institutionalization is like an earthquake in Emma’s life. … her actions never feel anything but realistic in this reflective and incisive exploration of the far-reaching effects of mental illness.” — Publishers Weekly

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)

“Fairfold is a contemporary American town long beset by fairies. This isn’t a secret—rather it’s a tourist attraction that provides the citizens with a healthy source of income (although the visitors do occasionally get eaten by the more dangerous fairies). Hazel, a local high school student, is in love with the town’s biggest tourist attraction, a fairy prince who has slept for generations in a glass coffin in the forest. In this, she has a friendly rivalry going with her gay brother, Ben, who also loves the sleeping prince. … An enjoyable read with well-developed characters and genuine chills.” — Publishers Weekly

Alex as Well by Alyssa Brugman (Henry Holt)

“Fifteen-year-old Alex Stringfellow has lived her entire life feeling like she’s two people, male and female. Though previously identified as male, Alex decides to begin living as a female. What Alex doesn’t know is that she was born intersex, and her parents had chosen not to tell her. To make her transition to living as a female easier, Alex enrolls in a new school where she quickly makes friends. While her adjustment is mostly smooth, Alex is concerned about how her friends will react if they find out she’s a lesbian or if they find out about her ”noodle.“ Her transition at home is less easy. … Brugman tackles a sensitive issue with grace and grit.” — School Library Journal

Passenger on the Pearl: The True Story of Emily Edmonson’s Flight from Slavery by Winifred Conkling (Algonquin Young Readers)

“In her first work of nonfiction for young readers (Sylvia & Aki, 2011), Conkling presents the true story of Emily Edmonson and her five siblings who escaped from slavery only to be caught and sent further south. … Clearly written, well-documented, and chock full of maps, sidebars, and reproductions of photographs and engravings, the fascinating volume covers a lot of history in a short space. Conkling uses the tools of a novelist to immerse readers in Emily’s experiences. A fine and harrowing true story.” — Kirkus

The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley by Shaun David Hutchinson (Simon Pulse)

“In this haunting tale of grief and recovery, 17-year-old Andrew Brawley lives like a ghost in the sprawling wings of Roanoke General Hospital, working in the cafeteria, visiting patients, and borrowing what he needs to get by. When he’s not trying to play matchmaker for his friends Lexi and Trevor—both battling cancer—he’s talking to nurses or working on his comic, Patient F, all while avoiding the tragic circumstances that took his family and left him behind. When Rusty, a boy badly burned by homophobic bullies, enters the hospital, Drew finds the courage to reach out, find love, and confront his deep-rooted guilt and confusion.” — Publishers Weekly

The Prey by Tom Isbell (HarperTeen)

“Teens uncover their post-apocalyptic, dystopian society’s secret program that segregates those deemed inferior to use as game in rich men’s hunts. An orphan nicknamed Book who’s grown up in an all-boys government-run camp discovers a strange new boy, near death, in the desert. Book befriends him and learns that after the boys graduate, they aren’t bussed away for leadership positions as promised—instead, they’re hunted by the rich as entertainment. Turns out they’re scapegoated Less Thans—a designation given to undesirable races, religious groups, political dissidents and a variety of other discriminatory categories.” — Kirkus

Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the Selma Voting Rights March by Lynda Blackmon Lowery as told to Elspeth Leacock and Susan Buckley] (Dial)

“In 1965, Lynda Blackmon Lowery turned 15 during the three-day voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery. In this vibrant memoir, Lowery’s conversational voice effectively relates her experiences in the civil rights movement on and before that march. The youngest person on the march, she’d already been jailed nine times as a protester. … Vivid details and the immediacy of Lowery’s voice make this a valuable primary document as well as a pleasure to read.” — Kirkus, starred review

X: A Novel by Ilyasah Shabazz with Kekla Magoon (Candlewick)

“This fictionalized account of the boy who became Malcolm X maintains a suspenseful, poetic grip as it shifts among moments in his life between the years 1930 and 1948. … Shabazz (Growing Up X), one of Malcolm X’s daughters, and Magoon (How It Went Down) capture Malcolm’s passion for new experiences, the defeatism that plagued him, and the long-buried hope that eventually reclaimed him.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds (Atheneum)

“With his mother newly dead, a job in a funeral home somehow becomes the perfect way for Matthew to deal with his crushing grief. … Reynolds writes with a gritty realism that beautifully captures the challenges—and rewards—of growing up in the inner city. A vivid, satisfying and ultimately upbeat tale of grief, redemption and grace.” — Kirkus

The Way We Bared Our Souls by Willa Strayhorn (Razorbill)

Book Description: If you had the chance to shed your biggest burden and trade it for someone else’s, would you do it?

When a mysterious young shaman tells Lo he knows an ancient ritual that will free her from the pain of her newly discovered illness, she’s just desperate enough to believe him. The catch? The ritual only works with five people. Now Lo must persuade four of her most troubled friends to make the biggest sacrifice of their lives.

There’s Thomas, a former child soldier; Kaya, a Native American girl who can’t feel pain; Ellen, a cheerleader with a meth addiction; and Zeke, the skateboarding star whose girlfriend’s sudden death has made him afraid to live. On the night of the ceremony, this unlikely group gathers around a fire deep in the New Mexico desert to share sorrows and swap totems. When the effects take hold the next morning, they embark on a week of terrifying, beautiful experiences that no one, not even Lo, could have imagined.

Hold Tight, Don’t Let Go by Laura Rose Wagner (Amulet Books)

“In this formidable first novel, 15-year-old narrator Magdalie loses everything after the Haitian earthquake of 2010 and is forced to rebuild along with her country. … Wagner’s portrait of Haitian culture is particularly compelling, and her descriptions of the settings of the city and Tonton Élie’s country hometown are lush.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

X: A Conversation

Ilyasah Shabazz’s X: A Novel, written with Kekla Magoon, is the story of young Malcolm X. Before he became the legendary leader the world remembers, Malcolm was a young teen trying to find his way.

 By Ilyasah Shabazz with Kekla Magoon

x-bookcoverWhat it is like to work on a book project collaboratively? A collaboration starts as a conversation. One that might go a little something like this…

ILYASAH: I’ve always thought of this book as telling the story of my father before becoming Malcolm X — about his foundation, who he was at his core and the challenges he faced like any other young person depending on their circumstances.

KEKLA: Malcolm, before the X.

ILYASAH: Right. The struggles that he went through as a young man, which parallel the struggles many young people experience and the journey he went through to overcome them. My father was an exceptionally introspective and brilliant man, which helped him rise above his circumstances. He deeply believed that everyone has great potential, and the capability to do whatever one chooses. He spent his life learning, sharing, teaching, and motivating other people.

KEKLA: We tend to remember Malcolm as an adult, for his speeches and his leadership. But you wanted people to understand the depth of where his passion for social justice really came from.

ILYASAH: I thought it was important to showcase who Malcolm was, starting from his roots. All of us start off as an innocent child influenced by the adults around us.

KEKLA: His parents were activists. He had that legacy within his family, but he was pulled from them by the forces of the world. His father was murdered, and his mother was institutionalized, essentially, for being a proud black woman who confronted authority.

ILYASAH: When my father’s parents were no longer in his life, he struggled. But he was able to find his own individual power. I want teens to understand that if they find obstacles in their path, they must persevere through them much like our ancestors, upon whose shoulders we all stand today. Which, again, speaks to the importance of history — knowing what we can and must accomplish. They should listen to the little voice inside that encourages them to keep going.

KEKLA: Malcolm spent his teen years running from that history, but he eventually found his way back. He finally became the person he was raised to be. This book explores the time during which he was running, and it’s such a crucial piece of his story.

ILYASAH: People tend to gloss over it. They like to say he “miraculously” transformed while he was in prison. Rather, he regained a conscious connection to the strong foundation provided by his parents. A lot of emotion, pain, education, and effort went into that transformation, and it was really a return to being the person he was always supposed to be. The person he was at his core, and would have always been, had not he met the man-made challenges experienced in his youth after the assassination of his dad, the institutionalizations of his mom, and separation from his siblings.

KEKLA: For me, it was really fascinating to spend time with the individual behind the legacy. Before working on X with you, I reread The Autobiography of Malcolm X and your own autobiography (Growing Up X), and some other titles you recommended to me. Personally, I would consider it a process of doing research about Malcolm, but for you, I know that “research” isn’t exactly the right word. You have a much deeper connection.

ILYASAH: This story has been inside of me for such a long time, and I’m so honored to have had the privilege to work with you on it. This book came from the stories shared by my mother throughout my childhood, and information I collected from my aunts and uncles.I spoke to a lot of people who worked with my father. Listening to the impact that he left on so many people was overwhelming, emotional, and very informative.

KEKLA: It’s such a huge and personal thing, learning about your father. It’s inspiring to me that you are able to put so much energy into sharing Malcolm’s story with others.

ILYASAH: Most people don’t understand who Malcolm really was. As one of his six daughters, it is important to me to continue working to keep his true message alive in the world.

KEKLA: I’ve heard you talk about that a lot, for you and your sisters — the honor and the privilege and the challenge of carrying your father’s legacy forward. You’ve spoken, written and taught about him all your life.

ILYASAH:  My father’s life served as a source of inspiration. Most people don’t realize he was so young. When the world first heard of him he was only in his 20s, which is remarkable. He was only 39 when he was assassinated. He accomplished so much in such a short life. I thought it was important to focus on his teen years in this book, because Malcolm has had an impact on so many young people all over the world. Teens think he made these significant contributions as an old man, but they don’t realize that he was just like them. He was able to turn the challenges that he endured into a purpose-driven life of significance.


x-IlyasahShabazz175Ilyasah Shabazz, third daughter of Malcolm X, is an activist, producer, motivational speaker, and author of the critically acclaimed Growing Up X and the picture book Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up to Become Malcolm X. She lives in Westchester County, New York.

x-Kekla_Magoon175Kekla Magoon is an award-winning author of many young adult novels, including The Rock and the River, for which she received the 2010 Coretta Scott King–John Steptoe Award for New Talent. Kekla Magoon lives in New York City.

Beyond the Headlines

In Kekla Magoon’s How It Went Down, a racially charged shooting throws a community into an uproar.

By Kekla Magoon

Trayvon Martin. Michael Brown. When I think these names, a flurry of images comes to mind. I think about violence, racism, innocence, prejudice. I think about guns and communities and appearances and judgment. I feel a deep sense of sorrow and a deeper sense of despair.

In the spring of 2012, I found myself engrossed in the media cycles reporting on the controversial shooting death of Trayvon Martin. The coverage lasted months, it seemed, and while this type of painful, tragic incident was not new to our country, the level of attention paid to this particular case seemed to be. It was simultaneously riveting, and difficult to witness, night after night on television, and all day long on social media.

Watching all this coverage, I had one prevailing question that returned to me over and over: where are the youth voices in the conversation? How are young people responding and reflecting upon these incidents? Why do we turn primarily to talk show hosts, political analysts, and African American studies scholars to contextualize them? Why not bring forward other young people like Trayvon and talk about the experience of walking down the street day after day, feeling afraid of what could happen?

I was interested in looking behind the headlines, at how members of a community respond when such a tragedy occurs in their midst. When I sat down to write How It Went Down, I did so in the spirit of wondering what happens off-camera. How does it feel when the boy whose face appears on CNN every night used to sit across from you in chem lab? What if he was your best friend, your brother, or the boy who bullied you? How It Went Down compiles the voices of eighteen different individuals in the fictional community of Underhill, after a controversial shooting occurs there.

When Trayvon Martin was killed in Florida, communities around the country rose up in peaceful protest, calling for “Justice for Trayvon.” When Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, Missouri, we saw a different kind of response: angry and frustrated young people rioting in the streets, demanding that attention finally be paid to an issue that has troubled their lives for far too long. I’ve heard it said that rioting—or violence in general—is the last recourse of the desperate, the unheard. Young people have plenty to say about racism in America, and we need to start listening closer.

I recently visited a high school classroom to talk about How It Went Down. Their teacher asked me to address the issue of social media, and how it seems at times like teens today are not engaged in the real world, but only active online and in their own insular world. Why aren’t our youth more engaged in real-world organizing? Yes, we have an undercurrent of youth activism in this country—we always have—but why don’t we see that reflected in the national media? One student in the class commented specifically on the role of social media in teens’ lives. She said, “A lot of times it feels like no one is listening. But when you update your status or post a picture you know people will see it. You know you will be heard.”

It is my hope that the fictional teens in How It Went Down can help inspire us to start listening more closely to the voices of real teens. Everyone has a perspective on Trayvon, and Ferguson. What’s yours?


Kekla Magoon is the author of five young adult novels: How It Went Down, Camo Girl, 37 Things I Love, Fire in the Streets, and The Rock and the River, for which she has received an ALA Coretta Scott King New Talent Award and three NAACP Image Award nominations. She also writes non-fiction on historical topics. Kekla teaches writing, conducts school and library visits nationwide, and serves on the Writers Council for the National Writing Project. She holds a B.A. in History from Northwestern University and an M.F.A. in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Visit her online at www.keklamagoon.com.

You can purchase a copy of How It Went Down here.

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

10 African American Authors to Know

Lamar Giles

Alaya Dawn Johnson

Stephanie Kuehn

Kekla Magoon

Walter Dean Myers

  • The 2012–2013 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, a five-time winner of the Coretta Scott King Award, and winner of the Margaret Edwards Award for lifetime achievement.
  • www.walterdeanmyers.net

Jason Reynolds

Ni-Ni Simone

Sherri L. Smith

Jacqueline Woodson

Bil Wright

  • A playwright, director, and author of the YA novels Putting Makeup on the Fat Boy and Sunday You Learn How to Box.
  • www.bilwright.com

Kekla Magoon on Camo Girl

What are you working on now? What’s coming next? I hear these questions almost daily. They make me anxious. Amid all the conversation about the need for diverse teen books and fresh voices of authors of color, I sometimes struggle with the sense of responsibility to my readers vs. the sense of responsibility to my personal art—the stories I most want or need to tell.

As a reader, I crave diversity in books, I search for it, I rejoice when I find it. There is no question in my mind that I want to weave diversity into everything that I write, if for no other reason than it is the only way to accurately reflect who I am as a person as well as an author.

Yet, I find I can’t approach the blank page with the pure intention to write diversely. When I started work on Camo Girl, my contemporary middle grade novel (Aladdin/S&S 2011), I didn’t know for sure if my main character was black, white, biracial (as she ended up being) or something else altogether. Midway through the first draft, I found myself wondering, will the novel be “diverse enough” if the character doesn’t deal with her race at all?

Certainly, I was being too hard on myself. Since then, I’ve realized that I panicked partly because my first novel, The Rock and the River (Aladdin/S&S 2009), was a civil rights era historical novel, in which skin color plays a significant, specific role. I was worried about making the transition from such a direct, race-related story to a quieter, contemporary exploration of what it means to be black or biracial as a teenager today. Though the world is not so black and white anymore, even the subtleties can be trying.

As it turned out, I didn’t have to worry. Skin color found its way into my novel, and it’s important to the story, but not the defining characteristic. I’m very comfortable with that balance. In the end, I think, I want to tell a universal story, but one that is made specific and relatable by my unique character’s experiences, personality and worldview.

Camo Girl deals with friendship in middle school, and at first glance, I think readers might expect the story to be about the value of true friendship and loyalty vs. perceived friendship and popularity. But the conflict Ella faces isn’t so easily broken down.

Digging deeper, her story is about finding truth, learning self-acceptance and discovering what friendship really means. Ella struggles to belong among her peers—something anyone who’s ever been in middle school can relate to—but her attempts to fit in are undercut by cruel bullies, her own insecurities, and mostly, the strength of a beloved childhood friendship that hasn’t “grown up” yet. Ella’s journey requires her to stretch the bounds of what’s familiar and take the first steps out of her safe place into the unknown. She has to learn that true belonging doesn’t equate with popularity, but with being comfortable in your own skin.

Hmm. Perhaps there’s a lesson there for the author, as well. I’m telling myself now not to worry so much when people ask about my work. The beautiful thing about diversity is that it comes in all shapes and sizes. It seems like that should go without saying, but it never hurts to remind myself that no matter what I write, it carries my voice. My individual voice, with all my quirks and experiences. Score one for diversity.

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[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.diversityinya.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/012411keklamagoon175.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Kekla Magoon is a New York City-based author, editor, speaker and educator. Her second novel, Camo Girl (Aladdin), was just published this month. Her debut novel, The Rock and the River (Aladdin, 2009), won the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent and was nominated for an NAACP Image Award, in addition to being named an ALA/YALSA Best Book for Young Adults. For more information, visit www.keklamagoon.com.[/author_info] [/author]