Tag Archives: Pete Kalu

New Releases – October 2015

Weird Girl and What’s His Name by Meagan Brothers (Three Rooms Press)

“In a small town in North Carolina, a close friendship between two eccentric high schoolers breaks apart, leaving a rift.Lula and Rory have always had two things in common: their outcast status and their love of the 1990s paranormal TV series The X-Files. Rory is generally overlooked by his classmates. Lula’s ”weird girl“ moniker comes from her being both bookish and outspoken and taking after her equally headstrong grandfather. Rory, who is out to Lula as gay, nevertheless keeps secret his illicit relationship with his middle-aged boss, Andy … Rory narrates the first half of the book and Lula, the second, and both voices are crisply and intimately drawn. … Carefully and subtly imagined.” — Kirkus

Illuminate by Tracy Clark (Entangled Teen)

Book Description: Can one girl be the light in a world spiraling toward darkness?

Haunted by the loss of her loved ones, Cora Sandoval, one of the remaining few of an extraordinary race known as Scintilla, holds the key to disentangling the biggest conspiracy in human history…and its link to the fate of the human race. As Cora follows a trail of centuries-old clues and secrets, she collides with a truth not only shocking, but dangerous.

With enemies both known and unknown hot on her trail, Cora must locate each of the ancient clues hidden in the art, religions, and mythologies of humankind. And through it all, she must keep her heart from being torn apart by the two boys she loves most. One is Scintilla, one is Arazzi.

Save herself. Save the Scintilla. Save the world. Or die trying…

Waterfire Saga, Book Three: Dark Tide by Jennifer Donnelly (Disney-Hyperion)

Book Description: Once a lost and confused princess, Serafina is now a confident leader of the Black Fin Resistance (BFR). While she works on sabotaging her enemy and enlisting allies for battle, her friends face challenges of their own. Ling is in the hold of Rafe Mfeme’s giant trawler, on her way to a prison camp. Becca meets up with Astrid and learns why the Ondalinian mermaid is always so angry: she is hiding a shameful secret. Ava can’t return home, because death riders await her arrival. And it is getting more and more difficult for Mahdi, Serafina’s betrothed, to keep up the ruse that he is in love with Lucia Volerno. If Lucia’s parents become suspicious, his life–and all of Sera’s hopes–will be extinguished. Political intrigue, dangerous liaisons, and spine-tingling suspense swirl like a maelstrom in this penultimate book in the WaterFire saga.

Willful Machines by Tim Floreen (Simon Pulse)

“In the not-so-distant future, robotics enthusiast Lee Fisher is the closeted son of the ultra-conservative U.S. president. With only one kiss under his belt, Lee has earned his nickname, Walk-In (as in closet). His father has a strict moral agenda to steer the country back to ancient ideals, proselytizing the dangers of technology; indeed, Lee’s mother was murdered by an ”artificially conscious“ robot named Charlotte who is now plotting a terrorist attack. Lee, tailed by the Secret Service and scrutinized by the media, wants to keep a low profile. When svelte, charismatic, Chilean Nico Medina arrives at Lee’s stuffy prep school, the stakes change. … Gothic, gadget-y, gay: a socially conscious sci-fi thriller to shelve between The Terminator and Romeo and Juliet.” — Kirkus, starred review

Signs Point to Yes by Sandy Hall (Swoon Reads)

“To save herself from her mom’s meddling, Jane Connelly accepts a job as a nanny to three little girls. It brings her back into contact with Teo, a childhood friend. Teo Garcia barely knows Jane anymore. But the more Jane and Teo interact, the friendlier they become. Teo is hiding a secret: He is searching for his birth father. All he knows is his name. … Teo feels like he is losing his connection to his mom and his heritage, which pushes him forward in his search for his father. It is a summer of changes for both of them, and this bonds them together. … Fun and original, Hall’s sophomore novel has an authentic teen voice with plenty of charm.” — School Library Journal

A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston (Disney-Hyperion)

“A loose retelling of The Arabian Nights frame story from Morris Award- and Kirkus Prize-finalist Johnston takes ideas of power and gender, belief and love, and upends them. Somewhere in the pre-Islamic Middle East, an unnamed girl narrates how, with the intent of saving her beloved sister, she sets herself against a king who has already wed and killed 300 wives before the story begins. … Detailed and quiet, beautifully written with a literary rhythm that evokes a sense of oral tale-telling, this unexpected fantasy should not be missed.” — Kirkus, starred review

Being Me by Pete Kalu (Hope Road)

The teenage years! A time when you didn’t have all these responsibilities, when your future shone brightly before you, the world full of opportunity!

Who are we trying to kid? Being a teen is hard. Even when you’re a star on your school’s soccer team, are a good student, and have a boyfriend, there are plenty of ways that being a teen—to speak bluntly—sucks. That’s the world—of angst and emotion, fractured families and fractious frenemies—that Pete Kalu conjures up in Being Me. The story of Adele, a girl with a rotten family, an aching heart, and a questionable best friend, it’s a witty, lively novel of growing up female, black, and middle class in contemporary London. As Adele navigates an everyday gauntlet of soccer matches, fights with her best friend, texts and furtive kisses with her boyfriend (her first!), and the travails of her screwed up family, Kalu takes us back to those tough teen years, of learning to hold things together in the midst of chaos—and sorting things out by figuring out just who you are, and who you want to be.

Wishing for You by Elizabeth Langston (FictionETC Press)

Book Description: She’s a girl who can’t remember. He’s the guy she can’t forget…

It’s her final semester of high school, and Kimberley Rey is curious about what will come next. She needs to pick a college, but her memory disability complicates the choice. Will her struggles to remember make it impossible to leave home?

Help arrives through an unexpected and supernatural gift. Grant is a “genie” with rules. He can give her thirty wishes (one per day for a month) as long as the tasks are humanly possible. Kimberley knows just what to ask for–lessons in how to live on her own.

But her wishes change when a friend receives a devastating diagnosis. As she joins forces with Grant to help her friend, Kimberley learns that the ability to live in the moment–to forget–may be more valuable than she ever knew.

The Rose Society by Marie Lu (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers)

“A heroine’s tragic tumble dominates the second volume of this trilogy. After Adelina’s expulsion by the Daggers for the dreadful events at the conclusion of The Young Elites (2014), she and her sister flee abroad seeking allies for their vendetta. The sisters are malfettos, survivors of the blood fever, marked with physical changes that leave them hated and feared in their native Kenettra. … The direction of this trilogy’s conclusion is left refreshingly difficult to predict. Original and sobering, Adelina is an antihero of nigh-unremitting darkness: an unusual young woman in the mold of such archetypes as Lucifer, Macbeth, and Darth Vader.” — Kirkus

Gathering Deep by Lisa Maxwell (Flux)

“Magical mother-daughter bonds prove tough to sever in this sequel to the Southern gothic Sweet Unrest (2014). Recently possessed Chloe Sabourin is reeling from her unwitting role in the recent murders and dark magic that rocked New Orleans and devastated by the discovery that her mother, Mina, is the witch Thisbe. … Chloe learns about Thisbe—a former 19th-century slave longing for her lost love, Augustine, and locked in an eternal battle with psychotic slave owner Roman Dutilette … Maxwell’s mixture of past and present, dreams and reality, speech and telepathy is immersive and delirious. Mommy dearest’s deal with the devil offers psychological melodrama and ghoulish thrills.” — Kirkus

A Step Toward Falling by Cammie McGovern (HarperTeen)

“Emily knew when she saw Belinda, a classmate with developmental disabilities, being assaulted under the bleachers she needed to intervene, but she froze, and now she’s doing community service and trying to figure out how to live with herself. Belinda is attempting to determine how to go forward after rescuing herself. Told in alternating sections of Emily’s and Belinda’s voices, this book explores how even good people can fail morally. … Belinda is written thoughtfully and respectfully. She has a distinct voice that reflects her cognitive disabilities but without condescension.” — School Library Journal, starred review

Juba!: A Novel by Walter Dean Myers (Amistad)

“Juba, a freeborn young black man, dreams of making it big as a dancer in antebellum New York City. The late, acclaimed Myers chose the real-life story of William Henry Lane, arguably the most celebrated black performer of the prewar era, as the basis for this historical exploration. Combining extensive research and deft storytelling, Myers chronicles Juba’s struggle to perform with superb skill and dignity instead of the degrading ”cooning“ and blackface that minstrel shows demanded. … Poignant, revealing period fiction about race and art in pre-Civil War America.” — Kirkus

Monster: A Graphic Novel by Walter Dean Myers, adapted by Guy A. Sims, illustrated by Dawud Anyabwile (Amistad)

“A faithfully adapted graphic-novel retelling of the first Printz Award winner. … Sims and Anyabwile are smart enough not to mess with a good thing, and they stick closely to the original to tell the story of New York teenager Steve Harmon’s trial for felony murder. … Anyabwile’s black-and-white illustrations do more than simply interpret the original’s camera directions and descriptions. They also add subtle layers to the courtroom accounts and journal entries, all while maintaining the narrative suspense and ambiguity that’s made this story linger with a generation of readers.” — Kirkus

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness (HarperTeen)

“It’s not easy being normal when the Chosen One goes to your high school. High school senior Mikey Mitchell knows that he’s not one of the ”indie kids“ in his small Washington town. While they ”end up being the Chosen One when the vampires come calling or when the Alien Queen needs the Source of All Light or something,“ Mikey simply wants to graduate, enjoy his friendships, and maybe, just maybe, kiss his longtime crush. … The diverse cast of characters is multidimensional and memorable, and the depiction of teen sexuality is refreshingly matter-of-fact. Magical pillars of light and zombie deer may occasionally drive the action here, but ultimately this novel celebrates the everyday heroism of teens doing the hard work of growing up. Fresh, funny, and full of heart: not to be missed.” — Kirkus, starred review

Banished Sons Of Poseidon by Andrew J. Peters (Bold Strokes Books)

Book Description: After escaping from a flood that buried the aboveground in seawater, a fractured group of boys from Atlantis squabble over the way ahead and their trust of an underground race of men who give them shelter. For sixteen-year-old Dam, whose world was toppling before the tragedy, it’s a strange, new second chance. There are wonders in the underworld and a foreign warrior Hanhau who is eager for friendship despite Dam’s dishonorable past.

But a rift among his countrymen threatens to send their settlement into chaos. Peace between the evacuees and Hanhau’s tribe depends on the sharing of a precious relic that glows with arcane energy. When danger emerges from the shadowed backcountry, Dam must undertake a desperate mission. It’s the only hope for the Atlanteans to make it home to the surface. It’s the only way to save Hanhau and his people.

If You’re Lucky by Yvonne Prinz (Algonquin Young Readers)

“Seventeen-year-old Georgia’s schizophrenic mind sees a suspicious link between the accidental sudden death of her beloved older brother Lucky in a surfing accident and his attractive friend Fin’s charming way of inserting himself into Lucky’s former life. Her paranoia increases as she goes off her medication, bringing readers along for her fevered observations, raw feelings, and strange hallucinations in tandem with the ongoing action. Georgia is convinced that Fin killed Lucky and she is the only one who recognizes the danger. … The protagonist ranks among the best of unreliable narrators in YA literature, leaving readers uncertain, confused, and utterly absorbed.” — School Library Journal

An Infinite Number Of Parallel Universes by Randy Ribay (Merit Press)

Book Description: Four friends from wildly different backgrounds have bonded over Dungeons & Dragons since the sixth grade. Now they’re facing senior year and a major shift in their own universes. Math whiz Archie is struggling with his parents’ divorce after his dad comes out as gay. Mari is terrified of her adoptive mother’s life-altering news. Dante is carrying around a huge secret that is proving impossible to keep hidden. And when Sam gets dumped by the love of his life, everyone is ready to join him on a cross-country quest to win her back. The four quickly discover that the road is not forgiving, and that real life is no game. They must face a test of friendship where the stakes are more than just a roll of the dice—they are life and death.

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell (St. Martin’s Griffin)

Book Description: Simon Snow is the worst Chosen One who’s ever been chosen.

That’s what his roommate, Baz, says. And Baz might be evil and a vampire and a complete git, but he’s probably right.

Half the time, Simon can’t even make his wand work, and the other half, he starts something on fire. His mentor’s avoiding him, his girlfriend broke up with him, and there’s a magic-eating monster running around, wearing Simon’s face. Baz would be having a field day with all this, if he were here — it’s their last year at the Watford School of Magicks, and Simon’s infuriating nemesis didn’t even bother to show up.

Carry On – The Rise and Fall of Simon Snow is a ghost story, a love story and a mystery. It has just as much kissing and talking as you’d expect from a Rainbow Rowell story — but far, far more monsters.

What We Left Behind by Robin Talley (Harlequin Teen)

Book Description: Toni and Gretchen are the couple everyone envied in high school. They’ve been together forever. They never fight. They’re deeply, hopelessly in love. When they separate for their first year at college—Toni to Harvard and Gretchen to NYU—they’re sure they’ll be fine. Where other long-distance relationships have fallen apart, theirs is bound to stay rock-solid.

The reality of being apart, though, is very different than they expected. Toni, who identifies as genderqueer, meets a group of transgender upperclassmen and immediately finds a sense of belonging that has always been missing, but Gretchen struggles to remember who she is outside their relationship.

While Toni worries that Gretchen won’t understand Toni’s new world, Gretchen begins to wonder where she fits in this puzzle. As distance and Toni’s shifting gender identity begin to wear on their relationship, the couple must decide—have they grown apart for good, or is love enough to keep them together?

“Being Me” and the Complexity of Black Identity

By Pete Kalu

kalu-beingmeI began my literary life as a storyteller visiting classrooms across the UK. I found in the major cities — London, Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, pupils in one class might collectively know up to fifteen languages. In these same classrooms there would be children of amazingly mixed backgrounds — Turkish-Pakistani, Nigerian-Polish, third generation hyphenated Jamaican-Ghanaian-English-Irish children.

This hybridity is not an exclusively UK phenomenon. In Hong Kong I met third generation Indian-Chinese; in Lebanon I’ve met Nigerian bartenders who spoke fluent English having picked it up from American movies but who also spoke fluent Arabic and were engaged to Lebanese women. I’ve met Kashmiri villagers in Pakistan who spoke Scottish-English on account of Britain’s colonial ventures there hundreds of years ago!

Black identity is endlessly complex once you start to look up close. And to compound that complexity, culture (which forms a significant part of identity) is never static — it’s always on the move: absorbing new influences, throwing off the old. This is nothing new. I once traced a story that originated with the Mende people of Sudan and moved down into West Africa in different versions and which has now spread across to the Caribbean. In each location the story adapted itself, absorbing local influences. Hybridity is as old as the African hills.

Overlaying this aspect of hybridity and the resulting diversity of identity is the negative phenomenon of racism. Racism’s effect tends to be a flattening of the uniqueness of individuals and of the shifting variegation of cultures and their replacement with a monotone stereotype. Racism takes away individuation; it impresses its own images on individuals and communities. So Being Me tries to push back by exploring and celebrating the many complexities and ambiguities that black identity possesses.

In Being Me, Adele has an Ethiopian grandmother, a father who identifies as Italian and a white Liverpudlian mother. Adele considers herself black on account of her grandmother, but her father, who has a fine line in racism (see my first YA novel, The Silent Striker) considers her English-Italian. Adele occasionally speaks a form of urban slang which she attributes to her black grandmother. It is her confused way of boosting her ‘blackness’, as a means of pushing back against her father. Her frenemy Mikaela meanwhile has darker skin and two dark skinned parents. When annoyed, Mikaela rejects Adele’s attempt to identify as black and ridicules her for it. But if we hold the mirror up to Mikalea, Mikaela’s black identity is not ‘normal’ either. Mikaela’s parents are rich lawyers. Mikaela would prefer them to be poor in keeping with the stereotype of urban black families that she considers would make her look cool at school. To make things even more complicated, Mikaela’s parents were once Black Power militants and still champion the radical voices involved in anti-racism and pro-refugee campaigns such as Black Lives Matter and #refugeeswelcome. The whole bag of assumptions and expectations get thrown in the air in Being Me when Adele’s historically racist father inexplicably starts an affair with Mikaela’s mum.

To return to the source, as a storyteller, I would go into classrooms, tell a story or two from my life, then ask: what is blackness? Is it the way someone speaks? The way they walk? Is it where they are born? Their family? One story I would tell them   from my own adolescence was of how a white skinned Jamaican man arrived in Manchester, UK and set up a kung fu class popular with second generation Jamaican children. We were astonished when this white man opened his mouth and spoke more fluent Jamaican nation-language (patois) than any second generation UK born Jamaican kid. It had us all re-examining our understanding of Jamaican-ness, which at the time, was the coolest kind of blackness.

The school students loved debating this stuff and teachers said it was the first time they had had an opportunity within school to talk like this, there were no YA novels that gave UK black identity anything more than a token examination.

Coming back to Being Me, in the background of the novel, the questions I am considering (we novelists never have any answers — only questions!) relate to the nature of black consciousness as a lived experience. Does a black kid think any differently to a white kid? If so, when? All the time? If not all the time, then in what circumstances?

Take a math problem as an example. You might think on the surface everyone looks at a math question in the same way. Yet a black kid might go into class with reservations. One of racism’s early messages was that African people are not adept at scientific thinking. This translates down as black people cannot do math. When entering the math classroom, what examples of black scientific successes has the black kid seen, what role models of people good at math has she or he picked up, how does their black peer group see the idea of being good at math and what cultural influences have affected that wider peer group?

Add all this up and a black kid by the age of 14 may have been delivered a sufficiently negative message about their math ability as to be much more hesitant going into a math class.

So a simple task — the square root of nine — may be contemplated with completely different attitudes by a black kid and a white kid. That’s without any reference to the actual mathematical processing brain work that the task requires. The reverse might happen at Physical Education. Black people are expected to be good at that. How does it feel if you’re black and actually rubbish at sports or dancing or any of the other stereotypical things we are meant to be good at?

So much for being black in school. How about daily life? The UK born black journalist Gary Younge stayed for 12 years in the USA writing news reports for major UK newspapers, including the Guardian. He wrote recently about his decision to return from the USA, describing how his very young son did not want to walk down a certain street because he felt threatened. His son, even at that early age, was already adjusting his thinking and his behaviour to the fact of his blackness. Do all black kids come to learn which streets it is not safe to walk down, both literally and metaphorically?

Some might say, what about our common humanity? Surely we have more in common than that which separates us? Extending this reasoning, some writers consider that black consciousness (if I can use that phrase in a narrow sense of being aware of being black in society) is not central to the black child’s personality or experience of life: black awareness is an intermittent experience. It’s an argument that may hold some truth.

Such writers could therefore presumably write black characters as white and merely swap the name John for Kwame and, with a few extra touches here and there, arrive at a convincing black YA character.

To take the other extreme, if blackness or racism determined every aspect of a character’s life, what room would there be for individualisation, for showing the deeply felt unique emotions and distinctive intellectual life which we each have as individuals — is all that flattened out by racism? Does racism make us all the same?

The Holy Grail for a writer concerned with black identity is to create a black character who has a deeply felt emotional life, a highly individualized experience of the world and a fully active intellectual life, while not ignoring the societal structures which impinge on their world. Ultimately, I guess the emphases you choose as a writer when depicting black characters depends on your own experiences, observations and judgements.

With my own two YA novels I’ve plunged in and given two different takes on black identity. In The Silent Striker Marcus has a vociferous white mum who is a trainee magician and a proudly Nigerian postal worker dad who wants to be pop singer only he has a voice like a cat with its tail caught in a door. Marcus suffers racial bullying by a teacher and some of his classmates. In his own, Marcus looks set to go under. But his true friends rally round (including Adele, his sort of girlfriend) and in a ‘Spartacus’ moment help him oppose his scapegoating, lift his chin and get his dreams back on track.

In Being Me, Adele and Mikaela are best friends and worst enemies. Mikaela calls out Adele’s ‘skin privilege’ — the way Adele’s life is easier as she is lighter-skinned than Mikaela. Adele herself longs to be what she considers more authentically black but has wrong-headed ideas about what being black means. Teen life is a time of working out who you are. For Adele and Mikaela, bumping up against assumptions, trying out stereotypes and challenging expectations is part of their growing up. It is their enduring friendship that pulls them through it all.

Those are my two tales. Two approaches. There is room for a whole range of other takes on black identity. Currently there are very few YA novels with contemporary black characters published by mainstream publishers whether in the US or the UK.

As evidence of that I recently visited a Manchester branch of Britain’s leading bookshop chain. I randomly chose some YA stories that looked as if they were set in the UK in the 21st century and wrote down the first girl’s name I came across.   Here’s the list.

Rose. Minny. Penny. Eden. Zahra. Poppy. Mary Harriet. Anna. Georgia. Emmy. Evie. Lily.

A very white list. To find a black character anywhere on those YA shelves I had to leave contemporary YA fiction and look among books set either in a distant time, a distant land or in a fantasy universe. It’s time for YA fiction to fearlessly place black characters in the now. We are part of this world. We belong.


petekaluPeter Kalu is well known as a poet, novelist, playwright and script writer. He started writing as a member of the Moss Side Write black writers workshop and has had five novels, two film scripts and three theatre plays produced to date. In 2002 he won the Kodak/Liverpool Film Festival Award for his script, No Trace. In March 2003 he won the BBC/Contact Theatre’s Dangeorus Comedy Script Award for his play, Pants. He has lived in Hulme/ Moss Side/ Didsbury, Manchester; Edinburgh, Scotland; Leeds, Yorkshire; Lagos and Abia State (briefly), Nigeria; and San Francisco, USA. He has a degree in Law and further qualifications in software programming, Internet coding and Marketing. He runs a Hulme based Carnival Band called Moko Jumbi (Ghosts of the Gods) which takes to the streets at Manchester Carnival every year in July on three feet high stilts! He is learning to tightrope walk.

Being Me is now available.