Tag Archives: Rene S. Perez II

New Releases – November 2015

See No Color by Shannon Gibney (Carolrhoda Lab)

“Biracial Alex, 16, high school baseball star and pride of her white, adoptive father and coach, sidesteps thinking about her parentage and racial identity, lying to finesse uncomfortable issues—but hiding her adoptive status from Reggie, an attractive, black player on an opposing team, troubles her. … Gibney, herself transracially adopted, honors the complexities of her diverse, appealing characters. Transracial adoption is never oversimplified, airbrushed, or sentimentalized, but instead, it’s portrayed with bracing honesty as the messy institution it is: rearranging families, blending cultural and biological DNA, loss and joy. An exceptionally accomplished debut.” — Kirkus, starred review

Traffick by Ellen Hopkins (Margaret K. McElderry Books)

“Five white teens move on with their lives after doing sex work in Las Vegas. At the end of Tricks (2009), three of the five protagonists saw glimmers of hope, one was stuck in a rut, and one had been shot. This sequel picks up with Cody in the hospital, awakening to learn that he’s paralyzed from the waist down. Whitney, who had overdosed, heads home to an emotionally distant family, facing PTSD and addictions to drugs and to her pimp. … Farm boy Seth is still being kept by a sugar daddy and tricking on the side. … Less startling than its predecessor; a hopeful aftermath tale for readers already attached to these characters.” — Kirkus

Everything but the Truth: An If Only novel by Mandy Hubbard (Bloomsbury USA)

Book Description: Holly Mathews’ mom is the new manager of a ritzy retirement home, and they just moved in, which means Holly’s neighbors are all super-rich retirees. Still, it’s not a total bust, because gorgeous, notorious Hollywood playboy Malik Buchannan is the grandson of one of the residents. Just one problem: when they meet, Malik assumes Holly’s there to visit her own rich relative. She doesn’t correct him, and it probably doesn’t matter, because their flirtation could never turn into more than a superficial fling … right? But the longer Holly lives in Malik’s privileged world, the deeper she falls for him and the more difficult it becomes to tell the truth … because coming clean might mean losing Malik forever.

Calvin by Martine Leavitt (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

“Calvin’s personality seems to have been destined: he was born on the day comic strip ‘Calvin and Hobbes’ ended, his grandfather gave the infant a Hobbes-like tiger toy that was his constant childhood companion, and his best (and only) friend was always Susie. But now…Susie has abandoned him for more popular kids, and suddenly Calvin is convinced that Hobbes is right there with him. It’s schizophrenia. Calvin is placed on a locked ward for treatment. He decides his last, best hope is to go on a dangerous pilgrimage. … Equal parts coming-of-age tale, survival adventure, and love story, this outstanding novel also sensitively deals with an uncommon but very real teen issue, making it far more than the sum of its parts.” — Kirkus, starred review

Darkness Hidden: The Name of the Blade, Book Two by Zoe Marriott (Candlewick)

“When readers first met Mio Yamato in The Name of the Blade (Candlewick, 2014), she was learning about her unique heritage, mastering the katana somehow bound to her (as well as Shinobu, the compelling boy who emerges from inside it), and protecting her friends from legions of monsters from Japanese myth. After that adventure, she has little time to catch her breath before this sequel begins. … Much like the previous volume, this entry is well paced and exciting and offers a look into Japanese mythology hard to find elsewhere. … this solid and gripping work will keep readers interested in what’s to come.” — School Library Journal

Rules for 50/50 Chances by Kate McGovern (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

“In a strong debut, McGovern investigates mortality, romance, family, race, and class. When Rose and Caleb meet at a “Walk for Rare Genes,” they appreciate not just each other’s company but also the chance to talk honestly about having a seriously ill family member. … Caleb, who has family with sickle-cell disease, and Rose, with a 50/50 chance of inheriting Huntington’s, hit it off, but nothing is simple. … Additionally, Caleb is black, and Rose is white, which makes her realize how much she’s never had to think about. As narrator, Rose is articulate and sympathetic, and though Caleb and his family are a bit too perfect, McGovern skillfully engages with questions of fate, choice, and truly terrible luck.” — Publishers Weekly

Soundless by Richelle Mead (Razorbill)

“Fei lives in a mountain village whose inhabitants have been deaf for generations, relying on artists like her for their daily news. Isolated by rockslides and unable to descend the mountain, the villagers depend on food supplied via a pulley system from the kingdom below. The price of survival is the mountain’s gold and silver, and the majority of the population works in the mines. But now Fei’s people, including her beloved sister, are starting to go blind, which will mean their extinction. After a vivid dream, Fei wakes with the gift of hearing and struggles to comprehend the new sensation of sound. She and her childhood friend Li Wei embark on a desperate effort to avert her people’s horrifying fate.” — Publishers Weekly

Winter by Marissa Meyer (Feiwel & Friends)

“At twice the length of Cinder, Meyer’s 800-page conclusion to her Lunar Chronicles is daunting both in its immensity and in its narrative breadth, shifting among every major character from the series and some new ones. But readers who have invested in Cinder and its sequels won’t be disappointed: this final installment abounds with nail-biting action, suspense, and romance. As Cinder plots a revolution against the exquisitely evil Lunar Queen Levana, readers meet Levana’s stepdaughter, Winter, whose debilitating visions are kept in check by Jacin, her beloved personal guard whom she is forbidden from marrying. …Meyer expertly ties up any and all loose ends, allowing readers to leave behind this saga with a contented sigh.” — Publishers Weekly

Note: According to this interview with the author, Winter is a woman of color.

This Way Home by Wes Moore with Shawn Goodman (Delacorte)

“Lifelong best friends and basketball teammates Elijah, Dylan, and Michael become reluctantly entangled with a Baltimore street gang. When Michael offers his friends each a pair of $400 Kobe 10 sneakers and won’t explain how he got them, Elijah knows he should say no. In the end, loyalty to his friends and the desire to get out of his own ratty shoes prevail. …The portrayal of the gang is pared-down, more symbolic than realistic, but the stakes are high, and the sense of impending doom is heavy throughout. A taut, haunting tragedy.” — Kirkus

Seeing Off the Johns by Rene S. Perez II (Cinco Puntos)

“In Greenton, TX, everything revolves around the Johns, the two star baseball and football players in the local high school. Everyone in town even wakes up before dawn to come out and send them off to college and wish them luck. When a tragic accident occurs, resulting in their untimely deaths, everything changes, especially for 16-year-old Chon Gonzales. Chon is a somewhat average teen working a dead-end job in a gas station and occasionally hooking up with an older female coworker. He’s looking to get out of his small town and win over Araceli, the girl of his dreams who used to date one of the Johns. … This authentic story of loss is powerful and one that many readers will not forget.” — School Library Journal

Dare to Disappoint: Growing Up in Turkey by Ozge Samanci (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

“Humor and youthful angst lighten this graphic memoir of life in a country pulled strongly in different directions by conflicts between Western and conservative Muslim values. Samanci looks back on her youth and schooling with a dual perspective: as a middle-class child caught up in relentless family pressure to excel academically as the only route to a secure future and, in a broader context, as a woman in a country that was forcibly Westernized years ago by the revered Atatürk but is currently experiencing a cultural backlash abetted by a repressive and corrupt government. … A bright, perceptive bildungsroman with a distinctive setting.” — Kirkus, starred review

Autumn’s Kiss by Bella Thorne (Delacorte)

Book Description: Everyone knows how crazy junior year is, but Autumn Falls never imagined it would be so flirty. The wish-granting diary her father left her stopped working, leaving Autumn to decode what’s going on with her and Sean on her own. He seems into her … and he also seems into Reenzie. And when JJ steps up and tells Autumn he’s the one she should be with if she wants someone who really cares about her and a pop star makes a major play for her, Autumn is totally confused. Her friends have Big Drama issues going on too, and Autumn wants to be there for them. Then something mind-blowing happens. She’s suddenly given an incredible crazy-fun opportunity: a map that takes her anyplace she wants to go. At first it seems like an amazing gift. But showing up IRL where you’re least expected has life-changing consequences. Is Autumn ready to handle the fallout?

Light of Day by Allison van Diepen (HarperTeen)

“Senior Gabby Perez is no naïve wallflower, but when a seedy club-goer sneaks roofies in her best friend’s drink, it takes a hot, blue-eyed, square-jawed stranger to warn her to get away. A young Miami radio personality, Gabby uses her weekly show, Light Up the Night, to discuss what (almost) happened and thank the handsome stranger who came to the rescue. The following week, the mystery guy, who goes by ”X,“ waits for her at the radio station and cautions her that she’s getting involved in a dangerous sex-trafficking situation. … Van Diepen returns to her On the Edge (2014) world—the tough streets of Miami—for another exciting story that delivers with a central relationship full of twists and surprising depth. Readers who like their romance on the gritty side will fall for van Diepen’s steamy thriller.” — Kirkus

Hollowgirl by Sean Williams (Balzer + Bray)

Book Description: Clair’s world has been destroyed—again. The only remaining hope of saving her friends is for her and Q to enter the Yard, the digital world of Ant Wallace’s creation. The rules there are the same as those of the real world: Water is real; fire is real; death is real. But in the Yard there are two Clair Hills, and their very existence causes cracks that steadily widen.

Getting inside is the easy part. Once there, she has to earn the trust of her friends, including the girl who started it all—her best friend, Libby. Together they must fight their way through the digital and political minefield in the hope of saving the world once and for all. And this time Clair has to get it right … or lose everything.

Breathing Room: The Space between Art and Activism

By Rene S. Perez II

perez-seeingoffthejohnsI guess I’ve always been a writer. Such labels become important when you’re an aspiring writer, then a writing student, then a published writer (in some literary magazine, let’s say, print or online—they put your words on their page!), or even an unpublished graduate of a writing program, then as an author when the book your words are in only has your name on it. These distinctions are important among writers, because we wait for so long to be able to call ourselves “author” or, hopefully, “award-winning author” or “best-selling author”. They’re important because, when we are out in the world, punching a clock or pulling down a salary (often correcting or re-writing the words of other people when we want to write our own), or raising a family, we have to be able to tell ourselves at the end of the day, when we know there’s a word document that’s been untouched for days or weeks because of our paying work’s exhausting toll, when we’ve sent out a story and not received word back regarding our submission well past the 8 weeks by which a publication’s submission guidelines say we’ll receive a joyous “yes” or a merciful “no”, when we feel the cold pangs in our core at the hint of the fact that maybe, just maybe, our dream won’t be realized, when we have these dark nights of the soul, we can always tell ourselves, we’re writers. We write. It’s what we do. If we can’t do it every day, if we don’t get paid for it, we write. We are writers.

I’ve been a writer since long before I was a published author—since before I even knew my writing could or would ever be published. I would write in notebooks. Notebook after notebook. Loose-leaf page after loose-leaf page—to be folded or stapled or transcribed into my notebooks. I wrote mostly poems, some stream of consciousness reportage on the things around me—the this-and-that of a life in my shoes. I wrote what I know now were character sketches, but which I called stories at the time. I wrote in middle school. I wrote in high school. I wrote in college. But I never thought to become a writer. This was mostly, I believe, because what I’d read to that point was inaccessible to me. It was all just a bunch of dead white guys, and what did I care about them outside of needing to take tests and write essays about what they’d written. Do I now see the beauty of a fiery passion that had to be repressed for so, so many pages only to ever be expressed in the touch of gloved hands and a beautiful night traipsing in the snow? Of course I do. Do I now see the poignancy in a farmhand pulling himself up by his bootstraps and a willingness to bootleg all so he could build this palace as a setting for a party where maybe, just maybe, the girl who personified all that he was not, all that he pretended to be, could see him? Sure. But Ethan Frome and James Gatz were aliens to me. They were from places and circumstances that, when I first encountered them, kept me from understanding them as characters in stories—art—that represented feelings and states of being that were and are universal. In these vaunted tomes of American letters, I was presented with cultural barriers to access—just like many students are presented with such barriers in trying to access education at large.

It wasn’t until I was at college, a pre-law student by default, as the path that had previously been laid out for me—I was going to be an engineer—had been blown apart by a calculus class in high school that made me think twice about pursuing a career with those math-minded types, that I found an appreciation for literature. Having tested out of 3 sections of English, I was allowed to take upper-division English classes. I enrolled in a Chicano Literature class, almost certainly because it’s what was left to register for when I finally did. I’ve already forgotten some of the books we read. I know that we did end up reading And the Earth Did Not Devour Him, Tunomás Honey, Pocho, The Road to Tamazunchale, and Woman Hollering Creek. I remember Anna Nogar teaching these texts with vigor and an urgency to have her students understand their (ambiguity intended) potential. I remember my classmates, all also Latino, mostly Chicano, seemed to be having similar experiences to the one I was having—a light bulb was turning on for us; the dark of our exclusion from the books we’d read and the classes we’d taken was illuminated by the light of our torch-bearing forebearers, by Rivera and by Sagel, by Villarreal and Arias, by, of course, Cisneros. We could see ourselves in literature.

I decided then that, while I always wrote, I would become a writer. I know now that I’d always been a writer, that I had hoped, then, to someday become an author like those who had shown me it was possible to become one.

That’s when, already back then, I had to define the space between the art I wanted to create and the activism I wanted that art to accomplish. How political were my stories going to be? How loudly was I going to shout to the masses that, “We are here! We’ve always been here! This land was ours before it was yours, and this country is just as much ours as it is yours even now that we’re relegated to underclass status!”? How much Spanish were my characters going to speak? Was I going to Italicize?

These questions all overwhelmed me. So I did the only thing I could: I wrote from as true and real a place as I could. I determined that, no matter what, I would not write anything phony. I made that decision when I wrote my first short story, “Last Trip North”, and wanted to set it in my father’s hometown. While I’d lived in that town myself for a short period of my young childhood and travelled there from Corpus Christi, where I was raised, I was not really from Hebbronville, TX. So I named the town Greenton. It’s the same town in which my newest novel, Seeing Off the Johns, takes place.

I made this choice with one thing in mind: the authenticity of my art. Back when I wrote that first story, I would not have even known to call this impulse that. I just knew that the truth would set me free in my writing. It would allow me to create fictions that could be believed and characters who my readers could live with, experience the plot points with. The truth gave me permission to create the lies.

In that moment of truth, when I decided to name my town Greenton, all of the other questions about my responsibility to the cultural aspect of my writing were answered. If I would create stories and let my characters, mostly all Chicano characters, live and be there as truly and realistically as possible, I would be creating impactful Chicano literature. There’s no checklist of what a story or book does or doesn’t have to have in order to be sufficiently Chicano. There’s only the authentic and the not. Hewn closely to my own experience of the culture—to what else can literature be hewn but a writer’s experience—I know that my writing might just resonate well enough with young readers to flip the “on” switch in their minds, to reflect, in my work, something close to their realities.

With Seeing Off the Johns, I never reached out at young readers with my writing. I never had those readers or that section of the bookstore in mind when I wrote my novel. I wrote the story to play out as truly as possible within the situation it created. Sure, my protagonist is a high school senior, but I didn’t write this for high schoolers. That said, I did write his thoughts and actions to be as close as possible to those someone his age, in his situation, would have. In aiming to maintain the integrity of the art, I created something that I am already seeing resonates with young readers.

I am a teacher. I teach in a school that is made up of mostly minority students, among that majority, most students are Latino. It has been my great pleasure to point students in the direction of texts that I know will resonate with them. I try, particularly with my reluctant readers, to chip away at those barriers to entry to literature. Sometimes those barriers are language (And the Earth Did Not Devour Him is in both English and Spanish); sometimes it’s length and lexile level of texts (David Rice’s Crazy Loco has worked wonders with students who are daunted by a book’s size); sometimes it’s that “books are for nerds” (seriously, put a copy of Junot Diaz’s Drown in the hands of one of these kids, preferably if they’re older, and watch them at least have to respect that that notion is wrong if not then fully dive into that book’s stories).

On the teaching end of my professional existence, I am an advocate, a cheerleader, and an activist for getting the right books into the hands of kids who might not otherwise connect to literature. As a writer, though, I have to remain true to my art. I have to, or I wouldn’t be able to make it. Just like I wasn’t able to stain that first blank page with my stories until I could do it from a truthful place, I still can’t. Regardless of who my audience might end up being, the art I’ll create if I create it just for the sake of its authenticity will resound with more readers if they can flip through a few pages, realize I’m not full of it, and hop on for the ride.

Minority writers, particularly YA writers, often feel pressure to carry on the tradition of those who came before them and inspired them to create. I am a Chicano writer. I know that the word Chicano has historical and political underpinnings. I know that by simply being who I am, from where I’m from, there are expectations placed on me and what I write. Some of these expectations, sure, are ignorant and dismissive. Many others, however, are well-meaning. Outlets urging writers to write work to reflect the history and dignity of a whole community do so in order that such work can be available, so that it can be held up as exemplary both to youth within the community and to outsiders looking in from the dominant culture.

We are expected to be cheerleaders and role models, flag-bearers for movements gone by and struggles still being fought. We are the voices of diversity, so we had better be saying the big things, the important things. We better be writing positive characters. We better be showing that young Chican@s can be cool and smart and interesting. It’s all too much.

All we owe readers is our writing. If we make it as good and real as it can be, nothing else needs to be considered. Art without an agenda outside aesthetic and truth is more impactful than any propaganda or motivational speechwriting. If we forget, or at least ignore, the pushes from without and from within toward creating the “right kind” of diverse YA, if we aim only to make it as impactful and engaging as possible, the work we end up doing will serve to continue the revelation to young people of color that they have a place in literature, that their stories and their lives matter just as much any Frome or Gatsby or Caulfield, any Wharton or Fitzgerald or Salinger to come before them.


renespereziiRene S. Perez II was born in Kingsville, Texas, and raised in Corpus Christi. He received a BA from the University of Texas and an MFA from Texas State University. He is the winner of the Alfredo Cisneros del Moral Foundation Award and the 2013 NACCS Tejas Award for Fiction for his 2012 short story collection, Along These Highways. His latest book, Seeing Off the Johns, was named BookPage’s Top Teen Pick for July. He currently teaches high school in Austin.

Seeing Off the Johns is available for purchase.