Tag Archives: robin talley

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?

Why I Only Write About LGBTQIA+ Characters (for now)

By Robin Talley

talley-whatweleftbehindRecently, a reader asked me if I’d intentionally set out for my new book, What We Left Behind, to have an almost entirely LGBTQ cast. The answer to that question is no, not really ― it wasn’t until I was on the seventh or so revision that I realized how few straight, cisgender characters have actual speaking roles in WWLB ― but his question really got me thinking.

What We Left Behind is very different from my first book, Lies We Tell Ourselves. Lies was set in 1959 Virginia. Both of its main characters, Sarah and Linda, are on the queer spectrum (in my mind, they’re both bisexual, but being that the only sex ed they’ve ever received is the 1950s public-school edition, these characters don’t have terminology for their identities beyond “That one girl makes me feel kind of funny”). They have no awareness of any other LGBTQIA+ people existing in their world. They assume that by default, everyone they know is straight and cis. (Again, in my head, there’s one other gay character in the book ― their choir teacher ― but Sarah and Linda aren’t aware of that, so it isn’t on the page.)

But What We Left Behind is set in the present day. It starts out in the Washington, D.C. suburbs, where the lead characters are from. Then the setting moves back and forth between the two college campuses where they’re starting their respective freshman years ― Harvard, and NYU.

All three of those settings are considered hotbeds of liberalism by the Fox News types. And, well, they’re not entirely wrong. Toni and Gretchen, the two 18-year-old protagonists of What We Left Behind, have been out to various degrees about their queer identities for years. When they arrive at their new schools, they both find communities of classmates who are on the LGBTQ spectrum, too. And for Toni, who identifies as genderqueer at the start of the book, becoming part of a group of trans* friends opens up a whole new world that just might change everything.

Writing a book with an almost entirely queer-identified cast was so much fun I don’t even have the words for it. Now that we’re safely living in the 21st century, for some LGBTQIA+ people ― and yes, I was one of them ― college is the first place where you can really be part of a community of friends who get what it’s like to be you.

I get to keep indulging in queer communities after this book, too. The book I’m working on next, As I Descended ― which is also set in the here and now, though it’s more on the SF/F side of things (it’s a retelling of Macbeth set at a haunted Virginia boarding school) ― also has a lead cast made up entirely of gay and bi folks.

It’s awesome to get to write about more-or-less out-and-proud teenagers after spending years dwelling on the repressive world that was 1950s America. But more than that, there’s something unique and exciting in writing about queer communities, specifically. That’s also something that I feel has been lacking in YA. Sure, YA has been short on LGBTQIA+ representation (and marginalized community representation across the board) since its inception, and the numbers show that we’re nowhere close to rectifying that today. But even in many YA books with LGBTQIA+ protagonists, it’s still pretty common for just that one character, plus maybe a BFF and/or love interest, to be the only non-straight, non-cis people around.

And that’s certainly a common experience for a lot of teens on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum. That’s basically what it was like for me in high school in the 1990s. But it’s not the only reality, especially in today’s social-media-connected world. And for me, writing ― and reading ― about queer teens who are plugged into that bigger world is both fun and fascinating.

But even when they’re living in relative isolation, like in my first book, I’m still more interested in writing about LGBTQIA+ characters than straight, cisgender folks, at least when it comes to protagonists. It’s partly that I relate to the sexuality aspect of their identities, being queer myself. But I think it’s also because, to some degree or other, these characters are operating outside cultural expectations. It may not be the 1950s anymore, but we still very much live in a world where straight and cisgender are the default. And for now at least, I’m most interested in writing about characters who don’t conform to that assumption.

Never say never, of course. Someday a straight, cis character might pop into my head whose story I simply can’t wait to tell.

But for now… I’m sticking with lesbian Macbeth.


robintalleyRobin Talley, author of Lies We Tell Ourselves (September 2014) and What We Left Behind (October 2015), grew up in Roanoke, Virginia. A Lambda Literary Fellow, Robin now lives in Washington, D.C., with her wife, plus an antisocial cat and a goofy hound dog. When Robin’s not writing, she’s often planning communication strategies at organizations fighting for equal rights and social justice. You can find her on the web at www.robintalley.com or on Twitter at @robin_talley.

What We Left Behind is available for purchase.

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

What I Learned About Writing Characters Who Aren’t Like Me

By Robin Talley

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Here’s me: A 35-year-old white cisgender openly gay woman who lives in a major U.S. city in 2014.

Here’s the protagonist of my first book: A 17-year-old black cisgender closeted gay (or maybe bisexual or maybe questioning) girl who lives in a small southern town in the U.S. in 1959.

In many ways, identity is everything. Being a 35-year-old white woman is very different from being a 17-year-old black girl.

Context is also everything. It’s very different to be a woman who’s attracted to other women in 2014 than it was to be a girl who was attracted to other girls in 1959.

My book, Lies We Tell Ourselves, is set during the school desegregation movement in Virginia. My protagonist, Sarah, is one of the first black students to integrate a previously all-white high school. In the middle of all the turmoil she endures there, she also forms a cautious friendship with a white girl who’s a staunch segregationist. Slowly, their relationship develops into something more.

To write this book, I had to do a ton of research about the people who served on the front lines of the school integration battles. I took fervent notes as I pored over every memoir I could get my hands on, trying to read between the lines and pick up on what might’ve not been spelled out in the text. I watched video interviews, hanging on every word, every breath, trying to understand what those students must’ve felt as they crossed that line.

But there was another layer of work beyond the research: trying to imagine myself in their positions. Thinking through how I would’ve felt if I were them, going through what they did.

Which, of course, is impossible. I’ve never been them. I never could be them. I’ve never suffered anything close to what they’ve suffered.

Nor was I raised the way they were ― with the post-World War II, mid-twentieth-century values that were instilled in American children growing up in the 1940s and 1950s.

And yet, whether it’s possible or not, it’s necessary. That’s how writing works. You have to envision what it would be like to do what your characters are doing. Whether they’re sneaking through Mordor, or gazing at the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock, or integrating an all-white school in 1959.

Last week, my wife and I were waiting to meet a friend at the mall. We were leaning against a wall by the entrance, and I had my arm around my wife. Lots of people walked past us on their way in or out of the mall. Half of them ignored us and kept walking. The other half stared at us openly as they passed.

This was in Bethesda, Maryland, a fancy suburb of Washington, D.C., where we live. It was a reminder that even in fancy suburbs in 2014, there are still people who feel totally comfortable staring at people who are different. It was also a reminder that the vast majority of the time, I don’t have to worry about this. I’m not a visible minority. Unless I have my arm around my wife or am wearing my “I <3 Pro-Choice Girls” T-shirt, people usually aren’t going to assume I’m gay at a glance.

Writing a book from the point of view of a character of color ― a character who is relentlessly persecuted due to her race ― meant I had take what I know, what it feels like to get stared at by strangers, and try to imagine what it would feel like if that happened every single day, everywhere I went. I had to imagine what it would be like to know that next time, staring might not be the only thing I had to worry about. Next time, the strangers staring at me might say something. Or shout something. Or throw something. Or worse.

All that and more happens to my character, Sarah, when she enters a previously all-white high school in the first chapter of Lies We Tell Ourselves. Her race has made her a target her entire life, but it’s magnified a thousandfold when she dares to cross the line that her society has declared uncrossable.

The courage it takes for her to take that stand is something I can only imagine, too. But Sarah isn’t willing to cross what was then an even more rigid boundary: she can’t let anyone to find out she’s interested in girls. If that ever happened, she’d be a target on two fronts.

Writing Lies We Tell Ourselves forced me to think about race and sexual orientation in ways I never had before. Just as writing my next book, which centers on a genderqueer character, forced me to think about gender identity in new ways. Similarly, writing about a character who uses crutches and suffers from chronic pain in another story I’m working on made me think about disabilities much more deeply than I had before I began writing from that character’s point of view.

It’s become one of my favorite things about writing. None of us can ever truly experience what it’s like to be someone else, but if you’re writing from a character’s point of view, you have to climb inside their head and try to see the world through their eyes. You have no choice but to think deeply, very deeply, about how your character’s experiences have shaped who they are and how they see the world. I’ve learned so much through writing all of these stories ― both from the research and from the mental work that goes into imagining each character’s inner life.

And through all of it, I’ve also learned that it’s essential to stay humble through the process. To accept the possibility that something you’ve always believed might very well not be the truth. There are some things you can only learn from someone who’s actually had the experience you’re trying to depict, and those are the most fascinating lessons of all.

It’s not that I think anyone’s obligated to teach me anything, of course. It’s that writing is about empathy. Writing a story forces you to think in ways we don’t typically do in everyday life. When you have no choice but to empathize with someone who’s different from you day in and day out, when writing your story requires that kind of thinking, you can’t help but learn along the way.

Writing hasn’t just made me understand books better. It’s made me understand people better. Writing different kinds of characters has made me more compassionate, more interested in exploring the depths of individuals’ experiences, more interested in the wider world around me.

It’s taught me that writing isn’t just about what you produce. It’s about what you learn along the way.

And it’s reminded me that it isn’t polite to stare.


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Robin Talley grew up in Roanoke, Virginia, writing terrible teen poetry and riding a desegregation bus to the school across town. A Lambda Literary Fellow, Robin lives in Washington, D.C., with her wife, plus an antisocial cat and a goofy hound dog. When Robin’s not writing, she’s often planning communication strategies at organizations fighting for equal rights and social justice. You can find her on the web at www.robintalley.com or on Twitter at @robin_talley.

Lies We Tell Ourselves is available 9/30/14. Order it here.