Friday, October 2, 2015
YA Diversity Book Club is the connection and cooperation we get from authors. Today, we're chatting with author Anna-Marie McLemore about her lyrical and imaginative debut THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS.
1. Describe your book in a sentence or two.
THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS is a story of a longstanding feud between two families, the meeting of two different cultures, and the love between a boy and a girl who’ve been raised not to go near each other.
2. What was your inspiration for writing this book?
The book came out of two different sparks coming together: remembering a story my father told me years ago about a mermaid show he saw when he was about my age, and an idea about performers who wear wings while climbing the tallest trees they can find. The rest of the story emerged from the setting of those two rival shows.
3. What kind of research did you have to do to make sure your characters were authentic?
Though the characters are very much fictional, the culture and traditions of the Palomas, who are Mexican-American, drew on my family’s heritage. For the Corbeaus, I got in touch with a Romani studies scholar, whose expertise was invaluable in the process of making sure the book’s depiction was as respectful and accurate as possible.
4. How did you come to incorporate the diverse elements in your book?
The Corbeaus and Palomas’ backgrounds felt very organic to these characters’ lives, and not just because I share the same heritage as Lace. The first thing I ever knew about Cluck Corbeau was his first name, but probably the second or third thing was that he was Romani. Though the idea of writing a main character whose background I don’t share intimidated me, the fact that it felt right for the story helped me get past that initial hesitation.
5. How does the diversity in your book relate to your life?
Like Lace, I know that sense of feeling isolated by your family’s traditions, but at the same time fiercely guarding them. There’s a sense of both pain and pride about being an outsider.
6. What are some of your favorite YA books about diverse characters?
If you let me name them all, we’ll be here a while! Because I identify as a queer writer, books with LGBT characters have been so important to me, and here I’ll name just a few: If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan is such a bittersweet portrayal of two girls facing who they’ll be as adults. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz is a vivid story not just of first love but of transcendent friendship. Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley is a poignant and beautiful novel about two high school seniors discovering who they are at a critical moment in history. Her upcoming What We Left Behind is also a scathingly real depiction of how a teen’s exploration of gender identity impacts both his life and the lives of those he loves.
7. What areas of diversity do you want to draw attention to or do you feel are underrepresented in books?
There are so many different aspects of diversity we need more of. I’d love to see diverse writers feel free to tell the stories they want to tell. Whether they want to write about characters who just happen to be diverse, or characters for whom that’s the focus of their story. Both those sides, and everything in between, are valid and valuable. If writers of all backgrounds feel free and empowered to tell stories, how they want to tell them, all of us—and our bookshelves—will end up stronger.
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• Our book club's discussion at Teen Lit Rocks
• "The Weight of Feathers Further Reading: Diverse Fantasy and Latin Heritage Month Recs" at the Reading Date
The entire YA Diversity Book Club archives can now be found on Tumblr, along with information about our upcoming book selections.
Hope you'll join us in reading diversely next month!
Tuesday, September 8, 2015
What book on your shelf right now have you owned the longest without getting around to reading it? Why haven't you read it?
Kristan: Ohhh, you caught me. I have a LOT of these kinds of books.
The oldest ones are probably CATCH-22 and COLD SASSY TREE, both free from my high school journalism teacher, who was cleaning out her shelves at the end of the year. (Omg high school was so long ago.) I haven't gotten around to them because my TBR pile grows faster than I can read! And usually the "fresher" ones feel more urgent/exciting to me, so I read them first.
But I do go back and prune from time to time, which can bring older titles to my attention again. The ones that don't get cut, anyway. :P I'm sure I'll get around to them all someday...
Ingrid: Okay, I looked at my (very big) pile of TBR books and found these three:
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom
These three have been on my pile for awhile now and I think I keep passing them up for the YA books I love to devour. But now that you've reminded me, Steph, I think I'll put these front and center!
NOGGIN by John Corey Whaley
SAY HER NAME by James Dawson
SEVEN SORCERERS by Caro King
These are the top three that have sat longest on my shelf, mostly because I have to be in the mood for each of them. Quirky contemp used to be my sweet spot and I know that NOGGIN would satisfy, but I've had enough for a while. Andrew Smith sort of broke that for me. I've wanted to read a good (non-gory) horror and James Dawson is a rising UK talent so no doubt I'll get on that soon. Same with high fantasy. I have to be in the mood or I lose patience with the detail and pacing that, when I'm down for it, is one of my favourite aspects of the genre.
Stephanie: Most of my books are actually packed away right now, waiting for me to finish restoring my new (old) house. So I'm sure I have books much older than the one I'm going to talk about.
The book I've had the longest that I've not yet read is Mistwalker by Saundra Mitchell. I'm still really excited about reading it, but I just haven't got around to it. Lately, I've been mostly listening to audiobooks, which I can get through while driving or folding laundry or working.
Friday, August 28, 2015
• Q&A with author Nicola Yoon at Gone Pecan
• "Everything to Read after EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING" at the Reading Date
• "Hapa Characters in YA" at Teen Lit Rocks
The entire YA Diversity Book Club archives can now be found on Tumblr, along with information about our upcoming book selections.
Hope you'll join in reading and chatting next month!
Thursday, July 30, 2015
Today I am happy to announce that YA Diversity Book Club has been going strong for a whole year!
To celebrate, Teen Lit Rocks and the Reading Date are giving away a bunch of amazing books. DO NOT WALK RUN RUN RUN to their sites and enter for your chance to win!
And since you're already clicking around, please head on over to YADBC's new Tumblr and Twitter accounts too. That's where we'll be announcing each month's selection so that people can join the club and read along with us. We're also going to move from private discussions between the four of us to live Twitter chats (hashtag TBD) with anyone and everyone who wants to participate.
Here's to cultivating a more diverse readership of more diverse YA books!
In honor of YADBC's anniversary, I'd like to share a few things that I've learned from a year of consciously seeking out diverse YA.
- There are many kinds of diversity.
Race, of course, is a big one. Sexuality, too. We've also read about religion (twice), class/poverty, and disability. Many of the books covered more than one type of diversity, too. Because people are beautifully multi-faceted.
All that in just one year -- 10 books -- and all that is just touching the surface.
- Not all diverse books are about diversity.
Sometimes the diverse elements are just inherent to the characters, not a Big Thing that the plot revolves around.
Sometimes a book's diversity comes directly from its author, because writers who are not part of the dominant culture inherently offer an Othered perspective or speak with an Othered voice.
- Diversity is a good thing, but a book that includes diversity is not automatically a good book.
Sometimes a diverse book just isn't very well-written. The characters are one-dimensional, or the plot moves slowly, or the language is dull. *shrug* It happens, and it has nothing to do with diversity.
When the problem is due to diversity, it's usually because of insufficient research, or research that has been poorly deployed -- i.e., misinformation and stereotyping.
Some people believe that bad representation is worse than no representation. Others believe that increased visibility is better than invisibility. Either way, I think the ideal we should be striving for is prominent AND accurate diversity.
Failing isn't fun, but what matters most is that we keep trying, and failing better, and trying again.
- Not everyone will agree on whether or not diversity has been portrayed appropriately.
One of the best things about reading is that it's largely about personal connection and interpretation. A story is written by an author, but it is brought to life by a reader and their imagination. Naturally, that means there will be differing opinions. For example, some people objected to ELEANOR & PARK by Rainbow Rowell, whereas I found it to be a true-to-life and moving portrayal of mixed Asian heritage.
Debating right or wrong isn't the point; discussing is.
That's why we started this book club: to explore the rich world of diversity in YA literature, to spotlight it for the community, to learn from it. Contemporary, historical, romantic, adventurous, high fantasy, low sci-fi, mid paranormal, whatever! Diversity can be found in every genre. Diversity can entertain, challenge, and nourish all at the same time.
But as of right now, diversity is still underrepresented in YA literature. #WeNeedDiverseBooks
These are the things that I have learned during our first year of the YA Diversity Book Club. Here's to next year, and new lessons, and more great books! I hope you'll join us.
Tuesday, July 21, 2015
Over the weekend I visited Chicago with a girl friend, and we popped into the Chicago Cultural Center on Michigan Ave. I had been in this building before to admire the two gorgeous domes (one done by Tiffany's!) but somehow I had missed these wonderful bookish quotes. Apparently the CCC was originally a library. It makes me smile to imagine such a beautiful space filled with rows and rows of books...
Between the stunning architecture and the free rotating art exhibits, this place is not to be missed!
Friday, July 10, 2015
THE WALLS AROUND US by Nova Ren Suma is a kaleidoscope of haunting emotions and damaged girls. You may feel a little disoriented at first, but trust me when I say that Nova knows what she's doing, and it all weaves together just as it should.
Guilt, innocence, justice. Friendship, loyalty, betrayal. The past, the present, and the slippery space where time gets all mixed up.
Violet, Amber, Orianna.
These girls, these themes, are so powerful. The use of collective first person ("we") draws us into Amber's life in prison. I felt the wildness of those girls, of that life, even amidst the sterile gray walls and neatly labeled cells that are meant to impose order.
The story moves quietly, like a stream trickling through a forest. A smart reader will probably know what's coming, but that doesn't kill the suspense. This isn't about surprises (although there is a good one at the end). This is about the way girls have to survive. About all the different ways they can be harmed, and all the different ways they can harm others. It's about the power of perception, and our place in the world. It's about how even good things -- like friendship, like trust -- can be wielded as weapons when put in the hands of the wrong person. It's about how blame isn't a ribbon you can pin on just one person, but rather a chain that links us all together.
I know that sounds grim and dark, but, well, maybe it sort of is. Darkness exists. And it isn't something we can just wish away or hide from. Darkness is not inherently bad. My advice is to sit with the darkness, sit with your discomfort, and just maybe it will illuminate a few things for you, before it's too late.
That's how I felt about THE WALLS AROUND US. Disturbed, but in an important, hopeful way.
# # #
Also, just because it needs to be said: "Swear to god a ghost just tried to eat my hair haha not kidding omg" is one of the funniest lines ever. Read the book so we can laugh about it together.
Monday, June 29, 2015
Missouri, 1849: Samantha dreams of moving back to New York to be a professional musician—not an easy thing if you’re a girl, and harder still if you’re Chinese. But a tragic accident dashes any hopes of fulfilling her dream, and instead, leaves her fearing for her life. With the help of a runaway slave named Annamae, Samantha flees town for the unknown frontier.
Life on the Oregon Trail is unsafe for two girls, so they disguise themselves as Sammy and Andy, two boys headed for the California gold rush. Sammy and Andy forge a powerful bond as they each search for a link to their past, and struggle to avoid any unwanted attention. But when they cross paths with a band of cowboys, the light-hearted troupe turn out to be unexpected allies. With the law closing in on them and new setbacks coming each day, the girls quickly learn that there are not many places to hide on the open trail.
My absolute favorite thing about UNDER A PAINTED SKY is Annamae. Also known as "Andy," she is spunky and smart, devout but pragmatic. She braves the Oregon Trail due to a burning belief in freedom, and an urgent, unwavering love of her brothers. Despite the horrors she has witnessed and endured, she remains hopeful, even humorous at times. She won my heart on every page.
I love when the protagonist isn't the only awesome character in a story. I love when best friends, siblings, and other side characters shine with charm. It really enriches the reading experience -- and it makes me like the protagonist more too! After all, a person's friends say a lot about them. You are who you associate with.
Other "sidekicks" that I adored:
• Zuzana in the DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE series by Laini Taylor
• Sturmhond in SIEGE AND STORM by Leigh Bardugo
• Kurt in ISLA AND THE HAPPILY EVER AFTER by Stephanie Perkins
* * * * *
• Our group discussion at Teen Lit Rocks
• Q&A with Stacey Lee (+ giveaway!) at Gone Pecan
• "Count on Me: Strong Female Friendships in YA" at the Reading Date
Next month we'll be celebrating our book club's 1-year anniversary! Stay tuned for some special posts. We will also be announcing how you can join us and the YADBC each month. For starters, you may want to visit and follow our brand new Tumblr. ;)
Thursday, June 25, 2015
BONE GAP is not really about bees, in case you were wondering.
That cover is striking though, isn't it? As soon as I saw it, I knew I had to read the story within. They say not to judge a book by its cover, but in this case I'm glad I did.
In BONE GAP, I found warm honey and whispering corn fields. A magical midnight horse and a goat that says "meh." Two boys who have lost so much that they believe everyone and everything will leave them. A stunningly beautiful young woman with a gift for making things grow. The mysterious shadow of a man who kidnaps her. And the bee-faced girl with long legs, a sharp tongue, and a tender heart.
Perhaps nothing that came out of her mouth was as interesting to him as the mouth itself.
One of the many themes that author Laura Ruby explores in BONE GAP is the objectification of women. Roza is not kidnapped because she is capable and clever and kind. Roza is kidnapped because she is pretty. She is seen as a thing to be had, not a person to know, understand, or appreciate. Her beauty is a double-edged sword, but she is the one facing the pointy end.
A pretty face is just a lucky accident. Pretty can’t feed you. And you’ll never be pretty enough for some people.
Petey (Priscilla) is not lovely -- not in the traditional sense anyway. The way that people dehumanize her is different from the way they objectify Roza -- it's motivated by distate rather than desire -- but it's the other side of the same coin. Petey is still reduced to a body, a face.
(Never by the author, though! That's important.)
He said, “I love you.”
She shook her head. “You can see me, that’s all.”
But wasn’t that love? Seeing what no one else could?
"They" say that love is blind. Laura Ruby suggests that love allows us to see -- more clearly, more brightly, more honestly -- a person's invisible qualities, their hidden beauty and value. So who is correct, "they" or Ruby?
I say both. I say that more than one thing can be true at the same time. Even if those things seem, at first, to be contradictory.
BONE GAP is filled with nuanced thinking of this sort. It's a story for readers who are not afraid of tough, interesting questions (and occasionally tough, interesting answers). Readers who want to go on a magical journey right here in the real world. Readers who are willing to slip between the cracks of what's known in order to explore the things that could be.
* * *
Another book with similar themes that we are really looking forward to reading is DUMPLIN' by Julie Murphy. Look how cute that cover is! Obviously the tone of this book is going to be pretty different from BONE GAP -- and that's a good thing. We need all kinds of stories, all kinds of beauty.
PS: For more YA quotes that we love, check out weheartya.tumblr.com.
Thursday, June 18, 2015
Something happened last week. And it wasn't just that Dave Grohl broke his leg falling off the stage of a concert and then proceeded to rock for another two hours while getting casted. No, not that.
I read another Stephanie Kuehn book.
And, yes, that's an event.
It hasn't been that long since I finished one of her books--CHARM AND STRANGE. A book that I had ordered for the school library and had always meant to read, but other shiny books got in the way. Being a librarian means you have countless books that feel like a natural extension of your own shelves at home and the lure is strong.
I was sitting in the car outside my kids' school, waiting for the afternoon pick-up, reading the last chapters of CHARM AND STRANGE and, bloggers, stuff was going down. Like, my eyes were bugging out and my heart was breaking for the characters. Afterward, I had this incredible urge to bury this book on the school bookshelf because what if I messed somebody up by letting them read this? And then I thought, what if I help somebody by encouraging them to read this?
Fear is strong. But book nerds are brave.
This week I finished reading DELICATE MONSTERS and have to say that the title is perfect. The horror is perfect. The badness is indifferent and familiar and heartbreaking and necessary and wasted, wasted, this book made me feel (and question) so many things that I want to bury it I want to show and tell it I want to whisper I want you to read this so that I'm not alone...I kinda want to cry.
It got me thinking about Heroes and Anti-Heroes...certainly the modern trend is to mix the definitions and tweak things to resemble the very society we live in. It's something I respect and have come to expect in my reads. Complex villains that we somewhat sympathise with or villainous protagonists that have a great character arc proving their worth. Heroes that don't inhabit godlike qualities or exhibit their resourcefulness at just the right time. Heroes with more than their fair share of a fatal flaw.
You see, Anti-heroes go further than that decaying label of "unlikeable." Sure, we're not supposed to like Snape, but you're missing out on a great story element if you don't.
Go ahead and dislike Calaena Sardothien (THRONE OF GLASS) or Alice (SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY) or Valkyrie White (BLACK HELICOPTERS) or Bianca (The DUFF) or Cassie (BEAUTIFUL) or Heathcliffe (WUTHERING HEIGHTS) or Locke Lamora or pretty much all of Courtney Summers' characters...groan along with Greg Huffley (WIMPY KID) or Mr. Collins (PRIDE AND PREJUDICE)...as long as you know there's a NIMONA in all of us.
"We read to find life, in all its possibilities. The relevant question isn’t 'is this a potential friend for me?' but 'is this character alive?'" ~ Claire Messud
Who are your favourite Anti-Heroes?
Thursday, June 11, 2015
Recently I had the pleasure of attending two YA author events in the Cincinnati area. (There were actually several more happening nearby, but I am just one person!)
The first event featured Epic Reads authors Maggie Lehrman, Margo Rabb, and Robyn Schneider. They confessed that they were a bit loopy because this was the last stop on their tour -- but I think they were being modest. Here are some highlights (paraphrased) from the panel:
The pace of this conversation is too fast to live tweet, but they're funny & wise and we can't wait to blog about it! pic.twitter.com/7x32A5Pra3— We Heart YA (@weheartya) June 6, 2015
Maggie: Was there a point where you were going to give up on your novel?
Robyn: The whole thing! I wrote 800 pages and I have a 300 page book.
Margo: Everything is salvageable through revision.
Robyn: What's the easiest part of writing?
Maggie: The beginning, when I'm just playing around.
Robyn: The beginning?! At the beginning, I feel like I've just walked into class for the first time on finals day and I'm going to fail. Meanwhile Maggie is feeling just fine, answering every question D, and drawing a flower on her Scantron sheet.
Robyn: What do you like best about writing for teen readers?
Margo: There's such passion in readers at that age. Many of my favorite books were ones that I read at that time in my life. Teen lit is immediate, vibrant, the first of everything.
Maggie: When I was a teenager, I didn't understand anything about it. I was always trying to figure things out. I guess I still am.
Robyn: What sparked your story to life?
Maggie: I sat down to write, and I just had this image of a girl dancing around a fire with a guy. And I realized, "Wait, the girl doesn't remember this. Why not?"
Robyn revealed that the severed head in her first book, THE BEGINNING OF EVERYTHING, was inspired by the real life story of Fabio riding a roller coaster. A pigeon flew right into him, broke his nose, blood spraying everywhere. Robyn wondered, "What would it be like to be seated behind someone else's tragedy?"
Margo moved to Austin from NYC, and she went to a real rodeo for the first time. Also, a friend told her that travel is the best cure he knows for a broken heart.
Robyn was researching vampires and found out that their myth started in part due to tuberculosis.
Audience Q: What do you want your readers to take away from your books?
Robyn: I just want all your feels.
Maggie: I don't really think about messages... More like questions. What questions do I want readers to take away? In this case: "Is it worth it?"
Margo: Books are a collaborative experience between reader and writer. It's both wonderful and hard to share books with other readers. So whatever a reader takes away from my story is great. But I suppose I was asking the question, "How do you get through life when you know how hard it is?"
Robyn: In all seriousness now, I don't think about messages either. I just write for my 16-year-old self.
Audience Q: After you hand off one project, which you've just invested so much time and emotion into, how do you get excited for the next thing? The next set of characters and their problems?
Robyn: Oh, I love the shiny new thing! It's like carrots and cheesecakes. Every new book starts out as a cheesecake, but eventually it turns into a carrot. I'm just trying to get through the carrot to the next cheesecake!
Audience Q: Which Harry Potter house would you be?
Robyn: Gryffindor when I was younger, but Slytherin now.
Margo: I want to say Gryffindor...
Maggie & Robyn: She's a Hufflepuff!
Final fun tidbits:
••• Margo once wrote an essay on RICHARD II even though she couldn't make herself finish reading it. The essay got an A+. That's when she knew she had a chance at being a writer!
••• Maggie once pretended to have read THE CRUCIBLE in order to talk to a boy she had a crush on.
••• Robyn picked her agent based on the advice of a guy who ran a bar with a Tardis in it!
••• Joseph-Beth Crestview Hills has the best cookies of any bookstore they've been to so far.
The second event was organized by the authors themselves -- Gwenda Bond, Megan Shepherd, Megan Miranda, Renee Ahdieh, and Carrie Ryan -- under the fun and intriguing banner of "Dangerous Ladies."
Well, if that's not a great note to end on, I don't know what is. #girlpower
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