Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Star-Touched QueenThis month's YA Diversity Book Club selection is filled with magic and mythology. THE STAR-TOUCHED QUEEN by Roshani Chokshi is about a young woman whisked to a mysterious kingdom, where she might fall in love, discover incredible power latent inside herself, and change people's fates... or she could lose everything and everyone she has ever cared about.

As you can imagine, this was rich ground for our group discussion.

1. What were your first impressions of The Star-Touched Queen?

We Heart YA: I’ve read tons of stories derived from Greek myths, but none like this. I really enjoyed the fusion with Indian culture.

The Reading Date: Magical, poetic, unique. And on a shallow note the cover is to die for!
Teen Lit Rocks: Incredibly original with beautiful lyrical language and interesting take on Indian folklore and Greek mythology.

2. What first appealed to you about the story -- the Indian folklore, the mythology, the setting, the romance? And how did the story line up with expectations?

The Reading Date: I don’t love Greek mythology-based YA generally, but what really got my attention is the Indian folklore spin. The story lined up with expectations and the prose was mesmerizing.

Teen Lit Rocks: I think what captivated me at first was that I couldn't remember reading anything else like it. It wasn't straightforward; it took effort to read, and I liked that I had to work at it (particularly visualizing some of the more fantastical elements) if that makes sense.

We Heart YA: It does make sense! Sometimes readers want easy fluff, sometimes we like to exercise our minds. :)

We Heart YA: To be honest, I didn’t know much about the book going in. I was just familiar with Chokshi through social media and one of her short stories, so I was excited to read a YA novel by her.

3. The author has stated that Maya and Amar were inspired by Hades/Persephone. Were you familiar with those mythical characters and how did that influence your reading experience?

We Heart YA: Yes, the story of Hades and Persephone was one of my favorites as a kid, so I am definitely familiar with them and got that vibe from Maya and Amar pretty quickly. But again, I liked how this wasn’t a straight retelling, and the Indian influence really took the characters in unexpected directions.

The Reading Date: That is cool that you picked up on Hades/Persephone right away. I did not get it until I read an author Q&A, so I guess you can enjoy the book on different levels depending on your Greek mythology knowledge.

Teen Lit Rocks: I definitely picked up on the Hades/Persephone references (which are hot right now, especially if you're familiar with Sarah Maas), but it was the Indian folklore that I found fascinating, as I'm only passingly familiar.

We Heart YA: Yeah, and I’d love to learn even more about the source material for the Indian folklore. I think it would give me an even greater appreciation for the way Chokshi “remixed” it.

4. Any characters or scenes particularly stand out to you in a good or bad way?

We Heart YA: Well, I ended up really liking Kamala, hahaha!

The Reading Date: Haha yes Kamala was a surprise! Such a fun sidekick.

We Heart YA: I also thought it was really interesting -- and nice -- that a couple of the key relationships were more about sisterhood and friendship.

5. Were any particular passages or bits of dialogue meaningful to you?

We Heart YA: To be honest, the writing was SO rich, that most of it didn’t get the chance to stand out… The single most vivid image in my mind is probably Maya’s memory tree, the first time we see it. I loved that.

The Reading Date: The memory tree is a good one. And I can see what you mean about the lush writing.

Teen Lit Rocks: Yes, the memory tree part was so vivid. I also enjoyed the first time she enters the kingdom. In addition to Persephone and Hades, it felt a bit like Beauty & The Beast.

The Reading Date: The writing was so dreamy and descriptive that I would just get lost in it. I didn’t note any particular passages though appreciated the style.

Teen Lit Rocks: It has been a while since I read it, but I found some of the descriptions of love and desire really compelling and beautiful -- not the typical "insert steamy scene here" type of romance.

6. What did you think of the world building and time jumps? Was it easy to keep track of it all?

We Heart YA: I thought the time jump was fine, and I’m a fan of reincarnation as a concept, so I liked the idea of the memory trees and past lives. But I wasn’t always clear on what was real versus what was an illusion, nor on how exactly the magic of this story worked.

The Reading Date: Yes, exactly, it was hard to keep track of reality. I didn’t always manage to, but I enjoyed the ride anyway.

Teen Lit Rocks: That's what I meant earlier when I said I had to work harder than usual. I'm a fast reader, but this wasn't a book where I could just retain everything with a quick read, so it forced me to slow down and even re-read in places. It's not that the story is necessarily hard to follow, just that it's so lushly written you can get carried away by the poetic language and lose track of the plot threads.

7. Did this novel broaden your perspective in some way?

Teen Lit Rocks: I'm really curious about other YA books that have been inspired by Indian folklore. Most Indian-themed books I've read are about contemporary India or Indian-American families, not the folklore or mythology. I'd be interested to read more.

We Heart YA: Yes, it piqued my curiosity too. Why did we only learn about Greek mythology in school? Do they teach other cultures’ mythology now too??

8. What other books would you recommend readers to seek out if they want to read
more diverse fantasy or mythology?

We Heart YA: OK this isn’t really diverse mythology (I’ll think on that in a sec) but if readers like this, then I HIGHLY recommend The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I mean, I recommend that book anyway, lol, but some of Maya’s explorations of Akaran -- the mirror rooms and dream worlds -- reminded me of all the different magical tents in Morgenstern’s circus.

The Reading Date: I’ve been meaning to check out The Night Circus!

We Heart YA: When I was poking around Chokshi’s website, she mentioned it was one of her fave books! So it makes even more sense that I would think of it.

The Reading Date: I don’t read a lot of fantasy but I was thinking maybe TSTQ would appeal to fans of Daughter of Smoke and Bone.

We Heart YA: LOL that’s another one she mentions as a fave!

Teen Lit Rocks: Yes to all this. Having just read CARAVAL by Stephanie Garber, I also recommend that when it comes out (and I believe the authors are friends and fellow debut year "classmates"). And I'd also recommend THE WRATH AND THE DAWN for loose retellings and stories about betrothals that don't go as you expect them to (plus there's also stories within stories in that)!

We Heart YA: Oh, it’s not YA or fiction, but fans of this book might also enjoy The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston. The writing style is similarly poetic and dense, and it explores the author’s life and Chinese heritage, woven with mythology and family lore.

Teen Lit Rocks: I haven't read that book since high school (and I'm way older than you), but yes, I agree!

9. Do you picture TSTQ translating well to film? Who would you cast in the lead roles?

We Heart YA: Yes, I think it could be a really stunning, lush film -- along the lines of What Dreams May Come, or the new Alice in Wonderland series. Very fantastical and visually impressive.

Teen Lit Rocks: To be honest, not really, because it would have to be an expensive movie filled with CGI effects and huge set pieces. It's so atmospheric you couldn't just phone it in.

We Heart YA: Very true. No idea who I would cast… Unfortunately I am not well versed in Indian actors, but I’m sure there are plenty of talented young Indian Americans, or Bollywood stars looking to break into this market!

Teen Lit Rocks: I pictured a younger Parminder Nagra, but that's probably because I think she was so plucky and could be so fierce in a way that belied her gentle looks.

The Reading Date: The author has some dream cast suggestions in this Q&A:

10. Anything else you’d like to add?

We Heart YA: I think there is a second novel set in this world (but starring different characters -- maybe Gauri??!) coming out next year, but in the meantime, if anyone wants to read more by Roshani Chokshi, she has had several short works published, including one that I really enjoyed called “The Star Maiden.” You can find links here:

Teen Lit Rocks: Thanks for the tip, Kristan! I haven't read anything else by her but know she's a favorite debut author by several writers I know through We Need Diverse Books. I look forward to her next book.

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For more on THE STAR-TOUCHED QUEEN, check out:

• Q&A with author Roshani Chokshi at Teen Lit Rocks

• "Hear Ye! Hear Ye! The Star-Touched Queen Audiobook" at The Reading Date

The entire YA Diversity Book Club archives can now be found on Tumblr.

Next month we're celebrating our book club's 2-year anniversary!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

It is always a pleasure to read and spotlight teen lit that features underrepresented or marginalized characters -- after all, that's the mission of YA Diversity Book Club -- but it is a particularly special honor to have S.J. Laidlaw, author of our April pick Fifteen Lanes, here to talk about some of her incredible life experiences and how they inspired her latest novel.

Please describe your book in a sentence or two. 

Set in Mumbai, Fifteen Lanes is the story of an impoverished sex worker’s daughter on the brink of being trafficked and a privileged but socially shunned Western girl, whose lives intertwine in a triumph of empathy over ignorance.

What was your inspiration for writing this book?

I spent over two years volunteering at NGOs that worked to prevent second generation trafficking in Mumbai, India. And I’ve spent many years counseling depressed teenagers clinically and in international schools.

One of the things that really surprised me about working with girls in the red-light district of Mumbai was how strong they were compared to many of the wealthy expat kids I’ve worked with. These brothel-raised girls are exposed to soul-destroying horrors and humiliations but somehow most of them rise above it. One thing is that they don’t consider themselves victims and definitely don’t want to be seen as such. I was constantly in awe of their resilience and determination. It was a story I had to tell.

What kind of research did you have to do to make sure your characters were authentic?

I’ve worked as a counselor in international schools and clinical settings for a long time, so that part of the research was already done, though I did interview the principal of the international school in Mumbai to discuss some of the cultural nuances I wanted to capture, for example attitudes toward homosexuality among her wealthy Indian students.

I spent more than two years volunteering at a night shelter in Kamathipura, the largest red-light district in Asia. I also tutored daughters of sex workers in my home and visited many organizations that provided support for the children of sex workers, including rescue homes and homes for HIV-infected children.

In addition, I attended a countrywide conference on sex trafficking in India and edited a national report on sex trafficking for Dasra, one of India’s largest strategic philanthropy organizations. The latter forced me to read extensively on sex trafficking so I could understand how the industry functioned.

How did you come to incorporate the diverse elements in your book? 

The story is told in the alternating first-person voices of an Indian brothel-raised girl and a Western girl, both of whom experience sexual violence. I also included a gay Indian boy, who’s struggling to come out to his family and friends. I wanted to include him for the many Asian boys I’ve counseled who’ve struggled with this. As hard as it is to be gay in Western culture, it’s even harder in most Asian cultures, including India.

How does the diversity in your book relate to your life? 

I left Canada when I was 21 years old to teach in a remote village in Africa. I spent close to three years in Africa. Often I was the only white person that people had ever seen. Some children in my village would run from me screaming. Others would stand at my window and watch me for hours, like I was a zoo animal. Most of the time I just read, or planned lessons, or marked papers, so I was the most boring zoo animal on the planet. But I learned what it felt like to be judged by my skin color. I also learned that a color is just that, nothing more. Even culture is an artifice to some extent. There are differences but they’re insignificant compared to the commonalities we all share that transcend culture.

Since that early beginning, I’ve continued to live and work overseas, mostly in the developing world. My students and counseling clients have always been racially, culturally and religiously diverse. Many are non-white and either Muslim, Buddhist, or Hindu. Where I live, white kids are the minority.

When I do author visits now, I’m typically speaking to mostly, if not entirely, non-Western kids because I live in Asia and I speak to local as well as international school groups. I don’t know if I’d even be capable of writing a story about entirely mono-cultural kids. That hasn’t been my life experience for more than twenty-five years.

What are some of your favorite YA books about diverse characters?

I hate to choose favorites partly because I have a lot of author friends and I wouldn’t want to leave anyone off the list but also because I read voraciously and usually my favorite is the last book I’ve read. Today it’s Golden Boy by Tara Sullivan, which I finished reading yesterday! I’m also uniquely proud of the Gilded series, by Christina Farley, which draws on her years working in Korea. Christina and I have been critique partners for years.

I could read you some of the titles on my bookshelf that are staring at me as I answer these questions: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian, Lost Girl Found, Sold, I Am Taxi, Chanda’s Secrets, Copper Sun, When Everything Feels Like the Movies, Pigeon English, My Name is Parvana, Does My Head Look Big in This, Half of a Yellow Sun, Monster, I am Malala, The Alchemist and a bunch of adult books, many of which also feature diverse characters.

When I go into a bookstore I always scan the shelves for books set in foreign countries, with diverse characters, but truthfully I’m not sure I’m consciously thinking about promoting or supporting diversity. Those are just the books that interest me.

I enjoy books that help me to understand the world and different perspectives. I also look for books that resonate with me and because my life has been lived mostly in foreign lands, that results in choosing multicultural books. When I read Golden Boy I was transported back to my African home. I remembered the Albino boy in my village who the other children threw rocks at. I remember the hunted look in his eyes and our moment of kinship when I picked up a stick to chase off his tormentors.

What areas of diversity do you want to draw attention to or do you feel are underrepresented in books?

Personally, I’m interested in the lives of kids in the developing world who are marginalized through poverty, as well as ethnicity, gender or caste. I want to give a voice to children who have no voice. Someday I hope that they will have the education and freedom to tell their own stories but until that happens, I want to help bring their stories to light.

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For more on FIFTEEN LANES, check out:

Our group discussion at Teen Lit Rocks

• "Human Trafficking: Further Reading (and Fifteen Lanes book giveaway)" 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.

Next month we're reading THE STAR-TOUCHED QUEEN by Roshani Chokshi. Join us!

Monday, March 28, 2016

With spring in the air, it seems fitting that our YA Diversity Book Club choice for March was a light-hearted rom-com. IN REAL LIFE by Jessica Love tells the story of Hannah Cho and Nick Cooper, two teens who have been best friends for years, even though they've never met.

Facing the prospect a slow, dull Spring Break, Hannah impulsively decides to drive to Vegas to see Nick. (Don't worry, she brings her big sister and best friend along.) But when she gets there, she learns that Nick hasn't been completely truthful with her -- about his band, his friends, or himself.

Hannah and Nick have excellent chemistry, both as friends and as maybe more. But outside of their tingle-inducing moments, my favorite aspect of the novel was something I didn't expect at all: the setting!

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Even though my parents are not gamblers, they love Vegas, so I've been many times throughout my life. I think author Jessica Love does a really nice job describing and making use of the unusual locale. (Unusual meaning we don't see it too much in YA lit.) She captures the energy and eclectic-ness of the Strip. She spotlights a few key landmarks and attractions, like the Eiffel Tower and the rollercoaster. And she also points out that this flashy Vegas is not the home of locals like Nick; it's the party spot, the tourist trap, the postcard. Nothing wrong with that. It's just an important note.

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Anyway, it's a good analogy, actually, for what's going on with Nick throughout the story. (And even Hannah, to a degree.) The way we show people only certain aspects ourselves, even if they may not accurately represent the whole picture.

Will Nick and Hannah learn to reveal their whole, true selves to one another? Before it's too late? You'll just have to read to find out.

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For more on IN REAL LIFE, check out:

Our group discussion at The Reading Date
Q&A with author Jessica Love 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.

Next month we're reading FIFTEEN LANES by S.J. Laidlaw. Join us!

Friday, February 26, 2016

Inspired by world mythology, maps, politics, and most of all Hawaii, THE GIRL FROM EVERYWHERE by Heidi Heilig is unlike any book we've read so far for the YA Diversity Book Club. It also falls into the #ownvoices movement, which is very cool. Have you read it? Here's what our book club thought:

What were your first impressions of The Girl From Everywhere?

We Heart YA: I loved Heilig’s writing and characters. The descriptions really drew me in; the story was very cinematic. The sailing, the mythology, the thieving… Lots of elements that I adore.

The Reading Date: YES the writing is descriptive and lovely. This one was out of my comfort zone but I could still relate to some of the family issues presented.

Teen Lit Rocks: I read PASSENGER earlier this year and loved it, so I wasn't sure what to expect from another book featuring a time-traveling girl on an old ship looking for answers about where she belongs. But, I was pleasantly surprised and enjoyed it (even though I am not fond of the love triangle trope), but not as much as PASSENGER.

We Heart YA: Just curious, because I was intrigued by PASSENGER too: Are they actually similar? Or just both have the time travel/ship thing in common?

Teen Lit Rocks: There are also pirate and father-child issues, multi-culti romance, etc. I would say there are similarities, but there's more of a good vs. evil race in that one, whereas this is more of a heist type of story. There's more immersion in the various locales/time periods in PASSENGER, while GIRL stays mostly in Hawaii with brief moments in other settings. Anyhow, I highly recommend PASSENGER, especially since you enjoyed this story.

The Reading Date: I had read the PASSENGER comparisons which makes me curious to check it out sometime.

Maps, Time Travel, Pirate Ships and Dragons, oh my! How did you enjoy the time travel aspect of the story- was it easy to follow?

We Heart YA: At first I was worried the “timey-wimey” stuff would feel overwhelming to me, but because the writing was so strong in every way, I felt like the author knew what she was doing, so I trusted her with the time travel element too. And it did start to make sense pretty quickly -- as much sense as time travel can make, anyway! The only time my head kind of hurt was when Nix and Auntie Joss talked about Joss’s past and future… (Don’t want to say much more than that, because spoilers! Also because I’m still not sure I fully understood it, lol.)

The Reading Date: Er, yeah, sure, I could totally follow all the time travel stuff! OK, I got a little lost, but like you I went along for the ride.

Teen Lit Rocks: I was kind of bummed the maps didn't make it into the ARC. I think it would've been helpful to see the Maps she described. Time travel stories tend to create a paradox and a set of rules you have to keep straight, and it was mostly OK in this one, except it took a couple of read-throughs of the Auntie Joss situation for me to figure it out.

We Heart YA: Yeah I probably need to reread that exchange... By the way, the maps are viewable on Amazon! But I didn’t realize that until after I’d gotten pretty far into the book, and I have to say, I appreciated that I could follow the story easily without them. Sometimes in fantasy novels I’m hopelessly lost without the maps, and I hate that.

The Reading Date: I’m the odd-man out that doesn’t particularly care to refer to maps when I’m reading. I’d like to get everything from the text, but maybe in this case it would have been helpful to view the maps.

This own-voices book features a mixed-race heroine (“hapa haouli/haole”) and her bipolar father. Did this novel broaden your perspective in some way?

We Heart YA: Haha, well first of all, I’m biased because I’m a halfie (hapa) too! So I was really excited to read this story, about a halfie, by a halfie.

We Heart YA: Unless I missed it, the book never actually uses the word “bipolar,” which I think is an interesting choice. (Not right or wrong, just interesting!) To be honest, I don’t think I would have picked up on that specific trait/diagnosis for Slate, had I not been told. For me, his dominant issue was his addiction, and I thought that was portrayed and handled really well.

The Reading Date: I didn’t get that the father was bipolar either but only read about it through author interviews, including our book club q&a. And yes, I love own voices stories and was glad that the author felt comfortable enough to share some of her experience in the book.

Teen Lit Rocks: I didn't pick up on the father being bipolar at all. I thought of him as a perpetually grieving opium addict who was so focused on getting back to one timeline he couldn't see what was going on with his own daughter. I thought it was interesting how Kash, who was Persian, glossed as "half caste" (in India that meant a European dad and an Indian mom). That helped describe his looks to me. But can I take a moment to tell you that my friend Lauren (of Love Is Not a Triangle) and I have a joke about the disproportionate number of love interests with green eyes? Ha.

We Heart YA: Oh yeah, that’s definitely a thing. (Trope. Clich√©.) My friend Linda wrote a great blog post about it, especially as relates to ASIAN characters (who are statistically almost never going to have green eyes). Link for anyone who is curious…

The Reading Date: That blog post is a must-read. Thanks for the link!

What did you think of the character development? Any characters particularly stand out to you?

The Reading Date: My favorite character by far was Kashmir. I think he brought a lot of life to the story.

Teen Lit Rocks: I LOVED Kashmir as well. He was wise beyond his years, clever, kind and so obviously willing to do anything to help and protect his amira.

We Heart YA: I actually think Nix was my favorite (except for her name, which inexplicably bugged me). Like many “strong female protagonists” in YA, she is hyper-competent at an unusual skill, but Heidig did such a good job presenting her as fully formed -- i.e., flawed and vulnerable too -- that I didn’t mind in the least. She struck me as a normal (smart) girl who made the most of a strange upbringing, rather than a special snowflake who excelled at everything.

We Heart YA: But yes, lol, after that, Kashmir. He’s a bit like Aladdin, right? The charming rogue with a heart of gold.

This book takes you from modern-day New York to 1868 Hawaii. (The author talks about how she was inspired to write this story by a newspaper article about an act of piracy in Honolulu.) How did you enjoy the historical aspect of the story? Did it make you yearn to travel to Hawaii?

The Reading Date: I thought the setting was unique and it definitely made me want to go back to Hawaii.

Teen Lit Rocks: I have only been to Hawaii once, but it was amazing. It was obvious, though, that there are lingering tensions between the native Hawaiians, the Mainlanders, and even the Missionaries… Hawaii is a fascinating place; this book reminded me of the themes in THE DESCENDANTS.

We Heart YA: Ditto what Sandie said. I really liked getting a deeper look at Hawaii before it joined the US. I think the richness of the indigenous culture really came through.

What did you think of the romance/love triangle?

We Heart YA: Sigh. It was fine -- I get it -- but my heart was always, always with Kash.

The Reading Date: Hear, hear! #TeamKash

Teen Lit Rocks: I found the other love interest bland and almost forced by comparison to Kash. I understood her reasoning and felt like "Finally," but then the other guy (who is sweet but vanilla) kept popping up. I am NOT a fan of that ambiguity.

Did any particular passage or scene stand out to you?

The Reading Date: Heilig has a captivating way with words that elevated the story. I didn’t note any particular passages but was impressed with the writing overall.

We Heart YA: Same.

Teen Lit Rocks: Honestly, I enjoyed the conversations between Kash and Nix when they reminisce about their pasts, how he came to join the crew, and how they're both basically orphans who have only the Temptation… and the people on it.

Can you picture The Girl From Everywhere as a movie? Who would star?

We Heart YA: Absolutely! Like I said, the writing unfolded so cinematically for me. I would cast unknowns for Nix and Kash… And then I would love Tate Ellington (from Quantico) for Slate, and maybe Uzo Aduba (from Orange Is the New Black) for Bee?

The Reading Date: Great casting choices! Yes, I can totally see Tate Ellington for Slate.

Teen Lit Rocks: I pictured Slate as a little older than that. For Nix, I pictured someone like a younger Malese Jow or Sophie Wu (obviously not them, since they're older). As for Kash, I pictured him a bit like this Persian model: here's another photo (yes, that Pinterest page is called Hot Persian Men).

We Heart YA: Lol. Oh yeah, Kourosh Sadeghi definitely fits my mental image for Kash. (I had never heard of him, I’m just going off those pics.) And a young Malese Jow would be perfect! (She’s “unknown” enough for me.)

The Reading Date: Ooh I like Malese Jow for Nix. I saw Forever Young Adult suggests Janel Parrish for Nix -- -- which I also like.

The Reading Date: And whoa, those green eyes on that Persian model!!

If you could time travel to any time/place where would you go?

The Reading Date: I’m not really one for looking backwards, though I’d like to go back a few years so I could hang out with my mom some more. Also, to go back and buy tickets to Hamilton!

We Heart YA: Omg, LOL, right? Or maybe I’d go forward in time to when Hamilton isn’t the only thing everyone can talk about. (Note: I’m sure it’s fabulous and I really want to see it, but Crazy Hype in general bugs me.)

Teen Lit Rocks: Oh, I love HAMILTON, but I love a lot of musical theatre. Time travel stories make me think of that controversial Louis C.K. bit where he says only white men have the privilege of time travel. People of color and women can't go back to most time periods and still have freedom. But as an observer, I think I would've enjoyed visiting the '20s because it was a decade of promise, the Harlem Renaissance, the youth culture, the dances, the gorgeous clothes.

We Heart YA: Dang, good point, CK...

Anything else you’d like to add?

The Reading Date: A fun, unique, and adventurous story overall, even though I did get a little lost in the details sometimes.

Teen Lit Rocks: Do you know if there are sequels planned? And hello, how could anyone be anything but Team Kash?

We Heart YA: I know Heilig recently turned in edits on a sequel! I think there are only these 2 books planned, though. Regardless, I would check out anything by her. Her storytelling was so thoughtful and imaginative, and her writing was just great. Plus, there’s the obvious commitment to diversity! ;)

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For more on THE GIRL FROM EVERYWHERE, check out:

Q&A with author Heidi Heilig at The Reading Date
"Love the One You're With" 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.

Next month we're reading IN REAL LIFE by Jessica Love. Join us!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

I recently read The Martian by Andy Weir and loved it. Even though it isn't a Young Adult book, I still think it's something teens would enjoy. One thing I really liked about it was how many different forms bravery takes in the story.

First, there's the most obvious, the main character Mark Watney, who has to find the courage to survive, even though he knows he probably will never make it off Planet Mars. Then there's Commander Melissa Lewis, who has to be brave in the knowledge that Mark survived the storm and that she left him behind, and look after the rest of her crew rather than let guilt consume her. The book has many characters who have to risk their careers, their reputation, and their lives to do what's right.

This has had me thinking about how sometimes bravery comes in unexpected places, so I asked the other We Heart YA girls to talk about a character they've read about recently that showed courage in an unconventional, misunderstood, or not so obvious way (ie. not the staring down literal dragons, going to actual war kind of courage).


I recently read Conviction by Kelly Loy Gilbert, and I was blown away by the writing, the tension, and most of all, by the protagonist Braden. Although he is just a teenager, Braden is forced to face something that takes years -- well into adulthood -- for most of us to understand and accept: That our parents are only human. They are flawed and will make mistakes. Sometimes big ones. In Conviction, Braden's father's mistakes may have cost someone their life. Only Braden knows what really happened, and he has to search within himself for the courage to be honest, to speak up, and to live with the consequences. To me, that kind of bravery is perhaps the most important, because it's what allows us to live authentically.


Willowdean from Dumplin' by Julie Murphy

Texas teenager Willowdean has no interest in being a beauty queen. But she decides to enter the town's beauty pageant anyway--to make a point. As she comes to grips with the death of her 36-year-old obese aunt, clashes with her former beauty-queen mom, grapples with why she feels self-conscious kissing the cutest boy in town, and struggles to maintain her friendship with her skinny best friend, Willowdean decides that her own weight shouldn't preclude her from participating in the town's biggest event. I think Dumplin' shows an authentic portrayal of the self-consciousness many teens struggle with, and the courage it takes to overcome it. In the book, Willowdean's decision inspires her classmates to face their own fears and as a result, they all grow into more confident individuals. In real life, I believe it can inspire readers to do the same.


Archivist Wasp by Nicole Kornher-Stace

As an Archivist, Wasp's job is to catch and study ghosts before returning them to the realm ruled over by the goddess Catchkeep. Essentially an avatar for the goddess, the Archivist is chosen from amongst a group of girls, called "upstarts," who bear the mark of Catchkeep and who fight to the death for the honor of fulfilling this role.

Having been the Archivist for three years running, Wasp has already killed so many upstarts. Dealing with ghosts everyday on her own, Wasp is weary with death and questions the purpose of it all. At the annual gathering to determine the next girl to be Archivist, Wasp makes a choice that goes against everything she has known and been taught in her people's history. She refuses to take part in killing anymore.

It's incredibly courageous to act against tradition, expectation and religious authority. To question the world we live in. And though it brings her all sorts of trouble and pain, her instincts lead to an important discovery about those in power and the nature of the ghosts themselves.
Friday, January 15, 2016

My favorite part of being in YA Diversity Book Club is reading and bringing attention to stories that promote a more inclusive -- and thus more interesting -- view of the world. My least favorite part is that we don't have time to READ ALL THE THINGS! Alas.

Below are a few of my most anticipated diverse reads for 2016. Hopefully we'll pick some of them for #YADBC. The rest I will (happily) just have to tackle on my own!

The Girl from Everywhere (The Girl from Everywhere, #1)THE GIRL FROM EVERYWHERE by Heidi Heilig

World travel + time travel + sea travel, written by a biracial Hawaiian.
Gone to DriftGONE TO DRIFT by Diana McCaulay

Set in a Jamaican fishing village, a boy goes searching for his grandfather, who is lost at sea. The YA debut of an award-winning Jamaican author.
The Star-Touched QueenTHE STAR-TOUCHED QUEEN by Roshani Chokshi

High fantasy inspired by Indian mythology. For a taste of this writer's achingly lovely style, check out her short story "The Star Maiden."
If I Was Your GirlIF I WAS YOUR GIRL by Meredith Russo

A trans girl falling in love, nervous the boy will not accept her past. Written by a trans woman.
A Torch Against the Night (An Ember in the Ashes, #2)A TORCH AGAINST THE NIGHT by Sabaa Tahir

Sequel to our April 2015 pick, AN EMBER IN THE ASHES, which I loved.
Into WhiteINTO WHITE by Randi Pink

A black girl in the Bible Belt prays to be white. Her wish comes true.
To see what Lucy is looking forward to this year, head over to The Reading Date.

To see what Sandie is looking forward to this year, check out Teen Lit Rocks.

And as ever, you can find the entire YA Diversity Book Club archives on Tumblr, including author interviews and upcoming selections. Hope you will read along with us!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

One of our favorite things to do every holiday season is to reflect on what we've read during the year. Here are our top picks for 2015.


Best book that I can't believe I didn't know existed until this year – ROOFTOPPERS by Katherine Rundell

Made me see the world differently – THE DARKEST PART OF THE FOREST by Holly Black

When I finished this, I instantly went back to the beginning for a re-read – THE ACCIDENT SEASON by Moira Fowley-Doyle

Favourite – NIMONA by Noelle Stevenson

Rooftoppers The Darkest Part of the Forest The Accident Season Nimona


BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY by Ruta Sepetys – This book is slug me in the gut good.

DREAMS OF GODS AND MONSTERS by Laini Taylor – Looove this book, this series, this writer. Manically love it!

CODE NAME VERITY by Elizabeth Wein – Amazing.

Between Shades of Gray Dreams of Gods & Monsters (Daughter of Smoke & Bone, #3) Code Name Verity (Code Name Verity, #1)


A fantastic adventure that kind of flew under the radar (pun intended) – BLACK DOVE WHITE RAVEN by Elizabeth Wein

A haunting tale (pun intended) of fierce friendships – THE WALLS AROUND US by Nova Ren Suma

Heart-wrenching, well-written, thoughtful, and timely (no puns for this one) – CONVICTION by Kelly Loy Gilbert

Black Dove, White Raven The Walls Around Us Conviction


INKHEART by Cornelia Funke
 – I put off reading this for so long because the movie was so mediocre. But the book is beautifully written.

NIGHTBIRD by Alice Hoffman – Magical Middle Grade that made me crave pie. A lot.

THE MARTIAN by Andy Weir – Science Fiction often lacks heart, but this book had so many characters that made me fall in love unexpectedly.

Inkheart (Inkworld, #1) Nightbird The Martian

What were your favorite reads of 2015?

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Sarah's Prompt:

First things first: I reject labels. What does Misfit even mean? I know the Island where we all end up--the train with the square wheels, the bird that swims, a pink fire truck--I get it. But there's nothing wrong with those guys. That's the whole point--they're all unique and sing catchy tunes. They all get a home in the end.

Thing is, I'm the Misfit of the Misfit Toys. A fairy-princess-ninja-assassin that will never get a home. Some kid dares to dress me up in pink? I will slice my way out of it. So what if a finger gets in the way or an eyeball. It's only a flesh-wound. Kids are resilient. Confession: I'm not a fairy-princess-ninja-assassin. I mean, if that toy ever got made it'd be a best seller.

But still, I'm the Misfit of the Misfits. I'm the Drop-It-Like-It's-Hot-Not-So-Easy-Bake-Oven where everything you make is a recipe for disaster. Just go ahead and try baking your brownies. It'll be grand. If you like your dessert en flambe.

What's that you say? You don't believe me?

Well then. I'm the missing Lego piece that ruins your entire design. The Lego that you step on in the middle of the night on the way back from the bathroom and now you can't get back to sleep because of the throbbing pain and you seriously consider going to the ER. You might as well, you're wide awake.

YOU CAN'T PLAY WITH ME, OKAY? There. I've said it. I'm a toy that doesn't want to be played with. Your mama doesn't want you to have me. Why are you still here?

What's my name? If I tell, will you go away?

FINE. I'm Little Liar Lucy. Read my tag, genius.

Have you been naughty? Did you recently give your dog a bath in a mud puddle? Tell your parents that Little Liar Lucy made you do it. It's written right on my box: 'Guaranteed to get you out of the most predicamental of predicaments.' I'll whisper a lie to you that has been tried and tested. Simply pull the string on my back and I'll repeat one of the classics: "I didn't do it" or "He hit me first." If all else fails, open the compartment on the back of my head and turn the switch to emergency. It will put you straight through to our call centre where the Little Liar Lucy hive mind will devise a lie especially suited to your needs and situation. It may cost you a literal arm and a leg, but that's why you have two. And I'm sure they'll grow back.

Little Liar Lucy--better than your best friend.

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about us

Stephanie, Ingrid, Sarah & Kristan — we read, write, discuss and celebrate Young Adult lit.




on the shelf

The Bitter Kingdom
Wild Awake
The Raven Boys
Mind Games
Eleanor and Park
The Shattered Mountain
The Shadow Cats
Froi of the Exiles
Days of Blood & Starlight
Every Day
Jellicoe Road
Finnikin of the Rock
Guitar Notes
The Dead-Tossed Waves
The Crown of Embers
New House 5: How A Dorm Becomes A Home
The Fault in Our Stars

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