Friday, November 21, 2014
This month's pick, TELL ME AGAIN HOW A CRUSH SHOULD FEEL by Sara Farizan, was probably the most light-hearted of the books that YA Diversity Book Club has read so far. As we all agreed, that was kind of a pleasant surprise. Here's more about the book:
High-school junior Leila has made it most of the way through Armstead Academy without having a crush on anyone, which is something of a relief. Her Persian heritage already makes her different from her classmates; if word got out that she liked girls, life would be twice as hard. But when a sophisticated, beautiful new girl, Saskia, shows up, Leila starts to take risks she never thought she would, especially when it looks as if the attraction between them is mutual. Struggling to sort out her growing feelings and Saskia's confusing signals, Leila confides in her old friend, Lisa, and grows closer to her fellow drama tech-crew members, especially Tomas, whose comments about his own sexuality are frank, funny, wise, and sometimes painful. Gradually, Leila begins to see that almost all her classmates are more complicated than they first appear to be, and many are keeping fascinating secrets of their own.
From the description, one would probably expect TELL ME AGAIN to be all about Leila coming to terms with her sexuality. And on the surface, I guess it is. That's what drives the plot.
But what I found even more compelling was the underlying theme of identity vs. appearance. Leila learns that she is not the only person who is different -- or who contains more -- on the inside than others would guess from the outside.
Leila isn't just a lesbian. She's also Persian. These are probably the two biggest checkboxes that make up her own sense of self. One of them -- her sexuality -- she spends a lot of time questioning, weighing, and worrying about. The other -- her ethnicity -- is simply part of her. It's ingrained. It colors her family life and her values and her experiences, but it isn't something that needs to be debated or announced. It just is.
I loved that. I loved that this book was diverse on multiple levels. I loved the reminder that people aren't just one flavor. Most of us are not chocolate OR vanilla -- but rather chocolate AND vanilla AND mint chocolate chip AND cookies 'n' cream AND orange sherbet AND... You get the point.
My most prominent flavors are: writer, Taiwanese halfie, feminist, dog lover. What are yours?
* * *For more on TELL ME AGAIN HOW A CRUSH SHOULD FEEL, be sure to check out all the YA Diversity Club posts:
••• Our group discussion at the Reading Date. In addition to discussing sexuality and culture, we also explore the great cast of characters in Leila's story.
••• Q&A with Sara Farizan at Gone Pecan. The author reveals how TELL ME AGAIN was born in Hollywood, and how the book was influenced by her own experiences and upbringing.
••• Favorite LGBT Themed YA Novels at Teen Lit Rocks. Sandie shares her picks for the best queer stories in YA.
Next month we're taking a break from reading for the holidays, but we'll be doing a roundup of all our favorite diverse titles from 2014!
Wednesday, November 19, 2014
I went to Books by the Banks, a local book festival, this year. It was the first I've gone without any of the other WHYA girls. Sarah moved to England or some such nonsense, Ingrid is up a Rocky Mountain somewhere, and Kristan was off on some silly honeymoon or whatever. So I went with my (very) bearded boyfriend. One of the panels I went to featured Middle Grade authors Emma Carlson Berne, Andrea Cheng, Jasper Fford, and Alan Gratz.
In the interest of not writing a blog post that is forever long, I'm going to share just a few of the answers that I found amusing and inspring.
Why do you think adults read children’s books?
Alan: Immature adults?
Jasper: I’ll start. I don’t know! I write what amuses me, and I leave it up to the publishers who’s going to buy it or read it. The difference between my books for grownups and my books for children is not quite such a difference, because I kind of write for the child in the adult. I always figured that if you can enjoy the Muppet Show, you can enjoy my books. So it really doesn’t matter if it’s a grown up or if it’s a middle grade book.
Alan: I think one of the reasons that Middle grade is also appealing to adults is that they’re action packed. Kids don’t have the patience. I’ve picked up an adult book before and I’ve read 200 pages in, and my wife will say, “What do you think?” and I’m like, “Weeeell, I don’t know, the story hasn’t gotten going, and I’m not sure I like the characters, and…” No kid has ever said that. They’re not going to say, “I’m going to give it another hundred pages and see if it picks up.” If you don’t get them quickly, they’re not going to stay with you. In the same way, I think many of us as adults think, “I want a book that gets on with it.”
Jasper: We could also say that books for adults are actually a bit boring.
Did you know you wanted to be writers when you were kids? Can you tell us about an unusual or unexpected experience that impacted your career path?
Andrea: I was a storyteller before I was a story writer. I would tell a story, and my sister would say, “No no, it didn’t happen that way you’re making it up.” Then one day she got really frustrated and said, “The only way you can lie and it’s okay is if you write stories.”
Monday, November 17, 2014
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE THING ABOUT AUTUMN
Sarah: Pumpkin pie, goblins, bonfires, long nights, starling clouds, swishing leaves with my feet.
Ingrid: Shots of gold and orange in the trees... leaves crunching beneath my shoes... a crisp breeze that ripples the corn husks... the smokey smell of a bonfire... the anticipation of a new season, a fresh start.
But most of all: Not being hot anymore, and just how beautiful the world looks and sounds and smells.
Stephanie: I LOVE Autumn hikes. I love putting on warm sweaters, going to the park, and hearing the leaves crush under my feet, how they rain down all around you.
What is your favorite thing about Autumn?
Friday, November 14, 2014
A few weeks ago I picked up the ARC of SAY WHAT YOU WILL by Cammie McGovern.
The premise sounded interesting—a roller-coaster friendship/love story between a girl with cerebral palsy and a boy with obsessive compulsive disorder. Also it sounded…important. I could tell it was the type of story that would teach me something. I wondered if it would be difficult at times to relate to the main characters: Amy, who has a brilliant mind but is trapped in a body that won’t cooperate, and Matthew, whose mental disorder is sabotaging his life while he remains in denial.
In fact, the characters were so relatable that I pulled a few late-nighters in order to continue reading. I really felt for these kids who needed each other so badly but didn’t always know how to communicate it. Their emotional growth was a beautiful thing to watch.
In addition to their unique challenges, Amy and Matthew confront issues that everyone can relate to… loneliness and the intricacy of making friends, then figuring out which friendships are sincere and which will crumble in the wind. Dealing with social pressure and expectations from teachers, parents and classmates. Worrying about first jobs, first dates, fitting in and the way people perceive you. Agonizing over the choices you make—or don’t make—and how it all affects your self-esteem and your future.
SAY WHAT YOU WILL can be categorized as a diversity book, offering a rare look inside the minds and emotions of people who are underrepresented and often misunderstood. But more than that, it’s a story about two people struggling to overcome their individual challenges while simply learning how to navigate Life.
Has anyone else had a chance to read SAY WHAT YOU WILL? What did you think?
I’m really glad I read this book, both because it enhanced my understanding of the differences those with disabilities must deal with on a regular basis, and because it reinforced how similar we all are inside.
Has anyone else had a chance to read SAY WHAT YOU WILL? What did you think?
Thursday, November 6, 2014
ARE YOU PARTICIPATING IN NANOWRIMO?
|Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month.|
Kristan: LOL! Yeah, I'm not participating either, but I love the energy.
Sarah: NoNaNo. I haven't ever participated because it's just not my thing. Drafting and discovery is my favourite part of writing. I like to take my time and put off revising for as long as possible. :)
Ingrid: I actually toyed with the idea of participating this year because I've been revising for so long and I really miss drafting. Then I remembered how crazy-busy I am and decided to keep my sanity through the holidays. But I might create my own "NaNo" month later this winter and use it to finish my latest manuscript. I need some kind of deadline!
Tuesday, November 4, 2014
The winner of our October commenter giveaway is Sara at the Page Sage. Congratulations! Please email us (weheartya at gmail dot com) to let us know which book from our stash you would like, and where to mail it.
* * * * *OK, everyone is still candy-drunk from Halloween -- it's not just us, right? Well, when we all manage to crawl out of our sugar-stupors, we will have these amazing-sounding books waiting for us.
A THOUSAND PIECES OF YOU by Claudia Gray
The cover alone has us reaching for our wallets. But it's the premise that really seals the deal. A teenage girl tracking her parents' murderers through alternate universes? Heartbreaking, exciting, and thoroughly original. Definitely a roller coaster we want to ride.
Plus, who doesn't love the onion domes of Russia?
MORTAL HEART by Robin LaFevers
This is the third book in LaFevers' action-packed, romance-filled series about assassin nuns. Yes, you read that right: Killer ladies of the Lord. Don't even pretend you're not intrigued.
We read and quite enjoyed the first book, GRAVE MERCY, and we have heard only glowing things about its sequel, DARK TRIUMPH. So bring on the murderous nuns! You can never have too many.
THE WALLED CITY by Ryan Graudin
Last but not least is this, we blogged about this one already, but it's worth mentioning again. Within these walls you'll find everything from grimy alleyways to luxurious houses on a hill, from love to loss, from ruthless brawls to selfless redemption.
Our advice: run fast, trust no one, and get this book before it's gone from all the shelves.
What November new releases are you looking forward to? Let us know in the comments!
If you need a list, GoodReads can be quite helpful.
Thursday, October 30, 2014
This month's YA Diversity Book Club read was LIES WE TELL OURSELVES by Robin Talley. It was very eye-opening, as you'll see below. But first, a description:
In 1959 Virginia, the lives of two girls on opposite sides of the battle for civil rights will be changed forever.
Sarah Dunbar is one of the first black students to attend the previously all-white Jefferson High School. An honors student at her old school, she is put into remedial classes, spit on and tormented daily.
Linda Hairston is the daughter of one of the town's most vocal opponents of school integration. She has been taught all her life that the races should be kept separate but equal.
Forced to work together on a school project, Sarah and Linda must confront harsh truths about race, power and how they really feel about one another.
The book alternates between Sarah and Linda's point of views, and each chapter heading is a lie that one of the girls is telling herself -- which the chapter itself then contradicts. Using that same format, I'd like to talk about a few lies that LWTO makes readers confront.
#1 - LGBTQ issues are a recent thing.
With marriage equality spreading (rightfully) like wildfire -- 32 states and counting! -- it's easy to assume that the struggle for LGBTQ rights has been fast and furious. But it hasn't. Because there have been queer people since the beginning of human history, and they still aren't treated fairly in most of the world.
In LWTO, Talley juxtaposes the larger struggle for civil rights with the personal struggles of her two heroines coming to terms with their sexuality. In doing so, she reminds readers that all the tough moments in history have been endured by members of the LGBTQ community too. They shared those experiences with everyone else -- but they also had unique perspectives and challenges.
#2 - The civil rights movement eliminated racism in our country.
In LWTO, Sarah Dunbar and her friends are trying to do their part to help secure equal rights for blacks in America. Schools, service, jobs, etc. Everything was segregated back then -- which is kind of hard and crazy to imagine now.
But the thing is, racism isn't gone; it's just more subtle in the 21st century. It's the wrongful deaths of Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown. It's Donald Sterling's private remarks. It's people questioning President Obama's birth certifcate. It's everywhere, and the first step in fixing it is to acknowledge the problems, even if we find them in ourselves or in people that we love, no matter how difficult that may be.
#3 - Adults always know best.
When we're young, we look up to our parents, grandparents, teachers, etc. We trust adults to have the answers, to be older and wiser. And usually they are -- but they're still human too. That means they can be wrong and make mistakes. They are products of their own upbringing, with whatever outdated beliefs or practices that might entail. The best adults will try to learn and grow to keep up with the changing times. But again: they're human.
In LWTO, Linda Hairston struggles to admit that the adults in her life are not the best role models. Her father stubbornly clings to ugly ideals in the name of "tradition," and her mother just tries to stay out of his way. Poor Linda has no choice but to break away from their poor judgment, and instead trust what she knows in her heart to be right.
#4 - You can never change your mind.
More than anything, what I took away from LWTO is to have an open heart and an open mind. Both Sarah and Linda feel very strongly about their positions at the start of the story, but if they aren't willing to listen to one another, to consider someone else's perspective, then they can never grow into better versions of themselves -- or find their paths to happiness.
Maybe all of these lies are variations on the same theme. Honesty, compassion, and education. These are the bricks that pave the way forward, for individuals and for society.
And do you know what fosters honesty, compassion, and education? Good stories, whether fictional or true.
(That's why #WeNeedDiverseBooks!)
* * *
For more on LIES WE TELL OURSELVES, be sure to check out all the YA Diversity Club posts:
••• Our group discussion at Teen Lit Rocks. This book had us nervous, impressed, frustrated, sympathetic... everything!
••• Q&A with author Robin Talley at the Reading Date. Talley talks about her family connection to the story, how she researched for the time period, and some of her favorite diverse YA books.
Next month we'll be discussing TELL ME AGAIN HOW A CRUSH SHOULD FEEL by Sara Farizan. Feel free to read along with us!
Thursday, October 23, 2014
Earlier this month, our friends at YA Highway asked:
WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE GHOST STORY?
Stephanie: While I was growing up, I lived across the street from a town hall, which was supposedly haunted by the ghost of a man named Wesley who hung himself in the attic many many years ago. I remember going to Girl Scout lock-ins and hearing the doors opening and shutting on the empty third floor, and the stories about how all the furniture would rearrange itself in the night when no one was there. The bell tower was visible from my bedroom window, and every once in a while, I could have sworn I saw a man in the window. ;) That's my favorite ghost story, because it's also a childhood memory.
Kristan: Ooo, your answer inspired me!
Growing up, one of my friends found a hidden passage that went from the closet in her bedroom to the closet in another upstairs room. We snuck in, crawled around, and found an old matchbook, a faded receipt, and a dusty pair of men's blue jeans. Using our Ghost Writer skills, we deduced that the house used to be part of the Underground Railroad, and that the pants belonged to a runaway slave. Then we wondered why he would have left his pants... Obviously he died in her house! That meant his ghost was probably haunting the place -- haunting us! Needless to say, we had a hard time falling asleep that night.
Stephanie: Kristan, that's hilarious. Also, I want to live in your friend's house. Passageways are the coolest!
Ingrid: I don't like to read ghost stories for the most part (they scare me). But I do like A Christmas Carol, which has ghosts in it. And, of course, Harry Potter :)
Sarah: I entirely love ghost stories, and was quite a morbid little kiddunk. My favourite book in elementary school was WAIT TILL HELEN COMES. I could probably still read it and get goosebumps and not sleep for months. A small price to pay.
Join in the fun by leaving your answer in the comments here, at YA Highway, on your own blog, or on Twitter (and be sure to use the hashtag #roadtripwednesday!).
Tuesday, October 21, 2014
Last week I started a new day job as a secondary school librarian (in England, that typically means ages 11-16). It is just as cool as it sounds working with students, surrounded by literature, having my own office, being the boss of my own bookish domain.
I've tidied and cleaned and made everything just so. I've become acquainted with the stacks and found the best covers to turn out for discovery. I have organised and made signs and posters. I have built something...
...but the readers have not come.
In two weeks, the library has lent out six books.
It baffles me, but there are a lot of people that don't like reading. Like, that is a thing that exists.
This is a thing!!
So, I'm doing the only thing a respectable librarian can do. I'm going to bribe them.
From November to March there is an event being organised by the School Library Service called the Essex Book Awards (Essex being the county the school is located). I have to somehow get a group of readers together, read some books, vote on our favourite and write reviews for the SLS blog. I am going to need a lot of bribes (sweets). Good thing Halloween is next week!
Watch this space for how I'm getting on. And if you were choosing from these books, which would you read first? I've only read SHE IS NOT INVISIBLE and thorougly enjoyed it. I think the students would as well if they could just quit their thing of not reading.
Others shortlisted for the award: I Predict a Riot by Catherine Bruton, Never Ending by Martin Bedford and The Middle of Nowhere by Geraldine McCaughrean.
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