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!

Vegas misc 001

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.

Las Vegas Strip 065

Las Vegas Strip 062

Las Vegas Strip pt 2 016

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. Cliché.) 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.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Stephanie's Prompt:

It was a snowy morning in December when the child who occupied room twenty-three left for good. Old toys and clothes were discarded, no longer needed. The sheets were stripped from the bed, and the floor was swept. A box of hand-me-downs found its way onto the old dresser in the corner, a box that contained pink sheets — clean but not new — several picture books with fraying cloth covers, and a soft cotton rabbit with one ear.

The little white rabbit pushed through the blankets to the top of the box, peeking over its fraying cardboard edges. The table next to the bed had been crowded with yellow daisies, a pink balloon, and a small card that said Welcome Anna.

The little rabbit knew just what to do. It climbed out of the box, and with a leap surprisingly high for a so small a toy, bounded onto the squeaky bed. It fell into place on the pillow, just as the door swung open and a small girl with red hair stepped into the room, led by an older woman.

“This is your room,” the woman said to Anna, laying a hand on the girl’s shoulder. “Hopefully it will only be for a little while.”

Without answering, Anna crossed the room and curled up on the bed, hiding her tears from the woman in the doorway. She reached out for the little white rabbit, fingertips brushing the hole where the rabbit’s second ear should have been, and then she folded the soft toy into her arms. The little white rabbit with one ear smiled to itself, warm with the joy of a new child, a new home.

From that moment on, they were always together. The rabbit was there to catch falling tears, to be squeezed tightly until the heartache passed, and with a little time, to witness tentative smiles.

Then one day, Anna had her first visitors, a young couple who asked lots of questions. The little white rabbit watched Anna’s face glow as she told them about all the things she liked to do and all the places she wanted to go. But the glow faded when it was time for the visitors to leave. Anna’s eyes shined with tears as they said goodbye.

The little white rabbit knew just what to do. It leaned just a little to the side, tumbling off the dresser and onto the hardwood floor. It landed right in front of the couple as they made their way to the door. The young woman stooped to pick up the toy. She ran her gentle fingers over the rabbit’s stained fur and the hole where it’s other ear should have been.

The next morning, the pink sheets were stripped from the bed in room twenty-three, and the floor was swept. Old toys and clothes were gathered into a cardboard box. The soft cotton rabbit with one ear peeked over the edge of the box as it was carried down the hall.

They passed a room filled with balloons and people crowded in a circle and a big sign that said Happy Adoption Day, Anna. The rabbit smiled to itself.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Beautifully written and hauntingly tense, DELICATE MONSTERS does not ask easy questions, nor offer easy answers. (And we love it for that!) Fortunately for the YA Diversity Book Club, author Stephanie Kuehn agreed to answer a few of our questions, and we loved getting deeper insights about her story, the three main characters, and the themes of cruelty, compassion, sex, violence, and identity.

Please describe your book in a sentence or two.

After getting kicked out of her third boarding school in four years for almost killing a classmate, seventeen-year-old Sadie Su returns to her hometown of Sonoma and quickly seizes on the opportunity to toy with an old childhood friend—Emerson Tate, a boy Sadie happens to know holds unbearable secrets inside of him. Meanwhile, Emerson’s sickly—and possibly psychic—younger brother Miles has a vision of impending violence and seeks to discover what it is, setting off a chain of events in which the lives of all three teens unravel against the threat of this dark unknown.

What was your inspiration for writing this book?

There were lots of small things that inspired me. I wanted to write a female antihero, but not one anyone is meant to come to understand or who has a tragic backstory. I wanted to write a girl who is callous and cruel simply because she can to be. And I wanted to cast her against a boy who appears to be her opposite yet is similar to her in ways neither of them really understands. Both Sadie and Miles are people who see cruelty and compassion as zero-sum games, with Sadie determined to be the winner and Miles convinced that he’s a loser.

I also wanted to write a book that explored how acts of violence can happen for different reasons and the ways in which these actions are perceived. My initial question was: If you have three people who all commit violent acts, and the first person is someone who owns her actions; the second person is someone who feels guilty and/or rationalizes what they’ve done; and the third person is someone who is impaired in some way…do these explanations even matter? Or is it only the outcome that counts?

These questions led me to plot out the story in such a way that the reader moves through shifting vantage points of empathy; there are no fixed answers as to who is good or bad. That was important to me. Rather than approach morality prescriptively, I wanted to write a story that allowed teen readers to parse these issues for themselves.

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

Culturally, I interviewed a number of teens and young adults who identify as biracial (Chinese American and European American) about their experiences growing up, as well as young people who came to the US from China to attend college (which was how Sadie’s father came to the United States). I also did a significant amount of research on family systems, personality disorders, paraphilias, abuse, parental loss, complex trauma, factitious and somatoform disorders—reading articles, books, watching videos, talking to clinicians who’ve treated teens struggling with these issues.

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

They were all there from the start, those elements. The book is about cruelty and compassion, victims and victimizers, and I wanted to show all the different places those dynamics play out: through perceived distinctions in class, education, race, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, mental health status, ability status. The characters bounce up against all of these lived experiences and have to reckon—for better or for worse—with the ways they use certain aspects of themselves to disempower or marginalize…as well as the ways they are simultaneously being disempowered or marginalized. Roman is the one person who ultimately models to Sadie what it might look like to disengage from this cycle of hurting to avoid being hurt, although what she takes from that is open to interpretation.

I know the book club asked in particular about Sadie’s and Emerson’s use of the n-word and why that word would come up if the vineyard workers they were around were primarily Hispanic (this is in reference to a childhood memory Sadie has of Emerson using “racial slurs” to refer to workers at her family’s vineyard), which I actually think is a good example of how this cycle of cruelty = power is perpetuated. I conceived of young Emerson as being the kind of kid who would run his mouth about anything racist, sexist, homophobic, etc—whether he’d picked this up from his mother, his father, or the auto repair shop where his dad worked isn’t specified. Conceivably Sadie would’ve heard a collection of these rants over the time they spent together, and that’s why she picks that word to taunt him with years later when he mentions playing basketball.

But Sadie’s recollection about him using racial slurs to address the vineyard workers is less about what words he uses in that instance, and more about her observation that he doesn’t say anything about her father. She recognizes that he’s using those words as a way to feel powerful—and that he feels disempowered by his family’s poverty. Later, of course, Sadie shames Emerson with his own words so that she can feel powerful.

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

I think all the aspects of diversity in the book are grounded from experiences in my life and the world around me. Biracial identity is important to me, personally, and while I don’t share the same background as Sadie, the negative space notion—that is, being defined by where you don’t fit in, not where you do, is one that I relate to. The interracial relationship between May and Emerson obviously has a lot of tension unrelated to race, but the elements of racism in their connection were important for me to convey. I feel like so many interracial relationships are written in such a way as to make the white character appear somehow free from bias, even when other people around them hold different views. That never feels authentic to me.

But beyond that, the core experiences in the book center around feeling like a bad person—having bad thoughts, wanting to hurt people who care about you (or wanting to hurt them because they care about you), using and demeaning others for one’s own benefit, or feeling worthless because you’ve been demeaned. These aren’t nice thoughts or actions, but they do happen. I don’t think we get anywhere or help anyone by pretending experiences like these don’t exist or by dehumanizing those who are involved in them.

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

Pointe by Brandy Colbert
The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd
Conviction by Kelly Loy Gilbert
Everything Leads to You by Nina Lacour
Stick by Andrew Smith
47 by Walter Mosley
All Our Pretty Songs by Sarah McCarry
Starglass by Phoebe North
Last Night I Sang to the Monster by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

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

More than anything, I’m interested in exploring the intersection of mental illness with the psychology of adolescence. There are certain narratives or ways we talk about mental illness and teenagers that get told over and over again that I personally find disempowering, and also very limiting. There needs to be room for different types of stories. Even the really hard ones.

The characters in Delicate Monsters are all difficult people, but it was important to me to write each of them with the deepest of empathy. To see them as human is not to excuse their actions. Rather it’s a chance to expand our understanding of humanity—to look where we usually choose to look away. I wouldn’t write YA if I didn’t believe that all teens deserved to have their stories told. And I wouldn’t be a therapist if I weren’t always, always willing to listen.

* * * *

Want more DELICATE MONSTERS? Be sure to check out all of our great posts:

Our book club's discussion at Teen Lit Rocks
"Delicate Monsters: Further Reading (and 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 will each be reviewing our favorite diverse reads from 2015 (even if they weren't our featured in our book club) and spotlighting a few diverse reads we're looking forward to in 2016!

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




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The Bitter Kingdom
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The Crown of Embers
New House 5: How A Dorm Becomes A Home
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