Thursday, July 24, 2014

A couple months ago, Sandie from Teen Lit Rocks approached us about joining her and a few other friends for a diversity-focused YA book club. We had all loved and supported the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign, and we wanted to keep that momentum going in a meaningful way. So, every month we are going to select a different YA book that highlights diversity (of race, religion, sexuality, ability, or what-have-you) and discuss it on our blogs.

Our debut selection was LIKE NO OTHER by Una LaMarche. Una was gracious enough to answer a few questions for us. Scroll down for her thoughtful interview, and be sure to check out the other YA Diversity Book Club posts:

Highlights from the LIKE NO OTHER group chat - hosted at Teen Lit Rocks
• "We Can Quibble What to Call It" by Gone Pecan
"LIKE NO OTHER - 5 Greatest Hits" by The Reading Date


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Q&A with Una LaMarche

1. Describe your book in a sentence or two.

LIKE NO OTHER is a high-stakes romance in the tradition of Romeo & Juliet (or, let’s be honest: given my pop culture education, Say Anything) in which a Hasidic girl meets a black boy in an elevator, and even though her religion forbids connection with the outside world, they spark. Drama and stomach-flipping infatuation ensue—possibly not in that order.

2. What was your inspiration for writing LIKE NO OTHER? 

I grew up in Brooklyn and have lived near Crown Heights, where the Chabad Lubavitch movement is based, for many years. I knew I wanted to write a star-crossed romance for my second novel, but for a while I wasn’t sure what, in New York City in 2014, could possibly qualify. Then it hit me: I’d been living side by side, but worlds apart, from Hasidic communities for my entire life. That world was exactly the kind of insular community I needed to make the story plausible.

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

I did a lot of research for the character of Devorah, because even though I knew I would have to use some creative license, it was very important to me that I didn’t paint the Hasidic world with too broad a brush. I was up front with potential sources that my main character would be questioning her faith throughout the book, so no one currently active in the Chabad movement felt comfortable opening up to me (which I completely understand). Through an organization called Footsteps, which helps women leaving ultra-orthodox communities get on their feet, I was able to connect with a number of women from different Hasidic backgrounds who gave me invaluable insight into what daily life would be like for Devorah, and how she and her family might react to different plot points.

I did much less research for Jaxon. Even though he is black, and male, neither of which I can claim, first and foremost he’s a modern Brooklyn teenager, and more of a relatable avatar for the readers in terms of his daily life. I made a conscious choice not to make his world seem too foreign.

Like No Other4. How did you come to incorporate the diverse elements in your book?

I always knew Devorah would be Hasidic, but I wasn’t sure about Jaxon’s race or ethnic background until I was developing the outline. My first instinct was actually to make him more of a hipster, part of the gentrification of Crown Heights, but then I thought, why shy away? It’s so much more A) realistic and B) interesting to make him black. The Crown Heights Riots of 1991, which caused a huge rift between the black and Hasidic communities for a long time, also provided historically accurate reasoning for the “old, bad blood” that makes it difficult for Jaxon’s parents to support his relationship with Devorah.

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

As I mentioned, I grew up one neighborhood away from where Jax and Devorah live in the book, so the diversity really just reflects my community. Park Slope is very gentrified now (and, by way of a possibly obvious disclaimer, as a white person who moved here in the late 80s, I’m part of that), but my world growing up was not. My elementary school was mostly black and Hispanic, and as a result so were my friends and neighbors. It wasn’t something I had to consciously think about; it was just what I saw.

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

I don’t know if this counts as YA, but in high school I fell in love with THE HOUSE ON MANGO STREET by Sandra Cisneros. Definitely Jacqueline Woodson’s IF YOU COME SOFTLY, which I read a decade ago and which has always stayed with me. Jason Reynold’s WHEN I WAS THE GREATEST. I also recently read and loved Nina LaCour’s EVERYTHING LEADS TO YOU, about a lesbian romance.

The House on Mango Street If You Come Softly When I Was the Greatest Everything Leads to You

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

If I’m being honest, I think every possible area of diversity is underrepresented, but I’m focusing on racial and religious diversity in this book. I think the world needs more characters across all races, ethnicities, sexual orientations and gender identities. I don’t think we should shy away from religion, either, especially given what’s been going on lately, with certain fundamentalist beliefs affecting reproductive rights and challenging gay marriage. It’s always shocking to me how few modern books are written about diverse characters and real, pressing societal issues. But I hope — and believe — that’s starting to change.

Thanks so much to Una for taking the time to answer our questions, and for writing such a rich and diverse story!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014



Last week, I had the pleasure of attending Waterstones Piccadilly's author event in London featuring Rainbow Rowell. Although I'm American and have lived in the US off and on, I haven't managed to see one of my favourite authors in person...so much excitement that she was coming to my neck of the woods!

Because she's a rock star author, two events were scheduled and Stacey at Pretty Books did an awesome recap from Monday evening. Tuesday evening wasn't much different and I don't have anything to add, other than an audience question...When asked what her advice would be for Eleanor (from ELEANOR & PARK), Rainbow gave an answer that kinda-maybe gave me goosebumps (which is a feat because it was a hot/humid day and, since those are rare in England, there's no air conditioning pretty much anywhere and we were all sweaty-balls):

Rainbow started by saying that as a teenager, you don't have much hold over your life. "I would tell Eleanor that 'you're about to inherit your own life.'" She went on to explain that "You have to keep yourself whole, so that when you inherit your life, you're ready."  Then she explained that Eleanor is a character who doesn't believe in love and doesn't think there's a future for herself...And "we make bad decisions when we think there's no tomorrow."  So "hold on."


Rainbow tag-teamed with Bim Adewunmi on the whole conversation, which was amazing. This dynamic duo should do more tour dates together.  It was like attending a backstage conversation, really informal and it felt like the audience was merely in on the gossip.  Such a great atmosphere!



Melissa couldn't have said it any better. When Rainbow entered the room, as an audience we collectively leaned forward. There's something incredibly magnetizing about meeting someone who brings so much to the page and shares it with us. I've already finished LANDLINE and am mystified all over again how she can write my entire life, but with different details. Okay, maybe it's not my life. We're all in this together, right?

Thanks, Rainbow, for your magic.

We Heart Your Guts.  xx

Thursday, July 17, 2014

This week's question comes from YA Confidential:

IF YOU COULD PICK ANY WRITER, LIVING OR DEAD, TO SERVE AS YOUR MENTOR, WHO WOULD YOU PICK?

Kristan:

I go through phases, usually after I'm inspired by a certain story, where I seek out and absorb everything I can about that story's author. Right now, that's George R. R. Martin and Game of Thrones. Fortunately, the internet is such a wealth of material (interviews, blog posts, etc.) that I can, in a way, be mentored by him.

In the past I've gone through this binge with Maggie Stiefvater and Laini Taylor, among others.

Ingrid:

I would choose Sarah Dessen to be my writing mentor because I've read almost all of her books and they are consistently engaging and well written. Since I write about situations and themes similar to the ones that come up in her novels, I think she'd have some great insights to share. Also, Sarah has been publishing since 1996 so she has long-term experience with the industry.

Sarah:

Maya Angelou. I think she'd get me. I think she'd speak my language. And I think she would have the most interesting stories to tell, which is the best kind of mentoring, really.

You:

Join in the fun by leaving your answer in the comments here, at YA Confidential, on your own blog, or on Twitter (and be sure to tag us @weheartya!).

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Hey, don't forget to enter for your chance to win an ARC of the amazing MY HEART AND OTHER BLACK HOLES by Jasmine Warga! It's easy peasy, and ending soon!


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Right now I'm reading a book that obviously took a lot of research. How do I know? Because the author keeps showing me. Rather than losing myself in the characters and their struggles, I feel like I'm in a classroom, learning facts that are loosely strung together by narrative threads. Needless to say, this is not the best feeling for a reader to have.

But it doesn't have to be this way. There are so many good books that required the author to do their homework -- and yet reading them didn't make me feel like I was doing mine! CODE NAME VERITY is about two young women involved in military efforts during World War II. CAMINAR tells the story of a young boy whose village gets caught in the middle during the Guatemalan revolution. STEEL isn't based on a real-world event, but it does involve swashbuckling pirates in the Caribbean, which I'm pretty sure the author doesn't have firsthand experience with.

Code Name Verity Caminar Steel

I guess the thing about research is, you can't have too much or too little. Like Goldilocks, you're looking for the amount that's just right. And that applies to all genres.

What books have you read that clearly involved a lot of research, yet still managed to suck you into the story? Give me your recommendations, please! Because I love learning, I just don't want to feel I'm in school again.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Now that we're doing these "Q&A Thursdays," we've realized that our friends at YA Confidential ask some great reading/writing questions every week too. So we're going to alternate between their prompts and YA Highway's. This week, YA Confidential asks...

Q: IF YOU COULD PAIR UP ANY TWO CHARACTERS FROM ANY BOOK, EITHER ROMANTICALLY OR AS BESTIES, WHO WOULD YOU PICK?

Eleanor & Park Winger (Winger, #1)
Sarah:

I think Ryan Dean (from Andrew Smith's WINGER) and Eleanor (from Rainbow Rowell's ELEANOR & PARK) would get along smashingly. They might both be in love with someone else, but they would make good companions. Yin and Yang. Opposites attract, yo.

Siege and Storm (The Grisha, #2) Catching Fire (The Hunger Games, #2)
Kristan:

I would love to hook up Nikolai from the Shadow and Bone series with Johanna Mason from the Hunger Games series. They're both smart, witty, and regal -- but they're hiding deep wounds. I think they could be good for one another.

Faking Normal Speak
Ingrid:

There are so many combos to choose from! I'm going to pair up Bodee from FAKING NORMAL with Melinda from SPEAK because Bodee is the kind of friend every broken girl needs, and I think they could help each other heal.

You:

Join in the fun by leaving your answer in the comments here, at YA Confidential, on your own blog, or on Twitter (and be sure to tag us @weheartya!).

Wednesday, July 9, 2014


A few weeks ago, I was at the library perusing YA audio books when I came across STOLEN, the debut novel of Lucy Christopher. The premise immediately intrigued me  a 16-year-old girl is abducted from an international airport and taken to live in a wild and foreign land with her unconventional kidnapper. Yeah, I was fascinated before popping out the first disc.

Set in the Great Sandy Desert of the Australian Outback  a harsh and isolating place  the book is told in the form of a letter written by the main character, Gemma, to her captor. I found this to be a fresh and effective format. It allows the reader to live Gemma’s story with her as she analyzes her feelings about the ordeal. Author Lucy Christopher states on her webpage that she wanted to explore Gemma’s feelings of being “simultaneously entranced and repulsed by something.”   

That, in a nutshell, is the allure of this novel.

STOLEN is a difficult story but one that makes you think. First, about the rugged and beautiful land itself, which Christopher describes with the authority of an insider. (There's even a pet camel in it!) And second, about Ty the kidnapper — a troubled and complex character. As I read, there were times when I found myself really liking him — and then I’d think: But wait — he abducted her! It was all very unsettling, which is exactly the point.

It's easy to identify with Gemma’s evolving and often conflicting emotions toward Ty. Though her journey is a tumultuous one, I really appreciated the ambiguous nature of the story. It even inspired an interesting WHYA group discussion about whether Ty could be classified as a decent man who did a really bad thing... or a bad person with a few redeeming qualities. (The jury's still out.) 

Delving into the intricacies of Stockholm Syndrome, the things that connect you to home and childhood, and the power of place, STOLEN is an intriguing novel. It's one of those books that messes with your mind, that I find myself thinking about over and again — which is just the kind of story I love.

If you're familiar with it, let us know your thoughts! What other books have you read where you had mixed feelings about "the bad guy"?  



Leave a comment on any July post for a chance to win a book from our stash!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Congratulations to Aurelia of Living Through Pages! She is the winner of our June giveaway. Now you can comment on any of our posts throughout July for the chance to win a book from our stash.

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On Wednesdays, our friends at YA Highway ask a reading or writing-related question. On Thursdays, we answer!

Q: Share a song from your writing playlist. 

Kristan:

I don't have a writing playlist, and often don't listen to music when I'm working. I guess if I could choose, I would almost always prefer the sound of a light rainstorm outside.

Sarah:

I write to music often and create playlists for different characters; however, I don't always stick to them or share them because I get bored easily. So the best answer is just to tell you what I'm listening/writing to at the moment, which is Nick Mulvey. Specifically this song:


The best thing about writing to music is it creates a sort of nostalgia where I can hear a song and remember which stage I was in during the drafting process. And drafting is where I get the most satisfaction from writing. :)

Ingrid:

I don't listen to music while I write -- it tends to distract me -- but sometimes I'll listen to music before I write that I find inspiring. Actually, what is most fun is when someone else reads my stuff and then sends me a song, saying, "This reminds me of your character!" That is pretty cool.

You:

Join in the fun by leaving your answer in the comments here, at YA Highway, on your own blog, and/or on Twitter with the hashtag #roadtripwednesday.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014
Hello new month.

Hello more books.

Goodbye paychecks. :)

Our most anticipated new releases/ reads for this month:


Now that Kristan and I have devoured Leigh Bardugo's stunning trilogy, we need to keep our fantasy faction happening... Couldn't choose better than FIRE WISH by Amber Lough. And hello, THE FALCONER by Elizabeth May. This one was released in the UK last year, but is definitely ready to take off in the US. Don't forget MIDNIGHT THIEF by Livia Blackburne is also out this month!


If you're into Contemporary, then you can't go wrong with Rainbow Rowell's latest LANDLINE. Insta-buy. Duh. Kasie West has a new one called ON THE FENCE, which looks like a fun summer read. Let's fall in love this summer, right?




For those looking for suspense and mystery and spooky thrillery, we're pretty psyched for THE HALF LIFE OF MOLLY PIERCE by Katrina Leno. Also, THE VANISHING SEASON by Jodi Lynn Anderson. TIGERLILY was brilliant and we can't wait to get our hands on Anderson's latest. It's sure to be filled with gorgeous prose and interesting characters and quirk. Just all the good stuff. And CONVERSION by Katherine Howe looks properly goose-pimply.


We know there are many, many more releases (here's a full list in case you're curious), but if we missed a good one, let us know in the comments!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Every Wednesday, our friends at YA Highway ask a reading or writing-related question. Every Thursday, we answer!

Q: WHAT ARE YOU READING RIGHT NOW?

Sarah:

Say Her Name Blackfin Sky Siege and Storm (The Grisha, #2)

Ingrid:

Faking Normal The Raven Boys (The Raven Cycle, #1)

Kristan:

Nine Days Alabama Moon

You:

Join in the fun by leaving your answer in the comments here, at YA Highway, on your own blog, and/or on Twitter with the hashtag #roadtripwednesday.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

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about us

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


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on the shelf

The Bitter Kingdom
Wild Awake
The Raven Boys
Mind Games
Eleanor and Park
The Shattered Mountain
The Shadow Cats
Transparent
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
Bitterblue
The Fault in Our Stars
Pretties


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