Friday, October 2, 2015
YA Diversity Book Club is the connection and cooperation we get from authors. Today, we're chatting with author Anna-Marie McLemore about her lyrical and imaginative debut THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS.
1. Describe your book in a sentence or two.
THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS is a story of a longstanding feud between two families, the meeting of two different cultures, and the love between a boy and a girl who’ve been raised not to go near each other.
2. What was your inspiration for writing this book?
The book came out of two different sparks coming together: remembering a story my father told me years ago about a mermaid show he saw when he was about my age, and an idea about performers who wear wings while climbing the tallest trees they can find. The rest of the story emerged from the setting of those two rival shows.
3. What kind of research did you have to do to make sure your characters were authentic?
Though the characters are very much fictional, the culture and traditions of the Palomas, who are Mexican-American, drew on my family’s heritage. For the Corbeaus, I got in touch with a Romani studies scholar, whose expertise was invaluable in the process of making sure the book’s depiction was as respectful and accurate as possible.
4. How did you come to incorporate the diverse elements in your book?
The Corbeaus and Palomas’ backgrounds felt very organic to these characters’ lives, and not just because I share the same heritage as Lace. The first thing I ever knew about Cluck Corbeau was his first name, but probably the second or third thing was that he was Romani. Though the idea of writing a main character whose background I don’t share intimidated me, the fact that it felt right for the story helped me get past that initial hesitation.
5. How does the diversity in your book relate to your life?
Like Lace, I know that sense of feeling isolated by your family’s traditions, but at the same time fiercely guarding them. There’s a sense of both pain and pride about being an outsider.
6. What are some of your favorite YA books about diverse characters?
If you let me name them all, we’ll be here a while! Because I identify as a queer writer, books with LGBT characters have been so important to me, and here I’ll name just a few: If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan is such a bittersweet portrayal of two girls facing who they’ll be as adults. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz is a vivid story not just of first love but of transcendent friendship. Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley is a poignant and beautiful novel about two high school seniors discovering who they are at a critical moment in history. Her upcoming What We Left Behind is also a scathingly real depiction of how a teen’s exploration of gender identity impacts both his life and the lives of those he loves.
7. What areas of diversity do you want to draw attention to or do you feel are underrepresented in books?
There are so many different aspects of diversity we need more of. I’d love to see diverse writers feel free to tell the stories they want to tell. Whether they want to write about characters who just happen to be diverse, or characters for whom that’s the focus of their story. Both those sides, and everything in between, are valid and valuable. If writers of all backgrounds feel free and empowered to tell stories, how they want to tell them, all of us—and our bookshelves—will end up stronger.
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• Our book club's discussion at Teen Lit Rocks
• "The Weight of Feathers Further Reading: Diverse Fantasy and Latin Heritage Month Recs" at the Reading Date
The entire YA Diversity Book Club archives can now be found on Tumblr, along with information about our upcoming book selections.
Hope you'll join us in reading diversely next month!
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