Thursday, December 31, 2015
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
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.
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.
How 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.
* * * *
• 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!
Wednesday, December 9, 2015
And the adventure continues! Click here to read part one and find what this is all about.
I remember the day I was unwrapped—her 7th birthday. It was so dark and stifling in there with my plastic covered in rainbow-and-heart wrapping paper. I heard Mollie’s sweet, tinny voice before I ever saw her face, bookended by blond pigtails. She gasped when she saw me, and then she ripped the remaining wrappings off and my whole world lit up like sunbeams. “Oh, I loooove her!” Mollie cried out. “Ballerina Barbie… just what I always wanted!” She pulled me out of my box and hugged me, and from that moment on we were best friends.
For days, Mollie dressed me in sparkly tutus and sometimes in black sweats with the pink stripes for downtime between dance rehearsals. We had tea together and I went for rides in the basket of her bicycle. I didn’t know I was different—and neither did Mollie—until that evil girl Brianna Baker came over.
Brianna brought her own Barbies and their suitcase full of clothing and accessories, and the two girls plopped down on the floor. They played happily with us for a while, and then they decided to switch dolls. I smiled pleasantly, like I always do, my blue eyes sparkling with friendliness, my silken hair combed to glistening. But Brianna didn’t notice any of that; her eyes grew wide and horror-filled as she stared at—of all things—my feet! She threw me down like I was diseased and screamed in alarm. Mollie gently picked me up and cradled me, asking Brianna what was wrong.
“Look… at… her… feet!” Brianna cried out. “They’re flat!”
Confused, Mollie and I both gazed at my perfect little feet. Seemed fine to me. No warts or bunions that I could see. Then I looked at the other dolls—Brianna’s little army—and gaped. My feet were flat and theirs were all elegantly arched.
“It’s okay,” Mollie said uncertainly. “She can stand on her own. Your dolls fall over.”
“It’s not okay,” squawked Brianna. “She’s supposed to be a ballerina! She can’t even go up on pointe! She’s… a misfit.”
Mollie stroked my hair protectively and Brianna did not come back to the house for another playdate, but after that day Mollie didn’t play with me as much, or dress me in different outfits, or take me places. More than once I caught her studying my flat, flat feet with a concerned look on her face.
Then Christmas came, and with it a new toy for Mollie—Hollywood Barbie. Mollie loved Hollywood Barbie, who had the proper arched feet that a Barbie doll should have. And I was left in the bottom of the toy box, alone.
Once again, I was covered in darkness. My eyes did not glow, my hair became snarled with neglect. And then yesterday, I found myself thrown into a box that was tossed this way and that for what seemed like a long time.
Now the swaying has stopped and I’ve crawled out to explore my new surroundings. Sunlight momentarily blinds me, but soon I see a sign with an arrow pointing to an island, and all kinds of toy refugees are marching in that direction. I glance back at the box in which I was imprisoned. The word “DEFECTIVE” is stamped on the outside in big bold letters.
Shaking with fear and fury, I stomp my flat little feet over the bridge to the Island of Misfit Toys.
Tuesday, December 1, 2015
Every year, we try to put together some festive posts for the holidays, and it's always a lot of fun. This year we thought we'd try something different that would exercise our creative muscles, while still being holiday themed. So I came up with a Christmas prompt, and each of us wrote a one-page story about a misfit toy, and now we're sharing them with you. We hope your holidays are merry!
We should have been a huge hit.
But something happened at the factory. A wrong button got pushed, or a wrong order programmed into the machines. When we went down the assembly line, we got mixed up. We got messed up.
The cow says RUFF RUFF. The dog says NEEIIGGHH. The horse says QUACK QUACK. The duck says BAAAHHH. The sheep says MOOOOO.
At first we thought maybe everything would still turn out all right. Maybe no one would notice. Or maybe no one would mind too much, since we were still so adorable and fun.
But we were wrong.
We sat on the shelf, day after day. Every time a child walked up to us, the smile on their face would get bigger and brighter. We thought surely this would be the one. They would fall in love with us, the Roly Poly Farm Animals, and insist to their mother or father that they take us home.
Instead, they would squish Cow, or Dog, and the wrong sound would come out. And those beautiful happy smiles would melt away. They would look confused, disappointed. And then they would just move on down the aisle to some other toy. A toy that did what it was supposed to do.
So here we sit, sad and unloved.
Ruff ruff, neigh, quack quack, bah, moo.
Check back next week for the next installment!
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