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!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

And the adventure continues! Click here to read part one and find what this is all about.

Ingrid's Prompt:

Mollie loved me when she didn’t know any better.

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!

Kristan's Prompt:

We should have been a huge hit. We are cute and brightly colored. We have big round eyes and big round bodies — cartoonishly poofed out and squishable. When you squeeze us, we sing out with charming sounds. We are well made and easy to grip, even for clumsy babies. But older kids would play with us too. Anyone would play with us.

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!
Monday, November 23, 2015

Carry OnAccording to GoodReads...

"Carry On is a ghost story, a love story, a mystery and a melodrama. It has just as much kissing and talking as you’d expect from a Rainbow Rowell story—but far, far more monsters."

According to us...

The Reading Date: First of all, did we all read Fangirl? Were you interested in reading more of Simon and Baz's story?

We Heart YA: HAHA great question. I LOVED Fangirl, but I found the fanfic interlude chapters to be a bit of a distraction. Fun! But not necessary. So no, I wasn't all that interested in Simon & Baz as part of Fangirl. But I kind of trust Rainbow Rowell with anything, lol.

The Reading Date: For me, the fanfic parts of Fangirl weren't my favorite parts. But I was surprised how much I really enjoyed these characters in Carry On.

The Reading Date: Carry On kind of makes me want to re-read Fangirl now for more of their story.

We Heart YA: oohhhh GOOD IDEA. I think those sections would mean more to me now -- or mean something different, anyway

The Reading Date: I'm sure you've both read Harry Potter. Did you compare the two "worlds" as you were reading Carry On?

We Heart YA: Not intentionally, but it's impossible not to see some parallels. To me, Carry On felt like if someone took Harry Potter, Twilight, and Rainbow Rowell's voice and then shoved it all into a blender. I mean that in a good way! The story is very much in dialogue with other stories -- but it's also very much Rainbow's own.

The Reading Date: Oh I love that!!! And yeah, even though this is new territory for Rainbow, being a work of fantasy, it still very much had her contemporary touch on it if that makes sense. It was accessible for me - someone not that crazy about fantasy.

The Reading Date: What has your experience been with fanfic? Ever read or written any?

Teen Lit Rocks: I have read a lot of fanfic but all Harry Potter

We Heart YA: I've read lots of fanfic, and written some, but it was all well before YA's heydey, so it was mostly TV shows I liked (such as Star Trek and Sailor Moon)

We Heart YA: I think Carry On is distinct from fanfic, even if it has some roots there, or similarities.

The Reading Date: Right? This book concept is crazy like fanfic of a fanfic- and it sounds like it wouldn't work but it does!

We Heart YA: lol Rainbow is magic that way. She makes all sorts of things that shouldn't work, work

The Reading Date: Hee yes! I saw Rainbow speak at Comic-Con this summer and she was saying how writing Carry On was so difficult for her. Writing Fantasy vs. Contemporary was so new and different. But yup she makes it work!

The Reading Date: It's a long book but it reads quickly, doesn't it?

We Heart YA: omg yes. Rainbow's prose is so simple and honest, I zip right through it

Eleanor & ParkThe Reading Date: What's your favorite Rainbow book?

We Heart YA: Fangirl, actually. I identified strongly with Cath, and even though I've never been to Nebraska, the story transported me right back to my college days, which are among the best and most formative of my life

The Reading Date: That totally makes sense about Fangirl. Cath is so relatable,

Teen Lit Rocks: I think Eleanor and Park is still my favorite but I love them all

The Reading Date: I'm cheating because I don't know that I have a favorite! But Fangirl is a good one- I like them all for different reasons. I really didn't expect to like Carry On so much though.

We Heart YA: I like them all for different reasons too, hehe, and I also did not expect to like Carry On so much

The Reading Date: So, was this a book you were drawn into right away because you were familiar with the characters from Fangirl? How did it compare to Rainbow's other books for you?

Teen Lit Rocks: To be honest I would sometimes skim the story within a story in fangirl so I wasn't sure how it would work for me. I needed assurances from a close friend and book blogger that it wasn't going to be just a rainbow-fied spoof of HP

We Heart YA: Mm, I didn't remember too much about the characters from Fangirl, so that wasn't the draw for me. I just adore Rainbow's storytelling and narrative voice -- which were strong as ever in this, even though it was a very different kind of book for her

The Reading Date: Were you satisfied with the book in the end?

Teen Lit Rocks: Yes! In some ways Simon has to sacrifice more of himself than Harry did and I wondered if she was the sort of HP fan who felt like Harry got off a bit too easy

We Heart YA: I finished the book pretty recently, so I'm still parsing out my feelings... but overall I would say yes, I am satisfied. I especially appreciated the commentary represented by Agatha and by the Mage

Teen Lit Rocks: And I was worried about the romance because m:m written by het women can be seen as slash instead of genuinely romantic

We Heart YA: While I'm not sure how I felt about the romance from Simon's side, I got chills from Baz's perspective

The Reading Date: I definitely shipped those two. The book really came alive for me when Baz came on the scene.

Teen Lit Rocks: Yes!

We Heart YA: YES!

Teen Lit Rocks: And you have to read like a third of it until he makes an appearance

We Heart YA: OMG I KNOW IT WAS TORTURE (I mean, not really torture, lol... But I was definitely anxious to meet him, and to find out why he was missing. (Numpties! Lol)

Teen Lit Rocks: Basically her romances ALWAYS work for me. She's the YA goddess of tension and anticipation

The Reading Date: Yes! I was super impressed with the story, the magic, the friendships and romance. And I was so skeptical but won over at the end. But I still want Rainbow to write more contemporary ☺

Teen Lit Rocks: Yes! I felt the same way

We Heart YA: In terms of diversity, there is the very obvious same sex coupling. But there was also subtle racial diversity (with Penelope and her family being Indian -- which wasn't an Issue at all, just a sidebar fact). And then there was what I thought was some interesting socioeconomic/class diversity, which was actually part of the plot.

Teen Lit Rocks: Indian Weasleys

We Heart YA: LOL so true. Although grumpier?

Teen Lit Rocks: I thought of Penelope as a mashup of Ron and Hermione. One True Friend, no romantic tension, large wizarding family, boyfriend she met on wizarding exchange.

Teen Lit Rocks: Lauren and I also noticed several Twilight references with the vampire romance

We Heart YA: Oh for sure! There were some good jokes/jabs in Carry On too, in reference to Twilight, Harry Potter, and a few other pop culture things I forget now. (Good natured jabs, I should clarify)

The Reading Date: I love that Rainbow is a Twilight fan!

We Heart YA: ME TOO. I hate how much hate Twilight gets. (There's a diff between criticism and hate)

The Reading Date: YES def.

The Reading Date: It was nice to see a gay romance at the center of the book. That's rare in fantasy, no?

Teen Lit Rocks: As the central story line yes. Although they exist… I just haven't read them! I did love Alex London's sci-fi/dystopian duology

The Reading Date: Oh right- Proxy was really good.

The Reading Date: Would you want to read more stories about Simon/Baz or should Rainbow move on to something new?

Teen Lit Rocks: I feel like she should go back to contemporary

We Heart YA: Hm. I feel like Simon/Baz is fairly complete at this point... She took them through their big journey

We Heart YA: I know that when we love stories, it's tempting to want more, but sometimes when authors give us more, they just muck things up... :P

The Reading Date: Agreed!

Teen Lit Rocks: Yes! I also think that sometimes publishers want bestselling authors to stay with their beloved universe/characters too long. It's like the equivalent of jumping the shark

We Heart YA: Exactly

Teen Lit Rocks: Like there are a few authors I want to read more from -- but not if it's yet another series about the same fairies/demonhunters/vampire lovers

We Heart YA: I love how Rainbow keeps moving on, giving us great standalones, but creating this body of work that is distinct but still satisfies fans hungering for more

* * * *

Are you hungering for more CARRY ON? Then be sure to check out all of our great posts:

• "Keep Calm and Listen On: The Carry On Audiobook Experience" at The Reading Date
"5 Things to Know About Rainbow Rowell" 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.

If you would like to join us in reading diversely next month, pick up a copy of DELICATE MONSTERS by Stephanie Kuehn.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Don't Fail Me Now

The very first book we ever read for YA Diversity Book Club was LIKE NO OTHER by Una LaMarche. Now Una has notched another first with us: She's the first author that we've read twice!

This month's selection was her latest, DON'T FAIL ME NOW, a delightful road trip novel with tons of diversity.
Michelle and her little siblings Cass and Denny are African-American and living on the poverty line in urban Baltimore, struggling to keep it together with their mom in jail and only Michelle’s part-time job at the Taco Bell to sustain them.

Leah and her stepbrother Tim are white and middle class from suburban Maryland, with few worries beyond winning lacrosse games and getting college applications in on time.

Michelle and Leah only have one thing in common: Buck Devereaux, the biological father who abandoned them when they were little.

After news trickles back to them that Buck is dying, they make the uneasy decision to drive across country to his hospice in California. Leah hopes for closure; Michelle just wants to give him a piece of her mind.

Five people in a failing, old station wagon, living off free samples at food courts across America, and the most pressing question on Michelle’s mind is: Who will break down first -- herself or the car? All the signs tell her they won’t make it. But Michelle has heard that her whole life, and it’s never stopped her before....
In a lot of ways, I am not like Michelle. I am not half-black; I did not grow up impoverished in inner city Baltimore; my mom is not a junkie; and my dad did not abandon me.

But in certain ways, I am like Michelle. On a superficial level, being half-Asian I can identify with belonging to multiple cultures and looking mixed. On a much deeper emotional level, I know what it's like to share a father with another family that's very different from my own.

My dad was married and had two daughters (and then got divorced) before meeting my mom and having me. I didn't really understand what that meant when I was little, and I didn't meet my half-sisters until I was 9. Like Michelle and Cass with Leah, I think they were wary of me, and maybe a bit resentful. But over time we've gotten to know each other better, we've gotten closer, and we've all realized that no matter what happened between our parents, we're family.

I think that theme is the strongest part of DON'T FAIL ME NOW. Family isn't just about blood -- it's about who we choose and how we treat them.

I especially liked that Michelle's family turned out to be so diverse -- in terms of race, socioeconomics, personality, and much more. Because that's how life is nowadays -- according to my personal experience, and national statistics. :P

DON'T FAIL ME NOW was a fantastic contemporary YA, managing to blend serious issues with humor and hope. I loved it.

In a similar but more mature vein, Tayari Jones's SILVER SPARROW also deals with half-sisters and secret families.

* * * *

For more about DON'T FAIL ME NOW, be sure to check out all of our great posts:

• Our book club's discussion at the Reading Date
• Q&A with author Una LaMarche 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.

Hope you'll join us in reading diversely next month! We'll be diving into CARRY ON by Rainbow Rowell, her fantasy spinoff (sort of) from FANGIRL.

Friday, October 2, 2015

One of my favorite things about 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.

The Weight of Feathers4. 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.

* * * *

For more about THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS, be sure to check out all of our great posts:

• 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!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

What book on your shelf right now have you owned the longest without getting around to reading it? Why haven't you read it?

Kristan: Ohhh, you caught me. I have a LOT of these kinds of books.

The oldest ones are probably CATCH-22 and COLD SASSY TREE, both free from my high school journalism teacher, who was cleaning out her shelves at the end of the year. (Omg high school was so long ago.) I haven't gotten around to them because my TBR pile grows faster than I can read! And usually the "fresher" ones feel more urgent/exciting to me, so I read them first.

But I do go back and prune from time to time, which can bring older titles to my attention again. The ones that don't get cut, anyway. :P I'm sure I'll get around to them all someday...

Ingrid: Okay, I looked at my (very big) pile of TBR books and found these three:

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom

These three have been on my pile for awhile now and I think I keep passing them up for the YA books I love to devour. But now that you've reminded me, Steph, I think I'll put these front and center!


NOGGIN by John Corey Whaley
SAY HER NAME by James Dawson

These are the top three that have sat longest on my shelf, mostly because I have to be in the mood for each of them. Quirky contemp used to be my sweet spot and I know that NOGGIN would satisfy, but I've had enough for a while. Andrew Smith sort of broke that for me. I've wanted to read a good (non-gory) horror and James Dawson is a rising UK talent so no doubt I'll get on that soon. Same with high fantasy. I have to be in the mood or I lose patience with the detail and pacing that, when I'm down for it, is one of my favourite aspects of the genre.

Stephanie: Most of my books are actually packed away right now, waiting for me to finish restoring my new (old) house. So I'm sure I have books much older than the one I'm going to talk about.

The book I've had the longest that I've not yet read is Mistwalker by Saundra Mitchell. I'm still really excited about reading it, but I just haven't got around to it. Lately, I've been mostly listening to audiobooks, which I can get through while driving or folding laundry or working.

Friday, August 28, 2015

For more about EVERYTHING EVERYTHING, be sure to check out all of our great posts:

Q&A with author Nicola Yoon at Gone Pecan
"Everything to Read after EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING" at the Reading Date
"Hapa Characters in YA" 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.

Hope you'll join in reading and chatting next month!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Today I am happy to announce that YA Diversity Book Club has been going strong for a whole year!

To celebrate, Teen Lit Rocks and the Reading Date are giving away a bunch of amazing books. DO NOT WALK RUN RUN RUN to their sites and enter for your chance to win!

And since you're already clicking around, please head on over to YADBC's new Tumblr and Twitter accounts too. That's where we'll be announcing each month's selection so that people can join the club and read along with us. We're also going to move from private discussions between the four of us to live Twitter chats (hashtag TBD) with anyone and everyone who wants to participate.

Here's to cultivating a more diverse readership of more diverse YA books!

In honor of YADBC's anniversary, I'd like to share a few things that I've learned from a year of consciously seeking out diverse YA.

- There are many kinds of diversity. 

Race, of course, is a big one. Sexuality, too. We've also read about religion (twice), class/poverty, and disability. Many of the books covered more than one type of diversity, too. Because people are beautifully multi-faceted.

All that in just one year -- 10 books -- and all that is just touching the surface.

- Not all diverse books are about diversity.

Sometimes the diverse elements are just inherent to the characters, not a Big Thing that the plot revolves around.

Sometimes a book's diversity comes directly from its author, because writers who are not part of the dominant culture inherently offer an Othered perspective or speak with an Othered voice.

- Diversity is a good thing, but a book that includes diversity is not automatically a good book.

Sometimes a diverse book just isn't very well-written. The characters are one-dimensional, or the plot moves slowly, or the language is dull. *shrug* It happens, and it has nothing to do with diversity.

When the problem is due to diversity, it's usually because of insufficient research, or research that has been poorly deployed -- i.e., misinformation and stereotyping.

Some people believe that bad representation is worse than no representation. Others believe that increased visibility is better than invisibility. Either way, I think the ideal we should be striving for is prominent AND accurate diversity.

Failing isn't fun, but what matters most is that we keep trying, and failing better, and trying again.

- Not everyone will agree on whether or not diversity has been portrayed appropriately.

One of the best things about reading is that it's largely about personal connection and interpretation. A story is written by an author, but it is brought to life by a reader and their imagination. Naturally, that means there will be differing opinions. For example, some people objected to ELEANOR & PARK by Rainbow Rowell, whereas I found it to be a true-to-life and moving portrayal of mixed Asian heritage.

Debating right or wrong isn't the point; discussing is.

That's why we started this book club: to explore the rich world of diversity in YA literature, to spotlight it for the community, to learn from it. Contemporary, historical, romantic, adventurous, high fantasy, low sci-fi, mid paranormal, whatever! Diversity can be found in every genre. Diversity can entertain, challenge, and nourish all at the same time.

But as of right now, diversity is still underrepresented in YA literature. #WeNeedDiverseBooks

These are the things that I have learned during our first year of the YA Diversity Book Club. Here's to next year, and new lessons, and more great books! I hope you'll join us.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Over the weekend I visited Chicago with a girl friend, and we popped into the Chicago Cultural Center on Michigan Ave. I had been in this building before to admire the two gorgeous domes (one done by Tiffany's!) but somehow I had missed these wonderful bookish quotes. Apparently the CCC was originally a library. It makes me smile to imagine such a beautiful space filled with rows and rows of books...

angie's visit 037 angie's visit 038 angie's visit 039 angie's visit 040

Between the stunning architecture and the free rotating art exhibits, this place is not to be missed!

Friday, July 10, 2015


The Walls Around UsTHE WALLS AROUND US by Nova Ren Suma is a kaleidoscope of haunting emotions and damaged girls. You may feel a little disoriented at first, but trust me when I say that Nova knows what she's doing, and it all weaves together just as it should.

Guilt, innocence, justice. Friendship, loyalty, betrayal. The past, the present, and the slippery space where time gets all mixed up.

Violet, Amber, Orianna.

These girls, these themes, are so powerful. The use of collective first person ("we") draws us into Amber's life in prison. I felt the wildness of those girls, of that life, even amidst the sterile gray walls and neatly labeled cells that are meant to impose order.

The story moves quietly, like a stream trickling through a forest. A smart reader will probably know what's coming, but that doesn't kill the suspense. This isn't about surprises (although there is a good one at the end). This is about the way girls have to survive. About all the different ways they can be harmed, and all the different ways they can harm others. It's about the power of perception, and our place in the world. It's about how even good things -- like friendship, like trust -- can be wielded as weapons when put in the hands of the wrong person. It's about how blame isn't a ribbon you can pin on just one person, but rather a chain that links us all together.

I know that sounds grim and dark, but, well, maybe it sort of is. Darkness exists. And it isn't something we can just wish away or hide from. Darkness is not inherently bad. My advice is to sit with the darkness, sit with your discomfort, and just maybe it will illuminate a few things for you, before it's too late.

That's how I felt about THE WALLS AROUND US. Disturbed, but in an important, hopeful way.

# # #

Also, just because it needs to be said: "Swear to god a ghost just tried to eat my hair haha not kidding omg" is one of the funniest lines ever. Read the book so we can laugh about it together.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

about us

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



on the shelf

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

We Heart YA's favorite books »

ya diversity book club

© 2011 All words & images above are the creation/property of We Heart YA unless otherwise credited. Powered by Blogger.

have a heart

We Heart YA