Friday, January 30, 2015

The Way We Bared Our SoulsTo start the year, YA Diversity Book Club read THE WAY WE BARED OUR SOULS by Willa Strayhorn. (From Kirkus: “Five New Mexico teens undergo a soul-cleansing ritual, with varied results.”) We had a lively discussion about it, which you can read over at Gone Pecan. We also got to hear more from Strayhorn about how she came up with the idea and wrote the book, which you can read at Teen Lit Rocks. And at the Reading Date, you can get recommendations for some excellent Native American YA lit.

As for me, here, today, I actually wanted to discuss something I’ve been thinking about ever since I read a discussion between friends P.E. and Mari at the Sirenic Codex. A few highlights:

- “I will read what catches my eye and if I should start reading diverse books, then those diverse books better start working for my attention.”

- “Publishers will only promote books if they believe there is a market for them, and I think readers must be active in deliberately seeking out diverse books.”

- “I read to enjoy myself and if a book with no evident diversity offers that for me then that's where my ship sails.”

Both girls make fair points and gave me a lot to think about. Ultimately, my opinion is this: Diversity is real and unavoidable. It is the world we live in. Therefore, everyone — publishers, authors, and readers — has a responsibility to foster the success of diverse books.

But diversity will not automatically make a book successful.

Of course it won’t. Simply adding a character of color, or a queer character, or a handicapped character, or whatever — this will not magically ensure that a plot is interesting, prose is lyrical, or themes are resonant. 

But guess what? That’s no different than non-diverse books. No matter what book you pick up, there are no guarantees that you’re going to love it.

And maybe there shouldn’t be. In the words of Rainbow Rowell:

Non-diverse books have had a long history of possibly entertaining you or possibly not, and now diverse books should get that equal chance too. 

Whether or not you end up loving a diverse book is (somewhat) beside the point. Because that’s what equal chance means. A fair opportunity to succeed or fail. To be loved or loathed. To be cherished or thrown across the room.

Equal chance does not mean being diversity-blind. Think of it this way: Just like your body needs a balanced diet, so too does your mind. Actively seeking out diverse books is no different than making sure you eat something from each category of the food pyramid.

(Do they still call it the food pyramid anymore? Well, you know what I mean.)

I must add one more very important note: The most important criteria for a diverse book, in my opinion, is that the diversity within it be truthful. That means well-researched and accurately and respectfully represented. There will always be some degree of leeway, due to everyone's individual experiences being different, even within a group. But it’s usually pretty easy to tell when someone has appropriated diversity for their own gain. Or when someone has inserted diversity as a token gesture rather than something inherent and enriching to the story. Or even, unfortunately, when someone has simply not done a good enough job of researching and/or representing.

* * *

If you’re interested in reading more about why diverse books are important and what standards they should be held to, Book Riot is doing a great series on Reading Diversely.

And as always, you can find more (traditional) YA Diversity Book Club content here:

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Since I haven't had much time to watch movies lately, I am frighteningly out of the loop. But one night over the holidays my sister brought out THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY, insisting I would love it.

She was right. I ended up watching it again the very next day, in fact. The film was endearing and heartwarming, much like Mitty himself. Even though there are not many young adults in the film, it felt very much like a coming-of-age story. Except that instead of a confused, self-conscious teen, the protagonist was a quiet, unassuming middle-aged man who spent his free time caring for his aging mother, pining for a pretty co-worker, and daydreaming of adventure.

When Mitty finally embarked on some real adventures of his own, I felt like a supportive parent shouting, "You go, Walter!" Yes, the adventures were far-fetched (i.e., jumping from a helicopter into shark-infested waters off the coast of Greenland), but somehow it all came off as charming and delightful instead of annoying.

MITTY, starring Ben Stiller (who also directed the film), was understated and carefully executed. The cinematography was cleverly artistic and the scenery breathtaking. I still get goosebumps thinking about Mitty skateboarding down that deserted highway in Iceland. With a great soundtrack and supporting cast that includes Shirley MacLain, Kristen Wiig, Adam Scott and Sean Penn, the movie is quiet and profound, humorous and quirky and surprisingly sweet, all at once...

The film was based on a four-page short story written by James Thurber in 1939, so I immediately tracked down the original story and gobbled it up. Of course, Stiller took a lot of creative license creating his version of a modern-day Mitty adventure. All I can say is, it totally worked.

Have you seen this movie yet or read the short story? What did you think?
Wednesday, January 21, 2015

What are you reading right now?

Kristan: What am I NOT reading right now? Hah!

After years of monogamy, I've somehow found myself constantly three-timing. That is, reading a print book, reading an ebook, and reading an audiobook at the same time. Right now:

Print: MY HEART AND OTHER BLACK HOLES by Jasmine Warga (because she's my good friend, and because it's the YA Diversity Book Club pick for February)

Electronic: SIDDHARTHA by Hermann Hesse (for a book club)

Audio: THE DARK AND HOLLOW PLACES by Carrie Ryan (because I read and enjoyed the first two in the series a while ago)

Stephanie: I am reading (well, listening to) Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo, and I'm so excited! It's taken me forever to get around to starting it. I can't wait to see how it ends.

Ingrid: You caught me in between books... I just finished reading DREAM THIEVES by Maggie Stiefvater and am about to begin the audio version of CODE NAME VERITY by Elizabeth Wein. Yay, books!

Kristan: Oh I love CODE NAME VERITY. To this day, it's the one sure thing that can make me cry. I just have to think about a certain scene, a certain line... *wipes away tears* But it's a slow burner, just FYI.

So where is your bookmark living right now?
Thursday, January 15, 2015
It's impossible to read all of the things.

We all know this (to our slight devastation) and perhaps as a result, we choose books that have made the award lists or had starred reviews or are climbing the best seller charts...we don't want to miss something truly great or entertaining. The readers that I admire (and this is most young people that I work with every day) are the ones who choose by cover or by reading the jacket copy. I love discovering their interests as they browse and decide after reading the first few pages.

It's the merit of the words that draw them in.

Similarly (and perhaps for the majority of us), we choose reading materials because of word of mouth. I'm not talking about the juggernaut that is a "blog tour" where everyone is saying basically the same thing over a host of sites. I'm talking about being so moved by a book that you HAVE to tell someone. This is where all of us Book Bloggers started. We had THINGS to say in response to story. It wasn't prescribed for us. We didn't have obligations or commitments. We read our own picks and then talked about it with each other.

I have nothing against marketing from book publishers. They've got a job to do and are just as successful as anyone else at creating buzz for a book (I mean, who knows what's going to be big?!)But I have this crazy, inherent belief that if a book is doing it's story job then someone is going to want to discuss it. Maybe not everyone. Maybe not all at once. There's loads of us still catching up on titles from five years ago.


But if you are going to be discerning with that beast of a tbr pile, you can not go wrong with these...

CHARM AND STRANGE by Stephanie Kuehn

"Love doesn't always look nice."

I know, I know, what took me so long? It won the Morris last year (I've read nearly all of the nominees and winners since YALSA began shorlisting for this award) and was released in 2013, but I've only just managed to catch up with this one. If you have read JELLICOE ROAD and got past the first 100 pages...If you have read CHIME or WE WERE LIARS and decided to believe the narrator even if you didn't think you should...Then you are prepared for this book.
My advice: Go with the flow. Appreciate the flow, but realise you have no idea where the flow is going. And, by all means, guess along the way, but commit to those guesses like you would a George R. R. Martin character--knowing that they won't make it to the end. This book has carved out a space in my brain, has proceeded to crawl in...and I'm inclined to let it stay.

ROOFTOPPERS by Katherine Rundell

"Never ignore an impossible."

It's been a while since I read a Middle Grade book. And I'll admit this one is a cheat for a site declaring We Heart YA. Well call me Cheater McCheaterson because this book needs to be on your radar, bumping up your pile, in your hands and, might I suggest next to your pillow (a spot previously occupied by GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS and other beloved books I have trouble leaving on the shelf). I've read this book twice already in the space of a week and I'm taking a slower pace this time so that I can enjoy every crumb. It is, in a word, exquisite. It has charm, wit, adventure, perspective, wildness in an urban setting...and never have I wished to eat sausages roasted over a fire, by rooftop and weathervane, paired with homemade tomato soup, until this book. Magic.

So tell me: have you read these? Are you willing to gush with me? If not, what is stopping you?

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

What are your reading and writing goals for this year?


Reading — Just finding time to read more books would be enough for me.

Writing — Finish (latest) rewrite of my current WIP. Query. While querying, work on the next project. Also, I'd like to write a few short stories this year.


I don't know! Not a goal-oriented person, but I would like to finish my current project and draft some new words in a new surrounding. In the meantime, I'm going to read to my heart's content.


Reading goal — 3 books per month. I aimed for 40 last year and fell a few short, so I thought 36 might be a good compromise, in terms of recognizing my constraints but also pushing myself a bit.

Writing goal — PUT IN THE WORK. That's it. I know I can't control the outcomes of my writing, I can only put in the effort, enjoy the effort, and value the effort as its own success. So that's what I'm going to try to do.

(And yeah, more short stories, like Ingrid said, haha.)


My reading goals are to finish at least two audio books a month, because audio books are what's feasible with my crazy schedule. And to read one physical book per month.

My write goal, for now, is to sit down and write at least one day a week. Hopefully that number will get bigger as the year goes on.


And one more reading goal for me is to revisit some of the classics that I read loooong ago or never read in the first place. I'm starting with Stephen Hawking's A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME.

What are your goals this year?

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Thursday, January 1, 2015

It's that time again! New year, new goals, new books. Here is a rundown of the YA books that the We Heart YA girl's are looking forward to reading in brand-spanking-new 2015.


THRONE OF GLASS #4 by Sarah J. Maas
I read the first three of these books in a week when HEIR OF FIRE was released thinking that I'd binge on a trilogy and lo and behold it ends on a cliffhanger!! So I research online and, of course, there's a fourth book. What?! Grrr! (but, really, I am SO excited to find out what happens to all of these weirdly named characters that I've grown fond of. I have read every scrap of the prequel stories while I wait...and wait...)

I've followed Adam on twitter for ages, it seems, and I can't wait for his debut. It could possibly be everything.

THE WITCH HUNTER by Virginia Boecker
Been keeping an eye on this debut as well. I love witches.

Heard so much good buzz from respected sources. Gimme.

MADE YOU UP by Francesca Zappia
This cover needs a frame.


Contemporary YA with heart and humor? Diversity? Written by a dear friend? Check check check!

Book 4 in the Raven Cycle series
Two words: Maggie. Stiefvater. Enough said.
MOSQUITOLAND by David Arnold
That cover. Also, I've traveled by Greyhound, and I know there is a compelling story in that alone. Add in the snippets of Arnold's lovely prose that I've read, and a mother-daughter connection, and I'm sold.

CONVICTION by Kelly Loy Gilbert
Written by a fellow halfie, this book sounds like a really compelling story about faith and family. I like the sports connection too.

Sarah (again):

One more I forgot that is really important: THE WALLS AROUND US by Nova Ren Suma.


Perusing the list of 2015 debut releases has been really fun. Some books that look good to me include...


MADE YOU UP by Francesca Zappia



THE WRONG SIDE OF RIGHT by Jenn Marie Thorne

Sarah (again again):

Just one more. I need SHADOW SCALE by Rachel Hartman. Right. The heck. Now.


I haven't even finished the first book, but I'm already so excited about the sequel!

I love stories about libraries, especially ones that involve mystery and magic. And several goodreads reviewers have compared it to Doctor Who. Yay!

And I'm kind of behind on books I meant to read in 2014. :/ I'm looking forward to catching up with books like RUIN AND RISING by Leigh Bardugo and THE DREAM THEIVES by Maggie Stiefvater.

What book are you looking forward to this year?

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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

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