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.

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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.

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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!

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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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