Pig Park and the Cosmic Race: Diversity and Identity in My New YA Novel →

As a kid, I assumed everyone around me was Mexican. I lived less than a mile from the Texas-Mexico border, so we pretty much were Mexican. This neighborhood inspired my first novel, The Smell of Old Lady Perfume–a world vastly different from the one that surrounds my protagonist, Masi Burciaga, in my new novel Pig Park. Masi’s cast of neighbors runs the gamut from the Nowaks to the Wongs.”

DiYA’s Middle Grade Month Giveaway

Although Diversity in YA focuses on young adult books, we couldn’t help but notice the great diverse middle grade titles out this year, so we decided to spend a full month focused on these books! October 2014 is Middle Grade Month here at DiYA and to kick it off we’re giving away 15 books from middle grade authors, each of whom will be doing a guest post this month.

Here are the books you could win:

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  • I Lived on Butterfly Hill by Marjorie Agosín (Atheneum)
  • The Crossover by Kwame Alexander (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
  • Deadwood by Kell Andrews (Spencer Hill Press)
  • Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood by Varsha Bajaj (Albert Whitman & Company)
  • El Deafo by Cece Bell (Harry N. Abrams)
  • Kinda Like Brothers by Coe Booth (Scholastic)
  • The Savage Fortress by Sarwat Chadda (Arthur A. Levine Books)
  • The City of Death by Sarwat Chadda (Arthur A. Levine Books)
  • Ash Mistry and the World of Darkness by Sarwat Chadda (HarperCollins)
  • Bird by Crystal Chan (Atheneum)
  • Tracy Tam: Santa Command by Krystalyn Drown (Month9Books)
  • Unstoppable Octobia May by Sharon Flake (Scholastic)
  • Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky (Disney-Hyperion)
  • Saving Kabul Corner by N. H. Senzai (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books)
  • Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (Nancy Paulsen Books)

Here are the entry rules:

  1. Five lucky winners will receive three middle grade books of our choosing! (Don’t worry, series books will be kept together.)
  2. Because of the cost of international shipping, we are only able to ship to U.S. mailing addresses. International folks may enter as long as they have a U.S. mailing address.
  3. Teachers and librarians get an extra entry for free!
  4. The deadline to enter is the end of the day, Oct. 31, 2014.

Enter here:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

(If you can’t see the Rafflecopter entry form in your dash, click here to enter.)

Happy reading, and please signal boost and spread the love!

Last week author Lisa Yee revealed the full cover for her upcoming YA novel, The Kidney Hypotheticalwhich is coming March 31, 2015, from Arthur A. Levine Books. Here’s the description:

Higgs Boson Bing has seven days left before his perfect high school career is completed. Then it’s on to Harvard to fulfill the fantasy portrait of success that he and his parents have cultivated for the past four years. Four years of academic achievement. Four years of debate championships. Two years of dating the most popular girl in school. But of course this shining picture is painted over cracks, some of them deep and painful. And for Higgs it’s about to come apart.

We can’t wait!

This week’s diverse new releases are:

Some Assembly Required: The Not-So-Secret Life of a Transgender Teen by Arin Andrews (Simon & Schuster)

“In a plainspoken and sometimes-humorous memoir, transgender teenager Andrews discusses his life so far. Andrews received national recognition when he was profiled on television’s Inside Edition as one half of a transgender teen couple (the other half, Katie Rain Hill, has written her own memoir, Rethinking Normal). In a conversational tone, the author describes events from his childhood and teen years. … Friendly and informative.” — Kirkus

Boy Trouble by ReShonda Tate Billingsley (K-Teen)

Book Description: Maya’s best friend Kennedi has flipped head over heels for her new boo, Kendrick. But when Maya learns Kennedi and Kendrick’s relationship is full of violence—and Kennedi is the aggressor—will she get her best friend to see love shouldn’t hurt? Meanwhile, Sheridan has found love too, but her Prince Charming isn’t all that he seems, and Sheridan won’t listen to anything her friends try to tell her. Maya is trying to navigate all of that while dealing with her own family drama as her parents go through a nasty divorce. How is a diva supposed to stay sane when everything around her is falling apart?

Rethinking Normal: A Memoir in Transition by Katie Rain Hill (Simon & Schuster)

“Katie knew she was a girl on the inside, even when she was a suicidal kid named Luke growing up in a disjointed family in Oklahoma. Bullied relentlessly at school and unsupported by administrators, other students’ parents, and even her own father, Katie finds an ally in her mother, who stands by her child as she starts dressing like a girl, legally changes her name, and travels to get genital reconstruction surgery the day after turning 18. … Being so open—and openly imperfect—makes Katie relatable on a human level, not just as a spokesperson.” — Publishers Weekly

Love Is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson (Arthur A. Levine Books)

“Lost memories, a deadly pandemic flu and the children of D.C.’s elite come together in this sophisticated bio-thriller. … Johnson, who astounded with her cyberpunk teen debut, The Summer Prince (2013), immerses readers in the complexities of Bird’s world, especially her fraught relationship with her parents and the intersections of race and class at her elite prep school. The often lyrical third-person, present-tense narration, the compelling romance and the richly developed cast of characters elevate this novel far above more formulaic suspense fare. Utterly absorbing.” — Kirkus, starred review

Pig Park by Claudia Guadalupe Martinez (Cinco Puntos)

“Residents of a declining neighborhood band together to turn their economy around by building a tourist attraction. Masi spent her life working in her family’s bakery in Pig Park, so named for the lard company that, until outsourcing, provided most of the area’s jobs. The multiethnic Chicago neighborhood agrees to the outlandish scheme of building a ‘Gran Pirámide’ in their park, as a famous community developer suggests. … The story of a community working together is uplifting.” — Kirkus

The Only Thing to Fear by Caroline Tung Richmond (Scholastic)

“That 20th-century speculative-fiction staple, the what-if-Hitler-won-the-war alternate history, meets 21st-century special-girl dystopia. It’s been almost a century since the Axis powers divided a conquered North America among them: Japan in the west, Germany in the east, and Italy in the Dakotas. In the Nazi-controlled Shenandoah Valley, 16-year-old half-Japanese Zara is an Untermensch, a half-breed fit only for scut work. Though she works all hours as both a janitor and a farm girl, Zara desperately wants Uncle Red to allow her to join the Revolutionary Alliance, the anti-Nazi underground. … Overall, a satisfying and appropriately hectic action adventure.” — Kirkus

Schizo: A novel by Nic Sheff (Philomel)

“Sheff’s novel reveals the painful and confusing world of teenage schizophrenia through the experience of Miles, a junior at a small San Francisco private school. … Readers fascinated by the dark side of the human mind in realistic fiction will enjoy this deft portrayal of a brain and a life spiraling out of control. Miles is an endearing character whose difficult journey will generate compassion and hope.” — School Library Journal

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley (Harlequin Teen)

“Sarah Dunbar, a black high school senior in the graduating class of 1959, is nervous about entering the formerly all-white Jefferson High School with nine of her black classmates. … The big issues of school desegregation in the 1950s, interracial dating, and same-sex couples have the potential to be too much for one novel, but the author handles all with aplomb. What makes it even better is that both Linda’s and Sarah’s points of view are revealed as the novel unfolds, giving meaning to their indoctrinated views. Educators looking for materials to support the civil rights movement will find a gem in this novel, and librarians seeking titles for their LGBT displays should have this novel on hand.” — VOYA

Beauty of the Broken by Tawni Waters (Simon Pulse)

“Mara Stonebrook knows she does not belong; she is ”different.“ Her small town is conservative and strictly religious. … Mara has managed to escape her father’s abuse for 15 years, but she knows that if anyone finds out her deepest secret, that she is a lesbian, she will be punished as an abomination in the eyes of their conservative church. If her father finds out, she will be lucky to live. Keeping her secret is easy until Xylia comes to town. … Emotionally wrenching, this novel will resonate with students struggling with their own sexual orientation.” — School Library Journal

Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer (Dutton)

“When 10th grader Jam Gallahue meets British exchange student Reeve Maxfield, she fees like she finally understands love, and when she loses him, she can’t get over it. Her grief eventually lands her at the Wooden Barn, a therapeutic boarding school for “emotionally fragile, highly intelligent” teenagers. … Making her YA debut, acclaimed author Wolitzer writes crisply and sometimes humorously about sadness, guilt, and anger.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

Read the Winning Cameron Post Essays! →

In reaction to the removal of The Miseducation of Cameron Post from the Cape Henlopen High School summer reading list, the National Coalition Against Censorship asked students in Delaware to submit essays explaining to the Cape Henlopen School Board the importance of having books like Cameron Post on school reading lists.

Read the winners of the essay contest at the link!

What I Learned About Writing Characters Who Aren’t Like Me

By Robin Talley

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Here’s me: A 35-year-old white cisgender openly gay woman who lives in a major U.S. city in 2014.

Here’s the protagonist of my first book: A 17-year-old black cisgender closeted gay (or maybe bisexual or maybe questioning) girl who lives in a small southern town in the U.S. in 1959.

In many ways, identity is everything. Being a 35-year-old white woman is very different from being a 17-year-old black girl.

Context is also everything. It’s very different to be a woman who’s attracted to other women in 2014 than it was to be a girl who was attracted to other girls in 1959.

My book, Lies We Tell Ourselves, is set during the school desegregation movement in Virginia. My protagonist, Sarah, is one of the first black students to integrate a previously all-white high school. In the middle of all the turmoil she endures there, she also forms a cautious friendship with a white girl who’s a staunch segregationist. Slowly, their relationship develops into something more.

To write this book, I had to do a ton of research about the people who served on the front lines of the school integration battles. I took fervent notes as I pored over every memoir I could get my hands on, trying to read between the lines and pick up on what might’ve not been spelled out in the text. I watched video interviews, hanging on every word, every breath, trying to understand what those students must’ve felt as they crossed that line.

But there was another layer of work beyond the research: trying to imagine myself in their positions. Thinking through how I would’ve felt if I were them, going through what they did.

Which, of course, is impossible. I’ve never been them. I never could be them. I’ve never suffered anything close to what they’ve suffered.

Nor was I raised the way they were ― with the post-World War II, mid-twentieth-century values that were instilled in American children growing up in the 1940s and 1950s.

And yet, whether it’s possible or not, it’s necessary. That’s how writing works. You have to envision what it would be like to do what your characters are doing. Whether they’re sneaking through Mordor, or gazing at the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock, or integrating an all-white school in 1959.

Last week, my wife and I were waiting to meet a friend at the mall. We were leaning against a wall by the entrance, and I had my arm around my wife. Lots of people walked past us on their way in or out of the mall. Half of them ignored us and kept walking. The other half stared at us openly as they passed.

This was in Bethesda, Maryland, a fancy suburb of Washington, D.C., where we live. It was a reminder that even in fancy suburbs in 2014, there are still people who feel totally comfortable staring at people who are different. It was also a reminder that the vast majority of the time, I don’t have to worry about this. I’m not a visible minority. Unless I have my arm around my wife or am wearing my “I <3 Pro-Choice Girls” T-shirt, people usually aren’t going to assume I’m gay at a glance.

Writing a book from the point of view of a character of color ― a character who is relentlessly persecuted due to her race ― meant I had take what I know, what it feels like to get stared at by strangers, and try to imagine what it would feel like if that happened every single day, everywhere I went. I had to imagine what it would be like to know that next time, staring might not be the only thing I had to worry about. Next time, the strangers staring at me might say something. Or shout something. Or throw something. Or worse.

All that and more happens to my character, Sarah, when she enters a previously all-white high school in the first chapter of Lies We Tell Ourselves. Her race has made her a target her entire life, but it’s magnified a thousandfold when she dares to cross the line that her society has declared uncrossable.

The courage it takes for her to take that stand is something I can only imagine, too. But Sarah isn’t willing to cross what was then an even more rigid boundary: she can’t let anyone to find out she’s interested in girls. If that ever happened, she’d be a target on two fronts.

Writing Lies We Tell Ourselves forced me to think about race and sexual orientation in ways I never had before. Just as writing my next book, which centers on a genderqueer character, forced me to think about gender identity in new ways. Similarly, writing about a character who uses crutches and suffers from chronic pain in another story I’m working on made me think about disabilities much more deeply than I had before I began writing from that character’s point of view.

It’s become one of my favorite things about writing. None of us can ever truly experience what it’s like to be someone else, but if you’re writing from a character’s point of view, you have to climb inside their head and try to see the world through their eyes. You have no choice but to think deeply, very deeply, about how your character’s experiences have shaped who they are and how they see the world. I’ve learned so much through writing all of these stories ― both from the research and from the mental work that goes into imagining each character’s inner life.

And through all of it, I’ve also learned that it’s essential to stay humble through the process. To accept the possibility that something you’ve always believed might very well not be the truth. There are some things you can only learn from someone who’s actually had the experience you’re trying to depict, and those are the most fascinating lessons of all.

It’s not that I think anyone’s obligated to teach me anything, of course. It’s that writing is about empathy. Writing a story forces you to think in ways we don’t typically do in everyday life. When you have no choice but to empathize with someone who’s different from you day in and day out, when writing your story requires that kind of thinking, you can’t help but learn along the way.

Writing hasn’t just made me understand books better. It’s made me understand people better. Writing different kinds of characters has made me more compassionate, more interested in exploring the depths of individuals’ experiences, more interested in the wider world around me.

It’s taught me that writing isn’t just about what you produce. It’s about what you learn along the way.

And it’s reminded me that it isn’t polite to stare. 

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Robin Talley grew up in Roanoke, Virginia, writing terrible teen poetry and riding a desegregation bus to the school across town. A Lambda Literary Fellow, Robin lives in Washington, D.C., with her wife, plus an antisocial cat and a goofy hound dog. When Robin’s not writing, she’s often planning communication strategies at organizations fighting for equal rights and social justice. You can find her on the web at www.robintalley.com or on Twitter at @robin_talley.

Lies We Tell Ourselves is available 9/30/14. Order it here.

Me, My Daughter, and The Babysitter’s Club

By Caroline Richmond

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One of my favorite people in the world is Claudia Kishi. Maybe you’ve heard of her?

She has a killer fashion sense.

She’s super talented at art.

And oh … she’s not exactly real.

Claudia happens to be a character from The Babysitter’s Club series, which I devoured like Snickers bars when I was elementary school. (And I can eat a lot of Snickers bars!) But do you know what’s funny? I actually don’t have very much in common with Claudia. She has a real gift for art whereas I struggle to mix paint. She doesn’t like studying for school whereas I was that annoying kid who hyperventilated over getting a B in biology. But none of that mattered to my childhood self. What mattered to me was that I saw myself in Claudia.

She was Asian-American.

was Asian-American.

Here was a girl who looked like me! In a book that I loved!

When I read my very first BSC novel, my 9-year-old mind was honestly blown. I had never come across an Asian American character in a novel before. It felt as if Ann M. Martin had pointed a finger at my nose and said, “Hey, you! Yeah, you, I see you. And you matter.”

Over twenty years later, I hope that my own book might have the same impact on a young reader. And maybe it’ll impact a biracial reader in particular because the main character of my novel The Only Thing to Fear is half-Japanese and half-Caucasian. I can’t seem to find very many children’s novels with biracial protagonists, which makes me sad because the multiracial population has increased 50 percent — that’s right, 50! — since the year 2000 in America. These children are craving to find faces like their own in the books that they read. They’re yearning to find their own Claudias.

That’s one of the reasons why I created Zara St. James, the main character of my debut. She lives in a world very different from our own — one where the Nazis won WWII and colonized the United States — but she’s up against many of the same issues that multiracial people face in our society. For instance, Zara battles racism and bullying in her homogenous town in the Shenandoah valley because her face sticks out from the crowd. And she feels split between her two halves because she’s deemed not “white enough” or “Asian enough” to fit in with anyone else. She’s biracial and she has no problem with this fact, but some people make her feel like an outsider anyway. But Zara refuses to let these people get to her and, as the novel progresses, she’s ready to show everyone in her town and all of the Nazis in the US — even the Führer himself— that she won’t be underestimated.

It’s my humble hope that one day we won’t have to pore over the shelves at the bookstore and library to find books that feature diverse characters. I really want to read these books — and I want my biracial daughter to read them too. After all, doesn’t she deserve her own Claudia Kishi?

I think so.

And together, we’re going to find her.

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Caroline Tung Richmond is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the Baltimore Sun, Highlights for Children, and USAToday.com, among other publications. The Only Thing to Fear is her debut novel and will be published by Scholastic Press on 9/30/14. A self-proclaimed history nerd, Caroline lives in the Washington, DC area with her husband; their daughter; and the family dog Otto von Bismarck.

The Only Thing to Fear is available 9/30/14. Order it here.

New Releases - September 2014 →

Here are all of September’s diverse new releases rounded up in one giant post, including a couple we missed during their release weeks here on tumblr.

Diversity 101: Gay in YA

cbcdiversity:

Contributed to CBC Diversity by Adam Silvera

When writing diverse books, we’re writing about choices—and the things we can’t choose. Harry Potter could have chosen not to go to Hogwarts, but spending the rest of his youth with the incorrigible Dursleys would’ve sucked for all involved—Harry, the Dursleys, and the readers who became readers because of the boy wizard. Katniss Everdeen didn’t have to volunteer as tribute in The Hunger Games in place of Prim, but life in District 12 was bleak enough without watching someone act like her younger sister’s name wasn’t announced for a battle to the death. There are choices characters—and people—make because the alternative is simply unspeakable. But then there are the ones who don’t have a choice at all. They don’t choose to be Latino, they don’t choose mental illness, they don’t choose their sexual orientation. Who gives them a voice? I, along with many others, volunteer as tribute.

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Young Adult Authors Honor Hispanic Heritage Month, Share Why 'We Need Diverse Books' →