Monthly Archives: March 2015

Why We NEED Diverse Books

The reasons society needs diverse books have been laid out many times in the past few months by better sources than us. While not repeating all of those voices, we still want to lay out why diverse books are important and why we focus on diverse, inclusive books on our blog and in our podcasts.

Firstly – and most importantly – mainstream books currently don’t reflect readers. Diverse, inclusive books are sorely lacking. The fact that a gigantic portion of the reading population cannot find books that tell stories about characters like them is a huge problem. Books about white, cis, hetero, able, nominally Christian (WCHAC) people (often male) are still the most populous stories. We know that the WCHAC story isn’t the one most young readers are living, as evidenced by a recent study that majority of students in the United States this year will be minorities. We support diverse books because writers, stories, and characters should reflect readers.

Secondly, diverse books have to fight for publishing, placement, and recognition. There is a lot of statistical proof about this, so we’re not going to rehash the data. The fact that books with diverse themes, characters, stories, and authors have to fight for attention – or even to be published – makes it that much harder for readers to find themselves in books. And future writers from diverse backgrounds struggle to find the role models who may inspire them to push on with their writing. It also means that WCHAC readers are less likely to stumble upon a story about lives and characters different from them.

Thirdly, representation in books matters. Since so few books about diverse characters and stories are published, the stories available for non-WHCAC readers are limited. Historically, if non WHCAC characters were in stories, they were often distorted stereotypes or flat characters that were, at best, difficult to relate to and, at worst, hurtful and damaging. As diverse, inclusive books grow in number and availability, readers will be able to find more stories they can relate to and WHCAC readers will be introduced to different ways of living. Also, as diverse stories multiply, readers are able to find multiple narratives which means books are more inclusive overall. Rather than a single story that is supposed to appease them for all their young adult reading years, they will find many stories to reflect the various paths someone like them may follow (check out our coming post for more about this).

Fourthly, diverse books should be just “books.” While we are using this blog to focus on diverse and inclusive stories, characters, and authors, we don’t have it in our tagline and it’s not emphasized in the about section. As noted at Book Riot, calling a book “diverse” sets it apart and places it in the “other” category. This makes it possible for readers from WHCAC backgrounds to ignore them as “not for me” books. But, ignoring such stories and making them other limits and narrows the perspectives and experiences we interact with – limiting and narrowing our minds. We read and review the books featured on our site because they are well-written, engaging stories with interesting characters – and that should be enough.

As always, we’re not experts and we’re still learning. For more in depth research and sources dedicated to speaking about these topics, we recommend:

American Indians in Children’s Literature

Disability in Kid Lit

Diversify YA

Diversity in YA

Gay YA

We Need Diverse Books campaign

Writing with Color

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Contemporary, Heavy Topics, High School, Historical

Book Discussion – Like No Other

Like No Other by Una LaMarchelike no other

Summary

Jaxon and Devorah grew up in the same neighborhood in Brooklyn, but may as well have lived on two different planets. Jaxon comes from a tight-knit black family, attends the local public school, and crushes on the cute Indian girl from homeroom. Devorah is from a Hasidic Jew from the Chabad-Lubavitch sect. She lives in a world dictated by rules, but also surrounded by close friends and family. This unlikely pair meet in an elevator on the night of a hurricane, and their romance quickly takes off. But how can teenagers from very different worlds both respect their own values and be together?

Like No Other

heartRomance Score: You’re Trying

I had a hard time with the premise of this story. I know it was necessary for the characters to meet in some unlikely way, but it was hard for me to suspend my belief about their romance. That being said, I liked their friendship a lot.

RosieFeminist Score: Good Effort

loved Devorah – her voice, her internal struggle, and her decisions. It’s important to remember that feminism means making your own choices, even if those are not the choices others (readers) would have made. I want to be friends with someone as caring, thoughtful, and brave as Devorah.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Good Effort 

Both characters were multi-faceted and very, very real. I was blown away by the truth of the dialogue. One line, in particular, kept me up at night: “Some people don’t notice anything but an almost-six-foot-tall black man. After Trayvon Martin got shot in Florida, Mom wouldn’t let me wear a hoodie for six months.”  My only concern is the portrayal of Devorah’s family. I understand that Hasidic Jews are very strict, but I think there were some stereotypes introduced – including the idea that they will resort to violence to protect their traditions.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort

Overall, the story was interesting and I loved all of the internal dialogue. We need more stories with unique voices, and this certainly is one of them.


Favorite Character

Devorah – Her internal struggle between her family and her outside life was really interesting. I really liked that she wasn’t just a rebel – she made rational choices about what she wanted with her life in her particular circumstances.

Favorite Line

“Chabad-Lubavitch is one Hasidic sect” I say. “There are many”. And then – because I can’t resist – I add, “What, we all look the same to you?”

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes. The plot is fast-moving and the dialogue compelling. Definitely check this book out. 

Fun Author Fact

Una LaMarche’s blog has an awesome name: The Sassy Curmudgeon

Read this next:

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

Post Author: Anisha

AnishaAnisha adores YA romance – and thinks that all love stories should start on the beach and end with the first kiss. Jess is helping her expand her horizons with more diverse, interesting books from newer authors.  

1 Comment

Filed under Contemporary, High School, Romance

Book Discussion: Please Ignore Vera Dietz

Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King

vera cover

Summary

High school is never easy. It’s even harder when you’re trying to keep your family secrets from getting out and feelings start to get in between you and your best friend. To make matters worse, Vera’s best friend is not her best friend any more. He’s also dead. She struggles to adjust and the book slowly unravels the events leading up to Charlie’s death. The pagoda on a hill, Vera’s dad, and Charlie all also have moments in the narration – which gave greater depth and emotion to Vera’s story. (Trigger warning: domestic and child abuse are both sort of central to the book, although nothing happens “on screen.”)

vera dietz table 2

heartRomance Score: Good Effort

First, Vera has feelings for her childhood best friend and, later, her coworker comes into the picture. Both relationships were sweet and rang true.

RosieFeminist Score: A+ Success

 Vera sticks to her guns when people treat her poorly and tries her best to stay true to her beliefs about doing good. She also knows how she deserves to be treated and doesn’t take crap.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Not a Bit

There were a couple of single comments that felt off to me. Examples include “the Mexican neighborhood” and the jockey yard ornaments, I think these do build the environment (small town Pennsylvania), but they still come off poorly.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort

Overall, I really like Vera’s voice and her interaction with her dad. He did his best to raise her while dealing with A LOT of baggage. The story unfolds slowly and giving just enough pieces to keep you turning pages.


Favorite Character

Ken – He’s admirable as a person – recovering alcoholic with his own business – while also being an admirable father. He faces life with humor and does the best he can to look at everything positively. I liked the brief interludes in Vera’s narrative where we heard Ken’s side of things – even if his self help mottos were a little trite.

Favorite Line

Two lines really capture Vera’s voice and story.

“Pretty hot question for eighth graders, if you ask me, but I was excited by it, too, because I liked when teachers asked hard questions. It’s safe to say that when all other students in the class said “Ugghhh!” it was an assignment I was going to enjoy. But this time, there was a problem. I couldn’t picture Romeo and Juliet without picturing Charlie and me.”

“It didn’t work. It didn’t work because I knew not to give the best of myself to the worst of people.”

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes. The story had enough romance and mystery to keep me turning pages. I wanted to know the truth about Charlie as much as I wanted to know how Vera turned out, too.

Fun Author Fact

King once ran away with the circus and commandeered a bus at age 9.

Read this next:

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero is a different take on the high school experience.

Post Author:

1202112022

Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.

2 Comments

Filed under Contemporary, Heavy Topics, High School

Book Chat: Dreamland

[audio https://508b3cb9dddb5dd059dc9394589a7b755353c53f.googledrive.com/host/0B1btH5LeZjziOG1rM3VFYndrZVU/Dreamland_Both.mp3]

Dreamland by Sarah Dessen4325

Summary

Caitlin’s life is turned upside down when her perfect sister runs away on the morning of Caitlin’s 16th birthday. In the midst of all her family chaos, Caitlin meets a mysterious boy at a party. Rogerson is cute, mysterious, and most importantly… not like anyone her sister Cass would have dated. But Caitlin’s relationship with Rogerson soon takes a turn for the worst, and her life spirals out of control.  

Dreamland Favorite Character

Caitlin’s Mother. I like characters who surprise you, and Caitlin’s mother is more than she seems.

Favorite Line

“‘Perfect people’, she finally said, ‘live in picket-fenced houses with golden retrievers and beautiful children. They always smell like fresh flowers and never step in dog doo, or bounce checks, or cry.” In a world where we constantly Instagram and Facebook the better part of our lives, it’s important to remember that no one is as perfect as they may seem.

Fun Author Fact

Sarah Dessen is active on both Twitter and (slightly less so) on her blog. She also posts Fun Facts about each of her books. Her facts about Dreamland are personal and inspiring… check them out here.

Read these next:

If you enjoyed this book, but wanted something a little lighter, check out some of Sarah Dessen’s other novels. Anisha’s personal favorite is The Truth About Foreverfollowed closely by The Moon and More

Is this worth a book hangover?

Anisha and Jess disagree on this one! Anisha is a huge Sarah Dessen fan, and re-reads this book every few years. While Jess enjoyed the perspective, she would not regularly re-read Dreamland, but would try a different Dessen book.

Post Author: Anisha AnishaAnisha adores YA romance – and thinks that all love stories should start on the beach and end with the first kiss. Jess is helping her expand her horizons with more diverse, interesting books from newer authors.  

5 Comments

Filed under Contemporary, Heavy Topics, High School, podcast

Book Discussion: Trickster’s Girl

Trickster’s Girl by Hilari BellTrickstesr

Summary

Fifteen year old Kelsa is still reeling from her father’s death when she meets a mysterious boy. The Raven claims that he has the cure to the cancer that has killed millions of people, including her father. But he needs her help: a human touch is needed to enact the cure.


Trick

heartRomance Score: Not A Bit

To be honest, I’m not even sure that there is supposed to be too much romance in this book. Kelsa and Raven both have trust issues, which seems to be a barrier in their romance. However, there are some hints for romance in the future books.

RosieFeminist Score: You’re Trying 

Kelsa is supposed to be an independent, strong teenage girl. However, these characteristics don’t hold true in the story. Raven leaves her in the dark about everything, and despite not knowing him, she follows his explanations and directions without much question. This was a huge turn-off to me.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Between Not a Bit and You’re Trying 

There are only two characters in the story: Raven and Kelsa. Raven is definitely different – he’s more of a mythical creature than a diverse character, though. I can’t give this book many diversity points.

wow iconAwesome Factor: You’re Trying 

This book had a lot of potential. The premise and setting were very interesting, but it just did not live up to it. The characters were not particularly interesting and the plot was okay at best.


Favorite Character

Kelsa’s father. You don’t get to see a lot of him, but I liked his influence in her life.

Favorite Line

She took a deep breath. If she was crazy she was crazy. She might as well go with it. “I’m ready to listen”.

I love the moment, any moment, when a character chooses to believe in the fantasy in front of them. It’s the “You’re a wizard, Harry” moment of a book, and it’s always pure magic.

Fun Author Fact

In addition to writing fiction, Hilari Bell has authored a series of writing and publishing eBooks!

Is this worth a book hangover?

Unfortunately, no. Though I really feel bad saying that, since I really wanted to like this book. But I would skip Trickster’s Girl and check out some other favorites (see below). 

Read these next:

The 5th Wave by Richard Yancey or The Host by Stephanie Meyers.  I’m pretty sure that I recommend the 5th Wave series on 80% of my posts, but it’s one of my favorite post-apocalyptic love stories.

Post Author: Anisha

AnishaAnisha adores YA romance – and thinks that all love stories should start on the beach and end with the first kiss. Jess is helping her expand her horizons with more diverse, interesting books from newer authors.  

Leave a comment

Filed under Science Fiction & Fantasy

Book Discussion: This Is What Happiness Looks Like

This Is What Happiness Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith

Happiness coverSummary

Ellie lives in a small, tourist town in Maine. One day she receives an accidental email and begins an e-flirtationship with the person on the other end. At the same time, a big time movie star of the most recent wizardly-YA adaptation comes to town to film his next movie. While mistaken identities, paparazzi, and family secrets create obstacles, Ellie finds that her own heart is the biggest barrier to love.

happiness table 2

heart

Romance Score: Good Effort

Ellie and Graham have a cute flirtation going on. They also have a real relationship before the summer sparks fly, so the romance felt more real. Still, I wish there were a little more depth to it.

RosieFeminist Score: You’re Trying

I’m conflicted about this.  Ellie’s mom takes charge of her life and encourages Ellie to do so, too. But, I disliked the “don’t trust anyone” (especially men) theme that she also repeated.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Not a Bit

The cast is fairly small and it’s in a small town in Maine. I have family in main, so I know exactly how un-diverse it can be, but I still think there could’ve been more – especially with an LA film crew in town. How cool would it have been if the movie star hottie was a POC?

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort

This book is fun, flirty, and light – just like a good summer romance should be. I’m also enticed to try another Smith book; a definite sign of a good summer love!


Favorite Character

No one really stands out for me. But, I think it might be the pet-sitter taking care of Wilbur, the pig. His (lack of) response to Graham’s increasingly annoying emails actually made me smile.

Favorite Line

“Sunrises over the harbor. Ice cream on a hot day. The sound of the waves down the street. The way my dog curls up next to me on the couch. Evening strolls. Great movies. Thunderstorms. A good cheeseburger. Fridays. Saturdays. Wednesdays, even. Sticking your toes in the water. Pajama pants. Flip flops. Swimming. Poetry. the absence of smiley faces in an email.

What does it look like to you?”

After reading this, I felt like Ellie and I should be best buds. We like a lot of the same things. I wish the story had the same amount of personality that this list did.

Also, I love when I catch the line in a book that corresponds to the title. (Not included here, but on the same page in the book.)

Fun Author Fact

She came up with the premise for the book because her own very common name resulted in some misdirected emails (something I can definitely sympathize with). And, she loves Harry Potter!

Is this worth a book hangover?

It was a quick, fun read. The story wasn’t especially original and it lacked depth, but I still found myself hoping that the two would find a way to make it work. Also, so glad Ellie is following her writing dreams!

Read this next:

Fangirl  by Rainbow Rowell or This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen both have romantic story lines with personality and depth.

Post Author

1202112022

Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.

Leave a comment

Filed under Contemporary, High School, Romance

Book Chat: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

[audio https://508b3cb9dddb5dd059dc9394589a7b755353c53f.googledrive.com/host/0B1btH5LeZjziOG1rM3VFYndrZVU/Coldtown%20-%20together%20FINAL.mp3]

coldtown coverThe Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

Click HERE for the Podcast!

Summary

The plague of vampirism has spread across the globe and Tana knows first hand just how dangerous it can be. She wakes up after a night of partying surrounded by her massacred friends. Immediately, she begins a journey with her exboyfriend, Aiden, and a seriously crazy new companion, Gavriel, to find refuge in the nearest vampire refuge/prison. Tana must fight her inner demons, the possibility of turning into a vampire herself, and her confused feelings regarding a certain someone while trying to get back to her family.

coldtown table 2

Favorite Character

Winter – his enthusiasm for his sister’s project is endearing, but his skepticism about the plan also is a balancing force as the group rushes headlong into the Coldtown.

Favorite Line

“You expected me to be good, and because of you, I tried.”

In the podcast we discuss what it means to be “good” or “evil” and if the vampires are inherently one or the other. I think this line from Gavriel is a powerful reminder that people often perform to whatever expectation is set of them.

Fun Author Fact

Holly Black has a secret library in her house!!!!! (Fellow book nerds, you know this is a dream come true!)

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes, it’s fast paced and exciting with just enough swoon – but fair warning, there’s quite a lot of blood and violence.

Read this next:

The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater or The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan both deal in exciting, worlds very close to ours, but with something just a little more magical or frightening.

Post Author:

1202112022

Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.

Leave a comment

Filed under Adventure, podcast, Romance, Science Fiction & Fantasy