Interview with Janelle Milanes + Giveaway

Everyone, please welcome debut author Janelle Milanes to Rich in Color! Janelle’s book, THE VICTORIA IN MY HEAD, came out yesterday:

Victoria Cruz inhabits two worlds: In one, she is a rock star, thrashing the stage with her husky voice and purple-streaked hair. In the other, currently serving as her reality, Victoria is a shy teenager with overprotective Cuban parents, who sleepwalks through her life at the prestigious Evanston Academy. Unable to overcome the whole paralyzing-stage-fright thing, Victoria settles for living inside her fantasies, where nothing can go wrong and everything is set to her expertly crafted music playlists.

But after a chance encounter with an unattainably gorgeous boy named Strand, whose band seeks a lead singer, Victoria is tempted to turn her fevered daydreams into reality. To do that, she must confront her insecurities and break away from the treadmill that is her life. Suddenly, Victoria is faced with the choice of staying on the path she’s always known and straying off-course to find love, adventure, and danger.

From debut author Janelle Milanes comes a hilarious and heartfelt tale of the spectacular things that can happen when you go after what you really want.

We’re thrilled to have Janelle here to talk about her new book. Once you’ve finished reading the interview, don’t forget to enter the giveaway! It is open to both U.S. and international readers.


Both you and Victoria are Cuban-American. How have your experiences growing up as a second-generation Latina influenced Victoria’s character? What is her relationship like with her family?

There’s an added layer of pressure that I felt growing up as a second-generation Latina. In the book I wrote that you feel like you’re playing catch-up with everyone else, and I think that holds true. Because I didn’t necessarily start with the same advantages as a lot of my peers, my family made additional sacrifices so I could succeed in the future. In my case, I couldn’t help but feel the weight of those sacrifices in everything I did. There’s this idea that you have to do “better” than your parents, whatever that might mean. After all, if you waste your life away, what was the point? Why did they give up everything to come to this country? That was my mindset, at least, while I was growing up. It makes for a volatile, stressed out teenager. Victoria’s family didn’t just want her to meet the same expectations as the elite, they wanted her to surpass them.

Victoria clashes with her parents quite a bit throughout the story. It was important to me that I made her parents sympathetic and showed that their point of view was just as valid as Victoria’s. They expect things from their daughter, but they ultimately want her to find happiness. The problem is that Victoria and her parents have different, conflicting ideas of where happiness comes from. I think that’s a common immigrant mentality as well–the practical notion of happiness as stability. The problem is when stability becomes monotony, which it did for Victoria. She finds herself craving the opposite of what her parents feel is right for her.

Tell us more about Victoria’s school and why you decided to have her attend the Evanston Academy.

Evanston is made up of a very privileged, elite student body. These kids grew up with the assumption that they can do whatever they like in life–unlike Victoria, who doubts herself and her abilities at every turn. I wanted to turn up the pressure on poor Victoria as much as possible so she’s getting it not only from her family, but she’s surrounded by it all day every day.

Toward the end of high school, I was given the chance to attend a renowned college prep school on scholarship. I had always considered myself an intelligent person, but when I started this school I realized I was now playing in an entirely different league. I was coming in as a total rookie. From that point on, my life revolved around work and college. I worked my butt off to stay afloat and it took a toll on my emotional well-being, like it did for Victoria. It was challenging, but looking back, I’m grateful I had the chance to get that education. I can appreciate it in retrospect, as lost as I had felt in the moment.

Strand sounds like he could be a fun character. What can you tell us about him and his relationship to Victoria?

Victoria is immediately attracted to Strand as soon as she lays eyes on him. He’s such a departure from her carefully curated world and the people she’s used to being around. I think Victoria is intrigued by Strand because he appears to be the opposite of her shy, neurotic, sheltered self. She lacks the confidence to make a move on him, so she decides to wave him off as cocky and annoying instead. A lot of their story involves Strand chipping away at the wall she puts up between them. I had so much fun writing all their sexual tension that eventually gives way to a close, personal connection.

You have a Spotify playlist for THE VICTORIA IN MY HEAD. What about the book did you want to capture in those songs? Which songs are your favorite?

It’s a rock-focused playlist because I liked the juxtaposition of this seemingly quiet girl who, on the inside, is all crashing drums and thrashing guitars. I put a lot of work into picking the songs that went into Victoria’s playlist. Every song fits the chapter with which it’s paired, so you have the option of listening along while you read.

My favorite songs would have to be Mitski’s “Your Best American Girl”, because it captures the idea of straddling two cultures and trying to fit this American ideal. The song also has a raw, authentic feel that I just love. I also have a fondness for “Debaser” by the Pixies. It’s so wild and nonsensical and fun.

If you could be in a rock band, which role would you want to have?

I can totally see the appeal of being a lead singer (assuming, in this hypothetical, that I could actually sing!) I am a bad ass lip syncher in the privacy of my bedroom. But if I’m being semi-realistic, I think I’d be better suited for something like bass guitar. I could be the mysterious bass player who’s in it purely for the music.

THE VICTORIA IN MY HEAD is your debut novel. What has surprised you most about gearing up for your release date?

What’s surprised me most is how slow the publishing process moves. I wrote Victoria years ago at this point and have written two other unpublished books in the meantime (one of those will come out in 2018!) It feels strange to revisit these characters after having had so much time and distance from them. I didn’t realize how much I missed them!

What 2017 books by or about people of color or people from First/Native Nations are you looking forward to reading? Which ones would you recommend to our followers?

A recent read I’d recommend is WHEN DIMPLE MET RISHI by Sandhya Menon. It’s a thoroughly charming romantic comedy about two Indian-American teens whose parents conspire to arrange their marriage. I also read all of Jenny Han’s books, because she’s fantastic.

As for books I’m looking forward to reading? So. Many. I’ve had very little time to read lately, but currently on my 2017 TBR list is THE FIRST RULE OF PUNK by Celia C. Pérez, STARFISH by Akemi Dawn Bowman, and THE EDUCATION OF MARGOT SANCHEZ by Lilliam Rivera. Oh, and THEY BOTH DIE AT THE END by Adam Silvera. Oh, oh, and SAINTS AND MISFITS by S.K. Ali! Okay, I’ll stop now…

Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about THE VICTORIA IN MY HEAD?

I hope readers will really connect to Victoria–particularly the daydreamers who spend a lot of time living in their imaginations. (Honestly, it’s usually more fun in there anyway.) But I do hope THE VICTORIA IN MY HEAD will inspire people to pursue their happiness in the present moment while trusting that the future will take care of itself. It’s an important lesson, and one I’m still working on every day.


Janelle Milanes is originally from Miami, FL and received her BA in English Literature from Davidson College. A lifelong YA addict, she moved to New York for her first job as a children’s literature associate at Simon & Schuster.

For the past five years, Janelle has worked as a teacher and librarian throughout the New York City area. THE VICTORIA IN MY HEAD is her first novel and reflects many of her own experiences growing up as a second-generation Latina in America.

Janelle currently lives in Brooklyn with her husband and their two cats. Her favorite Disney princess is Belle, since she was also a big book nerd.

You can reach her on her website, Twitter, Goodreads, Tumblr, or Instagram.


Janelle has graciously offered a signed copy of THE VICTORIA IN MY HEAD, plus an enamel vinyl record pin and print with the book title, to one our readers! You can enter the giveaway through the widget below. This giveaway is for both U.S. and international readers. It will end at midnight Eastern time on September 26.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Interview: Mitali Perkins

We’re excited that Mitali Perkins was willing to answer a few questions for us. She’s likely to be busier than ever as her most recent book, You Bring the Distant Near recently made the longlist of the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. Congratulations Mitali and thanks so much for sharing with us.

You Bring the Distant Near
Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers / Macmillan Publishers

Summary: This elegant young adult novel captures the immigrant experience for one Indian-American family with humor and heart. Told in alternating teen voices across three generations, You Bring the Distant Near explores sisterhood, first loves, friendship, and the inheritance of culture–for better or worse.

From a grandmother worried that her children are losing their Indian identity to a daughter wrapped up in a forbidden biracial love affair to a granddaughter social-activist fighting to preserve Bengali tigers, award-winning author Mitali Perkins weaves together the threads of a family growing into an American identity.

Here is a sweeping story of five women at once intimately relatable and yet entirely new.


You Bring the Distant Near shows three generations of a family. Did this multi-generational aspect create challenges as you wrote?

The challenge came in balancing the four younger voices, as one of the story’s main threads is the slow, healing change in the relationship between Ranee and the U.S.A. The blessing of writing fiction, however, is that you get to express multiple personalities, so all four girls are different versions of me, more or less.

What led you to write this story of family and identity?

This novel is my love letter to the country where my parents brought me when I was seven years old. It’s my celebration of being hyphenated, caught in that narrow place between cultures — something I’ve been exploring throughout my writing life. My personal need to be grateful for my U.S. citizenship and the “healing of my hyphen” (sounds weird, I know, sorry) converged with what I see as a national need for gratitude and healing.

There are five perspectives in this story. Did one of the characters resonate with you more than the others?

I am most like Sonia — a bookish introvert who loves to write and read and has wanted to champion the marginalized since I can remember.

You likely had your own struggles with identity as an immigrant teen. What or who helped you navigate that?

Reading was my lifeline. I started reading early and became an addict of story. To imagine other lives as a child is akin to learning a language early: you become fluent in learning to walk inside someone else’s skin. I’m so grateful for the libraries that fed my addiction when I couldn’t afford to buy books.

Have you always been a storyteller?

I’ve always been a story-lover. My father was a fantastic storyteller. He loved to make us laugh by playing with language. I’m still growing into that identity myself.

On your blog, I saw you have created a playlist for this novel. Are these songs you listened to while writing to step back in time or are they related to the story in some other way?

Most of the songs I compiled in the playlist are mentioned in the novel. The first one, “To Sir With Love,” is especially poignant to me and and my sisters as it would be to Sonia and Tara in the novel as I see it as a tribute to our wonderful Daddy, who is very much like the fictional father in YOU BRING THE DISTANT NEAR.

Mitali Perkins with her mother and sisters in front of the library after arriving in the 1970s. (photo provided by author)

Where to learn more about Mitali Perkins online: Author website, Blog, Twitter and Facebook.

New Releases

Three new books for you this week.

Kaleidoscope Song by Fox Benwell
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

South Africa is loud. Listen. Do you hear the song and dance of it? The chorus of Khayelitsha life? Every voice is different, its pitch and tone and intonation as distinct as the words we choose and how we wrap our mouths around them. But everybody has a voice, and everybody sings…

Fifteen year old Neo loves music, it punctuates her life and shapes the way she views the world. A life in radio is all she’s ever wanted.
When Umzi Radio broadcasts live in a nearby bar Neo can’t resist. She sneaks out to see them, and she falls in love, with music, and the night, but also with a girl: Tale has a voice like coffee poured into a bright steel mug, and she commands the stage.

It isn’t normal. Isn’t right. Neo knows that she’s supposed to go to school and get a real job and find a nice young boy to settle down with. It’s written everywhere – in childhood games, and playground questions, in the textbooks, in her parents’ faces. But Tale and music are underneath her skin, and try as she might, she can’t stop thinking about them.

One Dark Throne (Three Dark Crowns #2) by Kendare Blake
Harper Teen

The battle for the Crown has begun, but which of the three sisters will prevail?

With the unforgettable events of the Quickening behind them and the Ascension Year underway, all bets are off. Katharine, once the weak and feeble sister, is stronger than ever before. Arsinoe, after discovering the truth about her powers, must figure out how to make her secret talent work in her favor without anyone finding out. And Mirabella, once thought to be the strongest sister of all and the certain Queen Crowned, faces attacks like never before—ones that put those around her in danger she can’t seem to prevent.

In this enthralling sequel to Kendare Blake’s New York Times bestselling Three Dark Crowns, Fennbirn’s deadliest queens must face the one thing standing in their way of the crown: each other.

The Victoria in My Head by Janelle Milanes
Simon Pulse

Victoria Cruz inhabits two worlds: In one, she is a rock star, thrashing the stage with her husky voice and purple-streaked hair. In the other, currently serving as her reality, Victoria is a shy teenager with overprotective Cuban parents, who sleepwalks through her life at the prestigious Evanston Academy. Unable to overcome the whole paralyzing-stage-fright thing, Victoria settles for living inside her fantasies, where nothing can go wrong and everything is set to her expertly crafted music playlists.

But after a chance encounter with an unattainably gorgeous boy named Strand, whose band seeks a lead singer, Victoria is tempted to turn her fevered daydreams into reality. To do that, she must confront her insecurities and break away from the treadmill that is her life. Suddenly, Victoria is faced with the choice of staying on the path she’s always known and straying off-course to find love, adventure, and danger.

From debut author Janelle Milanes comes a hilarious and heartfelt tale of the spectacular things that can happen when you go after what you really want.

Review: The Epic Crush of Genie Lo

The Epic Crush of Genie LoTitle: The Epic Crush of Genie Lo
Author: F.C. Yee
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 336 pages
Publisher: Amulet Books
Availability: Available now!

Summary: The struggle to get into a top-tier college consumes sixteen-year-old Genie Lo’s every waking thought. But when her sleepy Bay Area town comes under siege from hell-spawn straight out of Chinese folklore, her priorities are suddenly and forcefully rearranged.

Her only guide to the demonic chaos breaking out around her is Quentin Sun, a beguiling, maddening new transfer student from overseas. Quentin assures Genie she is strong enough to fight these monsters, for she unknowingly harbors an inner power that can level the very gates of Heaven.

Genie will have to dig deep within herself to summon the otherworldly strength that Quentin keeps talking about. But as she does, she finds the secret of her true nature is entwined with his, in a way she could never have imagined… [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: Way back in 2016 (feels like a millenia ago, huh?), this tweet by Zen Cho about a new book came across my dash. And because I’m easily persuadable, I was immediately on board. The bit about the heroine becoming powerful enough to “break through the gates of Heaven with her fists” was my jam.

Imagine how psyched I was when, over a year later, the book came out and I saw mentions of the monkey king. Sun Wukong in YA lit? Hell yes. Get me some toast, because this was even more my jam. I know I say this a lot, but this book did not disappoint.

The heroine Genie Lo is a super motivated elite SF prep student with her eyes on nothing but the prize – Ivy League glory and a better life. When new kid on the block Quentin Sun shows up and tell her that she’s really someone straight out of Chinese mythology, she has to step up to bat to defend the people she loves against a host of monsters. Genie’s character – cynical, motivated, yet unwaveringly protective of her friends and family – is what drives the story and kept me reading through the night. And it was awesome to see how she clashed and then worked with Quentin.

Speaking of Quentin… I’m not going to spoil anything. But, also, that reveal of who Genie was? I laughed, then had to take a reading break while I digested what had happened. That was amazing.

Basically, this is a must-read for everyone. But if you’re Chinese American (or, like me, Taiwanese American), this is a next level absolutely-no-excuses-must-read. There were so many moments that I knew all too well — like the relief of seeing your mom get to have a meaningful conversation with someone else in Chinese and be happy. Not only that, I’m from the Bay Area and attended a super competitive, majority (86%!) Asian school growing up. What Genie was going through was a hauntingly familiar creature.

Now I’m just rambling. Look, just put The Epic Crush of Genie Lo on your reading list. You’ll love it, I promise you. And if there’s going to be a sequel, someone tell me ASAP.

Recommendation: Buy it now!

Coming Soon – Group Discussion of #NotYourPrincess

We’re happy to announce a group discussion for next month. We’ll be reading #NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale. These are the same editors who brought us Dreaming in Indian [my review here] and Urban Tribes [our discussion here], so you know it’s an excellent compilation of Native voices.

Summary: Whether looking back to a troubled past or welcoming a hopeful future, the powerful voices of Indigenous women across North America resound in this book. In the same style as the best-selling Dreaming in Indian, #NotYourPrincess presents an eclectic collection of poems, essays, interviews, and art that combine to express the experience of being a Native woman. Stories of abuse, humiliation, and stereotyping are countered by the voices of passionate women making themselves heard and demanding change. Sometimes angry, often reflective, but always strong, the women in this book will give teen readers insight into the lives of women who, for so long, have been virtually invisible.


Our plan is to read the book now and start our group discussion near the end of September. In mid-October we’ll post our discussion. We hope you’ll join us in reading and share your thoughts with us next month or on Twitter as you read.

Interview with Axie Oh

Everyone, please welcome debut author Axie Oh to Rich in Color! We’re thrilled to have her here–I absolutely loved her novel, Rebel Seoul, and you can read my review here.

Rebel Seoul is one of the newest offerings from Tu Books, and you definitely need to check it out:

After a great war, the East Pacific is in ruins. In brutal Neo Seoul, where status comes from success in combat, ex-gang member Lee Jaewon is a talented pilot rising in the ranks of the academy. Abandoned as a kid in the slums of Old Seoul by his rebel father, Jaewon desires only to escape his past and prove himself a loyal soldier of the Neo State.

When Jaewon is recruited into the most lucrative weapons development division in Neo Seoul, he is eager to claim his best shot at military glory. But the mission becomes more complicated when he meets Tera, a test subject in the government’s supersoldier project. Tera was trained for one purpose: to pilot one of the lethal God Machines, massive robots for a never-ending war.

With secret orders to report on Tera, Jaewon becomes Tera’s partner, earning her reluctant respect. But as respect turns to love, Jaewon begins to question his loyalty to an oppressive regime that creates weapons out of humans. As the project prepares to go public amidst rumors of a rebellion, Jaewon must decide where he stands—as a soldier of the Neo State, or a rebel of the people.

Pacific Rim meets Korean action dramas in this mind-blowing, New Visions Award-winning science fiction debut.

I knew the moment I read the synopsis I would love it. Now on to the interview!


Rebel Seoul was one of the winners of the New Visions Award. Can you tell us more about why you decided to enter the contest and what it was like to work with the staff at Tu Books?

I first heard about the contest at ALA in 2014, where I was given a brochure at the Lee & Low booth. I had begun to query REBEL SEOUL (titled something else at the time), and was getting a lot of feedback along the lines of: “dystopia is dead.” This was before WNDB really took off, so I accepted this as fact (now, I would argue – yes, maybe there are a lot of books set in American dystopias with white protagonists, but very few with POC protagonists in a non-Western or even Western setting). When I got the brochure, I really loved Tu Books’ mission statement to diversify children’s literature. I was also inspired to write REBEL SEOUL in part after reading Cindy Pon’s short story “Blue Skies” in the Tu Books’ anthology DIVERSE ENERGIES. So when I sent in my cover letter with my application, I comped my book to that short story! Since winning, everyone at Tu Books has been super supportive and awesome. I’m really proud, honored and grateful to be a part of their list. P.S. Cindy wrote a beautiful blurb for REBEL SEOUL!

Science-fiction often gives an author the opportunity to extrapolate upon the present to reshape the world. What drew you to creating a militaristic world like Neo Seoul? What were your favorite parts about building this world?

This is exactly it – I extrapolated upon the present. In the world of REBEL SEOUL, Seoul is divided into Old Seoul and Neo Seoul, and I based that concept on Seoul’s present-day geography, as Seoul is naturally divided by the Han River. North of the Han River is Gyeongbokgung (Gyeongbok Palace) and some of the older parts of the city and south of the Han River is the Gangnam district and some of the newer areas, hence Old and Neo (New). All the landmarks and districts are the same. Seoul has a very extensive subway system and lots of taxis and shopping areas and billboards, so I just made that all “futuristic.” Really, I did no world building. It’s all there already!

The militaristic world came from a childhood spent watching a lot of sci-fi anime, which oftentimes have plotlines of war or rebellion. Again, I extrapolated from the present, like the idea of mandatory military service, which is a requirement in South Korea for males. In my alt-future, it’s a requirement for all citizens.

My favorite parts of building this world were those moments when I could extrapolate from what already exists, where I could add in a scene that felt true to me that I hoped would resonate with others. One of my favorite scenes I put into the novel is when Jaewon goes through the funeral home of a hospital (funeral homes are often in hospitals in Seoul), and he comes across a mother mourning her son. The whole scene is something I’ve experienced in my own life during memorial services, and I wanted to show through the scene a love and reverence for the moment.

One of the things I really admired about Rebel Seoul was that the characters all had rich lives before the start of the story. Tell us more about Jaewon and Tera’s development as characters.

With Jaewon, I was inspired by Korean dramas. He’s pretty typical of protagonists in high school K-dramas, a loner with a heart of gold. I think the appeal of these characters is that we can trust and put our faith in them. Although they make mistakes and stumble, they never give up, and this gives us hope as viewers. I wanted to channel this feeling with Jaewon. I began with this character archetype and then layered him with a family, friends, history and dreams. As for Tera, her characterization came more from anime. She’s similar to a lot of characters in sci-fi/mecha anime, like Heero from Gundam Wing or Soma Peries from Gundam 00. She’s a government experiment, trained and manipulated since birth for a “greater purpose,” but coming into her own person, discovering her own dreams and desires.

Jaewon and Tera are one of my favorite battle couples in YA. Who are some of your favorite battle couples, romantic or not?

Minho and Thomas from THE MAZE RUNNER. I’ve only read the first book and seen the films, but I love their friendship, and how together they protect the group. Will & Lyra from His Dark Materials. I love them both so much as individuals. But together, they’re unbeatable. Not YA, but I love Relena & Heero from Gundam Wing. I love how they’re both strong individuals with their own goals and motivations, yet in times of vulnerability, seek each other for warmth and comfort.

Family, both biological and of the found/friendship/soulmate variety, had a huge impact on Jaewon and his motivations throughout the novel. Why did you place so much weight on these relationships in Rebel Seoul? What interested you in those types of stories?

Again, going back to K-dramas and anime, K-dramas often focus on family and close friendships, and anime on found families and soulmates. These are themes that come up in the media I love and consume, so it felt natural as I wrote the story to incorporate them into REBEL SEOUL. In general, I love all types of relationships – I didn’t specifically start off thinking, okay I’m going to have a bromance or a team of four very different individuals who come together as friends and partners – it just sort of happened! And K-dramas always have four main characters (two leads, two secondary leads), so that formation came naturally into my storytelling.

If you could pilot any giant robot (whether from Rebel Seoul or another fictional universe), which would it be and why?

Gundam Deathscythe Hell!!! This is the upgraded gundam Duo Maxwell pilots in Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz, the animated film following the television series. It’s just so cool! It specializes in stealth and close combat. It wields a large SCYTHE and has bat wings and cloaking armor that allows it invisibility. Plus, I love Duo. I feel like if I took a “which gundam pilot are you” character quiz, I would get him.

What books by or about people of color or people from First/Native Nations are you looking forward to this year? Or that have already come out this year?

It hasn’t come out yet, but I read and loved FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS by Julie C. Dao. It’s an exciting and thought-provoking villainess origin story inspired by the evil queen in Snow White and Chinese court dramas. Looking forward to: WARCROSS by Marie Lu, STARFISH by Akemi Dawn Bowman & TRAIL OF LIGHTNING by Rebecca Roanhorse.

Some books I already read and loved: WANT by Cindy Pon, I BELIEVE IN A THING CALLED LOVE by Maurene Goo and THE EPIC CRUSH OF GENIE LO by F. C. Yee!

Is there anything else you would like to tell us about Rebel Seoul or your other work? What can we look forward to from you next?

Right now I’m working on a YA fantasy inspired by a Korean folktale. Fantasy with a dash of romance were always my favorite kinds of books as a teen (think: BEAUTY by Robin McKinley or HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE by Diana Wynne Jones), so I’m indulging that love of mine, and combining it with the culture and myths that I grew up with!


Axie Oh is a first generation Korean American, born in NYC and raised in New Jersey. She studied Korean history and creative writing as an undergrad at the University of California – San Diego and holds an MFA from Lesley University in Writing for Young People. Her passions include K-pop, anime, stationery supplies, and milk tea. She currently resides in Las Vegas, Nevada with her puppy, Toro.

You can find out more about her at her website or follow her on twitter.