Year-End Housekeeping

So far we haven’t been able to find any YA releases by or about people of color in December—if you know of any, please send us a message on our website, tumblr, or twitter. We want to make sure we get them up on our release calendar, especially since the holidays are right around the corner.

We have typically closed out the year with each of our reviewers compiling a list of their favorite books from that year. I thought it would be fun to turn that over to you today. Tell us in the comments, through tumblr messages, or by tweeting us what some of your favorite 2015 books by or about people of color have been, and we’ll share them with everyone else.

Personally, I think it has been a fantastic year for contemporary novels. I’m generally more of a science fiction and fantasy fan, so it has been a delightful change of pace to find several contemporary novels that I loved. But you’ll find out what my favorites were next week—what are yours?

Book Review: Consent

ConsentTitle: Consent
Author: Nancy Ohlin
Genres:  Contemporary
Pages: 320
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Review Copy: ARC from Publisher
Availability: Available Now

Summary: In this sexy and intriguing novel, an intense—and passionate—bond between a high school senior and her music teacher becomes a public scandal that threatens the reputation of both.

Bea has a secret.

Actually, she has more than one. There’s her dream for the future that she can’t tell anyone—not her father and not even her best friend, Plum.

And now there’s Dane Rossi. Dane is hot, he shares Bea’s love of piano, and he believes in her.
He’s also Bea’s teacher.

When their passion for music crosses into passion for each other, Bea finds herself falling completely for Dane. She’s never felt so wanted, so understood, so known to her core. But the risk of discovery carries unexpected surprises that could shake Bea entirely. Bea must piece together what is and isn’t true about Dane, herself, and the most intense relationship she’s ever experienced in this absorbing novel from Nancy Ohlin, the author of Beauty.

Review: To be honest, I was hesitant to read, let alone review, Consent due to the subject matter of a teacher-student romantic relationship because being a teacher these stories tend to make me really uncomfortable. I know these relationships are, unfortunately, all to common and I often wonder what propels these teachers to cross that line. On the flip side, I do know of students who also take it to far in their affections for their teachers (I once came across a site that was about what girls would do to get their male English teachers to notice/date them. It was very disturbing.) With that in mind, I decided I would get over my discomfort and read Nancy Ohlin’s Consent with an open mind and I’m thankful I did.

Consent is a morally complicated novel that explores how Bea and Dane’s relationship is even able to develop. It starts of innocently enough with the connection that many student-teachers have when a teacher sees the potential in a student and helps them see that potential. Bea does acknowledge her attraction to Dane, but stifles it because he is her teacher. The same can be said for Dane as in their interactions, he often realizes he’s about to cross that line and takes a huge step back. I love that Ohlin made the relationship a slow burn, and had both parties recoginize how a relationship between them would be wrong. At no point does their relationship feel salacious, as Ohlin focuses on the conflict between what their heart’s desire and what is the right thing to do. In fact, when they do actually become intimate, the moment makes sense. They are both caught up in the emotion of a successful day, where Bea had auditioned for Dane’s former, very famous, teacher at Juliard, and well, begin their romantic relationship. Ohlin makes their relationship brief, as they decide to wait until she actually turns 18, but end up being discovered anyway. The rest of the novel then focuses on the fall out of the discovery of their relationship.

The fact that Ohlin chose to make the relationship brief, and focus on the build up, and the fallout is what makes the novel work, for me. Bea and Dane’s story becomes real, true, because relationships, particularly student-teacher relationships, are complicated. Bea is at a moment in her life where she is in need of guidance as she is on the cusp of adulthood, and Dane is the person who opens her eyes to a path that she had convinced herself that she couldn’t travel down. Bea’s relationship with the men in her life (her father and brother) is a tense one, and at one point Bea even wonders if her fascination with Dane is because she has daddy issues. It is this thoughtful analysis that Bea has with her relationship with Dane, before they become intimate, is why I greatly enjoyed the novel. Bea is a character is who is fully aware of her issues and owns them. At no point is she pulled into the relationship with Dane; she enters an intimate relationship with him fully acknowledging all the risks and the consequences should they be found out. Olin did a masterful job in her creation of Bea, as she is a character we can relate to, and understand how and why she becomes involved with her teacher.

Despite my hesitation at the beginning, I really ended up enjoying Consent. Bea’s voice pulled me into the story and I connected with this girl who was hiding a large part of herself in order to please her family. Her relationship with her teacher does allow for Bea to find herself, to grow, and become the person she always wanted to be and for me, that is what made the novel, what made me accept Bea and Dane’s relationship.

On a side, much funnier note, Bea and her friend Plum call Dane “Kit Harrington” after the actor from Game of Thrones because Ohlin describes him in that manner. As a fan of Game of Thrones and Harrington’s character, I had a clear picture in my mind of what Dane looked like and every time either girl called him Kit, I couldn’t help but giggle. If you don’t know who Kit Harrington is, google him. You won’t be disappointed.

Recommendation: If you love morally complicated novels, go buy this book!

YA Asian SFF by the numbers

A few months back, I came across a graph of the CCBC Multicultural Statistics for 2015. The results were disappointing but unsurprising…

Multicultural Stat Bar Chart 2015











Seeing that graph reminded me of a recent trend in YA lit — Asian fantasy. Or maybe it’s not a trend, and I only feel like it is because I’m Asian myself. Either way, I have mixed feelings about this type of book since it usually ends up being a) all my dreams come true, or b) a racist mess, or c) disappointingly mediocre and most likely written by someone who isn’t Asian. Some of my favorite (yay!) and least favorite (read: racist) books fall into this category.

Honestly, every time I hear about a new “Asian-inspired” YA fantasy, I feel a little shiver of dread. I wonder who’s it by, what’s the plot, and does it involve names pulled from a dictionary?

At any rate, I decided to figure out the ratio of “Asian-inspired” YA sci-fi and fantasy written by Asians and non-Asians (mostly white authors, let’s be real). Using the completely unscientific method of scouring goodreads lists and asking around, I came up with this list*:

Asian Sci-fi/Fantasy YA lit by Asians (17):

Ash by Malinda Lo (2), Half World by Hiromi Goto, Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon (3), The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu, Prophecy by Ellen Oh (3), Ash Mistry and the Savage Fortress by Sarwat Chadda (3), Alpha Goddess by Amalie Howard, The Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco (2)

Asian Sci-fi/Fantasy YA lit by non-Asians (34):

Spirit’s Chosen by Esther Friesner (2),  Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff (3), Soundless by Richelle Mead, Ink by Amanda Sun (3), Gilded by Christina Farley (3), Eon series by Alison Goodman (2), Cinder series by Marissa Meyer (4), The Walled City by Ryan Graudin, City of a Thousand Dolls by Miriam Forster (2), Toads and Diamonds by Heather Tomlinson, Battle Magic by Tamora Pierce, The Night Itself by Zoë Marriott (3), Fox and Phoenix by Beth Bernobich, Of Metal and Wishes by Sarah Fine (2), The Fire Wish by Amber Lough (2), Exquisite Captive by Heather Demetrios (2), A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston

*Note: I included SFF YA books involving elements of Asian cultures. I listed one book per author, but included the number of books in a series/standalone books that fit the criteria as well in parentheses. I didn’t count books that were obscure, fairly old, or arguably middle grade.

Well. I swear the perfect 1:2 ratio is a coincidence, but it seems to roughly match up to CCBC’s stats. This brings to mind two issues:

  1. What barriers to entry are there for authors of Asian descent in Western publishing? Especially those who want to write about their own culture, but are discouraged from doing so?
  2. What can be done to drive home the fact that Asia is not a monolithic culture or a convenient exotic backdrop?
To end on a happy note, here are a few of my favorite books from the two lists above: Half World by Hiromi Goto, Serpentine by Cindy Pon, and Of Metal and Wishes by Sarah Fine. Do you have any favorites?


Related resources:
Tweets by Alyssa Wong on Orientalism
Cindy Pon on writing YA fantasy
Writing With Color, a great writing resource

New Releases

There are two new contemporary titles with birthdays this week —

heelsHeels, Heartache & Headlines by Ni-Ni Simone, Amir Abrams

It’s a showdown for the spotlight as Hollywood’s elite Pampered Princesses scramble to outshine each other for the ultimate crown. But being on top is never what it seems…
Heartbroken and humiliated, teen supermodel London Phillips is done with her pity party and ready to move on. But between the mean-spirited media, a shocking realization about her billionaire ex, and a vengeful obsession, London’s discovering that while confessions are good for the soul, deception is so much sweeter…

When it comes to juggling her cuties, Rich Montgomery is the queen. But now she’s fallen for a bad boy who comes with more drama than she ever did—and her fairytale love affair soon turns into a nightmare. Will she find a way out, or will pride get the best of her?

Spencer Ellington could teach an advanced class in revenge. So when she’s shunned by her frenemy, Heather Cummings, again, backstabbed by her bestie, Rich, and sucked into her parents’ sordid antics, she’s ready to roll up her designer sleeves and pull out all the stops. After all, frenemies fight. Divas wage war… — Cover image via Goodreads, summary via Amazon


Light of Day by Allison Van Diepen
Harper Teen

From the author of On the Edge and Snitch comes a dangerous, sexy novel perfect for fans of Simone Elkeles.

When Gabby Perez is almost drugged at a nightclub, she decides to take action. Teaming up with a mysterious stranger known as X, the two go after a gang who is drugging and kidnapping innocent girls off the Miami streets and forcing them into prostitution. As their search deepens, Gabby and X can’t ignore their undeniable attraction to each other. Then Gabby discovers the truth about who X really is and the danger that surrounds him. Can their love survive the light of day?

Light of Day is set in the same world as On the Edge (readers will recognize some of their favorite characters in this book) and features a diverse cast. With romance, action, and realistic friendships, this is a gripping story about finding out where you belong, discovering the power to make a difference, and finding true love along the way. — Cover image and summary via Amazon


Review: Ms. Marvel, Volume 1: No Normal

Ms Marvel vol 1Title: Ms. Marvel, Volume 1: No Normal
Writer: G. Willow Wilson
Artist: Adrian Alphona
Genres: Comic Books/Graphic Novels, Superheroes
Pages: 120
Publisher: Marvel
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: Available now

Summary: Marvel Comics presents the all-new Ms. Marvel, the groundbreaking heroine that has become an international sensation! Kamala Khan is an ordinary girl from Jersey City – until she is suddenly empowered with extraordinary gifts. But who truly is the all-new Ms. Marvel? Teenager? Muslim? Inhuman? Find out as she takes the Marvel Universe by storm! As Kamala discovers the dangers of her newfound powers, she unlocks a secret behind them as well. Is Kamala ready to wield these immense new gifts? Or will the weight of the legacy before her be too much to handle? Kamala has no idea either. But she’s comin’ for you, New York! It’s history in the making from acclaimed writer G. Willow Wilson (Air, Cairo) and beloved artist Adrian Alphona (Runaways)!

Review: I decided to stray from strictly YA books for today’s review. Ms. Marvel, Volume 1: No Normal was my first foray into mainstream American comic books, and I’m thrilled to report that it was the perfect entry point for me. You don’t need to know several decades of comic book history to understand what’s going on; our heroine, Kamala Khan, is engaging; and the writing hits several of the best parts of an origin story.

Kamala is a Muslim Pakistani-American teenager who, in addition to suddenly acquiring shape-shifting powers, also deals with microaggressions, sexism, and a YA favorite: figuring out who you are. While the dialogue occasionally leans toward preachy, particularly in dealing with Zoe’s mix of insensitivity and meanness, there are several great moments where Kamala gains inspiration and support from her religion in order to go forward with various heroic actions. I also greatly enjoyed Kamala’s brand of geekery and humor. Several of my favorite origin story tropes pop up in this volume, including having the first big failure and needing to recoup in order to try again. I also enjoyed the mishaps and mayhem that Kamala inadvertently caused as she was getting used to her powers and superhero life.

I was less fond of the “strict immigrant parents” archetype, but G. Willow Wilson did a good job of giving Kamala’s father non-strict moments that were really quite lovely. I hope that in future installments, both Kamala’s father and mother (and her brother) will be able to branch out from primarily serving as obstacles to Kamala’s story and become better rounded characters. Kamala’s friends also felt a little underdeveloped, though they did have a promising assortment of building blocks for interesting personalities.

Artist Adrian Alphona made a strong showing in this first volume. While I occasionally had difficulty figuring out precisely how Kamala used her powers or movements in action sequences, the artwork enhanced the story. (Kamala has some great expressions, especially in comedic scenes.) Each important character is distinctive, and many of the locations are memorable. Alphona also hides some fun jokes/Easter Eggs in the artwork, and the many details help the world of Ms. Marvel feel grounded despite the shapeshifting heroics.

Recommendation: Buy it now. (In fact, I just bought the second and third volumes and pre-ordered the fourth.) Ms. Marvel, Volume 1: No Normal occasionally leans toward preachy and has some underdeveloped characters, but it is otherwise a delight. It’s a great place to jump into the Marvel comics universe.

9 Times Ms. Marvel Tackled Real Issues by Sofía Marlasca (spoilers for future issues)

Rebooted Comic Heroine Is An Elegant, Believable ‘Marvel’ by Etelka Lehoczky

Mirrors and Windows of Muslim Life

Over the summer two of my blog posts focused on how through reading books about diverse characters, we can combat racism. (Combating Racism Pt.1, Combating Racism Pt. 2). As saddened as I was about the horrific attacks in Paris this past Friday, my heart feared greatly for the response our country, no our world, would take. I feared for peaceful Muslim people, but more specifically for one of my dear friends who constantly receives hate and was most recently practically driven off the freeway. I know of the ugliness that folks do to her all the time, and in the first few hours after an attack, with emotions high, I feared the racist diatribes and violence to come. Sadly, I was not wrong.

As I read articles on the web and read the comments, my essay from the summer kept coming to my mind. I read of folks asking to be taught about the Muslim faith and responses saying “Google is your friend”. While Google is great, I feel that if folks truly want to know they can also read a book. We become more empathetic through reading literature because we can imagine ourselves as the characters. What a better way to become more empathetic to the plights of the Syrian refugees by reading about fleeing a country from terror. And then, hopefully once the mind is opened, the heart will be and the newly enlightened person will help.

With these thoughts heavily on my mind the past few days, I thought I’d put together a small list of books featuring Muslim characters just living their lives, for parents, teachers, librarians, just people, to share with their youth (and read themselves) and develop a sense of empathy.

Written in the StarsWritten in the Stars, by Aisha Saeed

This heart-wrenching novel explores what it is like to be thrust into an unwanted marriage. Has Naila’s fate been written in the stars? Or can she still make her own destiny?

Naila’s conservative immigrant parents have always said the same thing: She may choose what to study, how to wear her hair, and what to be when she grows up—but they will choose her husband. Following their cultural tradition, they will plan an arranged marriage for her. And until then, dating—even friendship with a boy—is forbidden. When Naila breaks their rule by falling in love with Saif, her parents are livid. Convinced she has forgotten who she truly is, they travel to Pakistan to visit relatives and explore their roots. But Naila’s vacation turns into a nightmare when she learns that plans have changed—her parents have found her a husband and they want her to marry him, now! Despite her greatest efforts, Naila is aghast to find herself cut off from everything and everyone she once knew. Her only hope of escape is Saif . . . if he can find her before it’s too late.

Read Crystal’s review here: Written in the Stars

For a bit of intersectionality, here is a terrific book whose characters are not only Muslim but LGBT.

mineIf You Could Be Mine, by Sara Farizan

Seventeen-year-old Sahar has been in love with her best friend, Nasrin, since they were six. They’ve shared stolen kisses and romantic promises. But Iran is a dangerous place for two girls in love—Sahar and Nasrin could be beaten, imprisoned, even executed if their relationship came to light.

So they carry on in secret—until Nasrin’s parents announce that they’ve arranged for her marriage. Nasrin tries to persuade Sahar that they can go on as they have been, only now with new comforts provided by the decent, well-to-do doctor Nasrin will marry. But Sahar dreams of loving Nasrin exclusively—and openly.

Then Sahar discovers what seems like the perfect solution. In Iran, homosexuality may be a crime, but to be a man trapped in a woman’s body is seen as nature’s mistake, and sex reassignment is legal and accessible. As a man, Sahar could be the one to marry Nasrin. Sahar will never be able to love the one she wants, in the body she wants to be loved in, without risking her life. Is saving her love worth sacrificing her true self?

Read Crystal’s Review here: If You Could Be Mine


This is a book I have actually taught. Many of my students could really relate to it because they are immigrants, or the children of immigrants, and understood Fadi’s struggle.

kabulShooting Kabul, by N.H. Senzai

In the summer of 2001, twelve year old Fadi’s parents make the difficult decision to illegally leave Afghanistan and move the family to the United States. When their underground transport arrives at the rendezvous point, chaos ensues, and Fadi is left dragging his younger sister Mariam through the crush of people. But Mariam accidentally lets go of his hand and becomes lost in the crowd, just as Fadi is snatched up into the truck. With Taliban soldiers closing in, the truck speeds away, leaving Mariam behind.

Adjusting to life in the United States isn’t easy for Fadi’s family and as the events of September 11th unfold the prospects of locating Mariam in a war torn Afghanistan seem slim. When a photography competition with a grand prize trip to India is announced, Fadi sees his chance to return to Afghanistan and find his sister. But can one photo really bring Mariam home?

Based in part on the Ms. Senzai’s husband’s own experience fleeing his home in Soviet controlled Afghanistan in the 1970s, Shooting Kabul is a powerful story of hope, love, and perseverance.


If today were Thursday, this would be my throwback book. Released in 2007.

BigheadDoes My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah

When sixteen-year-old Amal decides to wear the hijab full-time, her entire world changes, all because of a piece of cloth…

Sixteen-year-old Amal makes the decision to start wearing the hijab full- time and everyone has a reaction. Her parents, her teachers, her friends, people on the street. But she stands by her decision to embrace her faith and all that it is, even if it does make her a little different from everyone else.

Can she handle the taunts of “towel head,” the prejudice of her classmates, and still attract the cutest boy in school? Brilliantly funny and poignant, Randa Abdel-Fattah’s debut novel will strike a chord in all teenage readers, no matter what their beliefs.

This list is far from complete as there are many more wonderful books out there. And in fact, the good folks at Diversity in YA made a list last summer of books for teens about the Arab World. Take a look. I’m sure you’ll find something you’ll like.

Notable Novels for Teens About the Arab World