YA Reading and Activism

Given the terrifying speed at which things have been moving in the political realm these days, it’s hard not to feel helpless and hopeless. As my sister pointed out to me right after the November election, things have always been bad (see: unclean water in Flint, wars abroad and police brutality at home – the list goes on), and now things are just… worse, in a way that affects everyone and certain groups of people in particular.

I love YA and reading, and I will fight anyone who dismisses it as shallow nonsense. Stories have power. At the same time, it’s frustrating to watch people (myself included!) be all talk and no action. To be clear, any action that you can contribute, however small, to making things less awful is always valuable.

In that vein, here’s a list of YA fiction starring people most vulnerable right now – immigrants, religious and racial minorities, and LGBTQIA people – and organizations that are doing good work and could use your volunteer hours, money, or signal boosting:

March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell – March tells the story of John Lewis’s work at the height of the Civil Rights movement. Given the racial inequality and current attack on voting rights happening today, his comic book series is a necessary primer on American history.

If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth – Music, cross-cultural friendship, and life on the Tuscarora Indian reservation in the 1970s — you’ll want to read this.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz – Rare is the book that features gay and PoC characters, but that’s what this is. Dante and Aristotle’s love story is just the sweetest, and I’ve been love with this book since day one.

Lucy and Linh by Alice Pung – This is an Australian YA book that I honestly wish was way more popular in America. It tells the story of Lucy, a girl from a working class immigrant family, who ends up navigating the treacherous waters of an all-girls private school.

Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed – I’ll let the book blurb do the talking: “Has Naila’s fate been written in the stars? Or can she still make her own destiny?” As a Muslim Pakistani-American girl, Naila comes face to face with love and her cultural heritage.

Organizations that could use your money or time: 
Southern Poverty Law Center
International Refugee Assistance Project
#NoDAPL Standing Rock
Trans Lifeline
Council on American-Islamic Relations
Road to 2018: The book community in politics

What are you doing and reading these days? How do you stay informed without getting overwhelmed? How is your bookshelf meeting your activism?

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New Releases

Happy early book birthday to the three books coming out tomorrow on 2/14! Are you planning to read any of these?

American Street by Ibi Zoboi
On the corner of American Street and Joy Road, Fabiola Toussaint thought she would finally find une belle vie—a good life.

But after they leave Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Fabiola’s mother is detained by U.S. immigration, leaving Fabiola to navigate her loud American cousins, Chantal, Donna, and Princess; the grittiness of Detroit’s west side; a new school; and a surprising romance, all on her own. Just as she finds her footing in this strange new world, a dangerous proposition presents itself, and Fabiola soon realizes that freedom comes at a cost. Trapped at the crossroads of an impossible choice, will she pay the price for the American dream? [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Ones and Zeroes (Mirador #2) by Dan Wells
Overworld. It’s more than just the world’s most popular e-sport—for thousands of VR teams around the globe, Overworld is life. It means fame and fortune, or maybe it’s a ticket out of obscurity or poverty. If you have a connection to the internet and four friends you trust with your life, anything is possible.

Marisa Carneseca is on the hunt for a mysterious hacker named Grendel when she receives word that her amateur Overworld team has been invited to Forward Motion, one of the most exclusive tournaments of the year. For Marisa, this could mean anything—a chance to finally go pro and to help her family, stuck in an LA neighborhood on the wrong side of the growing divide between the rich and the poor. But Forward Motion turns out to be more than it seems—rife with corruption, infighting, and danger—and Marisa runs headlong into Alain Bensoussan, a beautiful, dangerous underground freedom fighter who reveals to her the darker side of the forces behind the tournament. It soon becomes clear that, in this game, winning might be the only way to get out alive. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson
A timely and powerful story about a teen girl from a poor neighborhood striving for success, from acclaimed author Renée Watson.

Jade believes she must get out of her neighborhood if she’s ever going to succeed. Her mother says she has to take every opportunity. She has. She accepted a scholarship to a mostly-white private school and even Saturday morning test prep opportunities. But some opportunities feel more demeaning than helpful. Like an invitation to join Women to Women, a mentorship program for “at-risk” girls. Except really, it’s for black girls. From “bad” neighborhoods. But Jade doesn’t need support. And just because her mentor is black doesn’t mean she understands Jade. And maybe there are some things Jade could show these successful women about the real world and finding ways to make a real difference. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

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Interview with S. Jae-Jones

The tail end of winter is just about as perfect as any time to welcome the new YA fantasy Wintersong, available now! Today, we welcome author S. Jae-Jones  (@sjaejones) to Rich in Color to talk about her debut book and more. Check out the interview below, and enter her giveaway for a copy of Wintersong!

The moment I read Wintersong’s synopsis, I was all about it: Sisters being there for each other, everything at stake, and otherworldy romance. What made you decide to write this specific story?  
We like to mythologize origin stories—we like to think that there’s a flash of inspiration, or an entire story that comes to us in a dream. The honest truth is, Wintersong is an amalgamation of things that interest me: music, Mozart, Germanic fairy tales, the Erl-king myth, underworld stories, the movie Labyrinth, the poetry of Christina Rossetti, etc. At the same time, in many ways, the book came to me fully formed: Liesl just…showed up with two siblings, a mother, father, and irascible grandmother in tow. Writing the first draft of Wintersong was almost a journey of discovery—I was racing to finish in order to figure out what happens to Liesl, pulling all my influences in along the way.

Do you see anything of yourself in the heroine of Wintersong, Liesl, or any of the other characters? What were your main influences for the characters and story?
I’ve disclosed in my newsletter that there is a little bit of me in every character I write, but what I gave to Liesl were two things: my creative process, and my bipolar disorder. I think personality-wise, I’m the most like Käthe, Liesl’s sister. Like her, I’m shallow, frivolous, and vain, but also loyal. The character I love best is Thistle, a prickly goblin girl, who indulges in all the petty impulses I cannot.

According to your blog, Wintersong was your Nanowrimo project. Did you find it easy or hard to write Wintersong? Do you still do Nanowrimo?
I found it easy to write Wintersong, so easy that I find it incredibly suspicious. While I can write a decent number of words per day, I’m not a particularly fast writer, and the speed at which I wrote a first draft of Wintersong still astounds me. I wrote the first draft (100,000 words) in 59 days. Yet despite this, Wintersong was also hard to write in the same way all my other books are hard to write: I’m a pantser, which means I’m unable to see the big picture until I finish a draft. And because I’m a pantser, I’m never sure if I’m going to be able to finish a draft at all because I have no idea what I’m doing or where I’m going. I still do NaNoWriMo, but I am embarrassed to admit that the year I “won” for Wintersong remains the only year I’ve ever won.

If you had to name a theme song for Wintersong, what would it be?
Oh man, I have so many songs on several different playlists, but I suppose Coming Down by Halsey. It’s a little on the nose, perhaps, but appropriate.

Are you working on any new projects (new books, poetry, short stories)?
I am currently working on the sequel to Wintersong, which will be out in 2018. I am always writing something, but whether or not they’ll see the light of day remains to be seen.

Exciting! Finally, read any good books lately? And are there any upcoming new books that you’re excited about?
I read a collection of short stories by Ted Chiang over the holidays, which were amazing. His story “The Story of Your Life” was made into the film Arrival (which I also loved), and it’s thoughtful, beautiful, and heartbreaking. I’m not actually much for short stories at all, but I loved, loved, loved them all.

There are so many books I’m looking forward in 2017, it would be impossible to name them all! I’m super excited for Done Dirt Cheap by Sarah Lemon and A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi, both of which I’ve read and think y’all will love.

Enter the giveaway below for a copy of Wintersong! The giveaway ends February 21st, and is open to USA mailing addresses. See terms and conditions for further details.

Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones

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Review: Mirror: The Mountain

mirror-the-mountainTitle: Mirror: The Mountain
Author: Emma Ríos, Hwei Lim (Illustrator)
Genres: Graphic Novel, fantasy, science fiction
Pages: 184
Publisher: Image Comics
Availability: September 20th, 2016

Summary:  A mysterious asteroid hosts a collection of strange creatures – man-animal hybrids, mythological creatures made flesh, guardian spirits, cursed shadows – and the humans who brought them to life. But this strange society exists in an uneasy truce, in the aftermath of uprisings seeking freedom and acceptance, that have only ended in tragedy. As the ambitious, the desperate and the hopeful inhabitants of the asteroid struggle to decide their shared fate, a force greater than either animal or human seems to be silently watching the conflict, waiting for either side to finally answer the question: what is worthy of being human? [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: I came upon Mirror: The Mountain by happy (very, very happy) accident at the library. The moment I flipped it open, I recognized the art style as that of an artist I follow on Tumblr (lalage) and knew I had to get it. The whole time I was checking out the book, I gushed excitedly about it — I had no idea this artist had a comic book out. Look at how gorgeous it is! And so on.

But seriously, the art is truly beautiful. Each panel is worthy of framing on your wall by itself. The story itself perfectly matches the fluid, painted look of the illustrations. The whole thing is told in flashbacks and moments that all weave together into one narrative. At times, it can be difficult to figure out exactly what’s going on, but you get the hang of it eventually.

In Mirror: The Mountain, people live at odds with animal-human hybrids, guardian animals, and more. The story comes together in bits and pieces, illustrating the history of the people on the asteroid, and the rebellions and battles of years gone by — all centering specifically on Ivan, a powerful human mage, and Sena, a dog-human hero who wants to free the animals of the asteroid.

The volume is worth picking up for the art alone, but the sci-fi/fantasy story takes the graphic novel to the next level. It’s an amazing combination of the mythological and the environmental, and I am absolutely looking forward to the next installment. If this sounds like your kind of thing, definitely get it! And if you’re unsure, check out the incredible art of Hwei Lim here.

Recommendation: Get it soon!

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Mini-Review: March: Book Three

Title: March: Book Three
Author: John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell (Artist)
Genres: graphic novel, autobiography
Pages: 246
Publisher: Top Shelf Productions
Availability: August 2nd 2016

Summary: Welcome to the stunning conclusion of the award-winning and best-selling MARCH trilogy. Congressman John Lewis, an American icon and one of the key figures of the civil rights movement, joins co-writer Andrew Aydin and artist Nate Powell to bring the lessons of history to vivid life for a new generation, urgently relevant for today’s world. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: I first learned about John Lewis’s March series through its Free Comic Book Day issue. I read it, got hooked… and then forgot about it for a year. But then a month ago at the library, I found all three books from the series chronicling John Lewis’s life and work in the Civil Rights Movement, and I ended up reading them all in one go. They were that good.

The art is powerful, as is the story of how John Lewis grew up to become an important part of the fight for civil rights in the 1960s and onward as one of the Big Six who organized the March on Washington and the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. The books don’t shy away from tough topics and imagery such as racist violence and death, but that made the March series all the more compelling in its accuracy.

March: Book Three focuses on the latter part of John Lewis’s career and work as he struggled with others to gain voting rights for the African American community. It details how he looked for a way forward for the movement in the face of political and local pushback. It’s an eye-opening view into how activism and organizing works, along with the shameful role the American government played in blocking progress.

I honestly believe this should be required reading in school — and in life. Given the recent elections, the 2013 gutting of the Voting Rights Act, and rampant voter suppression in America via voter ID laws, the March series is more relevant than ever.

Recommendation: Buy it now! And watch this powerful speech by John Lewis during the National Book Awards.

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Interview with Jenny Torres Sanchez

Today, we’re welcoming author Jenny Torres Sanchez to the blog! Her YA books include Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia, The Downside of Being Charlie, and (drumroll please) the newly released 2017 book Because of the Sun! Check out our interview with her below — and be sure to enter her giveaway for a copy of Because of the Sun!

A few years back, I read Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia — and I was blown away. I loved the way the issues of relationships and mortality were woven together with Emily Dickinson’s poetry. You’re including classic literature once again into your writing with Because of the Sun. What inspired you to take this path?

I wrote an author’s note in the book this, about how Meursault was such a compelling and memorable character to me when I first read The Stranger. But I also just really love classic literature. In my high school English classes, we read a lot of classic literature and it always resulted in my teachers saying think about this, ponder this, what do you think? And when you’re used to parents telling you what to do and what to think, having the chance to really think for yourself and talk about and discuss the world and your opinions and different issues, just seemed so cool to me. I love the way literature lends itself to that. It’s not just about the story; it’s about the human condition. The discussions we had about various works in my English classes impacted me in such a way that has stuck with me my whole life, that inspired me to major in literature in college, and eventually also go on to teach it. Now I find it often makes its way into my writing. I think if I had to really break it down, I owe this love of literature to my English teachers. I was very lucky to have smart, open-minded, intelligent, inspiring English teachers.

I just know that reading Because of the Sun will make me want to pick up The Stranger again for a reread. What would you say to a teen who’s having trouble relating to their classic literature reading for English class?

I’d say, don’t feel like you have to understand all of it at once. And don’t be afraid of it. Classic literature can be a little intimidating. You think if I don’t get this, maybe I’m not smart. I still feel that way. But it’s just because language and styles change and what we see in classic lit is the language and style of another time. It can be a little unfamiliar at first, but the core of who we are as a people, the human experience, is covered beautifully in classic lit and it’s worth the struggle you might feel at first. Keep picking it up, don’t be hard on yourself, get what you can from it and think about it. It might just be a sentence sometimes, but sometimes that sentence will stick with you for some reason.

Given the advice of “write what you know,” how much of your writing is about what you know? How much (or how little) of yourself did you put into your books?

Well, writing, it’s a very personal thing. And I do feel like there’s probably a lot of me in my books, even when I work hard for there not to be. I really try to get into my characters’ heads and see the world through their eyes with their past experiences. I try to let them be themselves, but then, ultimately I’m the one interpreting all of that with my own thoughts and experiences so, you know, I’m kind of always there. Sometimes when I’m writing a book, the stress my characters are going through kind of bleeds over into my real life and I find myself feeling stressed and I realize, oh…it’s because such and such character is going through this.  Anyway, it’s kind of strange because yeah, it’s this made up story, but I do see some of myself in it. Sometimes just barely, and other times more so.

Going off of that… The setting feels incredibly crucial to Because of the Sun, as the heroine Dani moves from Florida to New Mexico. What are your experiences with these places?

The setting is very crucial, which is funny because when I first started writing this book, I didn’t know it would end up largely set in New Mexico. It starts off in Florida which is where I live. And the heat is unrelenting here pretty much all year round, but amazingly so in summer (which is when I started writing Because of the Sun). That summer heat can be a very hallucinatory kind of thing, with how blinding and scorching the sun is, and I find myself thinking about it a lot. Just how hot it is. It seems a silly thing to think about, but I do. So anyway, the sun was on my mind when I started writing this book (and bears because there were several encounters with bears in the headlines around that time) and it made sense to set it in Florida to start. But then when Dani’s mother dies and Dani is hollowed out, I just saw her somewhere else. Somewhere just as hot and feverish, but bare and isolated, like she felt. I was familiar with Columbus, New Mexico because my in-laws live there, and suddenly I saw Dani there. And I saw the connection with the sun and the heat from The Stranger because it’s an important element in Camus’ book. And it all just clicked.

What do you hope readers will take away from your newest book? What are you most excited for them to discover?

You know, life is unfair. It can be heartbreakingly cruel. There is no justifying the suffering some people go through simply because of circumstances beyond their control. And I am always astounded by a person’s will to survive. To endure and rise. I believe in that. I do. And I want others to take that away from reading this book. I’m excited for them to discover their own ability to survive.

At Rich in Color, we’re always on the lookout for great books. Have you read anything lately that you would recommend?

I just started Midnight Without a Moon by Linda Williams Jackson and I absolutely love it so far. It’s rich and beautiful and I was immediately pulled right into the story. And I recently finished My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout. It’s impressive for so many reasons, but particularly for how much story she packs in such a slim book, how much she can conjure up in the reader’s mind with just a few details. Pretty amazing.

And there you have it! Enter the giveaway below for a copy of Because of the Sun! The giveaway ends January 31st, and is only open to USA mailing addresses. See terms and conditions for further details! Good luck!

Because of the Sun by Jenny Torres Sanchez

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