#OwnVoices and Twitter

Over the last few months, there’s been a growing conversation around representation, #ownvoices, writing, and reviewing on Twitter. If that sounds vague, that’s because I’m writing this at 4:00am and because the conversation itself is one that, in my mind, covers a wide range of topics that all relate back to each other.

There’s been discussion over how reviewers should go about critiquing books by authors with marginalized identities, and how authors of color are often held to higher standards than other authors, and the importance of representation, but also the importance of supporting marginalized authors because of who they are, and not because they’re carving up their personal experience for public consumption. I can’t articulate any of this very well at all, and I’m still thinking about it a lot myself – and as with any complex and important issue, there’s no easy answer, and no way to magically get everyone on the same page.

So, if you’d like to join me in mulling, check out the twitter threads linked below that touch upon these topics:

On the pressure for marginalized creators to create Perfect Works
On the expectation for writers to write their ethnicity
On the misuse of #OwnVoices
More on #OwnVoices

What are your thoughts?

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Review: Noteworthy

Noteworthy by Riley RedgateTitle: Noteworthy
Author: Riley Redgate
Genres: Romance
Pages: 400 pages
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams
Review Copy: Library
Availability: Available now!

Summary: A cappella just got a makeover. Jordan Sun is embarking on her junior year at the Kensington-Blaine Boarding School for the Performing Arts, hopeful that this will be her time: the year she finally gets cast in the school musical. But when her low Alto 2 voice gets her shut out for the third straight year—threatening her future at Kensington-Blaine and jeopardizing her college applications—she’s forced to consider nontraditional options.

In Jordan’s case, really nontraditional. A spot has opened up in the Sharpshooters, Kensington’s elite a cappella octet. Worshipped…revered…all male. Desperate to prove herself, Jordan auditions in her most convincing drag, and it turns out that Jordan Sun, Tenor 1, is exactly what the Sharps are looking for.

Jordan finds herself enmeshed in a precarious juggling act: making friends, alienating friends, crushing on a guy, crushing on a girl, and navigating decades-old rivalries. With her secret growing heavier every day, Jordan pushes beyond gender norms to confront what it means to be a girl (and a guy) in a male-dominated society, and—most importantly—what it means to be herself. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: I am the opposite of musical, but I loved reading this book, which truly is a love letter to a cappella. And, I liked the queer and Asian representation within the book. But just to be clear, this is not a book about a non-binary or trans character. The language of the original book blurb on the cover seems to hint at this, but it isn’t the case – something that the author addresses in this post.

I’ve grown up with a love-hate relationship with crossdressing manga series like Ouran High School Host Club and Hana Kimi. They were just so fun to read! But also pretty problematic, especially when it came to much older books. I was curious as to how Noteworthy would handle the subject. Gender and identity is discussed, and the heroine Jordan doesn’t shy away from grappling with the ethics behind what she does to keep her place in an all-male a cappella group. But again, if you’re looking for a non-binary or trans main character, this book is not it.

I just bet this book is amazing for people who have anything to do with a cappella. Despite being not at all musical, I was hooked by all of it, and immediately looked up youtube playlists to listen to afterwards. In Noteworthy, Jordan is plunged into an intense world of competitive a cappella and the social life that goes with it – all while, on the sidelines, her attention jumps to her parents on the West Coast struggling to get by.

While my ship didn’t sail in Noteworthy (cry), what I truly fell in love with was the group dynamics, the strong thread of friendship that runs through the book. I would happily read an entire book made up entirely of the Sharpshooters’ group chat. One driving force for Jordan is her need to belong, and that’s a powerful theme throughout the book. Consider my heartstrings tugged.

As with Seven Ways We Lie, I read Noteworthy in a few days and loved every moment of it. Days later, I feel like there’s still a lot about Noteworthy that I’d like to mull over. Whatever happens, I’m looking forward to the next book that Redgate writes! If you have any love at all for a cappella, definitely check this book out!

Recommendation: Get it soon!

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Group Discussion Announcement: Want

Hey all! Our book for group discussion at Rich in Color next month will be Want by Cindy Pon. I am beyond excited for this sci-fi thriller set in Taipei, and hope you’ll join us for the discussion in August!

Want by Cindy Pon
Jason Zhou survives in a divided society where the elite use their wealth to buy longer lives. The rich wear special suits, protecting them from the pollution and viruses that plague the city, while those without suffer illness and early deaths. Frustrated by his city’s corruption and still grieving the loss of his mother who died as a result of it, Zhou is determined to change things, no matter the cost.

With the help of his friends, Zhou infiltrates the lives of the wealthy in hopes of destroying the international Jin Corporation from within. Jin Corp not only manufactures the special suits the rich rely on, but they may also be manufacturing the pollution that makes them necessary.

Yet the deeper Zhou delves into this new world of excess and wealth, the more muddled his plans become. And against his better judgment, Zhou finds himself falling for Daiyu, the daughter of Jin Corp’s CEO. Can Zhou save his city without compromising who he is, or destroying his own heart? [Image and summary via Goodreads]


We’ll post our discussion on August 9th. Be sure to grab a copy of Want and read along. See you then!

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Author Interview: Cindy Pon

Want by Cindy Pon The moment I heard about it, I put Want on my to-read list because, um hello, sci-fi thriller set in Taipei? Yes, please. I’m over the moon this book is out in the world now, and we at Rich in Color will be talking more about Want in August! More on that next week. Today, we welcome Cindy Pon (@cindypon) to Rich in Color to talk about Want, writing, and representation. Check it out!

First off, I have to say that I was beyond excited for Want, a YA set in Taipei, Taiwan! I’ve been there! Ahhh! Ahem, anyway… How did it feel, writing a book set somewhere that’s clearly personal for you? Not to mention in an all-too-plausible near future setting that feels very relevant to current events right now?
 

All my novels are special to me, but WANT especially because it was an ode to my birth city. I really wanted to bring the city alive for readers, I wanted Taipei to be a character in itself. From some reader reactions, I feel like I achieved that for them, and it makes me so happy! As for relevancy, WANT is the novel that took longest from fruition in 2011 to actual publication. Six years is a LONG time, and I began to worry my near-future thriller would be retro-thriller soon enough. ha! Often the reader reactions were that the world felt very believable and real, and that is because I pulled a lot directly from headlines.

One thing I found fascinating was the seamless switching between languages in Want. Different books usually handle this in different ways to varying degrees of success. How did you decide you were going to handle the issue of portraying different languages? 

 

Hmm. It had to make sense but also feel organic and not confusing? I had great beta readers and critique partners, and I relied on them to make comments on points of confusion. I admit I’m a very intuitive writer, so it’s just a matter of does this fit, does it flow, does it make sense? Especially as I’m revising.

I definitely ship Zhou and Daiyu. But another relationship that felt incredibly central to Want was family – the found family of Lingyi, Iris, Victor, Arun, and Zhou. What made you choose this particular cast of characters?

 

Originally, WANT began as a short story in Diverse Energies (Tu Books) and only featured Zhou and Daiyu. I found both of them utterly fascinating, and it was their dynamic and my curiosity over what their stories were that convinced me to flesh the short story into novel length. As for the squad, I wish I could tell you I did tons of brainstorming and character notecards and trawled through countless images online for inspiration, but as with so much of my writing, they just happened. I did know that I needed distinct characters with distinct traits and abilities to offer to the group. That was the first and easiest thing to decide. Then, they basically told me who they were with each revision.

You referenced the movie Lucy in a Diversity in YA post. For me, Want felt like the anti-Lucy, and that’s something we need way more of. What do you hope to see in the future in terms of Asian representation in media?

 
I want movies and shows and media in the west to feature Asians front and center as protagonists and heroes, in all genres, from comedy to drama to speculative fiction. We’ve been shunted aside for far too long as far as representation, and so often, the bits we are given are offensive or stereotypical or completely dispensible. All the whitewashing is becoming tired and ridiculous. Our erasure still in media is very real.

The moment I finished reading Want, I wanted (haha) more. I hear there’s a sequel happening. Can you tell us anything about it?
 
Yes! My fantastic editor offered on RUSE, the WANT sequel, while I was actually in Shanghai for a research trip. So I am hoping to set RUSE in Shanghai. My second books are always dealing with the consequences of what happened in the first novel, and that is what I want to focus on in this one, too. Won’t say much more than that. ha!
 
Want is definitely going on the top of my list of fave Asian YA reads. What are some of yours?
 

Aww, that is such a compliment coming from you. Thank you so much, Jessica! I really love Malinda Lo’s Huntress and her forthcoming thriller A Line in the Dark. I also loved The Reader by Traci Chee, Rebel Seoul by Axie Oh, ENTER TITLE HERE by Rahul Kanakia, and Julie Dao’s Forest of a Thousand Lanterns! So much more to choose from since my Silver Phoenix debut back in 2009!

I imagine people have asked you what your favorite Taiwanese food is. But what I want to know is… What’s your favorite pearl milk tea flavor?

 
hahaha! Coconut milk tea OR barley tea (no milk)!

Finally, what new YA books are on your to-read list this year?

I’m super excited to read The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F. C. Yee, Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore, The Library of Fates by Aditi Khorana, Warcross by Marie Lu, Uncanny by David Mcinnis Gill, The Glass Spare by Lauren Destefano, and The Speaker by Traci Chee!

Thanks for stopping by! For those of you reading along, be sure to grab Want for your must-read shelf!


You can find Cindy on Twitter and on her website!

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New Releases

Happy early book birthday to Katana at Super Hero High by Lisa Yee! What’s on your to-read list this week?

Katana at Super Hero High by Lisa Yee
Sword-wielding Katana isn’t like most high school students–but with classmates like Wonder Woman, Batgirl, and Supergirl, Super Hero High isn’t like most high schools!

In addition to training to be a super hero, Katana also follows the noble warrior traditions of the Samurai. Now an unknown source has given her the responsibility of guarding a hundred ancient Samurai swords–but why her, and for what purpose? With the help of Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Ms. Martian, and some of her other super friends, she intends to find out. But she just made captain of the fencing team, she has a huge school project due, and a villain with ties to her family’s past seems to be amassing an army. Maintaining her inner peace isn’t going to be easy… but Katana has the steel to save the day! [Image and summary via Goodreads]

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Review: I Believe in a Thing Called Love

Title: I Believe in a Thing Called Love
Author: Maurene Goo
Genres: Romance
Pages: 336 pages
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Copy: Library
Availability: Available now!

Summary: Desi Lee believes anything is possible if you have a plan. That’s how she became student body president. Varsity soccer star. And it’s how she’ll get into Stanford. But—she’s never had a boyfriend. In fact, she’s a disaster in romance, a clumsy, stammering humiliation magnet whose botched attempts at flirting have become legendary with her friends. So when the hottest human specimen to have ever lived walks into her life one day, Desi decides to tackle her flirting failures with the same zest she’s applied to everything else in her life. She finds guidance in the Korean dramas her father has been obsessively watching for years—where the hapless heroine always seems to end up in the arms of her true love by episode ten. It’s a simple formula, and Desi is a quick study. Armed with her “K Drama Steps to True Love,” Desi goes after the moody, elusive artist Luca Drakos—and boat rescues, love triangles, and staged car crashes ensue. But when the fun and games turn to true feels, Desi finds out that real love is about way more than just drama.[Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: I say this a lot, but that cover is incredible and adorable and just, ugh. I love it. The premise itself is a lot of fun too. Desi Lee is an over-achiever in every way but one – namely, romance. After encountering the hot and mysterious Luca Drakos, Desi formulates a plan to enter the dating game… by taking inspiration from a Korean drama.

Now, as anyone who has watched a kdrama knows, there’s plenty of beloved tropes and classic scenarios that make up a standard storyline. Inspired by her single father’s love for kdramas, Desi creates her own guide to true love and follows those steps to a T. Of course, chaos (and romance) ensues.

The book is adorable and hilarious to read. There’s no getting around that. Desi Lee is a wonderful character – successful and driven but totally incapable of flirting or getting the guy. I honestly cried reading the first chapter that establishes exactly how motivated and driven Desi is, along with her bond with her widower father. And while we’re at it – hands down, my favorite character was Desi’s father. He reminded me so much of my own mother and her notes to me that are a mix of Chinese and English. Desi’s friends are awesome as well.

The one thing that did trip me up a bit was just how closely Desi followed the kdrama steps – some of which were more morally murky than others. I’m still not sure what to make of the ending, to be honest.

All in all, this was a fun and refreshing read. Not to be cliche, but it’ll put a smile on your face. If you love kdramas, this is absolutely a must-read. (Loved the shoutout to such dramas as Oh My Ghostess!) Check it out when you get the chance!

Recommendation: Get it soon!

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