Review: When You Where Here

hereTitle: When You Were Here
Author: Daisy Whitney
Genres: Contemporary, Literature
Pages: 257
Publisher: Little, Brown & Company
Review Copy: Won from C.J. Omololu’s Book Giveaway
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: Danny’s mother lost her five-year battle with cancer three weeks before his graduation-the one day that she was hanging on to see.

Now Danny is left alone, with only his memories, his dog, and his heart-breaking ex-girlfriend for company. He doesn’t know how to figure out what to do with her estate, what to say for his Valedictorian speech, let alone how to live or be happy anymore.

When he gets a letter from his mom’s property manager in Tokyo, where she had been going for treatment, it shows a side of a side of his mother he never knew. So, with no other sense of direction, Danny travels to Tokyo to connect with his mother’s memory and make sense of her final months, which seemed filled with more joy than Danny ever knew. There, among the cherry blossoms, temples, and crowds, and with the help of an almost-but-definitely-not Harajuku girl, he begins to see how it may not have been ancient magic or mystical treatment that kept his mother going. Perhaps, the secret of how to live lies in how she died. (from Amazon)

Review: In a literary landscape where fantasy and dystopian novels are best sellers, it is nice to have a quiet novel. A novel that explores the human condition in a beautiful, yet understated way. A novel that allows the reader to connect with a character as he or she grows and comes to understand meaning in the small things in life. “When You Were Here” is such a novel that examines life after a loved one succombs to cancer. It’s a beautiful story that explores grief and then finding acceptance after death.

What I really liked about this novel is the fact that this touching story is told from a male’s perspective. Having a male narrator/main character in YA literature is somewhat of a rarity and I enjoyed reading Danny’s discovery of the last few months of his mother’s life, especially her time in Japan. Danny is unflinchingly honest about his feelings – his anger that his mother wasn’t able to see him graduate from high school, his love for his ex-girlfriend Holland –  as he works through the stages of grief and in the end discovers himself. By learning to be honest with himself, he learns how to ask the questions he needs from the people who knew his mother and to be honest with Holland. I loved the fact that the character’s spoke to each other instead of a book filled with misunderstandings. It was clear that Danny had a healthy relationship with his mother, told through touching flashbacks, that helped him become the young man who is able to handle becoming an orphan at the age of 18. His maturity doesn’t seem forced, in that children with ill parents are often much more mature than their counterparts. It is because of this attention to character detail that makes Danny feel very real and relatable.

Last week I wrote about creating diverse worlds, even when having main characters who are Caucasian, as “When You Were Here” does. I wasn’t even thinking about this novel when I wrote the article, but the world Danny lives in is a perfect example of a diverse world. The novel begins in Los Angeles and Whitney makes sure to make Danny’s world a reflection of the multicultural city that is Los Angeles. I was definitely able to relate to the city presented in this novel because it is the world I live in. When the novel moves to Tokyo, Whitney doesn’t treat the city as a novelty, but as a real place where people live and work. In fact, Danny loves Tokyo and that love is clearly presented. Danny doesn’t view Tokyo with a tourist’s wonder, but as a citizen of the city and in the end, he calls it home. I do not know whether Whitney actually visited Japan, but she definitely completed thorough research into local customs, beliefs, language as well as most likely asked the right questions about Japanese culture. Her careful attention shows the respect it takes when writing another culture when one is the other and I commend her for it.

While I didn’t read this by the beach, “When You Were Here” is beach reading material and the perfect companion for summer.

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Creating Diverse Worlds

This post is for all you writers out there wondering how to create diversity in your novel. Creating diversity is not just the act of developing a character of color, it is also creating a diverse world. Think about the world that you live in. Who do you interact with everyday? I’ll use myself as an example.

Long_Beach_diversity_of_people_expressed_Long_Beach

Mural expressing the diversity of my city. From virtualtourist.com

I live in Long Beach, CA, one of the most diverse cities in America. My student population is 60% Hispanic/Latino and 40% African-American, but the teaching staff is much more diverse with a good mix of different nationalities. I live in a large condo complex and there is every race and age living in the building. Yesterday as I walked out, I was behind an elderly Japanese couple and there is a mixed race family with two girls that I have seen grow into beautiful young ladies. Our neighbors across the courtyard are Samoan. This is just my complex. My best friend from high school is Puerto Rican and my husband’s best friend is a mix of Mexican and Navajo. Another high school friend, who is Caucasian, married a man who is a mix of Mexican and Japanese. Their daughter is a lovely blend of everything that makes up her parents. Another friend’s fiancée is Filipino, and she herself is a mix of Persian and Jewish. I am sitting in a coffee shop as I write this and the ethnic makeup of everyone in here is a mix of all the colors of the world.

Obviously, I encounter diversity in every aspect of my life, except for in novels. Why is this? I know writers do not write in a vacuum and have lives outside of the computer. Why not have the world you create from the pen, reflect the world the you live in? If you are unsure of how to do that, just spend some time sitting in a restaurant, coffee shop, mall, wherever people gather and watch them. Imagine their lives. What are they doing? Where are they going? What are the relationships with the people they’re with? You don’t have to create full character histories for them, but do remember them when creating the world your characters lives in. Just having a main character of color is not enough; the people the character interacts with should be diverse as well.

Don’t just focus on their ethnicity as well. People of color are more than just their skin. We are as unique and varied with our own special interests (I’m a Trekkie) and when creating diverse characters make sure you are creating a real person, not just a stock stereotype. Even if your main character interacts with a person for just one scene, create a small character profile in your head and then use that as a basis for how you write him/her in that once scene. Or, use the personality of someone you know and think about how he/she would react in the same situation. Think outside of the box and strive to make your world reflect the world you live in.

Now, unless your world is set in a place that is not diverse, say the novel “Spirits Chosen” which was set in a mythical Japan, then obviously your characters will not reflect the diverse world you live in. However, if you are interested in writing fantasy, why stick to the European version of elves and such? Why not look into the ancient history or folklore tales of other cultures? There is such a wide variety of stories from distant places that are just waiting to be told.

chaos

Image via Goodreads.com

Nalo Hopkinson’s “The Chaos” is a novel that creates a diverse world the right way. In fact, it felt as if she were hitting us over the head with diversity, but that is because it is so rare in fiction to find a novel that accurately reflects the culture we live in. The novel is set in modern day Toronto when an odd supernatural event happens, dubbed The Chaos for that is exactly what it is, and the story deals with one characters attempts to survive the event. The novel does have an aspect of fantasy pulling from Caribbean, Asian and European folklore traditions. I recommend that every writer interested in creating a diverse world, read Hopkinson’s book for inspiration.

Go forth and create diverse worlds!

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New Releases

We’re officially halfway through 2013, my friends, and so far the year has released some terrific books featuring characters of color, and books written by authors of color.

July seems to be a slow month as we settle into lounging by the pool or the beach and go on our vacations. This week, we only have one new release, but it looks promising.

the night itselfBy Zoe Marriott
Walker Books Ltd

Ancient Japanese gods and monsters are unleashed on modern-day London in this epic trilogy from an acclaimed fantasy writer. When Mio steals the family’s katana – a priceless ancestral sword – from her parents’ attic, she just wants to spice up a fancy-dress costume. But the katana is much more than some dusty antique and her actions unleash a terrible, ancient evil onto the streets of unsuspecting London. Soon Shinobu, a fearless warrior boy, appears to protect Mio – and threatens to steal her heart. With the gods and monsters of Japanese myth stalking her and her friends, Mio realizes that if she cannot keep the sword safe, and learn to control its legendary powers, she will lose not only her own life…but the love of a lifetime.

Picture and summary via Amazon.com

And one we missed last week…

since you askedBy Maurene Goo

Scholastic Press

No, no one asked, but Holly Kim will tell you what she thinks anyway.

Fifteen-year-old Holly Kim is the copyeditor for her high school’s newspaper. When she accidentally submits an article that rips everyone to shreds, she gets her own column and rants her way through the school year. Can she survive homecoming, mean-girl cliques, jocks, secret admirers, Valentine’s Day, and other high school embarrassments, all while struggling to balance her family’s traditional Korean values?
In this hilarious debut, Maurene Goo takes a fresh look at trying to fit in without conforming to what’s considered “normal” in high school and how to manage parental expectations without losing one’s individuality…or being driven insane.

Picture and summary via Amazon.com

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Review: The Eternity Cure

eternityBefore I get to the nuts and bolts of my review, I must give a loud Thank You to Julie Kagawa. Thank You Julie for making vampires scary again. Your vampires are ruthless and deadly and snarky and a reminder of why vampires have always been popular. Also, Thank You for having a female Asian character in Allison who completely kicks butt. And lastly, Thank You for making her the vampire, hereby ending the “vampire guy/human girl love story” trope.

Obviously, based on my praise for Julie’s vampires, specifically Allison, I loved The Eternity Cure. I ended up reading the first book of the series in order to understand Kagawa’s world, and really loved “The Immortal Rules”, hence my expectations for “Eternity Cure” were very high. Kagawa didn’t disappoint in this sequel of what I believe will be either an amazing trilogy or an intense series. In fact, I hope it’s a trilogy because I don’t know if my heart can take another punch like it did at the end of Eternity Cure…but I’m getting ahead of myself.

What makes Eternity Cure such a fantastic read is primarily the work Kagawa puts in creating her characters. Allison Sekemoto is a tough, Katana wielding heroine who has learned to fight for survival. In this second book, the readers continue with Allison as she learns how to balance being a vampire yet still hold on to her humanity. Kagawa’s world is very dark, very self-serving, yet Allison manages to be a bright spot, showing compassion towards both humans and vampires. She is easy to relate to as she makes some hard decisions and struggles with her loyalty to her sire, Kanin, and her desire for Zeke. Speaking of Zeke, the romance between him and Allison does not overpower the main storyline, but is understated, given weight at appropriate moments, specifically when they are not fighting for their lives. Another plus I have to give Kagawa in writing the romance between Allison and Zeke is the fact that Allison is not a passive participant in the relationship – at all. She doesn’t always wait for Zeke to make the first move, many times initiating affection. I found the portrayal of their relationship realistic instead of the passive girl/aggressive boy trope that pervades some many novels. More YA novels need to have this healthy view of relationships and I’m thankful that Kagawa was able to weave such a portrayal in an otherwise dark story.

If you haven’t read either “The Immortal Rules” or “The Eternity Cure”, stop what you are doing (after leaving a comment below first) and run to your nearest bookstore (support your local bookstore) and buy these books! I promise, you will not be disappointed.

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Flashback in Color: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

While Rich in Color’s mission is to share current diverse novels, we must not forget the Classics. The trailblazers, the writers who chose to write stories featuring characters of color before readers demanded it. These novels moved readers when they were first published and move readers still, as well as inspired generations of writers of color. Therefore, we are instituting a new series here on Rich In Color, titled Flashback in Color, exploring those classics novels that are beloved by all.

20130505-134748.jpgThis post was inspired by one of my 7th grade students bringing in Mildred Taylor’s, “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry”. This Newbery Award winning classic was published in 1976 and is still loved by readers. I, in fact, read the book when I was in 5th grade, and my heart still warms from the memory of the novel.

Set in Mississippi during the Great Depression, the novel follows the events surrounding the Logans, an African-American family who own their farmland, unlike many African-American families of the time. The novel explores the tension of racial relationships created by the poverty of the Depression.

When I read the novel as a child, I was extremely happy to read a novel, a compelling novel, that featured a character who looked like me. I was a voracious reader, and Roll of Thunder was the first time I remembered thinking, “Here is a black character I could relate to. She’s not the only one, or the friend. It’s all about her.” It was so uplifting for an 11 year old inspiring writer.

One of the reasons why, I think, Taylor’s novel has stood the test of time is that the character of Cassie Logan is written so strongly. She is fierce, stands up for what she believes, questions her world and ultimately overcomes the obstacles thrown her way. Who wouldn’t want to took up to a character like that?

Taylor also doesn’t hold back with the racism that Cassie and her family experience. After everything her family goes through, you want them to win, to come out on top. In that aspect, with such a sensitive subject, the very fact that Taylor speaks to the young reader, not at the reader, is why adolescents since 1976 have fallen in love with the novel and why it is still taught in schools.

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New Releases

Two touching novels exploring family and death debut this week. Both novels look interesting so I’m adding them to my summer reading list.

hereWhen You Were Here, by Daisy Whitney

Little Brown Books for Young Readers

Danny’s mother lost her five-year battle with cancer three weeks before his graduation-the one day that she was hanging on to see.

Now Danny is left alone, with only his memories, his dog, and his heart-breaking ex-girlfriend for company. He doesn’t know how to figure out what to do with her estate, what to say for his Valedictorian speech, let alone how to live or be happy anymore.

When he gets a letter from his mom’s property manager in Tokyo, where she had been going for treatment, it shows a side of a side of his mother he never knew. So, with no other sense of direction, Danny travels to Tokyo to connect with his mother’s memory and make sense of her final months, which seemed filled with more joy than Danny ever knew. There, among the cherry blossoms, temples, and crowds, and with the help of an almost-but-definitely-not Harajuku girl, he begins to see how it may not have been ancient magic or mystical treatment that kept his mother going. Perhaps, the secret of how to live lies in how she died. (via Amazon)

 

UnderneathUnderneath by Sarah Jamila Stevenson

Flux

“Dear Sunny: I don’t expect you to understand any of this yet, but we’ll always have yesterday . . . and today,  and tomorrow. Maybe one day you’ll figure it out. I never could.”

With a supportive family, great friends, and a spot on her high school’s swim team, Sunshine “Sunny” Pryce-Shah’s life seems perfect. Until the day her popular older cousin Shiri commits suicide. The shocking tragedy triggers heart-wrenching grief, unanswered questions, and a new, disturbing ability in Sunny—hearing people’s thoughts.

When Sunny “underhears” awful things about what her so-called friends really think of her, she starts avoiding them and instead seeks refuge with the emo crowd. But when she discovers her new friends’ true motives, Sunny doesn’t know who she can trust anymore. Feeling like she’ll drown in the flood of unwanted voices inside her head, she turns to her cousin’s journal for answers. Sunny must figure out how to keep everything from falling apart, or she may end up just like Shiri. (via Amazon)

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