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.

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Interview with Kat Zhang + Giveaway

Everyone, please welcome Kat Zhang to Rich in Color! Kat is an author of young adult, middle grade, and pictures books. Her newest book, THE EMPEROR’S RIDDLE, came out just a little while ago:

Mia Chen is on what her mother calls a Grand Adventure. She’s not sure what to make of this family trip to China, and didn’t want to leave her friends for the summer, but she’s excited about the prospect of exploring with her Aunt Lin, the only adult who truly understands her.

Then Aunt Lin disappears, right after her old nemesis, a man named Ying, comes to visit. Mia knows that years ago, when Aunt Lin and Ying were sent to the Fuzhou countryside to work as laborers, the two searched for an ancient treasure together–one that still hasn’t been found. She’s suspicious that their shared history might be linked to Aunt Lin’s disappearance.

When Mia discovers an old map filled with riddles in Aunt Lin’s room, she quickly pieces together her mission: find the treasure, find her aunt. Now, Mia, along with her big brother, Jake, must solve the clues to rescue the person she knows best in the world—and maybe unearth a treasure greater than her wildest dreams.

We’re excited to have Kat stop by and to ask her questions about THE EMPEROR’S RIDDLE. Once you’ve finished reading the interview, be sure to enter the giveaway for a copy of the book!


Tell us more about the development of Mia. What do you hope she means to readers?

First off, thanks of much for having me on Rich In Color! I’m so happy to be here talking about THE EMPEROR’S RIDDLE 🙂

As for Mia–it’s always hard for me to talk about “developing” my characters, because it usually feels like they’re revealing themselves to me, rather than being characters that I have to make up. From the first few pages of the first draft, I knew that Mia was going to be a dreamer, a lover of history and fantasy, someone with her head up in the clouds. I knew, too, that as much as she liked these things about herself, they also made her feel inadequate next to her high-achieving mother and older brother. The rest of Mia’s quirks and traits built from these core elements of her personality.

I think there are a lot of kids like Mia, but the world eventually pushes them to change, to be more sensible and realistic and “Adult.” Of course some growing up is inevitable, and maturity is important–but I hope readers of RIDDLE find some encouragement in how it’s Mia’s fantastical, dreamer nature that helps her solve problems no one else can.

Why did you decide to write a family-based story? What importance does family have in the book?

I set RIDDLE during a family trip to China in part because similar trips were a cornerstone of my own childhood. Those summers were all about family for me–not only was I spending a whole lot of time with my parents, but I was seeing all this extended family that I usually didn’t interact with at all. And that’s on top of all the stories about my parents I’d hear, all the old pictures and places I got to see.

Considering the roots of the story, it only made sense to bind RIDDLE with themes of family and belonging. Underneath the treasure-hunt plot, RIDDLE is at its heart a story about Mia coming to terms with the various members of her family, and discovering new aspects of them she never appreciated before.

What was your research process like for the legend and cultural/historical landmarks in The Emperor’s Riddle? Tell us about some of your favorite discoveries.

The research for each of the riddle/clue landmarks was actually pretty extensive, but also a lot of fun! I wanted to make sure I touched on a variety of places, but also used places that were old enough to have realistically been around back when the riddle was created.

My mother is actually from the Fuzhou area originally, so I’m pretty excited about actually visiting these locales in the future. I’d especially like to see the “Three Lanes and Seven Alleys” area Mia and her family visits. It seems really neat!

What have been the most challenging aspects of writing The Emperor’s Riddle? The most rewarding?

The logistics of the riddle was probably the trickiest part–just making sure that everything came together correctly, and stayed as historically accurate as possible, while still being exciting and fun. It was incredibly rewarding for me to get to delve into Mia’s travels, the cool things she sees, and to hear that readers have had fun taking this journey around Fuzhou with her.

I see that you have another middle grade book and a picture book on the horizon. What can you tell us about them? Are there any other projects you’re working on right now?

Yes! My next middle grade is called THE MEMORY OF FORGOTTEN THINGS. It’s about a girl named Sophia, whose mother died when she was six years old. However, that’s not how she remembers it–not always. You see, even after her mother’s death, Sophia kept accruing new “Memories” of her mother, memories of things that never actually happened… Now she’s on a quest to make these “Memories” come true, to change the fabric of her world so her mother never died.

AMY WU & THE PERFECT BAO is my first picture book, and it’s about a little girl on a quest to make the world’s most perfect bao 😉

I’m incredibly excited for them both!

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?

I recently got copies of two other books my editor worked on this past year: WHEN DIMPLE MET RISHI and AMINA’S VOICE. I haven’t gotten the chance to read them yet, unfortunately–the last few months have been pretty hectic–but I’ve heard really great things!

Is there anything else you would like to tell us about The Emperor’s Riddle or your other work?

Only that I’m so thrilled they’re going to be out there, and I really hope they give kids the chance to see him or herself reflected in the novels they read.


Kat Zhang spent most of her childhood tramping through a world weaved from her favorite stories and games. When she and her best friend weren’t riding magic horses or talking to trees, they were writing adaptations of plays for their stuffed animals (what would The Wizard of Oz have been like if the Cowardly Lion were replaced by a Loquacious Lamb?). This may or may not explain many of Kat’s quirks today.

You can reach her at www.katzhangwriter.com, @KatZhang (twitter), or @KatZhangWriter (instagram).


Kat has generously offered a copy of THE EMPEROR’S RIDDLE to one of our readers! Enter the giveaway by using the Rafflecopter widget below. The giveaway is only open to people with U.S. mailing addresses. It will end at midnight Eastern time on July 17th.

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Review & Giveaway: The Long Run

Title: The Long Run

Author: Joseph Bruchac

Genres: Contemporary

Pages: 114 pages

Publisher: 7th Generation

Review Copy: Book received from publisher

Availability: Available now

Summary: “You are useless, kid. Useless. Why do I have to take care of you? You just hold me back. Useless.”

Travis put his hand on his stomach. He felt the bruise from his father’s blow, but what his father had said hurt more.

Useless.

I’m not useless. I can run. That’s one thing I can do.

“I’m tired of being afraid,” Travis said. He said it softly. He said it to himself.

I can’t stay here, Travis thought. The thought surprised him. But how can I leave my father? Then another thought hit him. It hit him harder than his father’s drunken fists. I have to leave. I have to run. Not tomorrow. Now!

Follow Travis Hawk on a cross-country trek as he escapes a world of brutality and uncertainty and puts his trust, and even his very life, in the hands of total strangers. Travis’s story is one of struggle, survival, risk and resilience, navigating a solo journey of hundreds of miles to seek a safe haven far from the demons of his past.

Review: Before I talk about The Long Run, I want to mention what the 7th Generation PathFinder novels are. The PathFinder novels are all written by Native authors, feature Native teens, and are contemporary or historical fiction. Additionally, the PathFinder novels are designed to engage teens with low reading levels (the books are all written at a 2.5 to 4.5 reading level) who want fast-paced plots and culturally accurate stories. You can find the entire PathFinder catalog here.

The Long Run is a straightforward adventure story, focused on Travis Hawk as he makes the fateful decision to leave his father and the Seattle shelter they live in and travel to his grandparents in Maine. It is easy to empathize with Travis and his sudden decision to run away before his father can wake up. His journey is a hard one (anti-Native racism, lack of money, harrowing encounters), but it is also filled with many uplifting moments and good people. From the man on the bus who shares his food with Travis to the people who pay him for odd jobs so he can continue with his journey, there is a wealth of kindness in this story, too.

As Travis crosses the country, the reader learns more about him and his past while also learning about the people who have stepped in to help him. He meets a wide cross-section of humanity, and the people he spends time with all have their own stories to explore. In fact, I wished the novel were a little longer so Travis could meet more people and so we could learn more about him. The episodic nature of the book generally works well, though it feels a little choppy on occasion.

Recommendation: Get it soon, especially if you’re a teacher looking to diversify a middle or high school classroom library. The Long Run would be a great book to pass on to any teens who like adventure stories and also have lower reading levels.

Giveaway

This giveaway is open to U.S. teachers only. Use the Rafflecopter widget below to enter. One copy of The Long Run is available. The giveaway ends on June 16, 2017.
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4th Anniversary Giveaway

Today is our 4th Anniversary! I can’t believe it has been so long already, but I’m thrilled that we’re still around and still doing our best to read, review, and promote young adult books by and/or about people of color and people from First/Native Nations. We’re excited to celebrate by giving away fifteen different prizes, many of which you’ve probably already seen featured on our site.

We’re giving away copies of An Ember in the Ashes + A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir, Shame the Stars by Guadalupe Garcia McCall, The Education of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera, Because of the Sun by Jenny Torres, History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera, Enter Title Here by Rahul Kanakia, Pasadena by Sherri L. Smith, Perfect Liars by Kimberly Reid, Gotham Academy Vol. 3: Yearbook by Brenden Fletcher, James Tynion IV, and Rafael Albuquerque, Poison’s Kiss by Breeana Shields, The Hate U Give by by Angie Thomas, The Tankborn Trilogy by Karen Sandler, and Flying Lessons & Other Stories edited by Ellen Oh. We also have two Winner’s Choice prizes up for grabs, too!

This giveaway is only eligible to those with U.S. mailing addresses. The giveaway ends on March 31st at midnight Eastern time.

Thanks so much to all of you for supporting us here at Rich in Color. Have a wonderful week!

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Book Discussion and Giveaway

wish door

In August we announced our September book discussion. We’re reading A Wish After Midnight and the sequel The Door at the Crossroads right now and will post a group discussion about both books near the end of September. These are fascinating books and we’d love for others to be involved in the discussion. If you’re reading along, please join us by tweeting about the books using the hashtag #Zettasbooks. If you don’t use Twitter, feel free to comment on any of the posts here related to this specific book discussion. We’ve used the tag Zettasbooks with our posts.

Zetta Elliott was generous enough to provide three copies of The Door at the Crossroads to be used in a giveaway. Please enter below if you would like to win a copy.

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