Coming Soon – Group Discussion of #NotYourPrincess

We’re happy to announce a group discussion for next month. We’ll be reading #NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale. These are the same editors who brought us Dreaming in Indian [my review here] and Urban Tribes [our discussion here], so you know it’s an excellent compilation of Native voices.

Summary: Whether looking back to a troubled past or welcoming a hopeful future, the powerful voices of Indigenous women across North America resound in this book. In the same style as the best-selling Dreaming in Indian, #NotYourPrincess presents an eclectic collection of poems, essays, interviews, and art that combine to express the experience of being a Native woman. Stories of abuse, humiliation, and stereotyping are countered by the voices of passionate women making themselves heard and demanding change. Sometimes angry, often reflective, but always strong, the women in this book will give teen readers insight into the lives of women who, for so long, have been virtually invisible.


Our plan is to read the book now and start our group discussion near the end of September. In mid-October we’ll post our discussion. We hope you’ll join us in reading and share your thoughts with us next month or on Twitter as you read.

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Group Discussion: Want

Want by Cindy PonWant 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]


Welcome to the Rich in Color group discussion of Want! Mild spoilers ahead:

Jessica: Let’s all take a moment to appreciate that amazing, super gorgeous cover. *gazes dreamily*

Audrey: It’s a gorgeous cover. *admires it with you* I’m especially fond of the light reflections on the helmet.

K. Imani: I like the cover as well. I think it captures the futuristic feel of the story and Jason perfectly.

Jessica: So the moment Want was on my radar, I knew I had to get it because, you know, I’m Taiwanese American so the fact that it’s a YA sci-fi thriller set in Taipei, Taiwan made it very relevant to my interests. So much of the book felt real to me and my experiences – the places named, the food, just the general vibe of Taipei. The way the story was so rooted in a real life place made the futuristic stuff, like the suits that filtered out pollution, feel very real, too. What was your take on the setting?

Crystal:  The setting is one unfamiliar to me, but that was appealing. I’m always looking for books set in other countries so I can travel vicariously. It’s a whole lot cheaper. In some ways, the pollution was the most significant thing about the setting though.

Audrey: I loved the setting. Near-future Taipei was great–I’ve never been to current-day Taipei, though I have seen pictures of it (including the famous night markets). Cindy Pon did a great job of painting a picture of the city for someone who doesn’t know much about it, particularly in describing the huge gap between the world of the rich and the world of the poor. One of the things I really like about science-fiction, especially the near-future variety, is seeing how tech and culture are extrapolated (voice- and thought-activated everything, flying cars, etc.). Pon did a great job of this, and I enjoyed learning more about the world of Want.

K. Imani: In a number of my writing workshops/classes, setting has always been stressed to almost be a character itself, and in WANT I felt like it totally was. The way Pon described the city, I could clearly see, and actually see the city dying because of the smog. I felt for not just all the people living there but all the plants and animals that were slowly dying as well. The way the buildings were described just broke my heart. The fact that the city was a character also truly emphasized how if we don’t take care of our planet, our entire society is affected, not just the humans.

Jessica: Yeah, if I were analyzing this in English class, I’d totally say something nerdy about how there’s another omnipresent character in Want – and that’s the pollution of Taipei itself. Even when Zhou is in the world of the you society, the absence of the pollution is felt as well. Considering that global warming is a very real threat right now, this made Want feel almost too current. Did you feel that the future portrayed in Want was a possible take on our own near future, or more of a distant what-if dystopian scenario? Maybe a little of both?

Crystal: I totally agree about the pollution being another character. It’s there lurking everywhere. The fact that people can’t get away from it without spending significant amounts of money is always there too. I hope this is a distant what-if, but some of the tension of reading the book is knowing that this type of situation could be a possibility for our future.

Audrey: I have the dubious pleasure of living along the Wasatch Front, and due to the geography of the area, we get thick blankets of smog in winter and summer that turn the sky yellow-brown and can make the mountains disappear on especially bad days. (I grimaced in sympathy whenever Zhou or Daiyu mentioned never being able to see the mountains from the city–it happens several times a year here.) Most of the time when the weather report is given on the radio, they include an air quality report and whether any action is recommended/required. It’s not Want level yet, but the quality of the air is a not-insignificant concern where I live. Currently waiting for masks to become a thing on bad days.

K. Imani: Oh, I definitely feel that if we aren’t careful with our air and work to end pollution, the world of Want is a possibility. As Audrey said her weather report includes air quality reports and the same is a given in many cities across the world. I feel like Want is a cautionary tale in that aspect; giving us warning as to the future that we are leaving for our children. Daiyu’s grandfather (I think it was) remembered blue sky which means that the world of Want is not too far removed from our current society. I feel Pon did a wonderful job of extrapolating what the future could be if we don’t take steps now to reverse pollution.

Jessica: Global warming was the elephant in the room in Want, but there’s definitely other issues presented that are either evergreen or relevant to what’s going on today – like the wealth gap, portrayed through the have’s and have not’s (you and mei) of Taipei. I was really struck by the added complexity added to the issue through the (SPOILER ALERT) introduction of the mass produced suits that were really meant to spur consumer spending by those who couldn’t afford it, and the way it was both a conspiracy to harm people and a transparent PR stunt. What did you all think of that? Were there any social issues portrayed in Want that jumped out at you?

Crystal: Want takes a good look at the environment, but the economic issues were also significant. The wage gap in the U.S. is on the increase and I think this too struck a little close to home. I saw it especially in the access to healthcare for Zhou’s mother and others. There are basic human rights that are violated many times over.

K. Imani: I agree with you about the access to healthcare too; that really hit home for me. I feel like that lack of basic healthcare for the meis was a great example, like the debate happening in our country right now. In addition to the corporate greed on display, this novel truly shows how if we let it get out of control, our world will have dire consequences.

Audrey: One of the things I enjoyed most about the exploration of the gap between the you and the mei was that Zhou could be appalled by the excess and frivolity of the you while also craving the comforts he had in a privileged position. He got used to breathing good air and having money to throw around–but he also got frustrated by all the ways the you just didn’t understand that there was a problem. The interview with Angela at the end–where she flat out says she cares about the pollution now because it finally affects her–was very telling. Environmental justice, affordable healthcare, government corruption, profits over people–all of those issues were important in Want, and I was happy to see them tackled head on.

K. Imani: So agree about Angela’s interview as it reflected real words I’ve heard certain followers of a certain unpopular president say as they realize that now they are affected by his policies. It just shows how comfortable people are in their privilege and don’t think about others. I’m glad that Pon pointed this belief out and hope that it makes people become more empathetic.

Jessica: Agreed. On a lighter note… Zhou! His introduction screamed ‘bad boy’ to me in the best possible way. I kept wondering how Zhou was going to turn it around and make things right with Daiyu, so I just loved the plot twist at the end regarding her.

Crystal: The whole romance portion of the book made my heart happy.

Audrey: I actually took a screenshot of the dedication–everyone loves a bad boy who plays with knives–and sent it to some of my friends, who definitely agreed. I loved that Zhou was apologetic about kidnapping Daiyu and did everything he could to not freak her out too much while he waited for a ransom. His conflict about getting close to her after the memory wipe was great–as was that plot twist. I was so happy since I spent the whole book basically waiting for Daiyu’s heart to be broken.

K. Imani: I loved the plot twist as well because it said a lot about Daiyu. I mean, I already thought she was kick ass, and when the plot twist occurred I was so happy. They were definitely equals in that relationship and I loved that they both challenged each other.

Jessica: Okay, so… books! There were a lot of bookish references in Want, ranging from A Wrinkle in Time to The Count of Monte Cristo. I particularly loved the mention of The Count of Monte Cristo, since it was so on-the-nose. Were there any book references that you liked in particular?

Crystal: I too loved the inclusion of so many book references throughout the story. Zhou really stole my heart in many ways and that was one of them for sure. And what a mix – Roald Dahl, Beverly Clearly, and Poe among others. His reading was certainly eclectic. I also liked that Dream of the Red Chamber was mentioned. I had never heard of it, but when I looked it up, I found out it’s basically the most famous Chinese novel ever. It’s twice as long as War and Peace with about 40 main characters. One of them is named Daiyu. So being a librarian and curious, I dug around and found this cool quote from the first chapter of The Red Chamber that’s been translated this way:

Truth becomes fiction when the fiction’s true;
Real becomes not-real where the unreal’s real.

Kind of interesting when reading Want.

Audrey: I’m a sucker for a badass bookworm, and Zhou fit the bill. Jessica, I loved The Count of Monte Cristo reference, too, and had half been expecting that to be part of Zhou’s covering being blown. Crystal, I also loved how widely read Zhou was–I could recognize most of the references, even if I hadn’t read the books in question. It made me wonder what books from today would be worthy of being considered classics a hundred or so years from now.

K. Imani: I had the same thought, Audrey, of what books would be considered classics in the future. I actually loved that Zhou was a book nerd and even quoted some books. It made me love him even more. I especially like how he actually had read diversely and that we were introduced to some new authors. I actually learned about Cao Xueqin, the author of Dream of the Red Chamber, a few nights after I finished the book and now I totally want to read it as well.

Jessica: Yes! Do it! I read part of Dream of the Red Chamber in college for Chinese lit class, and it was super fun… but also very confusing. Confusing but fun.

Crystal: Aside from introducing me to a lengthy, but cool book I might attempt to read in the future, Want also introduced me to Jay Chou. Some of the characters were listening to one of his ballads so I had to chase down his music to play while I finished that chapter. Pure loveliness.

Jessica: A movie I’m really excited about right now is Crazy Rich Asians, which is absolutely not whitewashed and, well, the book was amazing. So it’s gonna be great. Reading Want and its vivid description of a glitzy and gritty future Taipei made me want a movie version of this soooo bad. I’m pretty psyched for the future when it comes to Asian representation in media. The next book I’m looking forward to, now that I have read and loved Want, is American Panda by Gloria Chao. Also, The Epic Crush of Genie Lo (!!) which is out now and I need to read ASAP. Do you all have any upcoming YA books that speak to you in particular?

Crystal: I’m interested in Calling My Name by Liara Tamani. I spent my high school and college years in the Bible Belt of Texas and attended a conservative church. Taja is a young teen from Houston in similar circumstances so I’m looking forward to that story. I’m also super excited to read Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds, Akata Warrior by Nnedi Okorafor and They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera. There are more, but the list is getting out of hand.

Audrey: I just bought Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson, which came out earlier this year. I’m super excited for Dread Nation by Justina Ireland, Love Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie Dao, and Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore.

K.Imani: This is a tough question because I just want to read all the books, but I am looking forward to the sequel to Daniel Jose Older’s Shadowshaper, Shadowhouse Falls, as well as Akata Warrior by Nnedi Okorafor. I also bought a number of British YA books when I was in London so I’m really looking forward to reading those books.

Jessica: Exciting! *busily organizes to-read list*


If you haven’t read Want already, definitely go out and grab a copy – it’s amazing. And if you have, what were your thoughts? Let us know in the comments!

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Group Discussion: When Dimple Met Rishi

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon
Simon Pulse

A laugh-out-loud, heartfelt YA romantic comedy, told in alternating perspectives, about two Indian-American teens whose parents have arranged for them to be married.

Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family, from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” Ugh. Dimple knows they must respect her principles on some level, though. If they truly believed she needed a husband right now, they wouldn’t have paid for her to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers…right?

Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic. So when his parents tell him that his future wife will be attending the same summer program as him—wherein he’ll have to woo her—he’s totally on board. Because as silly as it sounds to most people in his life, Rishi wants to be arranged, believes in the power of tradition, stability, and being a part of something much bigger than himself.

The Shahs and Patels didn’t mean to start turning the wheels on this “suggested arrangement” so early in their children’s lives, but when they noticed them both gravitate toward the same summer program, they figured, Why not?

Dimple and Rishi may think they have each other figured out. But when opposites clash, love works hard to prove itself in the most unexpected ways.


Welcome, everyone, to our group discussion of When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon! If you haven’t heard of this sweet and fun contemporary romance, you need to add it to your TBR pile right away.

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Group Discussion: The Hate U Give

The Hate U Give: Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend, Khalil, at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, Khalil’s death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Starr’s best friend at school suggests he may have had it coming. When it becomes clear the police have little interest in investigating the incident, protesters take to the streets and Starr’s neighborhood becomes a war zone. What everyone wants to know is: What really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does—or does not—say could destroy her community. It could also endanger her life.


K. Imani: The title comes from a quote by Tupac who said Thug Life stood for “The Hate U Give Little Infants F*** Everybody.” I had never heard that quote before and found it very interesting. As the novel progressed and the meaning of Thug Life became more and more evident, I found it to be extremely profound. And a true statement of our times, especially since the election there has been a rise in hate crimes. Children of color are bearing witness to hate against them and I can only imagine what will happen when they come of age and discover the power of their voice like Starr does.

Crystal: I too hadn’t heard of this particular quote, but it resonated with me. It made me think of the many ways that Black children are seeing and experiencing hate in our country. Tupac had some wisdom there. It only seems logical that sowing hate will bring negatives for everybody.

Audrey: It was also my first time hearing that quote, but it is a powerful sentiment and a perfect distillation of the themes in THUG. I loved how it kept coming back into the story and how Starr’s relationship to it changed as she watched the fallout of Khalil’s murder in her family, her community, and the surrounding city. The hate played out differently across the characters, but there was no question that it made things worse for everyone all around.

K. Imani: One aspect of the novel I loved is that Starr had a relationship with her parents. We learn early that her parents are very frank with her, specifically having given her “The Talk” (not the sex talk, the one all Black kids get about dealing with the police) at a young age, and even shows when her 8 year old brother receives The Talk. It is because of this talk/relationship with her parents that Starr initially stays relatively calm when she and Khalil are pulled over. I like how Thomas revealed the different parts of The Talk by having her think of her father’s words as she encountered the hostile police officer. I know many Black folk who go through the same process when pulled over, especially these days when one never knows how their encounter will end up. I think we’re all Starr in that moment.

Jessica: Speaking of The Talk – I didn’t notice until later in the book that even though Starr did everything “right” when she and Khalil were pulled over, just like her parents told her, it wasn’t enough. The policeman pointed his gun at her as well. She points that out to her parents, and they understood instantly. So many people question who Khalil was, whether he had it coming, and so on, but Starr’s parents are steadfast in their understanding of the reality of the situation – that nothing justified his killing.

Crystal: I really appreciated the adults in the story and the relationships Starr had with them. Starr’s parents showed that they loved their children and were going to hold them to high standards because of that love. Their rules and consequences are reasoned decisions based on love and a desire to do what’s best for their kids. The humor and respect they show sure add another great element too. They had a beautiful relationship they were sharing and modeling for their kids. It was also good to see Starr’s uncle and his role in her life. It added another layer to the story to see how he had stepped in for her family when she was young and to see events from a Black police officer’s perspective.

Audrey: I loved Starr’s parents. Thomas gave me a glimpse through them–and Starr’s reactions to them and their advice–about what other people’s experiences are in America. It was heartbreaking when her little brother got pulled aside for The Talk, but I appreciated seeing that their parents had to make that call not because any eight-year-old is an actual threat to anyone but because we live in a world where they, as good parents, must give their children as much information and advice as they can to help keep them safe. Starr going through The Talk in her head when she and Khalil got pulled over made me very aware of all the small things that could–and did–go wrong. And it made the second awful encounter with the police later on all the more terrifying because of the possibility it could happen again.

There were a lot of good adults in Starr’s world, and I appreciated how Thomas took the time to demonstrate how they could have different perspectives and disagreements about how things should play out. They could fight with one another and still be united in the desire to do what was best for their families and communities. It was wonderful to see that depth and breadth in the characters.

K. Imani: Yes, I so agree with you Audrey. A common YA trope is to have absent parents & adults, so I’m glad that Thomas filled the novel with with so many important and loving examples of parent/child, uncle/niece, sibling, in-law relationships. All of them really showed how inter-connected many families, and communities, truly are and that when one hurts, the entire family hurts.

K. Imani: Another theme that was so strong in T.H.U.G is the concept of code switching that Blacks who move in primarily White spaces have. As one who grew up usually one of the few Black children in school, I fully connected with Starr here. She states, “That means flipping the switch in my brain so I’m Williamson Starr. Williamson Starr doesn’t use slang – if a rapper would say it, she doesn’t say it, even if her white friends do.” This duality that many Black people live with is exhausting, but not really talked about. I felt like being with Starr as she struggles to maintain “Williamson Starr” while dealing with her grief, her PTSD, and the tension in the community from Khalil’s death was an original way to show the inner turmoil many Black people experience from having to code switch.

Audrey: As a biracial Latina who wasn’t taught Spanish and grew up speaking like the white side of my family, I don’t have personal experience in code-switching, but I was exhausted for Starr as she had to flip the switch back and forth repeatedly. It took so much effort for her to maintain “Williamson Starr” while at school or around her school friends. Her repeated reminders to herself about not wanting to come across as the Sassy/Angry Black Woman or as “ghetto” made me upset and angry on her behalf–and was a potent reminder about how damaging stereotypes are. Starr struggled with her PTSD and grief and conflicts with her community, but she had to bottle so much of it up in the Williamson Starr side of her life because she didn’t want to mess up the image of herself she had built there. How much better off would Starr have been if she felt free to fully express herself at Williamson?

K. Imani: A few years ago I taught an article about PTSD in children who experience violence and I think exploring Starr’s PTSD from seeing the murder of her friend, especially at the hand of a policeman, reminds me of it. The article explains that children who experience trauma, who see family and friends murdered, experience PTSD at almost the same rate as war veterans. I’m so glad that Thomas has Starr experience PTSD, triggered whenever she’s around police officers, because witnessing Khalil’s murder is so traumatic. The way Starr’s PTSD manifest felt very real and true to life.

Audrey: I’m glad that Thomas included Starr’s PTSD and demonstrated all the ways it was present in her life. Too often mental health issues are swept under the rug for minority communities, and it’s important to see characters who deal with them. Especially a black teenage girl, since stereotypes about black woman frequently center on very specific types of “strength” that don’t allow for mental illness or emotional vulnerability. The PTSD seemed to be handled well to me, but I would love to read a review of T.H.U.G. from a black reviewer who has PTSD to get their thoughts.

Jessica: Ditto what Audrey said regarding reviews.

K. Imani: Let’s talk about Starr’s and Chris’s relationship, specifically how it was presented and the inner conflict Starr felt about having the relationship. Having Starr be in an interracial relationship truly added another layer to the narrative of THUG, and one that is often not addressed much in stories where interracial relationships exists. The challenges the couples face are usually very surface, but Starr deals with some serious identity issues because of their relationship, and trust issues, especially after Khalil’s murder.

Audrey: I really appreciated how Thomas didn’t shy away from showing some of the conflicts of interracial relationships. (My family has some nasty stories about future in-laws flipping out when they found out who their children had fallen in love with.) The struggles Starr faced through the book as she reexamined her relationship with Chris demonstrated how difficult forging and maintaining that kind of relationship could be. It was also an excellent contrast to Starr’s friendship with Hailey, who refused to believe she could be wrong or that Starr’s POV and feelings and experiences were valid.

Crystal: Starr felt comfortable with Chris because she could be herself with him. She didn’t do as much code switching with him as with the others at her school. She still kept many things hidden from him though. Thomas really did a great job showing Starr’s decision making there and letting readers know that these decisions weren’t made lightly. Chris and Starr have a lot to work through beyond the typical dating issues that come up between teens. Some of their conversations around race show that even Chris is operating under some biases though he is open to learning.

K. Imani: I agree with you Crystal that Thomas did an excellent job of making Starr and Chris’s relationship complex and that the decisions they make apart and together are done with careful thought. It is clear that there is mutual respect and love for each other based on their personalities and mutual likes.

Audrey: One of the small things later in the book that made me really happy was how Maya and Starr formed a “minority alliance” and promised each other that they wouldn’t let Hailey get away with saying any more racist stuff to them again. That moment of self-reflection from Starr, about how she needed to have a voice and stand up for others, too, was wonderful, especially since both she and Maya followed up on their pledge to back each other up. It was great to watch them come together and be allies for each other.

K. Imani: That moment! I almost forgot about that, this novel has so much. I’m, again, thankful for the way Thomas chose to write Hailey because a lot of people think racists are the evil mustache-twirly villains of old, and not realize that they harbor their own racist beliefs until they are called on it. Hailey is a character that I think will make folks uncomfortable but also be able to use her antics to take a good look at themselves and make a change. I was proud of the girls banding together and standing up to her because they realized they were also part of the problem, but now by having each others back they can invite change.

Jessica: Just a sidenote… was super psyched to see that Maya was Taiwanese! And the little details about her that were linked to being Taiwanese – spending breaks in Taipei, her last name, etc.

Getting back to the topic, I’m struck by how many threads were running through the book – the different family and friend dynamics, neighborhood life, the protests, coping with trauma, and relationships. There is so much going on, but it all links together and just fits. Sometimes, I think books will try to tackle current events and topics, and will struggle to make everything work in a way that doesn’t sound like an after-school special, but THUG succeeds where an awful lot of other books flounder.

I know THUG hit #1 on the NYT bestseller list (woo!), is getting a movie, and is basically enjoying some well-deserved success. Given that it’s on the path to being the next “everyone and their mother is reading this book” kind of novel, I’m definitely curious to see how people directly involved in the organizing (and leading? I guess ‘leaders’ is kind of a false concept in grassroots movements) of the Black Lives Matter movement react to this book. Or maybe they’ve already read this book, and I just haven’t dug into the reception of THUG enough.

Also, I’m way excited for Book 2! Aaaah!

Crystal: I had to go verify this second book you mention. Yes! In a recent interview, A.C. Thomas implies that it’s more of a companion book set in the future a bit, but still, I too am super excited to read more.

K. Imani: What? There is a second book? Woo-hoo!!! Thanks Crystal for the link to the article. I’m sure everyone who has read “The Hate U Give” or has yet to read it (what are you waiting for) is excited to hear that news! Clearly we all loved “The Hate U Give” , now tell us what you thought of Thomas’s best selling debut novel.

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#Zettasbooks Group Discussion

wish door

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 A Wish After Midnight – Genna Colon desperately wants to escape from a drug-infested world of poverty, and every day she wishes for a different life. One day Genna’s wish is granted and she is instantly transported back to Civil War-era Brooklyn.

The Door at the Crossroads – One summer night, Genna Colon makes a fateful wish that sends her and her boyfriend Judah spiraling through time. They land hours apart in the city of Brooklyn—and in the middle of the Civil War. Genna is taken to the free Black community of Weeksville, but Judah suffers a harsher fate and is sent to the South as a slave. Judah miraculously makes his way back to Genna, but the New York City Draft Riots tear them apart once more. When Genna unexpectedly returns to her life in contemporary Brooklyn, she vows to fulfill the mandate of sankofa: “go back and fetch it.” But how will she summon the power she needs to open the door that leads back to Judah?


We’re excited to be discussing A Wish After Midnight and its sequel The Door at the Crossroads. Zetta Elliot crafted these incredible stories and we hope these two books get into many hands. We started a discussion, but would love to have others join us either on Twitter or here on the blog in the comments. If you’ve read the books, please share your thoughts. If you haven’t read the books, be aware that you will encounter what some may perceive as spoilers throughout this discussion.


***SPOILERS AHEAD***

 

Crystal: Genna explains, “Mama always told us we were black, not Hispanic. She says in America, it doesn’t matter where you’re from or what language you speak. Black is black and you might as well get used to it.” Though a majority of the book happens in the past, I definitely found the book to be a commentary on contemporary times. There are many references to how people see and are seen beyond the one mentioned above. It seems sight is the most important piece of evidence when people are being judged. Genna says sometimes it’s like there’s a tattoo on her forehead that says “ghetto.” An elderly man at a garden befriends Genna and he sees in a different way. He sees what he wishes to see. He wants to see his county as a land of opportunity, but fails to see how that is not true for everyone. Genna thinks “Maybe he can do that ‘cause he’s old and white.” And then there are those who choose not to see people at all. Genna meets a woman called Nannie by the family she works for. She’s worked for them six years and they don’t know anything about her and they don’t use her given name. Nannie is nearly invisible to them unless she does something displeasing.

Audrey: There was a lot of commentary on looks, too, especially how it could be used for/against someone in the past. Paul’s biracial status and lighter complexion get a lot of commentary from Genna, Judah, and others throughout the books, both positively and negatively. In the second book, his heritage keeps him from enlisting with the white troops (he’s not white enough) and the black troops (he’s not black enough, and they know white people will attribute any success of his if he were an officer to his whiteness). Judah also got some negative commentary for wearing his hair in locs, too

Karimah: I find it interesting that you both picked up on looks in both these novels. As a light-skinned loc wearing Black woman, comments on looks & the concept of Blackness happen for me on any day ending with a Y. For me, I didn’t see either as a commentary but as what Black people from all over the diaspora deal with. It’s how we all see the world and what authors of color mean when we tell white authors that if you’re going to write a PoC, you better do your homework. While PoC’s don’t want to think about race 24/7, our skin color, our hair does require us to look at the world differently and sometimes take note of it, as Genna does when she makes a comment about the old man.

Crystal: What I love about historical fiction is learning about the time period through the eyes of a character. It makes it seem more personal and relatable. There was so much history in this book that never made it into my history classes and texts. I appreciated learning more about the Draft Riots and Weeksville. Time travel is not usually my preferred reading, but seeing contemporary life contrasted with the past was an excellent way to see how some things have changed, stayed the same, or are just called by another name.

Jessica: I went into this book having not read much about it at all, so I wasn’t expecting the twist of time travel — which I’m pretty happy about. The parallel stories of Brooklyn then and now bring clarity to both ends of history. It was fascinating to see Genna’s modern sensibilities and experiences play out way in the past.

Audrey: It was great to see the Draft Riots and Weeksville. I remember hearing about the draft riots in my history classes, but from what I recall, it had always been framed as a rich versus poor thing. The racial aspects of it had been completely glossed over. Getting Genna’s perspective on the past was powerful because she was able to point how much and how little things had truly changed. Whenever that kind of commentary pops up in time travel fiction, I love it.

Karimah: One of my favorite books of all time is Octavia Butler’s Kindred, which Elliott’s series greatly reminds me of. I know many black folk (including myself) have often theorized how we would handle being sent back 150 years ago when our lives would be in danger, and these two books and Butler’s, do a great job of answering that question. Judah’s and Genna’s different responses to their situations shows the variety of reactions I think those of us who live now would experience if we traveled back in time. Judah believes that rising up against slave masters would be so easy and has to learn the hard way that it’s not. Genna decides to take a softer approach and try to change people from the inside, and realizes that it doesn’t work as well. She does, however, become more empathetic to Nannie and others because she learns how one must make tough choices to survive. Judah, I’m still unsure of where he is headed because he has so much anger (justifiably so) and since their story is clearly not done yet, we’ll see how he continues to grow and what he ultimately learns from his horrible experience.

Jessica: Thank goodness for sequels. And I really need to read more Octavia Butler.

Audrey: It was great to have so many female characters in these books. In my experience, history classes were almost always focused on great (white) men doing great things, and we could go several class periods between mentioning white women, let alone women of color. Wish introduced us to so many different and wonderful black women and continued their development in Door.

Jessica: Definitely agree with Audrey. Loved seeing aspects of history elucidated in the book that weren’t in, like, your average history class (sigh). As an aside, I feel like I learn much more about history through reading historical fiction/YA lit and social media. Not to knock on my fabulous high school history teachers, but many things were left out or glossed over.

Karimah: This! I feel like we got the full experience of what life was like for all women in 1863, regardless of color or economic standing. I felt like Elliot showed how much and how little power women had, and how that not just white men were “doing great things”, but women were too, just in an understated manner.

Crystal: When the first book ended, I was ready to start the next immediately. Sometimes a second book doesn’t live up to the first, but that wasn’t the case here. Genna has returned to Brooklyn just in time to experience the effects of 9/11. She is trying all kinds of things to get back to Judah. She even delves into vodou. This was interesting because she gets called on her actions of picking and choosing parts of vodou and not respecting it as a religion.

Jessica: Same! I had to get to the second book, ASAP. Situating Genna’s return within the context of 9/11 worked well with the story and added a layer of history to what was going on. Also, gotta say, I was majorly stressed about Judah the entire time. When characters are separated, I’m practically skipping pages until I see them again and can stop worrying.

Audrey: Getting called out by Peter re: vodou was a great learning moment for Genna and for the readers. It was a good reminder that you can still cause offense/harm by plowing into spaces you know little about, even if you’re from a minority group, too. Coming back to Brooklyn in the wake of 9/11 was pretty fascinating for me, especially since Genna could see the hatred brewing toward Muslims and could compare it to the draft riots she got caught up in. I really liked that she started to befriend a Muslim girl in her school and that she also pushed back against her teacher and his whitewashed version of history.

Karimah: Framing Genna’s return to Brooklyn the day before 9/11 I thought was genius because that day really sets the tone of what we are experiencing today. Many of today’s teens have no memory of that day and all the turmoil that happened after. The use of 9/11, I think, was a great device to have Genna realize that while society has made some progress, things have not changed that much and that aside from technological advances making things easier, that society’s views, it’s ugliness doesn’t really change. I feel like in the first book, she romanticized her home in her desire to return, and 9/11 was the perfect reminder for her that “home in 2001” is just as racially crazy as 1863.

Karimah: I loved that Peter called her out on the vodou. I was cringing at her cultural appropriation and her unwillingness to really see her actions for what it was, but I also like that Elliott used this moment between them to show that even PoC’s sometimes have colonists thoughts because they’ve been taught the language and ideas of the oppressors. It shows that even PoC’s make the same mistakes and often struggle with realizing that what we once believed was wrong. I feel like she will grow as she learns more and comes to respect the power that she has been given.

Audrey: I really appreciated that the second book gave us a chance to backtrack and see what had happened to Judah before he was reunited with Genna in the first book. Showing what Judah’s time as a slave was like, from the auction blocks to getting whipped to trying to escape, was absolutely brutal. While I wished sometimes that he would have more compassion for other slaves (and especially for Genna), I appreciated how relentless he was in his rejection of the “good slaveholder” narrative. The “nicest” white man he encountered still had him shipped off to be tortured into compliance when he tried to run away. Both books were filled with honest moments about how horrific slavery was, from all of Nannie’s children getting sold off to what it was like to be put on an auction block.

Karimah: I totally agree. When Judah first showed up in Weeksville in “Wish”, I was so happy yet utterly heartbroken for him because of his experience with slavery. Despite it hurting so much, I was glad that Elliott included Judah’s story in “Door.” We needed to see, feel, what he experienced and what led him to become a different person. What made him keep fighting but lose hope in humanity at the same time. My heart was breaking the entire time he was in slavery, even though I knew that he would eventually escape. In fact, that one scene where he realizes he was on the Underground Railroad made me tear up because it was just so beautifully written. I was with him in that moment to be both being in wonderment of and living history.

Jessica: Yeah, that definitely made me think of privileged people’s reactions to the marginalized when it comes to anger. Tone policing, telling people to keep quiet or forgive, and so on. As if anger, grief, and bitterness at oppression and injustice isn’t valid.

Crystal: Yes, so much of what Judah experienced was painful to even read about, and I also found that moment of realization on the Underground Railroad to be powerful.

Audrey: One of my favorite things about these books was the attention to detail. Sometimes historical fiction books gloss over the finer details in order to tell the stories of grand events (and privileged people), but I felt like I got a good look of what it may have been like to be a free black woman in 1863 New York. The book was filled with great descriptions and “throwaway” lines that really fleshed out the story.

Karimah: Again, I agree with Audrey. It’s clear that Elliott took her time and researched all she could to make her world believable. I feel like if I were to go back to Brooklyn in 1863, it would look just like Elliott described it. And even Brooklyn in 2001; I feel like she captured the tension of those days & weeks after that horrible day perfectly. The feel of CA was very different than New York, so for me, Genna’s time in 2001 really brought me back and made me understand what it was truly like to live in New York right after 9/11.

Audrey: I was disappointed that Judah punched Peter when he found out Peter was gay.

Karimah: This bothered me too and for a bit felt a little out of character for Judah, but then again I do know that within the Afro-American community that people who seem to be “woke” can also be very homophobic. When we learned how he developed his belief, I felt for him, but at the same time I felt like it would make him more sympathetic. However, all characters must have their faults and this is Judah’s. It’s not great, but it’s real and I’m glad that Elliott chose to write him this way.

Audrey: I’m still a little confused on how the time travel rules work. I hope that’s explained in a future book (please say there will be another!) because right now I’m pretty confused. I don’t understand how or why Genna is bringing/not bringing people with her, and that has been bugging me. Did any of you figure it out?

Karimah: The only person I didn’t figure out was when she initially brought Judah with her. The others, I gather it’s a proximity thing, and as she get’s stronger, her pull is stronger and if people get within a certain range, she pulls them through. At least that’s how I figured it out in my head, but I’m confident that Elliott will answer that for us in the next book, because there has to be a third book. She can’t leave it with a cliffhanger!

Jessica: I was wondering that, too. Looking forward to finding out more… in the third book! 😀

Crystal: Like Karimah, I just figured it was proximity. Time travel always boggles my mind so when it’s part of the story, I try to let my thoughts slide away a bit and blur out the details. I believe at least one more book is planned so maybe more will be explained then.


Thank you for stopping by the discussion. We’d love to know your thoughts about A Wish After Midnight and The Door at the Crossroads so please share them in the comments.

Bonus: We were able to interview Zetta Elliott earlier this week so be sure and stop by tomorrow to learn more about her books and writing journey.

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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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