New Releases

Happy early book birthday to Starfish and Disappeared! What’s on your to-read list this week?

Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman
Simon Pulse

Kiko Himura has always had a hard time saying exactly what she’s thinking. With a mother who makes her feel unremarkable and a half-Japanese heritage she doesn’t quite understand, Kiko prefers to keep her head down, certain that once she makes it into her dream art school, Prism, her real life will begin.

But then Kiko doesn’t get into Prism, at the same time her abusive uncle moves back in with her family. So when she receives an invitation from her childhood friend to leave her small town and tour art schools on the west coast, Kiko jumps at the opportunity in spite of the anxieties and fears that attempt to hold her back. And now that she is finally free to be her own person outside the constricting walls of her home life, Kiko learns life-changing truths about herself, her past, and how to be brave.

Disappeared by Francisco X. Stork

Four Months Ago
Sara Zapata’s best friend disappeared, kidnapped by the web of criminals who terrorize Juarez.

Four Hours Ago
Sara received a death threat – and with it, a clue to the place where her friend is locked away.

Four Weeks Ago
Emiliano Zapata fell in love with Perla Rubi, who will never be his so long as he’s poor.

Four Minutes Ago
Emiliano got the chance to make more money than he ever dreamed – just by joining the web.

In the next four days, Sara and Emiliano will each face impossible choices, between life and justice, friends and family, truth and love. But when the web closes in on Sara, only one path remains for the siblings: the way across the desert to the United States.

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Fall Reading List

There are seriously so many amazing books coming out this fall. These are just a fraction of the ones on my to-read list. What books by/about PoC are you planning on reading this fall?

Forest of a Thousand LanternsForest of a Thousand Lanterns (Rise of the Empress #1) by Julie C. Dao
Eighteen-year-old Xifeng is beautiful. The stars say she is destined for greatness, that she is meant to be Empress of Feng Lu. But only if she embraces the darkness within her. Growing up as a peasant in a forgotten village on the edge of the map, Xifeng longs to fulfill the destiny promised to her by her cruel aunt, the witch Guma, who has read the cards and seen glimmers of Xifeng’s majestic future. But is the price of the throne too high?

Because in order to achieve greatness, she must spurn the young man who loves her and exploit the callous magic that runs through her veins–sorcery fueled by eating the hearts of the recently killed. For the god who has sent her on this journey will not be satisfied until his power is absolute. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Wild BeautyWild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore
Love grows such strange things. For nearly a century, the Nomeolvides women have tended the grounds of La Pradera, the lush estate gardens that enchant guests from around the world. They’ve also hidden a tragic legacy: if they fall in love too deeply, their lovers vanish. But then, after generations of vanishings, a strange boy appears in the gardens.

The boy is a mystery to Estrella, the Nomeolvides girl who finds him, and to her family, but he’s even more a mystery to himself; he knows nothing more about who he is or where he came from than his first name. As Estrella tries to help Fel piece together his unknown past, La Pradera leads them to secrets as dangerous as they are magical in this stunning exploration of love, loss, and family. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Akata Warrior (Akata Witch #2) by Nnedi Okorafor
A year ago, Sunny Nwazue, an American-born girl Nigerian girl, was inducted into the secret Leopard Society. As she began to develop her magical powers, Sunny learned that she had been chosen to lead a dangerous mission to avert an apocalypse, brought about by the terrifying masquerade, Ekwensu. Now, stronger, feistier, and a bit older, Sunny is studying with her mentor Sugar Cream and struggling to unlock the secrets in her strange Nsibidi book.

Eventually, Sunny knows she must confront her destiny. With the support of her Leopard Society friends, Orlu, Chichi, and Sasha, and of her spirit face, Anyanwu, she will travel through worlds both visible and invisible to the mysteries town of Osisi, where she will fight a climactic battle to save humanity. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

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Review: The Library of Fates

Title: The Library of Fates
Author: Aditi Khorana
Publisher: Razorbill
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 354
Review copy: Library
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: No one is entirely certain what brings the Emperor Sikander to Shalingar. Until now, the idyllic kingdom has been immune to his many violent conquests. To keep the visit friendly, Princess Amrita has offered herself as his bride, sacrificing everything—family, her childhood love, and her freedom—to save her people. But her offer isn’t enough.

The palace is soon under siege, and Amrita finds herself a fugitive, utterly alone but for an oracle named Thala, who was kept by Sikander as a slave and managed to escape amid the chaos. With nothing and no one else to turn to, Amrita and Thala are forced to rely on each other. But while Amrita feels responsible for her kingdom and sets out to warn her people, the newly free Thala has no such ties. She encourages Amrita to go on a quest to find the fabled Library of All Things, where it is possible for each of them to reverse their fates. To go back to before Sikander took everything from them.

Stripped of all that she loves, caught between her rosy past and an unknown future, will Amrita be able to restore what was lost, or does another life—and another love—await?

Review:The Library of Fates is a timely book that calls for action on the part of individuals. Amrita is not sure who she is, but in the midst of turmoil she must find out what she is willing to do and what she believes. Mala, the woman who helped raise Amrita, explains that you find out who you are by the choices you make and the actions you take. When we reflect on what we do and how we decide things, we see what is actually important to us. I really love that in this discussion Mala also tells Amrita “Develop some swagger” and “You’re far more powerful than you know.” I think many young people can stand to hear such encouragement.

As Khorana mentioned in her author’s note, some issues in our nation right now seem to be much like the things happening in this book. The Emperor Sikander comes from a place where things are wonderful for the wealthy, “but if your poor, or disabled, if you’re a foreigner, or even a woman, Macedon isn’t so kind. This country is built on the backs of the disenfranchised.” The author explains the moral of the story at the beginning of the book. “When we act with only our selfish interests in mind, disregarding the rights and experiences of others, everybody loses. But when we act in the service of the greater good, even if it costs us something–even if it costs us a lot–we are deeply and profoundly transformed by love, empathy, and wisdom.” If things matter to us, we can’t stand by and just watch – we must act and create change. Amrita decides to do something, but definitely struggles as she tries to figure out how best to help her kingdom. There are so many unknowns and that is more than a little terrifying to her. Amrita’s physical and emotional journeys are both intriguing.

Amrita has grown up hearing stories of magic, but she has also been taught that as royalty, logic and strategy can save the day. Amrita hasn’t put a lot of faith in magic, but as her world is crumbling and she sees possible evidence of magic, she begins to question her unbelief. The book is filled with magic and reminds me that there is more to our world than what we can see. I tend to believe that if we are still and listen, the world will share its mysteries with us. They may not be quite as fantastic as what Amrita and Thala experience, but there are still plenty of mysteries to discover if we only pay attention.

And yes, there are also some romantic relationships within this tale. The relationships do have a physical aspect, but companionship tends to have a high priority.

Recommendation: Get it soon especially if you enjoy fantasy with a little romance.

Extras:
Interview

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Whose Streets?, Charlottesville, and Activist Storytelling

Last Saturday morning, I headed to the movie theater, eyes glued to my phone as I tried (unsuccessfully) to navigate and check twitter at the same time. I found my seat in the dark, still trying to piece together what was happening and what had already happened in Charlottesville.

Then I shut off my phone to watch Whose Streets? — which is, well… the short version would be to say that it’s a look at community activism in Ferguson after the killing of Michael Brown. But that’s a sanitized and simplified version of the truth.

A few weeks earlier, my sister told me to go watch Whose Streets. I forgot about it until the 9th, when I read an interview with activist Ashley Yates about what happened in Ferguson three years ago. It reminded me of why I’d stopped trusting my local newspaper, the paper I’d grown up reading: During the protests that continued for years in St. Louis (and still continue), the newspaper said one thing, and my sister said another. The crinkled newsprint said that the protestors turned violent, and my sister said that the police tear gassed MoKaBe’s, a local coffee shop.

St. Louis ArchSo I went to watch Whose Streets?, meeting up with a friend and sidling into a mostly empty theater where only a few older white folks were. It was chilling to watch the documentary and make the obvious connection to the weekend events — how the police met the community in Ferguson with violence, while Nazis in Charlottesville marched freely. How activist Brittany Ferrell was charged with a felony for kicking a car plowing through a protest line (read: a woman trying to drive over protestors, wtf) — and how that morning, a white supremacist had driven into a crowd of anti-racist counter protestors.

I was reminded that (racist) history repeats itself, and that the only way to break that cycle is to learn from it. That’s why Whose Streets? is so important. According to its website, it’s a documentary “told by the activists and leaders who live and breathe this movement” and “an unflinching look at the Ferguson uprising.” It’s about what really happened in Ferguson, not some distorted, sensationalist version shown in the news half a country away.

What I want most in this push for diversity in YA lit is for marginalized writers to get to tell their own stories, whatever that may be – immigration, slice-of-life romance, social justice, magic boarding school, you name it. Storytelling is how we connect with others, help people feel less alone, and learn from (and fight) the past. It’s crucial that the people who should be heard, get heard.

Whose Streets? does that and far more. It’s activist storytelling (well, truthtelling) – and we can never have too much of that. You should absolutely go watch the documentary if it’s still showing in theaters in your area. For more on this:
Theater showtimes
Whose Streets? trailer
Ferguson Doc ‘Whose Streets’ Shows The Power Of Black People Telling Black Stories
Non-profits to support in Charlottesville
RIC Teaching, self-care, and resources round-up in re: Charlottesville

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Interview with S.K. Ali

We are so excited to have S.K. Ali at Rich in Color today! Ali’s debut novel, SAINTS AND MISFITS, came out earlier this summer, and we’re thrilled to be able to interview her. If you haven’t read SAINTS AND MISFITS, you should definitely check out the summary before you read the interview. Also, check out my review here.

Saints and Misfits is an unforgettable debut novel that feels like a modern day My So-Called Life…starring a Muslim teen.

How much can you tell about a person just by looking at them?

Janna Yusuf knows a lot of people can’t figure out what to make of her…an Arab Indian-American hijabi teenager who is a Flannery O’Connor obsessed book nerd, aspiring photographer, and sometime graphic novelist is not exactly easy to put into a box.

And Janna suddenly finds herself caring what people think. Or at least what a certain boy named Jeremy thinks. Not that she would ever date him—Muslim girls don’t date. Or they shouldn’t date. Or won’t? Janna is still working all this out.

While her heart might be leading her in one direction, her mind is spinning in others. She is trying to decide what kind of person she wants to be, and what it means to be a saint, a misfit, or a monster. Except she knows a monster…one who happens to be parading around as a saint…Will she be the one to call him out on it? What will people in her tightknit Muslim community think of her then?


Janna is a great character that I feel many teens will connect with. Who or what was your inspiration for Janna?

Janna is a mixture of the teens in my life currently and the girls I grew up with and the girl I was – way back then. I wanted teens trying to figure themselves out to see themselves in her. I know I was mostly successful with this because some of the teens I know debate among themselves which one of them is MORE like Janna. Success!

I feel like Saints and Misfits is a wonderful feminist novel that explores what it is like to be a Muslim teen in society today. The diversity of beliefs and ideas of all the female characters was refreshing to read, including the different relationships Janna has with Sarah, Fizz, Tats, & Sausun. How important was it to you to truly show the complexity of female relationships?

Oh, this was SO important to me. I think it’s important for women – young and older – to cherish their friendships and connections with other women. We’re all in the fight for gender equity and justice together and it’s vital we see each other as supporters and allies of one another. This is something I emphasize as a teacher, even to my class of second-graders. It’s never too early for girls to see the importance of being there for each other.  

I read that you are a teacher. How do you balance writing, teaching, and the other aspects of your life?

I try to remember what a very wise person said to me: balance doesn’t mean you’re perfect at everything. I’m always trying to remember this. Because, yes, when you have a lot going on, you can lose sight of the important things while trying your “best” to achieve your goals. One of the things I’m trying to learn to do is block chunks of time for different areas of my life – like week-long writing retreats. Also, I’m hoping it’ll be easier now because I’ve taken a year off of teaching to focus on my writing career.

How much of your writing life do you share with your students?

Not very much of my author-life but I do share my love of stories with them. I often tell stories (that I make up as I go along) to explain concepts or give examples. My students love this and often ask me to continue!

In January, you created the hashtag #MuslimShelfspace to bring awareness to Muslim authors. Why is diversity in young adult fiction important to you?

It’s important because I think good art is important. And good art involves integrity, authenticity and raw honesty. This only happens when we reflect our true realities. Sadly, literature in North America has a far way to go before reflecting the reality of our times. It’s sad that not much has changed from when I was a teen myself in terms of seeing narratives featuring teens from marginalized communities in bookstores and libraries. We’ve got to make sure the momentum started by the #WeNeedDiverseBooks and the #OwnVoices and, yes, the #MuslimShelfSpace, campaigns continue and stay vital in order for real change to take root.  

Lastly,  when I finished the book, I wasn’t quite ready to leave Janna, her family, friends and her community. Is there a hope that you might return to Janna’s world in the future?
Hmm, this is a good question and one that I’m being prompted to mull now that I keep getting questions like yours. So I’m going to say that I haven’t ruled it out. (I too maybe interested in seeing Sarah’s and Muhammad’s wedding plans come to fruition! And I’m curious about Sausun’s video stunt to save her sister! And, also, #TeamNuah and…)  

Thank you S.K. Ali for sharing your thoughts with us! You can find S.K. Ali at https://skalibooks.com, and @sajidahwrites (Twitter).

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#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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