Review: Jumped In

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Title: Jumped In
Author: Patrick Flores-Scott
Genres: Contemporary & Poetry
Pages: 304
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Review Copy: Digital book purchased by reviewer
Availability: Published Aug. 27, 2013

Summary: Sam has the rules of slackerhood down: Don’t be late to class. Don’t ever look the teacher in the eye. Develop your blank stare. Since his mom left, he has become an expert in the art of slacking, especially since no one at his new school gets his intense passion for the music of the Pacific Northwest—Nirvana, Hole, Sleater-Kinney. Then his English teacher begins a slam poetry unit and Sam gets paired up with the daunting, scarred, clearly-a-gang-member Luis, who happens to sit next to him in every one of his classes. Slacking is no longer an option—Luis will destroy him. Told in Sam’s raw voice and interspersed with vivid poems, Jumped In by Patrick Flores-Scott is a stunning debut novel about differences, friendship, loss, and the power of words. — Image and summary via Goodreads

Review: From the beginning Sam pulled me into the Pacific Northwest with it’s gray sameness. The gloom just rolls across the pages with the weather completely matching his mood. Sam slowly reveals the reasons for his negativity. He has plenty of pain in his life, but fortunately, the book also has some light moments so readers don’t sink completely under the weight. Many of the lighter bits happen because of the poetry unit. The teacher, Ms. Cassidy, provides a lot of entertainment as she pulls out every trick in an attempt to catch and keep attention. The poems sometime bring smiles too. In the first poem, Luis compares the way people look at his scar to how people look at a “shriveled viejito grandpa smiling in his tiny Speedo.” The accompanying illustration adds to the humor. The rules of slackerhood also provide a few chuckles. Sam is completely serious about being an invisible slacker and goes to great lengths to fly under the radar of his teachers.

This is not a novel-in-verse but is a mix of poetry and prose. We hear from Sam predominantly in prose, but even that is lyrical at times. We only hear Luis through poetry though. Luis has fewer words than Sam, but every word is chosen carefully and the poems pack a punch. With Sam we see many details and the day to day business of life as he sleeps afternoons away or watches raindrops on the window and mold growing on the sill. The communication from Luis is brief and more direct.

And somewhere deep
Down by my heart and spleen
In my darkest guts
So they can’t see
I lock the worlds of ideas
That make me me.

In August, Edi Campbell wrote a post about Guy Pals. I recalled her post as I read. I hadn’t thought about it much before, but as Edi explained, there aren’t that many books that deal with male friendships though it seems like more are being written right now. I appreciated this look into the life of these boys. Though they certainly didn’t share all of their secrets with each other, they connected while creating something together. Many people can relate to such friendships. Often school friends are based on desk proximity and then grow into something more. I think it is fascinating to imagine the many ways that relationships can develop.

Jumped In is just over 300 pages, but there is a lot of blank space on the pages because of the poetry and the brief chapters, so this is a quick read in spite of it’s page length. The poetry breaks up the narrative and the humor keeps it from becoming too bleak. I have to admit, the title puzzled me for quite some time. “Jumped in” was a phrase that was unfamiliar to me. It’s related to gangs and I was glad that it was eventually explained in the book. With the mix of gangs, school, poetry, Nirvana, and family issues, there are plenty of things to catch a reader’s interest. Finding and listening to the Nirvana songs mentioned along the way added to the experience.

Patrick Flores-Scott has crafted an engaging novel that will likely win many hearts. I finished the book wanting to know more about the characters. I wanted to spend more time in their stories and see them continue to grow. Hopefully we will see more from Patrick Flores-Scott in the future.

Recommendation: Get it soon. This is a book that will speak to many — though I should warn you, tissues may be required.

Extra: Edi Campbell interviewed Patrick on her blog. Beware: there are serious spoilers so maybe read it after you read the book.

What I Mean When I Talk Diversity

In the spring I’m going to be teaching a class, currently titled “Writing the Other” and will focus on why we need diversity in literature, while giving practical tips and tools at the same time. As I was discussing the class with my reading group, one friend asked, “well, doesn’t calling it ‘the other’ further alienate, set up further differences?” Our group, which is diverse in its own right, went crazy explaining why the class is needed. I think we might have been a bit overzealous and I felt like we might have made her feel bad. Instead, she reflected on the conversation and wrote this touching blog post (Default white?) where she basically unpacked her privilege and thought about what she could do better. She explored the concept of the “default white”, which she admits, she had never given much thought too. In recognizing her own misconceptions, she realized the importance of having these discussions about diversity and that all of us, white, black, yellow, green and purple, have a responsibility to making our literature reflect our world.

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A few months ago I wrote about that I’m tired of the “it’s diversity surprise” but I think I have to amend my statement because as I was beta reading a friend’s novel, I had the “it’s diversity, surprise” and I was actually glad to have it. And when I sent her an email thanking her for the surprise, it made me realize that by sending the “Thank Yous” and the “Nice Diverse world” notes to authors who are not of color, we encourage more authors (and by extension publishers) to open the doors for more diverse stories. In my friend’s novel, the diversity isn’t forced, isn’t a “very special topic”, it just is. As diversity is in real life – it just is. The “it’s diversity surprise” is just a reaction to seeing diversity just as it is and not some overreaching lesson. Those stories still do have a place as well, but we also need to have more stories where diversity just is. It’s in the background where characters interact at the coffee shop, in the classroom, at the movies. It’s in the variety of friends, and not the token Person of Color, especially in a story that is set in a big city. Its in the way teachers, community leaders are presented in a story as diversity exists there as well. Diversity is everywhere and our literature needs to embrace it.

Those examples of seeing diversity in every day lives is what we mean when we talk diversity. We need publishers to understand that the world we live in is not filled with just one type of person, one type of story. The world is colorful with skin tones of every different shade, with numerous cultures that are just as valid as any other. We all have the responsibility to make diversity in literature a very real thing. No one group should be responsible for shouldering the work. We all have a stake in this world; we need to help each other when we make mistakes and lift each other up in praise when we achieve greatness.

So, what do I mean when I talk diversity? I mean that we are all in this fight together. With my friend who wrote the blog post, with my other friend who included diversity in her novel, with my fellow writers here at Rich in Color – everyone. We are a diverse group and if we want to see change, we need to make it happen.

New Releases

Happy book birthday to My Basmati Bat Mitzvah which will be released tomorrow on October 1st:
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My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J. Freedman

Amulet Books

During the fall leading up to her bat mitzvah, Tara (Hindi for “star”) Feinstein has a lot more than her Torah portion on her mind. Between Hebrew school and study sessions with the rabbi, there doesn’t seem to be enough time to hang out with her best friend Ben-o–who might also be her boyfriend–and her other best friend, Rebecca, who’s getting a little too cozy with that snotty Sheila Rosenberg. Not to mention working on her robotics project with the class clown Ryan Berger, or figuring out what to do with a priceless heirloom sari that she accidentally ruined. Amid all this drama, Tara considers how to balance her Indian and Jewish identities and what it means to have a bat mitzvah while questioning her faith. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

 

Review: Killer of Enemies

killer of enemiesTitle: Killer of Enemies
Author: Joseph Bruchac
Genres: Dystopia/Post-apocalypse, Steampunk, Action/Adventure
Pages: 358
Publisher: Tu Books
Review Copy: Received ARC from publisher
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: Years ago, seventeen-year-old Apache hunter Lozen and her family lived in a world of haves and have-nots. There were the Ones—people so augmented with technology and genetic enhancements that they were barely human—and there was everyone else who served them.

Then the Cloud came, and everything changed. Tech stopped working. The world plunged back into a new steam age. The Ones’ pets—genetically engineered monsters—turned on them and are now loose on the world.

Lozen was not one of the lucky ones pre-C, but fate has given her a unique set of survival skills and magical abilities. She hunts monsters for the Ones who survived the apocalyptic events of the Cloud, which ensures the safety of her kidnapped family. But with every monster she takes down, Lozen’s powers grow, and she connects those powers to an ancient legend of her people. It soon becomes clear to Lozen that she is not just a hired gun.

As the legendary Killer of Enemies was in the ancient days of the Apache people, Lozen is meant to be a more than a hunter. Lozen is meant to be a hero. —(Summary and image provided by publisher)

Review: There are few things I find as sexy as competence in fictional characters, and Lozen has an abundance of competence. It was ridiculously enjoyable to read about Lozen hunting and taking down genetically engineered monsters—each one more dangerous than the one before—and so utterly satisfying. The monsters were mad-scientist worthy creations, and Lozen had to put her intelligence as well as her physical (and magical!) abilities to the test in order to survive. Every time she took one of the monsters down, I cheered.

The post-apocalyptic/dystopian world Lozen inhabits is a mishmash of high- and low-tech that took a while for me to get used to. For example, Kevlar still exists (and Lozen gets to wear it), but they no longer have the ability to manufacture it, and Haven (Lozen’s community) is essentially stripped back to a walking-only society thanks to lack of tech/fuel, a superbug that wiped out horses several years ago, and a local population of giant birds that enjoy snacking on bicyclists. It is a fascinating world, especially when you throw in hints of magic and elements from Apache folklore. (Of particular note is the unknown figure whose voice Lozen can “hear” in her mind but hasn’t seen.)

Lozen’s commentary on the pre-Cloud world is interesting from a “look how far we’ve fallen” point, and there are some great passages where she clinically lays out some of the more terrible ways people died as the world fell apart. I really enjoyed that aspect of Lozen—she’s a complicated character who has constructed an unlikeable (or at least unapproachable) façade out of the twin desires not to be seen as a threat to the Ones and to keep others at bay so they can’t be used against her like her family is. I’m not sure I would be friends with Lozen if she were real, but I loved reading about her.

I’d estimate a good 50% of the book is Lozen on her own, either hunting down monsters or making preparations for breaking her family out of Haven. Aside from her family, one sort-of-friend/mentor, and one sort-of-love-interest, Lozen’s interactions with the survivors in Haven are decidedly negative. There are some pretty despicable people who survived the end of the world, and that’s not even counting the half-mad Ones (who are delightfully evil and unhinged) who run Haven and are holding Lozen’s family hostage against her good behavior/monster killing.

I didn’t have any major complaints about the book, though this is one of the few times I wished that the romance got more screen time. As it is, I didn’t root for Lozen’s sort-of-relationship with Hussein as much as I wanted to, even if I do think they had a good foundation for the start of a romance. (Who can resist a gardener with a gentle disposition and a penchant for playing subversive songs on his guitar?) I also wished the book had spent more time developing Lozen’s magical abilities. Sometimes I was rather confused about how her skills were supposed to fit into the mythology of the world or the extent of her skill with them. However, I fully acknowledge that this lack of detail didn’t hinder my enjoyment of the book.

Recommendation: Get it soon, especially if the idea of a monster hunt through a post-apocalyptic landscape makes you giddy. The book is a fun, quick read, and the unique world-building makes it a distinctive addition to the dystopian genre.

Hispanic Heritage Month

As a child, I remember hearing a lot about Black History Month, but until I was a teacher in Ft. Worth, Hispanic Heritage Month wasn’t really on my radar. I had been completely missing out on some incredible literature and a whole perspective of history. The National Hispanic Heritage Month website explains that this month is for “celebrating the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America.” It is celebrated between September 15th and October 15th (there actually is a reason for those dates). Here are a few excellent YA titles you could read in celebration.

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Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass: Jessica reviewed this fantastic contemporary book earlier this year and we were fortunate enough to have an interview with Meg Medina too. This would be a two-for-one because you could also celebrate Banned Book Week with Yaqui after what happened earlier this month.
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The Lightning Dreamer: Cuba’s Greatest Abolitionist: I loved this historical novel-in-verse by Margarita Engle that weaves a story around Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, an amazing young woman that I am eager to know more about now. She loved books, hated slavery, wanted equality for women, and spoke out to create change at a time when women were supposed to be decorative poperty. Excellent.

 

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The Last Summer of the Death Warriors: “When Pancho arrives at St. Anthony’s Home, he knows his time there will be short: If his plans succeed, he’ll soon be arrested for the murder of his sister’s killer. But then he’s assigned to help D.Q., whose brain cancer has slowed neither his spirit nor his mouth. D.Q. tells Pancho all about his “Death Warrior’s Manifesto,” which will help him to live out his last days fully–ideally, he says, with the love of the beautiful Marisol. As Pancho tracks down his sister’s murderer, he finds himself falling under the influence of D.Q. and Marisol, who is everything D.Q. said she would be.” — summary via Goodreads

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Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe: Jessica also reviewed this powerful book earlier this year. If you haven’t yet read it, you will want to grab it immediately. Warning – you may need tissues.

 

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Under the Mesquite: This is another novel-in-verse and it has an autobiographical quality to it that McCall explains in this post at Lee & Low. It is a beautiful story of a Mexican American family maintaining hope through difficult times. Summer of the Mariposas, McCall’s second novel is also not to be missed. Audrey reviewed it here. It is a mix of contemporary and fantasy, but again is focused on family.

The Summer Prince

 

The Summer Prince: For a bit of dystopia, you will want to pick up this one. And just like the cover, the book is lush. We had a discussion about it earlier this month. *Spoilers* were included so look carefully if you haven’t read it yet.

**Quick edit here – this is actually not Hispanic, but rather Latin@ since it is set in Brazil. I made that mistake late at night while working on the post, but didn’t catch it right away.

 

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Gringolandia: This is historical fiction dealing with human rights in Chile. It is also a book about family and how it shapes us. We were lucky enough to have Lyn Lachmann-Miller visit Rich in Color to share about writing outside of her culture.

 

 

 

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Hammer of Witches: If it’s history with a bit of fantasy that you are looking for, this will fit the bill perfectly. I reviewed it back in April and the author Shana Mlawski also wrote a post for us about Diversity in Fantasy.

 

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The Tequila Worm: A young teenage girl named Sofia tells of her coming of age in McAllen Texas. She’s part of a close community that loves and supports each other. Sofia works through her feelings for her family and culture as she attends an elite boarding school on scholarship.

 

 

 

 

 

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Mexican WhiteBoy: This one is on my TBR list. “Danny’s tall skinny. Even though he’s not built, his arms are long enough to give his pitch a power so fierce any college scout would sign him on the spot. A 95 mph fastball, but the boy’s not even on a team. Every time he gets up on the mound he loses it.

But at his private school, they don’t expect much else from him. Danny’s brown. Half-Mexican brown. And growing up in San Diego that close to the border means everyone else knows exactly who he is before he even opens his mouth. Before they find out he can’t speak Spanish, and before they realize his mom has blond hair and blue eyes, they’ve got him pegged. Danny’s convinced it’s his whiteness that sent his father back to Mexico. And that’s why he’s spending the summer with his dad’s family. Only, to find himself, he might just have to face the demons he refuses to see right in front of his face.” — summary via Goodreads

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The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano: This is another book on my TBR list. “There are two secrets Evelyn Serrano is keeping from her Mami and Papo? her true feelings about growing up in her Spanish Harlem neighborhood, and her attitude about Abuela, her sassy grandmother who’s come from Puerto Rico to live with them. Then, like an urgent ticking clock, events erupt that change everything. The Young Lords, a Puerto Rican activist group, dump garbage in the street and set it on fire, igniting a powerful protest. When Abuela steps in to take charge, Evelyn is thrust into the action. Tempers flare, loyalties are tested. Through it all, Evelyn learns important truths about her Latino heritage and the history makers who shaped a nation. Infused with actual news accounts from the time period, Sonia Manzano has crafted a gripping work of fiction based on her own life growing up during a fiery, unforgettable time in America, when young Latinos took control of their destinies.” — summary via Goodreads (By the way, there is a giveaway of this book going on at Vamos a Leer through Sept. 29)

If you still want more titles, School Library Journal had a post in January listing many Resources for Finding Latino Kid LIt, the new blog Latin@s in Kid Lit is a great resource too, the Florida Department of Education created a Hispanic Heritage Month Recommended Reading List, and the Hub also posted a great list this week which included links to other resources. Finally, I found this excellent list of Hispanic Authors on Cindy Rodriguez’s blog. Now, if there were only more hours in the day so we could read all of these!

If you have recommendations, please share them in the comments. Thanks!

Interview with Sarah Rees Brennan

UntoldPlease welcome Sarah Rees Brennan to Rich in Color! Untold, the second book in the Lynburn Legacy series, is out today, and we are excited to have Sarah on our blog to talk about diversity in young adult literature. Sarah has also provided us with a ton of great resources on diversity that you should check out.


Why is diversity in young adult fiction important to you?

Caring about diversity seems to me like the absolute bare minimum standard of decency.

I remember when I was still in school, I went to a gathering of people in my city, an informal fantasy nerds book group. So, we were all talking about books, and the subject of this one book series with a gay romance in it arose, and I began to tear it to pieces: I thought it was terribly written, I had to let everybody know how just so, so bad it was. And a girl who I hadn’t met before that day looked me dead in the eyes and said: “Those books saved my life.”

I sat there and stared at her, until I found my voice and said: “Wow, I’m so sorry, I was being an asshole.” She was very nice about it: she went “Eh, yeah” and then I asked her for some book recommendations and she asked me for some.

I was describing Unspoken to another writer, and I won’t say who they were but they are New York Times bestselling, and she reacted to the diverse elements of it saying “I wouldn’t do that: you can’t afford to do that with the sales of your last series, you can do those things after you’re successful” and I couldn’t help but remember that girl saying “Those books saved my life” and feel sick that anyone would ever say that. So I wrote the book the way I planned. I’m not saying I did a good job, or even a sufficient job, and it’s no excuse for the things I got wrong, but I did always remember that even doing what I’d thought was a lousy job, those books helped people by having representation. There’s no excuse for not trying.

I’m worried this story makes me sound self-congratulatory or big-headed: I don’t mean it that way. Nobody should ever be congratulated for having basic empathy. It’s normal to want to throw up if someone says something terrible to you. Other authors do a much better job of writing diversely than me–still more other authors, who don’t get the chance to be published because of institutional prejudice, would do a much better job than me. I’m just using the story to illustrate why I think diversity should be important to everyone. I just want to write good stories–and that means stories that are inclusive–and try not to be an irredeemable jerk. (Sometimes I fail at both those things.)

YA readers deserve it, too. The readers of YA tend, pretty naturally, to be younger than the readers of other genres. (Though older YA readers are v. welcome too!) It’s because of younger people who are actively engaged with social justice and working toward social change that the general attitude toward gay marriage has been altered. The 18-29 age bracket (in which I am myself, just ;)) is 81% in favour of gay marriage, and in response all the other age brackets have become increasingly in favour too.

It doesn’t mean that the fight for gay rights is over, or even a tenth of the way there, but it does show the effect of people talking of, fighting toward and believing in change.

Those same people are reading YA, and talking about its lacks, and doing so with energy, knowing that they matter and their opinions matter, and that they can be world-changing. Readers change how you write: readers asked me why the hero of my first book was a boy, and that and other reader responses made me sure that when I wrote a trilogy centred on one character, I wanted to centre it on a girl of colour. Books for these readers have been getting better, and should be getting better still.

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