It’s Asian Pacific American Heritage Month!

sgljsdglkjdwatsonLast Thursday was the season finale of Elementary, which is an American tv crime show take on the Sherlock Holmes story. What makes the show great is Sherlock Holmes’ partner in crime solving: Joan Watson, played by Lucy Liu. [Image via Racebending]

The portrayal of Joan Watson as an Asian American lady is spot on. She isn’t reduced to a stereotype because of her gender or her ethnicity. Instead, she’s no-nonsense, brilliant and all-around awesome. (If you can’t tell, I love Elementary and especially Watson.) Elementary’s Joan Watson is exactly the sort of complex POC character that I like to see in my YA lit as well, which brings me to…

…book recs! In honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (ah, the glorious month of May!), here are some of my favorite books:

team humanTeam Human by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan
Residing in New Whitby, Maine, a town founded by vampires trying to escape persecution, Mel finds her negative attitudes challenged when her best friend falls in love with one, another friend’s father runs off with one, and she herself is attracted to someone who tries to pass himself off as one. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

 

 

 

E940_SCH_BornConfused_0.tifBorn Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier
Dimple Lala doesn’t know what to think. Her parents are from India, and she’s spent her whole life resisting their traditions. Then suddenly she gets to high school and everything Indian is trendy. To make matters worse, her parents arrange for her to meet a “suitable boy.” Of course it doesn’t go well — until Dimple goes to a club and finds him spinning a magical web . Suddenly the suitable boy is suitable because of his sheer unsuitability. Complications ensue. This is a funny, thoughtful story about finding your heart, finding your culture, and finding your place in America. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

 

nothing but the truthNothing But the Truth (and a few white lies) by Justina Chen
Getting her fortune told by a Taiwanese ‘belly-button grandmother’ (who feels up her navel) instead of attending the spring dance is just one of the joys of being Patty Ho, a covertly snarky ‘hapa’ (half Asian, half white) struggling with her dual heritage. Patty’s domineering mother is determined to make her a good Taiwanese girl. Gangly Patty, no ‘China doll,’ longs to be white like her long-gone father…readers will find a compelling narrative, and a spunky, sympathetic heroine. This book should enjoy wide appeal. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

 

When you get the chance, definitely check out these books!

Interview and Giveaway with Sarah Ockler

brokenEveryone, please welcome Sarah Ockler to Rich in Color! We’re thrilled to have her answer some questions about diversity in young adult literature and The Book of Broken Hearts, which is out today. Sarah has also volunteered to give away a signed hardcover copy of her new book! The giveaway ends at midnight (Eastern) on Sunday. (U.S. mailing addresses only.)


Why is diversity in young adult fiction important to you?

This is such a huge, multi-layered question, but on the most basic level, diversity in YA fiction is important because diversity in *life* is important. Our stories both reflect and influence our lives, and life is anything but homogenous (just walk in the woods if you doubt that!). I want all kids and teens to know that they’re important and that their stories — whatever those stories might be — belong on the page. They belong on the shelves. They belong in our discussions and our imaginations. And as authors who write books for kids and teens, we have both a responsibility and a privilege to tell diverse stories, to give those characters voices. Yes, it’s challenging, and when we write about something outside of our own experience, we might get it wrong. But that’s no excuse not to try!

What were some of the challenges you faced while writing The Book of Broken Hearts? What did you enjoy most?

Speaking of challenges…. yes! This was the most challenging book I’ve written — which also made it the most enjoyable. All of my books so far have been contemporary realistic YA novels, but within that category, I love trying new things, which might mean exploring new family relationships, different cultures, totally new plot situations, new places. For this one, I had the opportunity to immerse myself in two different Latino cultures — Argentine and Puerto Rican — and to write about family, history, language, cultural traditions, and even foods so different from what I grew up with was a wonderful challenge that required a good mix of research and imagination.

The other challenge was more of an emotional one — researching the effects of early onset Alzheimer’s on a young family. It’s such a devastating illness, and there were times during the writing that I had to walk away, to take a break and work on something completely different. Throughout the process of writing a book, I often come to know my characters as real people, and I hated putting them through such tragic and painful situations in The Book of Broken Hearts. But I really wanted to tell this story, and it was important for me to portray it authentically — that’s where the challenge came in.

What appealed to you about having a set of sisters whose hearts get broken by a set of brothers?

Sibling relationships are perfect for YA novels because they’re naturally full of conflict and extreme emotion. I love writing about family loyalty, expectations, and the ways in which tragedy can both unite and divide families. So when I was first daydreaming about The Book of Broken Hearts and wondering how the conflicts would play out, I thought… hey. How about *more* siblings! With *more* drama! With *more* broken hearts and questions of loyalty and family history and what happens when one sibling breaks the accepted family “rules”! I wanted to write about a character who was stuck in the past, almost as if she was living the lives of her previous sisters, but who’d have to start breaking away and making her own choices and forming her own ideas about the world and her place in it. Emilio also has his own challenges and secrets, but… no spoilers. 😉

Which aspects of Jude and Emilio’s relationship do you hope readers will swoon over? What sets them apart from characters in your other books?

I hope readers swoon over the parts that I swooned over while writing — their flirty jokes and banter, the underlying insecurities that surface in sweet little ways as they get to know one another, and of course — the kissing! I think what sets them apart is the fact that despite the “forbidden” relationship (Jude’s sisters made her take an oath when she was twelve to never get involved with Emilio’s family, so… *insert ominous music here*), there isn’t a lot of angst between them. When they argue, they come back together to talk it out. They get to know each other under less than ideal circumstances, slowly peeling back the layers, both of them confronting the legacies of their older siblings. I had so much fun writing their relationship, and I still think about them even now and wonder where they ended up after the summer in the book. Sequel, maybe? 😉

Crystal’s father restored one of his motorcycles in the dining room one winter much to her mother’s consternation. Have you been privy to many motorcycle restorations or did this require additional research for The Book of Broken Hearts?

Wow, the dining room?! So fun! Well, not counting my obsession with the movie Grease 2 (yes, you should watch it! Cool Rider!)… My dad used to rebuild motorcycles when he was young, way before kids and mortgages and all that stuff, so he was totally my consultant on this project! He also used to drive me to school functions on the back of his Harley — something I didn’t appreciate until many years later. You know, the helmet always messed up my hair! But now I love that he did that. I also love that even though I asked him for help and advice on the motorcycle aspects of the story, he totally gave his two cents on the romance elements, too. It was very sweet. 🙂

Why did you set The Book of Broken Hearts during the summer before college instead of during high school?

I wanted Jude to be at a major crossroads in her life, kind of stuck in that floaty space between her past and her future. In many ways she’s still a child — she’s so wrapped up in her sisters’ “rules” and not wanting to disappoint them. But the summer after high school, she’s taking on so many adult responsibilities — caring for her father, helping him restore his motorcycle, trying to cook and help her mother. I wanted to take the naturally confusing transitionary time that so many teens experience, and then really intensify it with her father’s decline, the conflicts with her sisters, and of course… falling in love!

Do you have any high school experiences that would make a great springboard for a YA novel?

Oh, gosh. Don’t they all? 😉 Honestly, I never use my actual high school experiences in my fiction, but I do take the emotional footprint of them to inspire different characters, situations, and relationships. In that way, yes, I have a whole memory bank full of those kind of experiences! Scary thought!

What advice do you have for writers who want to include diverse characters in their books?

Take the leap! Use your imagination. Don’t make assumptions. And most importantly… ask questions! I’ve found that people are often more than willing to answer thoughtful questions, share their experiences, point out potential trouble spots, and help you craft authentic characters and situations. Get out there and talk to people, online and offline. Eat foods from the cultures you’re interested in, listen to the languages if they’re different from yours, learn about the history, check out family traditions, read other stories with similarly diverse characters. Embrace your own sense of adventure and wonderment, and explore! Then, write. 🙂

Which authors have been your biggest influences? Which authors do you look to for great stories about diverse characters?

When I first started writing YA, my big influences were the established contemporary realistic authors like Sarah Dessen, Laurie Halse Anderson, and Deb Caletti, and I still adore their books. The more I learned about YA and the more I read, the more I discovered other writers and diverse stories too — authors like Coe Booth, Malinda Lo, Cindy Pon, Cassie Clare, Matt de la Pena, Justina Chen, Sherman Alexie, Laura Resau, Dia Reeves, Sarah Rees Brennan, Dream Jordan, and Neesha Meminger come to mind.

Who are your five favorite YA characters?

This answer changes for me all the time! At the moment, here are a few of my top faves: Kami Glass in Sarah Rees Brennan’s UNSPOKEN, Kit Cordelle in Dia Reeves’s SLICE OF CHERRY, Blue in Maggie Steifvater’s THE RAVEN BOYS, Annana in Cassandra Rose Clark’s THE ASSASSIN’S CURSE, Jael Thompson in Jon Skovron’s MISFIT. I’d love to hang out with any of them! Well, maybe not Kit — she might be best observed from a distance, since she’s got the whole serial killer thing going on. But yeah, great characters!

Which diverse YA books are you most looking forward to getting your hands on this year?

I’m really looking forward to reading Malinda Lo’s ADAPTATION series — I haven’t read the first one yet, but I’m going to double up when the sequel comes out so I can catch up! I’m scoping out Sarah Beth Durst’s VESSEL and Miriam Forster’s CITY OF A THOUSAND DOLLS to get my epic fantasy fix. HAMMER OF WITCHES by Shana Mlawski also looks awesome. And I recently made a Goodreads list of the 2013 ALA Rainbow List at http://www.goodreads.com/review/list/740903?shelf=2013-rainbow-list featuring LGBTQ books and I hope to check those out this year too. So many awesome diverse books!

Thanks for having me on Rich in Color, and thanks for continuing to host these important conversations about diversity in YA!

ockler_twitter2011Sarah Ockler is the bestselling author of critically acclaimed young adult novels Twenty Boy Summer, Fixing Delilah, and Bittersweet. Her books have been translated into several languages and have received numerous accolades, including ALA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults, Girls’ Life Top 100 Must Reads, IndieNext list picks, and more. Her short fiction and essays will be featured in two upcoming young adult anthologies: Defy the Dark and Dear Teen Me.

Sarah teaches advanced young adult fiction writing at Lighthouse Writers Workshop in Denver. She’s a champion cupcake eater, coffee drinker, night person, and bookworm. When she’s not writing or reading, Sarah enjoys taking pictures, hugging trees, and road-tripping through the country with her husband, Alex.


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This Week’s New Books

This week we have five books for you! The Book of Broken Hearts and Crumble are both contemporary romance (featuring different sorts of forbidden love), Praefatio is an urban fantasy with angels, Sunny is the first volume of a series by a famous mangaka, and Moses, Me, and Murder is a historical fiction mystery set during the Cariboo Gold Rush.

brokenThe Book of Broken Hearts by Sarah Ockler

Jude has learned a lot from her older sisters, but the most important thing is this: The Vargas brothers are notorious heartbreakers. She’s seen the tears and disasters that dating a Vargas boy can cause, and she swore an oath—with candles and a contract and everything—to never have anything to do with one.

Now Jude is the only sister still living at home, and she’s spending the summer helping her ailing father restore his vintage motorcycle—which means hiring a mechanic to help out. Is it Jude’s fault he happens to be cute? And surprisingly sweet? And a Vargas?

Jude tells herself it’s strictly bike business with Emilio. Her sisters will never find out, and Jude can spot those flirty little Vargas tricks a mile away—no way would she fall for them. But Jude’s defenses are crumbling, and if history is destined to repeat itself, she’s speeding toward some serious heartbreak…unless her sisters were wrong?

Jude may have taken an oath, but she’s beginning to think that when it comes to love, some promises might be worth breaking. –Picture and summary via Amazon.com

PraefatioPraefatio by Georgia McBride

Seventeen-year-old Grace Ann Miller is no ordinary runaway. After having been missing for weeks, Grace is found on the estate of international rock star Gavin Vault, half-dressed and yelling for help. Over the course of twenty-four hours Grace holds an entire police force captive with incredulous tales of angels, demons, and war; intent on saving Gavin from lockup and her family from worry over her safety. Authorities believe that Grace is ill, suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, the victim of assault and a severely fractured mind. Undeterred, Grace reveals the secret existence of dark angels on earth, an ancient prophecy and a wretched curse steeped in Biblical myth. Grace’s claims set into motion an ages-old war, resulting in blood, death and the loss of everything that matters. But are these the delusions of an immensely sick girl, or could Grace’s story actually be true? Praefatio is Grace’s account of weeks on the run, falling in love and losing everything but her faith. When it’s sister against brother, light versus darkness, corrupt police officers, eager doctors and accusing journalists, against one girl with nothing but her word as proof: who do you believe? –Image and summary via Goodreads

CrumbleCrumble By Fleur Philips

A modern tale of forbidden love…

Eighteen-year-old Sarah McKnight has a secret. She’s in love with David Brooks. Sarah is white. David is black.

But Sarah’s not the only one keeping secrets in the close-knit community of Kalispell, Montana. Her father George, who owns a local gun shop and proudly drives a truck with a Confederate flag bumper sticker, hides his own complicated past. When he discovers Sarah’s relationship, George decides to share his feelings with Alex Mackey—a lonely classmate of Sarah’s whom George has taken under his wing. As Alex embraces the power of George’s dark hatred, the hopes and dreams of young lives hang in the balance.

In just a few short months, Sarah and David will graduate from high school and leave Kalispell for a new life together in Los Angeles. Maybe in California, they can stop hiding their love—and the other secret they share…something George McKnight—and Alex Mackey—will never accept. –Image and summary via Netgalley

sunny1Sunny, Vol. 1 by Taiyo Matsumoto

The latest manga masterpiece from the Eisner Award-winning creator of Tekkonkinkreet.

What is Sunny? Sunny is a car. Sunny is a car you take on a drive with your mind. It takes you to the place of your dreams.

Sunny is the story of beating the odds, in the ways that count. It’s the brand-new masterwork from Eisner Award-winner Taiyo Matsumoto, one of Japan’s most innovative and acclaimed manga artists. –Image and summary via Netgalley

MosesMoses, Me, and Murder by Ann Walsh

It’s summer in 1866 in the Cariboo gold fields, and a man has disappeared. Young Ted learns from the local barber, Moses, that his friend Charles, who was travelling to the gold fields, has failed to arrive. And a forbidding stranger named James Barry has arrived in town wearing a gold nugget pin that belonged to the missing man. What could have happened to him? Was James Barry responsible for his disappearance? Moses and Ted are suspicious — but they’re also afraid for their own safety. Slowly, with several adventures and close calls, they unravel the story of a cruel murder. But have they identified the right criminal?

Shortlisted for the Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction, based on true events, and set against the exciting backdrop of the Gold Rush era, Moses, Me, and Murder offers a captivating tale of betrayal, thievery, and redemption. –Image and summary via NetGalley

Review: Beauty

beauty
Title: Beauty
Author: Nancy Ohlin
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 208
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Review Copy: Purchased Kindle version
Availability: May 7, 2013

Summary: Ana is nothing like her glamorous mother, Queen Veda, whose hair is black as ravens and whose lips are red as roses. Alas, Queen Veda loathes anyone whose beauty dares to rival her own—including her daughter. And despite Ana’s attempts to be plain to earn her mother’s affection, she’s sent away to the kingdom’s exclusive boarding school. At the Academy, Ana is devastated when her only friend abandons her for the popular girls. Isolated and alone, Ana resolves to look like a true princess to earn the acceptance she desires. But when she uncovers the dangerous secret that makes all of the girls at the Academy so gorgeous, just how far will Ana go to fit in? — image and summary via Goodreads

Review: What is beauty really? Is it smooth skin, fabulous bone structure, silky hair and bright eyes? Is makeup an essential part of beauty? And above all — what is beauty worth? These are some of the questions that came up for me throughout this fairy tale retelling. Initially when I saw the title, I thought maybe this was a Beauty and the Beast story, but instead, the book is a Snow White story and centers on the importance placed on beauty.

Some of my favorite novels are retellings of fairy tales. Retellings are often excellent because original fairy tales often have very flat characters and are mostly about the plot. Novels allow plenty of time and space for readers to get to know the characters well and see new aspects of the old tales. They feel familiar, but not boring and worn out, since  authors add their own twists to the story or think up unique explanations for events.

In Beauty, Ohlin focuses quite a bit on the glamorous Queen Veda. She doesn’t have a mirror on the wall, but does have a beauty consultant who is an audience for her beauty and acts as a mirror. There are several interesting additions to the story (that I won’t share for fear of spoiling them), but I felt that the characters still were not fully formed and developed. We meet Ana and realize that she doesn’t want to outshine her mother, but other than that and her interest in history, we don’t learn all that much about her. Queen Veda is also very one dimensional. Yes, she is hyper focused on beauty, but that is pretty much all we know about her. It would seem that a fully developed character would also have some positives to note. There are no gray areas here and I found myself looking for them in vain.

I did appreciate the way the book led me to contemplation of beauty and of war. A standout line is “War is what human beings do to each other when their is no morality left.” This was way more of a thinking book than I had anticipated. I just didn’t feel like I got to know the characters all that well.

If fairy tale retellings are your thing, you should borrow it someday, but otherwise, you may want to skip this one. Some other fairy tale retellings I would recommend are Cinder by Marissa Meyer, Ash by Malinda Lo, and Beast by Donna Jo Napoli.

Extras:
Read an excerpt
Blog Tour and Giveaway

Covers I Love

Let’s be perfectly honest, shall we? We often judge a book by its cover. I know I do! There have been numerous instances where I’ve purchased a novel purely based on an amazing cover. And while there have been numerous articles, discussions about the whitewashing of covers and lack of representation of diverse characters on covers, I thought I’d take a positive stance and talk about a few covers that have really moved me.

 

clockwork prince1. Clockwork Prince, Cassandra Clare

This beauty stopped me in my tracks, literally. I walked past it, stopped, and took a closer look because I was unsure if I really saw a cute Asian boy on the cover. I picked the book up, examined it thoroughly and then went from disbelief to practically dancing a jig in the aisle. I mean, just look at that cover. Jem is a wonderful character and this picture just captures his essence beautifully. His stance is regale, but with an air of mystery, but the most important aspect is that we can see his face.

 

 

 

transcendence2. Transcendance, C.J. Omololu

Another novel that stopped me in my tracks. My heart jumped at seeing a cute African-American boy front and center on a cover that was not about gangs, prison, urban issues, but a science fiction/fantasy story. The cover suggests that Griffin is a character who will be central to the story, even though the novel is told from Cole’s perspective. It also displays him as a romantic lead, and he is someone the readers will fall in love with (which we do).

 

 

 

Zahrah3. Zahrah the Windseeker, Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu

My goodness this cover is amazing. The model for this cover is simply beautiful. The sparkle eye shadow accents her deep brown eyes and enhances the richness of her skin. She is simply breathtaking, which is a contrast to how the main character sees herself. This contrasts highlights how girls and women often do not see their own beauty, adding to the message of the novel. Additionally, the wing of the Blue Morpho butterfly (my favorite) just adds to the fantasy element of the cover.

 

 

luminous4. Luminous, Dawn Metcalf

I have a deep love for butterflies so this cover just grabs my heart. Like Zahrah, the cover model is also absolutely beautiful. She is also clearly Latina, and with the variety of colors, especially the deep pink, the model is bathed in a light that evokes romance.  Like Transcendence, the cover clearly indicates the novel is a fantasy and not the usual immigration, gangs, urban storyline given to characters of color.

 

 

 

phoenix5. Silver Phoenix, Cindy Pon

Another beautiful model! I also just love the colors of the cover and how they blend together to create an other-worldly atmosphere. The way the light reflects off her dress, I can almost feel the silk underneath my fingers. While I wonder why her arms are in the position they are in, they do create a feeling of movement as if she is in the middle of a dance.

 

 

 

I realize that this novels listed are mostly sci-fi/fantasy novels, but that is a genre that I love to read. It is also a genre that is sorely lacking in characters of color. The industry is changing, albeit slowly, but if these covers are any indication of the willingness of publishers to take a chance and feature the characters front and center on their covers, then all of our calls for change are not in vain. We need to continue to demand for stunning covers such as these, not just with our voices, but with our dollars. Buy these books, but not just the ebooks. Buy the hardbacks, the paperbacks, get them from your local booksellers. If the books are not shelved, ask for them to be ordered. We have the power, let’s use it!

(all cover images courtesy of Goodreads)

New Releases

Belated happy book birthday to twins! Beauty and Thorn Abbey, both by Nancy Ohlin, were released on May 7th. I’m especially looking forward to reading Beauty since I love anything that reminds me of fairy tales.

beautyBeauty by Nancy Ohlin

Simon Pulse

Ana is nothing like her glamorous mother, Queen Veda, whose hair is black as ravens and whose lips are red as roses. Alas, Queen Veda loathes anyone whose beauty dares to rival her own—including her daughter. And despite Ana’s attempts to be plain to earn her mother’s affection, she’s sent away to the kingdom’s exclusive boarding school. At the Academy, Ana is devastated when her only friend abandons her for the popular girls. Isolated and alone, Ana resolves to look like a true princess to earn the acceptance she desires. But when she uncovers the dangerous secret that makes all of the girls at the Academy so gorgeous, just how far will Ana go to fit in? [image and summary via Goodreads]

thorn abbeyThorn Abbey by Nancy Ohlin

Simon Pulse

Becca was the perfect girlfriend: smart, gorgeous, and loved by everyone at New England’s premier boarding school, Thorn Abbey. But Becca’s dead. And her boyfriend, Max, can’t get over his loss. Then Tess transfers to Thorn Abbey. She’s shy, insecure, and ordinary—everything that Becca wasn’t. And despite her roommate’s warnings, she falls for brooding Max. Now Max finally has a reason to move on. Except it won’t be easy. Because Becca may be gone, but she’s not quite ready to let him go… [image and summary via Goodreads]

Annnd happy graphic novel birthday to Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong! This comic has a special place in my heart — I’ve been following the webcomic online, start to finish, and now I don’t know what to do with my life now that the story is over.

nothNothing Can Possibly Go Wrong

by Prudence Shen, illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks

First Second Books

You wouldn’t expect Nate and Charlie to be friends. Charlie’s the laid-back captain of the basketball team, and Nate is the neurotic, scheming president of the robotics club. But they are friends, however unlikely — until Nate declares war on the cheerleaders, and the cheerleaders retaliate by making Charlie their figure-head in the ugliest class election campaign the school as ever seen. At stake? Student group funding that will either cover a robotics competition or new cheerleading uniforms — but not both. Bad sportsmanship? Sure. Chainsaws? Why not! Nothing can possibly go wrong.

[image and summary via Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong]