Banned Books Week: Sex in YA

It’s Banned Books week and to celebrate I thought I’d talk about a subject that many books are banned for – sex! Yes, that three letter word that often throws many adults in a tizzy when they think about children and teenagers being exposed to the natural thoughts and feelings that we all have. There is this thought, especially in America, that if we don’t talk about sex, read about sex, teach about sex, that teenagers will not engage in sex. Unfortunately, this silly myth persists despite evidence of the contrary. And authors have consistently bucked up against this belief and included sex into their novels.

In the past YA novels have been very careful with their depictions of sex, usually alluding to it with a lovely romantic “fade out”. However, I’ve noticed a difference in the past few years as more and more novels are being more umm, specific, in the descriptions of sex. In addition to including these moments, characters have also had discussions about their feelings, whether positive or negative, towards sex and their sexual identity. I’ve also noticed an increase in a discussions of consent regarding sex as the couple in question has a healthy chat prior and often the subject of protection is addressed as well.

It has been refreshing to see this change come about in the YA world as teens are much more sophisticated since they have access to so much information. The experiences and discussions YA characters face mirror many of the feelings teenagers have. Reading about a character who shares the same thoughts, has the same confused feelings towards sex can help many teens understand that sex, and all of its complex messiness, is perfectly natural and a healthy part of becoming an adult. It can also help teens understand the concept of consent, the importance of using protection, as well as help our LGBTQ teens see themselves on the page (see LGBTQ Teens Speak Out where some of my students speak out on the need for more representation). This movement in the YA world to be more open and honest about sex is encouraging to me, not only as a writer, but as a teacher who works with an age group who is starting to question the world around them. And so, I thought I’d finish off this post with two books I loved that handled sex and sexual identity in a beautiful way.

Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert

When Suzette comes home to Los Angeles from her boarding school in New England, she isn’t sure if she’ll ever want to go back. L.A. is where her friends and family are (along with her crush, Emil). And her stepbrother, Lionel, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, needs her emotional support.

But as she settles into her old life, Suzette finds herself falling for someone new…the same girl her brother is in love with. When Lionel’s disorder spirals out of control, Suzette is forced to confront her past mistakes and find a way to help her brother before he hurts himself–or worse.

 

 Aristotle and Dante Discover The Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

 

Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.

 

 

What books have you read recently that you think got sex right?

Author Interview: F.C. Yee

The Epic Crush of Genie Lo has been on my radar for a while, and for good reason — it sounds, well, epic. And it turns out, it truly is! (Check out the RIC review here.) In this new YA book, one kickass Bay Area girl and the oh-so-glorious Monkey King are all that stands between humanity and the hordes of monsters that threaten to destroy the world. You definitely want to get this book… and today we welcome author F.C. Yee (@yeebookauthor) to Rich in Color for an interview!


I grew up reading about the Monkey King (shoutout to Laurence Yep!), and I imagine the ol’ rascal was a part of your life growing up as well. How did you settle on a story that brought Chinese mythology into the modern world?
 
The funny thing is, I did not grow up with Monkey King stories. My experience was much more like Genie’s, where I officially encountered him later in my teens. I’d been exposed to a lot of media that drew upon Journey to the West as an influence, but never seen or read any adaptations until the day I decided to sit down and read the translations of the original story.
I knew I wanted to write a story about discovering one’s own inner strength. But I also thought that an entertaining parallel would be the simultaneous discovery of this rich fictional universe by a character who didn’t know it was a part of their (personal) heritage all along. I settled on the portrayal that I did so that people originally unfamiliar with the Monkey King, like I was at one time, could be introduced in a fun way, while readers who would be very familiar with the source material could enjoy watching a surrogate learn the tale for the first time.
 
Sun Wukong is definitely becoming more human (and also more good-looking?) in recent movies. So, uh, did you start out intending Sun Wukong to be hot?
 
Yes. Without question. Full use of artistic license here.
 
Going off of that, can you talk a little bit about how you modernized the other figures of Chinese mythology, like trendy Guanyin with the pixie cut, into the book?
 
While I definitely wanted the humor of Sun Wukong acclimating into modern society in the book’s opening, I knew the joke could get old, especially if repeated through different characters. I decided it would provide a nice contrast against Quentin’s original strangeness and Genie’s further expectations of gods if the subsequent ones she met were already grounded. In the case of Guanyin specifically, it’s meant to show how she’s the most in tune with modern life and expectations, because she’s the one who does the most work on behalf of humanity.
One reader/online friend jokingly called the mythological figures in this book petty, which is absolutely accurate in retrospect, and one of the tools I used to modernize them.


A good chunk of the story is grounded in reality — especially Genie’s family situation and her uber competitive school life. (The competitive Bay Area school part hit a little too close to home for me, yikes.) Did you draw upon your own life for this, step into someone else’s shoes, or a little of both?
 
Both. I thought I grew up in a competitive academic environment in the East Coast, but in retrospect, knowing what some kids go through these days, it wasn’t that bad. I’m not sure what’s to be done about it – a high degree of academic competition might be an efficient method of operating for the system as a whole, but it’s punishing for the individual.
 
So Genie hates boba but loves coffee. Are you the same?
 
I love both boba AND coffee! I gave Genie that quirk regarding boba since it’s such a big part of Bay Area culture and liked the image of young Genie being grumpy that her friends want to keep meeting over a drink she didn’t like.

Is there a sequel on the horizon for The Epic Crush of Genie Lo?

There will be, in 2018.

Perfect… *rubs hands together gleefully* Finally, are there any YA books by/about people of color that you’re looking forward to? 
 
I’m perpetually confused over whether it’s being marketed as YA or not, but I’m looking forward to S.A. Chakraborty’s CITY OF BRASS. I also really want to read FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS by Julie C. Dao.

An awesome list. Thanks for stopping by! To those reading along, do yourself a favor and get a copy of The Epic Crush of Genie Lo ASAP because it’s just that awesome.

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.

Review: #NotYourPrincess

Title: #NotYourPrincess
Editors: Lisa Charleyboy & Mary Beth Leatherdale
Publisher: Annick Press
Genre: Nonfiction collection
Pages: 109
Availability: October
Review copy: Final copy provided by publisher

Summary: Whether looking back to a troubled past or welcoming a hopeful future, the powerful voices of Indigenous girls and women across North America resound in this book. In the same visual style as the bestselling 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, intergenerational trauma, and stereotyping are countered by the voices of passionate women demanding change and realizing their dreams. Sometimes outraged, 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 had their history hidden and whose modern lives have been virtually invisible.

Review: #NotYourPrincess is another fabulous collection brought to us by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale. The magic of the book is that the many voices are seen and heard through a wide variety of formats with the design of the book framing the pieces beautifully. In most cases artwork compliments the texts and the words provide context for the artwork. There are images on nearly every spread and it’s a magnificent visual experience.

The stories shared both visually and in text reveal what it means to these women to be Native. They share challenges, triumphs, losses, hopes, family ties and so much more. These are stories that acknowledge the pain of the past, but also point to strength, resilience, and hope for the future. In the essay “Reclaiming Indigenous Women’s Rights,” Nahanni Fontaine (Anishinaabe) explains it this way, “When we begin to understand the colonial legacy and its collateral damage to the minds and bodies of Indigenous women, we can begin to forgive, accept, and heal ourselves from the countless hurtful, damaging ways in which this trauma manifests itself.”

These stories do not ignore the past, but they are very much stories of the present and the future. The many voices sound out against the stereotypes that often prevent people from seeing and recognizing Native women. The women ask to be seen as they are – not as they are expected to be. This is especially obvious in “A Conversation with a Massage Thereapist” by Francine Cunningham (Cree/Métis). The questions the massage therapist asks reveal much about biases people can have. The therapist asks, “What are you?” Indigenous and Cree are answers, but they are pretty much discounted as the therapist responds with, “You don’t really look it.” After learning that the person was raised in the city, “Oh, well, I guess you’re not a real one then?” It doesn’t take long to realize this person has completely succumbed to stereotypes. In “The Invisible Indians,” white-faced, red-haired Shelby LIsk (Mohawk) writes about a similar point of view. “They want fantastical stories of the Indians that used to roam this land. They want my culture behind glass in a museum. But they don’t want me. I’m not Indian enough.”

There are also many examples of confident young women who are using their strengths. We see young women like AnnaLee Rain Yellowhammer (Hunkapapa, Standing Rock Sioux) who are demanding to be heard. She’s an activist fighting the Dakota Access Pipeline and has been raising her voice loud and clear in defense of the land, water, and her tribe.

Lisa Charleyboy describes this as a “love letter to all young Indigenous women trying to find their way.” This is an excellent description. Readers will find love and encouragement here on every page.

Recomendation: #NotYourPrincess should be available in all young adult collections. Get it as soon as it’s available.

Extras:

Excerpt available here

Interview with Janelle Milanes + Giveaway

Everyone, please welcome debut author Janelle Milanes to Rich in Color! Janelle’s book, THE VICTORIA IN MY HEAD, came out yesterday:

Victoria Cruz inhabits two worlds: In one, she is a rock star, thrashing the stage with her husky voice and purple-streaked hair. In the other, currently serving as her reality, Victoria is a shy teenager with overprotective Cuban parents, who sleepwalks through her life at the prestigious Evanston Academy. Unable to overcome the whole paralyzing-stage-fright thing, Victoria settles for living inside her fantasies, where nothing can go wrong and everything is set to her expertly crafted music playlists.

But after a chance encounter with an unattainably gorgeous boy named Strand, whose band seeks a lead singer, Victoria is tempted to turn her fevered daydreams into reality. To do that, she must confront her insecurities and break away from the treadmill that is her life. Suddenly, Victoria is faced with the choice of staying on the path she’s always known and straying off-course to find love, adventure, and danger.

From debut author Janelle Milanes comes a hilarious and heartfelt tale of the spectacular things that can happen when you go after what you really want.

We’re thrilled to have Janelle here to talk about her new book. Once you’ve finished reading the interview, don’t forget to enter the giveaway! It is open to both U.S. and international readers.


Both you and Victoria are Cuban-American. How have your experiences growing up as a second-generation Latina influenced Victoria’s character? What is her relationship like with her family?

There’s an added layer of pressure that I felt growing up as a second-generation Latina. In the book I wrote that you feel like you’re playing catch-up with everyone else, and I think that holds true. Because I didn’t necessarily start with the same advantages as a lot of my peers, my family made additional sacrifices so I could succeed in the future. In my case, I couldn’t help but feel the weight of those sacrifices in everything I did. There’s this idea that you have to do “better” than your parents, whatever that might mean. After all, if you waste your life away, what was the point? Why did they give up everything to come to this country? That was my mindset, at least, while I was growing up. It makes for a volatile, stressed out teenager. Victoria’s family didn’t just want her to meet the same expectations as the elite, they wanted her to surpass them.

Victoria clashes with her parents quite a bit throughout the story. It was important to me that I made her parents sympathetic and showed that their point of view was just as valid as Victoria’s. They expect things from their daughter, but they ultimately want her to find happiness. The problem is that Victoria and her parents have different, conflicting ideas of where happiness comes from. I think that’s a common immigrant mentality as well–the practical notion of happiness as stability. The problem is when stability becomes monotony, which it did for Victoria. She finds herself craving the opposite of what her parents feel is right for her.

Tell us more about Victoria’s school and why you decided to have her attend the Evanston Academy.

Evanston is made up of a very privileged, elite student body. These kids grew up with the assumption that they can do whatever they like in life–unlike Victoria, who doubts herself and her abilities at every turn. I wanted to turn up the pressure on poor Victoria as much as possible so she’s getting it not only from her family, but she’s surrounded by it all day every day.

Toward the end of high school, I was given the chance to attend a renowned college prep school on scholarship. I had always considered myself an intelligent person, but when I started this school I realized I was now playing in an entirely different league. I was coming in as a total rookie. From that point on, my life revolved around work and college. I worked my butt off to stay afloat and it took a toll on my emotional well-being, like it did for Victoria. It was challenging, but looking back, I’m grateful I had the chance to get that education. I can appreciate it in retrospect, as lost as I had felt in the moment.

Strand sounds like he could be a fun character. What can you tell us about him and his relationship to Victoria?

Victoria is immediately attracted to Strand as soon as she lays eyes on him. He’s such a departure from her carefully curated world and the people she’s used to being around. I think Victoria is intrigued by Strand because he appears to be the opposite of her shy, neurotic, sheltered self. She lacks the confidence to make a move on him, so she decides to wave him off as cocky and annoying instead. A lot of their story involves Strand chipping away at the wall she puts up between them. I had so much fun writing all their sexual tension that eventually gives way to a close, personal connection.

You have a Spotify playlist for THE VICTORIA IN MY HEAD. What about the book did you want to capture in those songs? Which songs are your favorite?

It’s a rock-focused playlist because I liked the juxtaposition of this seemingly quiet girl who, on the inside, is all crashing drums and thrashing guitars. I put a lot of work into picking the songs that went into Victoria’s playlist. Every song fits the chapter with which it’s paired, so you have the option of listening along while you read.

My favorite songs would have to be Mitski’s “Your Best American Girl”, because it captures the idea of straddling two cultures and trying to fit this American ideal. The song also has a raw, authentic feel that I just love. I also have a fondness for “Debaser” by the Pixies. It’s so wild and nonsensical and fun.

If you could be in a rock band, which role would you want to have?

I can totally see the appeal of being a lead singer (assuming, in this hypothetical, that I could actually sing!) I am a bad ass lip syncher in the privacy of my bedroom. But if I’m being semi-realistic, I think I’d be better suited for something like bass guitar. I could be the mysterious bass player who’s in it purely for the music.

THE VICTORIA IN MY HEAD is your debut novel. What has surprised you most about gearing up for your release date?

What’s surprised me most is how slow the publishing process moves. I wrote Victoria years ago at this point and have written two other unpublished books in the meantime (one of those will come out in 2018!) It feels strange to revisit these characters after having had so much time and distance from them. I didn’t realize how much I missed them!

What 2017 books by or about people of color or people from First/Native Nations are you looking forward to reading? Which ones would you recommend to our followers?

A recent read I’d recommend is WHEN DIMPLE MET RISHI by Sandhya Menon. It’s a thoroughly charming romantic comedy about two Indian-American teens whose parents conspire to arrange their marriage. I also read all of Jenny Han’s books, because she’s fantastic.

As for books I’m looking forward to reading? So. Many. I’ve had very little time to read lately, but currently on my 2017 TBR list is THE FIRST RULE OF PUNK by Celia C. Pérez, STARFISH by Akemi Dawn Bowman, and THE EDUCATION OF MARGOT SANCHEZ by Lilliam Rivera. Oh, and THEY BOTH DIE AT THE END by Adam Silvera. Oh, oh, and SAINTS AND MISFITS by S.K. Ali! Okay, I’ll stop now…

Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about THE VICTORIA IN MY HEAD?

I hope readers will really connect to Victoria–particularly the daydreamers who spend a lot of time living in their imaginations. (Honestly, it’s usually more fun in there anyway.) But I do hope THE VICTORIA IN MY HEAD will inspire people to pursue their happiness in the present moment while trusting that the future will take care of itself. It’s an important lesson, and one I’m still working on every day.


Janelle Milanes is originally from Miami, FL and received her BA in English Literature from Davidson College. A lifelong YA addict, she moved to New York for her first job as a children’s literature associate at Simon & Schuster.

For the past five years, Janelle has worked as a teacher and librarian throughout the New York City area. THE VICTORIA IN MY HEAD is her first novel and reflects many of her own experiences growing up as a second-generation Latina in America.

Janelle currently lives in Brooklyn with her husband and their two cats. Her favorite Disney princess is Belle, since she was also a big book nerd.

You can reach her on her website, Twitter, Goodreads, Tumblr, or Instagram.


Janelle has graciously offered a signed copy of THE VICTORIA IN MY HEAD, plus an enamel vinyl record pin and print with the book title, to one our readers! You can enter the giveaway through the widget below. This giveaway is for both U.S. and international readers. It will end at midnight Eastern time on September 26.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Interview: Mitali Perkins

We’re excited that Mitali Perkins was willing to answer a few questions for us. She’s likely to be busier than ever as her most recent book, You Bring the Distant Near recently made the longlist of the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. Congratulations Mitali and thanks so much for sharing with us.

You Bring the Distant Near
Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers / Macmillan Publishers

Summary: This elegant young adult novel captures the immigrant experience for one Indian-American family with humor and heart. Told in alternating teen voices across three generations, You Bring the Distant Near explores sisterhood, first loves, friendship, and the inheritance of culture–for better or worse.

From a grandmother worried that her children are losing their Indian identity to a daughter wrapped up in a forbidden biracial love affair to a granddaughter social-activist fighting to preserve Bengali tigers, award-winning author Mitali Perkins weaves together the threads of a family growing into an American identity.

Here is a sweeping story of five women at once intimately relatable and yet entirely new.


You Bring the Distant Near shows three generations of a family. Did this multi-generational aspect create challenges as you wrote?

The challenge came in balancing the four younger voices, as one of the story’s main threads is the slow, healing change in the relationship between Ranee and the U.S.A. The blessing of writing fiction, however, is that you get to express multiple personalities, so all four girls are different versions of me, more or less.

What led you to write this story of family and identity?

This novel is my love letter to the country where my parents brought me when I was seven years old. It’s my celebration of being hyphenated, caught in that narrow place between cultures — something I’ve been exploring throughout my writing life. My personal need to be grateful for my U.S. citizenship and the “healing of my hyphen” (sounds weird, I know, sorry) converged with what I see as a national need for gratitude and healing.

There are five perspectives in this story. Did one of the characters resonate with you more than the others?

I am most like Sonia — a bookish introvert who loves to write and read and has wanted to champion the marginalized since I can remember.

You likely had your own struggles with identity as an immigrant teen. What or who helped you navigate that?

Reading was my lifeline. I started reading early and became an addict of story. To imagine other lives as a child is akin to learning a language early: you become fluent in learning to walk inside someone else’s skin. I’m so grateful for the libraries that fed my addiction when I couldn’t afford to buy books.

Have you always been a storyteller?

I’ve always been a story-lover. My father was a fantastic storyteller. He loved to make us laugh by playing with language. I’m still growing into that identity myself.

On your blog, I saw you have created a playlist for this novel. Are these songs you listened to while writing to step back in time or are they related to the story in some other way?

Most of the songs I compiled in the playlist are mentioned in the novel. The first one, “To Sir With Love,” is especially poignant to me and and my sisters as it would be to Sonia and Tara in the novel as I see it as a tribute to our wonderful Daddy, who is very much like the fictional father in YOU BRING THE DISTANT NEAR.

Mitali Perkins with her mother and sisters in front of the library after arriving in the 1970s. (photo provided by author)

Where to learn more about Mitali Perkins online: Author website, Blog, Twitter and Facebook.