Book Review: Orangeboy

Title: Orangeboy
Author: Patrice Lawrence
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 432 pages
Publisher: Hodder Children’s Books
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: Through Amazon UK

Summary: Sixteen-year-old Marlon has promised his widowed mum that he’ll be good, and nothing like his gang-leader brother Andre. It’s easy when you keep yourself to yourself, listening to your dead dad’s Earth, Wind and Fire albums and watching sci-fi. But everything changes when Marlon’s first date with the beautiful Sonya ends in tragedy; he becomes a hunted man and he has no idea why. With his dad dead and his brother helpless, Marlon has little choice but to enter Andre’s old world of guns, knives and drug runs in order to uncover the truth and protect those close to him. It’s time to fight to be the last man standing.

Review: I first heard of Patrice Lawrence’s award winning book through an article I received in an email. I saw that it was published only in the UK and since I was spending the summer in London, I made the decision to purchase the book. As the US exports more authors than we import, I was excited to read a YA book from a British author of color and to see the subtle differences between American and British culture. I was not disappointed. I had fun being able to have a visual reference to some of the locations mentioned in the book, and reveled in learning the differences in American and British colloquial language. For example, there was a character description that I was initially confused by. Marlon describes a character with “cane row” and at first I thought it was clothing. Then I realized he was describing hair style and when I googled “cane row” pictures of people with what us Americans call “corn row” came up. It’s these subtle differences that make reading a book from outside the US enjoyable and open us readers to new experiences.

The story itself was a bit slow to get started but once the mystery began to slowly reveal itself and Marlon worked to solve it, then the story really got going. Especially because Marlon made so many stupid mistakes – and I say that in the best way. Marlon is a great character because he is so out of his element in trying to solve the mystery of why he and his family is being harassed/threatened/stalked. He is a sweet hearted geeky kid who learned from his brother’s mistakes and made sure to stay out of trouble. Unfortunately trouble found him, but through it all he was adamant about standing up for himself and his family which made me really love him. However, it was also what made me so frustrated by him because he was way over his head and kept making dumb decisions as instead of getting help he chose to figure everything out on his own. I so wanted to scream at him “tell the police!”, but in reality he couldn’t trust the police either because they just saw him as the brother of a former gangster. Marlon truly was in a tough position and did the best he could with the knowledge he had which was very true to life and really made me connect with Marlon. He was the hero of his story but it wasn’t easy and Marlon had more losses than wins, but ultimately learns what he is capable of.

I have an issue with absent parents in YA, so I loved that Marlon’s mom was involved in his life, or rather at least tried to be. Their relationship was very typical mother/son as it was clear that they were close but with that tiny bit of strained because teenagers have the desire to keep things to themselves and are beginning to push boundaries. I also loved that his mom was a clear advocate for her son which showed the love she had for him and why Marlon wanted so badly to protect his mom in return. Even though his father had been dead a number of years, from an illness, us readers were given a sense of the relationship Marlon had with him as well and the loving relationship his parents had. I loved that Marlon was able to remember his parents relationship and how it shaped the person he became. Marlon also had a very strained relationship with his mother’s boyfriend, Jonathan, but it was clear that Jonathan was trying to help be a parent with Marlon’s mom, but also knew his boundaries. The parent/child dynamics that Lawrence wrote was very real and true to the novel.

Overall I really enjoyed Orangeboy and I want to read other books by Lawrence now (she actually has a new one out!). Additionally, I want to read books by other authors of color from across the pond, so if you know of any please share in the comments below.

Recommendation: Get It Now. FYI… Americans can order books from Amazon UK, yay!

Group Discussion: Want

Want by Cindy PonWant by Cindy Pon
Jason Zhou survives in a divided society where the elite use their wealth to buy longer lives. The rich wear special suits, protecting them from the pollution and viruses that plague the city, while those without suffer illness and early deaths. Frustrated by his city’s corruption and still grieving the loss of his mother who died as a result of it, Zhou is determined to change things, no matter the cost.

With the help of his friends, Zhou infiltrates the lives of the wealthy in hopes of destroying the international Jin Corporation from within. Jin Corp not only manufactures the special suits the rich rely on, but they may also be manufacturing the pollution that makes them necessary.

Yet the deeper Zhou delves into this new world of excess and wealth, the more muddled his plans become. And against his better judgment, Zhou finds himself falling for Daiyu, the daughter of Jin Corp’s CEO. Can Zhou save his city without compromising who he is, or destroying his own heart? [Image and summary via Goodreads]


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kind of interesting when reading Want.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Review: One Shadow on the Wall

Once in a while we share reviews of books that are not strictly young adult. This is one of those times. One Shadow on the Wall is marketed as middle grade, but it is an excellent story for any age. This review was previously published on my personal blog Reading Through Life.

Title: One Shadow on the Wall
Author: Leah Henderson
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Pages: 438
Genre: Contemporary
Review Copy: Final copy via publisher
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: An orphaned boy in contemporary Senegal must decide between doing what is right and what is easy as he struggles to keep a promise he made to his dying father.

Eleven-year-old Mor was used to hearing his father’s voice, even if no one else could since his father’s death. It was comforting. It was also a reminder that Mor had made a promise to his father before he passed: keep your sisters safe. Keep the family together. But almost as soon as they are orphaned, that promise seems impossible to keep. With an aunt from the big city ready to separate him and his sisters as soon as she arrives, and a gang of boys from a nearby village wanting everything he has—including his spirit—Mor is tested in ways he never imagined.

With only the hot summer months to prove himself, Mor must face a choice. Does he listen to his father and keep his heart true, but risk breaking his promise through failure? Or is it easier to just join the Danka Boys, whom in all their maliciousness are at least loyal to their own?

Review: Mor and his family completely stole my heart. Mor hears his father and sees his mother after they have died. He knows his parents would want the children to stay together so he’s determined to do that at any cost. He tries. Oh, how he tries, but the responsibilities are tough. He learns so many things the hard way. Something will go right and then two things will go wrong. It is hard to see him face so many disappointments, but readers will be cheering him on all the way through. 

The gang is on his trail and brings about many of Mor’s difficulties. They also offer safety and protection though. Henderson does a particularly good job of showing how children and teens can get caught up in such a situation. The gang members are individuals and have stories. They have their reasons for having joined and readers see that gang activity may not be as clear-cut as one would imagine. I think there are gang members who never believed they would have anything to do with a gang and yet there they are.

It may not look like it on the surface, but this is a survival story. Mor has a loving community, but he does isolate himself with the secrets he is holding. There are many strong and caring adults that help Mor and his sisters. I appreciated seeing the way they looked out for the children. One in particular is an elder fisherman named Demba. Many of the children make fun of him and believe he is crazy. Mor spends a lot of time with Demba and learns that Demba’s differences are not what they appear. 

Recommendation: This is a fabulous book that may cause a little heartache, but it’s also heartwarming. Mor’s persistence and hope are lovely to behold. It’s a little long for a middle grade novel, but it moves quickly and is well worth the time. 

New Releases

There are quite a few great new releases this week. Check them out.

Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert
Little, Brown

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.

The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F.C. Yee
Amulet Books

The struggle to get into a top-tier college consumes sixteen-year-old Genie Lo’s every waking thought. But when her sleepy Bay Area town comes under siege from hell-spawn straight out of Chinese folklore, her priorities are suddenly and forcefully rearranged.

Her only guide to the demonic chaos breaking out around her is Quentin Sun, a beguiling, maddening new transfer student from overseas. Quentin assures Genie she is strong enough to fight these monsters, for she unknowingly harbors an inner power that can level the very gates of Heaven.

Genie will have to dig deep within herself to summon the otherworldly strength that Quentin keeps talking about. But as she does, she finds the secret of her true nature is entwined with his, in a way she could never have imagined…

The Authentics by Abdi Nazemian
Balzer + Bray

The Authentics is a fresh, funny, and insightful novel about culture, love, and family—the kind we are born into and the ones we create.

Daria Esfandyar is Iranian-American and proud of her heritage, unlike some of the “Nose Jobs” in the clique led by her former best friend, Heidi Javadi. Daria and her friends call themselves the Authentics, because they pride themselves on always keeping it real.

But in the course of researching a school project, Daria learns something shocking about her past, which launches her on a journey of self-discovery. It seems everyone is keeping secrets. And it’s getting harder to know who she even is any longer.

With infighting among the Authentics, her mother planning an over-the-top sweet sixteen party, and a romance that should be totally off limits, Daria doesn’t have time for this identity crisis. As everything in her life is spinning out of control—can she figure out how to stay true to herself?

The Hearts We Sold by Emily Lloyd-Jones
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

When Dee Moreno makes a deal with a demon—her heart in exchange for an escape from a disastrous home life—she finds the trade may have been more than she bargained for. And becoming “heartless” is only the beginning. What lies ahead is a nightmare far bigger, far more monstrous than anything she could have ever imagined.

With reality turned on its head, Dee has only a group of other deal-making teens to keep her grounded, including the charming but secretive James Lancer. And as something grows between them amid an otherworldy ordeal, Dee begins to wonder: Can she give someone her heart when it’s no longer hers to give?

Review: Rebel Seoul

Title: Rebel Seoul
Author: Axie Oh
Genres: Science fiction, romance
Pages: 400
Publisher: Tu Books
Review Copy: ARC received from publisher
Availability: September 15, 2017

Summary: After a great war, the East Pacific is in ruins. In brutal Neo Seoul, where status comes from success in combat, ex-gang member Lee Jaewon is a talented pilot rising in the ranks of the academy. Abandoned as a kid in the slums of Old Seoul by his rebel father, Jaewon desires only to escape his past and prove himself a loyal soldier of the Neo State.

When Jaewon is recruited into the most lucrative weapons development division in Neo Seoul, he is eager to claim his best shot at military glory. But the mission becomes more complicated when he meets Tera, a test subject in the government’s supersoldier project. Tera was trained for one purpose: to pilot one of the lethal God Machines, massive robots for a never-ending war.

With secret orders to report on Tera, Jaewon becomes Tera’s partner, earning her reluctant respect. But as respect turns to love, Jaewon begins to question his loyalty to an oppressive regime that creates weapons out of humans. As the project prepares to go public amidst rumors of a rebellion, Jaewon must decide where he stands—as a soldier of the Neo State, or a rebel of the people.

Pacific Rim meets Korean action dramas in this mind-blowing, New Visions Award-winning science fiction debut.

Review: I knew I needed Rebel Seoul in my life the moment I heard it compared to mix of Pacific Rim and Korean dramas, and I was not disappointed. There were giant robots, fight scenes, complicated (and angsty) family relationships and (ex-)friendships, questionable loyalties, rebellions, and a lovely romance—basically, author Axie Oh delivered everything I had hoped for.

Jaewon was an excellent narrator whose position in life gave him a unique look at his far-future society. His priorities (getting a decent military placement, using it to leverage himself out of the Old Seoul slums, and just plain surviving) gradually started to shift as he learned more about the Amaterasu Project. It isn’t that he lost his innocence so much as he began to understand that there was a broader world out there with people who were more complex than he originally thought. There were some wonderful moments throughout the book where Jaewon considered someone else’s point-of-view, which radically changed how he saw them.

The world of Rebel Seoul is fascinating. It’s not so far into the future as to be unrecognizable, and the classic divide between the haves and have-nots that’s common in dystopian-ish worlds was there. But one of the things that Oh did well was that this brutal government is frequently just as awful to its elites as to its poor, and being rich or from an important family isn’t as good a shield as its frequently portrayed to be. (Hello, first test! And mandatory military service for everyone, though privilege and excellent scores could get you less dangerous positions.) We got just enough detail to have an idea of how this militaristic superstate formed, and I liked how much it felt like this was a society that had been at war for decades. That kind of society made a good contrast for drama among more intimate relationships, like classmates, friends, neighbors, and romantic partners.

I have a weakness for “forbidden” romance, so Jaewon and Tera’s budding relationship was a delight. My favorite parts about it where how it developed out of time spent together and Jaewon’s empathy. He could have kept his distance—should have kept his distance from a girl raised and experimented on to become a weapon—but his empathy made him view her as a person first, not a tool for the exclusive use of his government. These two have become one of my favorite battle couples in YA.

There were a few plot twists that I felt were too easily predicted and a few characters I wish had been fleshed out, but overall Rebel Seoul was one of my favorite reads this year. It is a book set in a messy, complicated world without easy answers or neat resolutions, and I loved it.

Recommendation: Buy (pre-order!) it now. Axie Oh’s debut novel is a phenomenal mix of science fiction and romance set against a militaristic dystopian society. Rebel Seoul’s compelling characters and fast-paced plot means that this will almost definitely be on my year-end best-of list.

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).