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Big, Funny, and Proud, a guest post by Rebecca Elliott

That’s my character Haylah in my book Pretty Funny for a Girl. And I don’t necessarily mean “big” in the physical sense, although Haylah (known as “Pig” to her friends) is dealing with body confidence issues surrounding her plus-size figure. She’s big in her personality, ambitions, opinions, and passions. I wrote the character as a reaction to the message we are so often spoon-fed—that girls are pretty, meek, innocent, and sweet, or else they are slutty and objectified. Either way, girls are passive and not yet a fully formed thing, and when they are, they’re past their best.

WHAT A LOAD OF BALL-BAGS!

This narrow description, consistently shoved in our faces by the media and society, literally fits NO teenage girl I have ever met. EVER.

Girls are exciting and passionate and strong and ambitious and fierce and wonderfully weird and a hundred different things in any given moment. And girls are funny. So frickin’ funny. Yet often the girls who know they’re funny, know they’re clever, know their personality is brighter and bigger than any room could possibly hold still feel like a no one. Why? Because the crappy societal pressures, ever more present in today’s Instagrammy world, tell them they don’t live up to the impossible and downright dull expectations we put on girldom.

Using stand-up comedy, which is a big fear for a lot of people, seemed like a good way to explore my main character’s bravery, not in a dystopian-hero-saving-the-world kind of way, but in more of a relatable way. Even if it’s not a career readers are interested in, I think there’s so much in stand-up that teens can identify with: the intense vulnerability and the desire to be noticed and heard but not to be judged. Plus it’s a good excuse to make a lot of jokes and hopefully make readers laugh. Because, as Haylah says, “When you find the funny in this serious world that is so often full of pain and cruelty, it’s like discovering a diamond in a cave of crap. It’s precious.”

So aside from my own life-long love of comedy, this is another reason why I chose to have Haylah deal with both body image and her confidence as a comedian at the same time. Because girls are already in many ways standing on a stage feeling like the world is staring at them and judging them, and I wanted my character to voluntarily take that leap onto centre stage and find the confidence to proudly be herself, to say, “This is me, with all my perfect imperfections, and dammit I have a voice and deserve to be heard!”

I very much didn’t want the body image thing to be the central theme of the book. So often when plus-size female characters are the main protagonists of books and movies, their weight is the major factor, the main narrative hook to hang everything else from. But guess what: when you are bigger, that usually isn’t the main thrust of your own narrative  (and I certainly never wanted to lead her towards some “happy” ending where she loses the weight and all is well with her world—like thin people have it all sorted too!).

Yes, Haylah feels that she’s big and at times wrestles with the way that makes people perceive her, but for the most part she’s quite happy with herself and what she thinks about way more than the way she looks is her ambition to do something amazing—become a stand-up comedian. I only wish that the way we look, particularly for teenagers, could take a back seat to the way more important stuff, like our passions and ambitions.

Whilst, as with most of us, Haylah may always struggle a little with her body confidence, I think she’d also say that one of the coolest realisations as a feminist is that there is no right or wrong way for a girl to look, to dress, to act, so be you big, small, loud, shy, “masculine,” “feminine,” high-heeled and preened, DM-wearing and pierced, and anything and everything in-between and outside—it’s ALL GOOD, and it’s all beautiful. We are sold, particularly on social media, the ideal of “perfection,” whereas the message should, of course, and particularly in respect to teenagers already bombarded by judgement and pressure, be that YOU ARE PERFECT REGARDLESS. By getting on stage and being the girl she is, nothing more, nothing less, Haylah isn’t proving that she thinks herself perfect, but that she’s happy in her own skin; as Sophia Bush so eloquently put it, “You are allowed to be both a masterpiece and a work in progress, simultaneously.”

So I hope one of the central themes of the books is screw the haters, screw the ridiculous expectations of society and social media, the only opinion of you that matters is your own opinion. So be whoever the hell you want to be and be proud—shoulders back, tits out, and go show the world who you really are.

I hope the book resonances with readers, and particularly those closest to my heart—the gobby, opinionated, wildly inappropriate, larger-than-life girls who make you laugh until you pee your pants. The girls who need to shake off society’s ridiculous expectations of them, jump under the spotlight and crack on with joyously wobbling their funny bits in the face of life.

Meet Rebecca Elliott

REBECCA ELLIOTT is an author and illustrator of many picture books and The Owl Diaries early chapter book series. Pretty Funny for a Girl is her first YA novel. She earned a degree in philosophy and once did a brief stint in a dull office. Now, she enjoys eating angel delight, loudly venting on a drum kit, and spending time in her sunny garden. She lives in England with her family, some chickens, and a cat named Bernard.

Find Rebecca’s book at Bookshop.org: https://bookshop.org/books/pretty-funny-for-a-girl/9781682631478

Rebecca’s site/social:

https://www.rebeccaelliott.com/

https://www.instagram.com/rebecca_elliott_author/

Facebook

@BecElliott

About Pretty Funny For a Girl

Pretty Funny for a Girl

A candid and laugh-out-loud journey of family, friends, and fierce mistakes.

Haylah Swinton is an ace best friend, a loving daughter, and an incredibly patient sister to a four-year-old nutcase of a brother. Best of all, she’s pretty confident she’s mastered making light of every situation—from her mom’s new boyfriend to unsolicited remarks on her plus-sized figure. Haylah’s learning to embrace all of her curvy parts and, besides, she has a secret: one day, she’ll be a stand-up comedian star.

So when impossibly cool and thirstalicious Leo reveals he’s also into comedy, Haylah jumps at the chance to ghost-write his sets. But is Leo as interested in returning the favor? Even though her friends warn her of Leo’s intentions, Haylah’s not ready to listen—and she might just be digging herself deeper toward heartbreak. If Haylah’s ever going to step into the spotlight, first she’ll need to find the confidence to put herself out there and strut like the boss she really is.

Rebecca Elliott’s hilarious and authentic narrative voice is sure to capture readers’ hearts as her plus-sized, teenage heroine navigates learning to love the body she’s in while dealing with friends, family, and boys.

ISBN-13: 9781682631478
Publisher: Peachtree Publishing Company
Publication date: 10/01/2020
Age Range: 12 – 16 Years

Book Review: Miss Meteor by Tehlor Kay Mejia and Anna-Marie McLemore

Miss Meteor by Tehlor Kay Mejia

Publisher’s description

A gorgeous and magical collaboration between two critically acclaimed, powerhouse YA authors offers a richly imagined underdog story perfect for fans of Dumplin’ and Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe.

There hasn’t been a winner of the Miss Meteor beauty pageant who looks like Lita Perez or Chicky Quintanilla in all its history.

But that’s not the only reason Lita wants to enter the contest, or her ex-best friend Chicky wants to help her. The road to becoming Miss Meteor isn’t about being perfect; it’s about sharing who you are with the world—and loving the parts of yourself no one else understands.

So to pull off the unlikeliest underdog story in pageant history, Lita and Chicky are going to have to forget the past and imagine a future where girls like them are more than enough—they are everything.

Amanda’s thoughts

Individually, I love these authors. And together? Perfect. So glad they teamed up to write this magical, lovely, moving story of former best friends who team up to try to end 50 years of blond, white beauty queens.

In Meteor (or is it Meteorite?) New Mexico, the biggest thing in town is the Miss Meteor Pageant. Chicky, a “tomboy” (her term) who lives in flannel shirts and has a short “boy’s haircut” (again, her words) feels friendless. She’s sick of the bullying from the popular kids (mainly Kendra and Royce) and wonders if she could possibly stop queen bee Kendra from winning the pageant. She’d like to see Kendra lose and suffer. Around the same time Lita, Chicky’s former best friend, gets the idea to participate in the pageant. Could a brown girl made of stardust who’s being raised by the local bruja/curandera (who also came to earth with the meteor) possibly stand a chance?

The two old-but-new friends team up with Junior, a talented artist and also secretly talented cornhole player (cornhole being the most popular game in Meteor) who has long had a crush on Chicky (who, we learn, is pansexual but not out for much of the story–until she joyfully and beautifully IS out), and Cole, a kind, outspoken, trans boy, and one of the popular kids (and, it’s worth noting, brother to queen bee Kendra). Chicky’s three sisters get involved too, helping prepare Lita for the pageant and helping look out for her as others try to sabotage and stop her run for the crown.

A lot happens along the way. The characters call out racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, and more. They fight stereotypes, they elevate each other, they find unexpected friendship, and they persist in the face of so many small-minded townspeople. The story is about the Miss Meteor Pageant, yes, but it’s really about relationships and finding your place. It’s about bringing light to the town, it’s about finding space for yourself, and it’s about belonging. Together, the four main characters find and offer strength to one another in powerful and meaningful ways. A feel-good story about being proud of your identity and opening yourself to sharing your self and your truth with others. This layered story with fantastic characters shows that trying to blend in sometimes just hides the many wonderful ways you were made to stand out. Like Chicky and Lita find out, there is space for you. You belong, just as you are.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780062869913
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/22/2020
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

Book Review: Every Body Looking by Candice Iloh

Every Body Looking

Publisher’s description

“Candice Iloh’s beautifully crafted narrative about family, belonging, sexuality, and telling our deepest truths in order to be whole is at once immensely readable and ultimately healing.”—Jacqueline Woodson, New York TimesBestselling Author of Brown Girl Dreaming

“An essential—and emotionally gripping and masterfully written and compulsively readable—addition to the coming-of-age canon.”—Nic Stone, New York Times Bestselling Author of Dear Martin

“This is a story about the sometimes toxic and heavy expectations set onthe backs of first-generation children, the pressures woven into the familydynamic, culturally and socially. About childhood secrets with sharp teeth. And ultimately, about a liberation that taunts every young person.” —Jason Reynolds, New York Times Bestselling Author of Long Way Down

Candice Iloh weaves the key moments of Ada’s young life—her mother’s descent into addiction, her father’s attempts to create a home for his American daughter more like the one he knew in Nigeria, her first year at a historically black college—into a luminous and inspiring verse novel.

Amanda’s thoughts

Here’s a thing that I say probably way too many times on this blog: I’m a character-driven reader who doesn’t need much more plot beyond “a person tries to figure out how to be a person in the world.” To me, there is no bigger, deeper, more compelling plot than that. And this book is such a wonderful exploration of how to be yourself. I read it in one sitting, which is a statement that probably makes authors die a little, given how long it takes to write a book.

While the current timeline of the story is during Ada’s first few weeks at a HBCU, we also see important moments from her life as a young child and again in middle school. Ada has always felt different and alone. Readers learn about her estrangement from her addict mother, her strict and religious Nigerian father, and the pressures Ada has always felt. College will finally allow her some freedom to find out who she really is, away from her family, but of course the idea of “finding yourself” sounds easier than it actually is.

Iloh writes, “when you start growing/further away from/what used to be home/you go looking for somewhere/that lets you be/what’s inside your head.”

I’m not sure I’ve read any better lines in any book this year. There is nothing Ada wants more than to be the person inside her head. She’s always been drawn to dance, but her practical father never saw the point in pursuing it. A chance encounter with Kendra, another dancer, provides connection and the encouragement to follow her desire.

It is both painful and joyful to watch Ada change, grow, learn, and become. At college, she has the freedom to explore her own mind, to find something that is hers, and to be seen. Ada discovers the power of seeing herself reflected, she learns what she wants and will tolerate in relationships, and she seeks to make her own path, uncertain how to do that and making mistakes along the way.

A hopeful, beautifully written, deeply affecting story of what we endure and overcome in the journey to become ourselves.

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780525556206
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 09/22/2020
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years

Write What You Know, a guest post by Loriel Ryon

I almost didn’t write this post.

As I’ve grown and changed, my thoughts and understandings of my identity and what that means have evolved a lot over the years. Being a writer means looking into yourself, pulling apart the pieces of what made you, and writing that. So when I started writing, my heritage and cultural upbringing kept coming up. How could it not? When I think back to my childhood years, my family and my traditions were so important to that time. But identity is complicated. Especially when you come from a blended family. And when that family breaks apart, identity gets even more complicated. My understanding of myself and my identity will probably change again. And again. But for now, this is where I am.

Because as the old saying goes: write what you know.

And this is what I know.

I grew up on bluegrass music and pumpkin empanadas. Pig pickins’ and the best southern fried chicken. Jackie Horner pies for birthdays, luminarias and tamales at Christmas, and cascarones at Easter. My childhood was a blend of my parents’ upbringings and traditions: my father, an Irish-English American Catholic southern boy, born and raised in North Carolina; and my mother, a Mexican American Catholic born and raised in south Texas. Their traditions were different from each other, but somehow, they found a way to raise me, my brother, and my sister with a blend of the two.

Sure, my mom loved to tell the story where she asked my dad right after they got married to get tortillas from the grocery store and he brought back corn tortillas in a can. (I’m not kidding. It was a family joke for a LOOONG time.) My grandad would tell us stories about how he wasn’t allowed at the school dance because he was Mexican and had to wait outside. I’m pretty sure my mom had never even heard of bluegrass music until she met my dad.

Spanish was spoken in our house (and it was basic Spanish at best), but not because my mom grew up speaking it. My grandparents didn’t teach their children Spanish. They wanted them to blend in and not rock the boat. Both my parents learned in school and college, and once us kids had learned how to spell, they’d switch to Spanish to keep us from knowing what they were talking about.

The other important thing to know is my parents didn’t stay married. And while that was a very tough thing to go through as a kid, it also really shifted my adult understanding of identity and heritage. Without my blended family intact, which traditions would stay? Would some fall away? How would we raise our own kids when the time came?

The other thing is while my siblings and I have our mother’s dark hair and eyes, our light skin coupled with our English last name affords a lot of privileges that other members in our family don’t have. By looking at us, you can’t really “tell” our heritage and with that comes the doubts.

If I look white and I don’t speak Spanish, can I be Mexican American? If I have a white last name, can I be Mexican American? If every time I tell someone that I’m part Mexican American and they say, “Well, you don’t look it…”, then maybe I’m not.

Questions about my identity carried with me all the way to my debut, INTO THE TALL, TALL GRASS. It’s a story about a girl and her sister, both of mixed heritage, as they go on a journey through the desert to save their grandmother’s life. I’d never read a story about a girl of mixed heritage like me. I stubbornly plowed forward, following the advice: write what you know. But even so, I was riddled with doubts. Because when you are straddling the in-between you never quite feel like you are enough. It is a constant battle between hoping you aren’t a fraud to trying to get things perfectly right. Would kids want to read about a girl like me? Would I do the story justice? Was it okay for me to write a story like this? But my Spanish isn’t very good…

I remember when Aida Salazar reached out and asked if I’d like to be part of the Las Musas group, a collective of Latinx authors who support one another. I almost told her no. I stressed over it. How was I going to tell Aida Salazar (who’s book I absolutely admired and adored) that she’d made a mistake? It wasn’t because I didn’t want to be a part of the group. I really did. It was because I felt like I didn’t belong. I felt like I wasn’t Latinx enough to be in the group, and I finally found the courage and told her so.

And Aida, the always wise, said to me, “There’s no one way to be Latinx.”

And with those simple words, my view of my identity shifted again. When the doubts come rolling in, I repeat those words to myself. And while I may not get everything perfectly right and I’m sure to make mistakes along the way, I realize my unique viewpoint does matter. Just because it’s not quite like everyone else’s doesn’t mean it’s wrong or not enough. It’s just…mine.

And that is what I know.

For now.

Meet Loriel Ryon

Loriel Ryon is an author of middle grade fiction. She spent her childhood with her nose in a book, reading in restaurants, on the school bus, and during every family vacation. Her upbringing in a mixed-heritage military family inspires much of her writing about that wonderfully complicated time between childhood and adulthood. Also a nurse, she lives in the magical New Mexico desert with her husband and two daughters. Her debut middle grade novel, INTO THE TALL, TALL GRASS is out now.

Social Media

Twitter/Instagram/Facebook: @Lorielryon

Website: Lorielryon.com

About Into the Tall, Tall Grass

A girl journeys across her family’s land to save her grandmother’s life in this captivating and magical debut that’s perfect for fans of The Thing About Jellyfish.

Yolanda Rodríguez-O’Connell has a secret. All the members of her family have a magical gift—all, that is, except for Yolanda. Still, it’s something she can never talk about, or the townsfolk will call her family brujas—witches. When her grandmother, Wela, falls into an unexplained sleep, Yolanda is scared. Her father is off fighting in a faraway war, her mother died long ago, and Yolanda has isolated herself from her best friend and twin sister. If she loses her grandmother, who will she have left?

When a strange grass emerges in the desert behind their house, Wela miraculously wakes, begging Yolanda to take her to the lone pecan tree left on their land. Determined not to lose her, Yolanda sets out on this journey with her sister, her ex-best friend, and a boy who has a crush on her. But what is the mysterious box that her grandmother needs to find? And how will going to the pecan tree make everything all right? Along the way, Yolanda discovers long-buried secrets that have made their family gift a family curse. But she also finds the healing power of the magic all around her, which just might promise a new beginning.

ISBN-13: 9781534449671
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Publication date: 04/07/2020
Age Range: 10 – 18 Years

Book Review: Verona Comics by Jennifer Dugan

Publisher’s description

From the author of Hot Dog Girl comes a fresh and funny queer YA contemporary novel about two teens who fall in love in an indie comic book shop.

Jubilee has it all together. She’s an elite cellist, and when she’s not working in her stepmom’s indie comic shop, she’s prepping for the biggest audition of her life.

Ridley is barely holding it together. His parents own the biggest comic-store chain in the country, and Ridley can’t stop disappointing them—that is, when they’re even paying attention.

They meet one fateful night at a comic convention prom, and the two can’t help falling for each other. Too bad their parents are at each other’s throats every chance they get, making a relationship between them nearly impossible . . . unless they manage to keep it a secret.

Then again, the feud between their families may be the least of their problems. As Ridley’s anxiety spirals, Jubilee tries to help but finds her focus torn between her fast-approaching audition and their intensifying relationship. What if love can’t conquer all? What if each of them needs more than the other can give?

Amanda’s thoughts

When I’m writing this review it’s March 20, 2020 and I’ve just been diagnosed as “COVID-19 concern,” which I guess is what they diagnose those of us who are sick with all the symptoms in this world of no available tests. I’m really into feeling sorry for myself today. But you know what helped? This book. I read it all today. And loved it. And thank goodness I’ve stumbled into a pile of books keeping my attention because wow have I been in a reading slump lately.

This book is my favorite kind of book: small plot, lots of talking. It also has delightfully convoluted communication mainly due to the fact that we first see our characters meet at a con and know each other as Peak and Bats. Peak (Jubilee) assumes Bats (Ridley) goes back home to Seattle, but really, he stays in Connecticut to live with his terrible father. Also, while they initially know nothing about one another, Ridley figures out who Peak is (Jubilee, daughter of a famous indie comic artist and his father’s main rival) while she knows nothing about him. Even for many, many chapters while they are hanging out in IRL. And Riley may be spying on her family’s store to get intel to help his dad (who, did I mention? is terrible). And when the reveal comes that not only is Ridley Jubilee’s con-crush Bats but is the son of her mom’s rival, things grow even MORE complicated, because how can Jubilee possibly still like him? But she does.

Whew. Get all that? You will when you read it.

There’s also a lot going on here regarding both mental health and sexuality. Ridley is bi. Jubilee calls herself “flexible” and isn’t comfortable with any one label yet, but knows she’s into certain people regardless of their gender. Ridley worries what Jubilee will think about him being bi, and Jubilee worries that repeatedly liking boys somehow makes her less queer. Then there’s Ridley’s mental health. At one point he tells Jubilee that he doesn’t have a diagnosis—he has a laundry list. His main issue is anxiety with panic attacks. Given the amount of lies and secrets he juggles for much of the book, it’s no surprise that his anxiety is always in high gear. Things start to become dangerous when he begins to feel like he’d just like to get lost in Jubilee and forget everything else. A common statement at our house is that people don’t fix people. So wanting to get lost in his girlfriend isn’t exactly a doctor-approved way to treat his worsening anxiety. Some bad choices and instability lead to everything coming to a head.

While this is certainly a romance, it’s also so much more. It really asks the question of how do you survive the dark times and doesn’t offer any easy answers. It’s also a great look at two people getting maybe too wrapped up in each other and not helping them be their best selves (does that sound like a mom lecture? I may or may not have given it recently). This is much heavier than it may appear based on the cover and the summary. That said, those looking for a contemporary that successfully mixes romance with some rather serious issues (and some concerning choices regarding lies, truth, and mental health) will enjoy this. A character-driven book with wide appeal.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780525516286
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 04/21/2020
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years

Book Review: Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender

When I’m reviewing books for professional publications, I stay quiet about them on social media. I’m always really excited once a review comes out to be able to talk about the book, finally! Here’s one of my most recent reviews, a STARRED review, which originally appeared in an issue of School Library Journal.

 Gr 9 Up–Black, queer, and trans Felix explores love, friendship, and possibly retribution in this powerful #OwnVoices story of identity and self-worth. Seventeen-year-old Felix Love hopes the summer art program he’s attending will help raise his grades and increase his chances of getting a full scholarship to attend Brown. Surrounded by a diverse and mostly queer group of artist friends, Felix navigates complicated relationships, including transphobia and harassment from his own friends, from his loving but still learning father, and from an anonymous bully. Bent on revenge, Felix begins catfishing his top suspect, only to encounter some uncomfortable and surprising revelations about not just his potential tormentor, but his own feelings. Coping with the abandonment of his mother and feeling like he isn’t worthy of love, Felix also grapples with the unsettling feeling that his identity still isn’t the best fit. It’s only after a lot of research that he discovers the label “demiboy” and begins to feel a sense of comfort that extends to how he works through and untangles his various complex relationships, both romantic and platonic. Immensely readable, the narration and the dialogue are honest, smart, and at times, bitingly vicious. Felix and friends are complicated characters, constantly fighting, messing up, and making up. Felix is achingly relatable, both vulnerable and guarded, often on the sidelines but wanting so much more. His explorations address privilege, marginalization, and intersectionality while he learns about what and who get to define a person.

VERDICT Full of warmth, love, and support, this is an important story and an essential purchase.

HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. May 2020. 368p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780062820259

Book Review: The Feminist Agenda of Jemima Kincaid by Kate Hattemer

Publisher’s description

A novel about friendship, feminism, and the knotty complications of tradition and privilege, perfect for fans of Becky Albertalli and Stephanie Perkins.

Jemima Kincaid is a feminist, and she thinks you should be one, too. Her private school is laden with problematic traditions, but the worst of all is prom. The guys have all the agency; the girls have to wait around for “promposals” (she’s speaking heteronormatively because only the hetero kids even go). In Jemima’s (very opinionated) opinion, it’s positively medieval.

Then Jemima is named to Senior Triumvirate, alongside superstar athlete Andy and popular, manicured Gennifer, and the three must organize prom. Inspired by her feminist ideals and her desire to make a mark on the school, Jemima proposes a new structure. They’ll do a Last Chance Dance: every student privately submits a list of crushes to a website that pairs them with any mutual matches.

Meanwhile, Jemima finds herself embroiled in a secret romance that she craves and hates all at once. Her best friend, Jiyoon, has found romance of her own, but Jemima starts to suspect something else has caused the sudden rift between them. And is the new prom system really enough to extinguish the school’s raging dumpster fire of toxic masculinity?

Filled with Kate Hattemer’s signature banter, this is a fast-paced and thoughtful tale about the nostalgia of senior year, the muddle of modern relationships, and how to fight the patriarchy when you just might be part of the patriarchy yourself.

Amanda’s thoughts

Here’s the thing: as an adult, with lots of distance to reflect on my teenage self, there are times I see a lot of myself in a character (or a real teen, for that matter) and feel a sense of connection and nostalgia, but also feel embarrassment and frustration. Enter Jemima Kincaid, strident feminist who makes many missteps and has a lot to learn. Oh, hi there, teenager who is “different” from everyone and proudly so, who totally hates everything related to high school traditions and expectations. I see you. I feel you.

Jemima attends a private school in Virginia. She’s straight, wealthy, and a feminist. She hates the patriarchy (“chauvinistic asshattery”) but doesn’t yet think too hard about the ways she’s internalized things from it, the way she’s complicit in it. Her best friend is Jiyoon, but Jemima is not always a great friend to her, or to anyone. She’s part of the ruling body of the senior class but see’s herself as a total outsider disliked by everyone. Jemima is anti-Powederpuff, anti-prom, anti-dress code, anti-whatever-you’ve-got. She has good reasons to be against those ridiculous traditions and rules, but she’s also just against things, period. She challenges rules and traditions, looking to push boundaries and innovate wherever she can.

Jemima makes many missteps and realizes that, at times, she’s a “crappy feminist.” Jiyoon calls her out for her internalized misogyny. Jemima hooks up with a charismatic but problematic boy, someone she’s super physically into but is not the most enlightened or kind human around. Perhaps Jemima’s biggest revelation over the course of the story is her relationship to the statement “I’m not like the other girls.” What was once a badge of pride for her becomes more complicated as she begins to understand more about herself, her peers, and, yes, her internalized misogyny.

I really loved this very real and honest look at how complicated friendship, feminism, relationships, and high school can be. Full of jealousy, secrets, and conflicted feelings, this novel authentically explores the way we learn to do and be better while making many mistakes along the way. Smart and insightful.

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781984849120
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Publication date: 02/18/2020
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

When Fairy Tales Meet Filipino Legends: The Stories That Shaped My Childhood, a guest post by Rin Chupeco

When I was a kid, I was convinced that fairy tales were an actual part of world history.

I wasn’t all that bright as a child.

It might surprise a lot of people who aren’t familiar with the Philippines or Filipino culture, but many of us grew up knowing Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, and Red Riding Hood before we learned about most Filipino myths and folklore. A lot of Filipinos understand and speak English, and the biggest bookstore chains back then carried English books front and center. It didn’t help that American movies were also popular here, and so Disney’s versions of classic fairytales were huge influences in our lives as well.

I didn’t learn about Maria Makiling until I was in middle grade as part of our school curriculum. It was her story that fascinated me the most among the other legends we were taught. Most stories surrounding her were not only always vague, but the telling varied from region to region. In all of them she was a mountain goddess who frequently takes the form of a beautiful young woman, who was kind and brought good harvest to the villages near her mountain. According to the myth – and here is where it starts changing – she fell in love with a handsome Filipino youth who either was eventually betrayed and killed by her American and Spanish suitors, or who had betrayed her himself, or who had unintentionally broke her trust due to some unfortunate miscommunication. The results were always the same; she would wreak her vengeance on the foreigners before vanishing back into her mountains, bringing with her the mountain harvest and luck that she had once bestowed on the villagers, never to be seen again.

We still consider Mt. Makiling a bespelled, enchanted place. Travelers who get lost there are said to have been bewitched by the goddess, and must go through certain rituals to ask her forgiveness, so the fog can lift and they can find their way home.

Journey to the West

It had always felt strange growing up with an assortment of fairytales with me never noticing the distinctions between tales until I was older. I’d assumed, in my naivete, that since it was easy enough for Western stories to reach the Philippines, that the reverse was the same. But soon enough, I was invested in other tales as well: Chinese wuxia legends, like The Romance of the Three Kingdoms or The Investiture of the Gods or The Journey to the West. Along with Japanese ghost stories and powerful Meiji swords forged by Muramasa and Masamune, as well as the strange European tales of sentient armor and strange curses surrounding the border at the end of the world.

Legendary Japanese swordsmiths Masamune and Muramasa

There was also the fact that I was in many ways often treated like an outsider, which I suppose is the curse of all those with biracial identities. I was too Filipino to be Chinese, too Chinese to be Filipino, and still too foreign for everyone else. I think that was the reason why I took very quickly to fairytales; most carried with them a strong sense of culture, of knowing where they came from. And that was something I wished I had.

That was the mindset I was on when I first started writing Wicked As You Wish. I wanted to take all the fairytales that I loved and make them a unifying factor in the story. And while my Filipina teen, Tala, and her Filipino family and culture drives the book, I made the conscious decision not to make it the only fairytale in the book, because it wouldn’t be my personal, authentic experience otherwise. I wanted to celebrate the outsiders, the people who grew up with varying cultures and influences and who sometimes felt like there wasn’t any place they completely belong. And I wanted to create a world in my book that reflected that wild mishmash and weird whimsies, where it feels like anything was possible.

Meet Rin Chupeco

Photo Credit: Eugene Siytiu

Despite uncanny resemblances to Japanese revenants, Rin Chupeco has always maintained her sense of humor. Raised in Manila, Philippines, she keeps four pets: a dog, two birds, and a husband. She’s been a technical writer and a travel blogger but now makes things up for a living. She is the author of The Girl from the WellThe Suffering, The Bone Witch trilogy, and the A Hundred Named for Magic trilogy. Connect with Rin at rinchupeco.com.

Links:

Author website – https://www.rinchupeco.com/

Author twitter – https://twitter.com/RinChupeco

Author Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/rinchupeco/

Sourcebooks Fire Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/sourcebooksfire/

Wicked As You Wish Preorder – https://books.sourcebooks.com/wickedasyouwish-preorder/

About WICKED AS YOU WISH

An unforgettable alternative history fairytale series from the author of The Bone Witch trilogy about found family, modern day magic, and finding the place you belong.

Many years ago, the magical Kingdom of Avalon was left desolate and encased in ice when the evil Snow Queen waged war on the powerful country. Its former citizens are now refugees in a world mostly devoid of magic. Which is why the crown prince and his protectors are stuck in…Arizona.

Prince Alexei, the sole survivor of the Avalon royal family, is in hiding in a town so boring, magic doesn’t even work there. Few know his secret identity, but his friend Tala is one of them. Tala doesn’t mind—she has secrets of her own. Namely, that she’s a spellbreaker, someone who negates magic.

Then hope for their abandoned homeland reignites when a famous creature of legend, and Avalon’s most powerful weapon, the Firebird, appears for the first time in decades. Alex and Tala unite with a ragtag group of new friends to journey back to Avalon for a showdown that will change the world as they know it.

ISBN-13: 9781492672661
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publication date: 03/03/2020
Series: A Hundred Names for Magic Series #1
Age Range: 14 – 18 Years

Homeless: Seeing Past the Label to the Person, a guest post by Catherine Linka

A few months ago, I was upset when a writer friend was interviewed on local TV news about her picture book, and the banner across the screen read “Homeless Woman Writes Children’s Book.” 

My friend wrote from her experience as a teen living in a shelter, but in the ten years since she acquired a master’s from a major university, a significant position with a non-profit, a nice apartment and a long-term romantic relationship. I realize that headlines are designed to telegraph what’s newsworthy about a story, but by labeling her a “homeless woman” the editor negated what is true about her and her life now.

I thought a lot about labels while working on my new YA novel, because a central theme of What I Want You to See is perception, meaning how we want others to see us and how our assumptions and emotions blind us to seeing people and situations clearly. 

My protagonist, Sabine Reyes is a first year at an art institute in Los Angeles. The recipient of a prestigious scholarship that affords her a cozy rented room, Sabine is careful not to let anyone know she spent the spring and summer living in her car. Sabine’s certain that if she does, she’ll be labeled “that homeless girl” instead of being seen as a highly talented artist with an unlimited future.

Labels like “homeless” reduce a person to a stereotype and weigh them down with assumptions that don’t allow for their individuality and run counter to their self-identity.

Kara Yorio addressed this last year in her School Library Journal feature  “In Plain Sight, Supporting Teens Who Are Homeless.” She noted that educators often assume that teens experiencing homelessness are damaged, traumatized, or emotionally unstable, but the teens they’re trying to help want to seen and treated as normal kids in challenging situations. 

It’s not surprising that educators might assume the worse, since the population of people experiencing homelessness who are most visible in our communities and the media are those living on the street and struggling with mental or physical illness, drug, or alcohol addiction.

But in California, a lack of affordable housing has pushed tens of thousands of two-earner families and retirees out of their homes, and prevents college students and part-time workers from finding places to rent. Like my protagonist, many of these individuals and families hide their homelessness as they go to work or attend classes, embarrassed by what people might think about them and their families.

Even though their circumstances are unstable, we shouldn’t assume that a teen or family is unstable. When my friend lost her home, her dad provided the strength and love she needed to feel safe. One line from my book which she felt expressed this well is: “People think home is where you live, but it’s not. It’s where you’re loved.” 

As the affordable housing crisis continues, we need to reconsider how we think and speak about students and families who lack permanent housing. Many of these families will find stable housing and their homelessness will be temporary. If we label them as “homeless” we focus on one period in their lives, possibly the worst, and we fail to allow for how teens, young adults, and people of all ages may continue to grow and change. 

Maybe we can begin by retiring “homeless” as an adjective to describe someone. Homeless isn’t who a person is. It’s not an identity, it’s a circumstance. Since I began writing this novel, I’ve made a conscious effort to change how I speak and to replace phrases like ‘homeless students’ with ones that reflect these students’ circumstances better such as ‘students experiencing homelessness.’ 

My friend would add that we should reconsider using “the” before “homeless.” Even when we mean well, such as when we implore others to “Help Feed the Homeless,” we lump people together in a group, erasing their individual identity. Perhaps, we could try dropping “homeless” as a noun altogether.

People, young people especially, want to be seen the way they identify. If we look beyond the label to the individual, engage them by asking about their interests, hobbies, friends, and dreams, we can show them that we see them as a whole person. We can chip away at the stigma of homelessness one person at a time.

Meet Catherine Linka

Photo credit: Nicola Borland Photography

Catherine Linka has been immersed in books her whole life, most recently as a writer and bookseller. She’s the author of the young adult novel WHAT I WANT YOU TO SEE as well as the dystopian duology A GIRL CALLED FEARLESS and A GIRL UNDONE. Catherine lives in Southern California and watches hawks and hummingbirds when she should be writing. 

Website: www.catherinelinka.com

Facebook: @catherinelinkaauthor

Twitter: @cblinka

Instagram: catherine_linka

About What I Want You to See by Catherine Linka

Winning a scholarship to California’s most prestigious art school seems like a fairy tale ending to Sabine Reye’s awful senior year. After losing both her mother and her home, Sabine longs for a place where she belongs.

But the cutthroat world of visual arts is nothing like what Sabine had imagined. Colin Krell, the renowned faculty member whom she had hoped would mentor her, seems to take merciless delight in tearing down her best work-and warns her that she’ll lose the merit-based award if she doesn’t improve.

Desperate and humiliated, Sabine doesn’t know where to turn. Then she meets Adam, a grad student who understands better than anyone the pressures of art school. He even helps Sabine get insight on Krell by showing her the modern master’s work in progress, a portrait that’s sold for a million dollars sight unseen.

Sabine is enthralled by the portrait; within those swirling, colorful layers of paint is the key to winning her inscrutable teacher’s approval. Krell did advise her to improve her craft by copying a painting she connects with . . . but what would he think of Sabine secretly painting her own version of his masterpiece? And what should she do when she accidentally becomes party to a crime so well -plotted that no one knows about it but her?

Complex and utterly original, What I Want You to See is a gripping tale of deception, attraction, and moral ambiguity.

ISBN-13: 9781368027557
Publisher: Freeform
Publication date: 02/04/2020

Book Review: We Were Promised Spotlights by Lindsay Sproul

When I’m reviewing books for professional publications, I stay quiet about them on social media. I’m always really excited once a review comes out to be able to talk about the book, finally! Here’s one of my most recent reviews, which originally appeared in an issue of School Library Journal.

Gr 9 Up–A reluctant queen bee stumbles toward discovering her true self as she contends with expectations and her sexuality in a small town at the end of the 1990s. With high school almost over, Taylor Garland only wants two things: for her best friend Susan to reciprocate her (hidden) romantic feelings and to leave tiny Hopuonk, MA, where she’s bored by everything. Her future feels predictable and depressing, but pursuing a different path seems impossible. At one point, Taylor says that she “keeps meaning to be a different person” but doesn’t know how to become one. Revealing her real self—whoever that is—may bring satisfaction but may potentially throw her whole life in disarray. Much of the story hinges on Taylor accepting that she’s a lesbian. She carries a wealth of internalized homophobia as well as cliched ideas about what it may mean to be gay. Taylor’s crowd is fickle and callous, casually bullying their peers, being cruel to each other, and incessantly tossing around offensive slurs. The writing is at times lovely, and the setting of a tiny, ramshackle town casts a fittingly depressing vibe over an already bleak story. Taylor is compellingly flawed and unpredictable, and her path to growth, while rocky and cringe-inducing, is frank and honest. A hopeful if out-of-nowhere ending allows readers to think that maybe Taylor can indeed become the different person she means to be.

VERDICT Hand this grim coming-of-age story to readers who don’t mind characters who can be difficult to like.

Putnam. Mar. 2020. 288p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781524738532.