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Shame on You: Desi Shame Culture and its Impact on Muslim Kids, a guest post by Farah Naz Rishi

A long time ago, my local masjid hosted a Ramadan dinner, as it always did in the holy month of fasting for Muslims. Usually, these dinners meant praying together as a community, and breaking our fast together on a potluck style meal that involved samosas, curries, and the ubiquitous, vague semblance of a pasta dish.

However, I had other plans.

After that one particular dinner, under cloak of darkness, I slipped out of the masjid and walked to the nearby Sunday school, a small cottage that had been converted into a schoolhouse. That night, it was empty of students—save for the boy I was secretly “dating” at the time, waiting for me.

I cherished these Ramadan dinners because it was the only time he and I could see each other in person. Being South Asian Muslims in a conservative community meant hiding our illicit, budding romance, even if everyone already knew about it. It didn’t matter that we were a couple of awkward teens who only snuck out to talk, face-to-face, uninterrupted (we usually only talked through text messages). As far as anyone knew, we were lovers in the dark, the epitome of sin. All our lives, we’d been taught that the performance of being a “good Muslim,” of maintaining one’s public image for the sake of family and community honor, was to be valued above all else. A lesson that clearly didn’t take.

Which is why, when we were caught that night, one uncle in our community loudly proclaimed that if we were caught alone again, he would break our legs. My parents didn’t speak to me for days.

I was fourteen years old.

In IT ALL COMES BACK TO YOU, protagonists Kiran and Deen, who dated in the past, reveal that they had made pact to hide their relationship from their family. Kiran notes that she kept her relationship with Deen a secret because she didn’t want to “add stress” to her family: “Dating in the casual sense,” she says, “is still frowned upon Muslim communities, and it’s not something you can openly talk about unless you’ve practically made a formal Jane Austen-style declaration that you’re in pursuit of a life partner.” In the Muslim community I grew up in, this was precisely the case; dating carried a stigma, and that to date meant that I was a sinner, that I must have a weak faith. Regardless of my own religious beliefs—individual beliefs that I was still developing myself, on top of everything else—it felt that my community demanded I follow their brain trust iron-clad rules. That in some way, developing my own personal beliefs was wrong, too.

I wasn’t alone in this feeling. Although there are exceptions, many South Asian teens are expected to live up to their parents’ origin country’s cultural and religious standards, or at the very least, do so on the surface—all in the name of maintaining public image and family honor. And when one fails to do so, like in the case of Deen, one carries that shame and guilt for years to come, a weight that drowns you in a sea of expectation, and can lead to a self-destructive spiral.

The concept of honor reflects a family’s reputation and prestige within a community; and individual actions can raise of lower the entire family’s honor. Looking back on my own past experiences, it almost makes sense why some Muslim teens want to leave their community altogether: It gets exhausting seeing everything through the lens of shame and honor. Every act in life carries the extra consideration of, how would this affect my family and community? As if life isn’t already difficult as it is for a brown teenager.

Also exhausting? Being a second-generation immigrant teen balancing mainstream Western cultural norms and one’s family’s traditional values. It can often feel like an isolating experience, growing up too “westernized” to be accepted by the motherland, but too brown to be anything else. You are forever the Other. It makes sense, then, to find love with a fellow misfit trapped in the same limbo space. In this love, you can find an ally: someone who understands why you can’t go to sleepovers with friends from school, why you can’t go to school dances, and why sometimes it feels impossible to reconcile the need for emotional connection with your parent’s religious views.  

But for those teens who aren’t lucky enough to find that ally, the sense of isolation can prevent them from seeking help when they need it most. In the case of Deen’s older brother, Faisal, the pressures of growing up in an influential family, of being anything less than perfect, became too much to handle. And instead of having an open, transparent conversation—one necessary for healing—Faisal’s parents tell him to hide his pain for the sake of the family’s honor. Of course, this eventually results in Faisal’s sense of failure reaching an unavoidable and dangerous fever pitch. For many, this is an experience far from fiction. As “shame culture” is most utilized as a method of control in Asian communities, Asian American young adults are the only racial group with suicide as their leading cause of death (source: https://theconversation.com/asian-american-young-adults-are-the-only-racial-group-with-suicide-as-their-leading-cause-of-death-so-why-is-no-one-talking-about-this-158030).

I wrote IT ALL COMES BACK TO YOU because I wanted my younger self to feel seen and understood. I wanted a wider audience to understand how difficult it was to grow up, for better or worse, in a tight-knit community that felt like it was always watching, and how the threat of shame can have very real, dangerous consequences on our mental health, and stain the perfectly innocent act of growing up.

My parents and I never spoke again of that night at the Sunday School. Despite their obvious disappointment with me, they carried on as if nothing happened. Instead of using it as a learning opportunity, a chance to connect and know more about their daughter’s personal life, they swept it under the rug. I suppose the public shaming we received was enough.

But there’s no room for growth if we’re not allowed to make mistakes. The irony is that using “shame culture” as a weapon to control often drives teens to hide under cloak of night, and internalize that hiding our shame is better than communicating it—the original problem that drove Kiran and Deen apart in the past. This is precisely why I wrote IT ALL COMES BACK TO YOU: to show South Asian Muslim teens who are finally able to break the silence—and that ultimately, the most important lesson any teen can learn is that despite those who pretend otherwise, we’re human, flaws and all.

And there’s no shame in that.

Meet the author

Farah Naz Rishi is a Pakistani American Muslim writer and voice actor, but in another life, she’s worked stints as a lawyer, a video game journalist, and an editorial assistant. She received her BA in English from Bryn Mawr College, her JD from Lewis & Clark Law School, and her love of weaving stories from the Odyssey Writing Workshop. When she’s not writing, she’s probably hanging out with video game characters. She is the author of I Hope You Get This Message. You can find her at home in Philadelphia, or on Twitter and Instagram @farahnazrishi. Learn more at https://farahnazrishi.com.

About It All Comes Back to You

Two exes must revisit their past after their siblings start dating in this rom-com perfect for fans of Sandhya Menon and Morgan Matson.

After Kiran Noorani’s mom died, Kiran vowed to keep her dad and sister, Amira, close—to keep her family together. But when Amira announces that she’s dating someone, Kiran’s world is turned upside down.

Deen Malik is thrilled that his brother, Faisal, has found a great girlfriend. Maybe a new love will give Faisal a new lease on life, and Deen can stop feeling guilty for the reason that Faisal needs a do-over in the first place.

When the families meet, Deen and Kiran find themselves face to face. Again. Three years ago—before Amira and Faisal met—Kiran and Deen dated in secret. Until Deen ghosted Kiran.

And now, after discovering hints of Faisal’s shady past, Kiran will stop at nothing to find answers. Deen just wants his brother to be happy—and he’ll do whatever it takes to keep Kiran from reaching the truth. Though the chemistry between Kiran and Deen is undeniable, can either of them take down their walls?

ISBN-13: 9780062741486
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/14/2021
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years

A Final Season, a guest post by Tim Green

Although Final Season is a work of fiction, much of the story is true. Because I have already used my own kids’ names and personalities as the main characters in my Football Genius series, I’ve chosen to use everyone’s middle name in this story, including my own middle name of John. Instead of the Green family, we are the Redds. Many of the other characters, especially Ben’s teammates in football and lacrosse are based on real kids with their real names and personalities. However, some, like Tuna and Woody, are entirely fictitious. I also added two characters, Thea and Rohan, who are my grandkids and too young to have been in the actual story, but whose personalities are spot on. 

At the heart of Final Season is the question of whether football is safe for kids to play. Our family was split on this, and I contend that there is no right answer, but only a choice that parents and kids must make according to their own beliefs and priorities.

The author in his NFL days.

For me, it was the right decision, despite the cost. Football paid for my education and my kids’ educations. Football opened doors in writing, business, television, and law. Football built our family’s home on a beautiful lake in a picturesque town, and enough land for each of our kids to build their own homes. Also, being an NFL player made my biggest childhood dream come true. 

My second big childhood dream was to become a writer. I have loved reading books since the third grade. To me, books were magic. They could take me away to another time and place. They could make me laugh and make me cry. In the heroes, I could see something of myself, or something I wanted to be. In the villains, I saw the things I didn’t want to be. So, I ached to make magic of my own one day. I was fortunate to have mentors and role models as an English major at Syracuse University who are giants in the world of literature, and others who are just plain brilliant. 

So, when ALS tried to take writing away from me, I fought back hard. One of my first symptoms of the disease was the loss of strength and coordination in my fingers. I had spent nearly thirty-five years writing and therefore typing every day. When I first started out I longed for the day when the words would just flow from my mind through my fingers to the page. It took many years for that to happen, but it did, and I was loath to give it up. 

Finally, my fingers became useless, but my thumbs still had some life left in them. I knew because I could text on my smartphone pretty well.  Asked myself if I could write an entire three hundred page novel with my thumbs. My answer was, “Why not?” So, in 2017 I wrote The Big Game on my phone with my thumbs. Then my thumbs went the way of my fingers. I had to find something that could get the stories out of my mind and onto the page. A friend who I told of my dilemma found a company called Lyre Bird. They had developed a system where I could stick a dot on my glasses so a sensor could pick up the movement of my head. With it, I could move the mouse across the screen, select a letter, and press a large button to type it. 

I wrote my next book using that system, but my body continued to succumb to the disease, and I grew nervous about committing myself to another technology that would one day probably fail me. Around the same time I developed pneumonia and nearly died. To save me, the medical team had to give me an emergency tracheotomy, leaving me literally speechless. Advanced technology saved me again with a cutting edge computer program that could take all the audio book recordings I’d narrated over the years and synthesize my voice. To do this I had to use another new technology, a Tobii Dynavox Eye Tracker.  

The Tracker allows me to select letters by resting my gaze on the letters of a keyboard that takes up a little less than half of an iPad. Knowing that this method would avail itself to me for the rest of my life, I committed to the transition. Like all the previous methods for writing, it gets better with age, and the first chapter of Final Season took thrice the time as the last. Even with that improvement, I doubt I’ll ever have the fluidity of typing with my fingers. Nevertheless, I will continue to write, for you, and for me. I sincerely hope you enjoy reading Final Season as much as I enjoyed writing it. 

Meet the author

TIM GREEN is a retired professional American football player, a radio and television personality, and a bestselling author. He was a linebacker and defensive end with the Atlanta Falcons of the NFL, a commentator for National Public Radio and NFL on Fox, and the former host of the 2005 revival of A Current Affair. In 2018, Green announced on social media that he was diagnosed with ALS and was featured on 60 Minutes discussing his life and struggles with the disease. He lives in upstate New York with his wife and close to all of his five children.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/authortimgreen

Instagram & Twitter: @Timgreenbooks

About Final Season

From New York Times bestselling author and former NFL player Tim Green comes a gripping, deeply personal standalone football novel about a star middle school quarterback faced with a life-changing decision after his dad is diagnosed with ALS. Perfect for fans of Mike Lupica!

With two all-star college football players for brothers and a former Atlanta Falcons defensive lineman for a father, it is only natural for sixth-grade quarterback Benjamin Redd to follow in their footsteps.

However, after his dad receives a heartbreaking ALS diagnosis—connected to all those hard hits and tackles he took on the field—Ben’s mom becomes more determined than ever to get Ben to quit football.

Ben isn’t playing just for himself though. This might be his dad’s last chance to coach. And his teammates need a quarterback that can lead them to the championships. But as Ben watches the heavy toll ALS takes on his dad’s body, he begins to question if this should be his final season after all. 

ISBN-13: 9780062485953
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/14/2021
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

How to Pronounce Quach, a guest post by Michelle Quach

Many years ago, while reading Sideways Stories from Wayside School, I stumbled upon this tidbit in Louis Sachar’s author bio:

When Louis Sachar was going to school, his teachers always pronounced his name wrong. Now that he has become a popular author of children’s books teachers all over the country are pronouncing his name wrong.”

That made me chuckle. I was nine, and teachers had been pronouncing my name wrong for years, too.

My last name is Quach, which, like Sachar, has that elusive hard “ch” sound that has thrown off many, many Americans. I don’t blame them—“Quash” or “Quatch” both seem like perfectly reasonable guesses for a name that looks like Quach. But I didn’t see why I should have a name that sounded like “squash” or “crotch” when I could instead be a much more solid Quach. One that rhymed with nouns of substance, like “lock” and ”rock.”

In spite of the trouble, however, I’ve always liked my name. In one word, it uniquely encapsulates my family’s complicated history—a history that I’ve often found hard to explain.

Quach is an Americanized version of the Vietnamese Quách, which itself is derived from the Chinese surname 郭 (often romanized as Kwok or Guo). It’s common among people like my family, ethnic Chinese who lived in Vietnam for several generations before they immigrated to the U.S. as refugees. We might still be living in Hanoi now if it hadn’t been for the aftermath of the Vietnam War.

So whenever I’ve been asked what I “am,” the answer has been complicated. Growing up, I wasn’t exactly sure how to identify. It wasn’t quite as clean-cut as if, say, my mom were Chinese and my dad were Vietnamese. In reality, both sides of my family are technically Chinese: my ancestors originated in southern China, and the one language that almost all of us still speak is Cantonese. But my grandparents and parents were born in Vietnam—to say that they’re not really Vietnamese is like saying I’m not really American. Vietnamese has been as much part of our household as English.

Still, when I talk to Chinese people, I don’t quite feel Chinese enough, and when I talk to Vietnamese people, I don’t feel quite Vietnamese enough. This is true even when I talk to Chinese- and Vietnamese-Americans, because their histories—where their families came from and how they made their way to the U.S.—are often so different from mine.

It wasn’t until I learned the concept of diaspora that I finally began to feel seen. For the first time, I had the vocabulary to describe my muddled identity, and I learned that my family was less “Chinese” than “overseas Chinese.” Specifically, they were already overseas Chinese before they came to America, and that—with their code-switching between languages, fusion of cultural cuisines, and history of migration and displacement—has always been a distinct and valid way of being Chinese. It also, I realized, happens to be a valid way of being Vietnamese—and a valid way of being American, too.

When I started writing Not Here to Be Liked, I knew I wanted Eliza, the main character, to share my experiences as a child of Asian immigrants, but I wasn’t sure how to approach her background. I wondered if patterning it on my own would require too much explanation, and I briefly considered making her Chinese-American in a way that most readers would already understand. Ultimately, though, I wanted the book to be true to the diversity in the Asian American experience, so I gave her an identity as multifaceted as my own.

I feel incredibly fortunate that I now have the opportunity to write about characters like me, with families like mine. I’m proud to contribute in some small way to the complexity of Asian representation, and I hope that Eliza’s story will resonate with readers like my younger self.

Maybe, if I’m lucky, teachers all over the country will be saying my name, too—the right way.

Meet the author

Photo credit: Lauritta Stellers

Michelle Quach is a Chinese-Vietnamese-American who also spent a lot of time working for student newspapers–including The Crimson at Harvard College, where she earned a BA in history and literature. Currently a graphic designer at a brand strategy firm in Los Angeles, Not Here to be Liked is her first novel.

Buy Michelle’s book at one of her favorite indie bookstores, The Ripped Bodice.

About Not Here to Be Liked

Emergency Contact meets Moxie in this cheeky and searing novel that unpacks just how complicated new love can get…when you fall for your enemy.

Eliza Quan is the perfect candidate for editor in chief of her school paper. That is, until ex-jock Len DiMartile decides on a whim to run against her. Suddenly her vast qualifications mean squat because inexperienced Len—who is tall, handsome, and male—just seems more like a leader.

When Eliza’s frustration spills out in a viral essay, she finds herself inspiring a feminist movement she never meant to start, caught between those who believe she’s a gender equality champion and others who think she’s simply crying misogyny.

Amid this growing tension, the school asks Eliza and Len to work side by side to demonstrate civility. But as they get to know one another, Eliza feels increasingly trapped by a horrifying realization—she just might be falling for the face of the patriarchy himself.

ISBN-13: 9780063038363
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/14/2021
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years

Debuting with Death, a guest post by Jessica Vitalis

When I was drafting what would turn out to be my debut novel, “The Wolf’s Curse,” I couldn’t have predicted that it would come out during a worldwide pandemic. With the entire world facing unimaginable levels of loss and grief, a Grim Reaper retelling might not seem like an auspicious beginning for my career.

But if it’s one thing writing this story taught me, it’s that processing grief isn’t only about resilience: It’s about rituals. It’s about community. It’s about hope –– the possibility that we might heal and, in so doing, find some measure of future happiness.

How we do that varies not only from person to person but from culture to culture. In North America, burials and cremations are the norm, along with funerals that allow loved ones to gather in remembrance of the departed. These rituals are part of our attempts to say goodbye, to come to terms with our grief. Having grown up in the United States, I thought these rituals were more or less the norm around the world.  But in researching death rituals while writing “The Wolf’s Curse,” I learned that they vary widely across cultures.

For example, some Tibetan Buddhists practice sky burials, where their bodies are left outside for birds and animals, thereby freeing the soul and continuing the circle of life. The Malagasy people of Madagascar have joyful ceremonies known as the “Turning of the Bones,” where approximately every five years, they perfume and/or rewrap their dead in fresh shrouds and dance near the tombs, and the Tinguian dress their dead in finery and seat them in a chair with a lit cigarette. One South American tribe is said to eat pieces of their dead to absorb their spirit, and the people of Kirbati exhume the skulls of the deceased to preserve and display in their homes.

Despite the many different traditions around the world, the rituals I encountered all share one common element: They bring comfort to the living. This realization was pivotal to writing “The Wolf’s Curse,” which is set in an early Renaissance-era seaside village. 

In my fictional world, the people believe that stars are actually lanterns lit by their loved ones once they reach the Sea-in-the-Sky and sail into eternity. The deceased are buried in boats with feathers, fishing gear and the other supplies they’ll need to make their journey. When my 12-year-old character loses his grandpapá and embarks on a journey to complete the old man’s Release ceremony, he’s stalked by a mythical Great White Wolf and ends up learning life-changing truths about the Wolf –– and about the nature of death.

The story is a twist on a Grim Reaper narrative, and it certainly explores grief and loss, but it also explores community, friendship and, most of all, the hope that comes with healing. The traditions and rituals might look different than the ones you and I are used to, but the emotions — the need for human connection and healing — are universal. Although I never could have foreseen the trials this year would bring, I’m grateful for the chance to share a story that might infuse a little more of this connection and healing in all our lives.

Meet the author

Jessica Vitalis is a Columbia MBA-wielding writer. She brings her experience growing up in a nontraditional childhood to her stories, exploring themes such as death and grief, domestic violence, and socio-economic disparities. An American expat, she now lives in Canada with her husband and two precocious daughters. She loves traveling, sailing and scuba diving, but when she’s at home, she can usually be found reading a book or changing the batteries in her heated socks. “The Wolf’s Curse” is her debut novel.

About The Wolf’s Curse

Shunned by his fearful village, a twelve-year-old apprentice embarks on a surprising quest to clear his name, with a mythic—and dangerous—wolf following closely at his heels. Jessica Vitalis’s debut is a gorgeous, voice-driven literary fantasy about family, fate, and long-held traditions. The Wolf’s Cursewill engross readers of The Girl Who Drank the Moon and A Wish in the Dark.

Gauge’s life has been cursed since the day he cried Wolf and was accused of witchcraft. The Great White Wolf brings only death, Gauge’s superstitious village believes. If Gauge can see the Wolf, then he must be in league with it.

So instead of playing with friends in the streets or becoming his grandpapa’s partner in the carpentry shop, Gauge must hide and pretend he doesn’t exist. But then the Wolf comes for his grandpapa. And for the first time, Gauge is left all alone, with a bounty on his head and the Wolf at his heels.

A young feather collector named Roux offers Gauge assistance, and he is eager for the help. But soon the two—both recently orphaned—are questioning everything they have ever believed about their village, about the Wolf, and about death itself. 

Narrated by the sly, crafty Wolf, Jessica Vitalis’s debut novel is a vivid and literary tale about family, friendship, belonging, and grief. The Wolf’s Curse will captivate readers of Laurel Snyder’s Orphan Islandand Molly Knox Ostertag’s The Witch Boy.

ISBN-13: 9780063067417
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/21/2021
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

Holding out for a Hero: Why I used Greek Mythology to write about modern gender violence, a guest post by Kyrie McCauley

In We Can Be Heroes, three friends navigate a devastating loss due to gun violence and their own anger in its wake. They decide to turn this anger into art and activism, painting illegal murals to raise awareness for what happened—and also to demand accountability.

Image Description: a stack of books
Image Source: author

Beck, Vivian, and Cassie create murals based on Greek mythology, and include portraits of Cassandra, Circe, Helen, Ariadne, Andromeda, and Medusa. They’re finding a way to tell Cassie’s story to the world by channeling these myths we already know so well.

The thing about the women in these myths is that they aren’t usually the center of the story. They’re a side quest, or the hero’s motivation, or they’re even written as the villain. Essentially, they’re a lesson to be learned, which is unfortunately how we still frame a lot of violence against women today.

Today we tell stories of true crime in a similar way. We have podcasts and shows and thrillers, flashing news stories that highlight the incident without any context about gender violence. The act is sensationalized, a cautionary tale at best, and sometimes even presented as entertainment. And what about the victims themselves? Often, the person gets lost in the narrative. But the stories we tell about violence matter. Especially when 1 in 4 women experience domestic violence in their lifetime. Especially when the presence of a gun in a situation of domestic violence increases the risk of homicide by 500%.[1]

Image Description: a graphic with text and sunflower petals
Image Source: Canva

In We Can Be Heroes, I bring Cassie back after her death as a ghost haunting her friends and seeking justice for what happened to her. Cassie sees her community briefly mourn her and then move on, without ever confronting the events that led to her death. Her community is better at mourning a loss than preventing one, and doesn’t seem to care to change.



Cassie was the victim of murder, but also of people turning away from the signs of an unhealthy relationship with escalating danger. The red flags were ignored or rationalized. There are patterns of violence against women in Greek mythology, too, and I wanted to highlight those similarities while telling Cassie’s modern story. The first mural the girls paint is of the prophetess Cassandra, who saw the future but was ignored, just like those red flags in Cassie’s relationship were missed.

Image Description: a stone statue of a woman
Image Source: Unsplash

I’ve listened to hundreds of stories from survivors of violence, as an advocate, a counselor, a friend. And the thing that always struck me was the echo in the room. There was the trauma itself, infuriating on its own, and then there was the follow up: not being believed. There is a lot of frustration with systems that fail victims of violence again and again.

At one point, Cassie wishes: “If only this world loved living girls as much as it loves dead ones.” I think we are good at rallying around a tragedy, but we have a lot of work to do in preventing one. And it starts with listening to and believing victims of violence. We Can Be Heroes is about reclaiming our stories. Was Medusa really the monster? Why was Andromeda sacrificed to Cetus, the sea creature? How do we talk and write about the tragic heroine?

Image Description: a graphic with text and sunflower petals
Image Source: Canva

Who gets to be called a hero? In this book, it is the teen girls. By bringing Cassie back as a ghost and giving her a point of view, I got to let her tell her own story—not just as a passive, haunting specter, and not just as another statistic, but as a furious young woman grieving the life that was stolen from her. She wants justice, but she’ll settle for vengeance. It felt good to give Cassie and her friends the rage they have so earned. And it felt good to make them fully the center of their story. The victim and the hero are the same, and if anyone is going to avenge Cassie, she will do it herself, with the help of her righteously angry friends.

By using figures from Greek mythology, and reframing the stories we tell about violence, I got to make Cassie’s message clear: We are the heroes of our own stories, and no one is allowed to rewrite us.

Meet the author

Image Description: author photo Kyrie McCauley
Image Source: author


Kyrie McCauley spent her childhood climbing trees in dresses and reading books during class. She is the author of If These Wings Could Fly, recipient of the 2021 William C. Morris Award. Kyrie holds a Master of Science in Social Policy from the University of Pennsylvania, and has worked in advocacy and development for non-profit organizations. She lives near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with her family, three rescue cats, and a dog that eats books and is never sorry.


Author Website: kyriemccauley.com
Resources on Violence: https://www.kyriemccauley.com/resources
Author Twitter: @kyriemccauley
Author Instagram: @kyriemccauley


About We Can Be Heroes

We Can Be Heroes

Kyrie McCauley, author of the William C. Morris YA Debut Award winner If These Wings Could Fly, delivers a powerful contemporary YA novel about the lasting bonds of friendship and three girls fighting for each other in the aftermath of a school shooting. Perfect for fans of Laura Ruby and Mindy McGinnis.

Beck and Vivian never could stand each other, but they always tried their best for their mutual friend, Cassie. After the town moves on from Cassie’s murder too fast, Beck and Vivian finally find common ground: vengeance.

They memorialize Cassie by secretly painting murals of her around town, a message to the world that Cassie won’t be forgotten. But Beck and Vivian are keeping secrets, like the third passenger riding in Beck’s VW bus with them—Cassie’s ghost. 

When their murals catch the attention of a podcaster covering Cassie’s case, they become the catalyst for a debate that Bell Firearms can no longer ignore. With law enforcement closing in on them, Beck and Vivian hurry to give Cassie the closure she needs—by delivering justice to those responsible for her death.

ISBN-13: 9780062885050
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/07/2021
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years

What Horror–Yes, Horror–Can Do For Kids, a guest post by Josh Allen

A few days before the recent release of my second middle-grade horror book, Only If You Dare: 13 Stories of Darkness and Doom, I visited my local bookstore to sign the copies they were preparing to shelve.

“We’re going to put them in the children’s horror section,” the cheerful clerk told me. “We didn’t used to have a children’s horror section, but we get asked for so much of it, we had to make one.” She pointed, and there it was. 

A children’s horror section! In my local bookstore! Finally!

But I knew a lot of people would wander past that section and wonder. 

Children’s horror? In 2021? Don’t kids get enough of that already in their everyday lives? 

Those are fair questions. Obviously, it’s a terrifying time to be to be a kid, and that statement is so apparent I’m not even going to spend a few sentences defending it. 

And yet, children’s horror is rising. We see this not only in bookstore shelving practices, but in School Library Journal articles like “Six Late Summer Scares for Tweens” and “17 Books to Get Readers in the Halloween Spirit.” We see it in the success of the recent Fear Street series on Netflix (based on the R. L. Stine books). And we see it in the rising popularity of writers like Christian McKay Heidicker, Katherine Arden, and Jonathan Auxier. And the list goes on. 

But . . . why is horror rising? When kids visit libraries and bookstores, why, in these terrifying times, are so many of them seeking out horror? Why not reach instead for some pleasant escapism? A rollicking adventure? A magical voyage? A bit of modern day humor? Wouldn’t those kinds of stories give today’s kids the all-too-welcome distractions they need?

But . . . horror? Really?

I believe the answer to horror’s appeal can be explained, in part, by the words of Natalie Goldberg. Literature, she tells us in the introduction of her book Writing Down the Bones, is for people who are “unconsciously seeking peace, a coming together, an acknowledgement of our happiness or an examination of what is broken, hoping to embrace and bring our suffering to wholeness.”

An examination of what is broken

Hoping to embrace and bring our suffering to wholeness

When kids ask for scary books, I believe we’re witnessing exactly what Goldberg describes above—human beings unconsciously reaching out for the stories they know will fill their psychological gaps, for the stories that can help them be made whole. 

Let me explain:

In his book The Storytelling Animal, Jonathan Gottschall likens the act of reading fiction to the act of practicing in a flight simulator. The simulator is safe. It’s where you go to hone your skills before dealing with the real situation. 

See also: fiction. It’s a flight simulator. “Fiction allows our brains,” Gottschall writes, “to practice reacting to the kinds of challenges that are, and always were, most crucial to our success.”

Like the challenges that come when we’re afraid. Like the challenges that too many kids are facing in 2021. 

Sure, escape is nice. Escape from what so many kids have had to endure over the past two years—heartache, confusion, anger, loneliness, crippling loss—would be the sweetest mercy. But sometimes when kids come to the library or to the bookstore, they’re not looking for escape. They’re looking to probe the complex (and sometimes dark) emotions they’ve been carrying around inside them—anxiety, tension, horror.  They’re looking for stories that can help them practice dealing with these emotions. They’re looking for a book that can act as a flight simulator, a book that can help then probe the grainy textures of fear and taste the metallic bitterness of it, a book that can teach them how to navigate what it means to be afraid. 

A kid reading a scary book is in practice mode, like a movie character in a training montage. Think of Rocky Balboa whacking away at sides of beef. Or Mulan climbing a towering mountain again and again. Or Daniel LaRusso waxing on and waxing off. That’s what kids with spooky books are—fighters looking to level up—and when kids reach for horror, they’re entering the psychic gym, gearing up to do mental calisthenics.

This means that when a kid comes asking for a scary book, we shouldn’t smile politely and substitute in a book we think is more appropriate, maybe one with a bit of charming suspense and a companionable ghost or two.

No. When kids come asking for horror, here’s what we should do:

Give. Them. Horror. 

If a kid asks for doom, death, monsters, blood, and worse, we should give that kid doom, death, monsters, blood, and worse. True, there are enough of these things in kids’ day-to-day lives already (sadly), but that is the very point. We can’t shield kids from the blows of this too-terrifying world. All we can do is arm them with the tools they need to navigate it well.

Today’s kids know, deep in their guts, that they need to get good at being afraid. So of course they’re reaching out for stories of darkness and terror. 

A side note: None of this means that kids can’t have gobs of fun while also getting scared speechless. They can. And the best horror writers don’t just scare kids. They entertain them. They amaze them. They walk that fine line between horror and humor. (This, by the way, is why the amazing people at Holiday House Books made sure both of my books feature covers that glow in the dark. Spooky, yes. But also, we hope, gobs of fun.)

We need to trust kids’ unconscious yearnings. We need to trust that they know what kinds of books they need better than we do. We need to trust the healthy cravings of their own psyches. 

So, children’s horror? In my local bookstore? In 2021? When there’s already so much horror in kids’ lives?

You bet.

Because kids are smart. If they reach for scary books, they’re doing so for a reason.

They’re choosing terror on the page so they can develop resilience.

They’re choosing stress-filled stories so they can learn to navigate their own anxieties. 

They’re choosing fear in fiction so they can cultivate bravery in real life. 

May we help them to do all these things and more.

Meet the author

Josh Allen’s debut book, Out to Get You: 13 Tales ff Weirdness And Woe, received starred reviews from School Library Journal and Booklist and was named a Junior Library Guild selection. When his second book, Only If You Dare: 13 Tales of Darkness and Doom, came out School Library Journal wrote, “Allen has cemented himself as the heir-apparent of Alvin Schwartz.” His writing has received praise from The Horn Book, The Wall Street Journal, Kirkus Reviews, and more. Both Out to Get You and Only If You Dare contain artwork by the award-winning illustrator Sarah J. Coleman, and both of these books feature covers that glow in the dark. Josh lives in Idaho with his family where he teaches English.

About Only If You Dare: 13 Stories of Darkness and Doom

Thirteen chilling short stories to keep you up at night—but only if you dare.

You never know what’s out to get you. Though you might think you’re safe from monsters and menaces, everyday objects can turn against you, too. A mysterious microwave. A threatening board game. A snowman that refuses to melt. Even your own heartbeat has its secrets. Thu-thump. Thu-thump. When you stop to listen, each beat sounds more menacing than the last. 

Master storyteller Josh Allen brings thirteen nightmare scenarios to life in this page-turning collection that’s perfect for budding horror junkies. In his wondrous world, danger waits behind every doorway . . . even in the most ordinary places. 

Eerie illustrations by award-winning artist Sarah Coleman accompany the stories, packaged in a stunning hardcover edition complete with glow-in-the-dark jacket. Readers will sleep with one eye open!

ISBN-13: 9780823449064
Publisher: Holiday House
Publication date: 08/31/2021
Age Range: 9 – 12 Years

Lifting Their Voices, a guest post by Marcia Argueta Mickelson

As a teen, I didn’t have a voice. Well, technically I did, but I didn’t use it. My voice was hidden; it lived in fear of being seen or heard by anyone around it. My voice was so quiet that, in my junior year of high school, a bee stung me during math class, and I said nothing. I didn’t tell my teacher or my classmates. I didn’t ask to go to the nurse. I sat in pain for the rest of the day until I got home and told my mom.

My voice was so scared of being heard that it couldn’t even advocate for my own well-being. This was due to social anxiety or extreme shyness or both. Perhaps I quieted my voice because I always had a sense of not belonging wherever I was. There were loud, overwhelming voices telling me that since my family came to the U.S. as undocumented immigrants, I didn’t belong. So, I quieted my voice even more. One day, I missed school to attend my naturalization ceremony and receive my citizenship. The next day, my teacher asked why I was absent, and I was too embarrassed to tell him the reason. I could have spoken out in celebration of a wonderful experience, but I hid it.

My father, Jose Argueta, is pictured here taking his oath of citizenship. I was able to receive my citizenship a few years after him.

It was in the last year of my teens that I finally found my voice and realized that I needed to use it. This realization came in the form of a transformative book. In a college class, we were assigned to read The Autobiography of Malcolm X. In Malcom X’s writings, I discovered my voice. His message taught me to be proud of who I am and where I came from. His words inspired me to feel pride in my very small voice, and I became resolved to amplify it to advocate for myself and for others.

One of the reasons I love to read and write about teens is because in these young characters, I see them doing what I could never do at that age—lifting their voices. I see these young characters using their voices to say many important things.

We see young people speaking out to advocate for themselves or for other people all of the time, and I am in awe of their courage. The young people who formed the March For Our Lives movement were compelled to speak out against gun violence. They used their voices to create a huge movement. A young undocumented immigrant used her voice during her valedictorian speech in Texas to advocate for undocumented immigrants. Greta Thunberg, with her very young voice, inspired students all over the world to join her strike for climate change. Today’s young people are advocating for change in a way I could never imagine doing when I was a teen. I lacked their courage.

While I was not courageous enough to use my voice as a teen, I can now create fictional characters who are not afraid as I was or who overcome their fear to speak out.

In my book, Where I Belong, Millie Vargas is the oldest daughter of parents who came to the U.S. from Guatemala as undocumented immigrants. The book begins with Millie keeping her voice small, not wanting people to know that her she and her parents were once undocumented. She lives her life quietly, helping to take care of her siblings when her mother is at work. Millie’s quiet existence gets thrown into the spotlight when her mother’s employer, a Senate candidate, shares their story at a campaign event. He praises Millie’s family as deserving immigrants because of their work ethic and Millie’s straight A’s. The media recognition brings out trolls who denigrate and threaten Millie. At the same time, activists and reporters want Millie to speak publicly, to tell her story and advocate for immigrants. Millie doesn’t like the spotlight and wants everyone to forget about her. Susanna, an undocumented teen from a neighboring city, reaches out to Millie and invites her to a rally. Millie hesitates, but as she sees that Susanna is willing to put herself in danger of deportation by attending the rally, Millie decides to go. She takes the stage at the rally and tells her story.

Millie was scared to use her voice to speak out for the undocumented, but she overcame her fears for a great cause. She was inspired by another teen to use her voice. Although she was hesitant at first, it didn’t take her nearly as long as it did for me to find and use my voice. Even though I am not a teenager anymore and never had the courage to do what I see so many young people doing, I am thrilled that I get to create characters who find the courage to lift their voices.

What a wonderful generation of youth that surrounds us who elevate their voice, sometimes individually and sometimes collectively to uplift, inspire, protest, resist, inform, or advocate.

Meet the author

Marcia Mickelson was born in Guatemala and immigrated to the United States as an infant. She attended high school in New Jersey and then graduated from Brigham Young University with a BA in American Studies. She is the author of five novels including Star Shining BrightlyThe Huaca, and Where I Belong. She lives in Texas with her husband and three sons.

Marcia Argueta Mickelson’s Website: http://marciamickelson.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/marciamickelson/

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/marciamickelson

About Where I Belong

An immigrant teen fights for her family, her future, and the place she calls home.

In the spring of 2018, Guatemalan American high school senior Milagros “Millie” Vargas knows her life is about to change. She’s lived in Corpus Christi, Texas, ever since her parents sought asylum there when she was a baby. Now a citizen, Millie devotes herself to school and caring for her younger siblings while her mom works as a housekeeper for the wealthy Wheeler family. With college on the horizon, Millie is torn between attending her dream school and staying close to home, where she knows she’s needed. She’s disturbed by what’s happening to asylum-seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border, but she doesn’t see herself as an activist or a change-maker. She’s just trying to take care of her own family.

Then Mr. Wheeler, a U.S. Senate candidate, mentions Millie’s achievements in a campaign speech about “deserving” immigrants. It doesn’t take long for people to identify Millie’s family and place them at the center of a statewide immigration debate. Faced with journalists, trolls, anonymous threats, and the Wheelers’ good intentions—especially those of Mr. Wheeler’s son, Charlie—Millie must confront the complexity of her past, the uncertainty of her future, and her place in the country that she believed was home.

ISBN-13: 9781541597976
Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/07/2021
Age Range: 12 +

Pausing to Check the Weather, a guest post by Tanita S. Davis

The first series I published – on binder paper, bristling with staples – was The Police Academy Chronicles. Protagonist Deenie Brown was Black, book-smart, and at fourteen, the youngest cadet in her police academy – which was apparently like high school, but with adults. Together with sidekick Danny (whose long, thick lashes did nothing to hide his utter lack of characterization), Deenie Brown’s adventures were legion, and heavily derivative of Encyclopedia Brown (and with the amount of cookie baking going on, Trixie Belden). No gangs, drugs, or violence, Deenie’s cases dealt with priceless art theft and missing princes (commonly found in every suburb) and ended with a loud “atta girl” from Danny and the proud gratitude of the community.  These novellas paint a clear (and endearingly awful) picture of my writer’s mind between the ages of twelve to fifteen.

During this same period, I was frequently told I had “an attitude” in the way I interacted with adults. The object of adult speculation in the form of “teasing” about the number of kids I would have or how early I would marry, I was frequently asked by pediatricians – from the age of ten, as I recall – if I was sexually active. I was mortified when my seventh-grade tumbling teacher wouldn’t spot me one day because I was “too much of a big girl now” to necessitate that. Even as I saw myself as goofy and scattered, bookish and unsure, adults around me seemed increasingly able to see something in me which I hadn’t yet seen in myself.

In 2017 the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality released a study detailing what they called ‘adultification bias,’ the idea of Black girls as less innocent and more adultlike than their white peers. The study revealed that even as young as five to nine years old, black girls are perceived as needing less nurturing, protection, comforting and care than white girls of the same age, as they’re considered more independent. This bias is strongest in girls ages ten – to – fourteen, which shapes ideas of innocence and experience. Until I read about this study, and the qualitative research conducted in 2019, I had no words for some of the experiences of my tweenhood. Like Deenie and many of my later teen characters, I was not particularly hip or worldly. Even as I leaned into the new requirements and abilities of young adulthood, I was still a child day-dreaming super sleuth adventures and solving imaginary crimes. Mine was not a graceful transition, and I went into teaching determined to grant girls like me more tools to make their liminal stage easier. All we needed, I reasoned, was a pause to check the weather before being expected to face the headwind on a new road.

Most of my first students had criminal records, social workers, parole officers, and a history of truancy. As a very junior teacher, I was to provide one-to-one tutoring and an educational approach that met them at their level, but which wasn’t insultingly infantilizing. With the supervisory support of the County’s independent study teacher, my little group home class struggled toward diplomas and GEDs.  Seeking any enticement to engage them, I hit on reading aloud. My kids would work, and better, urge each other to work, in exchange for a story – despite adultification bias’s claim that they should have “outgrown” that long ago.

We began by reading Virginia Euwer Wolff’s Make Lemonade, the story of fourteen-year-old, college-bound LaVaughn, babysitting seventeen-year-old Jolly’s two small children. Resonating with the characters’ fears and intentions, my students listened fiercely as LaVaughn observed, judged, learned and transformed. With her, they were frustrated with, charmed by, and terrified for others. Within the pages of those blank verse poems, my students lived and breathed. The day we finished, my learners, who had listened in near reverent silence, refused to even consider the sequel, voting unanimously that we read it again. They seemed to need to re-immerse themselves in the moments and decisions that led the novel to the powerful hope in its conclusion.

Publishing stories for girls like me, girls who were tender inside, and dreamers, wasn’t as simple. As other Black authors published to well-deserved success, my editors grew disappointed with my work. “She needs to be edgier,” was the most common criticism of my characters. I was encouraged to depict characters with more “street smarts” whose lives were “grittier.” “Your characters are too innocent,” one editor told me bluntly. I couldn’t understand – what did “too” innocent mean? Isn’t every teen, merely by virtue of their age, innocent of a remarkable number of experiences? Despite criminal charges and court dates, my students had limited experience with a world which had already judged them as ‘knowing better.’ When an editor suggested I was more suited to write chapter books for early readers, I was shaken. Much like Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie’s idea of the danger of a single story, I realized that much of publishing had, in essence, defaulted to another single story, that of poverty and pain, a Black girl on the brutal streets, bereft of innocence and old too soon…a story I wasn’t convinced that I was capable of telling.

Still, I reconsidered Partly Cloudy, a book originally featuring a first-year college student, the unwilling subject of a viral video, making a cross-continental escape to her great-uncle’s house on the West Coast. In my rewrite, seventh-grader Madalyn arrives at Papa Lobo’s in a slightly more organized fashion, though she remains conflicted by the push-pull challenges and growth of interracial, intercultural friendships at her new school. How do we make friends with others raised to think and react differently than ourselves? How do we decide what has value, where we should put our energy, what is worth fighting for, and what is best allowed to fade? Junior high friendships can be fast-changing and painfully fraught. In Madalyn I wanted readers to feel nurtured by her relationships, and with her, take a moment to pause and process, to determine what friendships feel like, and to grow deliberately into the adulthood they’re so often assumed to have.

And what comes of such deliberation? Clarity. I see now that like Deenie, I wanted strongly to fix things, and restore what was broken or lost. Like Madalyn, I wanted to safely and honestly navigate friendships, to cut through distraction and find genuine connection. And like them both, I wasn’t gritty and street smart – I’m still not. I had to learn pragmatism and resilience, neither of which come easily, especially if you’re seen as “grown” and not in need of comfort or help.

I hope that this September we welcome tweens of all colors into our learning communities in the spirit of honoring what is within them. We can lend them all our nurture, protection, and comfort. And as Black girls pause among the books to check the weather, I hope we’ll be on hand to give them a loud “atta girl,” as they choose to open the door and step into the storm.

Meet the author

Tanita S. Davis is the award-winning author of six novels for middle grade and young adult readers, including Serena Says, Peas and CarrotsHappy Families, and Mare’s War, which was a Coretta Scott King Award Honor book and earned her a nomination for the NAACP Image Award. She grew up in California and was so chatty as a kid that her mother begged her to “just write it down.” Now she’s back in California, doing her best to keep writing it all down.


Website: www.tanitasdavis.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/tanita_s_davis/

About Partly Cloudy

From award-winning author Tanita S. Davis comes a nuanced exploration of the microaggressions of middle school and a young Black girl named Madalyn who learns that being a good friend means dealing with the blue skies and the rain—and having the tough conversations on days that are partly cloudy. Perfect for fans of A Good Kind of Trouble and From the Desk of Zoe Washington.

Lightning couldn’t strike twice, could it? After a terrible year, Madalyn needs clear skies desperately. Moving in with her great-uncle, Papa Lobo, and switching to a new school is just the first step.

It’s not all rainbows and sunshine, though. Madalyn discovers she’s the only Black girl in her class, and while most of her classmates are friendly, assumptions lead to some serious storms.

Papa Lobo’s long-running feud with neighbor Mrs. Baylor brings wild weather of its own, and Madalyn wonders just how far things will go. But when fire threatens the community, Madalyn discovers that truly being neighborly means more than just staying on your side of the street— it means weathering tough conversations—and finding that together a family can pull through anything.

Award-winning author Tanita S. Davis shows us that life isn’t always clear, and that partly cloudy days still contain a bit of blue worth celebrating.

ISBN-13: 9780062937001
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/07/2021
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

The Ghostly Inspiration Behind Burden Falls, a guest post by Kat Ellis

I’ve always loved the idea of ghost hunting, so I think it was inevitable a group of ghost-hunting teens would find their way into Burden Falls. In the book, siblings Freya and Dominic Miller — rivals of my main character, Ava — and two of their friends make a spooky YouTube show called Haunted Heartland. Ava is totally unimpressed by this, seeing as they’re threatening to expose the supernatural goings-on in her ancestral home, but I think if there’d been a group like them in my high school I would definitely have wanted in on that action. Sadly, there wasn’t, and I had to wait until a few years ago to get the chance to spend a night in a haunted castle.

The first time I went on a ghost hunt, I didn’t see any ghosts. But I might have heard one.

My sister Alex and I had gone to Bodelwyddan Castle in North Wales in search of the supernatural. Now I think it’s fair to say that Alex is more of a believer than I am; while I’m open to being convinced, I take creaky floorboards and flickering candles with a pinch of salty skepticism (I’m a little like Ava that way).

But Bodelwyddan Castle looks like exactly the kind of place you’d expect ghosts to hang around. It also has the reputation of being one of the most haunted places in the UK. It’s an impressive turreted stone castle, with some parts dating back to the fifteenth century. The kind of place that’s seen some serious history, in other words, and probably more than a few deaths — especially seeing as it was used as a hospital for wounded soldiers back in World War I.

There have been reports of all kinds of spectral sightings there over the years: pale children who’ve been heard playing in the Toy Room and spotted looking out from one of the upstairs windows; a Victorian lady who wanders along the sculpture gallery and disappears through a wall where there was once a doorway; and the Cellar Man — an unfriendly spirit who we were told likes to pinch and tug on the hair of any woman who ventures down into the maze of underground cellars at the castle. Unsurprisingly, given the castle’s history during World War I, there have also been reports of a soldier seen in full military uniform — sometimes walking the castle grounds, and other times in the rooms which were used as hospital wards during the war.

Plenty of creepy candidates for potential sightings, right? Knowing this, Alex and I were braced for some serious spookiness.

There were around twenty of us on our ghost hunt, separated into two groups led by a small team of expert ghost hunters and history buffs. We’d already explored several rooms of the castle, using things like dowsing rods and electronic devices to try to locate any spirits who might be hiding nearby; table-tipping and calling out for the dead to make themselves known to us. But beyond some cold spots and movement behind the curtains — both of which I put down to it being a draughty old castle, in my Scullyish way — I didn’t feel that I had encountered anything particularly unearthly. It wasn’t until around 1am, near the end of the hunt, that I heard the sound that made me pause.

The room we were in was on the ground floor — an elegantly furnished parlor next to a grand hallway with a wide, carved staircase. All the lights in the castle had been out since the hunt began, and the other group were exploring a room at the far side of the castle, one floor up. So, we weren’t expecting to hear footsteps rushing down the staircase just outside our room.

“Did you hear that?” my sister asked me, wide-eyed. And I definitely had; it sounded like someone running downstairs, but with all the lights off, that would most likely have ended with a tumble and a broken neck. The rest of our group had heard it too, and we all hurried out to see if anyone — or anything — was waiting for us at the foot of the stairs.

There was nobody there. We turned on the lights to check, but there was no sign that anyone had been on that staircase a moment earlier.

Our group leader contacted the others upstairs via walkie-talkie to check that it hadn’t been one of them coming to look for us, but they were all still at the far side of the castle, all present and accounted for.

I can’t say for sure that what I heard was a ghost, but I can’t come up with another explanation that makes sense of the sound. So maybe it was the spirit of one of the children, escaped from the Toy Room upstairs. Maybe it was another of the castle’s reported apparitions — a spirit who appears as no more than a pair of disembodied legs wearing white stockings and gold-buckled shoes. Maybe it was just a creaky old building stretching its spine… or maybe I need to go back to Bodelwyddan Castle and try again to catch sight — or sound — of the supernatural.

Although the pandemic put my paranormal adventures on hold, I definitely plan to explore more spooky locations in future. Meanwhile, writing about my ghost-hunting teens in Burden Falls only seems to have increased my appetite for all things otherworldly, so I think there’ll be lots more spookiness in my future writing.

And I’ll always be game to creep through a castle in the dark.

Meet the author

Kat Ellis is the author of young adult horror and thrillers, including Burden Falls and Harrow Lake. She studied English with Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University, then spent worked in local government communications and IT for several years before writing her first novel. When she’s not writing, Kat can usually be found exploring the ruins and cemeteries of North Wales with her camera.

LINKS:

Website: www.katelliswrites.com

Twitter: www.twitter.com/el_kat

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/katelliswrites/

Books & buy links: https://katelliswrites.blogspot.com/p/books-buy-links.html

About Burden Falls

Riverdale meets The Haunting of Hill House in the terrifying new thriller from the author of Harrow Lake.

“Cinematic, clever, and creepy, with a main character that leaps off the page, Burden Falls ticks off all my moody thriller boxes.” —Goldy Moldavsky, New York Times bestselling author of The Mary Shelley Club and Kill the Boy Band

The town of Burden Falls drips with superstition, from rumors of its cursed waterfall to Dead-Eyed Sadie, the disturbing specter who haunts it. Ava Thorn grew up right beside the falls, and since a horrific accident killed her parents a year ago, she’s been plagued by nightmares in which Sadie comes calling—nightmares so chilling, Ava feels as if she’ll never wake up. But when someone close to Ava is brutally murdered and she’s the primary suspect, she begins to wonder if the stories might be more than legends—and if the ghost haunting her dreams might be terrifyingly real. Whatever secrets Burden Falls is hiding, there’s a killer on the loose . . . with a vendetta against the Thorns.

ISBN-13: 9781984814562
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 08/24/2021
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years

Why we should let girls read, and relate to, morally grey heroines, a guest post by Cyla Panin

I got a text a few days ago from a friend. She’s reading a copy of my debut YA fantasy, STALKING SHADOWS, and she’s been giving me wonderful live updates chapter to chapter. Well, this time her text went like this, “I don’t like what Marie did!”

Ah. Yes. Me either.

I don’t want to spoil anything, but let’s just say that my main character, Marie, definitely made a questionable decision involving someone she’s growing to care for. Her decision might even hurt him, though she’s certain she has it all under control enough that the damage will be mild and temporary. Do I, as a human with a heart, agree with what she did?

No.

So why did I write it?

Because I understand why Marie had to make a bad decision. Her circumstances left her very few choices, and her commitment to protecting her sister, and ultimately herself, has never wavered. She does the best she can with the situation she’s in, and I think that’s more real and relatable than always doing the right and heroic thing.

None of us will always make the best choice, the most selfless or most noble. At least, I have yet to encounter anyone who can claim they’ve always, without fail, done the absolute right thing. That level of perfection rarely exists in the real world, and yet we continually hold our female protagonists up to this unachievable standard. If they fail the test, they might be labelled as unlikeable, or even as an anti-hero that readers have a hard time getting behind.

Fantasy is escapist. We can sink into the world’s authors create and join the characters as they do things we never would—or could. Fighting a dragon, traipsing over mountains and through meadows with a sword at our hip, dancing in a flowing gown in a ballroom, running into enchanted woods at night. The realest thing in any fantasy should still be the characters and their emotions. Their drive. Underneath all of this magic, we should be anchored by what the human lives unspooling through this dark, glittering world.

Girl protagonists have a right to take the drags of whatever awful situation they’ve found themselves in and try to piece together a solution to reach their goals, even if that solution makes some people give them the side eye. Girl readers have the right to see heroines in books be just as angry, brash, impulsive, and determined as any heroes can be. And they have to right to see them not only succeed, but be embraced for their fire and ingenuity.

In Julie C. Dao’s 2017 YA fantasy, FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS, the main character Xifeng is faced with embracing darkness or sacrificing the power she could wield. Thankfully, Dao has her protagonist decide grasp whatever power she can. As a reader, I could emphasize with Xifeng and why she made those decisions, even if they sometimes made me uncomfortable. She came from hardship, poverty, and was faced with a beautiful palace and magic—I mean, that doesn’t seem like a hard choice. It was Dao’s skillful character building that showed us her main character’s drive, so readers could emphasize and stand beside Xifeng even when she did things some might label ‘evil.’

There was some outrage about Xifeng being an unlikeable character, though. Certain readers shook their heads and pursed their lips and got on Goodreads to air their distaste. What I didn’t get then is why they felt like they needed to like Xifeng to understand her.

When male main characters do bad things, readers tend to be much more forgiving. We don’t have to look much further than The Darkling in the SHADOW AND BONE series by Leigh Bardugo or Ronan Lynch in THE RAVEN’S CIRCLE by Maggie Stiefvater to find bad boys who have been embraced, and even loved, despite the pain they inflict on others or the ends they go to in order to get what they want. But boys will be boys, right?

Wrong. People will be people. All characters will, with good literary craft, be products of their world and upbringing. They’ll be shaped by the past, as we all tend to be, and they’ll decide whether or not they’re defined by it. They’ll give us enough glances into their hearts that we’ll be rooting for them whether or not we agree with their actions.

The word I think best describes Marie Michaud in STALKING SHADOWS is ‘determined’. She doesn’t much care about being liked, but she sure does care about achieving her goal. I won’t be giving anything away when I say she selects her sister’s victims (because it’s in the pitch.) Marie choses who’s going to die by her sister’s claws. She marks unmoored men, those who aren’t well known in the village, those who are just passing through, those that she forces herself to believe don’t have any family to miss them. She selects these men because, in her mind, it’s better them than someone people will cry over. She elects to destroy one life instead of two or three or four, depending on the size of the family. It’s not right, by any estimation, even hers, but in the confines of her world and the hand she’s been dealt, she does her best. And really, is there anything more relatable than that?

Meet the author

Cyla Panin is an MG, YA and Adult Author who prefers to look at the world through a dusting of magic. Her YA debut, STALKING SHADOWS will be out with Amulet, Abrams Sept. 14. She is represented by Chloe Seager of the Madeleine Milburn Literary, TV, and Film Agency. Find her on Instagram at @cylapanin. 

About Stalking Shadows

A gothic YA fantasy debut about a young woman striving to break her sister’s curse and stop the killing in her small French town

Seventeen-year-old Marie mixes perfumes to sell on market day in her small eighteenth-century French town. She wants to make enough to save a dowry for her sister, Ama, in hopes of Ama marrying well and Marie living in the level of freedom afforded only to spinster aunts. But her perfumes are more than sweet scents in cheap, cut-glass bottles: A certain few are laced with death. Marie laces the perfume delicately–not with poison but with a hint of honeysuckle she’s trained her sister to respond to. Marie marks her victim, and Ama attacks. But she doesn’t attack as a girl. She kills as a beast.

Marking Ama’s victims controls the damage to keep suspicion at bay. But when a young boy turns up dead one morning, Marie is forced to acknowledge she might be losing control of Ama. And if she can’t control her, she’ll have to cure her. Marie knows the only place she’ll find the cure is in the mansion where Ama was cursed in the first place, home of Lord Sebastien LaClaire. But once she gets into the mansion, she discovers dark secrets hidden away–secrets of the curse, of Lord Sebastien . . . and of herself.

ISBN-13: 9781419752650
Publisher: Amulet Books
Publication date: 09/14/2021
Age Range: 12 – 18 Years