Teen Librarian Toolbox
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Big Bend National Park and MG/YA Novels Exploring National Parks, a guest post by Cliff Burke

I didn’t visit any of the famous National Parks until I was in my mid-twenties. I did visit Hershey Park in Pennsylvania, and many amusement parks, and the local section of the Cuyahoga County National Park where I grew up. But I never experienced the mountains or majesty I always associated with National Parks.

This changed when I was invited to join two friends on road trip that traversed Glacier, Grand Teton, and Yellowstone National Parks. I was awestruck by their beauty. Here were the mountains and the majesty and the crisp air and the unspoiled natural beauty I had been promised by old posters and educational films. But, as a writer, I was equally interested in observing other people partaking of the beauty of the parks, and I started to notice a recurring trend. There were a lot of families and most of them had a least one member of the traveling party who was ready to sit down for a while or go home entirely.

When I got back, I wrote down the note – kid forced to appreciate nature on a family vacation – and started building what eventually became An Occasionally Happy Family. I had been living in Austin for about 5 years at the time, and I decided to set most of the story in in the nearest national park – Big Bend. If you do a quick search of Big Bend National Park, the first several results are about how unpopular it is – top 10 least visited national parks, one of the lowest attended parks of the past 20 years. Its own travel brochure described the Park as a “weather-beaten desert” within the opening paragraphs. That is exactly the kind of place where a kid already not inclined to enjoy nature would be particularly aggrieved.

I did as much research as I could online but knew I couldn’t write about it accurately without visiting. While it is certainly weather beaten, and a desert, the park is also stunning, and filled with enough distinct features to write several books. I spent several days hiking, takes lots of pictures, jotting down notes at night. I left with enough notes on locations – Chisos Mountains Trail, Santa Elena Canyon, Boquillas Hot Springs, the nearby city of Terlingua Ghost Town – and natural phenomena – black bears, rare birds, dry air – to organize all of the beats of the book when I returned.

It’s now been over a full year since I’ve visited a National Park (though plan to very soon!) and have instead had to rely on books to help me travel across the protected lands of the U.S. Below are some great recent books and one older favorite that explore Yosemite, The Grand Canyon, The Great Smoky Mountains, Chiricahua, and Yellowstone. If you’re not hitting the road this summer, these will keep you busy.

The Wolf Keepers by Elise Broach

Twelve-year-old Lizzie Durango and her dad have always had a zoo to call their home. Lizzie spends her days watching the animals and taking note of their various behaviors. Though the zoo makes for a unique home, it’s a hard place for Lizzie to make lasting friends. But all this changes one afternoon when she finds Tyler Briggs, a runaway who has secretly made the zoo his makeshift home. The two become friends and, just as quickly, stumble into a covert investigation involving the zoo wolves who are suddenly dying. Little do they know, this mystery will draw them into a high-stakes historical adventure involving the legend of John Muir as they try to navigate safely while lost in Yosemite National Park.

Downriver by Will Hobbs

No adults, no permit, no river map. After fifteen-year-old Jessie gets sent to Discovery Unlimited, an outdoor education program, she and six companions “borrow” the company’s rafting gear and take off down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon on their own. Floating beneath sheer red walls, camping on white sand beaches, and exploring caves and waterfalls, Jessie and the others are having the time of their lives—at first. But when they’re pursued by helicopters, they boldly push on into the black-walled inner gorge, the heart of the Grand Canyon, only to encounter huge rapids, bone-chilling rain, injuries, and conflict within the group. What will be the consequences of their reckless adventure?

Willa of the Woods by Robert Beatty

Set in 1900 in the Great Smoky Mountains, it’s the story of an orphaned girl–gentle of heart, but brimming with the ancient forest powers of her people–who must struggle to survive in a changing world.

To Willa, a young night-spirit, humans are the murderers of trees. She’s been taught to despise them and steal from them. She’s her clan’s best thief, creeping into the log cabins of the day-folk under cover of darkness and taking what they won’t miss. It’s dangerous work, but Willa will do anything to win the approval of the padaran, the charismatic leader of the Faeran people.

When Willa’s curiosity leaves her hurt and stranded in the day-folk world, she calls upon the old powers of her beloved grandmother, and the unbreakable bonds of her forest allies, to survive. Only then does she begin to discover the shocking truth: that not all of her human enemies are the same, and that the foundations of her own Faeran society are crumbling. What do you do when you realize that the society you were born and raised in is rife with evil? Do you raise your voice? Do you stand up against it?



Distress Signals by Mary E. Lambert

Lavender’s class is on a field trip in the desert of Chiricahua National Park, hiking down a ravine, when a flash flood strikes! As the water hurtles down the ravine, everyone sprints for safety. Lavender runs in the opposite direction as the rest of her class and scrambles up a tree while the torrential river rages by.

When the waters finally recede, Lavender finds herself stranded in the brutal heat of the desert with only her ex-best friend Marisol, mean-girl Rachelle, and a boy named John. They are shaken, disoriented, and have just one pack of supplies and the most basic wilderness knowledge. Can they find their way back to safety? They will have to learn to work together in spite of their differences — if they want to survive.

Not Our Summer by Casie Bazay

It’s bad enough that estranged cousins Becka and KJ see each other at their grandfather’s funeral, but when he leaves them a bucket list of places to visit together over the summer, so they can earn their inheritance, it seems like things are about to get much worse.

However, with each trip the cousins complete—like riding mules into the Grand Canyon or encountering a bear and a hot tour guide at Yellowstone—they steadily learn about and begin to trust one another. That is until the truth behind Grandpa’s bucket list, and their family feud, is revealed, testing Becka and KJ far beyond their limits. Will they find a way to accept each other or will their grandpa’s wish to mend his divided family end up buried alongside him inside his grasshopper green casket?

Meet the author

Cliff Burke grew up in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio. He worked as a house painter, a parking lot attendant, and a sign-twirling dancing banana before graduating from the College of William and Mary. For the past ten years, he has taught reading and writing in China, Hong Kong, and Texas. Currently, he teaches writing and humanities at a middle school in the San Francisco Bay Area. An Occasionally Happy Family is his first novel.

You can follow him on Instagram or Goodreads.

An Occasionally Happy Family is out today and can be ordered here.

About An Occasionally Happy Family

Gordon Korman meets The Great Outdoors in this funny and moving debut about a boy who goes on a disastrous family vacation (sweltering heat! bear chases!) that ends with a terrible surprise: his dad’s new girlfriend.

There are zero reasons for Theo Ripley to look forward to his family vacation. Not only are he, sister Laura, and nature-obsessed Dad going to Big Bend, the least popular National Park, but once there, the family will be camping. And Theo is an indoor animal. It doesn’t help that this will be the first vacation they’re taking since Mom passed away.

Once there, the family contends with 110 degree days, wild bears, and an annoying amateur ornithologist and his awful teenage vlogger son. Then, Theo’s dad hits him with a whopper of a surprise: the whole trip is just a trick to introduce his secret new girlfriend.  

Theo tries to squash down the pain in his chest. But when it becomes clear that this is an auditioning-to-be-his-stepmom girlfriend, Theo must find a way to face his grief and talk to his dad before his family is forever changed.

ISBN-13: 9780358325673
Publisher: HMH Books
Publication date: 05/18/2021
Pages: 224
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

On Korean Food: Filling My Stories with What I Love, a guest post by Sarah Suk

When writing Made in Korea, a young adult romcom about two teens selling Korean beauty products at school and going head to head to out-sell each other (and maybe falling in love along the way), I knew I wanted to include many elements of Korean culture throughout the story. K-beauty, of course, as well as family dynamics, K-pop, and — I’m smiling to myself just writing this — Korean food.

Korean food is my greatest comfort. If I had to choose one last meal before I died, it would be my mom’s kimchi sujebi, a spicy hand torn noodle soup that immediately makes me feel like I’m at home. There is nothing more peaceful to me than the smell of roasted goguma (sweet potato) and a pot of brewing boricha (barley tea). In university, I spent a semester studying abroad in Seoul and some of my happiest memories include visiting street food vendors and walking through different neighbourhoods, hoddeok and bungeobbang in hand, feeling completely and utterly content. That’s sweet pancake filled with brown sugar and cinnamon, and fish-shaped bread stuffed with red bean paste, respectively. AKA some of my favourite snacks of all time.

Made in Korea features just a few dishes I love. To name a few: pajeon (scallion pancake), doenjang jjigae (soybean paste stew), and a brief mention of soondubu (spicy soft tofu stew). While the food serves more as details to the story rather than the main centerpiece of it, there is one item on the menu that does get more page time, more attention, and more sparklethan the rest. And that is the infamous Korean shaved ice dessert, bingsu.

The most common version of bingsu is patbingsu, red bean shaved ice, but these days there are many, many different kinds. Fruity bingsu layered with fresh strawberry slices or served in a carved-out honeydew, matcha bingsu topped with big scoops of green tea ice cream and sprinkled with bite sized mochi pieces, injeolmi bingsu that takes the classic Korean rice cake covered in powdered soybean and gives it a shaved ice twist… I mean, the genius just goes on.

I love bingsu so much that I once dreamed of becoming a bingsu blogger and traveling the world, eating and reviewing different kinds of shaved ice. That dream still lives somewhere in the back of my mind, just biding its time until the right moment. But for now, I keep the love alive by planting bingsu in my stories and gifting it to my characters. A little bit of writing advice: fill your stories with what you love.

Here’s the thing about food. It’s never really just about the food, is it? It’s also about what it carries. Culture, history, family traditions, childhood memories… Certain foods become intertwined with specific moments in life, like how I can never drink chai without thinking of the friend who introduced it to me at a tea party in her living room. Or how, whenever I eat churros, I’m reminded of that time at the amusement park when I saw a classmate who never smiled beaming for the first time with two churros in his hands, sharing them with his friends.

To share a meal with someone is to get a glimpse into their world. In a similar way, I’ve always loved reading about food in books because of what it showed me about the world within its pages. Sometimes I imagine my favourite characters pulling out a chair for me at their dinner table, smells wafting, mouths watering, and saying, “Take a seat. Here’s what we’re having.”

Meet the author

Sarah Suk (pronounced like soup with a K) lives in Vancouver, Canada where she writes stories and admires mountains. When she’s not writing, you can find her hanging out by the water, taking film photos, or eating a bowl of bingsu. Made in Korea is her first novel. You can visit her online at sarahsuk.com and on Twitter and Instagram @sarahaelisuk.

Website: https://www.sarahsuk.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/sarahaelisuk

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

About Made in Korea

Out May 18, 2021!

Frankly in Love meets Shark Tank in this feel-good romantic comedy about two entrepreneurial Korean American teens who butt heads—and maybe fall in love—while running competing Korean beauty businesses at their high school.

There’s nothing Valerie Kwon loves more than making a good sale. Together with her cousin Charlie, they run V&C K-BEAUTY, their school’s most successful student-run enterprise. With each sale, Valerie gets closer to taking her beloved and adventurous halmeoni to her dream city, Paris.

Enter the new kid in class, Wes Jung, who is determined to pursue music after graduation despite his parents’ major disapproval. When his classmates clamor to buy the K-pop branded beauty products his mom gave him to “make new friends,” he sees an opportunity—one that may be the key to help him pay for the music school tuition he knows his parents won’t cover…

What he doesn’t realize, though, is that he is now V&C K-BEAUTY’s biggest competitor.

Stakes are high as Valerie and Wes try to outsell each other, make the most money, and take the throne for the best business in school—all while trying to resist the undeniable spark that’s crackling between them. From hiring spies to all-or-nothing bets, the competition is much more than either of them bargained for.

But one thing is clear: only one Korean business can come out on top.

ISBN-13: 9781534474376
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
Publication date: 05/18/2021
Age Range: 12 – 18 Years

Friendly Ghosts, a guest post by Richard Fairgray

With the second graphic novel in the Black Sand Beach series coming out and the fourth one being planned, I’ve been thinking a lot about why I like scary stories.

If you’ve read the first one (or the in between one that’s just straight up scary stories without pictures) then you’ll get it when I say that I think being scared can be fun.

There’s no better feeling than the thrill of being terrified followed by the relief that the thing you were afraid of is actually quite funny. There’s also nothing scarier than something funny or silly turning out to be the most dangerous thing in the room. The reason I keep writing scary stories like this is simple: I enjoy being afraid; I always have. I enjoy sitting alone in the dark and wondering if the howling coyotes are getting closer or if they’re just louder because they’ve caught someone.

Text and illustrations copyright © 2021 by Richard Fairgray

I had a friend in high school (shocking, I know) who was terrible at telling stories. She’d get about halfway through the most interesting, gossip filled, thrilling recount of her weekend and everyone around her would be staring down at their Walkman and twirling their devil sticks just to have something to do. The story was great, this girl led an exceptionally interesting life, she just sucked at telling people about it. The worst part was that she knew it.

Then she found twenty dollars.

Text and illustrations copyright © 2021 by Richard Fairgray

Let me be clear, she didn’t really find twenty dollars. I just told her she had. I gave her an out. Now, when peoples’ eyes began glazing over, before they could reach for their Chatter Rings or Pro-Yo II, she’d abruptly stop the story by saying, “And then I found twenty dollars.”

Immediately the story became interesting, short, relatable and had a payoff that was worth it.

You can do the same thing by having someone die.

Let me give another example. I’m not really suggesting you kill all your friends, just do it in your head.

Text and illustrations copyright © 2021 by Richard Fairgray

When I was seven, I went on a field trip to a volcano. I was so excited to see all the lava and fire and duck out of the way of flying rocks that I never even considered this might be scheduled on a day when the volcano wasn’t erupting. So, my whole day was filled with identifying rocks and listening to a man in khaki shorts talk about temperatures and tectonic plates and everything was terrible.

The only saving grace was that the bus stopped at KFC on the way back to school. I was sitting at one of the greasier tables, enjoying my ribs and wings (for more advice on what’s best at KFC email me directly) when a boy I didn’t know joined me and offered to share his gravy. We became fast friends, taking turns to dip our fingers in the rapidly congealing goo and talking about Ninja Turtles. This boy was from a different school, his name was Naish (no idea on that spelling) and I would never see him again. But until that large gravy was entirely consumed (one finger dip at a time) we were friends.

Here’s the thing, Naish was dead the whole time. Turns out he’d been killed almost 400 years ago at that very same KFC, on that very same day, probably by a murderer or a wizard or something.

See how much more interesting that is?

Text and illustrations copyright © 2021 by Richard Fairgray

Now, instead of me thinking back on some kid with a name I can’t spell talking about mutant reptiles for an hour I get to remember the time I hung out with a ghost. That’s categorically better.

In my life I have seen real ghosts three times. Once in a lighthouse, once in a post office that my friend lived in and once in my house in Hollywood right before I moved out. I’m 36 years old and that seems like nowhere near enough. The place I live now was built in the 80s and nobody has ever died here. My office is in a haunted complex, but the ghosts are all at the very back where I don’t have access. My chances to meet ghosts are disappointingly slim. My chances for meeting people I’ll never see again are much higher, and not just because I’m sort of a lot to deal with.

Now, anytime I am bored by a stranger I can just zone out and imagine how much more interesting their story would be if they’d been dead the whole time. I did this the other day and then I found twenty dollars!

Meet the author

Photo credit: Raymond Goldstone

Richard Fairgray is a writer, artist, and colorist, best known for his work in comic books such as Blastosaurus and Ghost Ghost, and picture books such as Gorillas In Our MidstMy Grandpa Is a Dinosaur, and If I Had an Elephant. As a child he firmly believed he would grow up and eat all the candy he wanted and stay up as late as he liked. By drawing pictures when he wasn’t meant to and reading all the things people told him not to, he has made his dream come true. Black Sand Beach is his first graphic novel series with Pixel+Ink. Richard splits his time between Los Angeles and Surrey, British Columbia, where he is able to work furiously, surrounded by plastic skeletons, dogs, friends, loved ones (and possibly the most comprehensive collection of Courtney Love bootlegs on the planet). 

About Black Sand Beach 2: Do You Remember the Summer Before?

A revelation about how Dash may or may not have spent the summer before raises the stakes even higher in this second installment of the eerie and enthralling Black Sand Beach series, perfect for fans of Gravity FallsRickety Stich, and Fake Blood.

Dash and his crew might have stumbled upon the source of the evil at Black Sand Beach when they stumbled into the abandoned and haunted lighthouse, but when Lily reveals that she found Dash’s journal there, the news is anything but comforting. The book is full of Dash’s reflections on his trip to Black Sand Beach the previous summer. 

Only Dash doesn’t recognize the journal or have any memory of being there. 

As the friends read the entries aloud, through flashbacks Dash’s unsettling encounter with two ghost girls, a truly terrifying monster, and a life changing event make one thing very clear: Black Sand Beach isn’t done with them yet.

Deliciously creepy and difficult to put down, Do You Remember the Summer Before? returns readers to a supernatural shore they’ll never forget.

ISBN-13: 9781645950035
Publisher: Holiday House
Publication date: 05/04/2021
Series: Black Sand Beach
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

A Second Look at Second Chances, a guest post by Miel Moreland

For some people, high school is marked by grass-stained jerseys or student council budget debates. For three years, my high school experience largely centered on headsets, blocking scripts, and knowing actors’ lines better than they did. By the fall play of my junior year, I was the lead stage manager. I loved the camaraderie with the rest of the crew, the thrill of trust and responsibility that came with carrying the keys and knowing the codes, the thousand details to coordinate. The gaffer tape.

But that fall was also marked by my first bout with depression, and my anxiety—which in retrospect, had appeared throughout my childhood—surged. The high-pressure, time-consuming nature of stage managing further eroded my mental health. By the time I called the show’s final light cue, I knew something would have to give.

After the spring musical, I quit tech crew altogether. A decade on, I still believe this is one of the best decisions I have ever made, and certainly one of the most important decisions I made as a teenager.

Our culture is obsessed with perseverance. There’s nothing wrong with perseverance itself—in general, it’s an important mindset to develop—but its glorification in fact inhibits the growth it is usually intended to promote. Because when we are taught only to persevere, we are never taught when it’s actually worth quitting, and certainly not how to quit without shame. We are always supposed to overcome; we are not supposed to “let” anything else—from bigotry to our own mental health challenges—“win.”

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and I am here to say it’s okay to quit sometimes. There should not be anything shameful in shifting your priorities, especially not a shift that could bolster your well being in another area. I am here to offer the possibility that you can change your mind.

Before the main timeline of my debut, It Goes Like This, the novel’s world-famous queer pop group breaks up. For two of the characters, their quitting the band would hardly register as such, because they leave to pursue other, equally grand artistic endeavors. Culturally, they’re allowed to change their minds, because they choose something acceptable with which to fill the presumed void.

Another band member, however, quits the entertainment industry altogether. Instead of pursuing a solo career, Steph goes home. They spend time with their family; they have the privacy to explore and express their identity. And they worry, when a storm reunites all four of them in their hometown, that the others will judge them for this choice.

Usually when I talk about my novel, I mention the sparks: the broken-up band, the benefit concert, the heartbreak and yearning of the main romance. It is too simple to call it a book of second chances—at friendship, romance, and dreams—because some of it is characters giving themselves permission to take first chances on new dreams.

There’s enormous pressure these days on teenagers to know exactly what they want, very early on. At fourteen or fifteen, you should be starting the right extracurriculars, so you can move into leadership roles by the time you’re applying to college, so you can enter college with a starter résumé that will land you the position on the university newspaper or in the lab.

The narrative goes like this: if you change your mind, at any point after you are fifteen or sixteen, then you’re already behind. You have wasted time, and possibly money. What’s more, it often feels shameful to be wrong about anything, and especially shameful to be wrong about anything you’ve staked yourself publicly to: your identity, your dreams, your plans for your future. When that niggling sensation of wrongness—or, worse, that euphoria of rightness, but from the “wrong” source—arrives, you push it down. It’s too late.

It’s not too late.

I write about ambitious queer kids, but the dark undertow of ambition is the fear that to be anything but is to be considered cowardly or lazy. Sometimes, you realize you need to be on a different path. Sometimes, you’re just tired.

Rest. And if you want, later, get up again, from whatever side of the bed you want.

Meet the author

Photo credit: Lisbeth Osuna Chacon

Miel Moreland was born and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota. With time spent in California and France, she has a Midwestern heart but wandering feet. When not making pop music references and celebrating fandom, she is likely to be found drinking hot chocolate and making spreadsheets. She currently resides in Boston.

Social links:

Twitter: @MielMoreland

Inta: @readthenfall 

website: www.mielmoreland.com

About It Goes Like This

In Miel Moreland’s heartfelt young adult debut, It Goes Like This, four queer teens realize that sometimes you have to risk hitting repeat on heartbreak.

Eva, Celeste, Gina, and Steph used to think their friendship was unbreakable. After all, they’ve been though a lot together, including the astronomical rise of Moonlight Overthrow, the world-famous queer pop band they formed in middle school, never expecting to headline anything bigger than the county fair.

But after a sudden falling out leads to the dissolution of the teens’ band, their friendship, and Eva and Celeste’s starry-eyed romance, nothing is the same. Gina and Celeste step further into the spotlight, Steph disappears completely, and Eva, heartbroken, takes refuge as a songwriter and secret online fangirl…of her own band. That is, until a storm devastates their hometown, bringing the four ex-best-friends back together. As they prepare for one last show, they’ll discover whether growing up always means growing apart.

ISBN-13: 9781250767486
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication date: 05/18/2021
Age Range: 13 – 18 Years

The Only List That Matters, a guest post by Francisco X. Stork

A lifetime ago, when I was a sophomore at Jesuit High School in El Paso, Brother Murphy, the school’s librarian, handed me a three-page, single-spaced list of books. I was sitting on one of the long oak tables at the end of the library, my usual place, when he placed the list next to me and said, “You need to read these if you ever want to be a writer of consequence.” He was gone before I could say anything. I don’t know how he found out I wanted to be a writer since that was a secret I guarded carefully. Maybe he figured it out by the type of books I was checking out: Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande, Eudora Welty’s One Writer’s Beginnings.

Brother Murphy was always kind but not given to give in to superfluous talk. He never mentioned the list again even when he saw that I was checking out books in the alphabetical order he had listed them. First Antigone then on to Crime and Punishment and Don Quixote. By the time I graduated, I was ten books away from Zorba the Greek, the last book on the list.

It was a very comprehensive list which included books that later surprised me by their inclusion. Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra was there and so was Sons and Lovers by D. H. Lawrence, books which I couldn’t imagine Brother Murphy’s superiors in Rome ever approving. The more books I read, the more it seemed as if Brother Murphy had tailored the list to my specific author-soul specifications. Many years later, when I wrote about a young woman having a mental breakdown, I finally understood why Brother Murphy had included Franny & Zooey and not Catcher in the Rye. But to be honest, there were also a couple of books in there where I think Brother Murphy overestimated my abilities. One of these days, dear Brother, I will finally read James Joyce’s Ulysses all the way through.

What does it mean for a young aspiring writer to have a life-long lover of books take the care and time to create a reading list specifically for him? What happens to a boy full of self-doubt when a revered adult believes in the validity of his dream without diminishing the effort required to get there? The gift of that list was both an affirmation of my fledgling vocation as a writer and a challenge to be a writer “of consequence,” to write the kind of books that could be included in the list.

Fast forward some thirty years. I’m in the basement of my house staring at a shelf of books. Books that I haven’t opened since I started working as a lawyer some twenty years before. I am drowning in a depression caused by an overwhelming sense of time wasted, of talent dissipated of aspirations never realized. What happened to the high school sophomore who wanted to dedicate his life to writing? He thought he could go to law school, get a high-pressure job and write at night or on weekends. But the years went by and with each year came a deeper sadness, a longer distance from the young man’s fire.

Instinctively, I reach for one of the books on Brother Murphy’s list, one I have not opened since high school: Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. There around page fifty is the list, wrinkled and smudged, folded four times. Most of the books have a checkmark next to them. A few have a checkmark and an asterisk. I take the book and the cell-like-room I call my office, also in the basement. I close the door, and I begin to write a story about a very smart young man growing up in the housing projects of El Paso.  I can almost feel Brother Murphy’s hand on my shoulder, his voice both gentle and firm: “Write something of consequence.”

I am sixty-eight years old now. On the Hook, the novel coming out in May 2021, is a re-visioning of the story I started writing in the basement of my house almost thirty years ago. It is my ninth novel. There are many lists where my books have never appeared. Lists of the books most sold in the past week or month or year, for example. Still, I am sure that Brother Murphy does not hold that against me. Over the years I have slowly come to understand what he meant by “a “writer of consequence” and it does involve having my books make it on to a list.

We all carry powerful invisible lists in our hearts. Sometimes we share those lists with others and sometimes we keep them secretly inside and guard them carefully for the warmth and meaning they give us. One of my dearest lists is of the characters from novels that are and will forever be real for me. Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, Raskalnikov, Aureliano Buendía, Frodo and Sam, Death in The Book Thief are just a few in the list. In my own private interpretation of Brother Murphy’s words, the consequence I aspire as a writer is to have my characters live and remain forever a source of life in the hearts of my readers.

I have another list that originated with Brother Murphy. It consists of the list of librarians who have been moved by my work and who have seen to it that my books are read by the young people who can most benefit from them. I don’t know all the names of the librarians on this very long list, but I would like to live long enough to thank each one of them. The men and women on this list give me standards to uphold and they remind me to write with consequence. They, in turn, carry in their hearts a list of the books that will help a young person live and grow. That’s the only list that matters.

Meet the author

Francisco X. Stork emigrated from Mexico at the age of nine with his mother and his adoptive father. He is the author of nine novels including: Marcelo in the Real World, recipient of the Schneider Family Book Award, The Last Summer of the Death Warriors, which received the Elizabeth Walden Award, The Memory of Light, recipient of the Tomás Rivera Award, Disappeared, which received the Young Adult Award from the Texas Institute of Letters and was a Walter Dean Myers Award Honor Book and Illegal, recipient of the In the Margins Award and the Young Adult Award from the Texas Institute of Letters. On the Hook published in May of 2021 received starred reviews from Booklist, Kirkus Reviews and Publishers Weekly.

Website: www.franciscostork.com

Facebook: Francisco Stork

Instagram:  Francisco_stork

Twitter: @StorkFrancisco

About On the Hook

“You know I’m coming. You’re dead already.”

Hector has always minded his own business, working hard to make his way to a better life someday. He’s the chess team champion, helps the family with his job at the grocery, and teaches his little sister to shoot hoops overhand.

Until Joey singles him out. Joey, whose older brother, Chavo, is head of the Discípulos gang, tells Hector that he’s going to kill him: maybe not today, or tomorrow, but someday. And Hector, frozen with fear, does nothing. From that day forward, Hector’s death is hanging over his head every time he leaves the house. He tries to fade into the shadows — to drop off Joey’s radar — to become no one.

But when a fight between Chavo and Hector’s brother Fili escalates, Hector is left with no choice but to take a stand.

The violent confrontation will take Hector places he never expected, including a reform school where he has to live side-by-side with his enemy, Joey. It’s up to Hector to choose whether he’s going to lose himself to revenge or get back to the hard work of living.

ISBN-13: 9781338692150
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Publication date: 05/18/2021
Age Range: 12 Years

Fun Fiction can Sell STEM, a guest post by Susan McCormick

How to stimulate an interest in STEM and health-related fields? My middle schooler’s science class was waiting to be dazzled by the chicken wing dissection. As a doctor, writer, and mother classroom volunteer, I was certain this demonstration of the exciting connection between muscles and tendons and bones would lead to awe and wonder and a gush of queries about the wide world of science and scientific careers. I opened and closed the wing, placed it in their hands, showed them the thin strips of tissue coordinating all the action. Did I see sudden passion? Fascination? Jumping-over-the-desk enthusiasm? No.

They would definitely want to hear about my journey to becoming a doctor, then. And they did. They had polite questions and inciteful comments. But they never showed the same interest in chicken wings or medical school as they did about another topic they were studying. Mythology. Greek gods. Beasts with multiple heads. Fathers who swallowed their children whole. The kids learned it in humanities, but they already knew everything there was to know and then some. Why? Rick Riordan’s The Lightning Thief series. If there was an obvious career path involving mythology, it would be flooded.


The author with medical school books from the preclinical years.

Fiction offers a framework to package knowledge into an engaging read. Most information is interesting in its own right but enticing and engrossing when embedded in a story. Add adventure and suspense and humor and a kid who could be any of us, and it is no wonder why The Lightning Thief is such a success.

Was there such a fiction series about medicine? The human body? Ailments and health? The excitement of biology or chemistry or engineering or math? Excluding books that deal with video games, very few.

Who would have thought mythology could be so popular? A good story provides the bridge. Books can make science and medicine appealing, too. Cool. Popular. Kids know about scientists and white coats and laboratories. Boring stuff. Savvy kids even know about years of laboring at an experiment before it comes to fruition, if it ever does. Endless learning in medical school, then residency, then fellowship. Multiple botched rocket launches until one finally takes to the skies. Medication trials that look promising, only to close at the last minute due to side effects. Kids also need to know the flip side, the importance, the relevance, the satisfaction that comes from small successes and all those years.

The need for the objectivity and critical thinking that science provides has never been more glaring than today. The demand for future scientists, for inventors, for health-care workers is great. We children’s authors can embrace our role in the challenge. I set out to create a thrilling tale weaving in maladies much like The Lightning Thief weaves in mythology. In The Antidote, Alex Revelstoke discovers a family secret. He can see disease. And not just disease, but injury, illness, anything wrong with the body. He sees skin melt away to reveal the organs beneath, much to his shock and horror. He comes from a family of doctors with this extra gift, going back generations, helping, healing. But Revelstokes are locked in a centuries-old war with ancient evil itself, an entity called ILL, the creator and physical embodiment of disease. Alex is the last Revelstoke. Alex, plus a special dog and a mysterious girl, must battle ILL and his new super disease, worse than polio, worse than smallpox.


The author’s dog, Albert the Newfoundland, who was the inspiration for the dog in the story.

Kids learn about polio and smallpox in school through FDR and through the devastation infections brought to American Indians. Kids have encountered disease. A grandma had a heart attack, an uncle had an ulcer, a friend has a food allergy. They hear about appendicitis and diabetes and sudden death in young athletes. These illnesses appear in The Antidote’s adventure, described and explained even as the action unfolds. I threw in hidden safety tips like how to do a Heimlich maneuver and when to use an AED, an Automated External Defibrillator. Young people can only gain by understanding more about the body, health, and medicine.

In no other time in recent history, not since the polio epidemic of their grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ generation, have the world’s children been directly, incredibly affected by disease, death, and the fear that accompanies it. The Antidote speaks to this, not with anything specifically about the current COVID-19 situation, but with the story winding through pandemics and infectious diseases of the past like plague, polio, smallpox, Spanish flu, measles, leprosy, etc. An added informative section at the end describes these diseases in further detail for curious readers. The COVID-19 pandemic is horrific, but not unique, and it helps knowing there have been times in history like this, and that science came through and the world prevailed.


The author heading out to give COVID-19 vaccines at a mass vaccination site

The events of 2020 have forced kids to experience disease firsthand, but also see firsthand the healers and scientists who are heroes and who have sparked a worldwide interest in science. Whole career fields were revealed to young people who knew nothing of them before. Frontline responders, EMTs, doctors, nurses, and technicians all helped diagnose and treat. Mechanical engineers designed negative pressure rooms in hospitals overnight and refitted schools and buildings with new airflow systems. Biomedical and other engineers rethought ventilators and oxygen saturation monitors. Research scientists, vaccine makers, and virologists discovered the virus, created the testing, produced the vaccines. Computer scientists developed programs to register people for vaccinations, then worked out the bugs and the crashes. Kids saw science save the world, and many will choose a career in science themselves.

Now is the time. Young people are interested in science. Children’s authors and books with engrossing STEM stories can encourage this interest. While steeped in science, though, at heart The Antidote is an adventure, with good vs. evil, and I want kids to enjoy the story. Enough to be part of the inspiration.

Meet the author

Susan McCormick is a writer and doctor who lives in Seattle. She graduated from Smith College and George Washington University School of Medicine and served as a doctor for nine years in the US Army before moving to the Pacific Northwest and civilian practice. In addition to The Antidote, a timely middle grade medical fantasy, she writes The Fog Ladies cozy murder mystery series. She also wrote Granny Can’t Remember Me, a lighthearted picture book about Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. She is married with two boys, neither of whom can see disease. She loves giant dogs and has had St. Bernards, a Mastiff, Earl, and two Newfoundlands, Edward and Albert. Unlike the dog in the book, they had no special powers, except the ability to shake drool onto the ceiling.

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About The Antidote

Twelve-year-old Alex Revelstoke is different. He can see disease. Also injury, illness, and anything else wrong with the body. This comes in handy when a classmate chokes on a hot dog or when the janitor suffers a heart attack unclogging a gooey science experiment gone awry. But Alex soon learns his new ability puts him and an unsuspecting world in peril. Throughout time, Revelstokes have waged a battle against ancient evil itself. A man, a being, an essence–the creator of disease. Alex has seen its darkness. He has felt its strength. He does not want to fight. But Alex is the last Revelstoke. The war has just begun.

ISBN-13: 9781509235667
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Publication date: 05/05/2021

Middle Grade

Influenced by Influencers, a guest post by Jessica Patrick

I have a five-year-old son, and, without even knowing how it happened, the two of us found ourselves down the wormhole of child toy influencers on YouTube. These kids get filmed by their parents opening and playing with toys – new toys every episode, always opening, opening, opening. Always holding the box up to the camera, brand logo clearly displayed. Although my son enjoyed these videos, something about them always made me wildly uncomfortable – something about the parents exploiting these children, making money off their youthful love of play. Then one day I googled a particular channel that kept popping up on my son’s little kid algorithm and saw this toy-opening child, and his parents, made $29 million in 2020.

Yikes.

These videos are now banned in our house. I just can’t.

But even with these toy videos outlawed, I can’t get away from this influencer culture entirely. It’s everywhere! In addition to being an author, I’m also a high school librarian, and everywhere I look, I see how much and how thoroughly my own students are, well, influenced by these influencers.

I knew things were serious when I started to hear answers like Soundcloud rapper, YouTuber, and sponsored Instagrammer to the old “what do you want to be when you grow up” question. And, honestly, who can blame these high school kids for having dreams like this? When there are eight-year-olds making millions on millions of dollars per year for playing with toys on camera vs adults sitting at a desk for eight hours a day making barely above minimum wage…which life looks more aspirational? I’d want in on that action, too.

I found myself coming back to the idea of social media influencers a lot, so, even though the standard suggestion is to avoid too much pop culture in your writing to keep your books timeless, I decided to explore a little bit of influencer culture in my latest YA novel This Is For Tonight.

This Is For Tonight takes place over a weekend at a music festival, and it features rival YouTubers, Andi and Jay, competing in a corporate-sponsored contest for social media influencers to win an interview with the festival’s headlining band.

Andi has a YouTube channel all about crafting because it’s her passion and she loves sharing it. Her channel is a small one, with a handful of followers, but they are a true community. Andi is proud of the content she creates, even though it isn’t getting her a wide audience or making her money.

She has an opportunity to make more money off of her channel, but it involves completely abandoning what she loves and changing herself.

Does she want to do that? Is the money worth it? Why is she doing any of this in the first place?

Jay is a very popular YouTuber who runs a prank channel. In his videos he tricks people and laughs at them for clicks and ad revenue – and business is very good. His most popular video is one where he makes his own grandmother think he’s been hit by a car, and he has also been filmed smashing someone’s phone, stealing someone’s dog, and pushing someone into a small lake.

As we get to know Jay, however, we learn that his online personality is mostly an act, that it’s just a role he plays for the camera because he knows people love it and it will make him money.

How responsible is he for the content he puts out in the world…especially if he profits from it? Is there a difference between curating a personality for the internet and an actor playing a role on TV or in a movie?

I thought these were such interesting questions – ones that I kept coming back to as I watched the fifteenth YouTube video of a kid getting excited over a corporately sponsored new toy (and then hearing my own kid ask me to buy him this toy) or scrolling through my own Instagram feed to find picture after heavily-filtered picture of a Z-list celeb trying to sell Tummy Tea (and then having that flash of feeling bad about my own body, despite knowing that what I’m looking at isn’t even real). And I especially mulled over it all as I had one of my own Instagram posts (about state testing, of all things) unexpectedly go viral.

I don’t know the answers. And I don’t know that our influencer-obsessed culture will be able to agree on answers, anyway. But I certainly enjoy being part of the conversation…as long as I don’t have to watch another toy video ever again.

Meet the author

Jessica Patrick runs a high school library by day, writes YA romance by night, and pets as many dogs as possible in between. She lives in Southern California with her cute family and she has an MFA from Spalding University, an annual passport to Disneyland, and about 75 tabs open on her internet browser. She is the author of This Is For Tonight.

She has also writes as Jessica Love and is the author of In Real Life and Push Girl.

Website: http://www.jessica-patrick.com

Twitter: @readwritejess 

Instagram: @readwritejess

About This Is For Tonight

When Andi attends a music festival with one goal in mind – capture an interview with a famous band so she can pay for college – she gets more than she bargained for in this YA novel about family ties and finding your own way.

Andi Kennedy needs to make money for college, and fast. But her little YouTube crafting channel, while fun, isn’t exactly a money maker. So she’s heading to the world-famous Cabazon Valley Music and Arts Festival with a goal – film a video that will launch her channel into popularity and turn it into a legit money making venture, even if it means selling out her creative vision.

Instead, she finds obnoxious Jay Bankar, the annoyingly hot host of a popular prank channel who is the actual worst. Andi hates everything Jay stands for, which makes the undeniable connection she feels with him really freaking inconvenient. Soon she finds herself competing with Jay for an interview with the festival’s headlining band, which could be the key to turning her little channel directly into college tuition. But she’s starting to discover that there is more to Jay than his jerky on-screen persona, and she has to decide what’s more important – winning, or giving a second chance to a guy who couldn’t be more wrong for her. 

ISBN-13: 9781250757159
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication date: 05/04/2021
Age Range: 13 – 18 Years

Joy, Connection and Community: Finding Pride in Books During a Pandemic, a conversation between Robin Stevenson and Tom Ryan

Robin: Tom and I are excited to be finally launching our co-written YA novel, just in time for Pride month 2021! Of course, when we started writing this book a few years ago, we could never have guessed what 2021 would look like. I was living on the west coast of Canada, and Tom had moved back to the east coast, and we missed hanging out together in person. So I sent him a text…

Tom: I woke up one day and checked my phone (Nova Scotia is four hours ahead of B.C.) and there was a text from Robin that said something like: hey Tom I just had a great idea, we should a big queer Canadian YA novel together! I didn’t have to think it over, I just texted her back and said obviously! and things went from there. We had a few phone calls to figure out a rough plot, and then we started writing. I wrote the first chapter and sent it to Robin, who wrote one and sent it back to me, and so on and so forth. It was a lot of fun, and a really smooth and rewarding experience. The plot and the characters evolved as we wrote, but we both knew from the start that we wanted it to be really queer in an intergenerational way.

Robin: Over the last few years, I’ve had some wonderful opportunities to talk with teens about LGBTQ+ rights, identities and communities. At one event, a teen came up to me, visibly upset, and explained that they had not known anything about the queer history I had just shared. “It’s MY history,” they said. “It’s the history of MY community. And no one ever talks about this stuff.” It really brought it home to me that queer history isn’t usually passed on to kids by their parents and often isn’t taught in school either. In WYGTC, our teenage characters hear stories from people who came out forty years before them, and they also try to explain things to a much younger sibling–and in both cases, the learning flows in both directions. That very much fits with my experience: I have a huge amount of respect for the hard work done by the generations of queer people who came before me, and I have learned so much from the ideas and activism of today’s teens and kids as well.

Tom: I feel exactly the same way. It’s been such a joy and a privilege to meet and talk with LGBTQ teens since I first started writing YA, and I feel like I’ve learned so much from them. Queer people have always had to go out into the world to find family and community, which is what makes Pride such a central and important concept and event. We were actually supposed to launch this book last year, with appearances at Pride festivals and events around Canada and the U.S. and a launch at Toronto Pride, which has a very central role in the book. Because of Covid, we decided with our publisher to delay our launch by a year, and now we find ourselves in a similar situation. There’s light at the end of the tunnel, but we still can’t gather, and Pride festivals are being cancelled for the second year in a row. It’s a bit of a bummer, but we genuinely hope readers will find some of the joy and connection and community of Pride in our book!

Robin: Absolutely. I know a lot of people have felt very isolated during the pandemic, and I think this last year has been particularly hard for teens. They are at an age when many people want to be stepping out into wider worlds, having more freedom, meeting new people and exploring new places. Instead, most of them have seen their worlds shrink around them! And of course we all know that some LGBTQ+ teens are not able be out to their families and may not have a lot of support at home—so for many of them, not being able to gather with their friends and communities has been devastating. While books can’t replace other kinds of connection, they often do help many readers to feel less alone. Diverse queer representation is more important now than ever, and I am so grateful to everyone who is helping get these books into the hands of teen readers. One important part of Pride is how it makes LGBTQ+ identities and communities more visible, and Tom and I tried to do this within our novel. We wanted readers to feel seen, and we wanted to give them a glimpse of what Pride can be. We hope readers will enjoy going to Pride with Talia and Mark as much as Tom and I did! Happy Pride, everyone!

Tom: Happy Pride indeed! I know there’s a rainbow waiting for us all when these clouds lift, and I honestly can’t wait for the day when we can finally meet up in person and celebrate WYGTC the way we always meant to. It might not be the launch season we expected, but Pride is always worth celebrating.

Meet the authors

TOM RYAN is the award-winning author of six books for children and teens. His debut novel, Way To Go, was a nominee for the OLA White Pine Award, and made the 2013 ALA Rainbow List, as well as YALSA’s 2013 Quick Picks. Tom was born and raised in Inverness, Nova Scotia, and currently lives in Halifax with his husband Andrew and their awesome dog.

ROBIN STEVENSON is the author of more than twenty books for children and teens. Robin’s YA novel A Thousand Shades of Blue was a finalist for Canada’s highest literary honor, and her middle-grade novel Record Breaker won the Silver Birch Award, Canada’s largest reader’s choice award for young readers. Robin lives on the west coast of Canada with her partner and their son.

About When You Get the Chance

Follow cousins on a road trip to Pride as they dive into family secrets and friendships in this contemporary novel—perfect for fans of David Levithan and Becky Albertalli.
 
As kids, Mark and his cousin Talia spent many happy summers together at the family cottage in Ontario, but a fight between their parents put an end to the annual event. Living on opposite coasts—Mark in Halifax and Talia in Victoria—they haven’t seen each other in years. When their grandfather dies unexpectedly, Mark and Talia find themselves reunited at the cottage once again, cleaning it out while the family decides what to do with it.
 
Mark and Talia are both queer, but they soon realize that’s about all they have in common, other than the fact that they’d both prefer to be in Toronto. Talia is desperate to see her high school sweetheart Erin, who’s barely been in touch since leaving to spend the summer working at a coffee shop in the Gay Village. Mark, on the other hand, is just looking for some fun, and Toronto Pride seems like the perfect place to find it.
 
When a series of complications throws everything up in the air, Mark and Talia—with Mark’s little sister Paige in tow—decide to hit the road for Toronto. With a bit of luck, and some help from a series of unexpected new friends, they might just make it to the big city and find what they’re looking for. That is, if they can figure out how to start seeing things through each other’s eyes.

ISBN-13: 9780762495009
Publisher: Running Press Book Publishers
Publication date: 05/04/2021
Age Range: 13 – 18 Years

The Black Best Friend, a guest post by Joya Goffney

I was a girl wearing striped socks up to my knees, oversized headphones blasting screamo music, reading The Color Purple in a gym full of sweaty, talking student bodies during a school-wide free day. He was a boy who might have been sweaty from playing basketball or maybe fatigued from playing too many video games in the computer room—I can’t remember which, but he was more the basketball type.

It was nearing the end of our free day, and I don’t remember how he got my attention, but when I looked up, I fell out of a world of abuse and tragedy and into his amused brown eyes. He looked at me like I was adorable. I slipped one phone off my ear, but I still couldn’t really hear him. He was pointing to a textbook sitting on the bleachers beside me. So I handed it to him, still in a daze, still listening to Underoath. Then, further amused, he pointed to the binder that had been sitting under his textbook. Oh, he wanted that too.

But I was so out of it, and we were surrounded by chaos. What he must have thought of me—so caught up in my book that for the first time ever I wasn’t being overly attentive and nice. What I must have looked like to him—the type of girl to read during a free day, when there were plenty of basketballs up for grabs, boys to flirt with, and games to play. While my friends were all chillin’ outside, I was in the gym, reading about Black women who hadn’t any rights and hardly any voice… because maybe that’s how I felt, too.

My best friends were hanging out with a particular sect of upperclassmen who were alternative, and who thought I wasn’t like the other Black kids at our school, and because of this, thought I could laugh along to their Black jokes. I never spoke up when they laughed at my race. And my friends never really spoke up, either. I fell silent. My friends turned a blind eye and continued to expose me to those upperclassmen who made me feel so small. So, instead, I was in the gym, reading about Celie’s trauma, listening to hard rock, and falling into the eyes of a sweet boy who I thought could see me.

I handed him his binder. He might have said thank you, but I don’t remember saying you’re welcome. It was all implied. We were both so comfortable, and the exchange was so mundane, but the atmosphere had been charged. He wasn’t my obsession at the time, but I didn’t not have a crush on him. In reality, my casual crush on him was probably the most enduring of them all. He was so consistently cute and nice and there.

But, while I was a Black girl with short hair and glasses and white friends who nicknamed me Brownie, he was a white boy who liked to say the N-word when he got drunk at parties. I almost forgot that part of their story, because it had started out so sweet, and he had started out so sweet. I never thought he was capable of forming his lips around that word, but alas, I walked through the front door of his house with two of my Black friends. The party was in full-swing and overwhelmingly white. And the first thing out of his mouth was, “Hey, look! The n*****s are here” —hard R and everything.

The snap back into reality when you realize a non-Black friend isn’t a true ally and doesn’t have your back is more than disappointing—it’s reinforcement of fear that is always at the back of your mind. As Black people mingle with non-Black people, there’s an inkling of distrust, a waiting to be disappointed, a preparedness to distance ourselves from those who prove to be against us. Because it has happened time and time again, while navigating white spaces.

I was The Black Best Friend. I was the body they pointed to when they claimed to not be racist. I was the extra in my own movie. I was the one they called last, often the one they left out, the name tacked on at the end—an afterthought. I was a pet, a secretary, an experiment. So, it’s difficult to trust new white friends. Even after months of cordial meetings, even after we’ve laughed together and gone out together, because new white friends can switch up at the drop of a hat, and suddenly decide to feel differently about Black people. They have that choice. They can choose to care.

Quinn Jackson, of my debut novel Excuse Me While I Ugly Cry, has a painful snap back into reality when she watches her best friends degrade her humanity. She’s so jarred by the experience that she silences herself, refusing to explain to her white friends why she no longer wants to be around them. This is the kind of jarring experience that births distrust—not only for white people as a whole, but for her white friends, individually.

Recently, I spoke with an amazing, talented individual about how I chose to end my book, and it really made me think about who deserves to be forgiven. So, despite how Quinn decides to handle her situation, it is not her responsibility to soothe white guilt, educate white people of their privilege, or to learn to trust them again. It’s her responsibility, my responsibility, and your responsibility to not allow the disappointment to continuously cause pain and to rise against it by seeking joy.

Meet the author

Photo credit: Forrest Red

Joya Goffney grew up in New Waverly, a small town in East Texas. In high school, she challenged herself with to-do lists full of risk-taking items like ‘hug a random boy’ and ‘eat a cricket,’ which inspired her debut novel, Excuse Me While I Ugly Cry. With a passion for Black social psychology, she moved out of the countryside to attend the University of Texas in Austin, where she still resides. Learn more at https://www.joyagoffney.com and follow along on Twitter @Joya_Goffney and Instagram @Joya.Goffney.

The Reality of Unrealistic, a guest post by Emery Lee

“The Hulk is a giant green monster that sprouts out of this scientist when he gets angry, but the really messy part of this movie is the military uniforms. Look at them. They’re just not realistic!”

I’ll never forget that writing class I took back in college, but it wasn’t just because the professor had an amazing sense of humor and actually took the time to explain writing as a career. What resounds through my head to this day was the moment when she covered the “willing suspension of disbelief,” and all that that entailed.

We don’t pick up fiction because we want everything to be perfectly realistic. We pick it up for green monsters that destroy towns when a person gets angry and lovers who find each other despite not speaking in twenty years and dystopian governments that reduce every person to a career type. That is, we pick up fiction to see the deeper parts of reality cast back at us in a way that we know we’ll never really see in real life. It’s reality through a thin layer of film, through a filter that gives us just enough distance to make us comfortable.

I’ve often heard, “Sometimes fiction has to be more believable than reality.” That things happen all the time in real life that we’d never allow in fiction, things that are just a little too uncanny or corny or coincidental. Despite these occurrences being real, we as readers see them and think, “But would that ever really happen?” and refuse to suspend disbelief for them.

But when it comes to suspending disbelief, who gets the benefit of the doubt and who doesn’t? Why is marrying your first love realistic but running into someone you only know from the internet too convenient? Why is it realistic for a teenager to save the world from the apocalypse but too difficult to believe they might save a peer from bullies without any ulterior motive? Why is a green monster that destroys cities more believable than a military uniform with too many patches?

The more I questioned what people suspend disbelief for, the more I realized that there isn’t an answer. Why is a green monster that destroys cities more believable than a military uniform with too many patches? Well, simply put, it’s not. At least not for me. Maybe if I knew more about military uniforms and the significance of patches and exactly how likely it might be for a scientist to turn into a giant green monster, but being a writer with no military background who never took a science class voluntarily, one of these things definitely feels unrealistic to me, and no, it’s not that shoddily designed uniform.

We suspend disbelief all the time for things we know nothing about, but when it comes to things we think we know, that point of logic in the back of our heads flares up like a red light screaming “THAT’S NOT REALISTIC”. But how much do we know, and how much do we think we know?

Is it realistic for an Asian family to wear shoes inside the house? Is it realistic for an entire friend group to all be queer? Is it realistic for someone to have only dated trans people? To only have neurodivergent friends? To live in a Latinx-majority town in the deep South?

As an author who writes a lot of stories from my own experiences, I find most of the “that’s not realistic” comments I receive aren’t on the things I’ve taken creative liberty on. They’re from the things that draw directly from my experiences of navigating the world, making friends, mixing languages, navigating the internet.

So the question becomes, is this real thing that happened to me unrealistic or is it just something that the reader has no understanding of and therefore doesn’t know how to believe?

The way I read and write has transformed a lot since I first started branching out of my comfort zone with the authors that I pick up. The more diverse books I’ve read, the more I’ve come to realize that the way I see the world is just one way of seeing it. My way is no more real or insightful than any other. It’s simply that. My way.

And this has changed the way I talk about books and recommend books as well. Is a book “realistic”? Is it “relatable”? Is it more or less “authentic” based on my judgment of the book? Or is it a story that simply rings true for me, one that reflects my experience? One that reflects the way I see reality? I no longer use “relatable” or “authentic” as synonyms for “good”. I no longer consider them goals or even attainable. The fact of the matter is that anything that’s relatable is inherently not relatable to someone else. There is no universally relatable experience.

And so there is no universally relatable story. Especially within children’s fiction, it’s important that a wide range of experiences are being shared with all sorts of readers. Not just what’s “realistic” or “believable” to me or even what may seem “universally believable” based on what I know of the world, but all the marginalized or niche experiences of reality as well. Even if most people don’t understand the world the way I see it, that doesn’t mean my story doesn’t deserve to be told. That doesn’t mean that my reality isn’t real.

There is no such thing as an unrealistic reality, just a reality that some people are unwilling to accept.

And so it may be true that fiction is oftentimes more believable than reality, but that is in and of itself a show of how much we’ve failed to push the boundaries of fiction. If fiction can reflect mermaids and aliens and enemies who fall in love while trying to kill each other, it can also show teens that their reality exists, no matter how many people may try to insist it doesn’t. After all, fiction is the one place where literally anything is possible. If it tells teens that their own experiences are too unrealistic to put on paper, well, I think it’s about time we changed that.

Meet the author

Emery Lee is a kidlit author, artist, and YouTuber hailing from a mixed-racial background. After graduating with a degree in creative writing, e’s gone on to author novels, short stories, and webcomics. When away from reading and writing, you’ll most likely find em engaged in art or snuggling cute dogs.

Website: https://www.emeryleebooks.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/EmeryLeeWho

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

About Meet Cute Diary

Felix Ever After meets Becky Albertalli in this swoon-worthy, heartfelt rom-com about how a transgender teen’s first love challenges his ideas about perfect relationships.

Noah Ramirez thinks he’s an expert on romance. He has to be for his popular blog, the Meet Cute Diary, a collection of trans happily ever afters. There’s just one problem—all the stories are fake. What started as the fantasies of a trans boy afraid to step out of the closet has grown into a beacon of hope for trans readers across the globe.

When a troll exposes the blog as fiction, Noah’s world unravels. The only way to save the Diary is to convince everyone that the stories are true, but he doesn’t have any proof. Then Drew walks into Noah’s life, and the pieces fall into place: Drew is willing to fake-date Noah to save the Diary. But when Noah’s feelings grow beyond their staged romance, he realizes that dating in real life isn’t quite the same as finding love on the page.

In this charming novel by Emery Lee, Noah will have to choose between following his own rules for love or discovering that the most romantic endings are the ones that go off script.

ISBN-13: 9780063038837
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 05/04/2021
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years