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“Who do you think you are?” a guest post by Monica Gomez-Hira

The author at her college graduation.

Growing up, I could not leave my house without my keys, my wallet, and the elaborate blessings by Mami gave me to protect me from el ojo malo—the evil eye.  When I was younger and fidgeting while she drew the sign of the Cross on my forehead before I left for school, I took the idea of the eye literally. It would be something like the Eye of Sauron, spanning the horizon until it landed on me and burnt me to cinders.

It wasn’t until I was older that I understood that the evil eye was actually not our main problem. The evil eye was supposed to be caused by those green with envy, people wanting your possessions, your relationships, your life. But…it seemed presumptuous to even think that about us. We were a working class Latinx family in an area full of them. I couldn’t see that we had anything particularly special.

No. The real problem we always had was way more common. The evil tongue, the whispers that would follow anyone who strayed from the narrow path of whatever was acceptable.  The thing was, unlike the evil eye, the evil tongue was often presented as a positive thing; your community caring enough about you to make sure you watched your step, because if any of us messed up, we might not get another chance to fix it. 

This was doubly true for me as a young Latina. Like my main character, Carmen, I was acutely aware of the assumptions that people made about me, both positive and negative. Sometimes it felt like I only existed within other people’s visions of me. I mean—I tried to do everything right, followed all the rules.  I was a Good Catholic Girl, an honor student who was bound for college on scholarships—but I was also surrounded and fascinated by the girls who weren’t. Girls who talked back to teachers, who wore rings of eyeliner and Spandex bandage dresses (two things I favored as well, but only when I was safely out of Mami’s line of sight.) Girls with wild hair who welcomed the catcalls from boys and even men. (Even back then, I wondered why we never seemed to blame said boys or men for any of this.)

The author, from a photography class

Part of the reason I wrote Once Upon a Quinceañera was to celebrate girls like this—the girls who weren’t like me, desperate for everyone’s approval. Because when I was younger, I believed the stoic wall they presented to the world. And just like so many people around me, my ideas about them were only the surface of the story.

For Carmen, the only way to get herself through the negative assumptions is to pretend she doesn’t care. She walks through the world daring anyone to tell her what they think to her face. She doesn’t care, because she already knows. She knows that a lot of people don’t expect someone like her to go to college, or to have an actual career.  She takes comfort in her summer job playing Belle from Beauty and the Beast. It’s one of the first times that she feels worthy of admiration, even as she acknowledges that the praise and love are for the role she is portraying instead of for herself.

Still, it feels good. 

Unfortunately for Carmen, there is a voice that is louder than the happy shrieks of party going children. The one inside her own brain, hissing the negative stereotypes and comments that we’ve all internalized.  Sometimes, those comments come from the people with good intentions—some of whom love us the most. Carmen feels like she’s fated to make the same mistakes that her parents did—an angry explosion of love that created her and ruined them.  It’s difficult for her to see them as something bigger than their mistakes.

Despite Mami’s incantations and protections, there really isn’t anyway to protect yourself from the world’s assumptions. People are going to think, and occasionally say, whatever they want, and that’s not going to change. In the book, Carmen tries various strategies, from ignoring the speakers to pushing them to further exaggerations so that she could agree with them and show how little it hurt her.

None of that helped at all.

The way that Carmen finally moved past her locked in beliefs about herself and other people was to allow for the fact that, well, people are complicated, and nothing is the sum totality of what they are. Not a bad history, not a terrible mistake, not a slip off the narrow path to success, not living down to everyone’s worst opinion of you.

This is hard. And for a part of the book, Carmen retreated behind her negative history like a shield.  Sure, it didn’t make her happy, but it kept her safe. Or so she thought.

The price of this safety was high. A betrayal of her own ambitions. An inability to risk.

I know Carmen’s dilemma well. It’s always easier to agree with the voice that asks, “who do you think you are?” when you do anything. That voice was my constant companion while I wrote this book. Honestly, it still is.

It’s hard for Carmen to admit what she really wants in Once Upon a Quinceañera. To risk being told, yet again, “Who do you think you are?” It would have been easier for her to hide behind the role of Belle forever, or worse, to hide in the idea that she’s doomed because of where she comes from, and who she’s afraid she really is.

But ultimately, the only way she can create her own happily ever after is to face down the negative external voices, and more importantly, the negative internal voice, by daring to say “I’m here. I belong. And I’m worthy.”

That’s the blessing I needed. In fact, it’s the evergreen blessing I always need as there is some new person to jeer “who do you think you are?” and so there is always the need to say “I am worthy” every time I leave the house.

Meet the author

Photo credit: Nicole Lamkin

Monica Gomez-Hira is the daughter of Colombian immigrant parents, the wife of an Indian immigrant, the mother of a half Latina/half Indian daughter, and the quintessential Jersey girl who loves her salsa as much as her Springsteen. After getting her BA in English at Wellesley College, Monica spent most of her professional life surrounded by books, and the people who love them. She began her career working for literary agencies, moved to publicity and editorial at Simon & Schuster and Random House, and most recently was a Children’s Lead at Barnes & Noble. She lives with her family in Minneapolis, MN. Once Upon a Quinceañera is her first novel.

About Once Upon a Quinceañera

Perfect for fans of Jenny Han and Jane the Virgin, this immediately accessible and irresistibly fun #ownvoices rom-com debut will spin readers into an unforgettable summer of late-night dancing, broken hearts, second chances, and telenovela twists.

Carmen Aguilar just wants to make her happily ever after come true. Except apparently “happily ever after” for Carmen involves being stuck in an unpaid summer internship. Now she has to perform as a party princess! In a ball gown. During the summer. In Miami.

Fine. Except that’s only the first misfortune in what’s turning out to a summer of Utter Disaster. 

But if Carmen can manage dancing in the blistering heat, fending off an oh-so-unfortunately attractive ex, and stopping her spoiled cousin from ruining her own quinceañera—Carmen might just get that happily ever after—after all.

ISBN-13: 9780062996831
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 03/02/2021
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years

Questions, Anyone? a guest post by Neal Shusterman

When I have speaking engagements, even virtual ones, I like to do all questions-and-answers.  Sometimes it panics the more control-oriented administrators.  They’re terrified that their students will ask something inappropriate or won’t ask anything at all.  Never happens.  And even when someone in the audience asks something meant to rattle me, it doesn’t work—because I love thinking on my feet.

            Q: “How come so many people vomit in your book?”

             A: “Well, if you were going through what the characters go through, you’d hurl, too.” 

            Q: “How many licks does it take to get the center of a Tootsie Pop?”

            A: “Three.  And here’s why three is such an important number in storytelling…”

            Q: “Mr. Shusterman, what planet are you from?” 

            A: “A planet that your puny human telescopes have yet to discover.”

The thing about relating to an audience is that if you talk at them, they get this passive, glazed-over look.  They might engage, but only as a recipient, not as a participant.  I would rather get a slew of “What’s your favorite color” questions than spend an hour giving a lecture.  Invariably the questions I am asked are the things I would talk about anyway, but at least now the audience owns the answers.

A book is exactly the same.  Reading a book can be a passive experience or an active one.  An author can spoon-feed a story, a message, a moral—as if the author knows all the answers and has deigned to impart their wisdom to the masses.

Or an author can make the reader uncomfortable by offering questions with no easy answers.  Moral ambiguity; unintended consequences of our most noble actions; characters who face impossible choices but must decide anyway.  Because if you make the readers work for it, they will own the answers they find.

To me that is what writing is all about.  Not being afraid to ask hard questions.  Now don’t get me wrong—I am afraid.  In fact I’m terrified when I ask the hard questions, perseverating on all the things that can go wrong in the asking–especially now, when everyone on all sides of every issue is furious, and just looking for a reason to criticize.

And so what do I do?  Like an idiot, I throw into the raging inferno this Molotov cocktail called Game ChangerWhy would I write a book that peers into so many open wounds in society?  What would possess me to do such a thing, knowing that we’re all working our last nerve?

This might sound like a writerly BS answer, but it’s the truth:  I could not NOT write it.  Once the idea (and terror) took hold, I felt that I would be cheating if I didn’t write it. I would be a fraud, because I didn’t have the courage to tell the story that was screaming at me.  That is, after all, what I always tell students: I only write stories that scream at me and demand to be told.  So if I demanded that this story shut the hell up, I’d be a hypocrite.

Why was the story screaming?  That comes back to a question that I always get asked—more often from adults than from kids.  “What do you want readers to take away from your books?”  The answer to that is always the same.

Perspective. 

If there’s one belief that infuses everything that I write, it’s that perspective is the only way we’ll ever come close to answering the hard questions.  The more angles from which we can view a problem, the more likely we’re going to have the epiphanies and find the inspiration we need to solve it.

Have you ever heard of the Dunning-Kruger effect?  All about illusory superiority, self-awareness, and meta-cognition.  In a nutshell, the two titular social psychologists postulated and proved that the less of an expert you are, the more of an expert you believe you are.   In other words, ignorance fuels itself, and the only way to deprive it of an energy source is through greater and greater perspective. It’s an ironic truth: the more you realize you don’t know, the more you actually do.  

Game Changer is all about a character learning empathy and killing the fuel source of his own ignorance.  The story is told from the point of view of a fairly oblivious white male heterosexual teen—but in the course of the story, he’s going to have all his notions of the world, and of himself, challenged.  He’s going to have a crash course in racism, sexism, homophobia, and privilege through a series of alternate realities that give him perspectives he could never have otherwise experienced.

 Now, before you go saying, “Great, another straight-white-male-hero-who-saves-the-world story,” I want to make it clear that my goal was to do precisely the opposite.  This is a story about that all-too-familiar character learning that he’s not the hero he thought he was, and, in fact, the only reason the world needs saving is because of his own actions… and inaction.   He can’t fix everything.  The best he can possibly do is find a place to start.

I set out to model how to accept personal and social responsibility, even when it’s painful.  Accountability is not something that just happens.  You have to grow into it—and resistance to accountability can often happen because someone doesn’t know how to get there.

It is always my hope that my stories will reach those who need to read them and offer them perspective they didn’t know they were missing. They say you don’t know someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.  As a writer, I want to take that even further.  It’s more than just walking in someone’s shoes—it’s also understanding the reason for the journey.  I want to show readers what it means to be the road.

And if that leads to more questions than answers, then I’ve done my job! 

Meet the author

Photo credit: Gaby Gerster

Neal Shusterman is the New York Times best-selling author of over thirty novels for children, teens, and adults. He won the 2015 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature for Challenger Deep-and his novel, Scythe, was a 2017 Michael L. Printz Honor book-and is in development with Universal Studios as a feature film. His novel, Unwind, has become part of the literary canon in many school districts across the country-and has won more than thirty domestic and international awards. He co-wrote his most recent novel, Dry, with his son Jarrod, and in addition to being on numerous award lists, Dry is currently in development with Paramount Pictures. His upcoming novel, Game Changer, is in development with Netflix as a TV series, and he is co-writing the pilot episode.

Shusterman has also received awards from organizations such as the International Reading Association, and the American Library Association, and has garnered a myriad of state and local awards across the country. His talents range from film directing, to writing music and stage plays, and has even tried his hand at creating games.

Shusterman has earned a reputation as a storyteller and dynamic speaker. As a speaker, he is in constant demand at schools and conferences. Degrees in both psychology and drama give him a unique approach to writing, and his novels always deal with topics that appeal to adults as well as teens, weaving true-to-life characters into sensitive and riveting issues, and binding it all together with a unique and entertaining sense of humor. Neal lives in California but spends much of his time travelling the world speaking and signing books for readers.

Website: http://www.storyman.com

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

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

Twitter: https://twitter.com/NealShusterman

About Game Changer

All it takes is one hit on the football field, and suddenly Ash’s life doesn’t look quite the way he remembers it.

Impossible though it seems, he’s been hit into another dimension—and keeps on bouncing through worlds that are almost-but-not-really his own.

The changes start small, but they quickly spiral out of control as Ash slides into universes where he has everything he’s ever wanted, universes where society is stuck in the past…universes where he finds himself looking at life through entirely different eyes.

And if he isn’t careful, the world he’s learning to see more clearly could blink out of existence…

This high-concept novel from the National Book Award-winning and New York Times-bestselling author of the Arc of a Scythe series tackles the most urgent themes of our time, making this a must-buy for readers who are starting to ask big questions about their own role in the universe.

ISBN-13: 9780061998676
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 02/09/2021
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

Balance in the Time of Productivity Culture: Jen Petro-Roy and Life in the Balance

When I was writing LIFE IN THE BALANCE, I thought a lot about goals. Writing this book—getting a book deal for this book—was a goal of mine. Before I was first published, I had worked for years, writing manuscript after manuscript, trying to improve my writing and find a story that would connect with readers.

I achieved that goal. With the publication of LIFE IN THE BALANCE, I’ll have achieved the goal of seeing another book on the bookshelves (in normal times when we’re able to go bookstores, that is). But regardless of how cool that accomplishment is, I want to always make sure that publication isn’t always the goal—that validation isn’t the only thing that brings me joy and fulfillment.

This can be hard. In a culture like ours, when everything is commodified and ranked and everyone is so focused on productivity and staying busy, it can be hard to do something purely for the joy of it. For the feeling of losing yourself in a passion, of doing something with no hope of reward.

Those kind of loves are worth savoring and cherishing. They’re also the ones that are sometimes discouraged by the people around us, the ones who are more focused on “getting things done.”

In Life in the Balance, Veronica has been obsessed with softball her entire life. She’s part of a softball family, after all—her mom was the star of her college team and her grandmother played, too. Plus, Veronica is good. Really good. Good enough to definitely make the local travel team, now that she’s old enough to try out.

Softball is also the thing that Veronica has always shared with her mom. It’s what makes them “them.” It’s part of her and part of her family legacy.

But then it turns out that her mother has something else going on—an addiction to alcohol that’s been affecting their family, too. An admission that she needs to go to rehab.

And Veronica soon finds out that she may not be as passionate about softball as she’s always been. So happens when you don’t want to achieve in the area you’re good at? When you don’t necessarily want to “get the things done” that have been the goals all along?

Life in the Balance is a story of what happens when our family members “disappoint” us, and why that disappointment may not be an actual, well…disappointment…at all. Why being vulnerable is important and how sometimes, passion may find us in the places we don’t expect them at all.

It’s about the pressures that life presents us with and how trying to achieve those “goals” that society expects–how trying to be who you’ve always been—may not necessarily be the path you want to take with your life.

It’s about love—between a mother and a daughter, an old love and a new, and for balance above all.

It’s about how reaching for balance and admitting we don’t have to do it all—or sometimes, even something–is sometimes the best choice we can make.

Meet the author

Jen Petro-Roy writes “honest books with heart,” about kids who are strong, determined, unsure, struggling to fit in, bubbly, shy, and everything in between. She is the author of P.S. I MISS YOU, GOOD ENOUGH, YOU ARE ENOUGH, and LIFE IN THE BALANCE (out February 2021), all from Macmillan/Feiwel & Friends. LIFE IN THE BALANCE has received a starred review from School Library Journal and is a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection.

When she isn’t writing, Jen can be found reading, playing board games, belting out songs in the car to embarrass her two daughters, and working as an eating disorder awareness advocate.

Website: http://www.jenpetroroy.com

Twitter: @jpetroroy

Instagram: @jpetroroy

About LIFE IN THE BALANCE

Veronica struggles to balance softball, friends, and family turmoil in this new honest and heartfelt middle grade novel by Jen Petro-Roy, Life in the Balance.

Veronica Conway has been looking forward to trying out for the All-Star softball team for years. She’s practically been playing the game since she was a baby. She should have this tryout on lock.

Except right before tryouts, Veronica’s mom announces that she’s entering rehab for alcoholism, and her dad tells her that they may not be able to afford the fees needed to be on the team.

Veronica decides to enter the town talent show in an effort to make her own money, but along the way discovers a new hobby that leads her to doubt her feelings for the game she thought she loved so much.

Is her mom the only one learning balance, or can Veronica find a way to discover what she really wants to do with her life?

ISBN-13: 9781250619730
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication date: 02/16/2021
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

Tips for Writing A YA Series, a guest post by Rena Barron

I love epic stories. Give me expansive worlds, big stakes, journeys to distant places, far-reaching consequences, and life-changing ramifications. Sign me up. I didn’t set out to write a trilogy with Kingdom of Souls, but it turned out that the story demanded it. I’ll go on the record and say that not every story needs multiple books. Depending on your vision, a story might end up a standalone, duology, trilogy, or more. It was only when I started to tell Arrah’s story and dove into the background of the world that I realized that I had only scratched the surface. 

Backstory is the bread and butter of epic fantasies. You don’t necessarily need to cram it in the pages, but it should be influencing the world, the people, the culture, the tradition, and even the very shape of the landscape. In Arrah’s world, magic is king, but most people don’t have it. The orishas—the gods of the Almighty Kingdom—have long ago defeated the Demon King, whose insatiable thirst for souls almost destroyed mortal and immortal kind alike. But what happens when there’s more to the story? Some bits and pieces the bards and holy scripts left out. When I started exploring the untold story, I lucked on a treasure trove of ways to expand Arrah’s world.

Once I realized that I was officially writing a series, I asked myself some probing questions. How can I sustain tension and engage readers across multiple books? Do I have enough here to make sure that each book has its own arc? How do I weave the world, plot, and characters together in a way that will drive the story forward? Is there enough room for the story to grow across the series? Every book in the series should add something new, expand the story or universe, and complicate matters for our protagonists. Ultimately, they need a reason to exist.

While there is no single approach to writing a series, let’s jump into some things you might want to consider. Let’s call it exploring the three Ps.

Planning

Planning is ongoing and ever-changing in a series. I do my initial research and jot down interesting bits of information and resources that might come in handy. I might write up character sketches, a political or social hierarchy, important historical facts, or map out the land. Once you’ve finished the first book, you have the chance to brainstorm with your agent and/or editor on the potential directions the series will take. Everyone works differently, so some authors might want to do this part with critique partners or alone. It depends on your creative style.

Kingdom of Souls map. Artist: Maxime Plasse

Most people know that I completed my first draft of Kingdom of Souls nearly ten years ago. I ended up shelving the manuscript after receiving a whole bunch of rejections, but I never let go of the story. In 2017, I decided to rewrite it from scratch. I spent time making sure I knew the world in and out before I put a single word on the page. I wrote the mythology, history, culture, magic system, geography, climate, and political structure. Not all of these elements ended up directly in the book, but they each informed the makeup of the world. 

Plotting

Each book needs to have a through-line, goals, motivation, and plot that ideally will tie into the overarching story. It can be difficult to keep up with all the threads, so I find it helpful to have outlines. For those who detest multiple files or extensive outlines, rejoin. An outlinecan brief or as long as you like.

I like to do a chapter by chapter outline using the three-act structure to ensure each of my chapters has a beginning, middle, and end. It helps to see the progression of the plot and the protagonist’s forward motion. This allows me to end each chapter on a hook to entice readers to hopefully keep turning the pages. I write about 5-10 lines for each chapter.

If that sounds too labor-intensive, try a synopsis. Sometimes a high-level summary of your story beats will suffice. With a shorter synopsis, you don’t have to get fussy about the details. Focus on the turning points that drive the story forward. More detailed synopses help with directing the story without going into the chapter by chapter details.

If you’re a visual person, one trick to track the overarching through-line of a series is plotting it on a graph or a timeline. One option is to create a timeline, add key turning points for each book, and compare them across the planned series to see if they work together. For example, if you follow the seven-point story structure, your graph might include a “Hook, Midpoint, Plot Turn 1, Plot Turn 2, Pinch Point 1, Pinch Point 2, and Resolution.”

Ultimately, some people feel that outlining is constraining or counterintuitive to their creative process. In that case, skip it. Again, there is no one right way to approach writing a series or a single book.

Planting

There’s nothing more satisfying than writing a major reveal after leaving breadcrumbs along the way. Together these little seeds tie the individual book’s plot points to the overarching story. They also give an author room to expand into new territory as the series continues.

Something to Consider

When publishing traditionally, you’ll likely end up revising your manuscript with your agent and most definitely with your editor. The changes you make in book one could have a big impact on the story’s trajectory, the world, and the characterization. For that reason, I don’t personally recommend writing the whole series before you seek representation. Again though, everyone will have a different approach here. While I’m a big fan of writing a synopsis early for book two and beyond, I don’t personally draft the next book until I’m done with the significant edits from the previous book.

Writing a series is a daunting task, but with a little planning, plotting, and planting, it can be fun to let your imagination run wild. Alternatively, there is joy in the freedom of writing by the seat of your pants.

Meet the author

Rena Barron grew up in small-town Alabama where stories of magic and adventure sparked her imagination. After penning her first awful poem in middle school, she graduated to writing short stories and novels by high school. Rena loves all things science fiction and fantasy, ghosts, and superheroes. When she’s not writing, she can be found reading or brushing up on her French. Rena is the author of the young adult fantasy novel Kingdom of Souls, the first in a trilogy and a 2019 Junior Library Guild Selection. Film rights sold to Warner Bros. with Michael B. Jordan (“Black Panther”) producing and Misan Sagay (“Belle”) writing the screenplay. Maya and the Rising Dark is the first book in Rena’s middle grade contemporary fantasy trilogy set in Chicago. Visit her online at www.renabarron.com.

About Reaper of Souls

A prince repelled by magic. A king bent on revenge. A witchdoctor who does not walk alone.

Brimming with dark magic, high stakes, and serpentine twists, the second book in Rena Barron’s thrilling YA fantasy saga is perfect for fans of Laini Taylor, Sabaa Tahir, and Tomi Adeyemi.

After so many years yearning for the gift of magic, Arrah has the one thing she’s always wanted—but it came at too steep a price. Now the last surviving witchdoctor, she’s been left to pick up the shattered pieces of a family that betrayed her, a kingdom plunged into chaos, and a love that can never be.

While Arrah returns to the tribal lands to search for survivors of the demons’ attack, her beloved Rudjek hunts down the remnants of the demon army—and uncovers a plot that would destroy what’s left of their world.

The Demon King wants Arrah, and if she and Rudjek can’t unravel his schemes, he will destroy everything, and everyone, standing in his way.

Set in a richly imagined world inspired by whispered tales of voodoo and folk magic, the Kingdom of Souls trilogy has been optioned for film by Michael B. Jordan and his Warner Bros. production company, Outlier Society.

ISBN-13: 9780062870988
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 02/16/2021
Series: Kingdom of Souls Series #2
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years

Giving Black boys space to exhale in Love Is a Revolution, a guest post by Renée Watson

My brother is not ashamed to cry. He left home to serve in the marines just after he graduated from high school. Whenever he’d come home to visit, he doted on me, his baby sister. Each minute of our time together was full of immense laughter, suffocating hugs, and long conversations that always ended with I love you. When it was time for him to leave, without fail, there would be tears. From me, from my mother, from my three sisters, and then from my brother himself. This towering, athletic marine would dissolve into a puddle because he loved his mother and sisters so much that he didn’t want to leave.

When writing Love Is a Revolution, I brought my brother’s tenderness to the page as well as the personalities of so many of the Black boys and men I know who love their mommas, sisters, friends, and girlfriends without reservation. When Nala, the main character in the book, meets Tye for the first time, she is drawn to his good looks. But in the first thirty minutes of the talent show he is hosting, Nala sees his thoughtfulness and compassion by the way he interacts with his peers. The more she hangs out with Tye, she learns that he is serious about activism; that he hopes to make his mother proud; and that he is determined to be the change he wants to see in the world. But Tye is not perfect. Sometimes, he can be a little self-righteous. His rules about recycling are overbearing and his motivational encouragement sometimes comes across as condescending. Nala is attracted to Tye’s maturity, but she also wishes he could loosen up a bit and just enjoy summertime in Harlem.

I know teen boys like Tye. Young men who are earnest, responsible, kind, and thoughtful—and when given the opportunity, will open up and be vulnerable. Black boys, like Tye, who have been given The Talk and carry the heavy burden of walking while Black, running while Black, going to the corner store…gas station…neighborhood park while Black. Tye is the teenager full of promise who is watching the news, seeing unarmed Black boys who look like him shot dead by police officers and self-proclaimed neighborhood watchmen. There is a moment when Tye admits that part of the reason why he is so serious all of the time is because he knows that for Black boys, there’s not a lot of room for error. He feels the pressure from his mother, from his teachers, and from society to be one of the good ones.

Tye falls in love with Nala because with her, he can just be. Nala appreciates his intelligence but is not surprised by it. She loves that he is involved in their community, that he volunteers, and that he wants to do good in the world, but she doesn’t treat him like he’s an exception to a rule. She’s attracted to his charisma and style but is also aware of his shortcomings. Nala sees Tye. She doesn’t see him through the prism of stereotypes or high, unrealistic expectations. She knows that he is not monster nor messiah.

Tye is inspired by the young men I’ve taught over the years—the boys who stayed after school for the poetry slam class, always ready with a new verse to share, the boys who were too shy to approach their crush, and the boys who were proud to call themselves feminists. Who were and are striving to understand more and more about how to show up for the women in their lives.

I wanted to make sure that in the pages of Love Is a Revolution, Black boys could have a space to exhale. I wanted Tye to have a summer filled with soft kisses and summer excursions. I wanted Tye to laugh the kind of laugh that would make his belly hurt. At a basketball tournament, when Nala takes his hand, pulls him up and says, “Dance with me,” there is a moment when he lets go of what he is supposed to be or how he is supposed to act. He dances and he is free. He is in love.

Love Is a Revolution is a love story not only about romantic love—but also about falling in love with yourself and taking care of yourself. The spotlight is on Nala, but Tye is there too, learning that it’s okay to be vulnerable, that laughter is healing, that joy is a shield.

Meet the author

Photo credit: Shawnte Sims

Renée Watson is a New York Times bestselling author. Her novel, Piecing Me Together, received a Newbery Honor and Coretta Scott King Award. Her books include Love Is a Revolution, Ways to Make Sunshine, Some Places More Than Others, This Side of Home, What Momma Left Me, Betty Before X, cowritten with Ilyasah Shabazz, and Watch Us Rise, cowritten with Ellen Hagan, as well as two acclaimed picture books: A Place Where Hurricanes Happen and Harlem’s Little Blackbird, which was nominated for an NAACP Image Award. Renée splits her time between Portland and New York City.

reneewatson.net ‧ @harlemportland (Instagram) ‧ @reneewauthor (Twitter)

About LOVE IS A REVOLUTION

See Amanda’s review here.

From New York Times bestselling and award-winning author Renée Watson comes a love story about not only a romantic relationship but how a girl finds herself and falls in love with who she really is. 

When Nala Robertson reluctantly agrees to attend an open mic night for her cousin-sister-friend Imani’s birthday, she finds herself falling in instant love with Tye Brown, the MC. He’s perfect, except . . . Tye is an activist and is spending the summer putting on events for the community when Nala would rather watch movies and try out the new seasonal flavors at the local creamery. In order to impress Tye, Nala tells a few tiny lies to have enough in common with him. As they spend more time together, sharing more of themselves, some of those lies get harder to keep up. As Nala falls deeper into keeping up her lies and into love, she’ll learn all the ways love is hard, and how self-love is revolutionary. 

In Love Is a Revolution, plus size girls are beautiful and get the attention of the hot guys, the popular girl clique is not shallow but has strong convictions and substance, and the ultimate love story is not only about romance but about how to show radical love to the people in your life, including to yourself.

ISBN-13: 9781547600601
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: 02/02/2021
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years

There’s Something About Insta-Love, a guest post by Phil Stamper

Growing up in the late 90s and early 2000s, I was obsessed with rom coms. My mom and I had a habit of playing the same few VHS tapes on repeat for months at a time: While You Were Sleeping, Runaway Bride, Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail—I couldn’t get enough. So, a couple decades later, it’s probably no surprise that my own brand of storytelling would rely heavily on the rom com format: memorable meet-cutes, fast-paced romance, a set of obstacles along the way.

But as an author of queer YA, I get to take it one step further. I can break the trope apart and put it back together the way I want—celebrating the similarities and differences of queer love in all its forms.

In The Gravity of Us, Cal’s entire life is uprooted when he’s thrown into the drama of the world’s first human mission to Mars. Meanwhile, cute-boy-next-door Leon struggles to live in the shadows of his astronaut mother’s greatness. When they find each other, sparks fly. This is partially because Leon’s bold sister assumes the role of instigator and matchmaker from day one, but it’s also because neither character struggles with their identity on the page.

As an avid reader of queer books for teens, I find that in a lot of queer romance stories, characters spend most of the page time coming to terms with their identity. Of course, this makes a lot of sense—YA books are coming of age stories, and for queer people, coming out and coming of age often go hand in hand. But while I love those stories, I kept hearing about queer teens who were confidently out, who’d been fully supported by their family and their community since they were kids.

When I wrote The Gravity of Us, I wanted to show what a queer teen relationship could look like between two boys who neither struggled with their identities nor experienced any homophobia on the page. It’s aspirational, sure, but that’s the point of a rom-com. I wrote this book during the 2016 election, which made this story feel even more radical and important. In this way, I got to lean into the idea of insta-love (or more accurately, insta-attraction plus a whirlwind romance) and give teens a queer love story they could fall for instantly.

Speaking of insta-love, this is probably a good time to note that as a teen, I fell for just about every boy I met in roughly thirty seconds. Sure, rom coms trained me to expect love to simply fall into my lap in incredible circumstances, but it wasn’t until I started writing As Far As You’ll Take Me—which, unlike Gravity, is a story steeped in identity—that I understood why I was so quick to fall.

I first realized I was gay when I was in first grade, which is… early. By the time I came out at age eighteen, I’d spent twelve years—two thirds of my life—trapped in the closet. At this time, there weren’t a ton of movies, books, or TV shows with queer characters, and the ones that did always ended in death or tragedy. (Thanks, Brokeback Mountain!) Like Marty, my rural farm town wasn’t exactly the most accepting place. Like Marty, I grappled with religion and family and self-hate and anxiety. And like Marty, once I started to move beyond my repressed past, I took risks, I made mistakes, and…I fell for the first guy who gave me a scrap of attention.

I couldn’t really parse my emotions then, but looking back, it makes so much sense. I had spent twelve years drowning in denial and fear, convinced I would never find love, but when I got to college, I met other queer people and found allies for the first time ever. Sure, movies had told me that gay people only experienced a tragic ending… but here I was, a functioning gay human having my own meet-cutes and rom-com moments. I started to feel hope for the very first time—and I was going to do anything to hold onto it.

This, too, is represented in As Far As You’ll Take Me, when Marty quickly falls for health-conscious Pierce and gets his first taste of love. As Pierce starts to pull away, Marty believes changing himself is the only way to hold onto his new boyfriend, and he experiences disordered eating as a result. This was something I had firsthand experience with too, so, I guess you could say Marty and I both had an insta-love problem.

Between both of my books, you’ll find themes of love at first sight, or insta-love, whatever you’d like to call it. That trope is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, of course, but in both stories, I got the opportunity to pay homage to classic 90s love stories, break the trope apart, and share two distinct, but honest, experiences.

More than anything, I hope that honesty comes through on the page and speaks to every teen who falls in love too fast—or wishes they could.

Meet the author

Phil Stamper is the author of The Gravity of Us. He grew up in a rural village near Dayton, Ohio. He has a B.A. in Music and an M.A. in Publishing with Creative Writing. And, unsurprisingly, a lot of student debt. He works for a major book publisher in New York City and lives in Brooklyn with his husband and their dog. Visit him online at www.philstamper.com or @stampepk.

About As Far As You’ll Take Me

The author of The Gravity of Us crafts another heartfelt coming-of-age story about finding the people who become your home—perfect for fans of Becky Albertalli.

Marty arrives in London with nothing but his oboe and some savings from his summer job, but he’s excited to start his new life—where he’s no longer the closeted, shy kid who slips under the radar and is free to explore his sexuality without his parents’ disapproval. 

From the outside, Marty’s life looks like a perfect fantasy: in the span of a few weeks, he’s made new friends, he’s getting closer with his first ever boyfriend, and he’s even traveling around Europe. But Marty knows he can’t keep up the facade. He hasn’t spoken to his parents since he arrived, he’s tearing through his meager savings, his homesickness and anxiety are getting worse and worse, and he hasn’t even come close to landing the job of his dreams. Will Marty be able to find a place that feels like home?

ISBN-13: 9781547600175
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: 02/09/2021
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years

Bringing a New Wartime Diary to Light, a guest post by Ann Bausum

Welcome to the Ensnared Blog Tour!

To celebrate the release of Ensnared by Ann Bausum on January 12th, blogs across the web are featuring exclusive articles from Ann, plus 5 chances to win a hardcover copy!

Mention the topic of World War II diarists, and Anne Frank will probably be top of mind. When I was a schoolgirl I became so inspired by her account that I started my own diary (a decidedly short-lived endeavor). Frank’s record has become so synonymous with childhood diaries that, decades later, I caught my breath when I learned about another German-born girl who had kept a wartime diary.

One of Frank’s last entries was about the subject that introduced the writings of Christa von Hofacker. Both girls were gripped by news of the attempted assassination of Adolf Hitler on July 20, 1944. “I’m finally getting optimistic,” Frank wrote the next day. If German military officers were trying to kill Hitler, she surmised, then surely Hitler’s demise was imminent. 

Christa von Hofacker, at age 12, had a more immediate concern. She began her diary after her father was arrested for his involvement in the July 20 plot to topple the Nazi regime. Cäsar von Hofacker, who had played a leading role in Paris during the coup, was among hundreds imprisoned afterwards in consequence. Later on, he and more than 150 others were murdered by the regime.

When Christa began to write, she had no idea of the fate that would befall her father. But her worries didn’t stop there. In early August Gestapo agents had appeared unexpectedly at her family home and arrested her mother, older brother, and older sister. Then, weeks later, the agents returned. 

The last photo ever taken of Cäsar von Hofacker with his children (from left), Liselotte, Christa, Eberhard, Alfred, and Anna-Luise, April 1944

“I’ve come on orders from Berlin to fetch the three children,” the man declared. Christa recorded these words in her diary. In the pages that follow she documented how she and her two younger siblings were taken without explanation on an extended rail journey. Their travels landed them at a remote hideaway in central Germany where they were held with other children under indefinite detention. Her text is riveting, visceral, and astounding. It stands as the definitive eyewitness account of the experiences she and 45 other young children shared as part of Hitler’s revenge for the actions of their fathers.

© Ann Bausum, all rights reserved


I gained access to Christa’s diary thanks to the German Resistance Memorial Center in Berlin. An offshoot of this museum maintains outreach to families tied to Hitler’s post-coup revenge. Staff there helped me approach several of these eyewitnesses as part of my research. My book was immeasurably improved by interactions with Christa and these other now-octogenarians. (Hint: Check out the next post in this blog tour to learn more.) 

In a series of interviews, conversations, and emails, Christa and I picked up where her diary left off. She filled in gaps, ruminated about what she had witnessed, and added further context to the words she had recorded more than 75 years earlier. Christa’s diary has gained a measure of recognition in Germany during recent decades, but few knew of it beyond. I am honored to be able to share excerpts from her account and to be able to introduce American readers to this history through Ensnared in the Wolf’s Lair

Would you help spread the word? #AnnBausumEnsnared

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Meet the author

ANN BAUSUM is an award-winning children’s book author who brings history alive by connecting readers to personal stories from the past that echo in the present day. Ensnared is her 11th book for National Geographic Kids and her fourth look at international history. While researching the book, she traveled twice to Europe to get to know the people and places that became intertwined in 1944 after the failed effort to kill Hitler at the Wolf’s Lair. Previously Bausum has explored international history with such works as Stubby the War Dog; Denied, Detained, Deported; and Unraveling Freedom. Many of her books highlight themes of social justice, including her National Geographic title The March Against Fear. In 2017, her body of work was honored by the Children’s Book Guild of Washington, DC. Individual titles have won numerous starred reviews and been recognized with a Sibert Honor Award, the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award, the Carter G. Woodson Award, and the SCBWI Golden Kite Award, among other distinctions.

Blog Tour Schedule:

February 8th – Teen Librarian Toolbox

February 9th – Christy’s Cozy Corners

February 10th – Bookhounds

February 11th – From the Mixed-Up Files

February 12th – Ms. Yingling Reads

Buy: Amazon | Indiebound | Bookshop

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About Ensnared in the Wolf’s Lair

“I’ve come on orders from Berlin to fetch the three children.” –Gestapo agent, August 24, 1944

With those chilling words Christa von Hofacker and her younger siblings found themselves ensnared in a web of family punishment designed to please one man—Adolf Hitler. The furious dictator sought merciless revenge against not only Christa’s father and the other Germans who had just tried to overthrow his government. He wanted to torment their relatives, too, regardless of age or stature. All of them. Including every last child.

During the summer of 1944, a secretive network of German officers and civilians conspired to assassinate Adolf Hitler. But their plot to attack the dictator at his Wolf’s Lair compound failed, and an enraged Hitler demanded revenge. The result was a systematic rampage of punishment that ensnared not only those who had tried to topple the regime but their far-flung family members too. Within weeks, Gestapo agents had taken as many as 200 relatives from their homes, separating adults and children.

Using rare photographs and personal interviews with survivors, award-winning author Ann Bausum presents the spine-chilling little-known story of the failed Operation Valkyrie plot, the revenge it triggered, and the families caught in the fray.

Uncovered: Masks That Reveal Who We Are, a guest post by Matt Wallace

In another time I might have started this by asking if you, the reader, have ever worn a mask, perhaps for Halloween or to a masquerade-themed party. That is, of course, an irrelevant question. It’s even a laughable one at this point. We all wear masks now, some of us more stringently than others. Of course, for folks from certain cultures and countries, wearing a mask for public health reasons is nothing new or particularly shocking. It is, in fact, entirely commonplace for many. For others, masks have been and are a major adjustment. Some of us react more reasonably than others to this adjustment.

It didn’t really hit me that I have a novel coming out featuring a largely masked protagonist and the extra significance of that in the year 2021 until I sat down to compose this essay. I looked at the cover of my debut middle-grade novel, BUMP, and the face of the young girl smiling through the mask she wears, perfectly and joyously depicted by artist Kat Fajardo. I started thinking about what that character’s mask means, both to her and in a much larger sense.

It is a strange time to write about wearing masks, to say the least. However, it may also be the perfect time to examine and explore what masks mean to us, in different ways and different cultural contexts. We often use “wearing masks” as a metaphor for hiding one’s true self, either out of fear, insecurity, necessity, or even duplicity. These connotations give the very idea of masks, especially as an everyday fixture, an already negative foundation before we even get into the larger issues surrounding them today.

I was raised to view masks very differently. I was raised on professional wrestling, both the American style and the quintessentially Mexican style known as lucha libre. The enmascarado is the particular variety of Mexican wrestler, or luchador, who dons an often colorful mask, or máscara, as the central symbol and costume of their wrestling persona. These masks can draw a direct line and lineage back to the time of ancient Aztec warriors. They have been and are used to represent animal essences, gods, heroes, and heroines. Traditionally, the enmascarado not only wrestles in their mask, they live their entire public life inside that mask. It is inseparable from their identity. It even becomes the public identity of entire families and generations, often handed down from parent to child along with the corresponding ring name. To lose one’s mask is the ultimate disgrace.

In BUMP, the protagonist, MJ, is a young girl who is dealing with grief and feelings of total isolation. She’s lost her main connection to what she perceives as her identity, and what’s left of that sense of self is derided every day by bullies at school. She is given the máscara of a fallen luchador to wear as her own, along with their name. The mask gives her a new sense of identity. It does not replace who she is, but reinforces and gives her a new outlet for her self. It also inducts her into a community of like-minded individuals who become her new family. The mask and the persona it represents allows her to become more than she ever thought she could be.

Returning to the cover I mentioned, it was so important to all of us to depict MJ smiling as she flies through the air above the wrestling ring, to really see the joy she’s taking in what she’s doing and who she is and also who she is becoming. It was important to me for children of color, particularly little girls like my nieces, to see a character like that, to see themselves reflected in it. MJ’s mask doesn’t inhibit that, it amplifies it in a very special way. It’s a symbol of culture and heritage and belonging. It’s the garb of a warrior who is larger than life. It is equal parts superhero cape and flag.

More people could learn from that, especially at a time when masks are vital to public health, safety, and even survival. They could learn that a mask is not inherently a way to stifle or hide one’s identity, or restrict their freedom of expression and choice. In fact, choosing a mask can be a liberating experience. It can be opting into a culture of solidarity and celebration. It can enhance and clarify one’s own identity in a million different ways and with a million different individualistic shades. The right mask doesn’t cover up who you are, it announces it to the world.

Luchadores wear their masks proudly. Every day, they strive to be the kind of people who earn the masks they wear, because those masks are a symbol of what is best in all of them.

Meet the author

Matt Wallace is the Hugo–winning author of Rencor: Life in Grudge City, the Sin du Jour series, and Savage Legion. He’s also penned over one hundred short stories in addition to writing for film and television. In his youth he traveled the world as a professional wrestler, unarmed combat, and self-defense instructor before retiring to write full-time. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Nikki. You can visit him at www.matt-wallace.com.

About Bump

A moving and triumphant middle grade contemporary debut from award-winning author Matt Wallace about a heroic young girl—who dreams of becoming a pro wrestler—learning to find courage and fight for what she loves. Perfect for fans of Kelly Yang, Meg Medina, and Jason Reynolds’ Track series!

MJ knows what it means to hurt. Bruises from gymnastics heal, but big hurts—like her dad not being around anymore—don’t go away. Now her mom needs to work two jobs, and MJ doesn’t have friends at school to lean on.

There is only one thing MJ loves: the world of professional wrestling. She especially idolizes the luchadores and the stories they tell in the ring. When MJ learns that her neighbor, Mr. Arellano, runs a wrestling school, she has a new mission in life: join the school, train hard, and become a wrestler.

But trouble lies ahead. After wrestling in a showcase event, MJ attracts the attention of Mr. Arellano’s enemy at the State Athletic Commission. There are threats to shut the school down, putting MJ’s new home—and the community that welcomed her—at risk. What can MJ do to save her new family?

ISBN-13: 9780063007987
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 01/26/2021
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

The Mysterious Road to THE IN-BETWEEN, a guest post by Rebecca Ansari

I was raised on puzzles, games and mysteries.

The earliest memories I have of my grandfather are the two of us, stooped over a so-full-it-can’t-be-used-for-dining table, scanning 2000 jigsaw pieces for the right color or shape to fit into the emerging image of a church, country bridge, or whatever was depicted on the nearby box. When we tired of that, we would move to the card table for a family match of Hearts, everyone focused on their hands, calculating how to trick the others and Shoot the Moon. My mother’s bookshelf was dominated by Agatha Christie who-done-its, my dad’s with Isaac Asimov’s Black Widowers Club and others, books they subsequently put in my hands. They would delight in watching to see if I could solve them before the last page. To this day, my mother emails my own children word and math puzzles just for fun.

My mother having finished the puzzle my 4 sons gave her for Xmas this year

This love of problem solving was part of my parents’ professional lives as well. My mother, a math major, spent her career looking at MRI’s, CT scans and ultrasounds, trying to sleuth out the source of a patient’s malady. My father took me to his lab every weekend as he did research to answer questions about why his patients were born premature, and how to best treat their tiny bodies and lungs. I followed in their footsteps, spending twelve years as an ER doctor, investigating if a given patient’s abdominal pain was appendicitis, ectopic pregnancy, a kidney stone, or another of the myriad possible causes.

Me in my doctoring days

When I jumped from ER doc to middle grade author, some of my peers were surprised. The two fields don’t appear to have much—anything?—in common. But it makes perfect sense to me. My whole life, I reveled in being the one to solve the mysteries.

Me in my writing space now

Then, as a writer, I found the thrill of creating the mysteries myself.

What if your little brother disappeared, and you’re the only one who notices? What if you discover that a new girl moving in next door is a very bad omen, but you’re the only one who sees it? These are the starting premises of my first two novels, and I didn’t know the answers to these questions when I began writing each. In trying to figure them out, I frequently wrote myself into such tight corners I was sure I could never find a way out. Story telling is its own mystery, its own puzzle—and it brings with it the thrill of success in figuring out the answers as well as the hope that I’ve created something that will give others that same sense of wonder and satisfaction.

People ask me if I miss being a doctor. I certainly miss a great case, a “good catch,” or a critical save under pressure, but I think many who have read my books find that I’m still doing those things, through the experiences of my characters. If you have a chance to read my debut, The Missing Piece of Charlie O’Reilly, or my new book, The In-Between, I hope you too find a mystery to challenge you—and the thrill of finding the answer.

Meet the author

Photo credit: Amber Rishavy with Pixel Dust Photography

After twelve years as an ER doctor, Rebecca K.S. Ansari shelved her scrubs to write magical and mysterious worlds for middle grade readers. Her debut novel, THE MISSING PIECE OF CHARLIE O’REILLY (2019, Walden Pond Press/Harper Collins) earned a starred review from School Library Journal, an ALA 2020 Notable Children’s Book nomination and was a Junior Library Guild selection. It was also a finalist for the Minnesota Book Award. Her second novel, THE IN-BETWEEN, releases January 26, 2021 and has received starred reviews Kirkus, Publisher Weekly, and School Library Journal. It is also a Junior Library Guild selection.

When Rebecca isn’t writing, you can find her joyously biking and skiing, begrudgingly running, or escaping “up north” in Minnesota with her husband, four boys, two huge dogs and a stack of good books. You can find her on Twitter at @RebeccaKSAnsari, on Instagram at @Rebeccaansariauthor, or at her website RebeccaAnsari.com.

The virtual launch party for THE IN-BETWEEN will be this Thursday, at 6:30CST. Everyone in the whole wide world is invited!

January 28 6:30 pm CST. Virtual Book Event! A Conversation with Rebecca K. S. Ansari and Anne Ursu 

About The In-Between

A dark, twisty adventure about the forgotten among us and what it means to be seen, from the acclaimed author of The Missing Piece of Charlie O’Reilly.

Cooper is lost. Ever since his father left their family three years ago, he has become distant from his friends, constantly annoyed by his little sister, Jess, and completely fed up with the pale, creepy rich girl who moved in next door and won’t stop staring at him. So when Cooper learns of an unsolved mystery his sister has discovered online, he welcomes the distraction.

It’s the tale of a deadly train crash that occurred a hundred years ago, in which one young boy among the dead was never identified. The only distinguishing mark on him was a strange insignia on his suit coat, a symbol no one had seen before or since. Jess is fascinated by the mystery of the unknown child— because she’s seen the insignia. It’s the symbol of the jacket of the girl next door.

As they uncover more information— and mounting evidence of the girl’s seemingly impossible connection to the tragedy—Cooper and Jess begin to wonder if a similar disaster could be heading to their hometown.

ISBN-13: 9780062916099
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 01/26/2021
Pages: 320
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

On Being Unchosen, a guest post by Katharyn Blair

I think I’m about four years old in the video. Maybe younger.

It’s a sunny day, and we’re sitting at our old house on Swain Street. My sister Hannah is playing in the yard, red-blonde pigtail catching the sunlight like a sparkler, and I’m sitting in the shade of the front doorway. The tape is grainy, the shot shaky as my mom balances the huge camera on her thin shoulder.

Zoom in, to a small girl in her favorite tie-die dress, telling a story.

Not just any story – she’s telling a scary story. Fingers curved into claws, eyes wide. Talking to no one, but what else is new.

Whatcha doin’, Kate-O? My mom’s voice is loud, and I look up and smile as Hannah screams off camera.

My mom always tells that story as the moment she knew I’d be a storyteller. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about that little girl.

There wasn’t a moment when I stopped being her. That’s not how that kind of change happens. It’s a slow thing, I think. A gradual awareness.

I got a taste of it when I was in second grade. I went to a Christian school—we wore uniforms and said morning prayers. My dad was on the board of directors and many of the teachers went to my church. While I’d had my share of detention (there, detention was called “The Line,” and we had to stand on a small stretch of blacktop in the sun without moving), I’d never been in trouble trouble. That is, until I started telling stories. Vampire stories, to be exact. I didn’t think anything of it—I was just doing what I’d always done. But somehow, a teacher found out. They called my parents, and that’s the first time I heard that I was “inappropriate.” It would not be the last.

From left to right: Hannah, Me, Becca, and Rachel. Photo credit: OANA FOTO

I’m the oldest of four girls, raised in a small fundamentalist church. I didn’t think anything of the fact that we weren’t allowed to speak in the assembly or say prayers in Sunday school. We could prepare the Lord’s supper but never pray to bless it or pass around the Bread and Cup. I didn’t like it, and it didn’t feel right. But I hadn’t figured out the words to form the questions.

In fourth grade, we made the move to public school because my younger sister needed an IEP and our Christian school couldn’t help. And where she went, so did I. It was a new beginning—a chance to be a little less weird. But I showed up with a hard lunchbox when everyone else had Arctic Zone sacks. I wore blue leggings, and the crotch always was mid-thigh by the end of the day. Some girl was mean to me, so I called her a jackass. She came into the classroom and told my teacher, who yelled at me and gave me detention. Public school felt like a swing and a miss.

I felt like I was a swing and miss everywhere.

Against the odds, I made some friends, slowly. But I was always aware that I was too much—too odd, too scary. I still loved vampire stories, still felt at home in the aisles of the library that were filled with worn R.L. Stine books. I just figured I would keep that part of me under wraps. I was enough of an outcast already, and that was all without letting someone into my head. My head, at that point, had become a really scary place.

My anxiety disorder bloomed into something hungry and unrelenting by the time I’d turned eleven, and when I had a panic attack in my sixth grade classroom and asked to step out, I was told to be quiet. When I insisted, on the verge of tears, the teacher dismissed me but informed me I was going to get a detention. After class, as the room emptied around me and I sat in the back, tears streaming down my face. The teacher kneeled down to look me in the eye. You know what you did wrong, right? She asked, and I didn’t look at her.

You were disruptive. You made a scene.

I tucked those words very deep in my chest, and I realized that in order to survive, I was going to have to stop being so… me. I was never going to naturally find a place where I fit, and I was never going to feel like I belong. The only way to make it through middle school—the only way to make it through life—was going to be to lay low.

For years, I laid low. I didn’t tell ghost stories, though I still read them and wrote them and loved them. I took whatever friends I could get, staying on the outer circle of the group, eating my lunch quietly and hoping no one would notice that I was there and ask why. Or who I was. Or why I was wearing an adult-sized raincoat to school every day in Southern California. (I didn’t know how to explain to my classmates that my OCD wouldn’t permit me to wear anything else.)

I wish I could tell you there was a definitive moment when I woke up. I wish I could tell you that I finally realized my worth, found a good balance of meds, slipped out of the raincoat, and started being my full, strange self. If I were writing my story, that’s exactly what would have happened (and it probably would have been at a school dance where I’d give a rousing speech and wind up being the most loved girl in room). But that didn’t happen—in fact, I didn’t finish middle school. I dropped out and did independent study, which basically meant I stayed home and watched Maury and Treasure Planet while waiting for my mom to come home from work at lunch so we could go to the McDonald’s drive-thru and get Salad Shakers. I saw my therapist once a week and my psychiatrist once every two weeks. My friends stopped calling, and I knew that even at my quietest, I’d still been too much.

Even now, tracing this story with my fingers and telling it back to myself, I can’t really tell you when I started waking up. I think, just like my quieting, it was a bunch of slow moments.

Photo credit: OANA FOTO

I graduated high school and went to college. I studied abroad and traveled the world. Lost my faith and found it again. I got married and went to grad school and started writing. For a long time, I didn’t worry about fitting in. I had an awesome husband and a dream job…everything else was off the radar.

I started hearing Charlotte’s voice in 2018. The plot of Unchosen had been floating around my head for some time, and it got louder as I tried to balance being a mother and a writer. As I got tattoos and dyed my hair purple and pushed back against the teachings of my church. As I dealt with the dozens of opinions of family and friends and strangers regarding my choice to work and be a mother. As I looked at my daughter as she sat on the porch of our house, whispering tales to no one, just like I did. As I wondered if she’d have to carve out her own space just to survive, like I had.

And I realized, as I look at the life I’m living now—the life I love—that carving out your own space is not always a bad thing. Being unchosen isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, being unchosen taught me how to live.

Meet the author

Photo credit: OANA FOTO

Katharyn Blair is a novelist and screenwriter. She has her MFA in screenwriting and her MA in literature. She’s been a social media coordinator for several films at 20th Century Fox, an intern at her city’s Parks and Recreation Department, a gymnastics coach, and, most recently, a writing professor at Azusa Pacific University. UNCHOSEN is her second novel for young adults. Her debut novel, The Beckoning Shadow received two starred trade reviews and was the book of the month for Book Box Club, Shelf Love Crate, and Beacon Box.

Unchosen at HarperCollins

Unchosen at Amazon

Unchosen at Barnes & Noble

Read an Excerpt From Unchosen, a New YA Fantasy From Katharyn Blair | Tor.com

Katharyn Blair author web site

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About Unchosen

Katharyn Blair crafts a fiercely feminist fantasy with a horrifying curse, swoon-worthy sea captains, and the power of one girl to choose her own fate in this contemporary standalone adventure that’s perfect for fans of The Fifth Waveand Seafire, and for anyone who has ever felt unchosen.

For Charlotte Holloway, the world ended twice.

The first was when her childhood crush, Dean, fell in love—with her older sister.

The second was when the Crimson, a curse spread through eye contact, turned the majority of humanity into flesh-eating monsters.

Neither end of the world changed Charlotte. She’s still in the shadows of her siblings. Her popular older sister, Harlow, now commands forces of survivors. And her talented younger sister, Vanessa, is the Chosen One—who, legend has it, can end the curse.

When their settlement is raided by those seeking the Chosen One, Charlotte makes a reckless decision to save Vanessa: she takes her place as prisoner.

The word spreads across the seven seas—the Chosen One has been found.

But when Dean’s life is threatened and a resistance looms on the horizon, the lie keeping Charlotte alive begins to unravel. She’ll have to break free, forge new bonds, and choose her own destiny if she has any hope of saving her sisters, her love, and maybe even the world.

Because sometimes the end is just a new beginning.

ISBN-13: 9780062657640
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 01/26/2021
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years