weneeddiversebooks

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2017 YA books with Muslim protagonists:

The Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi 
That Thing We Call a Heart by Sheba Karim 
Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan 
Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali 
Mirage by by Somaiya Daud 
The Secret Lives of the Amir Sisters by Nadiya Hussain 
The Authentics by Abdi Nazemian 
The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty
The Other Half of Happiness by Ayisha Malik 
The Promise I will Keep by Aisha Saeed 

How to research your racially/ethnically diverse characters

chiminey-cricket asked:

Do any of you have any tips for doing independent research for PoC characters?

This question is super broad, but I’m going to see if I can give it a crack!

First of all, consume media by the group in question. If you want to write a story with a Chinese-American protagonist, read some blogs by Chinese-Americans, read books by Chinese-Americans – both fiction and nonfiction – lurk on places like thisisnotchina so you can get a feel for what pisses Chinese and Chinese diaspora people off about their portrayal in the media, google for stereotypes about Chinese people and try to make sure you’re not doing those (even positive ones), go more general (East-Asian all-of-the-above in general since in many cases the harmful tropes overlap), go more specific (if your protagonist is female, look specifically for blog posts featuring the opiniosn of Chinese-American and other Asian/Asian diapora women; same if your protagonist is attracted to the same sex, is transgender, or deals with any other form of oppression besides anti-Chinese racism.) All of the above applies to Latinxs, Native Americans/Canadian First Nations, African/African diaspora people, Jews, Muslims, etc. Find out what we’re saying about ourselves.

Lots of things are available just from Google. “I have a Black character and I want to know what kind of hairstyles are available for her!” We have a Black hair tag, but apart from that, googling “Black hairstyles” will probably bring up some articles that can at least give you a good starting point to learn some vocabulary to add to your next Google search, like “natural” and “twists” and “dreadlocks.”

Next, you can talk to people in the group, but before you do this, be sure to have some specific questions in mind. “How do I write a Jewish character?” is not a specific question. “Do I have to make my Jewish character follow kosher laws if I’ve made her religious in other ways, or can she go to shul but not keep kosher?” or “What’s a term of endearment a parent might use for a child in Yiddish?” is much more specific. Remember, if you’re talking to someone they’re answering you back with their free time, so expecting them to do most of the work of figuring out what’s most important for you to know is a little entitled.

Besides, a more specific question will give you a more helpful answer. If someone asks me “how do I write a Jewish character” one of the first things out of my mouth will be a list of personality stereotypes to avoid, which isn’t going to be very helpful if what you really need for your fic was whether or not you have to write your character as following strict kosher laws.

If you’re sending a question in to a writing blog or one of those race blogs like thisisnot[whoever], please read through their tags and FAQ to see if they’ve already answered it. Longtime followers of a blog would get very bored if all the blog’s content was nothing but “We answered that here last week at this helpful link!” Those who participate in answering these blogs are usually unpaid volunteers who provide a resource that’s already there to help people; help repay them for what they do by looking through the material on your own first.

How to tell if a source from outside the group is biased and bigoted: obviously, you’re not going to want to listen to Stormfront about Jews, or the KKK about, well, anything. If you’re not on a source created by the group in question, look for dry and academic language as opposed to emotional, informal, or inflammatory words – although dispassionate and technical language is no guarantee it won’t be racist, colonialist, or inaccurate. If you read enough books and blogs from the inside, though, you’ll probably see some of the myths from those other sources debunked before you even encounter them.

Lastly, don’t assume that all people who are Asian, African-American Christians, religious Jews, or Muslims are from cultures more oppressive, more conservative, more patriarchal, more homophobic, more sexist, or more controlling than the one in which you were raised. If your plot calls for homophobic parents or a repressive culture, that shouldn’t be the reason you make your character one of the groups listed. There is plenty of oppressive, anti-woman, and anti-queer thought in white American Christian/Christian-cultured society and personally, I believe such criticisms of the marginalized diaspora peoples I listed above belong in the voices of the cultures themselves.

–mod Shira

I’d not leave looking for dry and clinical information as the ONLY means to distinguish that a work is biased.

While yes it is pragmatic to say “look for academically toned wording,” … in addition to that, these folks really need to look into who the author is. Definitely look into the author. And the year the thing was published (because man if it’s from like the 60s or earlier, 9 times out of 10, throw that shit out).

Because people can disguise hatred and racism in careful diction so that it looks reasonable and polite. A shining example is physiognomy studies from Nazis and anti-Semite eugenecists. And the sad thing is, you really can’t trust people to read it and make the judgement call that this hate-in-disguise they’re reading is hate.  

Somehow, when someone says, “The people of the Levant express features such as […] which, at the risk of sounding untoward, suggest a very rodent-like persuasion,” people are like, “Oh, well, that was worded fancily and there was no angry or profane language, I suppose they’re right,” not stopping to think even for a moment that they just accepted that this book just said to them that Jews look like rats. I saw it happen in my Nazi Germany class when we were given reading material. It was fucking nuts.

So definitely, definitely look every outsider author in the mouth and cross-check any and everything that person says. 

–mod Elaney

Shira again: Elaney is right that you will want to be critical of outside sources, especially older ones. Also, be suspicious of blanket statements about a group such as “X group are” instead of discussing forces in X culture. For example. Because there’s going to be diversity within any group and it’s likely what’s being said isn’t inherently biologically linked to being in X group.

–mod Shira

Failure to Communicate now available for pre-order!


As one of the only remaining autistics in the universe, Xandri Corelel has faced a lot of hardship, and she’s earned her place as the head of Xeno-Liaisons aboard the first contact ship Carpathia. But her skill at negotiating with alien species is about to be put to the ultimate test.

The Anmerilli, a notoriously reticent and xenophobic people, have invented a powerful weapon that will irrevocably change the face of space combat. Now the Starsystems Alliance has called in Xandri and the crew of the Carpathia to mediate. The Alliance won’t risk the weapon falling into enemy hands, and if Xandri can’t bring the Anmerilli into the fold, the consequences will be dire.

Amidst sabotage, assassination attempts, and rampant cronyism, Xandri struggles to convince the doubtful and ornery Anmerilli. Worse, she’s beginning to suspect that not everyone on her side is really working to make the alliance a success. As tensions rise and tempers threaten to boil over, Xandri must focus all her energy into understanding the one species that has always been beyond her: her own.

——

On Tuesday, February 14th, Failure to Communicate, the first full length novel about Xandri Corelel (protagonist of Testing Pandora) will release. In the meantime, you can pre-order it! (Currently Failure to Communicate is only available digitally. Hard-copy release may come later if there’s interest.)

Looking for a good read? A gift for your favorite autistic? Some solid space opera? Look no further! Failure to Communicate is also a good pick for diversity or #OwnVoices reading lists. 

(Please consider signal boosting for others who might be interested.)

“The stars dust gold leafing on his skin. And we are looking at each other, just looking, and I swear there are whole lifetimes lived in those small, shared moments.” — The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

Not So Simple

Contributed by Susan Tan

“It’s simple, Susan.  Just pick one. Which would you rather be?”

It was my first day of first grade at a new school, and we were playing a getting-to-know-you game that doubled as a class-demographics survey. We had divided ourselves into groups based on favorite ice cream flavor, age, favorite animal, and zip code, laughing over shared interests.

Then came a question on race. I thought seriously for a moment as the other kids sorted themselves into groups. But I quickly found my answer and carefully chose my spot—halfway between the group of students who identified as white and the group who identified as Asian. I was proud of my creativity, and excited to share my answer.  

So I was shocked when my teacher disciplined me in front of the class, first asking why I hadn’t chosen a group, and then, when I explained that I had chosen a group—half one, and half the other—chastising me for choosing two groups when her survey allowed her to tick only one box.  

Which is when she demanded that I choose between the two.

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Happy Release Day!

As one of the only remaining autistics in the universe, Xandri Corelel has faced a lot of hardship, and she’s earned her place as the head of Xeno-Liaisons aboard the first contact ship Carpathia. But her skill at negotiating with alien species is about to be put to the ultimate test.

The Anmerilli, a notoriously reticent and xenophobic people, have invented a powerful weapon that will irrevocably change the face of space combat. Now the Starsystems Alliance has called in Xandri and the crew of the Carpathia to mediate. The Alliance won’t risk the weapon falling into enemy hands, and if Xandri can’t bring the Anmerilli into the fold, the consequences will be dire.

Amidst sabotage, assassination attempts, and rampant cronyism, Xandri struggles to convince the doubtful and ornery Anmerilli. Worse, she’s beginning to suspect that not everyone on her side is really working to make the alliance a success. As tensions rise and tempers threaten to boil over, Xandri must focus all her energy into understanding the one species that has always been beyond her: her own.

——-

That’s right! The day has come! Failure to Communicate is now available. If you’ve read Testing Pandora, prepare to follow Xandri on her continuing adventures. If you’re new to the series, welcome! Looking for books for diversity reading or #ownvoices? Xandri is a bisexual autistic surrounded by a large, diverse cast of characters. Fan of Star Trek-style space opera? Give Failure to Communicate a try!

(Review copies are also available upon request, and you can contact me at kaia.sonderby@gmail.com if you’re interested. Just keep in mind that you must write a review. It doesn’t have to be positive. All I ask is that you refrain from requesting a review copy if you’re not sure you’ll feel comfortable leaving a review.)

Angie Thomas Says Her Bestselling Novel The Hate U Give Proves There’s A Market For Books With Black Characters        

“Her debut novel, whose fans include The Fault in Our Stars author John Green, has been credited with continuing conversations around the Black Lives Matter debate with a younger audience in the wake of high-profile police killings of black people, including 12-year-old Tamir Rice. According to the website Killed by Police, US law enforcement has already killed more than 300 people this year.

‘We have a sustained problem in America and I’ve heard it’s happening here too,’ Thomas said. 'When officers take off that uniform they’re no longer a 'blue life’ – I can’t take my black skin off. I wanted this book to explain why we say those three words.’”

Angie Thomas is over on Buzzfeed, talking The Hate U Give and the importance of black YA characters.

Celebrating Girl’s Day, Then and Now

Contributed by Debbi Michiko Florence, Author

For generations, March 3 has been a special day in Japan, when families pray for good health and happiness for their daughters. It’s called Girl’s Day or Hinamatsuri (Doll Festival). The dolls, handed down from mother to eldest daughter, represent the imperial court and are thought to bring good luck.

As a child, born and raised in California, Girl’s Day meant special time with my mom and little sister. Following tradition, our mother would set up the ceramic dolls dressed in silk with miniature accessories on a platform. We’d eat mochi (sweet rice cakes) and take pictures with the doll display. Sometimes Mom would dress us in kimonos. When I grew older, we expanded the tradition: I invited my girlfriends from elementary school to celebrate with us. We ate cake and played games, much like a birthday party. When I got married, Mom gave me her dolls.

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Before you say, Write your own! – let me tell you that we do. But this page is a resource for writers, so we thought writers might want to know what kinds of representation would make us more likely to get excited about your book. We don’t speak for everyone in our demographic, just ourselves, but we hope this post gives you some cool writing ideas.

Note: This is additional info writers can keep in mind when writing characters of those backgrounds. We believe it’s a good thing to ask the people you’re including what they’d like to see.

Actually hearing from misrepresented and underrepresented people and asking us what we’d like to see of ourselves is much better than unthinkingly tossing characters into tired tropes or reinforcing stereotypes that do us harm.

Colette (Black): More Black people doing shit! Going on adventures, riding dragons, being magical! More Black characters in prominent roles in fantasy + sci-fi and historical settings and not always and only as slavess. These stories are important, but they’re NOT our only stories. We were kings and queens too. Let us wear the fancy dresses for a change instead of the chains, damn it!

More Black girls being portrayed as lovely and treasured and worth protecting. More Black girls finding love. More Black girls in general who aren’t relegated to arc-less, cliche “Sassy best friends” and “strong black women.”

More positive, dynamic roles of Black men (fathers, brothers, boys…) More positive, dynamic family roles of Black families as a whole, families that are loving and supportive and there. More Black people from all socioeconomic classes. More Black characters that don’t rely on the stereotypes that the media is currently going full force to reinforce.

Yasmin (Arab, Turkish): More Arabs who aren’t token characters. I want to see Arabs normalised in literature. Arab teenagers in high school, Arab young adults behind on their taxes, Arab dads who cook amazing food, Arab moms who refuse to soften their tongue for others. Arabs who aren’t mystical fantasy creatures from another planet. Arabs in YAs and in dramas and nonfiction and comedies and children’s books. We are human just like everyone else, and I’d like to see that reflected in literature. Often we are boxed into very specific genres of literature and made to feel ostracised from the rest. Let’s see some change!

Alice (Black, biracial): I’m hoping for more Black and biracial (mixed with Black) leading characters in all genres, but mainly in SF/F who fall outside of the stereotypes. Characters I can relate to who love, cry and fight for their ideals and dreams. It would be great if their race would play an active role in their identities (I don’t mean plot-related). Some intersectionality with sexuality and disability is also sorely missed, without it becoming a tragedy or it being seen as a character flaw. More mixed race characters who aren’t mixed with some kind of monster, fictional race or different species. Dystopias about problems usually faced by poc having actual poc protags, without all the racial ambiguity which always gets whitewashed. 

Shira (Jewish): More Jewish characters who feel positively about their Judaism and don’t carry it around as a burden or embarrassment. While the latter is definitely a real part of our experience due to anti-Semitism and all we’ve been through as a people, the fact that it overrepresents us in fiction is also due to anti-Semitism, even internalized. (Basically, Jews who don’t hate Judaism!)

More brave, heroic characters who are openly Jewish instead of being inspired by the Jewish experience and created by Jews (like Superman) or played by Jews (Captain Kirk) but still not actually Jewish. I’m tired of always being Tolkien’s Dwarves; I’d like a chance to play Bard, Bilbo, or even Gandalf’s role in that kind of story.

Elaney (Mexican): While we’re discussing what sort of representation we’d like to see, I am using the word “latinista” and I want to quickly address that since you may have not seen it before: “-ista” is a genderless suffix denoting someone is from an area (“Nortista”, a northerner), or who practices a belief (“Calvinista”, a calvinist), or a professsion (you’ve heard ‘barista’).  I find it more intuitively pronounceable than “latinx” and also more friendly to Spanish, French, and Portugueze pronunciation (and thus more appropriate), personally, so I invite you to consider it as an alternative.  If you don’t like it, well, at least I showed you.

1. I want legal Latinista immigrants. The darker your skin is down here, the more likely you are to be assumed to be illegal by your peers, and I want media to dilute this assumption so many have of us.

2. I want Latinistas who are well educated, not just smart, and I mean formally educated, with college degrees, professional skillsets, and trained expertise.  Being in fields which do not require a formal degree is no less legitimate of a lifestyle than being in a field which requires a PhD, but I want you to consider when casting your Latinista character that We, as a people, are assumed to be little more than the drop-out and the janitor by our peers, and People Of Color in scientific fields are mistaken as assistant staff rather than the scientists that they are.  I want media to dilute this assumption.  

3. I want Latnistas who are not marketed as “Latin American” but as their actual country of origin, because “Latin America” is a conglomerate of individual entities with their own, distinct cultures and if you are, for example, Cuban, then Mexican characters may appeal to you but they don’t have the same relatability as fellow Cuban characters. Wouldn’t you be a little more interested, too, to pick up a book that’s about a character who lives where you do rather than about a character who lives somewhere in general?

4. I want rich or well-to-do Latinistas.  Looking back, I notice that several of the character concepts that have been bounced off of us with regards to Latinista characters incorporate poverty despite an astronomical and diligent work ethic. I don’t think this is on purpose but I do think that it is internalized because so often the stereotype of us is poor and uneducated in a vicious cycle (uneducated because we’re poor, poor because we’re uneducated) and I think that there should be more media to dilute this.  

Lastly, I personally do not want these tropes to be explored and subverted by people, I want them to be avoided entirely because I feel that normalizing positive representation rather than commenting on negative representation is far more beneficial and validating to the people these works are supposed to help and represent. We don’t need sympathy, we need empathy! 

Jess (Chinese, Taiwanese): Stories that don’t center around the identity of being Chinese-American. That doesn’t mean “erase any references to protag’s Chinese identity” but I’d definitely like stories that have us go on awesome adventures every now and then and don’t have the Chinese character being all “I AM CHINESE” from beginning to end.

Please round out the Chinese migrant parents instead of keeping them as strict and/or traditional. PLEASE. I could go into how my parents and the Chinese aunties and uncles here are so awesome, seriously, and we need more older Chinese migrant characters who are awesome and supportive and just people. Also! EAST ASIAN GIRLS WHO AREN’T SKINNY AND/OR PETITE. Please. PLEEEEEASE. And more stories about Taiwanese and Chinese folks who aren’t in bicoastal regions (the Midwest, the Plains, etc.) WE EXIST.

More Chinese-Americans who aren’t necessarily Christian. Maybe it’s because of the books I’ve wound up reading, but there seems to be this narrative of Chinese migrants joining churches and converting when they’re in the US. This doesn’t mean I want less Chinese-American Christians in fiction, mind: I’d also just like to see more Chinese families in the US who are Buddhist or who still keep up with the traditions they learned from their homelands, like me, without having it considered in the narrative as ~old fashioned~ or ~ancient~ or ~mystical~. Tangentially, when writing non-Christian Chinese families, I’d rather people keep the assumption of Communism being the underlying reason why far, far away. I have been asked in the past if Communism was why my family didn’t go to church, and needless to say, it’s really, really offensive. 

Stella (Korean): I’d love to see more Korean (and Asian-American) characters that don’t perpetuate the super-overachieving, stressed-out, only-cares-about-succeeding Asian stereotype. These Koreans exist (I would know; I went to school with quite a few of them) but they don’t represent all of us. I want to see more Korean characters solving mysteries, saving the world and having fun. More Koreans that aren’t pale, petite, and a size 2. Not all of us have perfect skin or straight black hair or monolids. And some of us love our short legs, round faces and small eyes!

And fewer stoic&strict Korean parents, please. So many of us grew up with loud, wacky, so-embarrassing-but-endearing parents!  

Recently, there’s been quite a few novels with Korean American female protags (particularly in the YA section) that deal with being in high school, dealing with strict parents, getting into college, and boys. Lots of boys! I think it’s awesome that there are more books with KA protags, and I’m so so so glad they’re out there. But I also recognize that those are definitely not the kind of books I would have read as a teenager, and it’s not the kind of book I want to read now. I want to see more Korean characters that are queer, trans, ace, bisexual. More Korean characters that are disabled or autistic or have mental illnesses. More Korean characters in fantasy, SFF, mystery! Heck, space operas and steampunk Westerns. I want it all! :DDDD

A lot of Korean-Americans struggle with their identity. It’s hard to balance things sometimes! But I’d love to see more stories that *aren’t* overtly about Korean-Americans dealing with their racial identity or sexual orientation, but stories about Koreans saving princesses and slaying trolls and commandeering spaceships. I want a plot that doesn’t center on Korean-American identity, but on a Korean-American character discovering themselves. White characters get to do it all the time; I want Korean characters to have a turn. 

And honestly, I just want to see more Asians in media, period. South Asians, Southeast Asians, Central Asians! Thai, Hmong, Tibetan, Filipino, Vietnamese characters. Indian characters! There’s so much diversity in Asia and among Asian diaspora. I want us to be more than just ~~mystical~~ characters with ancient wisdom and a generic Asian accent. We’ve got boundless oceans of stories within ourselves and our communities, and I can’t wait for them to be told.

I would also love to see more multiethnic Asian characters that are *not* half white. It seems to be the default mixed-race Asian character: East Asian and white. But so many of my friends have multiethnic backgrounds like Chinese/Persian, Thai/Chinese or Korean/Mexican. I have Korean friends who grew up in places like Brazil, Singapore and Russia. Did you know that the country with the largest population of Koreans (outside of Korea) is actually China? 

And while I’m at it, I’d love to see more well-translated works from Asia in the US. Like, how awesome would it be to have more science fiction, fantasy, and historical novels from Asia that are easily accessible in English? SUPER awesome!!

Kaye (Muslim): I am so hungry for Muslim representation, because there is so little of it. You can see one or two (YA) titles I currently think or have heard are good representation on the shelves - notably, Aisha Saeed’s Written in the Stars - on an AMA I did the other day for /r/YAwriters.

However, I’d just love to see stories where Muslim characters go on adventures like everyone else!

I’ve been saying recently that I’d LOVE to see a cozy mystery. Or a series of Muslim historical romances a la Georgette Heyer (there are a LOT of Muslim girls who love romances, and I’m just starting to get into the genre myself!). I’d love to see Muslim middle grade readers get girls who find secret passages, solve mysteries, tumble through the neighborhood with their dozen or so cousins.

I have a lot of cousins and thus I always have a soft spot for cousins. And siblings.

I’m looking forward to Scarlett Undercover by Jennifer Latham because Jen is writing Scarlett as a detective a la Veronica Mars. And she’s Somali-American. How cool is that?!

Let’s see some classic road trip YA with Muslims. Let’s see comedies with quirky characters - for instance, I know one or two tween Muslim girls who are driving their moms MAD by suddenly turning vegetarian and refusing to touch the celebratory biryani at family Eid parties, who join relevant societies at their schools and start preaching to their extended families about the benefits of going vegetarian and all the funny little interactions that are involved with that. Let’s have a story with some wise-cracking African American Muslim girls.

My cousin is a niqaabi who loves YA and hates that she doesn’t see herself in it. Let’s see some stories with teen niqaabis! Let’s explore the full, joyful spectrum of diversity in Islam. Let’s have stories where we talk about how one word in Bengali is totally different in another language, and one friend is hilariously horrified and the other friend doesn’t know what he/she said.

(True story.)

I want to see joy. I want to see happiness. Being a woman of color and a hijaabi often means facing so many daily, disheartening scenarios and prejudice and hatefulness. So many of the suggested tropes recently in the inbox focus on trying to force Muslim characters into beastly or haraam or just sad and stereotypical scenarios. I know that writers are better and have bigger imaginations than that.

You want angst? Push aside the cold, unkind, abusive Muslim parents trope. Let’s talk about the Muslim girls I know who have struggled with eating disorders. Let’s talk about Islamophobia and how that is a REAL, horrible experience that Muslim kids have to fear and combat every day. Let’s approach contemporary angst without the glasses of the Western gaze and assumptions about people of the Islamic faith on.

We can have Muslim novels that focus on growing pains like Sarah Dessen and Judy Blume (and speaking of that, my “auntie” who used to teach in a madrasah used to press Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret on the Muslim girls she knew because of how Margaret approached growing up and had concerns about her faith and her relationships, etc.)

Having Shia friends, I would like to see more stories that aren’t just assumed to be Sunni. How about stories about Su-Shi kids, too? (Sunni and Shia - the name always surprises me!) Let’s see some Muslim-Jewish friendships. Because they exist.

And of course, I always, always hunger for Muslim voices first. Because it’s so important to have these voices there, from the source, and some of the issues with answering here at WWC is how people seem to be approaching certain tropes that a Muslim writer could explore with the nuance and lived experience of their faith behind it.

Why I Write about the Immigrant Experience

Contributed by Reyna Grande, Author

I learned to read in English in the 8th grade. As a child immigrant from Mexico struggling to adapt to the American way of life, I had a hard time finding my experiences reflected in the books given to me by my teachers at school or the librarian at the public library. Closest were the works of the Chicana writers I’d read in college, such as Sandra Cisneros and Helena María Viramontes, where I found bits and pieces of myself. But I did not find books that spoke directly to my experience as a child immigrant.

I did find books about adult immigrants and the struggles that adults—like my parents— experience when they arrive in the United States: low paying jobs, abuse and discrimination in the workplace, fear of deportation, struggles to assimilate and learn English, and the hardships of navigating and understanding the nuances of American culture and society. But as a child, wasn’t I as much a part of the immigration narrative? Weren’t my pain and heartbreak, struggles and triumphs, also worth telling? Didn’t I also risk my life and fight just as hard for my dreams?

Why weren’t children’s voices being heard?

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Everything begins TODAY!

entertainmentweekly calls Everything, Everything by nicolayoon “fresh, moving” and Bustle.com raves it’s “vibrant, thrilling…bound to be an instant hit.” 

#EverythingEverythingBook

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Book Review: Saints and Misfits

Title: Saints and Misfits
Author: S. K. Ali
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 352 pages
Publisher: Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: In bookstores now

Summary: Saints and Misfits is an unforgettable debut novel that feels like a modern day My So-Called Life…starring a Muslim teen.

How much can you tell about a person just by looking at them?

Janna Yusuf knows a lot of people can’t figure out what to make of her…an Arab Indian-American hijabi teenager who is a Flannery O’Connor obsessed book nerd, aspiring photographer, and sometime graphic novelist is not exactly easy to put into a box.

And Janna suddenly finds herself caring what people think. Or at least what a certain boy named Jeremy thinks. Not that she would ever date him—Muslim girls don’t date. Or they shouldn’t date. Or won’t? Janna is still working all this out.

While her heart might be leading her in one direction, her mind is spinning in others. She is trying to decide what kind of person she wants to be, and what it means to be a saint, a misfit, or a monster. Except she knows a monster…one who happens to be parading around as a saint…Will she be the one to call him out on it? What will people in her tight knit Muslim community think of her then?

Review: There is so much I can say about Saints and Misfits that I almost don’t know where to begin. I guess at the beginning, which is when we meet the monster in Janna’s life. The moment we met the monster was so unexpected and a hit to the gut. I don’t think I can recall any books where the author puts a traumatic event for the character in the second chapter, but I loved it because it made me realize that Saints and Misfits was a much deeper novel than I anticipated and that it was going to take me on one hell of a journey. The novel moves at a wonderful pace from there as Janna tries to make sense of what happened, while dealing with a member of her community that everyone loves and respects, but Janna is traumatized by. At the same time, she is trying to figure out her feelings towards Jeremy, who actually might like her back. This internal conflict is at the heart of the novel and felt real. Janna is surrounded by family and friends, but holds these two secrets (well one friend knows about Jeremy), thinking she can handle them both, when in reality she can’t, because Jeremy and the monster are friends. Janna often goes from having the good butterflies in her stomach when seeing Jeremy to becoming nauseous when seeing the monster a minute later, but is unable to speak on her feelings to friends and family. Janna is surrounded by love, but at the same time, feels like she cannot express her true self, her true feelings, and feels trapped like so many young women do. I truly felt for her in those moments.

I’ve mentioned that Janna is surrounded by numerous people who love her and that is also an element I loved in the book. I often find in many YA novels that the protagonist is somewhat excluded from their community and/or doesn’t have a good support network. This was not the case in Saints & Misfits. While Janna’s parents are divorced, it’s clear her parents love her in their own way, her brother is working hard to reconnect with her after being away at school, she has a beautiful relationship with her elderly neighbor Mr. Ram, her uncle who is the imam of her mosque, and her two best friends Tats and Fizz. She eventually develops friendships with two female characters, Sarah and Sausun, who are polar opposites, but combined provide Janna the support she needs and ultimately help her find her voice. The fact that Janna is surrounded by such a loving community, while holding her secrets, creates a deeply moving conflict in the novel. It highlights how our community can be a source of strife for people, but at the same time be a place that helps us only if we let it - if we trust others and let them in. It is a beautiful lesson that Janna learns because she believes she is a misfit who doesn’t fit into her community, not realizing that her community does accept her for the way she is. This belief is a common one that many teens have has they search for their identity and Janna’s story is one that will connect with a lot of readers. It’s a beautifully written story that will make readers laugh, cry, and feel like they are part of Janna’s community. In fact, when the novel was over I wasn’t actually ready to leave Janna’s world. I wanted to see where Janna’s growth will take her.

Lastly, I gotta speak about all the kick-ass female characters in this novel. All of them represent the broad spectrum of beliefs/views that women have. They don’t all agree but are respective of each other to accept each other as who they are. With the exception of Janna and Fizz’s argument that ultimately seems to end their friendship, many of the important women in Janna’s life work to lift each other up. Tats is a true friend to Janna, and even though Janna is slow to warm up to Sarah and Sausun, she eventually comes to rely on the older girls for support and advice. Like many teenagers, Janna’s relationship with her mother is a bit strained, but again Janna comes to realize that a lot of her mother’s actions come from a place of love and she learns to be a full recipient of that love. All of these relationships are complex but very real and I loved reading a book that had so many wonderful female relationships.

Saints and Misfits is a wonderful debut novel by S.K. Ali and I can’t wait to read whatever she has coming next.

anonymous asked:

Do you have a list of YA books that don't feature romance as a main plot, only as a minor/background sub-plot involving other characters? As an aromantic and asexual teenage girl, it would be really nice to read a book in which it isn't the main focus and not feel like a freak of nature for once. Thanks!

Editor of YA Interrobang here! First of all, you should never - ever - feel like a freak of nature. Half of Team Interrobang is on the asexual spectrum, including me, and there are plenty of authors who are asexual or aromantic or both, even if it’s not something they actively discuss. (Take Katie Locke, for instance, an author on the asexual spectrum whose debut YA novel hits shelves next year.) You are not alone, and you are no more a freak than I am.

But time to answer your actual question! Here are some books with as little romance as possible or no romance:
- A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston
- Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst
- The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge
- Archivist Wasp by Nicole Korhner Stace
- Tunnel Vision by Susan Adrian
- Seven Second Delay by Tom Easton
- The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma
- The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson
- Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews
- This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab
- A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro
- Radio Silence by Alice Oseman (out in UK now, releases in US in March 2017)
- On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis
- I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest
- Iris and the Tiger by Leanne Hall
- Lucy and Linh by Alice Pung (releases in September)
- Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman
- The Fixer by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
- Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
- Nobody’s Princess by Esther Friesner
- You’re Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner (releases 2017)
- and many, many more, but if I keep going my fingers will break

Here are some books with specifically asexual characters:
- This Song Is Not For You by Laura Rawlin
- Fourth World by Lyssa Chiavari
- Ultraviolet + Quicksilver by R.J. Anderson
- The Beast of Callaire by Saruuh Kelsey
- Make Much of Me by Kayla Bashe
- Deadly Sweet Lies by Erica Cameron
- We Awaken by Calista Lynne
- As Autumn Leaves by Kate Sands
- Every Heart A Doorway by Seanan McGuire (a personal favorite)
- We Go Forward by Alison Evans
- Tash Hearts Tolstoy by Kathryn Ormsbee (releases 2017)

Tristina Wright’s 27 Hours, which releases in 2017, has a character that is both asexual AND aromantic.

And here are posts on YA Interrobang that may be of interest to you:
- Calista Lynne talks about sexual representation in YA
- Adrianne Strickland talks writing as a genderqueer asexual
- Julie Daly talks asexual representation in YA (with recs)

Happy reading!
- Nicole ( @nebrinkley ), editor

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Authors Maurene Goo, Brendan Kiely, and Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich are joining us to talk about the writing essentials. How do you build structure for you...

Virtual Writing Retreat Scheduled for Mar 16, 2017

Authors Maurene Goo, Brendan Kiely, and Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich are joining Camp NaNoWriMo to talk about the writing essentials. How do you build structure for your writing into your life? How do you make the most of a writing community? And how do you find meaning in your stories and your storytelling? We’re asking the big questions.