Thursday, May 31, 2012

And the winner is...

Thanks to everyone who entered the contest, and double thanks to people who gave me the names of  new books featuring Heroines of Color. I was not yet aware of. I'm now on a crusade to find them and read.

I was specially pleased to find out about TU Publishing, an imprint of Lee and Low books.  This publisher is specializing in speculative fiction (fantasy, science fiction and mystery) for children and young adults featuring diverse characters and settings in worlds inspired by non-Western folklore or culture. TU published Tankborn, and I'm eagerly waiting for the sequels to find what happens next to these characters.

And now the winner... Sheila.  I'll need your to send me your email or address information so I can get you your ARC.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Summer Reading Program

Today I visited two classes in a local middle school, where the 7/8th grade humanities teacher and I are working to enhance the summer reading program for the kids entering 8th grade next year.  The program is simple--the teacher forms the conduit over the summer. She gets the books first, looks them over, and decides which books would fit best with which of her students. Members of my SCBWI chapter send me copies of their books or eBooks that go to her for initial review and assignment to students.  Students sign up and make a commitment to read at least two of the books before mid-August. They have to write a review and a letter. The reviews will be posted on this blog, the letters will be sent to the authors. Kids who complete their assignments will be invited to an pizza party I will host, and we'll discuss the books. And some of them plan to join me in my disguise as b-writerCamp NaNoWriMo.

Come fall, we plan to continue the program with author visits and class discussions.

Today one middle school, tomorrow...who knows.

Interested in having your YA book distributed to one of these teen readers? Make a comment and let me know. I'll be in touch.

Don't forget - May 31 is the last day for the Heroines of Color contest. Leave a comment for a chance to win.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Fathers and Sons

One of the things I'm most proud of with my YA novel PULL is the way it brings different generations together.

At a recent meeting with a Mt. Prospect United Methodist Mens' Club, one of the listeners bought a copy and had me autograph it to give to his grandson for his eighteenth birthday. A week later I met him and he told me he had started the book, and almost didn't give it to the boy. Fortunately, the young man got his present, but the grandfather checked the book out of the library (The YA section!!) to read himself, saying he'd been hooked by those first pages.  It's not the first time I've heard of fathers reading PULL with their sons, but it is the first grandfather.

But that also made me remember an incident that happened about a month ago. I was in my local library. It was almost closing time, but I wanted to pick up a quick read. I went to the back area, where they keep the paperback romances (you know, the books they want to keep away from the real "literary" works)  I admit I haunt those books too, along with YA. As I approached the racks I heard a man talking. Okay arguing. Then yelling. They have tables in the back, and sometimes people go there to study. I looked around the stacks and saw an older man and a teen aged boy with books and papers spread out in front of them.

Mind Your Own Business

I really tried to mind my own business. But the older man kept yelling. They were working on Algebra, and he kept after the kid about one problem. It went on and one. There were just the three of us back there, and I don't know if either of them were aware of my presence. I don't remember the exact words, but they were insulting and degrading. The teen said nothing. He stared at the wall, then down at the table. It was embarrassing to hear these things said to the boy who was obviously the older man's son. I stood frozen for several minutes, doing the deer in headlights thing as I looked around the book rack at the poor boy.

I even turned and began walking away. I wanted to get back to the front of the library, away from that train wreck and the poor boy who had to go home with that man. I was halfway down the corridor, still hearing the man behind me, when I stopped.

It wasn't a WWJD (what would Jesus do) moment, but I swear I heard a voice inside me calling me a coward. I was scared. I wanted to stop what was going on behind me, but I felt too cowardly to intervene. But I am a parent. And helping teens is my platform. I spent a moment thanking God I had the sense to hire a tutor for my own child instead of doing it myself and risking destroying our relationship the way this father was destroying his. Then another moment to tell myself that if this really matters I need to be willing to stand up and do something.

Mostly I remembered the sullen, shell-chocked look on the teen's face when I saw him staring at the wall.

I Went Back.  

I couldn't just ignore this and live withmyself.

I lied a little bit -- okay, exaggerated, claiming I was a tutor (I have helped some kids with their schoolwork) and that maybe the boy was having some issues with more basic concepts. If the father was willing to go back to those, maybe his son could get this problem.

The older man remained belligerent, but his volume lowered. I explained that sometimes when I worked with kids it helped to go go over the basics without resorting to shear volume. At least the man did not look like he wanted to hit me, an impression I got when he was dealing with his son. But he did let me know I was an idiot. Those concepts had been covered months ago, if his son didn't get them by now he was an idiot.

The kid continued to stare at the table. So help me, he was almost as big as me, no relationship, but I wanted to put my arms around him and protect him.

I tried again and was told the boy was simply being stubborn. "Look at how he's turned himself off, he just doesn't care," the man said, his voice thick with anger. I realized he saw his son's problem as a personal reflection on himself. Nothing I could say in the final minutes before the library closed would change that.

I did try one last time. "If someone yelled at me the way you yelled at him, I'd turn myself off too," I said.

This time I did leave. I heard only silence behind me.

I'm glad I did something, even though it probably made no long-term difference.  I hope their relationship is not irreparably damaged.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Book Review - Tankborn

TankbornTankborn by Karen Sandler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This combination science fiction/dystopian novel deals with culture, race and moral issues, and tackles the difficult supject of what makes a person human. Environmental disasters sent populations fleeing Earth to a new planet where a rigid caste system has developed, Trueborns (all human DNA, wealthy, and with skin colored the right shade), Lowborns (all human DNA but poor with no hope of rising to Trueborn ranks) and GENS (Genetically Altered Non-Humans with no hope at all) as the lowest of the low, who contain a tiny bit of animal DNA in their genome, a tattoo on their face used as in interface between their brains and machines used to extract and plant information (as well as to wipe out their memory and personality at the whim of any Trueborn for any reason), and are considered literally untouchable.

The heroine, Kayla and her best friend, Mishalla, are assigned to work for Trueborns when they become fifteen. Kayla, bred for strength, goes to work for a member of the highest caste, a Highborn-Trueborn. Mishalla, bred to be a nurturer, is sent to work in a nursery holding Lowborn children who are dropped off or taken away in the middle of the night.

Kayla has dreams of something impossible, a mother she could never have had because everyone knows Gens come from tanks where DNA is mingled to provide them with their different skill sets. She falls in love with her employer's grandson Devak while he struggles with the idea that everything he has been taught about himself and the lower castes could be a gigantic lie. Together they embark on a mission to overcome a catastrophe his grandfather unintentionally caused, and to rescue the Lowborn children being used in a game meant to prop up the falling caste system at any cost.

This book quickly brought me into Kayla's world. Race plays an integral part of the action, this is a world where the optimum Highborn has brown skin. Too light or too dark can push one into a lower sub-caste. She is "the color of sand", but the tattoo on her face takes precedence, announcing her Gen status to everyone who sees her. Kayla has a hidden problem, her arms are splotched in a kaleidoscope of colors that she keeps hidden. Kayla discovers that GENs were never meant to be a slave race, and that Mishalla's assignment is a front to a conspiracy aimed at perpetuating non-human misery.

My heart sank at the end when Kayla is forced to make an unbearable sacrifice. She chooses with intelligence and serenity, and love for both her best friend and Devak.

Yes, she is one of the Heroines Of Color I keep hoping to read about.

Naturally, I am aching to get my hands on the sequel.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

What Is The Color Of Heroism?

The Atlantic Wire has a series they call YA for Grownups.  In April, 2012 they published an article called The Greatest Girl Characters of Young Adult Literature. Never mind that this is one person's opinion. Never mind that many of the heroines in the list were actually from children's or middle grade fiction. Never mind that every heroine on the list was white.

Only I can't ignore that last one.

According to the author every "great" girl character has been white.  Pardon me, but I beg to differ.  There may be fewer of them, and they may never find their way onto classroom reading lists, but they do exist and many of them are powerful heroines. When my daughter was a child I searched out books about heroines featuring heroines of color. Books like Mary Hoffman's Amazing Grace, and Patricia McKissack's Mirandy and Brother Wind so she could read about strong girls who looked like her.

Fortunately I have kept the books in my collection, because I have a grandchild on the way and I want to besure he or she will have books about themselves to read and love.

Books with non-white heroines ARE still being written.  PULL has Yolanda Dare, not your typical heroine, but she's ready to change her world and stand up for her friends.

Last year I reviewed Something Like Hope that whose heroine was Shavonne, an African-American.

Next week I will be reviewing Tankborn, a dystopian novel featuring Kayla, a heroine in a world where skin color defines your caste, and it doesn't pay to be too dark OR too light-skinned.

In a world where some viewers of The Hunger Games movie were upset about some important characters being black, even though they had supposedly read the book, maybe its not surprising that publishers put out so few books featuring non-white heroines. Nor is it totally surprising that so few of the books that do get printed are noticed.  I'm dedicating today's blog to those books, and to finding more of them.

My question to you readers. What books with non-white heroines do you know and love? Leave me a comment about the book and heroine. Or just tell me your opinion of the issue. On May 30, I will be drawing from all the commenters, and one commenter will be chosen to win an arc for my new novel, BEING GOD due out Nov. 2012.

Update 5-9-12 - I went back and looked at my bookshelves and I'm adding a few more favorites.

As long ago as 1969, back before dystopian was even a word, there was a black heroine in a dystopian novel. Amhara, a member of the African elite in The Day of The Drones by A. M. Lightner discovers there is still someone alive in the nuclear wastelands of Europe 500  years after a nuclear war left the world outside blanketed in radiation.

Cynthis Liu brought us CeCe Charles, a sixteen year old adopted Chinese heroine living in the United States who wants to search out her heritage.

Anything you want to add? Can we keep the list growing?