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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Kekla Magoon, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 13 of 13
1. Guest Post: Amy Rose Capetta on Something Good Happened in 2016: Intersectionality in LGBTQ YA

By Amy Rose Capetta
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Rainbow Boxes is a charitable initiative to connect LGBTQIA fiction with readers across the United States.

When Cori McCarthy and I did our research for Rainbow Boxes (AKA the most fun research--it mainly consisted of reading every LGBTQ YA book we could find), we were able to assemble a box of books that featured characters with a range of identities.

But if we’d tried to fill another box…it would have been much more difficult. And we were only looking for fifteen titles!

That was in 2015, and there are many exciting new additions to the list of titles this year, but this is one of the biggest places where LGBTQ YA needs to grow. The authors and LGBTQ YA advocates I interviewed seemed to be on the same page--almost every single one mentioned it.

Dahlia Adler, who runs the website LGBTQ Reads and keeps track of the books coming out, said:

"Most of all, I really, really want to see more intersectionality - more queer kids of color and more disabled queer kids. The numbers on these are still really sadly low."

Her book, Under the Lights: A Daylight Falls Novel (Spencer Hill, 2015), features a Korean-American lesbian main character, and is one of a small number of f/f books that fall in the category of delightful fluffy reads featuring queer girls.

When I spoke with Anna-Marie McLemore, author of When the Moon Was Ours (Thomas Dunne/St. Martin's Griffin, 2016), she gave a similar answer--with an exclamation point.

"More intersectional stories! I’m excited to see all stories with respectful representation of LGBTQ characters, but especially ones that have queer characters who are also of color, who also have disabilities, and so many more intersecting identities."

When I asked her about the exciting parts and the challenges of writing LGBTQ YA, Anna-Marie said:

"My agent, editor, and publishing house have been tremendously supportive of me writing When the Moon Was Ours. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t scared to write queer and transgender main characters. I was already writing characters of color, and I felt like I wasn’t allowed to do both.
"I’m queer, and I’m married to a transguy, but I felt like I had to keep that part of my identity off the page.
"But I’m glad I had people around me who encouraged me to write the story that was in me, to write characters who are of color and also LGBTQ.

"I have heard authors talk about pressure to limit themselves to one marginalization per character. Hopefully that is changing, but wherever it remains the case, it creates a situation where queer characters must always be white, neurotypical, and able-bodied, among other things.
"It also limits the potential for multiple LGBTQIA identities (eg queer intersex people, gay or bisexual people on the asexuality spectrum.)
"This is not a question of 'checking boxes' when it comes to diversity, but rather reflecting a wider range of lived experience."

As author Tristina Wright puts it:

Tristina Wright
"Intersections exist.
"Someone can be Black, bisexual, have anxiety, and come from a single parent home.
"Someone can be Muslim, gay, OCD, and a twin.
"Someone can be Latinx, genderfluid, depressed, and stutter.
"Someone can be Biracial, pansexual, use a wheelchair, and Deaf.
"There are intersections upon intersections and when people protest this point, they reinforce the idea that there's a default setting of white/straight/cisgender/abled and anything away from that is Other."

Tristina’s debut novel, 27 Hours, coming Fall 2017 from Entangled Teen, features characters of many backgrounds and identities. Here’s how Tristina describes the intersectional identities of her characters:

4 alternating POVs
1. Male, biracial (Indian/Nigerian), bisexual, PTSD
2. Female, biracial (Cuban/Greek), pansexual, Deaf
3. Male, white, gay, adopted
4. Male, white, asexual, has two moms
+ 2 ensemble characters
5. Female, transgender, Latinx, bisexual
6. Male, gay, Caribbean, missing two fingers (from birth)

Sometimes, in the case of fantasy and sci-fi novels, intersections don’t have exact real-world correlation.

In the authors’ own words, here are the identities in Malinda Lo’s Huntress (Little, Brown, 2011):

"Huntress is set in a Chinese-inspired world, so the characters are both non-white and queer. I wouldn't describe them as Chinese, because it's a secondary fantasy world. 'Non-white' is probably best."

And Corinne DuyvisOtherbound (Amulet, 2014):

"Nolan is Mexican-American and disabled. Amara is bisexual, disabled, and a woman of color. As she lives in a fantasy world, the bisexuality is unlabeled and her ethnicity has no real-world analog."


Recent titles that include main characters with intersectional identities are More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera (Soho Teen, 2015), which features a gay male Puerto Rican main character, Far From You by Tess Sharpe (Disney-Hyperion, 2015), which has a disabled bisexual girl protagonist, Proxy by Alex London (Philomel, 2013), with a gay male person-of-color protagonist, Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee (Duet) with Chinese-Vietnamese American bisexual girl protagonist, and Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova (Sourcebooks, 2016) about a bisexual Latina protagonist.

I spoke with Kekla Magoon, author of 37 Things I Love (in No Particular Order)(Henry Holt, 2012), about the intersectionality in her book.

"I didn't make a big point about identity in 37 Things I Love, but I pictured the cast of that book as relatively diverse.
"Ellis is biracial (black dad/white mom) and Cara is also biracial (white/Asian). Ellis will likely identify as bisexual when she is older, though at the moment she is at the beginning of her journey to discover her sexual self. Cara identifies as a lesbian and is more secure in her identity on a lot of levels.
"The text contains a couple of hints toward Ellis's racial identity, but fewer to indicate Cara's, and while it's clear from the novel action that the girls are interested in each other romantically, they don't fully name their respective identities.
"For me as a writer, the important thing at the time was to write a story that included a biracial, bisexual protagonist without drawing too much attention to the fact. I hoped that leaving it less clearly defined would allow space for readers to draw the characters however they see fit.

Kekla Magoon
"I'm not sure if I would make the same choices about representing the identities in that book if I was writing and publishing it today. [37 Things was sold in 2010 and published in 2012.]
"I've changed as a writer, and the industry has evolved in what it is ready to accept.
"At the time, I felt a little bit subversive in sliding this book out, and it flew largely under the radar.
"People had come to expect 'black' books from me, based on my previous work, so to write a 'gay' book felt a bit sneaky. Which, I suppose, parallels my interest in being more subtle about the characters' identities too.
"On the one hand, maybe I could've served the need for 'diverse YA' better if I had landed harder on those descriptions. On the other hand, it didn't feel as germane to the story I was trying to tell at the time, and in the long run don't want any book to have to stand alone as one or the other ('black' vs. 'gay').
"Just as much, I don't want my book to be labeled as even more narrowly as a 'black LGBTQ' book, either. I would like to be able to stop pressing the point that it's okay for a single book to cover lots of identity territory without being pigeonholed or assumed to be directed to a limited audience."

It’s extremely important that books that deal with characters of intersecting identities are treated as part of YA literature as a whole, and not a special interest category.

These books are part of what makes YA exciting, truthful, and worthwhile to readers whose real lives encompass so many identities.

For a parting thought, here’s Vee Signorelli, co-founder of The Gay YA, on what they’re excited about:

"There's this amazing energy about LGBTQIA+ right now. I don't know how else to explain it. It's really new and current and vibrant. Like… it’s really beginning to feel like anything is possible.

"That said, we have a long way to go, especially in terms of intersectional representation.
"Sometimes it’s easy to think we’ve come super far, only to get a tumblr ask for an autistic queer character, or a black gay teen, or a trans girl who ends up in a happy relationship with another girl, and you’re like… that... doesn’t exist."

As writers, readers, publishers, booksellers, educators, librarians, and lovers of books, let’s all do what we can so that in a few years, we can look back and see a vast improvement in the number of intersectional books--so many that we can’t possibly list all of the titles, so many that no book request goes unfilled.

This post is part two in a four-part series. Tomorrow, we'll reflect on genre fiction.

Amy Rose Notes


Check out Diversity in YA from Malinda Lo and Cindy Pon. Peek: "We celebrate young adult books about all kinds of diversity, from race to sexual orientation to gender identity and disability. Our goal is to bring attention to books and authors that might fall outside the mainstream, and to bring the margin to the center."

Cynsational Notes

Amy Rose Capetta is the author of three YA novels: Entangled and Unmade, a space duet (out now from HMH), and Echo After Echo, a queer love story wrapped in a murder mystery and set on Broadway (coming in 2017 from Candlewick).

She is on the writing team for the second season of Remade, a YA sci-fi thriller from SerialBox, and works with writers on their novels through Yellow Bird Editors (with a special interest in genre fiction and LGBTQ fiction of all kinds!)

She is the co-founder of Rainbow Boxes (@rainbowboxesya), and holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Amy Rose lives and writes in Michigan with her girlfriend Cori McCarthy, who is also a YA author, and their five-year-old, who wants to be a wizard.

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2. Guest Post: Amy Rose Capetta on Something Good Happened in 2016: Celebrating LGBTQ YA

Rainbow Boxes co-founders Cori & Amy Rose
By Amy Rose Capetta
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

In 2015, it seemed like there was a slowly growing list of excellent YA books with central LGBTQ main characters--but there were clearly still barriers making it difficult for readers, especially teen readers, to find them.

Fellow YA author Cori McCarthy* and I created Rainbow Boxes to help bridge that gap, to directly connect LGBTQ YA to young readers.

We raised funds that allowed us to send a box of fifteen YA titles to LGBTQ centers and community libraries in all 50 states.

Rainbow Boxes co-founder Cori McCarthy in our living room--with hundreds of LGBTQ books!

Then 2016 happened.

Looking forward at the beginning of this year, I saw new LGBTQ YA titles everywhere--seemingly more in a single year than we had seen in the past five put together.

Looking back now, while the publishing landscape has indeed changed in 2016, so has the world.**

Amy Rose, Cynthia & Sara Kocek
When I first talked to Cynthia Leitich Smith about this blog series, I hoped it would be a celebration of great LGBTQ YA: a call to uplift the excellent books that are being published while we continue to work for a wider range of stories and representation.

Now this series feels more urgently important than ever. In the coming years, LGBTQ people, especially young ones, will need stories. They will need adventure and friendship and truth and love, messiness and beauty, fluff and darkness, a place to see their humanity fully explored, even as other people seek to deny it.

Straight and cisgendered people need these stories, too. Without them, there will be no truthful narratives that push against the limited, distorted, and stereotyped portrayals of the past.

Amy Rose, Adam & Cori
The work is underway. Minds and hearts are changing. LGBTQ teenagers are brave and amazing. But there is still so much we can do. I’d like to start by waving my rainbow flag as hard as I can to celebrate some of the wonderful successes in LGBTQ YA.

Books about gay teenage boys have increasingly been enjoying mainstream success levels. Some of the breakouts include New York Times bestselling More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera (Soho Teen, 2015), named as “mandatory reading” and selected as an Editor’s Choice by the NYT.

David Levithan’s many books about gay teenagers, which have been published for over a decade, are considered a YA staple.

Wildly popular Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli (Balzer + Bray, 2015) won the coveted Morris Award for debut authors.

Books about queer girls have not enjoyed the same levels of visibility, but there are signs that might be changing. In 2016, Anna-Marie McLemore’s When the Moon Was Ours (Thomas Dunne/St. Martin's Griffin, 2016) was long-listed for National Book Award, Emily M. Danforth’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post (Balzer + Bray, 2012) was announced as an upcoming movie adaptation, and Marieke Nijkamp’s This is Where it Ends (Sourcebooks, 2016) hit #1 on the NYT bestseller list--and stayed on the list week after week.

I asked Marieke: how does it feel to have a #1 NYT bestselling title featuring queer girl main characters? What does it mean for you as a writer? As a queer person? She said:

"It means the world to me. One of the reasons why I started writing was to give a voice and stories to readers who struggled to find themselves in books.
"Like I did, growing up. And as it is, nothing fills my heart more than hearing from those exact readers, who recognize themselves--if only a little--in TIWIE.

"Of course I hoped and dreamed my stories would resonate, but to hear those reactions and to see this queer book of mine do so well...
"It's far beyond even my wildest dreams. It's out of this world. I'm so incredibly grateful for it, and I hope I can pay it forward."

I talked to Anna-Marie McLemore about how she sees the field changing. Her first book, The Weight of Feathers, came out last fall. Her second book, When The Moon Was Ours, features a queer girl and trans boy as main characters, and people of color compose the main casts of both books. She said:

"I have a lot of hope for the future of inclusive literature. We still have a long way to go, but thanks to the conversations taking place, many of them fostered by leaders like those of We Need Diverse Books, we’re moving forward."

I asked the same question to Malinda Lo, a well-known author in the LGBTQ community, whose books include Huntress (Little, Brown, 2011) and Adaptation (Little, Brown, 2012). She said:

"When my first novel, Ash (Little, Brown), was published in 2009, very little YA was published that included queer characters who did not have to struggle with coming out. This has changed significantly in the last seven years.
"This change certainly wasn't driven only by my books, because other authors had also been moving in this direction, but I think my books did contribute to the growing normalization of queer characters in YA.
"In other words, you can have a queer character in a book, but it doesn't always have to be about being queer. It can be about falling in love, or saving a kingdom, or simply coming of age, with sexual orientation one issue of many that a character engages with.
"I am really encouraged by this, because the struggle for LGBT rights and acceptance does not end with coming out; it begins there. We can only be full human beings when the whole of our lives and experiences count."

This was a common refrain when I talked to authors. There will always be a place for coming out stories, and a need for excellent books that struggle with the varied and changing realities of coming out. (I’d love to see more books that deal with the fact that coming out isn’t always a binary experience dividing life neatly into “before” and “after”.)

But focusing on coming out as the only important narrative results in a limited literature that reduces LGBTQ people to a single experience.

I asked Kekla Magoon, author of 37 Things I Love (in No Particular Order)(Henry Holt, 2012) what she’s excited about in the field and how she sees it changing.

"It's exciting to contribute to the growing offering of books that deal with sexuality in big and small ways while intersecting with other storylines and multiple layers of character development.
"Around the time I sold 37 Things I Love (2010) and the time it came out (2012), people had begun talking about the need for more books that dealt with LGBTQ characters doing things other than coming out, and the need for books that showed LGBTQ characters of color.
"The need still exists for those books, but it seems as though the conversation has intensified, and is beginning to result in changes. There are more LGBTQ books now than there used to be, and that the door to the industry is cracking open even further now, as we collectively deepen our understanding of identity and intersectionality."

When I asked Corinne Duyvis, author of Otherbound (Amulet, 2014), what she’s excited about in LGBTQ YA, she said:

"I'm very excited to be seeing more #ownvoices*** books hit the shelves. The more the better!
"After all, no two people's experiences are the same. The more different voices we have, the more we can show the wealth and breadth of experiences of queer characters--and the less pressure there is on individual authors to 'speak for' queer YA.
"They can just be honest about that one character's experiences instead of being put into the position of representing an entire group.

"I would very much like to see more trans representation both on the pages and behind the scenes. There are still a lot of experiences out there that aren't being written about very much, whether in terms of trans identity or the various angles of intersectionality.
"It's essential that we listen, that we actively seek out and welcome trans voices, and that we do whatever we can to make the industry--and the world--more trans-friendly."

2015-16 saw the publication of a small number of #ownvoices books about trans characters--such as If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo (Flatrion) and George by Alex Gino (Scholastic) in the middle grade category.

Lizard Radio by Pat Schmatz (Candlewick) is an excellent sci-fi novel about a nonbinary character.

There is still such a long way to go. Trans characters are consistently underrepresented in LGBTQ fiction.

While celebrating how far LGBTQ YA has come, it’s important that we pay attention to areas where representation is seriously lagging. Almost every single person I interviewed for this blog series cited the need for more #ownvoices trans YA.

Vee Signorelli, the co-founder of The Gay YA, is currently running Trans Awareness Week. Please check out their work, starting with this post.

When I asked Vee about the delights and challenges of running a site that covers LGBTQ YA, they said:

"I’ve gotten to connect with other literary trans people. That… has meant so much to me. The literary community loves to herald any one trans person as the one and only, when in fact, there are many of us here, and that is unhelpfully isolating.
"There is something amazing about creating, theorizing, and working things through in community. Especially when you’re all part of such a marginalized identity that has been used and misrepresented, in culture, and in YA. There’s so much you’re able to reclaim.

"One of the absolute delights is how wonderful, strong, and vibrant the entire community is. Sometimes I get up in my head about the administration work, and I start freaking out about everything I have to do… and then I put something out to the community, like a call for submissions or volunteers, or opinions on a certain book, or anything and they are just there.
"I’m repeatedly amazed by everything the community does to keep this going."

Community is one of the most important words we can keep in mind, and foster moving forward.

Whether you’re a reader, a librarian, a teacher, a writer, a member of the publishing industry, a bookseller, there are things that all of us can do to keep this surge in LGBTQ YA going strong. And we can all work to make the YA book community a truly inclusive space.

One of the most obvious and wonderful is to enjoy and share the great books that are being published, so I want to leave you today with recommendations for new and upcoming books from Dahlia Adler, who runs LGBTQ Reads, and Vee Signorelli of The Gay YA.

These two websites are some of the most helpful resources and positive spaces for LGBTQ fiction, and I would greatly encourage anyone who doesn’t already check them out regularly to do so. (After adding these books to your TBR, of course.)

Dahlia said:
"I’m really, really into Jaye Robin Brown's Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit (HarperTeen, 2016). I think it does a really beautiful job with queerness and religion, and it's also just fun and cute and sexy and everything you want f/f YA to be.
"Anna-Marie McLemore's When the Moon Was Ours is not only remarkably beautiful in itself and its style, but in its representations of sexual orientation and gender identity and intersectionality.
"And for some books I think are just great that center queer characters but not queerness, check out Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova (Sourcebooks, 2016), A Darkly Beating Heart by Lindsay Smith (Roaring Brook, 2016), As I Descended by Robin Talley (HarperTeen, 2016), and Last Seen Leaving by Caleb Roehrig  (Feiwel & Friends, 2016).
"One I haven't read but am super excited about is Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee (Duet, 2016) - it sounds like so much fun.

"Beyond 2016, I can already definitely recommend History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera (Soho Teen), How to Make a Wish by Ashley Herring Blake (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), and The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee (Katherine Tegen, 2017) -- I loved all of them and I'm positive many readers will too!"
Vee said:
"Queens of Geek by Jenn Wilde (Swoon) and Meg & Linus by Hanna Nowinksi (Swoon) are two of my new all time favorite books. I’m also psyched to read Dreadnought by April Daniels (Diversion)(an #ownvoices YA featuring a trans girl), Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert (Little, Brown), 27 Hours by Tristina Wright (Entangled Teen), and It’s Not Like It’s a Secret by Misa Sugiura (HarperTeen)."

This post is the first in a four-part series. Please come back for part two--I’ll be talking about LGBTQ YA genre fiction!

Notes from Amy Rose

Rainbow Boxes co-founders and YA authors Cori McCarthy and Amy Rose Capetta
*Yes, Cori McCarthy is also my girlfriend. Thank you for scrolling all the way down here to confirm this happy fact.

**Please note that all interviews were given before November, which means all answers are reflective of a pre-election cultural landscape.

***If you’re not familiar with the term/hashtag "#ownvoices," please check out #ownvoices, where Corinne Duyvis, who coined the term, explains what it means. 

Cynsational Notes

Amy Rose Capetta is the author of three YA novels: Entangled and Unmade, a space duet (both Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), and Echo After Echo (Candlewick, 2017), a queer love story wrapped in a murder mystery and set on Broadway.

She is on the writing team for the second season of Remade, a YA sci-fi thriller from SerialBox, and works with writers on their novels through Yellow Bird Editors (with a special interest in genre fiction and LGBTQ fiction of all kinds!)

She is the co-founder of Rainbow Boxes (@rainbowboxesya), and holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Amy Rose lives and writes in Michigan with her girlfriend Cori McCarthy, who is also a YA author, and their five-year-old, who wants to be a wizard.

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3. Free Samples of ‘The Walter’ Winning and Honor Books

We Need Diverse BooksThe We Need Diverse Books organization has revealed the winning and honor books for the inaugural Walter Dean Myers Award for Outstanding Children’s Literature. This prize, named after the late Walter Dean Myers, has also become known as “The Walter.”

All American Boys, a young adult novel written by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, was named the winner. Enchanted Air, a poetic memoir written by Margarita Engle, and X, a novel written by Ilyasah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon, were both named honor titles. We’ve linked to free samples of all the recognized books below.

Here’s more from the We Need Diverse Books blog post: “The Judges Panel reviewed titles published during the 2015 calendar year by diverse authors whose work featured a diverse main character or addressed diversity in a meaningful way. In the case of author pairs (or author-illustrator pairs), at least one member of the pair must be from an underrepresented community. The books covered many genres and included both fiction and nonfiction works. The award’s mission is to honor the memory of Walter Dean Myers and his literary heritage, as well as celebrate diversity in teen literature.”

Free Samples of The Walter Winner and Honor Books

Winner: All American Boys by Jason Reynolds & Brendan Kiely

Honor: Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings by Margarita Engle

Honor: X: A Novel by Ilyasah Shabazz & Kekla Magoon

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4. Review: How It Went Down

How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon. Henry Holt. 2014. Review copy.


How It Went DownThe Plot: Tariq Johnson, sixteen, dies from two gunshots fired by by Jack Franklin. Tariq is black; Jack is white.

There are many people who know Tariq, who know Jack. Who saw them before the shooting and after. Each has a their own story to tell, about what they know.

The Good: There is an old saying, that for every two people there are three sides to their story. Their versions, and the truth.

The problem, of course, is figuring out what that truth is and is not.

Here, there are those who say that Tariq was just a teen with a chocolate bar. And others who say he had a weapon. And some that say that Jack was justified. And others who say it was murder.

How It Went Down is told in many voices, friends, family, acquaintances. It's the story of Tariq's life and death and the aftermath, but we also find out about the lives of those who in telling Tariq's story tell their own. What I like about these multiple narratives is it doesn't give any answers of what really happened. It's up to the reader to decide who is right -- but the thing is, it's clear that everyone is right. Or, rather, everyone believes that they are right in what they know, what they saw, and what they believed.

And it's not just the shooting of Tariq, and whether or not it's the self defense that Jack claims. It's also whether, as the story unfolds, Jack's claim of self defense is made in part not because of anything that Tariq did or did not do but because Tariq was a black teenager and so Jack assumed and believed things about Tariq. And along with that is how the others react to Jack's claims, including the police who release him. And then the community reaction, because a black teenager is dead and the white shooter is released.

From the start, the reader knows that Tariq is dead. Knowing that doesn't lessen the impact of this death, or feeling the sorrow and grief of his family and friends. It does make one wish "if only, if only." And while this will be a good book discussion book because it allows for the readers to say what they believe happened, it's also a good book discussion book because it allows the reader to take a closer look at their own beliefs. Who do they believe? And why?

How does one's own perspective influence their memory? What they see? And what they believe?








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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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5. Winners Announced for the 2016 NAACP Image Awards

Image Awards (GalleyCat)The winners have been announced for this year’s NAACP Image Awards. The organization honored entertainers, filmmakers, movies, television shows, music, writers and works of literature.

Entertainment Weekly reports that the winners were revealed during a ceremony hosted by actor Anthony Anderson. We’ve posted the full list of winning book titles below. (via The Wrap)

2016 NAACP Image Award Winners (Literature Categories)

Outstanding Literary Work – Fiction: Stand Your Ground by Victoria Christopher Murrary (Touchstone)

Outstanding Literary Work – Non-Fiction: Spectacle: The Astonishing Life of Ota Benga by Pamela Newkirk (HarperCollins/Amistad)

Outstanding Literary Work – Debut Author: The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma (Little, Brown & Company)

Outstanding Literary Work – Biography/ Auto-Biography: Between The World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (Spiegel & Grau)

Outstanding Literary Work – Instructional: Soul Food Love: Healthy Recipes Inspired by One Hundred Years of Cooking in a Black Family by Alice Randall & Caroline Randall Williams (Clarkson Potter)

Outstanding Literary Work – Poetry: How to Be Drawn by Terrance Hayes (Penguin Books / Penguin Random House)

Outstanding Literary Work – Children: Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Jamey Christoph (Albert Whitman & Company)

Outstanding Literary Work – Youth/Teens: X: A Novel by Ilyasah Shabazz & Kekla Magoon (Candlewick Press)

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6. Excerpt from New Short Story Collection for YA Readers, I SEE REALITY

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About 18 months ago I was invited to contribute a short story to an “edgy” YA compilation, tentatively titled I See Reality. It would ultimately include twelve short stories by a range of writers. I was interested, but did not exactly have one waiting in my file cabinet. So I said, “Give me a few days and let’s see if anything bubbles to the surface.” After some thought, I knew the story I wanted to tell, and I knew the format in which I wanted to it.

Wallace Stevens wrote a poem, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” that had always captivated me. I admired its fragmentary nature, the way the text moves from perspective to perspective to create an almost cubist mosaic. Of course my story, “The Mistake,” did not come close to achieving anything of the sort. But that was the starting point, the push. I decided to play around with that idea. The final story included twenty-two brief sections.

What I wanted to say, what I was moved to address: I wanted to write a story that touched upon teenage pregnancy and the important role that Planned Parenthood plays in the lives of so many young women and men. We live in a challenging time when women’s reproductive rights are under almost daily attack. When the very existence of Planned Parenthood is under political and violent assault. This is a health organization that supplies people — often young women from low income groups — with birth control, pap smears, and cancer screening. According to The New England Journal of Medicine: “The contraception services that Planned Parenthood delivers may be the single greatest effort to prevent the unwanted pregnancies that result in abortions.”

Most importantly for this story, Planned Parenthood provides abortions as part of its array of services, a procedure that is legal in the United States of America. Abortion has long been debated, discussed, argued, and decided in the Supreme Court. As divisive as it may be, abortion has been declared a legal right in this country. And it touches young lives in profound ways.

Anyway, yes, I know that I risk offending people. Maybe I should just shut up. But when my thoughts bend this way, when I start to worry what people might think, I remind myself of this quote by Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

I stand with Planned Parenthood.

Here’s the first two brief sections from my story, plus another quick scene, followed by review quotes about the entire collection from the major journals:

 

THE MISTAKE

 

By James Preller

 

 

1

 

     “What do you think we should we do?” Angela asked.

     “I don’t know.” Malcolm shook his head. “What do you want?”

     It was, he thought, the right thing to ask. A reasonable question. Her choice. Besides, the truth was, he didn’t want to say it out loud.

     So he said the thing he said.

     “What do I want?” Angela said, as if shocked, as if hearing the ridiculous words for the first time. She stared at her skinny, dark-haired boyfriend and spat out words like lightning bolts, like thunder. “What’s that got to do with anything, Mal? What I want? How can you even ask me that?”

     “I’m sorry,” he said.

     “I’m sorry, too,” she replied stiffly, but Angela’s “sorry” seemed different than his. Malcolm was sorry for the mistake they made. Their carelessness. And in all honesty, his “sorry” in this conversation was also a strategy to silence her, a word that acted like a spigot to turn off the anger. Angela’s “sorry” encompassed the whole wide world that now rested on her slender shoulders. Malcolm understood that she was sorry for all of it, all the world’s weary sorrows, and most especially for the baby that was growing inside her belly.

 

2

 

     Angela on her cell, punching keys, scrolling, reading, clicking furiously.

     At Planned Parenthood, there was a number she could text. She sent a question. Then another. And another.

     She was trying to be brave.

     Trying so hard.

     It wasn’t working out so well.

 

 <<snip>>

14

 

     “Angela?” A nurse appeared holding a clipboard, looking expectantly into the waiting room.

     Angela rose too quickly, as if yanked by a puppeteer’s string.

     The nurse offered a tight smile, a nod, gestured with a hand. This way.     

     Her balance regained, Angela stepped forward. As an afterthought, she gave a quick, quizzical look back at Malcolm.

     “Love you,” the words stumbled from his throat. But if she heard, Angela didn’t show it. She was on her own now. And so she walked through the door, down the hallway, and into another room. Simple as that.

     Malcolm sat and stared at the empty space where, only moments before, his Angela had been.

———

 

Contributing authors include Jay Clark , Kristin Clark , Heather Demetrios , Stephen Emond , Patrick Flores-Scott , Faith Hicks , Trisha Leaver , Kekla Magoon , Marcella Pixley , James Preller , Jason Schmidt , and Jordan Sonnenblick .

 


Review by Booklist Review

“The hottest trend in YA literature is the renaissance of realistic fiction. Here, as further evidence, is a collection of 12 stories rooted in realism. Well, one of the stories, Stephen Emond’s illustrated tale The Night of the Living Creeper is narrated by a cat, but, otherwise, here are some examples: Jason Schmidt’s visceral story of a school shooting; Kekla Magoon’s tale of a mixed-race girl trying to find a place she belongs; Marcella Pixley’s operatic entry of a mother’s mental illness; and Patrick Flores-Scott’s haunting take on a brother’s life-changing sacrifice. Happily, not all of the stories portray reality as grim. Some, like Kristin Elizabeth Clark’s gay-themed coming-out story, Jordan Sonnenblick’s older-but-wiser romance, and Faith Erin Hicks’ graphic-novel offering about gay teens, are refreshingly lighthearted and sweet spirited. Many of the authors in this fine collection are emerging talents and their stories are, for the most part, successful. One of their characters laments how some don’t want to know about what goes on in the real world. This collection shows them.”


Review by School Library Journal Review

“Gr 10 Up-Tackling feelings-from grief to joy, from sorrow to hope, and from loss to love-this short story collection portrays real emotions of teenagers in real-life situations. Included in this volume are the conversation a girl has with herself while preparing to break up with an emotionally manipulative boyfriend, the story of a survivor of a high school shooting, an illustrated vignette told from the perspective of a family’s cat about a creeper at a Halloween party, and a short work in comic book format about the surprising secret of a high school’s golden couple. . . . With authors as diverse as Heather Demetrios, Trisha Leaver, Kekla Magoon, and Jordan Sonnenblick, this collection unflinchingly addresses subjects such as sexuality, abortion, addiction, school shootings, and abuse. VERDICT From beginning to end, this is a compelling work that looks at the reality teens are faced with today.”

——

My thanks to editors Grace Kendall and Joy Peskin of Farrar Straus Giroux/Macmillan for inviting me to take part in this refreshing collection of stories. My editor at Feiwel & Friends, Liz Szabla, helped make the connection possible.

12728003My two books that might have the most appeal to YA readers would be Before You Go and The Fall.

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7. Rgz Salon: Camo Girl by Kekla Magoon and The Trouble With Half a Moon by Danette Vigilante, Reviewed by Lyn Miller-Lachmann

Rgz SALON member Lyn Miller-Lachmann has been the Editor-in-Chief of MultiCultural Review; the author of the award-winning multicultural bibliography Our Family, Our Friends, Our World; the editor of Once Upon a Cuento, a collection of short stories by Latino authors; and most recently, the author of Gringolandia, a young adult novel about a refugee family living with the aftermath of the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile. The book is in its third print run and is available for order. (Don't forget to read the fascinating Cover Story for Gringolandia.)

We're honored to have Lyn here as part of the rgz SALON, a feature where top kidlit experts clue us in to the best YA novels they've read recently. Today, she reviews Camo Girl by Kekla Magoon (Simon & Schuster, 2011) and The Trouble With Half a Moon by Danette Vigilante (Putnam, 2011):


"In the first year of my MFA program, I wrote a YA novel about a 14-year-old girl who takes a number of risks in order to help a boy she wants as a friend. As a result of my own project, I’ve been drawn recently to novels about other tween and teen girls who also get involved in the troubled and perhaps dangerous lives of younger boys. Two of those books, Kekla Magoon’s Camo Girl and Danette Vigilante’s The Trouble with Half a Moon portray young protagonists who are, like mine, biracial or bicultural.

Magoon’s second novel, following the acclaimed The Rock and the River, explores a 12-year-old girl’s conflict between her loyalty to her oldest friend and her one chance to become popular. Shunned by most of her classmates and teased for her vitiligo, more visible because it’s on her face and she’s biracial—African American and white—sixth grader Ella Cartwright finds companionship in Z, a white boy who lives in a fantasy world. Z used to be Ella’s neighbor and consoled her when her f

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8. review: 37 Things I love (in no particular order)

“All in all, 37 Things I Love (In No Particular Order) is a rich novel sure to draw emotion from the hardest of hearts and to inspire those struggling with similar issues to live with the greatest strength.” ~Teen Voices

title: 37 things I love (in no particular order)

author: Kekla Magoon

date: Henry Holt and Company, May 2012

main character: Ellis Baldwin

I was pretty well through the book before I caught on to what the title means and by then, it was about to take on a whole new meaning.

I think Magoon tells us about Ellis through the things she loves because Ellis is experiencing a pretty tough time and if we didn’t see her softer side, we might not like her so much. Ellis’ father is in a coma and she and her mother have never been able to deal with his condition, individually or collectively. Together, they don’t talk. They communicate through warm chocolate chip cookies and the music they choose to play, but they can directly talk to one another. On her own, Ellis is faltering.

Of course, Ellis turns to her friends at this time. She’s been friends with Colin and Abby forever but, is Abby really her friend? When we’re facing one trauma, we really don’t want to add to it when we don’t have to. We need our friends, regardless.

In telling us about the 37 things that Ellis loves, Magoon writes a story about why we all need love, why we need friends and family and the many ways we express love to one another while going through our pain, joy, grief and day to day life.

This is one of the few books I’ve read that has felt as much MG as YA, I think the appeal is just that wide. Magoon is at her best. While the story is not predictable, everything naturally fits in the story. It never feels contrived or forced. Magoon’s skillful use of language and dialog reminded me just a bit of John Green, but Magoon’s characters felt more approachable.

 


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9. ALAN pt. I

Why not go out on a limb? Isn’t that where the fruit is? – Frank Scully

2012-11-22 19.09.03

New Mexican Spice Rubbed Pork Tenderloin

Last year’s ALAN was in Vegas and I was able to stay over for Thanksgiving dinner with my son and DIL at Bob Flay’s Mesa Grill. This year it was in Boston. Although I didn’t stretch my visit into the holiday, I did have some pretty good dining experiences.

Saturday evening, I had dinner at the Parker House Restaurant with Kekla Magoon and Lisa J. of Anali’s First Amendment. While none of us really knew one another, we managed to stretch our evening into a four-hour event! Why not? Not only was it a splurge, but it was an over the top (for me!!) event! I was with Kekla and Lisa!! And, we were in the Parker House Restaurant! We knew this was where the Kennedys preferred to dine in Boston and that Malcolm X once worked here We also knew that both Parker House Rolls and Boston Creme Pie were invented here. But, the immensity of this didn’t hit home until Lisa asked if we could take photos. We meant of the food and we didn’t want to disturb others around us. It was suggested that we wait until the crowd thinned and of course to us, this meant waiting until our food (and the opportunity to photograph it) would be  gone. Yet, we complied.

Edi, Kekla and Lisa

Edi, Kekla and Lisa at Table 40

Prior to delivering the dessert, our waitress asked if we were ready for the photo by table 40 where Jack proposed to Jackie. Kennedy to Bouvier. So, yes!!! Realizing that’s what she interpreted our request for a photo to mean, we happily took photos there!

Lisa wrote a much nicer post about our evening, so do go read it. I’m sure you can relate to little evenings that become such special memories.

As incredible as that was, my visit to Boston got even bigger from there.

I went to NCTE. I went to the exhibit hall and got the first books signed that I’ll be adding to Little Bean’s library. Little Bean is myIMG_1474 first grandchild, due in May. Little Bean is the most amazing kid with an über incredible library! Though not pictured, I also got a book signed by Judy Blume for Little Bean!

IMG_1451

Patricia MacLachlin

Patricia MacLachlin

Pat Mora

Pat Mora

IMG_1448

 

 

 

 

 

I went to ALAN.

ALAN… ALAN started on a downward slope for me. As impressive as the Omni Parker is, I was disappointed that NCTE listed it as a nearby hotel. Traveling as a single lady in a new-to-me town with windchills around -5, it was easy to slip into punk mode and get sucked into $10 cab rides. Not close! The conference room was ridiculously cramped and short on seats.

BUT!! This ALAN had complimentary coffee. There has to be a better way to refer to this beverage as is was a nectar of the goddesses! It took away any reason I had to complain. It let me stand in lines and meet new friends. It took my edge off. I’ve since visited the Au Bon Pain website and see that I can order the coffee online and I sure do plan to do that! It’s so very good!

I’ve waited days to decompress and write my ALAN reflections. When I began writing, I had no idea I’d write so much backstory! I’m going to stop here. Rumor is that people don’t like to read long passages online. I’ll finish posting about ALAN tomorrow.

Enjoy your evening!


Filed under: Me Being Me Tagged: ALAN, Au Bon Pain, Boston, Kekla Magoon, Kennedys, Lisa Johnson, Malcolm X, Omni Parker

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10. From the Heartland: Kekla Magoon

Indiana has proven to be such a rich state for authors who address ethnically diverse characters that I cannot image what I’d find if I looked for authors in Florida, Ohio, Texas or Rhode Island. These authors are among our hometown heroes because they document our local lives. When brought into classrooms and libraries, they prove that someone right here, right in this town can be a successful writer.

I actually first met Kekla Magoon in Philadelphia. I was excited that she had lived in Cameroon for a while and I’d visited there several years ago but could not believe that she has also lived right here in Indiana. What a small world!

Kekla is the author of the award-winning The Rock and the River; Camo Girl, Fire in the Streets, 37 Things I Love middle(in no particular order) and the nonfiction book, Today the World is Watching You: The Little Rock Nine and the Fight for School Integration 1957. Her forthcoming How It Went Down has received a starred review from Kirkus. “This sobering yet satisfying novel leaves readers to ponder the complex questions it raises.”

In January look forward to X:A Novel by Ilyasah Shabazz with Kekla Magoon.

I’m glad this busy lady had time for an interview!

 

Do you have any pets?

I have a pet turtle, named Tiffany.

What were some of the first books you found as a child that turned you into a reader?

I don’t know if it was the very first books that turned me into a reader. My parents read to me as a child, and there were many picture books that I loved. Some of the ones that jump to mind are Where the Wild Things Are, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day, and The Snowy Day. I loved the wordplay in Amelia Bedelia. My mom took us to the library every week, and I could get as many books as I could carry. I think it was the repetition of experience that turned me into a reader, along with the escapism and adventure I always found in stories. As a mid-grader, I mostly read series books like The Babysitter’s Club and Sweet Valley. I liked the episodic nature of those stories, and returning to familiar characters. The first stand-alone book I remember feeling really “Whoa!” about was Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor.

Meat or vegetables?

Meat, with a side of vegetables. I want it all. If I can’t have it all: MEAT!

Which writers have most influence you?

Ooh, I feel most influenced at this point in life by my close writer friends. Not only are they talented authors whose work I enjoy diving into, but they also provide a lot of support and inspiration to me in the real world. I constantly recommend books by Laurie Calkhoven, Josanne La Valley, Bethany Hegedus, Wiley Blevins, Rita Williams-Garcia, Coe Booth, Tami Lewis Brown, Pablo Cartaya, Sharon Darrow, Helen Frost….and many other amazing writers and books out there who inspire me both on and off the page. As far as influences from books I read, though, I learned a lot from Stephen King’s memoir of his writing life: On Writing. When I read Jennifer Egan or Benjamin Alire Saenz I am torn between being sucked into the vivid worlds they create, and wanting to rush to the computer to write something myself!

What three things would you like to add to a list of national treasures?

1: All the libraries!!!!

2: All the independent bookstores!

3: The voices of our young people, thereby empowering them to begin sharing their own stories with the world in whatever medium feels right to them.

Why would you be up at 3am?

I am usually up at 3am. I write, or I watch TV, or I read. I might also be eating potato chips or ice cream.

 

What book(s) are you currently in the middle of reading?

In fiction, I am reading Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A.S. King. Next up is If You’re Reading This by Trent Reedy. In non-fiction, I am reading Courage Has No Color by Tanya Lee Stone and essays from Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay.

What obstacles did you face when you began your writing career?

Interestingly enough, being a relatively young writer was a bit of an obstacle, even in the children’s literature market. It is happening a little bit less now that I am in my thirties, but when my first book was published, I was mid-twenties, and I heard a lot of “Oh, what a special achievement for someone so young.” Which it was, in a way, but it tended to be said in a patronizing tone. People might as well have been patting me on the head, which is somewhere short of a backhanded compliment, but it is not exactly uplifting either. The sentiment often seemed less than genuine, as if the person was pointing out that I was actually TOO young to make a meaningful contribution. The fact of the matter is, publishing a book is a special achievement at any age, and I never thought it should be considered more or less significant because of my age.

Why write for young people?

I write about young characters. Probably partly because that is what I knew best at the time I started writing. My first book was published when I was 25, and so the natural things for me to write about were teenage things because that was my experience. I do intend to keep writing for teens, and I hope to retain the connection that I feel to that time period in my own life. I don’t think it will be hard to retain, especially since even in my thirties I have yet to reach an age where there isn’t someone older than me looking down on my relative youth. That feeling of being underappreciated helps drive my work. Young people have a lot to learn, sure, but we also have a lot to contribute. There is always plenty of talk about “when you’re older…” and “what do you want to be when you grow up?” but who is asking kids and teens, “what do you want to be right now, today?” As a writer for teens I get to ask those questions, of my characters and of my readers.

Where is your favorite place to write?

On my laptop. (Haha!) Honestly, I can write pretty much anywhere. I prefer coffee shops, where there is a low-grade hustle and bustle in the background, and maybe some soft jazz or indie rock playing. Some place with just enough sound that my mind has to do a little bit of work to tune it out, but not enough to actually distract me from working. The result is a special kind of focus that works well for my writing.

Your books have required a lot of research! Are you an Internet researcher or hands on?

I do both internet research and “hands on” hunting for more information. I typically use the internet to get an overview of what material is out there, and I look for articles in reputable magazines, newspapers, and journals published online. There are plenty of library databases online, too, and I use those to find resources in other cities that I might not be able to access otherwise. But for my type of historical research, the best resource is books! I use the library or I special order and purchase the things I need. I have also spent a fair amount of time traveling to visit museums and library archives around the country. Many institutions preserve archival materials from the time periods I study, and you can make an appointment to go in and view the objects. I have looked at old newspapers in hard copy, flyers and posters, hand-written journals and letters, photographs, personal items that belonged to historical people, and much more.

HowItWentDown5-206x300What can you tell us about How It Went Down?

How It Went Down is my newest novel, which centers around the controversial shooting of a young black teen by a white man passing through his neighborhood. The novel comprises multiple viewpoints, through which members of the community react and respond in the days after Tariq Johnson is gunned down. Amid the media firestorm that descends, a family has lost a son and brother, friends grieve, and an entire community reels from the personal loss of one of their number. These characters share their struggles to cope with the loss and the decisions they each face over how to move forward.

I began working on this book in the spring of 2012, when the Trayvon Martin shooting was big in the news. I was interested in pushing beyond the headlines and soundbites dominating the national media in order to confront the experiences of people closest to this type of tragedy. Now, two years later, the conversation remains relevant and high-profile after the shooting of Michael Brown and the resulting riots and violence in Ferguson, Missouri. It is my hope that this novel and other YA literature can be used to start conversations between teens and adults about the prevalence of these incidents, and how we as a nation can begin to respond and heal from these tragedies, and hopefully minimize or wholly prevent similar things from occurring in the future. How It Went Down hits bookstores on October 21, and my website has links to pre-order from IndieBound or Barnes & Noble: http://www.keklamagoon.com/books/how-it-went-down/

I really enjoy the historical and fact based fiction that you write. What limits do you feel in writing these stories?

ROCK-w-CSK-hi-res1One of the great things about fiction is that it has no limits! I do impose some limitations on myself as a writer of historical fiction, but these are individual choices about which many writers would (and do) choose differently. It’s important to me that readers come away from my books feeling like they really *could* have happened. For example, I carefully research the events surrounding my books and try to stick as closely as possible to the real facts and timelines. I don’t move around real historical events, or make up facts about real historical figures. Generally I choose not to even include real historical figures as actors in my novels. For example, in The Rock and the River, I mention people like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Chicago Black Panther leader Fred Hampton, but neither of them appear in the book with action scenes or actual dialogue. I made my first really big exception to this last rule this past year, though. I’ve been working with Ilyasah Shabazz on a YA novel about her father, Malcolm X. The book is about Malcolm living through his difficult teen 9780763669676years, before he became the powerful speaker, faith leader, and international human rights activist he is remembered for being. It was exciting and challenging to work on that project with her, and I’m so thrilled that X: A Novel is about to debut in January 2015.

 

 


Filed under: Authors, Interview Tagged: Indiana YA author, Kekla Magoon

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11. Longlist Revealed for 2015 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature

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12. Review: Shadows of Sherwood

Shadows of Sherwood (Robyn Hoodlum)by Kekla Magoon. Bloomsbury USA Children's Books. 2015. Review copy from publisher.

Media of Shadows of Sherwood
The Plot: A Robin Hood retelling, with Robyn Loxley as a twelve year old girl who seeks her imprisoned parents and allies herself with the have-nots of her world.

The Good: I love retellings, I love seeing what is kept, what is changed, how it's updated.

Confession: this is one of those books that while I'd heard a bunch of buzz, I'd avoided most reviews, wanting to read it fresh. The cover told me that the retelling was also updating the setting, putting Robyn in a modern world.

Well, I was wrong. And right. Yes, it's a modern world but it's not our modern world. The technology seems about fifty years in the future; the city is Nott City, and the discussion of the city and its surroundings, while matching the Robin Hood tales, doesn't match our own geography. So it's not just a retelling; it's a fantasy, in that it's not our world. But it's so close to our world, that even non-fantasy readers will enjoy it. And the names of places and people will make those familiar with Robin Hood smile: Loxley Manor, the Castle District, people named Tucker and Scarlet and Merryan.

Robyn is amazing. Awesome. Courageous, stubborn, smart -- and a bit spoiled. She's the child of privilege who likes to sneak out at night. It's the sneaking out that saves her, when her politically involved parents are taken as part of a coup. Suddenly, she's without anything or anyone and is forced beyond the borders of her comfortable life. For example: Robyn isn't even familiar with money or trading, because chips and credit have always covered her needs. But as she meets others -- a young girl living on her own, a boy who is hiding something -- she adjusts. Forced to be an enemy of those in charge, she quickly sides with the others who are enemies of those in power: the poor, those without connections, those living hand to mouth.

Robyn is biracial; her parents, and their backgrounds, are part of the story and even mystery Robyn is trying to uncover. Mystery may be the wrong word; but while her parents now have powerful connections and jobs, allowing for Robyn's very upper class upbringing, Shadows of Sherwood quickly sketches in the background of their lives and world. And their background is what targeted them during the current coup, and their lives before Robyn's birth is part of what she needs to learn more about to figure out her own present and future. Robyn's hair is braided, and it turns out it's a distinctive style taught to her by her father. It's unique; and when she is alone, seeing another with the same style of braid is one of those clues. While this is not our world, it's a world where skin color and money matter, just in different ways. So while there is the adventure of survival, and helping others, there is also the mystery of the past and the future and finding her parents.

This is the start of a series, and so it's Robyn's origin story. Who she was. How she becomes Robyn Hoodlum, robbing from the rich to give to the poor. With that told; and with the start of her "merry band" coming together, I look forward to what Robyn and her crew will do next.

Because Robyn is terrific. Because the world building is so full. Because it's an inventive retelling that is also true to the source. Because I want more. Shadows of Sherwood is a Favorite Book of 2015.

Meanwhile, while waiting for more Robyn, over at Nerdy Book Club the author, Kekla Magoon, shares a bit about writing this book.










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13. Review: X A Novel

X: A Novel by Ilyasah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon. Candlewick Press. 2015. Reviewed from ARC.

XThe Plot: The boyhood and teen years of Malcolm Little, who would become Malcolm X. Malcolm's family was both close and fractured: his father died when he was young. His mother, left with a large family and little support, was committed. Malcolm went into foster homes and then later moved in with a family member in Boston.

In Boston, as a teen, he saw more appeal in the nightlife of the city than in the respectable choices his half-sister has made. One bad choice leads to another, but to Malcolm, they're never the bad choices. They are his choices.

And as the reader who knows a bit about Malcolm, who knows that it's in prison for theft that an adult Malcolm converts to Islam, it's about seeing how Malcolm becomes that man.

The Good: I'm that reader who knows "a bit" about Malcolm X, which meant that I vaguely knew the bare bones of his story, particularly his life as a child and a teen.

X: A Novel did so many wonderful things, starting with showing why crime appealed to the young Malcolm. (Book talking tip: instead of selling this as a work of historical fiction, talk up the the aspect of why crime can be appealing.)

Actually as I give that tip, I have to add, that is too simplistic -- it's not as if there was a simple, easy choice. It's that Malcolm had been told that as a young black man his choices were limited when it came to education and career, and on the street, hustling or stealing, his choices were not limited. It's that Malcolm had had a close family and then it split apart (in part because the social services at the time were not committed to really helping a family, and in part because Malcolm's mother had a struggle to find work). It's that, well, you could see the immediate results of that life, the fun, the clothes, the parties, that you didn't see in a classroom. It's all tied together.

Or, better, let me share Malcolm's words: "When I first set foot in Harlem, I was a step ahead of everything. I could blend in with the jive cats, swirl the Lindy ladies. let my feet groove, think of nothing but the now. I could close my eyes and in closing them not be seen. Slip into the seams of the streets and let them swallow me. It was a glorious fit, so seemingly warm."

It takes a while for Malcolm to realize that it is not warm, it is seemingly warm. A long time. The book ends with Malcolm embracing Islam and starting to realize where best to direct his energy, his time, his talent.

X: A Novel comes with a great deal of back matter, including an author's note by Shabazz, one of Malcolm X's daughters; information about the characters in the book; a time line of events; and a historical context to the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s.



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