Monday, December 16, 2013

YA Revolution: Book Spotlight

Here's the December installment for the YA Revolution where we get the opportunity to spotlight some terrific YA books that have interesting and diverse characters.  These stories are written by super-talented authors.  Some of these books have been recommended by members of The Crew

Feel free to comment, suggest others, and above all SHARE these books with your friends! Remember: the goal of the YA Revolution is to spread the word on books with diverse characters so that we may see more in our libraries and bookstores.  And not just a few more.  A LOT more.

As an extra bonus below, I'm also featuring an interview with PK Hrezo, a talented author and blogger living in Florida who likes to write Inuit characters. Florida and Alaska, you say?!  Yes, very intriguing.  Don't miss the interview after the Book Spotlight.

Without further ado, here are some of the books that I've read this month that I would recommend:

A Really Awesome Mess by Trish Cook and Brendan Halpin.

A very quirky story about two troubled teens, Emmy and Justin, who get shipped off to The Heartland Academy in the midwestern United States with other troubled teens in the hopes that The Heartland Academy can turn their lives right-side up with lots of therapy and tough love.  Emmy is adopted and Chinese-American and has body and eating issues.  To boot, she's also struggling with how to fit in with her adopted white family.  Justin is a lost kid from a fractured home who makes poor choices when it comes to girls and relationships.  Both are trying to navigate the landmines of their teenage years and find some common ground (and even a little love) in their friendship.  Cute story with a serious side.

Darius and Twig by Walter Dean Meyers

The story of two street-smart kids from Harlem who are trying to escape and rise above the limitations and expectations placed upon them by their families, school, friends, neighborhood, even themselves at times. A very character-driven short novel that packs a punch with lots of powerful themes and messages.  I loved the friendship between these two very compelling characters.

Obscura Burning by Suzanne Van Rooyen

This is a dark and twisty sci-fi tale set in the American Southwest (yeah!!) filled with beautiful writing and intriguing characters, namely Kyle, Danny and Shira.  Each chapter switches between Kyle’s two realities (his boyfriend Danny alive in one and his friend and sometime girlfriend Shira alive in the other, thanks to this new planet causing havoc called Obscura.)  It was very The Time Traveler's Wife except with teens.  You'd think it'd be hard to keep track of all of these different realities but the writing was so good that you do not.  It's a real dark page-turner that explores some serious themes, including sexual diversity, on top of a very original story.

Go forth and comment and read and share!


PK Hrezo
When I set out to start the YA Revolution a couple of months ago, I got a comment from PK Hrezo about her desire and effort to write Inuit characters and I knew that I had to interview her for an upcoming spotlight. 

Anyone could tell you that it's not easy writing characters that live outside of your life experiences and comfort zones.  Namely, I wanted to know what a nice girl from Florida was doing writing about Alaska and Inuit characters.  Here's our conversation:

1)      You had been writing a novel with characters with an Inuit background.  Why Inuit? 

Ever since I visited Alaska I've been enchanted by it, including the natives there. Once I learned my son's friend is a quarter Inuit, I started chatting with his mom about their native state. Come to find out, she's one-half Inuit and was raised in Barrow, AK--that tiny town right up in the Arctic. You'd never guess they were part Inuit by looking at them, but they tease each other about being Eskimo and living in hot Florida with their thick Alaskan blood. At the time when I started drafting my YA story, The Desiree, my MC just sorta told me she wanted to be part Inuit. And it worked. Even though she grew up in Colorado, she has a rich family culture from the Aleutian Islands that she treasures. She wears an eagle feather pendant given to her by her nana to promote agility in speed, since she's also a champion snowboarder. 

I should mention my story I just published, Butterman (Time) Travel, Inc. also takes place in the Arctic region of Alaska--that's how much I adore that state. The main characters are not native though, although there are appearances by more diverse characters throughout the story.  

2)       Do you have an Inuit background? If no, what research did you do to make sure your characters were authentic?

I researched the internet, of course, but also having a living breathing person nearby with Inuit heritage helped when I needed to validate authenticity. 

3)      What was the most challenging thing about writing a character with a background/life experiences that was different from your own? 

I don't find it challenging at all. I find it fascinating and exciting! It's so much more fun than writing a typical "all-American" teen. Bo-ring! No offense to those blue-eyed blondies out there. Hey, I am one. My kids and hubby are too. But that's why I find it boring. Stepping outside the zone of what you know and are used to, is something every writer should do. I love imagining what life would've been like growing up with a rich ethnic culture. 

My CP is Canadian, and there was a scene where my MC's mom jokes with her about being Eskimo, in which my CP questioned the political correctness of. Coming from Canada, she said it's not kosher to refer to Inuits as Eskimo. I totally respect that of course, but since I knew the term was ok when spoken by an Inuit in reference to another Inuit, I left it in. Also, verifying with the family I know from Barrow, that it is in fact normal and acceptable.  

I also wrote a YA romance a few years ago with an Indian Muslim love interest, and that was a great way to experience an outside culture. A conflict of religious background was the main theme of that story, and the research I had to do in Islam was in depth and intensely fascinating. I grew up with a close Indian friend, so I was well aware of the culture. Plus I'd spent time in India, so it wasn't totally foreign to me.

I recommend, if possible, traveling to a place to experience the culture first hand. But if that's not possible, our melting pot country here in the US is teeming with culture centers and places that host events with rich ethnicities. 

4)      What’s the status of this story? Is it finished? On sub? In a drawer? 

The Desiree is with my agent and on submission.  

5)      What books have you read recently with diverse characters that you could recommend?

I've just started Removed (Book 1 in the Nogiku Series) which is set in futuristic Japan. It's a new adult sci-fi featuring Japanese main characters and the culture. 

Thanks, PK!  To connect with PK and her lovely books, please visit her blog.


Wanna join the YA Revolution and help spread the word about cool books, click here!


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I think it's far more interesting to write about someone different than ourselves. Will remember not to refer to Inuits as Eskimos.

Pk Hrezo said...

Thanks for having me Liz!

And congrats to the other authors here. Their books sound amazing!

*highfive Suzanne*

Natalie Aguirre said...

Awesome interview. Thanks for the tips on writing about a culture we're not from, PK. Good luck with the submissions.

Sandra Almazan said...

Very interesting interview, PK. It's also timely for me in that the next story in the Catalyst Chronicles series features a teen who's part Navajo. I've been reading a lot of books about their culture, but I don't have anyone close by that I can ask about their culture. Did you just ask your friend to read the story and point out errors, or was she also a source of info?

shelly said...

Excellent interview. And all the other books sound like great reads.

Hugs and chocolate!

Jay Noel said...

I always really liked how you infused the Inuit culture in The Desiree. Definitely a strength of your manuscript.

My debut novel has a Japenese MC, along with a Native American airship pilot. I think it's good to inject a little multiculturalism in books when we can.

Old Kitty said...

Yay for greater diversity in literature! Hello Liz and PK and hoorah for PK for stepping out of the comfort zone to try something new and different but done so with care, consideration and depth! Take care

Pk Hrezo said...

Thanks Alex and Natalie!

Sandra, I did not have my contact read the story, but I asked questions to make sure I had the culture right. Good for you with your next story and exploring the Navajo culture!

Thanks Shelly!

Jay, thanks! And I can't wait to read Dragonfly Warrior!

Thanks for stopping by Old Kitty!

Heather M. Gardner said...

Great post, Liz!
Love PK!

Lexa Cain said...

Thanks for highlighting A Really Awesome Mess, Darius & Twig, and Obscura Burning. They all sound excellent, especially the unusual premise of the last one.

PK is such an awesome person! I love how she's brave enough and culturally aware enough to feature non-white characters in her writing. Both of her books about Alaska sound fabulous, and I think her next one about a futuristic Japan sounds even better. I'm wishing her luck in everything she does! :-)

William Kendall said...

Wonderful answers, PK!

We do refrain here from calling the Inuit Eskimos... but at the same time one of the football teams here are called the Edmonton Eskimos. Go figure.

I plan on setting a substantial amount of a future book in Alaska and the Canadian north.

Carrie-Anne said...

My favorite exhibit at the Pittsburgh Carnegie Natural History Museum, when my family had moved back there when I was four, was the Eskimo exhibit. It seemed like we went there every week, and I always spent lots of time in that exhibit. After many years, I finally began using the terms Native Alaskan and Inuit instead of Eskimo. When you've grown up using a specific word, it can be hard to switch to a new one, even knowing the old word isn't considered appropriate anymore.

I love multicultural books. It's kind of boring if you only read and write about people who are exactly like you.

SA Larsenッ said...

Hi, Liz! I loved hearing more about how PK developed this story. I agree with her that writing about people and/or cultures unfamiliar is most fascinating. I love learning as I write!

E.J. Wesley said...

Great Q&A, ladies! My stories have a lot of Native American flavor in them as well (the MC is Apache). Such rich culture to pull from!

I actually feel like it's easier to create diverse characters in our stories than it initially appears. Being Native in modern times really is about adaptation, and balancing familial culture and ethnic tradition with a diverse world that seemingly tries to squeeze identity out of everything. And that's a struggle most of us have to deal with, I think.

A long way of saying: We have more in common with characters--from whatever background they're from versus our own--than it seems. :)

Norma Beishir said...

Good interview, PK!

Pk Hrezo said...

Heather, thanks so much for stopping by!

Lexa, you're awesome too!!

William, you'll love writing about Alaska. I know CA is just as beautiful!

Carrie-Anne that sounds like a fab exhibit!

Sheri, thanks! I love learning while I write too. I is getting smarter. ;)

EJ that's right! You use the Native American heritage very well in your stories. It's so intriguing!

Norma, thanks for stopping by!!

Kate Larkindale said...

exploring another culture or experience is so much fun. it takes bravery to immerse yourself deeply in another culture.