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  • Dahlia Adler 6:40 pm on 2014/12/08 Permalink
    Tags: #weneeddiversebooks, 2014 titles, , , jessica verdi, laura lam, lgbtq, lindsay ribar, michael barakiva, , , , , susan kuklin, , ,   

    12 Must-Read LGBTQ YAs of 2014 

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    Nina LaCour's Everything Leads to YouIt’s been a really great year for young adult lit, and for LGBTQ YA in particular. The category continues to grow in leaps and bounds, and this list includes not only contemporary coming-out narratives, but fantasy, historical, and…however you’d classify Grasshopper Jungle. There’s even realistic fiction in which coming out isn’t part of the narrative at all. What these books do have in common, besides their literary merit, is that they all take a positive step forward in ensuring all teens are able to see themselves represented in YA lit, that they’re all necessary,. I’m hopeful they are a sign of more great things to come.

    Far From You, by Tess Sharpe
    Sophie is a recovering addict whose best friend, Mina, has been murdered. With the killer still on the loose, Sophie sets out to solve the mystery, and reveals her own truth in the process: she and Mina weren’t just best friends, they were in love. Sharpe’s debut is a poignant, heartbreaking look at the pains we go through to hide who we are, and what we risk losing in the process. It’s also probably the most beautiful, on-point depiction of bisexuality I’ve read in YA, period.

    Lies We Tell Ourselves, by Robin Talley
    Set in 1959 Virginia, this story of two girls—one black, one white—who enter each other’s lives as a result of school integration is already fraught with brutal depictions of race relations of the time. But that doesn’t make Talley shy away from taking this book one step further, to an intersectional story featuring a relationship that’s rife with difficulty along both racial and gender lines. That they’re both girls feels secondary to the different color of their skin, and the fluidity with which their connection turns romantic feels so inevitable, it never really competes with the issue at the heart of the book.

    I’ll Give You the Sun, by Jandy Nelson
    I make an active effort to be aware of LGBTQ books for teens, but in all my excitement over learning Nelson’s sophomore novel would be released in 2014, I had no idea one of the two main characters was gay. But in this novel about estranged twins dealing with love, loss, and the struggle to understand what tore them apart, it was a most pleasant surprise that my favorite of the passionate, real, and beautifully done romances in this book was between narrator Noah and the marvelously layered Brian.

    The Summer I Wasn’t Me, by Jessica Verdi
    When an author’s debut features a set of great gay dads, as did Verdi’s My Life After Now, it’s a given that any LGBTQ book by said author will jump to the top of my to-buy list. I got my hands on this one as soon as humanly possible, and fell for it hard, even as I cried my way through. I loved main character Lexi, who wasn’t the easy, obvious choice of a snarky character jumping into de-gayification camp with all the derision readers already possess on her behalf. And I loved her romance with Carolyn, which was sweet and flirty and charming. Though other parts of the book are tougher to take, the chemistry between them is a major pitter-patter-inducing bright spot.

    Shadowplay by Laura Lam
    This series (Shadowplay is a direct sequel to Pantomime) is still on my to-read list, but it’s come so highly recommended from so many trusted friends—and features such severely underrepresented characters—that I felt it needed to be mentioned here. Following the events of Pantomime, Micah is on the run, nursing heartbreak and learning stage magic in greater depth than he ever thought possible. A story of learning to embrace yourself and new beginnings set in the lush world of a steampunk-tinged circus, this promises to be one of YA’s most unique reads.

    Everything Leads to You, by Nina LaCour
    In a subgenre full of heartbreaking coming-out stories, LaCour’s third novel is a soft, light, Hollywood-inspired breath of fresh air. Emi is a set designer, still learning her craft and bleeding passion for a rarely seen aspect of the industry. Ava is the enigmatic, downtrodden aspiring actress who draws her eye, her support, and her heart. LaCour’s writing is dependably beautiful (her previous YA novels, Hold Still and The Disenchantments, are two of my favorites, and both contain queer secondary characters), and the combination of romance and mystery ensure this is not a book to be missed.

    The Fourth Wish, by Lindsay Ribar
    I loved this paranormal romance’s predecessor, The Art of Wishing, but the sequel takes things to the next level. The first book established genie love interest Oliver as bisexual; here we get themes and discussions of gender bending and fluidity, boundaries, and consent. This duology may seem light and sweet—and at times it is—but it’s also raising issues few books are. It also makes me think that if this is what Ribar can do in a paranormal world, I’d love to see what she can do in our own.

    One Man Guy, by Michael Barakiva
    Every now and again you read a book that was pretty much put on earth to make your heart melt. This sweet, charming romance between the 14-year-old son of Armenian immigrants and an older skater boy who shows him the world he’s been missing is all kinds of adorable—the perfect read for those looking for queer kidlit without a lot of angst.

    Otherbound, by Corinne Duyvis
    Sci-fi and fantasy still have a long way to go toward inclusion of diverse characters (though Alex London and Malinda Lo have contributed mightily in that vein), but Duyvis’s debut seamlessly includes them. Nolan is a disabled Latino boy…except when he closes his eyes. Then he’s transported into the body of Amara, a mute servant girl who frequently suffers abuse but also has healing powers. What’s most notable here on the LGBTQ front is that through the course of the book, Amara has relationships with both her male fellow servant and the female princess she is sworn to protect—a rare demonstration of bisexuality in a category that seldom even references it.

    Grasshopper Jungle, by Andrew Smith
    There’s no question that Smith’s novel of a teen boy battling a potentially apocalyptic invasion of gigantic praying mantises alongside his friends is one of the more unusual YA offerings this year. The bisexuality of main character Austin, however, as he battles confusing attractions to both his girlfriend and his male best friend, is a much more universal kind of relatable.

    Afterworlds, by Scott Westerfeld
    Westerfeld’s large tome, which alternates between the contemporary perspective of a YA author ingenue and the paranormal romance that earned her a rather large book deal, was one of the year’s Big Books. But lost in all the talk of the meta structure and enormous size is the fact that Darcy’s POV contained a sweet, mature, well-done relationship between her and a fellow (female) author that had something none of the other romances between girls I read this year did: longevity. It wasn’t about the girls getting together, but about them being together, and that’s noteworthy enough in YA to earn it a spot on this list.

    Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out, by Susan Kuklin
    The only nonfiction title here, Beyond Magenta goes in depth with six transgender teens to discuss their experiences and share their struggles with self-identification. There are photographs, accounts, varying situations, and, most importantly, true-life stories that benefit readers of any age, whether they are trans, know someone who is, or simply want to educate themselves on the gender spectrum.

    What’s your favorite 2014 book featuring diverse characters?

  • Dahlia Adler 7:00 pm on 2014/12/04 Permalink
    Tags: alison cherry, , c. desir, , , complicit, , , , jessica verdi, sophomore superstars, , , , YA novelists,   

    8 Great YA Sophomore Standalones of 2014 

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    Jessica Verdi's The Summer I Wasn't MeThe sophomore slump can be one of the greatest curses of any writer, and the stronger your debut, the scarier the expectations. Many an author has been felled by the pressure to write a great second novel, and yet, for whatever reason, when it came to YA standalones, this was The Year of the Sophomore. I don’t think I read a single follow-up this year that I didn’t like as much or better than that author’s already strong first offering, and I dare you to read the following books and disagree.

    I’ll Give You the Sun, by Jandy Nelson
    Probably the most anticipated sophomore novel in the history of ever. I have to admit I was terrified when I opened this one up. Like so many other YA readers, I absolutely loved the gorgeous and poetic The Sky is Everywhere, and three years is a whole lotta time to build up expectations. But Nelson delivers something every bit as beautiful and then some in this nonlinear dual-POV book about familial relationships, art, pain, envy, and love.

    Life by Committee, by Corey Ann Haydu
    Haydu has rapidly become my favorite uncomfortable writer; you know when opening one of her books that it will not be easy on either your mind or your heart. But you also know it won’t simply be a read, but rather a thoughtful experience. Just as Haydu’s phenomenal debut, OCD Love Story, penetrated my brain by putting my anxiety in perspective, her sophomore novel, about a girl who has been isolated by her peers and gets sucked into the questionable online forum she turns to for advice, constantly makes me think about the approval we solicit from strangers, and why. It also kept me up waaaay past my bedtime.

    For Real, by Alison Cherry
    From the very first paragraph of Cherry’s sophomore novel, it’s impossible not to wonder, “Is this even by the same author as Red?” Where Cherry’s 2013 debut was charming satire with a younger-reader bent, For Real reads older, edgier, and straight-up fun. The story of two sisters who embark upon an Amazing Race–type reality show in order to get revenge on one’s boyfriend is sweet, funny, inspiring, and eminently likable. It may not be “unputdownable” in the thriller sense, but it certainly was in the “No desire to do anything else until I’m done reading” sense.

    Perfectly Good White Boy, by Carrie Mesrobian
    Mesrobian’s debut, Sex & Violence, was a Morris Award nominee, and her followup just as seamlessly nails not only a teen male voice, but a teen male experience. This thoughtful, honest, fearless depiction of a boy in his final year of high school, who’s sitting on his decision to join the marines upon graduation, is a rare character-driven novel with deeply quiet power.

    Bleed Like Me, by C. Desir
    Desir is that most divisive sort of YA author, the kind who writes about the sort of things you wish teens didn’t experience, but must acknowledge they do. What struck me the most when reading Bleed Like Me was that while adult me could clearly see the toxicity of the central couple, and the way they fed each other’s self-destructiveness, I also felt how teen me would’ve experienced that exact same pull. It is simultaneously terrifying and a relief that books like this exist. They are necessary.

    Complicit, by Stephanie Kuehn
    Creep. Tastic. It’s hard to top the second-book pressure of an author who literally won the award for best debut (Kuehn’s Charm & Strange took home the 2013 Morris Award), but man, does she deliver. It’s hard to say much about this dark, twisty psychological thriller without spoiling, but I will say this: no matter what you figure out along the way and when, the ending is still going to rip your heart out.

    My Best Friend, Maybe, by Caela Carter
    In a year when conversation about diversity was at the forefront of the YA conversation, this is a book it pained me to see get lost in the shuffle. Yes, the main character herself is a straight, cisgender white girl, but this is the story of how she reunites with the best friend she didn’t know was a lesbian, falls for that friend’s adopted Haitian brother, and examines her Christian faith in the process. There’s so much character nuance here, it was the first time I remember reading a book feeling like I had to keep turning the pages just to observe the character development.

    The Summer I Wasn’t Me, by Jessica Verdi
    When I saw the premise for Verdi’s debut, My Life After Now, was about a girl contracting HIV, I immediately feared that no future premises would live up to it. Then I saw that her sophomore novel was about a girl going to de-gayification camp, and I felt a strange rush of relief. For me, this actually exceeded the debut (though I definitely recommend both), and had me in tears both happy and sad the whole way through.

    What’s your favorite amazing sophomore novel?

  • Melissa Walker 3:30 pm on 2014/09/10 Permalink
    Tags: cover reveal, it's kind of a funny story, jessica verdi, , , my life after now, , , the summer i wasn't me, what you left behind, ,   

    Exclusive Cover Reveal: Jessica Verdi’s What You Left Behind 

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    What You Left BehindYoung adult author Jessica Verdi has written about a teen living with HIV (My Life After Now) and a girl going to a “reparative therapy” camp to learn how to like boys instead of girls (The Summer I Wasn’t Me). Needless to say, Verdi doesn’t shy away from tough situations in her work—and her upcoming spring 2015 novel, What You Left Behind, is no exception. At left, an exclusive cover reveal of the forthcoming work. ”The book is written from the point of view of a boy, so I knew I wanted the cover to appeal to boys as well as girls,” explains Verdi. “Which meant no pictures of girls, no hearts, nothing too cutesy.” Here she is with the full story:

    I’m pretty much in love with this cover and am so thrilled to finally share it! This is my third published novel, and the first where I really didn’t have any preconceived ideas for what the cover should look like. So when my publisher asked for my input on cover brainstorming, I ended up giving them more sweeping, tonal ideas rather than specific imagery.

    I told them I was hoping for something cool and hip and eye-catching, that would appeal to both genders. The story is also pretty heavy (Ryden is a single teen dad struggling to understand what being a parent means while battling guilt and grief over the death of his girlfriend), so I knew I wanted the cover to have a ‘raw’ feel, depicting that mood, but also not be TOO dark because the book is also filled with JOKES! and ROMANCE! and TEEN BOY ANTICS! The cover designers probably wanted to kill me when they saw that vague, completely contradictory request.

    Another idea I had was to make the cover text-heavy. I love the current text-based cover trend in YA—far preferable, in my opinion, to the ‘nonspecific photo of a girl in a ball gown’ trend. (And yes, I’m aware of how ironic that is coming from me, since the cover for My Life After Now  featured a girl in a dress. Haha.)

    I also gave the designers some examples of ‘boy book’ covers that I really love. These included It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini (the head map thing) and Paper Towns (the pushpin) and Looking for Alaska (the smoke), by John Green.

    I honestly have no idea how the cover designers took all these random, half-formed ideas and came up with the gorgeousness that is now the What You Left Behind cover. They captured the tone of the book PERFECTLY, did some super-cool things with font and color scheme, and included so many details that are specific to Ryden’s story. I love that he’s standing on a beach—there are several scenes that take place on the beach in the book, including some major moments. I also love that it’s not just any beach—it’s clearly a lakeshore, since you can see land across the water. Ryden’s beach is at Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire. I love that he’s alone in the cover image, with nothing to distract him from his thoughts, his sadness, his helplessness. Even though Ryden is surrounded by people in the book, he’s very much alone. And finally, I love that the font is handwritten, because handwritten journals play a huge role in the story.

    The first time I saw the cover I knew the design team had nailed it. This is my favorite cover of all my books so far, and I can’t wait to see it on the bookstore shelves!

    What are some of your favorite YA novel covers?

  • Dahlia Adler 1:00 pm on 2014/06/14 Permalink
    Tags: , benjamin alire saenz, , , , jessica verdi, , trish doller, ,   

    The 5 Best Dads in YA 

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    Aristotle and Dante

    Mother-teen relationships are complicated enough in young adult lit, but perhaps even more frequently tenuous—if it exists at all—is the father-teen bond. Even more than their female parental counterparts, fathers are often depicted as the ones applying extreme pressure on their kids to succeed, or eventually leaving their wives for other women, or administering abuse…and those are the ones who at least initially stuck around. But as in real life (as I’m lucky enough to be able to personally attest), there are also some wonderful fathers and father figures in YA. In honor of Father’s Day, here are my five (well, six) favorites:

    Sam Quintana (Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Sáenz)
    There aren’t really any characters in this American Book Award winner that aren’t rather wonderful, but I don’t think any YA dad has ever won me over quite as quickly as Sam Quintana, Dante’s father. Warm, affectionate, humorous, and literary, he’s the friend’s dad you kinda hope hangs around when you go over for dinner, because you know the evening will be more fun with him than without him.

    Adam and Seth (My Life After Now, by Jessica Verdi)
    This book holds a special place in my heart for two firsts: It was the first book YA I’ve ever read that explored a teen having HIV (and still remains the only one), and the first with a two-dad household (though I went on to read another in Stephanie Perkins’ Lola and the Boy Next Door). It adds a whole extra layer to the story of a teenage girl’s contraction of HIV to pair her with gay male parents for whom the AIDS crisis of the 1980s is never a distant memory, and that they’re kind and supportive, yet adamant about making her understand where their feelings come from, makes them two of my favorite YA dads.

    Sam (Then You Were Gone, by Lauren Strasnick)
    Strictly speaking, Sam isn’t anyone’s dad, he’s the live-in boyfriend of main character Adrienne’s mother. That said, as a father figure, he’s one of the most present and caring I’ve seen in YA—a standout feature in its own right that’s magnified times infinity when you take into account how rarely nontraditional family structures receive a positive portrayal.

    Greg Tzorvas (When the Stars Still Shine, by Trish Doller)
    For most of her life, Callie’s been parented by a single mother; given that said mother kidnapped her, she didn’t exactly have a choice. But now that they’ve been found, Callie’s been transported into a brand-new life with a father she doesn’t know. And although they clash over and over again as Callie struggles to adjust, his constant efforts to welcome her into the new life he created for himself after having her ripped away cemented him as one of my favorites.

    Ken Dietz (Please Ignore Vera Dietz, by A.S. King)
    In one of the loveliest, most touching father-daughter relationships in YA, Vera and Ken Dietz may not always see eye to eye—particularly when their relationship is ruled by the fear that she will follow in his footsteps—but there’s no concern of the common “Missing Parent Syndrome” in YA here. When a teenage girl says about her father that she feels like “his equal, and his friend,” you know there’s something special there.

    Who’s your favorite dad from YA lit?

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