Monday, March 30, 2015

Maxine Wore Black - A Teen Transgender and Lesbian Love Story... And Murder!

Maxine Wore Black by Nora Olsen

Maxine is the girl of Jayla’s dreams: she’s charming, magnetic, and loves Jayla for her transgender self. There’s only one problem with Maxine—she already has a girlfriend, perfect Becky.

Jayla quickly falls under Maxine’s spell, and she’s willing to do anything to win her. But when Becky turns up dead, Jayla is pulled into a tangle of deceit, lies, and murder. Now Jayla is forced to choose between love and the truth.

Jayla will need all the strength she has to escape the darkness that threatens to take her very life.

You can check out Nora's article about how this book is an homage to Daphne du Maurier’s "Rebecca" here. I love how she writes,
"...I mainly wanted to create a fun and affirming story that a transgender teen could pick up that would validate their reality. So they could say, wow, here is a book about a person like me. I can be the hero of the story."
Add your review of "Maxine Wore Black" in comments!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Swans and Klons - A Science Fiction Adventure Starring A Lesbian Teen Couple

Swans and Klons by Nora Olsen

What does it take to survive in a world built on lies?

Sixteen-year-old Rubric loves her pampered life in the Academy dormitory. She's dating Salmon Jo, a brilliant and unpredictable girl. In their all-female world, non-human slaves called Klons do all the work. But when Rubric and Salmon Jo break into the laboratory where human and Klon babies are grown in vats, they uncover a terrifying secret that tears their idyllic world apart.

Their friends won't believe them, and their teachers won't help them. The Doctors who rule Society want to silence Rubric and Salmon Jo. The two girls must flee for their lives. As they face the unthinkable, the only thing they have left to believe in is their love for each other.

Add your review of "Swans and Klons" in comments!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Frenemy Of The People - Two Teen Girls Who Hate Each Other Turn Out To Actually Like Each Other... A Lot!

Frenemy Of The People by Nora Olsen
Clarissa and Lexie couldn't be more different. Clarissa is a chirpy, optimistic do-gooder and a top rider on the school's equestrian team. Lexie is an angry, punk rock activist and the only out lesbian at their school.

When Clarissa declares she's bi and starts a Gay-Straight Alliance, she unwittingly presses all of Lexie's buttons, so Lexie makes it her job to cut Clarissa down to size. But Lexie goes too far and finds herself an unwitting participant in Clarissa's latest crusade. Both are surprised to find their mutual loathing turning to love.

A change in her family's fortunes begins to unravel Clarissa's seemingly perfect life, and the girls' fledgling love is put to the test. Clarissa and Lexie each have what the other needs to save their relationship and the people they love from forces that could tear them all apart.

Add your review of "Frenemy Of The People" in comments!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Fifty Yards And Holding - A Street Gang Leader and High School Sports Star Fall In Love (Gay Teen Love, That is!)

Fifty Yards And Holding by David-Matthew Barnes

Victor Alvarez is in serious trouble. Now seventeen and flunking out of high school, he’s been chosen as the leader of the violent street gang he’s been a member of since he was thirteen. Riley Brewer has just broken a state record as the star of their high school baseball team. When Riley and Victor meet by chance, a connection begins to grow. When friendship turns to love, both young men realize their reputations contradict who they really are. Once their secret relationship is discovered, Victor realizes their lives are at risk. Refusing to hide in order to survive, Riley vows that only death can keep him apart from Victor.

Add your review of "Fifty Yards And Holding" in comments!

Friday, March 20, 2015

HOLD ME CLOSER: The Tiny Cooper Story – "A Musical Novel" About A Gay Teen

HOLD ME CLOSER: The Tiny Cooper Story by David Levithan

Here's the description from David's Goodreads interview for the book:

When YA favorites David Levithan and John Green decided to collaborate on Will Grayson, Will Grayson, their hit 2010 novel of two very different high schoolers with the same name, they had no idea that another character—the irrepressible Tiny Cooper—would end up stealing every scene. Now David has given Tiny the attention he deserves in a new solo novel-as-musical, Hold Me Closer, the Tiny Cooper Story. Yes, both Will Graysons will make an appearance (though for privacy's sake, Tiny has given one of them a pseudonym: Phil Wrayson) and, according to David, we'll get to see a side of Tiny that has not yet been revealed. "Absolutely," he says. "For example, in Will Grayson, Will Grayson, we didn't see the moment Tiny was born. But we do in Hold Me Closer."

Add your review of "HOLD ME CLOSER: The Tiny Cooper Story" in comments!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

An excellent interview with YA author David Levithan

David Levithan is a best-selling author. He's written books himself. He's co-written books.

He's been interviewed here before, but this new interview over at goodreads, with questions from 11 readers, is also great. Timed to promote his newest book, the so-called "musical novel,"

HOLD ME CLOSER: The Tiny Cooper Story,

it covers time travel, waking up in someone else's body (Beyoncé), balancing being an editor and an author, and much more.

The interview is well worth checking out.

And thanks to my friend and blog-reader Karol for sharing the interview with me so I could share it with all of you!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Forgive Me If I've Told You This Before - Faith, Politics and Young Lesbian Love

Forgive Me If I've Told You This Before by Karelia Stetz-Waters

The shy daughter of an Estonian immigrant, Triinu Hoffman has one hope for high school: that the bullies who tormented her in junior high won’t find her in the crowded hallways of her new school. When she accidentally stabs a lecherous youth minister with a Bic pen and gets branded a lezzie Satanist, she realizes there is no way she is going to escape their torment. Moreover, Triinu has started noticing a beautiful girl dressed in all black, and she begins to think there may be something to the accusations of lesbianism.

Set against the backdrop of Ballot Measure 9, the most violent anti-gay political campaign of the 1990s, Forgive Me If I’ve Told You This Before explores the intersection of faith, politics, and young love.

Add your review of "Forgive Me If I've Told You This Before" in comments!

Friday, March 13, 2015

The Summer I Wasn't Me - A Teenage Girl Goes To An Ex-Gay Summer Camp But It Doesn't Work Out The Way She (And Everyone Else) Expects

The Summer I Wasn't Me by Jessica Verdi
Lexi has a secret.

She never meant for her mom to find out. And now she’s afraid that what’s left of her family is going to fall apart for good.

Lexi knows she can fix everything. She can change. She can learn to like boys. New Horizons summer camp has promised to transform her life, and there’s nothing she wants more than to start over.

But sometimes love has its own path…

And this time, that path just might be named: Carolyn

Add your review of "The Summer I Wasn't Me" in comments!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

This Is Not A Love Story - Gay Homeless Teens Take Care Of Each Other

This Is Not A Love Story by Suki Fleet

When fifteen-year-old Romeo’s mother leaves one day and doesn’t return, he finds himself homeless and trying to survive on the streets. Mute and terrified, his silence makes him vulnerable, and one night he is beaten by a gang of other kids, only to be rescued by a boy who pledges to take care of him.

Julian is barely two years older than Romeo. A runaway from an abusive home, he has had to make some difficult choices and sells himself on the street to survive. Taking care of Romeo changes him, gives him a purpose in life, gives him hope, and he tries to be strong and keep his troubles with drugs behind him. But living as they do is slowly destroying him, and he begins to doubt he can be strong enough.

This is the story of their struggle to find a way off the streets and stay together at all costs. But when events threaten to tear them apart, it is Romeo who must find the strength within himself to help Julian (and not let their love story turn into a Shakespearean tragedy).

Add your review of "This Is Not A Love Story" in comments!

Monday, March 9, 2015

The 2015 Lambda Literary Award Children's/Young Adult Finalists

There are 8 finalists for this year's Lambda Literary Award in the Children's/Young Adult category. And the finalists are...

Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out, Susan Kuklin, Candlewick Press

Double Exposure, Bridget Birdsall, Sky Pony Press, an imprint of Skyhorse Publishing

Five, Six, Seven, Nate!, Tim Federle, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Forgive Me If I’ve Told You This Before, Karelia Stetz-Waters, Ooligan Press

Lies We Tell Ourselves, Robin Talley, Harlequin Teen

Pukawiss the Outcast, Jay Jordan Hawke, Dreamspinner Press/Harmony Ink Press

This is Not a Love Story, Suki Fleet, Dreamspinner Press/Harmony Ink Press

When Everything Feels like the Movies, Raziel Reid, Arsenal Pulp Press

Friday, March 6, 2015

I'll Give You The Sun - Estranged Twins (One Of Whom Is Gay) Deal With Loss and Love (and one twin's coming out)

I'll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson

Jude and her twin brother, Noah, are incredibly close. At thirteen, isolated Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude cliff-dives and wears red-red lipstick and does the talking for both of them. But three years later, Jude and Noah are barely speaking. Something has happened to wreck the twins in different and dramatic ways . . . until Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy, as well as someone else—an even more unpredictable new force in her life. The early years are Noah’s story to tell. The later years are Jude’s. What the twins don’t realize is that they each have only half the story, and if they could just find their way back to one another, they’d have a chance to remake their world.

"I'll Give You The Sun" won the 2015 Printz Award! Add your review in comments!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

He Said, She Said - Newbery-Winner Kwame Alexander's YA boy-girl romance with a lesbian best friend

He Said, She Said by Kwame Alexander

"You've heard that men are from Mars and women are from Venus, right? Well, forget that planetary ish –- Omar and Claudia are from different solar systems. Meet Brooklyn transplant Omar "T-Diddy" Smalls: West Charleston High's football god and full-blown playa. He's got a ton of twitter followers, is U Miami bound, and cannot wait to hit South Beach... and hit on every shorty in a bikini.

Then there's Claudia Clarke: headed for Harvard, straight-A student, school newspaper editor, and all-around goody two-shoes. She cares more about the staggering teen pregnancy rate than about hooking up with so-called fly homies and posting her biz on Facebook.

Omar and Claudia are thrown together when they unexpectedly lead (with a little help from Facebook and Twitter) the biggest social protest this side of the Mississippi. The stakes are high, the romance is hot, and when these worlds collide, sparks will FLY! Believe that!

Claudia's best girl-friend Blu is into girls, and while it's not what the story is about, it comes up a few times. I found about about this YA novel in a conversation with the author (who had just won the Newbery for his middle grade novel, The Crossover), where I asked him if he was planning on including any LGBTQ characters or themes in upcoming work. He said he already had!

Add your review of "He Said, She Said" in comments!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Marietta Zacker (Nancy Gallt Literary Agency): Agent Looking For Diversity


That's the idea. And this series is an effort to do just that.

For now we're focusing on agents, and today's post features agent Marietta Zacker of the Nancy Gallt Literary Agency.

Agent Marietta Zacker

Here's her bio:

Marietta has experienced children’s books from every angle – teaching, marketing, publishing & bookselling. She thrives on working with authors who make readers feel their characters’ emotions & illustrators who add a different dimension to the story. Among other things, she is a proud Latina and the Agent Liaison for the We Need Diverse Books campaign.

Our interview:

Lee: Hi Marietta!

Marietta: Hi, Lee! Thanks for letting me shout from mountaintops ☺.

Lee: Thanks so much for agreeing to talk about your interest in Diversity in Children's and Teen Literature!

Marietta: I am thrilled that we are advertising the fact that we’re looking for more diversity. As individuals with varied experiences and backgrounds, we do so in our own ways, but Adriana, Danielle and you are completely right, a concerted effort is long overdue. Gracias por darme la oportunidad.

Lee: Sure! It's my pleasure. There's been growing discussion about how the 5,000 or so traditionally published books a year don't reflect the actual diversity of our world, including the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement and the stunningly low numbers of representation revealed in "Children's Books by and about People of Color Published in the United States," put out by the CCBC (The Cooperative Children's Book Center)

To start us off, of the submissions you get, let's say in the past year, how many of those projects included some kind of diversity of characters or theme?

Marietta: I suspect that the number of submissions I receive of projects with diverse characters and themes skews higher than the average. Percentage-wise, though, the number is staggeringly low. I’ve never done actual calculations (although it would be interesting, for sure!), but there is no doubt that if my submissions inbox were a book, that book would not accurately reflect the world we live in. That is troubling.

Which means that we must ask ourselves: Why do some writers and illustrators not feel included in the conversation, why do some choose not to submit and why do others feel that in order to be published one needs to assimilate? What are we (as a publishing industry) not doing well enough to bring these stories to us? I was once on faculty at a conference in a city where the population is overwhelmingly People of Color. And yet, you could count on one hand the People of Color in the room. One hand! Don’t get me wrong, every writer and illustrator that was in the room was just as worthy and some were writing stories that reflected our world. Yet, it is OUR responsibility to say, “There’s something wrong with this picture; people are missing.” We can’t dismiss it by saying, but the conference is ‘open to all.’ As we look around the room it’s imperative that we admit that there is clearly a barrier to entry, even if the barrier is unintentional.

This series is one step, for sure – advertising the fact that we ARE more than happy to review projects that show the world as it is, with all its rich diversity. BRING THEM ON – I am as ready as ever to review stories and illustrations that represent those who are marginalized and that will make it possible for children and young adults to see themselves within the pages of books they read.

Lee: Yes! So well said it bears repeating: "there is clearly a barrier to entry, even if the barrier is unintentional."

Let's unpack your submissions a bit: Are you seeing many stories featuring protagonists of color?

Marietta: As I mentioned, I think I see more Protagonists of Color than others. (Protagonists of Color – Can we make that a thing?). Still, I am certain there are many who are not coming forward with their stories and illustrations. In looking at submissions that I do receive, over the years there has been an increase in inclusiveness, yet there’s still quite a bit of superficial representations of diversity – names of characters, foods they eat and possibly physical features as clues within illustrations (as an example, for Latino characters, that means names with a letter that includes an accent mark or tilde, eating arroz con frijoles and skin color described as café con leche and tinted in brown). Yet we know that a character is fully realized only when the writer or illustrator conscientiously and deliberately breaks the surface and goes much more than skin deep. I mean, if you remove the superficial qualities, does the character still add to the story? Because if the answer is ‘no,’ then you might be adding a diverse character, but not writing a story that includes diversity of thought, theme, feelings and experiences. The great news is that there are many authors and illustrators whose work can inspire a writer or illustrator to do just that – Kwame Alexander, Jacqueline Woodson, Matt de la Peña, Jenny Han, Mitali Perkins, Yuyi Morales, Raúl Colón (I could go on!). This list, no doubt, brings up the topic of authenticity and who has ‘the right’ to write and illustrate these stories. I know we’ll get to that later! But yes, more Protagonists of Color are finding their way to the pages of our books; I would simply encourage us not to rest until the books we see as a whole accurately represent the world we live in. We’re not there yet.

Lee: How about LGBTQ characters, and please break that down - are you seeing lesbian characters? gay? bi? trans*? questioning? queer or gender non-conforming?

Marietta: I don’t think it would surprise anyone to hear that stories with gay and lesbian characters are more prevalent than bi, trans, questioning, queer or gender non-conforming. I see very few BTQI stories a year … certainly, not nearly enough. Truth is that it’s tough to tell stories from those perspectives when you feel others aren’t willing or ready to listen. So I get the hesitation, but I know those who identify as LGBTQ, or who are writing characters who do, are writing. Bring them on as well! We ARE listening.

Lee: How about characters with disabilities?

Marietta: Again, not as many. Like with the last two questions you asked, the barriers to entry are present even when we think the way is clear. What writers and illustrators should keep in mind is that the focus should always be to create a story that reflects the actual world we live in, not simply to put forth a diverse cast of characters. And if the characters you’ve labeled as ‘other’ represent those who are marginalized (i.e., unless otherwise indicated, your default character is the same one the media presents as the ‘standard person’) then you may want to go back to the drawing board. We really do come in all shapes and sizes with a range of strengths and abilities and with various beliefs and traditions. Let your stories and illustrations reflect that.

Lee: Are you seeing other types of diversity in the works submitted? - And please share any specific categories that spring to mind.

Marietta: I think we’re finally seeing more characters with mixed heritage which, to me, points to the fact that the message does get through. For years now, we’ve talked to writers and illustrators about digging deeper into their own backgrounds to see some of the diversity in their own lives (that is always where you start in any conversation about diversity). As people have searched for ways to define themselves in this world, it seems that this has seeped into the narratives, which is wonderful. Now, along with looking at yourself, you have to look beyond yourself.

Lee: How about the creators? Are you seeing under-represented writers and illustrators submitting to you?

Marietta: I mentioned before that there is no doubt in my mind that there are many writers and illustrators who are not submitting their work. Some are skeptical, feeling that the industry wouldn’t welcome them, so they may be hesitant to put pen to paper or brush to canvas. Some, we are not reaching at all. If you’re marginalized and reading this, I can assure you … I want to see your work. I know I’m not the only one and I recognize that each of us can only represent a small number of clients to begin with, but don’t let the hurdles and barriers stop you. If you have a story to tell and you do so from the heart, you will find your champions.

Lee: I want that on a T-shirt:

"If you have a story to tell and you do so from the heart, you will find your champions."  


As you mentioned earlier, this question comes up in nearly every conversation I have about diversity in kid lit: who has the 'right' to tell the story of an under-represented type of character. What's your take?

Marietta: I don’t believe that any one person owns the ‘right’ to tell these stories, but I will say this … if it has taken you your entire life to gain enough knowledge about yourself to be able to write about someone like you, then the same criteria should apply if you choose to write about someone whose background is different from yours. It’s not enough to say that you’ve done research and you’ve observed (or even that you’ve had personal interactions) because that can lead to superficial and general conclusions. Having the ‘credentials’ to write about under-represented characters means you’ve experienced something at a deep enough level to understand how someone would think, react, feel, express themselves and how their background affects who they are as people in this world.

Lee: When you're submitting projects to editors, do you think stories with under-represented characters take more 'selling' on your part?

Marietta: I don’t, but I think every step the manuscript takes toward publication means one step away from those who understand and champion the story the most. That is the same for any book, but it’s especially problematic for books with under-represented characters. Remember, there’s a reason they’re under-represented in the first place and our society plays a role in this! With that said, walking into an editor’s or art director’s office, the worry is never ‘will this project be a harder sell?’ In the end, a story I know I can champion and an editor and art director wants to work on is one which strongly, accurately and effectively expresses the human experience. Period. Are there hurdles? No doubt about it. As I said, there are a ton of people that have a hand in publishing a book, and despite everyone’s best intentions, there are some within the process who put up those hurdles and barriers. We’re fighting every day to remove those hurdles and knock down those barriers, we can only do so with work that represents our world.

Lee: I often feel the sense of ‘otherness’ is transferable. That from my own experiences being marginalized (for being Gay, being ill as a teen, being Jewish, being an Atheist, etc…) I feel tremendous empathy for people who are marginalized for other kinds of ‘otherness’ as well.
Can you share what’s driving your desire to see more diversity in Children’s and Teen books?

Marietta: Being marginalized sucks. I feel I’ve spent my whole life trying to shake that feeling and at times, I wonder if I ever will. It fuels me to think that I can have a hand in helping young children and young adults feel less marginalized.

Lee: Tell us about some books that highlighted or included diversity that you loved and that inspired you (maybe even ones you wish you represented).

What’s a Picture Book favorite?

Marietta: THE RED LOLLIPOP by Rukhsana Khan and Sophie Blackall, RAISING DRAGONS by Jerdine Nolen and Elise Primavera, ONE HOT SUMMER DAY by Nina Crews, any book by Kadir Nelson, any book by Gary Soto (picture book or otherwise!), THE CASE FOR LOVING by Selina Alko and Sean Qualls (and I’ll sneak in an early reader: LING & TING by Grace Lin)

Lee: Middle Grade?

Marietta: Any book by Pam Muñoz Ryan, THE MISADVENTURES OF THE FAMILY FLETCHER by Dana Alison Levy, THE WATSONS GO TO BIRMINGHAM – 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis (Oh, who am I kidding? Any book by Curtis), THE VINE BASKET by Josanne La Valley, CONFETTI GIRL by Diana López, THE CROSSOVER by Kwame Alexander (for the record, called it BEFORE 2015!)

Lee: Young Adult?

Marietta: Any book by Matt de la Peña, IF YOU COULD BE MINE by Sara Farizan, THE QUEEN OF WATER by Laura Resau and Maria Virginia Farinango, FAT ANGIE by e.E. Charlton-Trujillo, any book by Rita Williams-García, SHABANU by Suzanne Fisher Staples. To be published in 2016: TOYA (tentative title!) by Randi Pink

Lee: Okay, here’s your wish list moment. What are you looking for? Put out the call...

Marietta: If you’ve dug deep, your story has a unique perspective and you present children & young adults with stories that speak to them and characters with whom they can identify, send your work way my way.

If you think We Need Diverse Books is a necessity rather than a mere trend and if you believe in its mission wholeheartedly and you’ve been working toward that end (even if you didn’t know it!), send your work my way.

If your characters feel marginalized (even if those particular feelings are not the focus of the story), send your work my way.

If you look at your portfolio and it reflects the world we live in, then send your work my way.

¡Y, Latinos, se que están escribiendo e ilustrando, mándenme sus cuentos y sus dibujos!

Lee: Nice! And for writers and/or illustrators reading this who feel a resonance with what you’ve shared and who want to submit to you, how should they go about that?

Marietta: All instructions are on our website, on the submissions page. I will say this, if you write and illustrate with some of the same beliefs and thoughts I’ve shared with you, chances are that your submission will stand out for me. Feel free to add that you read this interview with Lee Wind as an answer to the question ‘How did you hear about us?’

Lee: Anything I didn’t ask that you’d like to add?

Marietta: Diversity in our world is a fact, not a trend. So while you need to be true to yourself and your characters, as a writer or illustrator, also remember that you owe the most to the readers who will be picking up your books hoping to see themselves, so that then they can see beyond themselves. Pick up your pens, pencil, brushes and laptops with that in mind.

Lee: Getting the world of Children’s literature to better reflect the diversity of our world -- the world kids today are growing up in -- is so important. Thank you so much for working to make things better!

Marietta: It does take a village, doesn’t it? … a village with a good marketing plan in place now ☺. Thank YOU, Lee.

Thanks Marietta! Look for another AGENT LOOKING FOR DIVERSITY interview on the first Monday of next month. Until then,

Illustrate and Write On!