Books Interviews

London Shah feels compelled to tell stories: an interview with the author of Journey to the Heart of the Abyss

London Shah has been dreaming about a submerged world for years.

The British Muslim author, who is of Pashtun ethnicity, said in an email interview that she specifically dreamed of a submerged Britain. Not that she wants the current world to be flooded; just that it’s an image that has hovered near her for much of her life.

And now London’s sophomore novel, Journey to the Heart of the Abyss, the second in a duology about a 16-year-old submersible racer named Leyla who goes on an epic adventure to save her father and discover the secrets the government is hiding, is about to release. It’s set, fittingly, in an underwater version of Great Britain.

“The setting came first, long before any characters,” Shah said. “I cannot recall a time when I did not fantasize about our world carrying on beneath the surface of the seas. I imagined a submerged world as aesthetically close to our current one as possible, and nothing too hard sci-fi.”

Shah was mesmerized by the idea of a realistic underwater world, not one populated by mermaids but one where humans could watch present-day sea creatures — a huge whale, maybe an octopus — living their lives right outside our spheres of existence.

The first book in the duology, The Light at the Bottom of the World, was published in 2019 and the closing book publishes on Nov. 16, 2021. 

“Every feeling and thought I had ever held about what life might be like living deep underwater, I have explored in these books,” Shah said. “All the wonder and magic, all the constant, suffocating perils, and of course all the endless possibilities! I explore them all. I have lived with this fantasy forever, and I am excited beyond words to finally share it with everyone.”

Shah said that growing up she loved studying English, writing fiction for assignments and telling stories, but that she never considered that “author” could be a viable career option. 

“As a South Asian Muslim, back then I never believed writing was even an option for people like me,” Shah explained. “I have always loved creating with words but was never exposed to the idea of doing anything with that passion. Nobody I knew was a writer, and I knew exactly nothing about the publishing industry.”

Despite this, Shah said she is filled with ideas, which compel her to write. She has a vivid imagination and has been envisioning different worlds and stories since at least kindergarten. As much as creating new worlds to play in can be difficult, Shah said she loves doing it.

Worldbuilding is intoxicating,” she said. “It is a lot of hard work, but watching your very own creation come to life—this whole other reality!—makes all the challenges worthwhile. It is exhilarating.”

She is motivated to write as well to tell the stories of characters of color. As a woman of color herself, Shah said she loves to fill her stories with main characters whose backgrounds and ethnicities reflect real-world people who do not often get to see themselves in the pages of their favorite books.

“To provide representation for those who have rarely seen themselves in the pages of a book, rarely experienced those like themselves going off on epic adventures and leading amazing quests, is the best motivator,” Shah said.

And in fact, because she writes for teens, Shah indicated that their reactions also propel her forward and motivate her. Her first book was a Battle of the Books selection and she’s been blown away by the reception among teens and students.

Another demographic who’ve embraced her book? German readers.

The book has been translated to German and published by Loewe Verlag, and Shah said she has loved seeing the book’s reception in that country.

“Its reception has been heartening and affirmative, and readers in Germany have been so enthusiastic and positive and lovely,” she said.

In order to write Journey to the Heart of the Abyss, Shah said she planned the book out scene-by-scene. Famously among writers, the second book in anyone’s career is notorious for how difficult it can be to write. Shah said she worked to overcome this slump by planning the whole book and by focusing on her craft, including by reading.

In fact, Shah believes so much in the power of reading to a writer’s craft that it’s what she recommends to aspiring writers.

“Expose yourselves to the art of storytelling whenever and however you can,” she said. “Recognize the things you feel most passionate about and that way if you are ever stuck for ideas, you will already have a rich source of details to pick from. Using and exploring what we feel an intense connection with ensures the story remains exciting to us, and has plenty of heart.”

In addition to Journey to the Heart of the Abyss, which is an anticipated conclusion to a fantastical debut, Shah recommended several other books she’s loved.

Currently, Shah is reading The Silver Tracks, which is book four in the Mirrorworld series by Cornelia Funke. She described it as, “remarkable.” In addition, she recommended Ciannon Smart’s summer debut Witches Steeped in Gold, saying, “It is different and fierce, and I loved it. Smart’s worldbuilding is to die for; it is rich and original, and you completely lose yourself in its ferocious heart,” and adding that book is a “thrilling, unpredictable read.”

Finally, Shah recommended the entire Bone Season series by Samantha Shannon. “Despite the heavy themes throughout, there is a tenderness to the narrative I have rarely encountered elsewhere in fiction,” Shah said. “The result is an enthralling experience. I barely took any breaks between the books, hardly breathed for fear of being rudely dragged out of that mesmerizing world. The next instalment in the series is my most anticipated book.”

Shah can be found online or on Instagram, and Journey to the Heart of the Abyss releases on Nov. 16, 2021.

Life Stories Life

Being creative doesn’t need to be performative or productive

My hesitance with being creative started with a set of simple words on my screen: “Now is the perfect time to write your book!” I encountered variations of these words on Twitter, against the scenic backdrop of a forest in an inspiration post on Instagram. They seemed to follow me everywhere I clicked. These words became a trickling of an inner voice in my head that demanded one thing: write a book. Write the book. 

At the time, we were all in our first few weeks of the world-wide lockdown. There was a wave of posts that encouraged people to look at the bright side of staying home. After all, we had the many privileges that came with being able to have our own spaces during this time. We didn’t have to share a common eating space with colleagues and we could work in our pajamas. It wasn’t all bad, right?

Not to mention, while we self-isolated and stayed inside, our schedules had significantly cleared up. These reminders and gentle pushes served as an incentive for us to sit down and do the things we said we’d do if we had more time. My current circumstance, if I would have let it, could have been inspirational. This was the time I had been waiting for, so why wasn’t I typing away? 

I imagined myself as an artist who was finally in their own element with nothing but time and energy to create. Cocooned away in blankets, frantically typing away at her next screenplay, she uses the time she would have spent commuting to work to instead perfect her craft. Or perhaps I’d relate more to a woman whose hands dance in the warm light streaming through the window. There are paint streaks on her cheeks and the coffee in her mug has gone cold.

Then, there is also the image of a struggling artist who perseveres against all odds. Their hand is shaking, but resolute, as they photograph minute details of their surrounding, working with what they have. This artist scrapes the barrel for their inspiration, regardless of the clamor outside. Fair. But we need to remind ourselves these are heavily romanticized ways of approaching creativity. 

Reading the pandemic was the perfect time to ‘write my book‘ made me feel discouraged. I felt bogged down. I was in mourning for the perfect end to my senior year that now would never be. Trapped in my room, I felt the need to escape. Writing allows me to delve deep into myself – something I could not have been bothered with before the pandemic hit. However, as any writer can tell you, it is an incredible feeling to share your work, but writing can be a terribly lonely and internal process.  

I wasn’t partaking in much leisure creativity in those early days. Even writing my college senior project, a creative fictional piece, felt like a chore. All my energy went into listening to the voices that streamed out of my laptop during the last of my online courses.

All I wanted to do was scoop out my mind and leave it in a warm tub to rest. I watched movies, listened to music, and chatted with my roommates, using up the energy I had left on reserve. I didn’t feel inspired to produce some great masterpiece. But I had all the time in the world to do it. Since I wasn’t going anywhere, why wasn’t I writing my book?

Weren’t the arts meant to be those places where we could escape from capitalist expectations of labor and product?

Over time, I felt myself spiraling. I didn’t have an idea of what I would write. I just felt like I had to make something productive out of my time. I genuinely felt I was going to disappoint myself either way, whether I chose to pick up my pen or not.

This is all sounding gloomy, but actually, there were times when I wanted to be creative. When I felt that sudden urge to set off and start working on a new piece of writing or pick up painting as a hobby. I knew when I started working I would feel good about it, but the benchmark had been set so high that I felt discouraged.

When I was packing up to move back home, I stumbled upon a product of my literary past. I had written up a small outline of a short story sometime in January. Immediately, I wanted to drop everything, move aside the boxes from my desk, and bring the story to life.

I had an epiphany- this mindset of creating perfect art was (and is) toxic. Creativity doesn’t have to be productive. Weren’t the arts meant to be an escape from capitalist expectations of labor and product?

I am not wasting my time even if nothing comes of the writing– I am perfecting a craft.

Art didn’t need to be performative either. It didn’t have to wear the fancy label of a ‘novel’ or perform for an audience. I didn’t need to parade around and place a glossy cover over the pages. Instead, I needed to give myself permission to not even have to finish whatever project was in my drafts. Ultimately, I must accept no creative pursuit is ever wasted. I am not wasting my time if nothing comes of the writing. Rather, I am perfecting a craft. As for talent, there is no wasting that unless I don’t use it. 

The sooner I realized I could follow my creative instincts without oppressive expectations, the sooner I felt creatively liberated. Whether it be through sporadically writing a scene of a story or picking up (and putting down) a paintbrush when I feel inclined, I shouldn’t have felt pressured to fully pursue my creative urges if I didn’t want to. I should be allowed to surrender to that flurry of excitement and passion to simply express myself. Then, when the passion was over, to let it go. Truly, I didn’t even have to show my creative work to anyone or look at it ever again. 

I am teaching myself creativity isn’t meant to always be translated into something productive. The funny thing is I often did return to those pieces and paintings and continued to work on them. But that was only possible when I didn’t feel the heavy benchmark of producing a bestseller or a museum-worthy mural on my shoulders.

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History Historical Badasses

Savitribai Phule was the feminist teacher from the 1850s we wish we had in high school

Because of British colonization, women’s rights were nonexistent in 19th century India; women were largely confined to domestic roles and were not allowed to receive an education. Despite such patriarchal restrictions, Savitribai Phule, an Indian teacher, and feminist, established the first school for girls in India in 1848 with the help of her husband, Jyotirao Phule. Savitribai’s trailblazing in women’s education is a testament to the resilience of feminists. 

Like most other married Indian women, Savitribai was not literate at the time of her marriage at age nine. After being educated by her husband and his friends, Savitribai enrolled herself in training programs for teachers at two institutions, the Normal School and an institution in Ahmednagar. 

Later, she began to teach alongside Sagunabai, another revolutionary Indian feminist. Eventually, the Bhides and Sagunabai founded their own school at Bhide Wada, the home of Tatya Saheb Bhide, a man who was inspired by the work of the trio. 

During this time, education was limited to male Brahmins (a caste) and involved the teachings of the Vedas and Shastras. Savitribai’s school was unique in that it taught mathematics, science, and social studies instead of Hindu texts. It was also open to people of all castes, including women. 

However, not everyone supported Savitribai’s endeavors; Savitribai would carry an extra sari with her to school because people would hurl stones and dirt at her while she was walking. By educating people of lower castes and women, Savitribai was radically changing the status quo. Knowledge is power, so her work empowered hundreds of people from historically marginalized communities in India. 

After being kicked out of their house by her husband’s father for their work in the community, the Phules lived with Usman Sheikh and his sister, Fatima Sheikh. Fatima is known as the first Muslim female teacher of India and opened a school alongside Savitribai. Their friendship exemplified feminist sisterhood and empowerment. 

Outside of her educational accomplishments, Savitribai was also a staunch feminist and poet. She authored two notable collections of poetry, Kavya Phule in 1854 and Bavan Kashi Subodh Ratnakar in 1892. Through her writing, she was able to encourage people from marginalized communities to break free from the chains of oppression by getting an education. 

Later, she founded multiple organizations to raise awareness for women’s rights, infanticide, and caste-based violence. The Mahila Seva Mandal forged gatherings between women of all castes and encouraged all of the women to sit together on the same mat. In her house, she created the House for the Prevention of Infanticide as a safe space for widowed Brahmin women to deliver their babies and leave them there under her care. At the same time, she campaigned against child marriage and lobbied for widow remarriage. 

After her husband’s death, Savitribai chaired a session for the Satyashodhak Samaj, an organization that serves the interests of non-Brahmins. At this time, a woman chairing an organization was unprecedented and revolutionary. Through these efforts, Savitribai also initiated the first Satyashodkah marriage, which is a marriage without a dowry, Brahmin priests, or Brahminical rituals. 

Savitribai also founded a clinic to take care of patients with the bubonic plague. She passed away in 1897 while taking care of a patient with the bubonic plague in the clinic. While she passed away more than a century ago, her legacy is honored annually in Maharastra on January 3rd, known as Balika Din (Day of Girls). 

Balika Din is a holiday dedicated to educating people about legislation that protects young girls and is dedicated to the welfare of young girls in India. Women are still actively discriminated against in India through sexual assault, sex-selective abortions, and patriarchal gender roles. Savitribai’s work was the first step towards promoting gender equality in modern India. 

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Book Reviews Book Club Books Pop Culture

In the aftermath of BLM Yaa Gyasi’s “Homegoing” shows us the history we are yet to overcome

A lot of 2020 seems like a bad dream, doesn’t it? It seems like the stuff of literary fiction, that has somehow materialized into real life and we’re being made to live through it since last December. However, some of us need to turn to fiction as a coping mechanism. Or in this case, fiction inspired by reality, such as Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing. 

Literary genius has been emerging from Africa for a few years now with writers such as Chinua Achebe and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie; and now Yaa Gyasi, a Ghanaian American writer. Born in Ghana, she truly knows how to weave stories that transport the reader to the exact time and place of her choosing. Her novel Homegoing tells the tale of West Africa’s key role in perpetuating the slave trade over three centuries. It illustrates how the people, especially women, of that time navigated one of history’s greatest injustices.

The novel starts off in late 18th century in an Asante village, part of the Gold Coast which eventually became Ghana. A young girl, Effia is sold by her father to a British slave trader named James – as a bride, not as a slave – and taken to live with him in Cape Coast Castle. The irony is that right under her bridal chambers, are dungeons filled to the brim with slaves, from villages just like Effia’s, waiting to be sent off to the Americas and the Caribbean via the Middle Passage. Among them is Esi Asare, Effia’s 15-year-old half-sister. The story then takes us on a journey as these two women, unknown to each other, embark on their own paths, filled with treachery, heart-wrenching tribulations and secrets.

The book is almost impossible to put down, but most importantly it’s impossible to forget.

The element that makes it unique is the fact that Yaa Gyasi intertwines reality with spirituality, everyday life with the occult. She beautifully introduces common beliefs and fables told by the people in Effia’s village, and how they impact the lives of people as they accept the reality of losing their loved ones to slavery.

I especially took to this book, because I find African mysticism so unique and still an element we know so little about.

The sheer empathetic tone of this novel draws you into a point where you’re feeling the ache of the sisters and wishing that things, weren’t as they were, then or now. The subjugation told from the point of view of two women enduring entirely separate experiences is exceptionally interesting. It also highlights the fact that we, as humans, use stories to not only escape reality but also to understand it.

To me, what makes African writers so unique is that not only are the backdrops not mainstream, but their word crafting is so visceral. You’re drawn into each moment to a point where you’re feeling what the characters are feeling.

Some quotes from the book that particularly stood out were: “Tell a lie long enough and it will turn to truth” and “History is storytelling”. These two lines beautifully give the gist of what the novel is about: how 2 women and their trials shape the future of many, and how we must learn from our past. These quotes are also an on-point illustration of the events of today as we swing back and forth on major issues like racism, classism or sexism. These have existed for centuries and are still as unresolved and painful as ever.

The title of the book, Homegoing, originates from African-American traditions of a person’s death signifying a return ‘home’. This encapsulates the novel quite beautifully because it speaks of the millions of lives that have departed but left behind scars we are yet to heal from.

I believe this novel attracted so much attention because of its transcendence and relevance even today. As we navigate the pandemic crisis and the movements that are finally finding a voice, such as Black Lives Matter and women’s rights, it’s interesting to turn to history as told by a unique voice. Yes, it may be intertwined in a fictional story, but the baseline truth remains very vital and imminent. The fact that many antislavery laws have been passed doesn’t mean that subjugation has stopped being a reality.

To be able to hear unique voices and to peek into the minds of those who lived through hell, makes one realize that there are so many stories we are yet to hear, understand and correct. Homegoing is just one glimpse into the lessons we should have learnt but somehow still haven’t.

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Editor's Picks History Forgotten History Lost in History

The world’s first author was a cool priestess with an even cooler backstory

Imagine a world where the pronoun ‘I’ isn’t used in writing.

The entire genre of narrative writing probably wouldn’t exist. Op-eds, personal essays, even music and poetry. Most of these writing styles are a product of our inner feelings and personal reflection, and are usually the styles of writing that we emotionally connect with the most.

It seems natural for this form of writing to always have existed, being so related to human opinion, but like almost everything else, it was invented by an author.

4300 years ago, in the Ancient Sumerian civilization, lived the princess of Ancient Sumr, Enheduanna.

She is history’s first known author, and she is the reason we use ‘I’ when we write.

Enheduanna was a triple threat of her time.

Her father, the king of Sumr, ruled when the old Sumerian culture and the new Akadian culture opposed each other and would often rebel against him.

Enheduanna was a triple threat of her time.

He appointed Enheduanna as high priestess, in an effort to bridge the cultural divide and bring peace to the nation.

Becoming high priestess meant that Enheduanna was able to receive an education in which she learned to read and write the languages of both opposing cultures, as well as learn how to make mathematics calculations.

[Image description: A relief of Inanna (also known as Ishtar)]
[Image description: A relief of Inanna (also known as Ishtar)]

It was with her acquired education that Enheduanna was able to unite both rebelling cultures via the 42 religious hymns she wrote, combining the mythologies of both cultures.

In those times, the form of writing used was cuneiform.

Its main purpose was for merchants and traders to communicate about their businesses over long distances – writing did not have a personal purpose, let alone a sentimental one.

So, when she began to write religious hymns and poetry, Enheduanna took the deities her hymns were dedicated to and humanized them.

In doing so she made the gods who once seemed so intangible feel emotions – happiness, sadness, anger, betrayal, love.

Her writing made the hymns emotionally relatable to read and connect with.

By playing on their emotions, she was able to appease the people of both Sumerian and Akkadian cultures, honoring their deities, bringing them together as one.

It was when she wrote her three hymns, Inninsagurra, Ninmesarra, and Inninmehusa, dedicated to deity Inanna, goddess of war and desire, that Enheduanna established a style of writing that was personal and attributable to the writer.

Thousands of years later, it’s impossible for us to imagine a world without saying ‘I’.

Inanna was known to be a powerful deity, so mighty that she transcended gender boundaries and was considered to be the very force who animated the universe.

In these poems, Enheduanna placed Inanna on a pedestal, marking her as the most important deity.

Her odes to Inanna marked the first time an author used the pronoun ‘I’ in a written text, and the first time an author describes their personal, private emotions in writing. It was the beginning of how narrative writing led to self-reflection and emotions could be recorded.

This is said to be her greatest contribution to literature.

An excerpt from one of Enheduanna's hymns to Inanna. It reads: Queen of all the ME, Radiant Light, Life-giving Woman, beloved of An (and) Urash, Hierodule of An, much bejeweled, Who loves the life-giving tiara, fit for High Priestesshood, Who grasps in (her) hand, the seven ME, My Queen, you who are the Guardian of All the Great ME, You have lifted the ME, have tied the ME to Your hands, Have gathered the ME, pressed the ME to Your breast. You have filled the land with venom, like a dragon. Vegetation ceases, when You thunder like Ishkur, You who bring down the Flood from the mountain, Supreme One, who are the Inanna of Heaven (and) Earth, Who rain flaming fire over the land, Who have been given the me by An, Queen Who Rides the Beasts, Who at the holy command of An, utters the (divine) words, Who can fathom Your great rites!
[Image description: An excerpt from one of Enheduanna’s hymns to Inanna.] Via Classical Art History

Above is an excerpt of one of Enheduanna’s dedicated hymns to Inanna. The full poem can be found here.

After the death of her father, Enheduanna was exiled in a coup, and it was when her nephew reclaimed the throne that she was reinstated as high priestess. She served as high priestess for 40 years, and after her death she was honored as a minor deity, with her poetry written, performed, and copied for over 500 years.

What Enheduanna succeeded in doing was taking the essence of emotions and translating them in a way that was able to unify two conflicting people.

She used emotion and ethos, and manipulated them in a way that began a form of writing that could connect with people’s emotions, rather than practical needs.

Know it was this Sumerian high priestess who invented it.

The creation of the written pronoun ‘I’ was the beginning of multiple perspectives being recorded.

It was the beginning of written storytelling.

So the next time you write in your private journal or read diary entries, the next time you study a soliloquy in Macbeth or read the emotional personal essays of critically acclaimed authors where the first person style is prominent, know it was this Sumerian high priestess who invented it.

Enheduanna changed history and humanity. Thousands of years later, it’s impossible for us to imagine a world without saying ‘I’.

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Book Club Books Pop Culture

Navigating queerness & tradition in YA fiction with Adiba Jaigirdar, author of “The Henna Wars”

Adiba Jaigirdar is an Irish-Bangladeshi writer, poet, and teacher with an MA in Postcolonial Studies. Her latest book, The Henna Wars, is a poignant story about two Muslim girls falling in love.

Be sure to check out our live Instagram event featuring Adiba and our own editor, Shaima. We’re also doing a giveaway of her book, enter now!


Adiba Jaigirdar’s debut novel The Henna Wars stems from a genuine desire to inspire joy. She was drawn to “write a story that made [her] happy and that was funny to read and fun to write.” She settled on the idea of a romantic comedy with two teen girls with rival henna businesses while “attempting (and failing) to teach [herself] henna”.

Looking to up the stakes of the girls’ rivalry, Adiba imagined what it would be like “if the two girls were also romantically attracted to each other, and grappling with what that might mean.” From there, everything else came together to make this wonderful tale of love, longing, and growing up. 

The Henna Wars revolves around themes of queerness, first love, culture, and family. Adiba interjects stories with themes that are relevant to herself and her life, and exploring them in the medium of storytelling.

Her influences range from The Princess Diaries, Hayley Kiyoko and Janelle Monáe to Bollywood film like Kuch Kuch Hota Hai which she cites as part of her introduction to romance.

She recalls the first time she encountered a person of color writing about people of color in Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses (which we love!). Reading her stories made Adiba realize that it was possible to write about people like herself.

As a queer woman of color, she acknowledges that she has a responsibility to represent her culture, gender, and sexuality in her work. “There’s a lot of pressure, especially because there aren’t a lot of novels out there about Bangladeshi teens, and even fewer about queer Bangladeshi Muslim teens,” Adiba said. “Even though realistically I know that it’s impossible to represent everything as you write a single story, I still felt the pressure of that.” 

To her, storytelling cannot be separated from politics. “Especially as a queer Muslim South Asian, there’s no way that what I write is not going to be political. My very existence is political.” 

As she writes in the contemporary era, I was curious to see what she finds unique to the time that we are currently living in. To her, this time is a time of “rising up against oppression and attempting to enact change.” Yet, she believes this has been the case for a while, as “marginalized people have been fighting for our rights for a long time. We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.” 

If this story were set in the future, she would love to say that the “characters like Nishat and Flávia wouldn’t have to worry about their sexuality, race, and culture making it more difficult for them to fit in.” However, she has her doubts. “I’m not particularly hopeful of that happening anytime in the near future.” 

For the writers out there or those interested in what happens behind the scenes, Adiba admits that her writing process is “honestly a little chaotic.” When she first begins writing, she “usually have a very basic idea of the story I want to tell. I figure out the important bits that I need to be able to write the story—the beginning, the end, and bits and pieces in the middle. Then, I begin to write and it’s a process of stringing everything together. It’s a little like putting together a puzzle. Once it’s out there on the page, it’s time for me to begin revisions and shape it into something that really works.”

[Image Description: Book cover of The Henna Wars, two girls with henna reaching their hands out to each other.] Via Twitter
[Image Description: Book cover of The Henna Wars, two girls with henna reaching their hands out to each other.] Via Twitter
The scenes that she enjoyed writing the most were the Bengali wedding scenes at the beginning of the book. “Bangladeshi people are obsessed with weddings, and our weddings are a whole event. So it was nice to explore that aspect of my life through the lens of a character like Nishat, who is surrounded by the familiarity of a Bangladeshi wedding, while also stumbling across her childhood crush.” 

As for how it feels to see her work being shared around the world, Adiba admits that “it still feels a little surreal.” Her dreams of being a writer when she was younger seemed to rely on her writing about straight white characters with whom she shared few experiences. Those were some of the only stories that she saw published or have mainstream success. “It was hard for me to imagine a world where someone like me could be writing stories about people like me.” 

In the future, she hopes that The Henna Wars can allow queer brown girls to see a reflection of themselves in its pages, and that it can open doors for more queer brown people to write and publish more of their own stories. 

For those that have enjoyed the latest book-to-movie adaptations like To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before or Crazy Rich Asians, Adiba shares that she would love to see The Henna Wars adapted for the big screen in the future. Especially if the potential adaptation stays true to the ethnicities of the characters.

As of now, Adiba is revising her second novel, which will be out from Page Street in spring 2021. It’s another YA romantic comedy which follows two girls—one Bangladeshi Bengali and one Indian Bengali—who have to start a fake relationship in order to achieve what they want. 

Have you entered our Instagram giveaway yet? And if you absolutely cannot wait, get The Henna Wars on Amazon or on The Tempest’s own virtual bookshop supporting local bookstores.
Book Reviews Books Pop Culture

Is getting married always a race against the clock? Find out in “The Marriage Clock”

In a world that errs on the side of caution and circumspection when it comes to finding one’s perfect match, 26-year-old Indian-American Leila Abid is literally racing against the clock to find a husband who will both meet her high standards and appease her Indian parents. With a three-month deadline looming in front of her and the failure to stick to it resulting in her parents choosing a man for her, Leila goes on a series of dates that are in turn cringe-worthy, hilarious, and heartwarming in her quest to find The One.

As far as first impressions go, we found Zara Raheem‘s debut novel, The Marriage Clock entertaining and incredibly visual, although the ending did leave us wanting more. We loved how Zara tackled the subject of arranged marriages in the Indian community, which are often seen as backwards. But modern arranged marriages are so different than what people think and we loved how the author was able to communicate that. It’s more like being introduced to someone or getting set up on a blind date and then taking some time to get to know them. 

We saw a lot of the realities of our cultural upbringings in the novel – not the usual stereotypes, but one that reminds us of the young women we know who have found a comfortable balance between their inherited traditions and their chosen trajectory.

When we spoke with the author about this balance of cultures, Zara said, “I think that balance will look different to each person depending on their experiences. For me, I grew up in a fairly small town in the Midwest. And even though my parents made it a priority to expose me to my Indian culture, I was very aware that part of my identity was what made me different from my peers. Over the years, I’ve definitely gained a greater sense of pride in my South Asian-American identity and have found a comfortable balance between the two cultures without worrying too much about trying to fit perfectly into just one.”

As for Leila’s parents, we were able to relate to them in certain situations but their actions were also a little stereotypical. However, as Zara explains, “Leila’s mother fits that stereotype to a certain extent, but she also pushes against it in other ways. For instance, she’s proud of Leila for pursuing an untraditional career path. She gives Leila the freedom to live on her own and date outside of her culture. She may not always agree with the choices that Leila makes, but her actions also reinforce the idea that she, like many mothers, ultimately just want what is best for their children. And while her methods might be questionable at times, the author thinks readers (and even Leila) can agree that she is coming from a place of love.”

Zara continued, “Both Leila and her parents belong to different generations and their ideas of love and marriage reflect that difference. I think a huge part of their journey as a family is realizing they may not have all the answers and there is a lot to learn from each other as well.”

On her journey to find love, Leila goes on some painful but hilarious dates, and we couldn’t help wondering whether they were based on personal experience. Zara explained, “I would say that quite a few of Leila’s dates reflect the mindsets and behaviours commonly encountered during the process of a South Asian/Muslim courtship – for example, the man who wants a wife who is a doctor but expects her to stay at home and take care of the kids, or the one who claims he’s very open-minded because he’ll give his wife ‘permission’ to dress however she likes.” While the dates are entertaining, Zara said that they “also bring attention to the frustrating double-standards and problematic expectations placed on South Asian women, and the ways in which these behaviours are often accepted by our communities.”

We could easily visualise the colorful characters and entertaining twists and turns in the novel being adapted into film. Naming her dream cast for a movie adaptation, Zara said she would ideally have Jameela Jamil play Leila, Farida Jalal or Kirron Kher as Laila’s mother and Zain and Hisham played by Hasan Minhaj or Riz Ahmed.

At the beginning of the novel, Leila has a list of requirements for the future husband that seemed a little unrealistic to us. Zara did point out, however, that a lot of us start off dating with an extensive list of wants and requirements in terms of what we look for in a life partner. She continued, “But as you go through the process, and begin learning more about yourself, you gradually make modifications to that list as you start to realize that certain qualities may not necessarily be as important as others.”

Our favourite character in The Marriage Clock ended up being Leila’s best friend Tania, who we felt was the most relatable and had a good head on her shoulders. Having been divorced, she was able to offer her genuine and practical advice to Leila. We also felt it was important that Zara realistically depicted the stigma around divorce in South Asian and Muslim communities, especially because when criticizing cultures that are under-represented in mainstream media, you run the risk of certain criticisms reinforcing negative stereotypes. 

When we brought this up with Zara, she said, “I knew it would be both impossible to write about the arranged marriage process without also touching upon other issues … issues like ageism, colorism, gender biases and negative attitudes towards women who were previously married/divorced.”

The book ended on a cliffhanger of sorts, and when we probed Zara for clues as to what was next for Leila, she said, “only good things!”.

As for Zara’s future, she mentioned that she’s currently working on a short story collection centered around Muslim-American characters, the South Asian diaspora, and first-and-second-generation immigrants. We’ll be here waiting to read it when she’s done!

Rating: 4 out of 5. 

We’re giving away one copy of the book! Follow our Instagram for a chance to win.

If you cannot wait, get “The Marriage Clock” here for $8.95.

Movies Books Pop Culture

Here’s the big problem with everyone’s fave author, J.K. Rowling

J.K. Rowling was one of the most influential people of my childhood.

The Harry Potter books shaped my life. I was obsessed, and I still am at 21. But I am mature enough to realize there are problematic aspects. And most importantly, I am mature enough to understand that while I owe J.K. Rowling a lot, I don’t owe her my unconditional love. 

Or my integrity.

I disagree with many of her choices and I don’t support many of the things she has said and done in the past ten years.

In October 2007, three months after the last book in the series came out, Rowling revealed during the American press tour of The Deathly Hallows that Albus Dumbledore, the former Headmaster of Hogwarts, was gay. This revelation came a little too late, unfortunately, as the character was already deceased. 

JKR said she always knew in her mind that Dumbledore was homosexual and in love with his friend-turned-rival Gellert Grindelwald and that it was the “great tragedy” of his life. This came as a shock to most people, as there had been no indication in the books to support this claim. 

I don’t know if JKR actually planned for Dumbledore to be gay all along.

Many thought she made it up for publicity. Many others found it a great step for the normalization of LGBTQ+, especially in 2007, when there wasn’t a lot of representation. More conservative people condemned JKR altogether for even daring to mention that one of her characters might have been homosexual, despite the fact that this was of no consequence in the books.

Rowling later stated that Dumbledore never loved anybody else after Grindelwald and lived the rest of his “celibate and bookish life” – the remaining 100+ years – as asexual

This kind of sounded like a justification of her previous claim. As if to say, “yes, he was gay, but he only had feelings. He didn’t actually engage in sexual activities with anyone. Don’t worry, children at Hogwarts were safe from a would-be older gay predator.” 

Again, this was certainly well before the LGBTQ+ community was more universally accepted, let alone respected. It was a bold move for her to out Dumbledore, but it was simply too little and too late. She chose to play it safe, only saying it after the book’s release and after the character’s death.

Dear old J.K. was never a paladin for the oppressed.

I don’t know if JKR actually planned for Dumbledore to be gay all along or if she came up with it last minute. I understand that it might have been her publisher’s order to erase it from the narrative. 

I personally don’t think that was the case.

Dear old J.K. was never a paladin for the oppressed. She has always played it safe. She chose to use her initials instead of her full name because this way, ‘people’ wouldn’t know she was a woman right away. She also claims that she has played with the idea of writing the books from Hermione’s perspective, but then didn’t because ‘people’ wouldn’t be interested in reading about a girl having adventures. 

She often blames others for her choices.

In the same way, “it’s a book for children” is not a valid excuse for not including a gay character. Homosexuality should not be taboo or something that needs to be censored. By the time the later books were published, some of the films were also out and Harry Potter was a global phenomenon. She probably had the power to stand up to whatever ‘people’ pressured her not to include gay Dumbledore.

This debate recently sparked up again when it was announced that a younger Dumbledore would have a big role in the Fantastic Beasts films. Fans were anticipating to see potential hints at the relationship between Dumbledore/Grindelwald or, at least, Dumbledore’s feelings.

I no longer think of J.K. Rowling as one of my idols, and it’s okay. 

But director David Yates crushed their hopes when he stated in an interview that Dumbledore would not be explicitly gay in the upcoming film. LGBTQ+ fans and allies were enraged to hear about this and the backlash fell on J.K. Rowling since she is obviously the owner of the material and also serves as the screenwriter. 

[Image description: Tweet by J.K. Rowling, "Being sent abuse about an interview that didn't involve me, about a screenplay I wrote but which none of the angry people have read, which is part of a five-movie series that's only one instalment in, is obviously tons of fun, but you know what's even *more* fun?"] via Twitter
[Image description: Tweet by J.K. Rowling, “Being sent abuse about an interview that didn’t involve me, about a screenplay I wrote but which none of the angry people have read, which is part of a five-movie series that’s only one instalment in, is obviously tons of fun, but you know what’s even *more* fun?”] via Twitter
It’s not over. Feminists across the world were infuriated when JKR defended Johnny Depp and supported his casting in Fantastic Beasts, despite the domestic violence allegations against him.

A lot of longtime HP fans also lost their faith in the author when the script for Cursed Child, the 8th story in the saga, came out. Most people were disappointed by the lack of consistency and bad characterization, not to mention the plot holes.

I no longer think of J.K. Rowling as one of my idols, and it’s okay. 

It doesn’t mean I have to stop liking the books that helped make me the person I am. I can still respect her as a person, and I certainly do not send her hate on social media. 

I actually unfollowed her and simply distanced myself. I’ve stopped supporting her and I won’t buy her next book or pay to see the next movie. 

It’s as simple as that.


Update: As of December 19, 2019, Rowling has continued to show a lack of progressive beliefs in action, the latest of which had her defending a woman espousing anti-trans beliefs

[Image description: Tweet by J.K. Rowling, "Dress however you please. Call yourself whatever you like. Sleep with any consenting adult who'll have you. Live your best life in peace and security. But force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real? #IStandWithMaya #ThisIsNotADrill"] via Twitter
[Image description: Tweet by J.K. Rowling, “Dress however you please. Call yourself whatever you like. Sleep with any consenting adult who’ll have you. Live your best life in peace and security. But force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real? #IStandWithMaya #ThisIsNotADrill”] via Twitter
As of June 2020, Rowling continues to express mildly transphobic opinions on Twitter:

She disappointed again, and instead of taking a step back and apologizing, she continues to fight for her uneducated opinion – while influencing millions of devoted followers.

Life Stories Books Pop Culture

Asmaa Hussein is here to show you there is life after losing your soulmate

How do you live when you have lost somebody so dear to your heart?

You promised to be with each other till forever yet death has broken you apart. Dealing with such a loss isn’t easy. It takes a lot of time to heal, and the wound isn’t ever really gone, but it does get better. 

Asmaa Hussein shows women around the globe that life can go on. 

Asmaa Hussein is an author, blogger and a social worker, and she’s a true inspiration. Her following started when she started writing posts on social media to deal with the loss of her husband. Many women were able to relate to her posts about how to deal with the emptiness that comes with losing a loved one at such a young age.

She was twenty-seven when her husband died. He was shot dead while attending a peaceful protest in Egypt. Asmaa was left with a nine-month daughter to take care of as a Muslim widow. She took her pain and translated it into words.

Her reflections on how to deal with life were usually personal snippets of how she was dealing with the loss and growing as a person. She has such a way with words that resonated and touched the hearts of thousands. She set out to write her first book called, A Temporary Gift: Reflections on Love, Loss, and Healing. These journal entries also dealt with the harsh world of single parenthood.

The following is an excerpt:

“Don’t curse the burdens placed on your soul. The burdens are strengthening your soul for what’s still to come. The pain is carving your heart to make grooves for tawakkul (trust in God) to take hold. The hollow thuds of pain in your chest are teaching you to knock at the door that is always answered”

Asmaa also writes about reconnecting with God in the face of adversity. Her spiritually motivated posts are a great boost to those feeling low on their spiritual energies. A faith booster, one might say.

Asmaa’s story makes you ponder on the fleetingness of our short lives. So go on, hug and kiss the person you love. Tell them you love them and do not hesitate. It can be your pet, your parents or even just yourself. Self-love is crucial too, and not at all narcissistic, trust me.

via Instagram / @ruqayas.bookshelf
via Instagram / @ruqayas.bookshelf

Her daughter became a source of light for her in those dark times after her husband’s death. Her website, Ruqayya’s Bookshelf, is aptly named after her daughter. As Ruqayya got older, Asmaa experienced first-hand the lack of children’s books with Muslim representation.

The characters in the books she sought out were usually not relatable for her child.

I understand because, as a child, I would read books about kids with the setting being either the USA or the UK. The food mentioned in the books was always so interesting for me.

I would ask my mum, “do they always eat this? Why don’t we?” The clothing in the illustrations was surprising, too, because that is not what I saw around me. With no representation, I slowly started feeling out of place.

Asmaa took matters into her own hands and started writing a series of children’s books with Muslim representation. To date, she has twelve children’s books published.

via Instagram / @ruqayas.bookshelf

Featuring characters with Muslim names facing relatable issues, her books have now become famous around the globe. 

via Instagram / @ruqayas.bookshelf

Her posts also include letters to her daughter. Those are inspired by the fact that Asmaa knows there might come a day when she isn’t there for her daughter anymore. Thus to prepare her and give her life lessons she leaves behind little diary entries for her daughter to read as she gets older.

She says in one of the posts:

“Don’t sleep through the things you need to experience to learn how to be a better and patient person, even if it’s easier to shut your eyes and ignore the pain.”

Asmaa truly is a motivational spiritual speaker, mother, and writer.

I know I was deeply inspired by her strength, her words, and her positive outlook on life. A strong Muslim woman who I can relate to and look up to as an amazing role model. A refreshing soul in the midst of all the chaos you see on social media. A promise that you can always heal, even after a terrible loss.

That you can transform that pain and do so much good for the world.

Gift Guides Books Pop Culture

25 amazing new YA books that need to be on your reading list this year

Can you believe that half of the year is over and behind us? I am emotionally still in 2017. One good thing about reaching the second half of 2018 is that we’re finally closer to the release of these amazing upcoming books. From fantasy to contemporary, sci-fi to historical fiction, these books need to be on your radar and bookshelves.

1. What If It’s Us by Adam Silvera and Becky Albertalli
[Image Description: Cover of What If It’s Us] Via Goodreads
Released: October 9, 2018

Why it shines: What If It’s Us is the author collab dream. What happens when an author known for feel-good romcoms meets another who’s notorious for breaking readers’ hearts, and they decide to write a book together? The result is a bittersweet and realistic story about two boys who have an epic meet-cute and beautiful summer romance with its ups and downs.

Get it from Amazon for $17.09+.

2. A Spark of White Fire by Sangu Mandanna
[Image Description: Cover of A Spark of White Fire] Via Goodreads
Released: September 4, 2018

Why it shines: Magnificent is the word to describe this book. A glorious space opera in the veins of the Indian epic Mahabharata, the story tracks the journey of Esmae, the ultimate antiheroine in the wrong side of the war. It’s a story of war, ambition, power, betrayal and will drown you in all the feels. Also, if you’re Desi and you love Karna, you’ll love this book.

Get it from Amazon for $17.99.

3. Mirage by Somaiya Daud
[Image Description: Cover of Mirage] Via Goodreads
Released: August 28, 2018

Why it shines: A Moroccan-inspired fantasy that is lush, whimsical, gorgeous, and as spectacular as that cover, Mirage is a gripping story centered on political intrigue and, well, mirages. Standing in as a body double for a cruel princess, Amani’s story is spellbinding, her forbidden romance sizzling, and her world absolutely stunning.

Get it from Amazon for $18.99+.

4. Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram
[Image Description: Cover of Darius the Great is Not Okay] Via Goodreads
Released: August 28, 2018

Why it shines: Darius’ story will resonate with anyone who has ever felt like that they don’t fit in or are a disappointment. His trip to Iran ends up as a journey of self-discovery. The novel touches upon his depression and sexuality in a subtle yet present way and is a true coming-of-age story.

Get it from Amazon for $17.99.

5. For a Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig
[Image Description: Cover of For a Muse of Fire] Via Goodreads
Released: September 25, 2018

Why it shines: Set in 1874, this South East Asian fantasy is a fine aesthetic mixture of theatre, music, shadow puppets, magic and will make you feel like part of the audience in an auditorium back in history. The main character’s Chinese heritage and her bipolar disorder are both shared by the author, and the authenticity meshes well with the evocative story.

Get it from Amazon for $17.99+.

6. Black Wings Beating by Alex London
[Image Description: Cover of Black Wings Beating] Via Goodreads
Released: September 25, 2018

Why it shines: Alex London returns to YA after the 2014 sequel to Proxy with a fantasy about killer eagles. Following the story of twins in a world centered on falconry, this fantasy offers everything: thrill, action, secrets, romance, sibling dynamics, conflicted emotions, and a lot of awesomeness.

Get it from Amazon for $17.99+.

7. The Brilliant Death by Amy Rose Capetta
[Image Description: Cover of The Brilliant Death] Via Goodreads
Released: October 30, 2018

Why it shines: 19th century Italy. Mafia. Family. Forbidden magic. Assassins. Court dynamics. A sexy gender non-conforming tutor and explosive romance. What else do you need to get sold on a book? This queer fantasy sounds mysterious, magical,  and too intriguing to miss out on.

Get it from Amazon for $18.99+.

8. Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan
[Image Description: Cover of Girls of Paper and Fire] Via Goodreads
Released: November 6, 2018

Why it shines: To quote the author: “Girls of Paper and Fire is a YA oriental-inspired fantasy with a lesbian romance at its core. There are also demons and concubines and a hidden palace and assassins and battles in the sky, and, did I mention, lesbian lovers?” Do you need any more convincing?

Get it from Amazon for $18.99+.

9. A Blade So Black by L. L. McKinney
[Image Description: Cover of A Blade So Black] Via Goodreads
Released: September 25, 2018

Why it shines: I have followed the author on Twitter long enough to witness this being written. So it’s surreal that it’s almost here. A darker retelling of Alice in Wonderland, where Alice is black and badass and the wonderland is filled with dangers and mysteries, is ready to wow you this fall. Also, can we flail over that cover a bit?

Get it from Amazon for $18.99+.

10. Sadie by Courtney Summers
[Image Description: Cover of Sadie] Via Goodreads
Released: September 4, 2018

Why it shines: Courtney Summers is too good at what she does, and this book is proof for that. Part mystery and part emotional masterpiece, Sadie is a narrative about a girl on the hunt to find her sister’s killer, while a podcast tries to delve into her story. The book will keep you hooked, break your heart, and leave a mark forever.

Get it from Amazon for $17.99+.

11. A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi
[Image Description: Cover of A Very Large Expanse of Sea] Via Goodreads
Released: October 16, 2018

Why it shines: Tahereh Mafi is no stranger to a YA fan. But this is the author’s first contemporary novel, and she doesn’t hold anything back. Set in 2002, it’s both nostalgic and politically relevant, chronicling the story of a Muslim hijabi in America during the aftermath of 9/11. This is not going to be an easy book to read, but I can’t wait.

Get it from Amazon for $15.19+.

12. Dance of Thieves by Mary E. Pearson
[Image Description: Cover of Dance of Thieves] Via Goodreads
Released: August 7, 2018

Why it shines: If you are a fan of Mary E. Pearson’s Kiss of Deception and the Remnant Chronicles, here’s some good news: there’s more coming your way! Set in the same world, Dance of Thieves is a cat and mouse game between a former street thief and an outlaw leader. I have so many expectations riding on this ship, give me all the angst. I’m ready.

Get it from Amazon for $15.19+.

13. Pride by Ibi Zoboi
[Image Description: Cover of Pride] Via Goodreads
Released: September 18, 2018

Why it shines: After her explosive debut, American Street, Ibi Zoboi returns with a modern and diverse retelling of Pride and Prejudice, and makes it oh-so-relevant and timely. The highlights of the book are rooted in Zuri’s pride in her roots and the importance of family. Let’s not forget the banter, though. This is enemies-to-lovers done right.

Get it from Amazon for $17.99+.

14. Empress of All Seasons by Emiko Jean
[Image Description: Cover of Empress of All Seasons] Via Goodreads
Released: November 6, 2018

Why it shines: Can I take a moment to squeal about all these amazing Asian fantasies??? Set in ancient Japan, Empress of All Seasons follows the competition to find the next empress. Through it, we meet Mari, who has a terrifying secret: she can transform into a monster. With a fascinating world, intriguing twists, and a potential love triangle, this book is sure to be a stunner.

Get it from Amazon for $17.99+.

15. Not Even Bones by Rebecca Schaeffer
[Image Description: Cover of Not Even Bones] Via Goodreads
Released: September 4, 2018

Why it shines: This is not your feel-good, bed-of-roses type of book. It’s bloody, gory, and mindblowing. If you are a Dexter, Hannibal, Silence of the Lambs or Criminal Minds kind of person, then this is right up your alley. Nita’s story is dark, intense, unapologetic, and full of gray morals and choices. Put simply? This book is fucked up but in the best way.

Get it from Amazon for $17.99+.

16. Blanca & Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore
[Image Description: Cover of Blanca & Roja ] Via Goodreads
Released: October 9, 2018

Why it shines: If you tell me that Anna Marie Mclemore invented magical realism, I’d gladly accept that claim. She has made the genre her own with her magical and lush stories, and this combination of Snow White & Rose Red and Swan Lake is surely going to be breathtaking, swoon-worthy, and queer AF.

Get it from Amazon for $4.99+.

17. Shadow of the Fox by Julie Kagawa
[Image Description: Cover of Shadow of the Fox ] Via Goodreads
Released: October 2, 2018

Why it shines: Julie Kagawa’s Iron Fey series was one of those ultra-popular fantasy worlds when I first got into YA. It’s so exciting to all her fans that she’s back, especially with dragons. Inspired by Japanese folklore, this thrilling fantasy will bring generous servings of dragons, yokai, magic, samurais, mages, and all kinds of mythical goodness to your bookshelf.

Get it from Amazon for $19.99+.

18. Odd One Out by Nic Stone
[Image Description: Cover of Odd One Out] Via Goodreads
Released: October 9, 2018

Why it shines: I would usually run far away from a contemporary love triangle, but this is Nic Stone, my absolute queen. So I’m heading into this blindly without a single regret. Odd One Out drops any of those overused cliches in love triangles, instead choosing to explore real emotions and conflicts. Throughout the novel, interweaving nuances of race, sexuality, and fluidity seamlessly shine through. I’m ready.

Get it from Amazon for $17.99+.

19. This is Kind of an Epic Love Story by Kheryn Callender
[Image Description: Cover of This is Kind of an Epic Love Story] Via Goodreads
Released: October 30, 2018

Why it shines: Gay-childhood-best-friends-turned-into-lovers needs to become 2018’s new literary trope. This beautiful romance revolves around a classic match between a pessimist who has sworn off happy endings and his estranged childhood best friend who’s now back in his life. It’s cute, inclusive as hell, and the QPOC rom-com the world needs.

Get it from Amazon for $17.99+.

20. Ignite the Stars by Maura Milan
[Image Description: Cover of Ignite the Stars] Via Goodreads
Released: September 4, 2018

Why it shines: A space opera that sounds like a thrilling ride – and gives a lot of Rogue One vibes from the synopsis – with strong female friendships, a badass heroine. and a swoon-worthy forbidden romance? Sign me up.

Get it from Amazon for $17.99+.

21. Dry by Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman
[Image Description: Cover of Dry ] Via Goodreads
Released: October 2, 2018

Why it shines: Neal Shusterman and his son, Jarrod, (remember Challenger Deep?) get very real about climate change in this harrowing dystopian tale of survival, humanity, and the environment. Set in the aftermath of a drought with disastrous consequences, the book is timely and bound to make you think.

Get it from Amazon for $12.91+.

22. The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White
[Image Description: Cover of The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein] Via Goodreads
Released: September 25, 2018

Why it shines: Anyone who has read And I Darken knows that Kiersten White is a master of dark and sinister retellings. She returns with that magic in The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein. It’s a gothic and mysterious retelling of Frankenstein that will give a completely different point of view to the classic story by Mary Shelley.

Get it from Amazon for $18.99+.

23. Seafire by Natalie C. Parker
[Image Description: Cover of Seafire] Via Goodreads
Released: August 28, 2018

Why it shines: An epic female fantasy and celebration of sisterhood and found family that the world needs. Seafire follows the story of the fierce female captain, Caledonia, and a crew of equally badass women. And if there’s anything more amazing than an all-female cast taking down a corrupt warlord, I don’t what is.

Get it from Amazon for $14.74+.

24. Hullmetal Girls by Emily Skrutskie
[Image Description: Cover of Hullmetal Girls] Via Goodreads
Released: July 17, 2018

Why it shines: Emily Skrutskie calls this, “my little standalone sci-fi Battlestar/Pacific Rim/Sense8/Snowpiercer frolic, affectionately known as Cyborg Space Jam.” Are you flailing your arms? I certainly am. It has spaceships, angry badass girls, gray morals, an aroace MC, space adventures and machines with sass. Give it to me already.

Get it from Amazon for $17.99+.

25. To Be Honest by Maggie Ann Martin
[Image Description: Cover of To Be Honest] Via Goodreads
Released: August 21, 2018

Why it shines: First of all, how awesome is that cover? To Be Honest is a very realistic, hilarious and heartbreaking novel about insecurities, self-love, and, most of all, a very complicated relationship between a daughter and a mother. It’s a contemporary book full of heart and warmth.

Get it from Amazon for $16.99+.

USA Politics Inequality

All our favorite authors came together to stand against the USA’s cruel immigration policies

If you keep up with news, you would’ve known by now that USA is slowly morphing into a YA dystopian novel.

The immigration policies and the “zero tolerance” directive have led to the deportation of entire families, and have separated children and parents in a cruel and inhumane way. It’s not new to hear about a literal infant being ripped away from its mother’s arms – while breastfeeding for God’s sake – and I honestly don’t know how one can even consider that acceptable.

It’s a time of fear, sorrow, and cruelty. But it’s also a time of hope and strength, as people come together to do what they can. The YA and “Kid Lit” community has come together to stand in solidarity with the families being separated at the border. Recently, twenty YA authors joined hands to form a fundraiser, “Kid Lit Says No Kids in Cages”, which has now expanded into a marvelous collaborative effort and display of solidarity.

“As members of the children’s book industry who have built careers with teen and youth readers around the world, we jointly and strongly condemn the inhumane treatment of immigrant children evidenced by the United States Department of Justice in the past week.”, the website reads, “We believe that innocent children should not be separated from their parents. We believe the “Zero Tolerance” directive issued by Attorney General Jeff Sessions is cruel, immoral and outrageous. We believe the Department of Justice is engaging in practices that should be restricted to the pages of dystopian novels.”
[Image Description : The official graphic of the fundraiser] Via Kid Lit Says No Kids in Cages
The fundraiser collects money to reunite immigrant kids with their families and implores its supporters to get actively involved in the movement. The creators of the fundraiser – many of them POCs and immigrants themselves – are using their unique position to contribute to the cause in a way that ‘s meaningful and productive. Among the original 20 authors include Melissa De La Cruz ( Blue Bloods), Margaret Stohl ( Icons), Adam Silvera ( They Both Die at the End ), Tahereh Mafi ( Shatter Me ), and Rainbow Rowell ( Fangirl ). Their initial goal was to raise $42K, which they easily surpassed within 24 hours. Now, the fundraiser boasts over 4,700 signatures and has raised over $200K.

The banner has also led more authors to come forward and share their support and experiences, one of them being Tomi Adeyemi ( Children of Blood and Bone ), who took to Twitter to share her own childhood experience where she almost got separated from her mother. “When I was in sixth grade I had to testify in immigration court for my mom. I sat there on the stand—11 years old—trying to explain to a judge why I needed my mom to stay. When I realized the judge might actually take her away, I cried so hard I could no longer speak. It was single-handedly the worst experience of my life and in the end we were lucky. She got to stay. There are absolutely no words for the unspeakably horror trump and this government are inflicting on innocent immigrants and refugees. Families are being ripped apart,” she wrote as she urged her followers and readers to donate and sign the statement.

The money collected through the fundraiser is being donated to six organizations actively working towards reuniting families, namely The Florence Project, ACLU, RAICES, Women’s Refugee Commission, Kids in Need of Defense and Al Otro Lado.  It’s beautiful to witness the writers you’ve come to love and adore take a step towards voicing against the injustice happening in the country. As a reader, and a member of the community myself, I feel proud and hopeful when I see these kinds of selfless acts of kindness.

As these authors and members of the kid lit community use their presence and voice to an advantage, it’s also a call to all industries with a prominent voice to make use of it for a good cause. Even though children are no longer being separated from their parents, families are still victimized, torn apart and require help.

If you wish to contribute to Kid Lit Says No Kids in Cages, you can do so here. Also, make sure to sign your name to the official statement.

The World

I won’t be able to attend another Book Expo with the same level of comfort ever again

In January, the School Library Journal published an article that shed light on the sexual harassment that exists in the children’s publishing industry. The unnamed writer, narrated the story of how she was harassed by illustrator David Diaz, at the 2012 SCWBI ( Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) conference. An aspiring writer at that time, it took her some years to speak out about her experience, following Diaz’ resignation from the SCWBI’s board in 2017 December.

A lot of things happened in the wake of this article. The readers have been horrified, disturbed and alarmed at the offenses that have been going on the industry all this time. The writer publicly announced herself as Ishta Mercurio, and she gave the courage for many more victims in the community and the industry to speak up. YA author Ally Condie ( Matched Trilogy ) posted a thread pointing out the instances she had felt harassed by male peers in the industry. Author Anne Ursu followed up with a Medium article that revealed more truths. “When you believe you are a professional and someone informs you they see you as a sex object, it can shatter your sense of self and your sense of safety,” she wrote, breaking the silence on the gross and scary side of the publishing industry. Her article included narratives of authors and conference attendees, whose experiences will definitely send shivers down your spine, at least it did to me.

As days passed, we got to hear names. And the revelation of the true face of such beloved writers and respected professionals in the industry has given way to a tough yet powerful couple of days as victims came clean about their experiences and accusers. The list of abusers looks like this.

  • Jay Asher, YA author (13 Reasons Why)
  • James Dashner, YA author (Maze Runner series)
  • Sherman Alexie, YA author (The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian)
  • Matt de la Pena, YA author (Last Stop on Market Street)
  • Stephan Pastis, Comic Artist (Pearls Before Swine, Timmy Failure )
  • Richard Paul Evans, YA Author ( Michael Vey, The Walk)
  • Tristina Wright, YA author (27 Hours)
  • Chris Howard, YA author ( Rootless) – second hand account
  • Tim Wynne Jones, YA author (Blink and Caution)
  • Tessa Gratton, YA author (The Blood Journals) – second hand account
  • Tiffany Rosenthal Hofmann, freelance editor/acquisition editor for Filles Vertes Publishing
  • Tim Ferdele, YA author ( The Great American Whatever)
  • James A.Owen, YA author ( The Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica Series) – second hand account
  • Michael Neff, Director of the New York Pitch Conference
  • Stefane Marsan, Editor
  • Mark Gottlieb, Agent – Second hand account
  • Steven Salpeter, Agent – Second hand account
  • Mo Willems, Picture book author ( Pigeon series)

(All of these names were compiled from the information gathered from Anne Ursu’s survey and the comments under the School Library Journal article. Ethically and personally, I believe all these victims, but I know I can’t accuse anyone officially. )

Aspiring authors have been harassed by industry veterans. People from the higher ranks have used their privilege to their advantage. Authors have exploited their fans’ hero worship and respect. How many of these authors’ books have we all read and loved? How many of these people have we been friends of, personally and admired greatly?

I am a book blogger and have been involved in this community for years. I have attended book conferences, flying all the way to the USA from my country (Sri Lanka), all alone, based on the trust and sense of security I have always felt within the community. Today that belief is shaken, and the rude awakening has made me want to see everything in a new light.

How many times have I shrugged off incidents that might have happened to me? How many offenses have I failed to see despite it happening right next to me? And how many times have made someone uncomfortable, however unintentional it might have been?

I know one of the accused up on that list personally. She has been a person I admire, we’ve been Twitter mutuals, and I’ve been so excited to see her at a convention. I’ve hugged her, fangirled over her, and when I see a victim who was more or less a reader like me accuse her, I felt shattered. The knee-jerk and selfish reaction was denial, but then I caught myself soon. When I believe all the victims, how can I not believe one, just because the accused is someone I know?

The particular author I mentioned above has claimed she’s innocent. She mentioned that she’s been assaulted herself, and she would never do something like that. Like I said before, part of me really wants to believe it, but that part of me is the worst kind of hypocrite. And as author Courtney Milan put it, “Victims of assault can still assault.”

Author Jay Asher responded to the allegations, however, if you are waiting for an apology, you’ll be mistaken. The author opened up to Buzzfeed that he left SCWBI on his own account, and that he was the person who was being harassed.

It’s a tough discussion, but I am glad we’re doing this. However, there’s no point in the conversation alone, unless it sparks some action. Because everyone can tweet their support or write an article about how they sympathize with the victims. Even hypocrites can, as YA author Sandhya Menon revealed, “Men who’ve harassed me are parading around Twitter as supporters and allies right now, pledging to take a stand against the very same harassment they’ve perpetrated.”  And author Heidi Heilig exclaims, “the thing that strikes me hardest about all this is: sure, not everyone knows. BUT A LOT OF POWERFUL PEOPLE DO KNOW, AND THEY DO NOTHING.”

It’s time for everyone in the YA publishing industry to step up and do what’s right. Author Gwenda Bond invited everyone to sign an anti-harassment pledge. Author Adam Gitwitz initiated a Facebook group for the men of the industry “to be part of a conversation” that would “help fight sexual harassment and assault” in the field. Author Kosoko Jackson started a LGBTQIA whisper, and author Alexandra Duncan has put together a spreadsheet of anti harassment resources at Cons and Festivals.

We are in a dire need to make this community a safe place. Publishers, people of higher rank in the industry, authors, editors, agents – it’s time to step up and confront the abusers and make sure that there’s less of a chance for it to happen again. I would never be able to go to another Book Expo with the same level of comfort, but we really need to do what we can, so that it doesn’t become worse.