Book Reviews Books

“21 Questions” uses a tried-and-tested formula for YA and misses the mark

21 Questions is a book about two high school teenagers, Brock and Kendra, who despite their differences form a meaningful relationship with each other and grow as individuals because of their bond. The book explores themes of grief, love, and friendship – all through the lens of the characters themselves. 

The book is set in Laguna Beach in California. This setting is important because Kendra is training to become a professional surfer. Her brother, who died before the book begins, was primed to enter the professional surfing sphere before he died of a drug overdose. Kendra has been experiencing anxiety attacks ever since. Surfing and meditation are what help her get through it.

Brock, on the other hand, could not be more different. His parents run a successful drug-dealing operation and Brock has been roped into the family business. He sells to classmates and friends. When we first meet Brock, it is clear that although he seems to enjoy this life, his first love is music – something he cannot pursue because of his parents’ expectations. When Brock and Kendra meet, they have an undeniable and immediate mutual attraction. The chapters alternate between Brock and Kendra’s points of view, giving the reader more insight into their thoughts and motivations.

I have mixed feelings about the style of language in this book. I admire the switch in the tone of language between Kendra’s and Brock’s points of view. Brock’s chapters are narrated the way he thinks – with a lot of slang and curse words, while Kendra is less angry and shyer. However, the excessive slang and text language make the book hard to read at times.

The novel is full of tropes. The underlying themes of this book are predictable. The bad boy male protagonist charms the straight-as-an-arrow female protagonist. He teaches her to relax and she teaches him to be a better person. It’s a formula that’s been applied many times before. Kendra is Brock’s muse in the sense that she is his motivation to stop selling drugs and play music. This is not to say that such formulae cannot be used – after all, they are so popular because they mostly work. But I personally do not think that was the case for 21 Questions.


Although it was heartening to see the characters learn and grow, I did not feel that inexplicable sympathy a reader needs to root for the characters. Kendra’s thoughts veered towards the ‘I’m not like other girls’ territory, throwing the feminism of the book into question. In fact, all the characters seemed to be one-dimensional. The girls who are not Kendra are overly superficial. Brock and his friends seemed to be obsessed with sex and not much else. Brock’s love for music does add another layer to his personality – but the troubled musician character is not one that I have patience for after reading and watching him so many times.

The story is on the whole predictable but is not without its surprising twists and turns. I would not have much of an issue with the plot if only it was told better. Two teenagers who have past family traumas that they are trying to get over in order to live their own lives. As a reader, I would have liked to root for the main characters a little more. Perhaps if they had more depth this would have been easier. I also felt that the epilogue was entirely unnecessary, but I will concede that I have a personal disinclination towards epilogues.


If you like knowing what the characters are up to in the future, then this book has a comprehensive epilogue that ties up the characters’ journeys nicely, albeit rather self-indulgently. By the end of the book, the characters have grown up. I just wish the same could be said of the book itself.

Want to give this book a try? Buy it on Bookshop or Indiebound and support local bookstores.

Pop Culture

The fault in YA books: why mental health in YA fiction needs to be better

YA literature is a genre not just limited to young adults. And if you’ve read some of the contemporary YA literature of recent years, you might have noticed a common trend: mental health tropes are used as the backdrop of most of these books. Even though the genre is typically used to uncritically present a teenage perspective, I can’t help but think how the authors are tackling hardcore issues like mental health in such a tactless way.

Mental health is a complicated issue. Coping with mental health and recovering from it is not a linear process. Even if you recover, you have relapses. Recently, YA books have portrayed mental health and its recovery process to be something linear.

For example, most of the YA books set up the whole book based on imminent mental health struggles. Firstly, the protagonist is written off as a character with ‘quirky’ personality traits which are more of struggling mental health symptoms. They then sensationalize the illness by revolving the conversation around a love interest. Then the authors proceed to give the story its climax by showing that mental health is something salvageable by love interests.

The YA books are buzzing with these sort of storylines, where mental health has been stigmatized.

How YA novels stigmatize mental health

Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why – the 2007 novel, not the TV show with its unnecessary 4 seasons – is a perfect example of how mental health in YA books is portrayed as unrealistic and sensational.

Despite relating to Hannah’s mental health struggles, there was something not quite right about how her issues were being portrayed. The book is focused on the psychology of a teen who commits suicide due to bullying. The psychological reasons portrayed in this book that led to her suicide have been sensualized to the point that it got all of our brows raised. Secondly, the whole plot behind her suicide was to get revenge on her bullies. This sends out a wrong message to the audience. The book deals with suicide in a way that triggers emotional distress in the audience.

And I wasn’t the only one who thought Thirteen Reasons Why sensationalized Hannah’s struggle with mental health, the TV show came under a lot of fire by the critics, and rightfully so.

There are countless other books with similar problematic portrayals, for example, My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga. Warga’s tale follows two 16-year-olds who are obsessing over plotting their own deaths – arguably, a very unusual and sensitive issue for a plot, but it gets worse. As the book progresses, the two protagonists who have an intense background of domestic abuse and trauma, fall in love. 

SPOILER ALERT: Teenage love comes to the rescue in the end! All of a sudden their mental illness is cured, one of the protagonists stops the other one from committing suicide, and they live happily ever after with their newfound love! Very realistic. Not.

Warga’s story not only simplifies the recovery process, but also romanticizes the trauma by portraying an unrealistic presentation of mental illness. It feeds on the problematic narrative that falling in love is the solution to every problem.

Recovering from mental illness is NOT as easy as falling in love, and this narrative takes away the messy aspect of recovery. YA authors should be careful when conflating mental health issues with other archetypes such as romantic love. This is breeding the mainstream perception that sadness and the blues that result from depression can all be fixed with love. 

You read about protagonists being romanticized by their love interest for their ‘quirky’ suicidal tendencies, and the love interest jumping in with their agenda of “I can save you with my love”.  In books like these, it’s always the ones with the “quirky” music taste, fashion sense, and custom-made Vans, that are mentally unwell. These are the people that need to be “saved” and the climax of most of these problematic books is one saving the other with their romantic love. 

These authors are writing a story out of romanticizing and sensualizing mental health. No wonder there has been a recent influx of “I can fix you” books and movies that breed and glorify relationships that are just not practical.

The contemporary YA books have reduced mental health to a mere trope, limited to one spectrum. And it’s especially detrimental to the readers of this genre who are the most vulnerable. These authors are inadvertently shaping a cultural phenomenon where mental health is seen as something easy— only to be saved by romantic love. 

YA authors need to be careful while writing about it and not further stigmatizing it. This stigmatization falls under the same category as toxic positivity where mental health struggles are overgeneralized. How many times have you come across characters in these books who have the habit of washing their hands frequently and having it termed as “OCD”? Multiple.

The culture of reducing mental health to a trope or the mental health symptoms to ‘quirky’ traits’ has its own effects. This culture has given birth to a new lexicon where people have replaced ‘sadness’ and feeling hygienic with more clinical terms like ‘depression’ and ‘OCD’. Not only have these books managed to stigmatize mental health, but they’ve also reduced its significance by taking away its clinical aspects.

The mental health trope has become repetitive. These books barely touch on the topic of self-love, self-discovery, and self-exploration – all of which are crucial to mental health. Even the arduous journey of recovering from a mental illness isn’t linear like it is shown in these books. It’s much more realistic that way and reinforces a positive understanding among its reader about mental health. 

Mental health representation in YA books needs to be better because studies have found that it has a huge effect on teens. Authors have a huge power over how teens and young adult readers perceive mental health. 

Mental health conversations don’t need to revolve around love interests or quirky personality types. It’d be nice to see a more realistic portrayal of the protagonist struggling with therapy, self-love, friendships helping with the recovery process, and embarking on a trajectory of self-discovery, for a change. Maybe a story about the stress that comes from living with a mentally struggling parent or partner? Or even a story on struggling with mental health in college? It’s more realistic and practical and most importantly, doesn’t adversely affect the readers. 

We need more nuanced storylines. YA authors owe it to their young impressionable audience to do a better job of portraying mental health in their books. Conversations about mental health have finally made it to mainstream media. It’s time that YA writers also critically approach mental health in their books, rather than falling for age-old, and incorrect, stereotypes. 

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Gender & Identity Books Life

Author Tamora Pierce was the hero I didn’t know I needed

When I was a kid I was obsessed with reading. Nothing was as interesting opening the pages of a book and becoming someone else. I could hear thoughts, talk to birds or sword fight a wizard. Whatever I wanted. It was amazing. 

I used to go to my elementary school’s library every other day and hand in my book and ask for the next one. My mother quickly learned that I burned through books just about as fast as I would burn through her wallet at a candy store. If she bought me a new book every time I finished one, we would be poor. I become great friends with the librarian. She taught me how to find what I was looking for on the shelves and how each was categorized. I remember getting a thin book handed to me while the librarian said, “you’ll like this one.”

I did. I liked it a lot.

That book was Alanna: The First Adventure and I finished it by the next morning. I then read through the entire The Song of the Lioness series by Tamora Pierce. I was spellbound by her world and her stories but most of all by her characters.

Alanna was not only someone I wanted to be, but someone I already saw myself in. Strong-willed and fierce, she defied gender roles and went against the status quo. But she wasn’t one dimensional. She cared about the weak and she wanted to be loved. I hadn’t read about anyone like her.

Tamora started writing young. Like me, she was obsessed with stories and books. She grew up moving from place to place due to her poor family’s unstable situation with her siblings, one of which she based her character of Alanna. She forgot about writing for a while and went to the University of Pennsylvania on a full scholarship for psychology. She worked summers at Women’s Centers and taught a history class on witchcraft at the Free Women’s University. She started writing stories again in her third year at University, it was only a couple years later she started sending out her manuscript for The Song of the Lioness.

Alanna clearly reflects Tamora’s upbringing. A no-name girl taking more than what she was given and holding on tight seems to be a theme in nearly all Tamora’s books but especially in Alanna. Tamora’s interest in both women’s studies and the arts shine through her characters.

Without knowing it at the time, her books were my first introduction to feminism. I read a lot of books as a kid but none stuck in my mind or had as deep an impact on who I am as Tamora Pierce’s did. They had a captivating story that kept me hooked for all four books and then for two series I immediately read after that were set in the same universe. They had characters that seemed to grow with me. That I could relate to as well as aspire to be. They were books that made a scrawny girl feel like she could do anything. There is no doubt in my mind that Tamora Pierce is a hero, for me and for thousands of other girls and women.

Race Books Pop Culture Inequality

YA author canceled her debut novel, ‘Blood Heir,’ after accusations of racism

Over the past few weeks, what started as quiet exchanges and carefully censored commentary on inclusive fiction within the young adult community exploded into controversy.

The heart of the furor? Blood Heir, a Russian-inspired fantasy from debut author Amelie Wen Zhao slated to release later this year, was pulled after fellow YA authors raised concerns that the book was racially insensitive in its handling of slavery and the death of a black character.

Many have lamented the situation as a loss to Zhao, despite her publisher acknowledging that they will be publishing the books bought from her in her original deal and her agent stands behind her, meanwhile, the two women of color authors who originally offered critique have been brigaded and sent death threats.

Blood Heir is not the first book to be the subject of such debate and upheaval.

From Laura Moriarty’s take on potential Muslim internment camps in American Heart to Jack Gantos’ A Suicide Bomber Sits In A Library, the concept of what makes inclusive fiction worth reading has included a great deal of criticism for books that do not make the cut.

The fact that Zhao’s removal has caused such upset seems to touch on this ignorant rule that all-inclusive fiction should be accepted for its existence and effort.

In many of the articles that denounce Zhao’s critics as part of a jealous, vicious mob of “PC culture,” they’ve seemed to have seized on Zhao being a fresh-faced immigrant who had no idea of the cultural implications of making a Black character enslaved and doomed to die first for the sake of a white protagonist.

By pointing out that Zhao is a woman of color, her defenders suggest that less scrutiny should be placed on her efforts of representation. After all, how can a woman of color be racist against other people of color? And how can an immigrant be held to account for America’s history of racism and bigotry?

This is one argument that is often raised in regards to the critique of inclusive fiction. It cannot be denied that American exceptionalism does not apply to all writers’ backgrounds and personal missions in writing their narratives.

However, anti-blackness and colorism are global issues that are apparent in both Asian and Asian-American communities. So to give Zhao a free pass because of her ethnicity is reckless and dismissive of the societal triggers these portrayals of past trauma causes.

Many point to Zhao’s cancellation, a rarity in an industry where books are more often given the chance to be rewritten, as a double standard that would not have occurred if she were a white author. While this may be true that still does not excuse the pain that she acknowledges she caused these marginalized groups.

Speaking from personal experience as being one of the bloggers who braved the Islamophobic premise of American Heart, inclusive fiction done wrong is not an easy thing to swallow. It is never easy to read narratives in which your existence is stereotyped, demonized, and belittled.

The fact that such narratives are defended and marginalized voices are instructed to “read before critiquing” proves that there is nothing revolutionary, important or educational about them. It is a perpetuation of what inclusive fiction sets out to deconstruct.

Representation isn’t valuable if it means diminishing the others.

Like it or not, inclusive fiction does not merely mean plopping in a marginalized character or two and calling it a day. Writing about people who have historically been denied respectful representation can never be taken so lightly.

It requires thought and research, and understanding in some cases about who gets to tell a story and whether or not that person is you. There is no divorcing real-life histories, divisions and suffering from fictional narratives.

In the case of American Heart, the premise of a potential internment camp wasn’t actually the issue so much as the author’s decision to deny her Muslim character any real presence and place all focus on a white protagonist.

Meanwhile, author Samira Ahmed’s upcoming Internment, on the same topic, has been welcomed. The difference is not merely the fact that Ahmad is a Muslim-American author, but rather the care and research that she has repeatedly referenced in the process of writing the title.

Even if an author decides to write about marginalized communities outside of their own, they have the option of sensitivity readers. These are paid readers —some are often authors— who are solicited by the publisher to scour a manuscript for insensitivity and problematic materials. This route would have been useful for writers like Zhao, who despite having an immigrant background and experiences with oppression, are not accustomed to the lived traumas of others.

So if nothing else, Blood Heir has certainly demonstrated that the We Need Diverse Books movement does not stop at that simple, stirring statement. Rather than denouncing this situation as censorship, this an opportunity to discuss what is really needed to move forward with the inclusive fiction movement.

Books Pop Culture

Here’s why you need to stop sleeping on Leigh Bardugo’s books if you’re a fan of YA

There is a moment, just when you’ve discovered how poorly written so many of your teenage favorites were, when you kind of lose faith in young adult literature and vow to move on to more serious literature. And then, you see everyone and their grandmother on Tumblr raving about the newest release everyone just has to read, and you decide to give YA fantasy another go.

Too often, it can end in disappointment, but with Leigh Bardugo, it pays off.

For those who don’t know, Miss Bardugo is an author of YA fantasy, and most of her books are set in the same universe: the world of Grisha. Her world-building is well-established, her plots are solid, and her characters are mostly well-rounded dynamic personalities. Most importantly, this woman is not playing around when it comes to diversity and improving her writing with every single book. But my favorite thing about her isn’t the books themselves at all; it’s how reliable she is.

Leigh Bardugo just keeps getting better. There’s no way around it. If you read her work chronologically, there’s no mistaking it. The improvement is obvious and heartening to see, and reason number one that makes her one of my favorite authors.

A quick disclaimer: the conclusion of her first trilogy is one of the angriest I’ve ever been with a book. Like the last ever episode of How I Met Your Mother, I like to pretend that certain details about it don’t exist at all, and I will be the first to say that one of the male characters in the Grisha trilogy (if you’ve read it, you know who) annoys me more than words could possibly express. But despite the inevitable human shortcomings, the development her writing undergoes between each book ensures that it’s very hard indeed to not be ridiculously excited about every new release.

Compared to Shadow and Bone, her first Grisha novel, which was about as white and straight and limited in representation as possible, her Six of Crows duology is a wonder. Between the six main characters of the ensemble cast, you find representation for POC, LGBTQ+, addiction, sex work, PTSD, body diversity, physical and learning disabilities, unlearning racial prejudices and more. Plus, you find some of the most glorious female friendships written by her and they are so refreshing to see, especially in a genre that too often falls into the trap of pitting women against each other and making their protagonist different – i.e. better – compared to other girls.

In a world where more and more YA writers are giving in to fan service and sacrificing quality and truthfulness to their art, just to please a chunk of the fanbase, Bardugo represents an exhilarating change. To me, she exemplifies the integral quality we need in this age of social media social justice warriors to be dynamic and constantly bettering ourselves. Her progress as a writer embodies the ability to learn from your mistakes, educate yourself, and then do better in the future instead of blindly defending your own flawed preconceptions.

I won’t call her perfect, because that is damaging in itself. But I will say that Leigh Bardugo has actively improved with every single book and given the world a little bit of the diversity we deserve. She has definitely written a fat, loud, beautiful, unabashed girl with a love for sweets whom I can relate to and made it a point to mention how she is perceived unanimously as beautiful and badass. Among the more obvious diversity squares checked by her work, there are prize jewels such as portrayals of addiction, sex work and the unlearning of ingrained prejudices. Simply put, Leigh writes some brilliant fantasy series and she outdoes herself every single time.

Convinced you should try her out yet? If in doubt – or not prepared to tackle five books – her latest release, The Language of Thorns, is an excellent place to start. It questions damaging implications in existing fairytales, creates a mythology within her fictional universe, and just slays the fairy tale genre. There is also (spoiler alert!) a hilarious gay river and stunning illustrations, among other excellent things.

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.

Gift Guides Book Reviews Books Pop Culture

11 amazing YA books that will actually change your life

The recent political climate has made its impact on a lot of outlets, whether it’s movies, TV or social media. Books haven’t been any different, and YA fiction, in particular, has been upfront and real about a lot of serious topics. YA books of the past few years have tackled everything from racism to sexual assault.

Literature has always been the mirror of society, and, right now, it’s become a powerful medium to educate and represent. Here’s to a few novels that are definitely doing it right.

1. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
[Image Description: A picture of the novel, The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas] Via Epic Reads
The Hate U Give is a gem of a book that was well worth the hype and praise it garnered. Angie Thomas gets real and open about racism and police brutality, and this YA novel inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement is a must-read. Starr’s story is heartbreaking, inspiring, realistic, authentic and so so important.

Favorite quote: “Sometimes you can do everything right and things will still go wrong. The key is to never stop doing right.”

Get it from Amazon for $12.34, your local bookstore through Indiebound, or your local library.


2. A Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller
[Image Description: A girl’s hand holding a copy of A Mad Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Walker] Via Wordrevel
A Mad Wicked Folly is set in 1909 London. Vicky is a fearless girl who dares to dream beyond the conventional, chasing them without reservations. Set in the backdrop of the Women’s Suffrage Movement, the book is quirky, uplifting, romantic, and gloriously feminist.

Favorite quote: “This is why we all fight so hard. Not just for the vote, but for an equal opportunity in the world. A vote is a voice. I think you underestimate yourself, Queenie. This is your fight, same as it is mine.”

Get it from Amazon for $30.89, your local bookstore through Indiebound, or your local library.


3. This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp
[Image Description: A flat lay picture of This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp amidst flowers and candles] Via Bookish Lifestyle
This Is Where It Ends is a story told in four perspectives, in 54 minutes. It narrates a school shooting, and the story keeps you on the edge, and every tense moment of this book is heartbreaking and full of emotion. In our current reality where schools are no longer safe places, the novel will definitely leave a lasting impact.

Favorite quote: “We’re more than our mistakes. We’re more than what people expect of us.”

Get it from Amazon for $10.68, your local bookstore through Indiebound, or your local library.


4. Dear Martin by Nic Stone
[Image Description: A flat lay picture of Dear Martin by Nic Stone] Via LifeinLit
Dear Martin is another wonderful story that gets real about race. It’s short, raw, unapologetic, and straight to the point. It tackles the struggle of fitting in, the question of one’s privilege, the judgment that comes with one’s skin color and the prejudices that follows a black guy everywhere.

Favorite quote: “You can’t change how other people think and act, but you’re in full control of you. When it comes down to it, the only question that matters is this: If nothing in the world ever changes, what type of man are you gonna be?”

Get it from Amazon for $7.47, your local bookstore through Indiebound, or your local library.


5. The Library Of Fates by Aditi Khorana

[Image Description: A still of the cover of The Library of Fates by Aditi Khorana] Via Chasing Faerytales
[Image Description: A still of The Library Of Fates by Aditi Khorana] Via Chasing Faerytales
The Library Of Fates is a fantasy inspired by Hindu mythology and Indian history. It captures the reality of tyrannical rule, a selfish ruler and an unfair administration. But what makes the book special is that it gives hope, and narrates the power of female determination, and how it can undermine power and tyranny.

Favorite quote: “I don’t believe that anyone is more powerful than anyone else. I believe that anyone can change. I believe there are mysteries built over even more powerful mysteries, and it takes lifetimes to unearth them.”

Get it from Amazon for $12.40, your local bookstore through Indiebound, or your local library.


6. American Street by Ibi Zoboi
[Image Description:  American Street placed on a bed] Via _WolfandMoon
American Street is all about the US president’s favorite topic – immigration. It tells the story of the American dream of Fabiola, who immigrates from Haiti, and suddenly finds her newfound freedom and joy at risk. The book is real, brutal and doesn’t pull back any punches on emotions.

Favorite quote: “According to my papers, I’m not even supposed to be here. I’m not a citizen. I’m a ‘resident alien.’ The borders don’t care if we’re all human and my heart pumps blood the same as everyone else’s.”

Get it from Amazon for $7.55, your local bookstore through Indiebound, or your local library.


7. Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
[Image Description: A book Long Way Down in an elevator] Via Lady Spatula
Long Way Down is the story of an elevator ride. An eventful and impactful elevator ride told in verse, which captures cyclical violence in a gut-wrenching way you won’t be able to forget. It’s beautiful, tragic, violent and a great look at family (be it found or biological) and brotherhood and the lengths to which we hold true “an eye for an eye.”

Favorite quote: “ANOTHER THING ABOUT THE RULES / They weren’t meant to be broken. They were meant for the broken / to follow.”

Get it from Amazon for $6.70, your local bookstore through Indiebound, or your local library.


8. Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed
[Image Description: A copy of Love, Hate & Other Filters is placed inside a crate, next to some flowers] Via Wordrevel
Love, Hate & Other Filters is a Muslim teen’s experience with Islamophobia, especially after a terrorist attack. The book sheds light on white supremacy, hate crimes, racism and is an authentic representation of the life of an Indian American Muslim in the dynamics of the current political climate.

Favorite quote: “My body remembers what part of my mind wants to forget—because there are times when I struggle to reconcile what I gave up to be here, in this very moment, despite how much I wanted it. How much I do want it. The past may be prologue, but it’s with me, every day.”

Get it from Amazon for $9.73, your local bookstore through Indiebound, or your local library.



9. The Lines We Cross by Randa Abdel-Fattah
[Image Description: A photograph of The Lines We Cross] Via BritneyLynneWrites
The Lines We Cross is a story about a girl who fled from Afghanistan and a boy whose parents head an anti-immigration movement. The book takes a look at both sides and the blurred lines in between. It’s an eye-opener, powerfully showcasing the contrasting narratives, which bring you a new perspective on the world we live and love in.

Favorite quote: “I’m starting to realize that being born into this social world is a little like being born into clean air. You take it in as soon as you breathe, and pretty soon you don’t even realize that while you can walk around with clear lungs, other people are wearing oxygen masks just to survive.”

Get it from Amazon for $9.73, your local bookstore through Indiebound, or your local library.


10. The Fixer by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
[Image Description: A copy of The Fixer and its sequel placed next to a candle] Via Super Space Chick
The Fixer (The Fixer #1) is a gripping political thriller that is all about fixing the problems of the rich and the powerful. In a world where privilege helps anyone get away with anything, this novel paints the reality of politics and power. I don’t know whether it was written in that intention, but right now, the concept of the story is a little too relevant.

Favorite quote: “’I have a passing fondness for explosions.’ That was concerning on so many levels.”

Get it from Amazon for $4.58, your local bookstore through Indiebound, or your local library.



11. Girl Made Of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake
[Image Description: A copy of Girl Made Of Stars] Via Cbookaddiction
Girl Made Of Stars tries to answer a difficult question: what happens when someone you love is accused of sexual harassment? Do you believe the victim or justify the accused? Do you go by what’s right or what your heart says is right? The book is packed with emotions and is a beautiful reflection of the aftermath of the #MeToo movement.

Favorite quote: “Even girls made of stars are captives, bound at the wrists and traded like property. Even girls made of stars aren’t asked, aren’t believed, aren’t considered worth the effort unless they can offer something in return.
Even girls made of stars buy into those lies sometimes.”

Get it from Amazon for $8.74, your local bookstore through Indiebound, or your local library.

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.

Books Pop Culture

10 amazing young adult novels featuring women like us

Even though I’m 22 years old, I still read  YA books religiously. Some people dismiss YA books because of the dramatic, know-it-all teens, shallow plots, and love triangles; but I embrace them for these very reasons. Like a lot of folks, I use books and stories as a form of escapism. I love getting lost in the teenage love stories and magical quests. Everything doesn’t have to have an intricate plot, though many of them do. I just want to be entertained!

That said, I do have one complaint about the genre that I’m sure many of you can relate to. The YA genre, like much of the publishing industry, seems to push aside diverse characters written by diverse authors or for diverse audiences.

Front and center of most YA novels (especially the popular ones) are protagonists who are white or racially ambiguous. Meanwhile, the characters of color, if there are any, are always in the role of the token friend.

When we finally do get our own stories, they’re centered around the struggles of our past. While I’m aware that these stories are important, and need to be told,  we are so much more than our hardships. Sometimes, I want to read books where the women of color get to fall in love, save the world or just be completely carefree as our white counterparts.

That’s why I’ve made it a priority to support YA books that feature complex people of color in the shining lead role, however few and far in between they are. Keep reading for 10 awesome YA books written with women of color in mind.

1. “The Sun Is Also A Star,” Nicola Yoon

The Sun Is Also A Star

Natasha is a 16-year-old Jamaican girl who doesn’t believe in fate—not that she has time to. Because her father got into a car crash, her family is 12 hours away from getting deported to Jamaica. So, she uses her time left in the U.S to make one last plea to save her family, and the life she isn’t ready to leave behind. Daniel, on the other hand, is a poet who wants to go against his parent’s wishes and pursue a career in the arts instead of academia. He’s been accepted into Yale and as a reward, his parents have given him the day off from school. What will happen when their paths cross?

Buy here.

2. “Tiny Pretty Things,” Dhonielle Clayton and Sona Charaipotra

Tiny Pretty Things

Tiny Pretty Things, described as Black Swan meets Pretty Little Liars, takes you into the cut-throat world of ballet. It follows three girls: a Black girl named Gigi White, a White girl named Bette and a half- Korean girl named June. Gigi just moved to town from California, has a heart condition that makes dancing life-threatening, and is having a hard time dealing with some of the shadiness from the other girls. Bette has been at the American Ballet Conservatory the longest of the three and she is a conniving narcissist who wants to get out of her sister’s shadow. June has also been at the conservatory for an extended length of time but feels like she’s always getting overlooked and must improve before her mom puts and end to her dream.

Buy here.

3. “Everything, Everything,” Nicola Yoon

Everything, Everything

Maddy Whittier was diagnosed with severe combined immune deficiency at birth, which means that she can’t leave her house without getting really sick. Despite being confined to her home for 17 years, Maddy has made the best of her situation by reading and spending time with her mom and nurse, Carla. That changes when a cute boy named Olly (Nick Robinson) moves in next door and awakens feelings in Maddy that she’s never experienced. Everything, Everything chronicles their blossoming romance and the unique challenges that come along with Maddy’s disease, before a major twist at the end that will leave your jaw on the floor. Everything, Everything is being made into a major motion film that will star Amandla Stenberg and Nick Robinson.

Buy here.

4. “Poison’s Kiss,” Breeana Shields

Poison's Kiss

Marinda is a visha kanya, or “poison maiden,”meaning a young girl (in Indian folklore) whose blood and saliva are poisonous. Marinda has killed dozens of boys with just a simple kiss on the lips. Why? She receives orders from the Raja and believes that she’s doing good until she receives an order to kill a boy she knows, Deven. Nothing that Marinda knows about him says that he deserves to die, so the order has her questioning whom she is really serving. Once she start to pry, the life she knows slowly starts to unravel.

Buy here.

5. “The Kayla Chronicles,” Sherri Winston

The Kayla Chronicles

Kayla Dean is a self-proclaimed feminist and journalist who’s about to break the biggest story of her life. She believes that the Lady Lions dance team discriminates against girls with small breasts. With the encouragement of her friend, Rosalie, Kayla undergoes a makeover and decides to test her theory. She knows that she’s a great dancer, so if she doesn’t make the squad it’ll be because she’s not as well endowed as the other girls. She doesn’t get her story, though, because she blows everyone away with her audition and makes the team. Her views about feminism and womanhood are challenged when she realizes the girls on the squad aren’t who she expected them to be.

Buy here.

6. “This Side of Home,” Renee Watson

This Side of Home

Maya and Nikki, twins living in Portland, are on the same page about pretty much everything. They have the same goals; share the same friends; and even like the same types of boys. After graduation; they plan to attend the same historically Black college together, too. When their neighborhood gets revamped with new coffee shops and fancy businesses, Maya is thrilled, while Nikki feels like she’s losing the essence of their home. For two girls who have always been in sync about everything, the gentrification of their hometown makes them face the fact that they might not always see eye to eye and will have to stand on their own.

Buy here.

7. “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before,” Jenny Han

To All The Boys I've Loved Before

Lara Jean is a teen girl who has had her fair share of crushes—one of them being her sister’s ex-boyfriend! When she gets over these feelings, she writes each boy a letter that she never intends to send and stores them under her bed. One day, she realizes that someone has sent out the letters and her life gets super complicated when she has to confront each of her past loves.

Buy here.

8. “The Secret of a Heart Note,” Stacey Lee

The Secret of A Heart Note centers on 16-year old Mimosa. She is one of only two aromateurs left on the planet. As such, she spends her days her mixing the powerful elixirs that help other people fall in love. There is a catch, though. If she ever falls in love herself, she will lose her very special and unique gift. When she accidently gives an elixir to the wrong woman, she must enlist the help of the woman’s soccer star son. With his help, she will undo her mistake and learn that you can’t always control whom you fall for.

Buy here.

9. “The Education of Margot Sanchez,” Lilliam Rivera

Margot Sanchez attends a prestigious private school paid for by her father, who owns two grocery stores. She’s shallow, self-centered and downplays her culture in order to fit in with her rich peers. When she steals her dad’s credit card to buy fancier clothes, he forces her to work in one of his stores. Though she’s embarrassed at first, she learns more about being grateful for what she has, loving herself, her family and her culture.

Buy here.

10. “Lucy and Linh,” by Alice Pung

When Lucy wins a scholarship to a prestigious private school, she soon learns that it’s a whole new world than that she’s been used to. For starters, a powerful trio named “The Cabinet” sets their sights on her, but she realizes that the powerful clique isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. As she works to fit in and live up to impossible expectations, she confides in her friend Linh, someone she knew before, through a series of letters. That relationship also gets tested as they realize they might not have much in common anymore.

Buy here.

These are just a few of the great YA books out there that feature smart, funny, flawed women of color. They show that we don’t always have to be strong or someone else’s support system. We can be the lead, the funny one, the math wiz and even the ballerina. Though they might be a little harder to find, it’s definitely worth putting in the extra effort.

Love Life Stories

I learned about having real friends the hard way

I held the assignment in my hand. I was proud, but also apprehensive.

My paper said one hundred percent. My insecurities had trained me to think that I wasn’t worth a good grade anymore. I tucked my assignment into my backpack silently. I almost felt guilty. I knew not everyone had done as well so I didn’t want anyone to know.

[bctt tweet=” It was filled with familiar faces, but none of them were my friends. ” username=”wearethetempest”]

I scurried off to class, and I didn’t think about that assignment the rest of the day. It was a big deal to me, but not something I wanted to make  a big deal out of. And that’s how I wished for it to be, not something big, just a little part of my schoolwork tucked in the expanses of my backpack.

After class had been dismissed I wandered off to lunch. I felt a bit unsettled. There was a lump in the back of my throat like I had done something wrong, but I didn’t know why. My mother’s mantra kept repeating in the back of my mind: “When you wish for something, the exact opposite of what you wished for will happen.”

[bctt tweet=”I knew not everyone had done as well so I didn’t want anyone to know.” username=”wearethetempest”]

I sat down in the theater hallway to eat my lunch, next to the student wall of fame. You know your school sucks when you can’t even eat lunch without being outshined by a wall of too-happy-to-be-real teenage overachievers. My train of thought was thrown off track when I was joined by my two best friends, Lillian and Samantha. I had known both of them for most of my life, so you could say they were my best friends. To any outsider we were the inseparable trio you read about in every young adult novel published, and I wanted us to be that way. But the truth was that we were friends due to familiarity, and I had felt isolation since we started high school.

I just didn’t want to admit it. I wanted to be a part of that trio.

I pulled out my lunch and I started eating while reading through my AP Biology textbook. Lillian and Samantha were just background noise until I heard them discuss the assignment. Lillian first complained about her ninety percent, arguing that she deserved better, that she was above such a bad grade. I closed my textbook and let my eyes wander the theater hallway. Samantha usually was quiet, but she spoke up too, adding that she had only received an eighty five percent.

Insisting that she had worked harder than that. I decided not to speak until spoken to, and wished that I would be ignored as usual. Lillian then asked me, “What did you get?” her ego evident in  her tone. She expected that I would score less than both of them, as usual. I reluctantly replied a hundred…

[bctt tweet=” I just didn’t want to admit it. I wanted to be a part of that trio.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Her eyes widened in disbelief and jealousy. Samantha just looked into me, as if I had turned into a purple penguin or something.

My stomach turned, but I was their friend so I listened. I listened to Samantha argue that she deserved more because she worked harder. I listened to Lillian argue that this was her best piece of writing. I listened to them blame everyone, but accept no responsibility. After watching Lillian, who was a bit more aggressive with grades, break down, come unglued, and lose all her composure, I spoke.

I told them that they weren’t doing anything to help themselves by putting responsibility on something else. I told them that if they tried hard then it’s okay. I told them to look at this as a new point to start from. A place to improve from. I told them these things because I was their friend. I told them because I struggled with science, and they had always made me feel stupid because I got a B, while they complained about their 94%. I told them because I had been in their shoes a million times in the past, and the only thing I ever wanted was for them to tell me the same things. I told them because I didn’t want them to be treated the way they had treated me for years.

[bctt tweet=”Her eyes widened in disbelief and jealousy.” username=”wearethetempest”]

I thought they would appreciate my words, think about them and realize that there a sliver of truth behind them. Instead they looked at me in the eye and spat, “We can’t all water down our expectations down like you.” I felt as if I had been punched. As if the floor beneath me crumbled. I felt my gut being twisted. I wished that they had just slapped me, and told me that we weren’t friends anymore.

I left. I picked up my lunch box and I moved to the commons area. The chaos calmed me down, and I found a table to eat at. It was filled with familiar faces, but none of them were my friends. My friends had always been Lillian and Samantha. I had never known anything more. I watched as the kids at other tables shared food, laughs and trust. They talked about what they wanted to do over the weekend, not how to get an A on the test. They talked about old stories, not worthless study groups. They talked about their appreciation for each other instead of making fun of each other’s failures. I learned what friends do.

[bctt tweet=”I told them that if they tried hard then it’s okay. ” username=”wearethetempest”]

After lunch I couldn’t think straight. I wanted to tell Lillian and Samantha how I felt. I didn’t hate them, I just hated how they acted. I wanted to go back to elementary school, when the only thing we thought about was whether to color with markers or with crayons. I wanted to be friends again. I wanted to be honest again, and tell them how they had made me feel. I wanted to tell them that I never wanted to take AP Biology. I only took it because I thought they would think I was stupid if I didn’t. I wanted to tell them that I tried as hard as they did, but I just wasn’t gifted in science. I wanted to tell them to be my real friends.

Except this was real life, not a YA novel, and I couldn’t force a friendship where there wasn’t one. Lillian, Samantha, and I acknowledged our shared past, but accepted that our future wasn’t the one we had made plans for. I made new friends and so did they. I moved towards becoming a debate  nerd and they competed for valedictorian.

In the end we all did what we made us happy. In a way I guess we all lived out our own young adult novels.