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Aww Nostalgia Books Pop Culture Interviews

In conversation with Meg Cabot on the The Princess Diaries’ 20th birthday

It’s hard to believe that NYT bestseller The Princess Diaries, one of Meg Cabot’s masterworks in the Young Adult fiction space, was initially rejected by every publisher in North America except one.

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Twenty years on from the release of The Princess Diaries 2001 film, today, Mia Thermopolis is one of YA fictions’ most adored literary characters, her relatability of being a teenager captured the hearts of anyone who understood the liminal, tumultuous, life-changing chaos of growing up (minus the princess part, of course).

In honor of The Princess Diaries release’s 20th anniversary, (and also because I’m a mega fan!), I spoke to the marvel that is Meg Cabot, about the saga of Mia and her friends, the essence of the story, and why TPD has remained timeless, even as we move forward.

 

Sahar: What is it about Mia’s story, about the Princess Diaries, that has made it such a timeless tale?

Meg: I think that a lot of people can relate to Mia – she’s sort of an everygirl. I think the dream that you might turn out to be a princess is sort of universal. But it also shows the reality of the other side of it, that it might not always be such a great dream, especially now when we see Megan Markle, we see another side to the story. 

To me, it’s a story about friendship. It’s a story of women, first and foremost. Your mother and your grandmother and your best friends. 

Cabot describes the relatability factors of the story fittingly. A massive point of conversation within audiences of both the books and film is Mia’s reaction to finding out she’s a princess. Her initial reaction is an intense indignation at the thought of her being royalty, the ‘SHUT UP’ scene in the film remains iconic today (Fun fact: Mia’s grandmother in the books was NOT as nice as in the movies). Perhaps much of why we find her endearing is because she’s someone who’s doesn’t want to be a princess, that she wants to stay exactly as she is.

 

[Image description: A gif of a girl saying Shut Up!] Via Giphy
[Image description: A gif of a girl saying Shut Up!] Via Giphy

Sahar: The style of writing the books is in the diary entry style. What made you want to document her story this way?

Meg: Well, I think that we all like to read other people’s diaries – a little bit. Especially now with the internet, it’s so interesting to read other people’s Instagrams and their Tik Toks, we wanna know what other people are doing, what are they thinking? Back when I first wrote these books 20 years ago, we didn’t have any of that, hardly even the internet, so the only thing I could think of was the diary entry style. I kept my own diary and I would’ve loved to read someone else’s diary (if they’d let me!)!

Turns out I was right, everyone wants to read someone else’s diary.

A purist of the books will know that a huge part of Mia character’s focuses on her continuous journey to achieve self-actualization: the complete realization of one’s potential, and the full development of one’s abilities and appreciation for life. 

Mia’s story is shared with us as she grows from the age of 14 to 18, a seemingly young age for such an ambitious goal. It’s reflective of how emotionally charged the rawness of your teenage years can bring. I asked Cabot about the theme of self-actualization in the books, what she thinks about it in the context of someone going from their early teens to young adulthood, and why that feels like such a pinnacle of peace for Mia – and for us.

To Cabot, it was very important to show how the characters grow across the books. The books were based a little bit on her own diaries, and a lot of what came into the books was really based on what she would write in her own diaries when she was Mia’s age. “I think that’s realistic, we grow hopefully, we grow and change, and hopefully for the better.”

Cabot hopes that she shows how Mia’s done this, how she grows to be a better person, that’s what she’s striving for. “I really hope that we all do that! Even Lana, the worst person, Mia’s arch-enemy, grows a little bit by the end of the books!” she adds. Her growth leads to her and Mia actually becoming friends (Yep, the same girl Mia plunged an ice-cream cone onto in the movie).

Sahar: Like you said in the beginning, the books are about friendship. I took a lot away from Mia and Lily’s friendship and Mia and Tina’s friendship. So, what was your process when you would write her friends and what did they symbolize in Mia’s world?

Meg: Many of the friendships were based on real friendships that I had when I was growing up. And Tina is based on a real friend that I have who even has the same last name as her. Lana is even based on a real person who was really mean when she was younger, but as she got older, she kind of developed into a nicer person. That was just something that I wanted to portray, that when you’re young and haven’t experienced as much, you kind of grow. 

Lilly is kind of a different story, it’s kind of a challenge for someone like her to grow because she thinks she’s always right. I mean – I’m still friends with the person who Lilly is based on and she’s read the books but she still hasn’t figured out that she’s Lilly! She’s still a really interesting person and fun, and it’s so funny to see her get mad at Lilly in the books acting a certain way.

Sahar: Was it always in the books for Mia and Lilly to reconnect as friends?

Meg: I think it’s very natural in friendships for it to happen. There are people you stay friends with for a long-time and there are people you drift away from. I think that’s a part of growing up. Who knows if in real life Mia and Lilly would stay friends if Mia wasn’t necessarily with Michael? Most of the time Lilly does apologize but something I wanted readers to come away with was that if you are in a toxic relationship, you can leave, you don’t *have* to be friends with somebody, and that’s okay too.

In a story about love and friendship, watching Mia and Lilly’s friendship unfold like a rollercoaster, was realistic. For many fans it showcased the reality of outgrowing people when you’re living out formative years of your life, and how conflict often has two sides and how sometimes you yourself need a period of growth and change before you allow someone back, and re-enter into someone’s life once again.

When it comes to writing making you laugh out loud, The Princess Diaries is a series with characters and relationships that is able to do so. I asked Cabot about writing funny, the space comedy can hold in the written word, and is it what comes natural?

Meg: When I was first starting out taking fiction classes, it was very rare that there’d be another student who was trying to write a funny story. I was usually the only one in class and everyone else would be trying to write very sad stories. Finally my teacher took me aside and said “You know, you write very funny stories, why are you trying to write sad stories when you have  a talent for writing funny stories?” I told her that’s what I thought you were supposed to do. And she told me, no, you’re good at writing funny stories and it’s a really hard skill and you should keep doing it. 

And she said to me something I never forgot, that, ‘It’s harder to make somebody laugh than it is to make somebody cry.’ They don’t give out Oscars to funny movies, funny books don’t win the Pulitzer Prize, but to anyone reading this they should know that if you do have the skill to make people laugh, that’s very valuable. Especially in the day and age we live in now.

 

Sahar: Do you think Mia wrote Star Wars fanfiction?

Meg: *laughing* I don’t know about Star Wars but I bet she did Buffy the Vampire Slayer fanfiction, I’m sure she did. Kept it really secret, never even wrote about it in her diary cause she didn’t want anyone to find out. She probably had Michael as Han Solo and her as Princess Leia and it was so embarrassing she could never admit it.

Sahar: For all the all-nighters she was pulling, staying up till 3 am stressing about something, there had to be something she was doing!!

Meg: I think you might be right, that’s actually hilarious.

We talked about the movies next, how Cabot views them as a completely different universe, but how she’s all for them because of the readers the movies created. When I asked her if she’d ever consider turning the ten-book series into a more authentic to the source material TV series, she relayed that it’s not really up to her, but that her *dream*, of course, would be to have a Princess Diaries musical!

(The moment we both exclaimed: YAAAAAAAASSSSSS)

“It has to be a Broadway, maybe West-end musical, so there’s been a lot of people trying to get that off the ground. My dream is maybe Taylor Swift could write the songs, something like that!” she says.

 

Sahar: So my last question, who do you think is The Princess Diaries’ biggest villain? 

Meg: I think that depends on where you are in the series, I think the villain changes as you’re going along. I think Grandmere is very easy to point to, she’s very mean in the books. But ultimately, I think she’s Mia’s biggest fan, and is really trying to get Mia to the best she can be. I think there are a couple of men in Mia’s life who show up and try to crush her confidence.

Sahar: For me the biggest villain is JP. That guy, master manipulator! He was just a lot!

“That Guy!” we both exclaim in unison.

Meg: He was, and he kept coming back to cause more problems! I was waiting to see if you got it!

As the film turns twenty, this conversation with Cabot is a reminder that growing up is a part of life, and that striving to be a better person is the essence of Mia’s journey. Love and friendship has its ups and downs, but staying true to yourself throughout it all will always help you keep going. 

What’s next for Meg is maybe turning her Corona Princess Diaries on her blog into a real book and donate the money from copies sold to some sort of coronavirus relief charity. “I’d like to do it, because I’ve never done it, but I’d like to do a Christmas in Genovia story!” Her new book No Words will be out this September, about two writers who hate each other, stuck at a book festival together. 

Shop your local indie bookstore for Meg’s new novel!

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Book Reviews Books Pop Culture

How The Nature of Witches pulled at my heartstrings in the best way

When I first started reading The Nature of Witches I made sure to avoid any summaries or blurbs. I wanted to fall in eyes wide open, and fall in love with its magical world. I have to admit, Rachel Griffin did not disappoint. If you are looking for a modern tale of witches and climate change, that makes you laugh out loud and cry along with the protagonist, then this is the right book for you.

Clara Densmore is an Everwitch. She is the first Everwitch in over a hundred years to be born. While most witches have their powers tied to one specific season, Everwitches change along with them, maintaining their powers throughout the year. In other words, Clara does not have to wait for the sun to shine on her during her season. But changing along with the seasons has an effect on Clara and her depth of feeling as well. When a new professor with his apprentice, Sang, moves to her Eastern magic school, Clara will have to face her deepest fears and her magic in a desperate attempt to fight against unnatural weather phenomena.

The Nature of Witches deals with climate change in a way that is very straightforward. The Shaders, or people born without magic, know that there is a balance with the earth that they should respect. However, even with the Witches all around the world cautioning against challenging the limits of what nature can do, Shaders keep on building. Everything has a limit. And in this world, as well as in ours, that limit has been reached. Very similar to what happens on our planet, strange heatwaves appear in the middle of winter in The Nature of Witches. Sudden spring tornadoes occur in the fall.

To say that this reminded me of the abnormal heatwave in late October last year is not a stretch. Even after a year of restrictions on traveling and movement of people, pollution levels remain high. The balance that is understood by witches in The Nature of Witches finds its broken echoes in the reality checks our planet keeps giving us. How many of us wish we could have a magical solution to climate change and melting polar caps. And certainly, this is one of the main themes in Griffin’s book, and the heartbreaking description of how nature is just out of balance rings true beyond the written pages.

The Nature of Witches tugs at your heartstrings in another, more personal way as well. Clara, as an Everwitch, is very powerful. But as Spider-Man would say, “with great powers come great responsibilities.” This is certainly true for the young protagonist of the book. Clara’s personal story is about facing herself and her deepest fears, learning from the past to look towards her future.


Clara changes with her seasons. Her powers shift something in her, and as she accesses a new type of seasonal magic, her feelings too, follow her change. As the novel begins in summer, we see Clara describe it as the season where she feels the most, in the most passionate way. She knows what is coming with the beginning of the fall season, and even as she wants to cling to the summer version of herself, time does not excuse her. Time waits for no one, and so Clara has to go on.

This coming-of-age part of the novel I think speaks directly to all of us who are afraid of change. And yet, life teaches us that change is inescapable. You cannot delay the passage of seasons, and what change they bring with them. Growing up, moving out of your parents’ house, going to college in another town. All of these experiences and more make you into a different version of yourself. When I first moved abroad for work, I thought I too wouldn’t change as much. Maybe I would learn to save some money or try new life hacks. Instead, as the warmth of summer transformed into the chill of autumn first, and the poignant stabbing of winter second, I knew I was wrong. Change is scary at times, but it is something we should all learn to embrace.


The author’s website describes the book as “about heartbreaking power, the terror of our collapsing atmosphere, and the ways we unknowingly change our fate.” I loved The Nature of Witches because it pulls and tugs at your heartstrings in just the right way.

The worrying about climate change and the future mixes well with Clara’s personal story, into a perfect cocktail of heartbreak and self-realization. A magical insight into the idea of change, and what it brings us, in the good and in the bad. That’s The Nature of Witches in a nutshell. And to anyone who has been struggling with changing, or seeing themselves as different from yesterday’s you, I cannot recommend this book more.

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Giveaways Books Pop Culture

Have you heard of “All the Stars and Teeth”, Adalyn Grace’s debut novel about fearless girls?

All the Stars and Teeth, Adalyn Grace’s highly anticipated debut young adult novel, is an adventure story involving magic, mermaids, and roguish pirates helping a renegade princess as she tries to prove herself worthy of ruling her kingdom by saving it. I was already hooked when I heard the premise. 

Plus, it’s been anticipated as a big hit ever since it was announced, and with good reason — the book is an adrenaline rush of a read, the story of a girl who wants things so strongly and is willing to fight to get them, no matter the cost. I’m sure all Throne of Glass fans will love All the Stars and Teeth.

We at The Tempest had the chance to interview author Adalyn Grace. She told us the book is entirely inspired by the main character of Amora, who Grace admitted is one that can be considered “unlikable” by some. 

“She wants and she wants things loudly,” she said. “I wanted to make her be somebody who could be whoever she wanted.” 

At the beginning of the writing process, that was really all Grace knew — nothing about the magic system, or the world she lived in. “I knew there was a girl and I knew the type of girl she was — morally gray, she wants things.” 

Let’s hear more about the writer: Grace is a novelist with a background in live theater and TV writing, and just like many of us, she began her writing journey online.

“I started by roleplaying on Neopets, it was my favorite website,” she shared. “I discovered they have boards and people were writing… I was just bored so I thought to explore it. I was on the Neopets boards, I found a small group of friends and we were writing about wolves and vampires, just weird things… it was so fun.”

As she explored the concept of writing more, Grace discovered that it could be a way to infuse the world around her with a kind of magic.

“I’ve always wanted magic in the world,” she said, “and I’ve always been so upset that I haven’t been able to get it. I always try to find it, I’m actively searching for it, but I think that writing for me is just another one of those — let me get into this magical landscape, let me fill the world with a little bit more magic.” 

In All the Stars and Teeth, Amora’s country is made up of seven islands, each with its own brand of magic. Grace said that coming up with those systems involved a lot of sitting down and thinking through what she liked in other shows and invented worlds, and reimagining them for her purposes.

Grace said the process of writing this book was mostly good, as she enjoyed writing “the friendship and banter and [exploring] the magical parts. There was nothing about this book that wasn’t super fun,” she added.

So many moments in the book are incredibly tense — Amora is being hunted down while she sails her country in an effort to stop disaster and prove herself worthy of being a ruler.

There are close calls with royal guards, battle scenes that had me clenching my teeth in stress, and a vicious mermaid who honestly holds my whole heart. She’s angry and hurt but willing to help Amora and the rest of her ragtag, motley crew regardless, and she’s an incredible character to read about.

Amora goes on a literal journey in the book, all the steps of which Grace had to figure out once she already had an image of her main character.

Since this is Grace’s debut novel, it’s also her first time getting feedback from readers reacting to her work. She said that interacting with readers both in person and on online platforms like Instagram has been one of the highlights of her publication journey so far. 

“The readers are just so awesome,” she said. “Our whole job is to give our work to people to be judged. It’s one big judge-fest, so it’s nice when somebody likes your work and lets you know.” 

https://www.instagram.com/p/B7W1jdHg0Mv/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

As for other books Grace would suggest people read, she highlighted Woven in Moonlight by Isabel Ibanez Davis, another debut novel which came out in early January, saying “the magic in that was so interesting.” In addition, she recommended Fable by Adrienne Young, which is meant to come out in September 2020 and which Grace said was “beautiful, [Young’s] work is gritty and stunning as usual.” 

Grace also gave some advice for aspiring authors, saying, “Just keep going.”

She shared that before selling All the Stars and Teeth, she received more than 100 rejections from literary agents for a different novel, one that had even been selected for a very hard-to-get-into mentorship program, called Pitch Wars.

If she had given up after those 100 rejections, there would be no All the Stars and Teeth, so her story truly is a testament to the adage she shared.

We’re giving away one copy of All the Stars and Teeth (signed by author Adalyn Grace!) on our Instagram, hurry up and participate! If you absolutely can’t wait to hold the book in your hands, you can buy your copy here for $12.79.

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Gift Guides Books Pop Culture

8 necessary books for anyone going through a big life change

‘Change’ is a loaded word for many of us. My own relationship with change has always been to long for it in advance of it happening, to fight it when it does, and to embrace it only right before the cycle begins all over again.

But one thing that always makes change a little more bearable is the knowledge that, whatever the type of change you’re going through, someone somewhere has probably written a book about it.

So what better time than spring – the Official Season of Fresh Starts – to bring you a list of the very best books about change? From internal growth – coming-of-age, changing relationship dynamics, and renewed mindsets – to external shifts, like socio-political upheaval, new homes and entering uncharted territory, these books cover all the bases. They remind us that change is essential to growth, and that perspective is everything.

1. Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier

A copy of 'Born Confused' lies on a purple rug. The cover features a woman's eyes with a question mark at the centre of her forehead.
[Image description: A copy of ‘Born Confused’ lies on a purple rug. The cover features a woman’s eyes with a question mark at the center of her forehead.] Via Iman Saleem.
Dimple Rohitbhai Lala is on many cusps – between cultural tradition and her own volition, school, and college, a Dimple-approved old boy and a parent-approved new one. While that fuzzy area between leaving school and starting college seems a very specific kind of change, there are a number of lessons Dimple learns that are pretty universal. Namely that friendships must grow as people do, that to change your values is not to accept defeat, and that the chaos of change does not necessarily end in calm, collected resolution – often it just settles into slightly more manageable chaos.

2. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernières

Louis de Bernières's novel 'Captain Corelli's Mandolin', featuring a blue cover with various symbols from the book on it, lies on a grey blanket alongside another one of the author's books and a pair of glasses.
[Image description: Louis de Bernières’s novel ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’, featuring a blue cover with various symbols from the book on it, lies on a grey blanket alongside another one of the author’s books and a pair of glasses.] Via A Model Recommends.
Set in 1941 on the Greek island of Cephalonia during the Greco-Italian war, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is concerned with many different types of changes. With a multi-character narrative that goes back and forth across time and place, the horrors of war being contrasted with everyday life in Cephalonia serves as a gripping background to a number of personal and interpersonal dramas. Italian Antonio Corelli is infatuated with Pelagia, Pelagia is engaged to Mandras, Carlo is struggling with his homosexuality and the death of his beloved. This epic novel is about how war can change how and whom we love, and how these loves can create and reshape our histories. 

3. Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín

The spine of the novel 'Brooklyn' stands out among a pile of books, the rest of which are piled with their spines facing the opposite direction.
[Image description: The spine of the novel ‘Brooklyn’ stands out among a pile of books, the rest of which are piled with their spines facing the opposite direction.] Via Iman Saleem.
Brooklyn captures the piercing pain of homesickness and feeling very small in a big world with stark honesty. Eilis Lacey emigrates from Ireland to New York in the 1950s, alone and not knowing what awaits her. As soon as Eilis conquers her fear of the unknown and settles into her new life, however, she gets pulled right back into her old one. Brooklyn is about choices and serves as a reminder that while the past may be out of your hands, the future is yours to build.

4. Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding

A person wearing a white sweater holds up the Italian copy of 'Bridget Jones's Diary' against a wall covered in different shades of dusky pink.
[Image description: A person wearing a white sweater holds up the Italian copy of ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary’ against a wall covered in different shades of dusky pink.] Via The Eat Culture.
We can’t ever talk about fresh starts without mentioning Bridget Jones, queen of drastic self-improvement tactics and overambitious New Year’s resolutions. Bridget, 30-something, works in publishing, lives in London, would like to stop smoking and dating losers, is so relatable because her life, much like anyone’s, rarely ever goes according to plan. Witnessing Bridget deal with every curveball – sometimes gracefully, sometimes not – feels like being seen, flaws and all.

5. The Baghdad Clock by Shahad Al Rawi

A hand holds up a copy of 'The Baghdad Clock' against a white curtain as patches of sunlight hit the book. The cover is shades of blue and features a young girl leaping over a puddle.
[Image description: A hand holds up a copy of ‘The Baghdad Clock’ against a white curtain as patches of sunlight hit the book. The cover is shades of blue and features a young girl leaping over a puddle.] Via Iman Saleem.
In 1991 in Baghdad, a young girl and her best friend meet for the first time in an air raid shelter during the first Gulf War. From then on, they share everything with each other – dreams, disappointments, fears, and firsts. In the background of the girls’ lives are a close-knit community and a city whose nooks and crannies they know like the backs of their hands, both slowly disappearing as a result of the war. Through a child’s perspective and using elements of magical realism, Al Rawi explores her protagonist’s internal turbulence at a time in which uncertainty is a way of life and stability a myth. 

6. Forever in Blue: The Fourth Summer of the Sisterhood by Ann Brashares

The fourth book in the 'Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants' series lies on a pair of blue jeans. The cover is a pair of blue jeans against a yellow backdrop.
[Image description: The fourth book in the ‘Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants’ series lies on a pair of blue jeans. The cover is a pair of blue jeans against a yellow backdrop.] Via Iman Saleem.
This book will have more of an impact if you’ve read the 3 preceding books in the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series, but it still does great all by itself. Carmen, Tibby, Lena, and Bridget are off on their final summer apart before they go away to college and begin spending the rest of their years apart as well. Being apart from your friends is difficult because it means coming to terms with what that distance may or may not change. The sisterhood teaches us to have faith in the friendships we hold closest to our hearts and to trust that they can endure the scariest thing of all: the unknown.

7. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

The cover for Sandra Cisneros's 'The House on Mango Street', which depicts a red building on a turquoise background.
[Image description: The cover for Sandra Cisneros’s ‘The House on Mango Street’, which depicts a red building on a turquoise background.] Via Bagina.
Cisneros’s graphic novel is told in a series of vignettes through the voice of Esperanza Cordera, a young girl growing up in Chicago’s Hispanic quarter. Readers learn all about Esperanza’s community and culture through the eyes of a child, which are much clearer than those of adults. Central to Mango Street is an overwhelming sense of community and loyalty, and Esperanza’s experiences of growing up, finding her purpose, awakening her sense of independence and agency, are all intrinsically tied to the eponymous Mango Street and all its inhabitants. 

8. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

A copy of 'Persepolis' - featuring a red cover with a young girl wearing a dark headscarf and looking unhappy - lies on a wooden surface by a vase of flowers.
[Image description: A copy of ‘Persepolis’ – featuring a red cover with a young girl wearing a dark headscarf and looking unhappy – lies on a wooden surface by a vase of flowers.] Via Persistiny.
Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical graphic novel blends personal and public histories into one, each one shaping and sustaining the other. In her striking, candid illustrations Satrapi remembers her childhood in Iran, her move to Europe and eventual return back to Iran. Born to politically active Marxist parents and growing up during the Iranian Revolution, Satrapi’s own life is intertwined with an extremely volatile phase of her country’s history. Satrapi endures many drastic changes – geographical, political, personal – yet remains intrinsically unchanged.

Change can be intimidating, daunting, and downright scary. Let these books help you on your way to not only dealing with change but conquering it as well.

Check these books – and more – on our brand new The Tempest bookshop supporting local bookstores!

Categories
Race Policy Inequality

Why do white authors like Ellen Hopkins think they can profit off of black pain?

Recently, Publishers Weekly announced that favored young adult author Ellen Hopkins is set to release a new novel in 2019 titled Sanctuary Highway.

It’s said to be a futuristic story of the Underground Railroad with a contemporary spin, featuring an America that is an even darker version then the one we know now.

Many readers read this pitch and instantly took to Twitter demanding answers and further clarification from Hopkins, especially black readers.

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twitter.com

In the past year, there’s been a lot of talk surrounding stories and media that take historically horrific events and turn them into digestible dystopia.

It started with Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle, a show depicting a world post World War II if the Nazis had won.

A similar concept was penned by HBO, in which they hoped to greenlight a production that would depict an antebellum America if the Confederacy had won the Civil War. The issue with shows like these and Hopkins’ new novel is the fact that these stories make light of events that have lasting effects on the people who suffered, when they change the narrative in any way.

Whether intentional or not, these new narratives often give empathetic insight into the “villains” of the real world and trigger those who have to read and see their pain replayed over and over.

Black authors and readers alike were very concerned with this happening and spoke out against this new novel, expressing how stories like these profit off of black pain and romanticize dark moments in history.

The history of the Underground Railroad and slavery is already dark and unbearable in its own way. African Americans are still dealing with the effects today. Enough time has not passed for these events to be fictionalized, especially as many schools across America steadily censor and erase slavery from textbooks.

Authors L.L. McKinney and Justina Ireland took these concerns further and brought up an even bigger issue happening in publishing. McKinney tweeted that, “gatekeepers help maintain the disparity between books ABOUT non-white authors and books BY non-white authors.”

Stories of slavery and the Underground Railroad are our stories.

They are not the stories for white people to twist, glamorize, and consume all the while black authors can’t get their stories published. I and other black readers alike are tired of white stories being consistently spotlighted.

We want to see more stories of black love and black fantasy. I want to dive into stories written by people who look like and understand what books like this would mean to me.

Hopkins has stated before that she would utilize her white privilege to be the voice of those who don’t have one in American society. While the sentiment is appreciated, we have our own voices. We can tell our own stories and we do it well.

It’s time for white authors to put our stories down and let us speak, so that young readers of color can see stories written for them by people like them.

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twitter.com

Hopkins issued a reply to the criticism stating that she wouldn’t have framed the pitch as it was, but that she believes her story is worthy of shelves and will cause an impact. She has yet to release an alternative pitch or shed light on what Sanctuary Highway will actually entail, stating that readers will have to “read and see if it’s worthy of shelf space.”

This sounds shifty, as readers will first have to spend the money and put it on their shelves before they can actually determine what it’s about.

I think it’s time for black readers to follow our instincts and not spend our money on people who clearly hope to profit off of us.

It’s time we start spending on the authors who are out for more than just the black dollar.

So, here a few of my favorites authors of color that deserve acclaim and attention:

  1. Promise of Shadows by Justina Ireland
  2. A Blade So Black by L.L. McKinney (September 2018)
  3. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  4. Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi (March 2018)
  5. Dear Martin by Nic Stone
  6. The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton (February 2018)
  7. The Sun is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon
  8. I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual by Luvvie Ajayi
  9. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
  10. Midnight Without a Moon by Linda Williams Jackson

Happy reading!

Categories
Books Pop Culture Interviews

This Egyptian author is revolutionizing her homeland’s book scene, and she has advice that we all need to hear

Dina Elabd is an Egyptian children’s and young adult author. She has published Melouq, The Lion that dressed as a Sheep and The Magic Palm. She has a new book coming out at the end of the Summer on Amazon, in the same style of Diary of a Wimpy Kid – but based in Egypt.

Elabd sat down with The Tempest to talk about her experience as an author, and tips she has for aspiring young writers.

The Tempest: What motivated you to write Melouq, The Lion that dressed as a Sheep and The Magic Palm? Did you draw from experiences you had as a child or stories your grandparents and parents told you?

Dina Elabd: These stories are a bit more modern than a lot of the stories I heard about my local culture in Egypt. I actually grew up for the first 12 years of my life in California, and just like now they were extremely high tech and very advanced.

I grew up listening to all sorts of stories that were so much more open-minded and culturally diverse, and I just fell in love with it.

But when I came to live in Egypt afterward, I couldn’t find anything like these stories. In fact, I even taught at a school for a year and a half and I noticed that you have students in Egypt reading novels written elsewhere, by other cultures, in English, but you can’t find any equivalents in Egypt.

So this just made me think, well, I can do this. I can write and I want to write! And I want to produce work that children will want to read and be excited to read. I believe that children’s literature is so important and books really help a child with empathy.

They help a child with being able to analyze their own culture and the cultures of others and see what’s good and what’s bad and what can be improved.

These are just such important skills.

Books can really teach someone what’s going on in the world, and what’s going on in their own lives from a different perspective and then maybe they can find someone local to talk to about it, even if it’s their own parents.

Image shows the cover of Melouq- an illustration of a sailboat against a blue background showing mountains and a night sky.
Melouq, 2016

The Tempest: I saw you studied at the University of Cambridge where you did a Masters of Philosophy in Critical Approaches to Children’s Literature. How did studying help you write your children’s books and your young adult novel?

Dina: Primarily, it just gave me a lot of confidence. Being able to compare my work to others’ on the world space was very important to me.

I really wanted to produce work that was of international quality, not just something locally good, which, in my opinion, was not going to be that hard given the niche that I’m targeting.

I wanted it to be good on an international scale and that’s what Cambridge taught me. We had students from all around the world, and to see them all producing this quality, comparing their work and their research to others in their region and abroad was very important to my work.

What kind of reception did your books have in Egypt?

Dina: Right now Melouq, my debut novel, has been doing quite well in Egypt. I’ve had a book signing in a bookstore and different schools.

I’ve also read to students from my newer book The Lion that dressed as a Sheep, and Melouq is even in a school curriculum for grade 10. So I’m basically targeting these international English-language schools. I’ve also been invited to join the British Council in Egypt to do a 3-day school tour of 7 international schools between Cairo and Alexandria.

There, I will explain my Master’s experience in England and talk about my books.

Image shows Dina at a signing even in a bookshop, holding her book "The Lion Who Dressed as a Sheep"
Via Dina Elabd

What did it feel like to see children and young adults reading your books?

Dina: It’s very good to hear that a child has picked up my book and cannot put it down for a day and a half till it’s done because that really reminds me of myself.

It’s really exciting to hear when someone comes and talks to me about my book to tell me that there are all these mistakes! They’ll tell me, “Why did you decide to do this, why did you decide to do that?” and I think it’s a sign that this is good literature.

It makes people ask questions and figure out for themselves what’s right and what’s wrong. Sometimes the character says something and they think it’s my opinion and I’m like, “No! That’s just that character that said that it’s not me saying that!”

And they say, “No, but you wrote the book!”

I’m like “Yeah, okay, but different characters say different things, right?” so it’s kind of funny. I get all sorts of reactions but they’re heartwarming and help me as a writer to think of what’s better for the readers.

What advice would you give young people wanting to write stories from their own perspectives and cultures?

Dina: I think it’s really important to just write whatever you want to write and whatever you feel close to, and also to write the stories that people want to hear.

Even if it’s done in a very new way. I think that this is becoming very common now and people are reaching out to all kinds of media to hear different stories.

I think any writer should give it a shot, even if it’s completely new kind of story that they’re telling.

 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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The Tempest Radio Episodes The Expose Show Audio + Visual

THE EXPOSÉ | Episode 38 | “13 Reasons Why (Not to Watch the Show)”

https://soundcloud.com/theexposeshow/episode-38-13-reasons-why-not-to-watch-the-show

This week, two Tempest fellows, Katie Kaestner and Kayria Taghdi, join Laila to discuss the problematic Netflix original series, 13 Reasons Why. The show is a teen soap opera chronicling the suicide of high school student Hannah Baker and the thirteen tapes she left behind.

Does the show start any useful conversations about mental health, depression or sexual assault? Or does it hide behind the shock value of the graphic depictions of suicide and rape? Is there anything redeeming about a show that glorifies the death of a teenage girl? How do teen-run fan accounts on Instagram give us an insight in to what “kids these days” are responding?

MUSIC LIST:
Sara Bareilles – Chasing the Sun
Jess Penner – Bring Me the Sunshine

If you’re loving our episodes and would like to get updates from us, follow us on Twitter @theexposeshow. Sign up for our newsletter at thetempest.co/the-wave. Support our show at patreon.com/thetempest.

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Books Pop Culture

I found understanding and love in the most unconventional place: a book

I love reading books more than anything else, I always have. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to people’s shocked reaction when I tell them that I haven’t watched a particularly famous movie because I was too busy burying my head in a brand new novel. Growing up, reading books was what I enjoyed most. I remember my parents being so proud when at 10-years-old, I would be reading books from my older brother’s bookshelf.

The Young Adult genre has always held my interest, and it’s what I still read to this day. There’s just something so satisfying about all those sappy, happy novels. They make me feel good and grant solace from everyday life.

So when I picked up All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven after Zoella did a recommendation video about it, I was so excited to pick it up. It’s not very often that I come across literature discussing mental health and after listening to Zoe describe the novel, I looked forward to reading it.

I have to say, I went in with a very cautious mindset. I’d read books dealing with mental health before, and it was always very cliched. Girl meets boy, one or both of them has a mental illness, throughout the novel they work together, and at the end, the person is magically cured.

Those that have suffered from mental illnesses in real life know that that’s not exactly how it goes; it’s never that simple.

A spoiler-free gist of the book, for those who haven’t read it, can be summed up by its tagline: it’s a story about a girl that learns to live, from a boy who wants to die.

Violet, the girl, suffers from a deep sense of loss after the death of her sister, Eleanor, whereas Finch, the boy, suffers from severe depression and suicidal thoughts. They team up together for a school project exploring the “natural wonders” of their state of Indiana.

When I started reading the book, I was immediately immersed into the very bleak world of Violet and Finch. I felt as if I was them; I lived these characters and their experiences. The world that Niven built within the book is so real and so raw, there were so many times when I had to put it down because of how deeply I felt the characters’ emotions.

The story deals with themes of loss and mental health so well and so realistically. At no point did I feel that the situation or characters were exaggerated to the point where they seemed unbelievable to someone who has had experiences with mental illness.

As someone who suffers from depression, I felt every emotion Finch felt, and I can unashamedly admit that I cried multiple times throughout the book. Its understanding of mental illness is so well-researched that it is drastically different from others of the same genre. ATBP offers a completely different perspective on mental health issues, and how people deal with it in their own way.

The story is raw and heartbreaking. I have never identified with a character more than I did with Finch. His thoughts and morbid fascination with death were something that horrified me in the beginning. But as I got to know Finch more, I realized that at one point or another, many of us have felt this way. His willingness to hold on to something, anything, to keep him going is what stuck with me till the very end.

Finch struggles every day, but so does Violet; this is where the uncanny “love story” comes in. There are several instances where the thought of Violet is what keeps Finch going, and to me, that is poetic.

However, what’s worth noting is that this love story is not the driving force of the novel. Rather, it is just a side story; the main focus of the book is mental illness, and that’s a rare commodity in the world of literature.

We definitely need more novels that tackle mental health in such a delicate yet raw way as ATBP has done. A movie adaptation starring Elle Fanning will be released soon, and I for one, have high hopes for it to pave the way for discussion of mental health in Hollywood movies.

It’s time for society to create more open, honest conversation about mental health.

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Books Pop Culture

When Dimple met Rishi is the adorable, Desi romance that you need in your life

I’m not super sentimental but I like a good romance every now and again. When “Dimple Met Rishi” has to be for me, one of the most cutest books ever. It is a teen rom-com infused with Bollywood which makes it so relateable to any South Asian.

This book follows Dimple; a 18 year-old high school graduate with plans to become a coder. She has typical Desi parents who are more concerned with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband”. Dimple’s mom is is forever hovering and trying to get Dimple to dress nicer or make more of an effort. Dimple however, has no interest in any of this. She somehow miraculously convinces her parents to let her attend a summer program for aspiring web designers.

Where she meets Rishi. Rishi is the absolute opposite of Dimple. He is the traditional “good child”; set for college and ready to find a wife. Rishi and Dimple’s parents agree for them to get married should they get along and Rishi is sent to the summer program to meet his future wife, an arrangement Dimple knows nothing about. It is a modern tale of an arranged marriage type of set up.

Their meeting goes as well as expected when Rishi meets headstrong Dimple. But after being partnered for a project they get to know each other better.

This is a light and hilarious modern romance that is incredibly cheesy – as is anything that has a Bollywood aspect. It is a coming of age story about two teens who are trying to balance their aspirations with those of their parents. It is a great insight into what most teenagers feel like with Desi parents.

I mean this book does have its cringey moments, it is sometimes too sweet. It is also pretty predictable, you know they are going to end up together from the start and everything ties up pretty conveniently.

But I just adored this book – as an Indian it resonated with me.

Dimple is written to be pretty fierce, she wants to break out of the restrictions that her culture puts upon her. I mean she calls out her mom’s misogynistic views right at the beginning and I think that was what sold it for me. Her relationship with her mother reminded me a lot of the conversations I have had with my mom growing up regarding priorities, marriage and careers. Dimple knows what she wants in life and is determined to be more then just someone’s wife. I enjoyed reading her perspective especially as she not portrayed as an “emotional girl.”

 india trends yakub memon marriages arranged GIF

giphy.com

Rishi, what a sweetheart. I really adored his character. I mean, he is the good child I could never be. But what I really enjoyed reading was his relationship with his culture. Rishi is Indian and proud of it but not in an arrogant way. He knows what he is and isn’t ashamed to make other people feel uncomfortable should they question it. He is sweet, patient and not overbearing which is so nice to see in a male character.

It was refreshing to read a tale where the woman is career-orientated and the man is the hopeless romantic.

Although the book addressed arranged marriages, it wasn’t the stereotypical “marry this person or we disown you” story line. Both parents were trying to hold onto traditions and cultures from their time but were not crossing the line. It is something I wish I could have explained to my peers growing up; that arranged marriage now, for some of us is a lot more chill.

Together they evened each other out and bought out the best sides to each other. There was none of that destructive, dramatic “love” that we see so often portrayed in romances. This was a healthy relationship that was so cute to watch blossom. I adored all of the family dynamics and well-written friendships.

When Dimple Met Rishi is hilarious and so light-hearted. It is one of those books to read on a lazy Sunday morning. Sandhya Menon wrote an incredible tale of first love that I could finally relate to,

This book is what I wish I had as a Desi teenager.