Now that high school is over, Ari is dying to move to the big city with his ultra-hip band―if he can just persuade his dad to let him quit his job at their struggling family bakery. Though he loved working there as a kid, Ari cannot fathom a life wasting away over rising dough and hot ovens. But while interviewing candidates for his replacement, Ari meets Hector, an easygoing guy who loves baking as much as Ari wants to escape it. As they become closer over batches of bread, love is ready to bloom . . . that is, if Ari doesn’t ruin everything.
Writer Kevin Panetta and artist Savanna Ganucheau concoct a delicious recipe of intricately illustrated baking scenes and blushing young love, in which the choices we make can have terrible consequences, but the people who love us can help us grow.
Amanda can’t figure out what’s so exciting about kissing. It’s just a lot of teeth clanking, germ swapping, closing of eyes so you can’t see that godzilla-sized zit just inches from your own hormonal monstrosity. All of her seven kisses had been horrible in different ways, but nothing compared to the awfulness that followed Kiss Number Eight. An exploration of sexuality, family, and faith, Kiss Number Eight is a coming-of-age tale filled with humor and hope.
A young woman and her wife’s attempts to have a child unfold in this poetic tale that ebbs and flows like the sea.
After years of difficulty trying to have children, a young couple finally announces their pregnancy, only to have the most joyous day of their lives replaced with one of unexpected heartbreak. Their relationship is put to the test as they forge ahead, working together to rebuild themselves amidst the churning tumult of devastating loss, and ultimately facing the soul-crushing reality that they may never conceive a child of their own.
Based on author Ingrid Chabbert’s own experience, coupled with soft, sometimes dreamlike illustrations by Carole Maurel, Waves is a deeply moving story that poignantly captures a woman’s exploration of her pain in order to rediscover hope.
In this rollicking queer western adventure, acclaimed cartoonist Melanie Gillman (Stonewall Award Honor Book As the Crow Flies) puts readers in the saddle alongside Flor and Grace, a Latinx outlaw and a trans runaway, as they team up to thwart a Confederate plot in the New Mexico Territory. When Flor–also known as the notorious Ghost Hawk–robs the stagecoach that Grace has used to escape her Georgia home, the first thing on her mind is ransom. But when the two get to talking about Flor’s plan to crash a Confederate gala and steal some crucial documents, Grace convinces Flor to let her join the heist.
Are You Listening? is an intimate and emotionally soaring story about friendship, grief, and healing from Eisner Award winner Tillie Walden.
Bea is on the run. And then, she runs into Lou.
This chance encounter sends them on a journey through West Texas, where strange things follow them wherever they go. The landscape morphs into an unsettling world, a mysterious cat joins them, and they are haunted by a group of threatening men. To stay safe, Bea and Lou must trust each other as they are driven to confront buried truths. The two women share their stories of loss and heartbreak—and a startling revelation about sexual assault—culminating in an exquisite example of human connection.
This magical realistic adventure from the celebrated creator of Spinning and On a Sunbeam will stay with readers long after the final gorgeously illustrated page.
Twenty-one-year-old Madison T. Jackson is already the star of the Emerson College student newspaper when she nabs a coveted night internship at Boston’s premiere newspaper, The Boston Lede. The job’s simple: do whatever the senior reporters tell you to do, from fetching coffee to getting a quote from a grieving parent. It’s grueling work, so when the murder of a prominent Boston businessman comes up on the police scanner, Madison races to the scene of the grisly crime. There, Madison meets the woman who will change her life forever: prominent socialite Dahlia Kennedy, who is covered in gore and being arrested for the murder of her family. The newspapers put everyone they can in front of her with no results until, with nothing to lose, Madison gets a chance – and unexpectedly barrels headfirst into danger she never anticipated.
Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu (Oct. 15)
Nova Huang knows more about magic than your average teen witch. She works at her grandmothers’ bookshop, where she helps them loan out spell books and investigate any supernatural occurrences in their New England town.
One fateful night, she follows reports of a white wolf into the woods, and she comes across the unexpected: her childhood crush, Tam Lang, battling a horse demon in the woods. As a werewolf, Tam has been wandering from place to place for years, unable to call any town home.
Pursued by dark forces eager to claim the magic of wolves and out of options, Tam turns to Nova for help. Their latent feelings are rekindled against the backdrop of witchcraft, untested magic, occult rituals, and family ties both new and old in this enchanting tale of self-discovery.
Welcome back, Ceillie Simkiss fans, because it’s time to see the cover of her newest! Second Wind is a septuagenarian second-chance f/f romance sure to make your heart melt, and it’s come to your ereaders July 23rd! Here are the details:
No matter how old you are, there’s always a chance for romance.
After the death of her husband, 71-year-old homemaker Martha Appleby is taking her first long-distance trip alone. That loss has derailed many of her plans for her twilight years, and she hopes to come to peace with not knowing what will come next.
70-year-old service dog trainer Pamela Thornton is hoping to take advantage of a well-timed work trip to figure out what to do next. Crouton is the last service dog of the litter, and she’s not sure she wants to keep raising dogs by herself.
These two childhood sweethearts haven’t seen each other in fifty years when they each board the same airplane, only to find they’ve been booked for the same seat.
If they can get past the ghosts of their past and decide what path they want to chart for their futures, this chance meeting could give their long lost relationship its second wind.
Now check out the freaking adorable cover, designed by the author!
Ceillie Simkiss is an author from southern Virginia. She started writing fiction as an escape from her day job as a small town journalist, and has been at it ever since, with the support of her partner, her dog and her cats.
Emma Robledo has a few more responsibilities that the usual high school senior, but then again, she and her friends have left school to lead a fractured Resistance movement against a corrupt Heroes League of Heroes. Emma is the only member of a supercharged team without powers, and she isn’t always taken seriously. A natural leader, Emma is determined to win this battle, and when that’s done, get back to school. As the Resistance moves to challenge the League, Emma realizes where her place is in this fight: at the front.
High school finally behind her, Winnie is all set to attend college in the fall. But first she’s spending her summer days working at her granny’s diner and begins spending her midnights with Dallas—the boy she loves to hate and hates that she likes. Winnie lives in Misty Haven, a small town where secrets are impossible to keep—like when Winnie allegedly snaps on Dr. Skinner, which results in everyone feeling compelled to give her weight loss advice for her own good. Because they care that’s she’s “too fat.”
Winnie dreams of someday inheriting the diner—but it’ll go away if they can’t make money, and fast. Winnie has a solution—win a televised cooking competition and make bank. But Granny doesn’t want her to enter—so Winnie has to find a way around her formidable grandmother. Can she come out on top?
Seventeen-year-old Marisol has always dreamed of being American, learning what Americans and the US are like from television and Mrs. Rosen,
n elderly expat who had employed Marisol’s mother as a maid. When she pictured an American life for herself, she dreamed of a life like Aimee and Amber’s, the title characters of her favorite American TV show. She never pictured stealing across the US border from El Salvador as “an illegal”, fleeing for her life, but after her brother is murdered and her younger sister, Gabi’s, life is placed in equal jeopardy, she has no choice, especially because she knows everything is her fault. If she had never fallen for the charms of a beautiful girl named Liliana, Pablo might still be alive, her mother wouldn’t be in hiding and she and Gabi wouldn’t have been caught crossing the border.
But they have been caught and their asylum request will most certainly be denied. With truly no options remaining, Marisol jumps at an unusual opportunity to stay in the United States. She’s asked to become a grief keeper, taking the grief of another into her own body to save a life. It’s a risky, experimental study, but if it means Marisol can keep her sister safe, she will risk anything. She just never imagined one of the risks would be falling in love, a love that may even be powerful enough to finally help her face her own crushing grief.
The Grief Keeper is a tender tale that explores the heartbreak and consequences of when both love and human beings are branded illegal.
Raised among the ruins of a conquered mountain nation, Maren dreams only of sharing a quiet life with her girlfriend Kaia—until the day Kaia is abducted by the Aurati, prophetic agents of the emperor, and forced to join their ranks. Desperate to save her, Maren hatches a plan to steal one of the emperor’s coveted dragons and storm the Aurati stronghold.
If Maren is to have any hope of succeeding, she must become an apprentice to the Aromatory—the emperor’s mysterious dragon trainer. But Maren is unprepared for the dangerous secrets she uncovers: rumors of a lost prince, a brewing rebellion, and a prophecy that threatens to shatter the empire itself. Not to mention the strange dreams she’s been having about a beast deep underground…
With time running out, can Maren survive long enough to rescue Kaia from impending death? Or could it be that Maren is destined for something greater than she could have ever imagined?
Words have always been more than enough for Ken Z, but when he meets Ran at the mall food court, everything changes. Beautiful, mysterious Ran opens the door to a number of firsts for Ken: first kiss, first love. But as quickly as he enters Ken’s life, Ran disappears, and Ken Z is left wondering: Why love at all, if this is where it leads?
Letting it end there would be tragic. So, with the help of his best friends, the comfort of his haikus and lists, and even strange, surreal appearances by his hero, Oscar Wilde, Ken will find that love is worth more than the price of heartbreak.
There are no more monsters anymore, or so the children in the city of Lucille are taught. With doting parents and a best friend named Redemption, Jam has grown up with this lesson all her life. But when she meets Pet, a creature made of horns and colours and claws, who emerges from one of her mother’s paintings and a drop of Jam’s blood, she must reconsider what she’s been told. Pet has come to hunt a monster, and the shadow of something grim lurks in Redemption’s house. Jam must fight not only to protect her best friend, but also to uncover the truth, and the answer to the question-How do you save the world from monsters if no one will admit they exist?
Everyone on campus knows Remy Cameron. He’s the out-and-gay, super-likable guy that people admire for his confidence. The only person who may not know Remy that well is Remy himself. So when he is assigned to write an essay describing himself, he goes on a journey to reconcile the labels that people have attached to him, and get to know the real Remy Cameron.
Trinidad. Sixteen-year-old Audre is despondent, having just found out she’s going to be sent to live in America with her father because her strictly religious mother caught her with her secret girlfriend, the pastor’s daughter. Audre’s grandmother Queenie (a former dancer who drives a white convertible Cadillac and who has a few secrets of her own) tries to reassure her granddaughter that she won’t lose her roots, not even in some place called Minneapolis. “America have dey spirits too, believe me,” she tells Audre.
Minneapolis. Sixteen-year-old Mabel is lying on her bed, staring at the ceiling and trying to figure out why she feels the way she feels–about her ex Terrell, about her girl Jada and that moment they had in the woods, and about the vague feeling of illness that’s plagued her all summer. Mabel’s reverie is cut short when her father announces that his best friend and his just-arrived-from-Trinidad daughter are coming for dinner.
Mabel quickly falls hard for Audre and is determined to take care of her as she tries to navigate an American high school. But their romance takes a turn when test results reveal exactly why Mabel has been feeling low-key sick all summer and suddenly it’s Audre who is caring for Mabel as she faces a deeply uncertain future.
On the day Torrey officially becomes a college freshman, he gets a call that might force him to drop out before he’s even made it through orientation: the bee farm his beloved uncle Miles left him after his tragic death is being foreclosed on.
Torrey would love nothing more than to leave behind the family and neighborhood that’s bleeding him dry. But he still feels compelled to care for the project of his uncle’s heart. As the farm heads for auction, Torrey precariously balances choosing a major and texting Gabriel—the first boy he ever kissed—with the fight to stop his uncle’s legacy from being demolished. But as notice letters pile up and lawyers appear at his dorm, dividing himself between family and future becomes impossible unless he sacrifices a part of himself.
Simone Garcia-Hampton is starting over at a new school, and this time things will be different. She’s making real friends, making a name for herself as student director of Rent, and making a play for Miles, the guy who makes her melt every time he walks into a room. The last thing she wants is for word to get out that she’s HIV-positive, because last time . . . well, last time things got ugly.
Keeping her viral load under control is easy, but keeping her diagnosis under wraps is not so simple. As Simone and Miles start going out for real—shy kisses escalating into much more—she feels an uneasiness that goes beyond butterflies. She knows she has to tell him that she’s positive, especially if sex is a possibility, but she’s terrified of how he’ll react! And then she finds an anonymous note in her locker: I know you have HIV. You have until Thanksgiving to stop hanging out with Miles. Or everyone else will know too.
Simone’s first instinct is to protect her secret at all costs, but as she gains a deeper understanding of the prejudice and fear in her community, she begins to wonder if the only way to rise above is to face the haters head-on…
Lei, the naive country girl who became a royal courtesan, is now known as the Moonchosen, the commoner who managed to do what no one else could. But slaying the cruel Demon King wasn’t the end of the plan—it’s just the beginning. Now Lei and her warrior love Wren must travel the kingdom to gain support from the far-flung rebel clans. The journey is made even more treacherous thanks to a heavy bounty on Lei’s head, as well as insidious doubts that threaten to tear Lei and Wren apart from within.
Meanwhile, an evil plot to eliminate the rebel uprising is taking shape, fueled by dark magic and vengeance. Will Lei succeed in her quest to overthrow the monarchy and protect her love for Wren, or will she fall victim to the sinister magic that seeks to destroy her?
Poppy wants to go to college like everyone else, but her father has other ideas. Ever since her mirror twin sister, Lola, mysteriously vanished, Poppy’s father has been depressed and forces her to stick around. She hopes she can convince Lola to come home, and perhaps also procure her freedom, by sending her twin a series of eighteen letters, one for each year of their lives.
When not excavating childhood memories, Poppy is sneaking away with her girlfriend Juniper, the only person who understands her. But negotiating the complexities of queer love and childhood trauma are anything but simple. And as a twin? That’s a whole different story.
Rahul Kanakia had one of the most memorable voices ever in Enter Title Here, and now he’s back with his sophomore and first queer title, We Are TotallyNormal, which will release this winter from HarperTeen! I am always here for stories of bisexual realizations that don’t take the neatest path, and while we’re seeing a lot more of them for girls in YA, this definitely feels like a story we’re only just starting to see trickle in for teen boys, so let’s get to the blurb already!
Nandan’s got a plan to make his junior year perfect. He’s going to make sure all the parties are chill, he’s going to smooth things over with his ex, and he’s going to help his friend Dave get into the popular crowd—whether Dave wants to or not. The high school social scene might be complicated, but Nandan is sure he’s cracked the code.
Then, one night after a party, Dave and Nandan hook up, which was not part of the plan—especially because Nandan has never been into guys. Still, Dave’s cool, and Nandan’s willing to give it a shot, even if that means everyone starts to see him differently.
But while Dave takes to their new relationship with ease, Nandan’s completely out of his depth. And the more his anxiety grows about what his sexuality means for himself, his friends, and his social life, the more he wonders whether he can just take it all back. But is breaking up with the only person who’s ever really gotten him worth feeling “normal” again?
From Rahul Kanakia comes a raw and deeply felt story about rejecting labels, seeking connection, and finding yourself.
Here’s the gorgeous cover (look at that adorable pose!!), with art by Patrick Leger and design by Corina Lupp!
Rahul Kanakia’s first book is a contemporary young adult novel called Enter Title Here, out from Disney-Hyperion. Additionally, his stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Apex, Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, The Indiana Review, and Nature. He holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins and a B.A. in Economics from Stanford, and he used to work in the field of international development. Originally from Washington, D.C., Rahul now lives in Berkeley. If you want to know more you can visit his blog at http://www.blotter-paper.com or follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/rahkan
Don’t you just love when authors buddy up to talk about their work? I certainly do! So I’m thrilled to have the authors of two new queer YAs chatting on the site today about their books, experiences, and character choices.
Amber Smith’s Something Like Gravity releases today, and you can find out more about it here. If you’re a follower of the blog, you’re already well familiar with Mason Deaver’s I Wish You All the Best, which was our May New Release Spotlight! Get to know both authors and books by reading on!
AMBER: I’m so excited to have the chance to chat with you, Mason (and by the way, we are here together in person at one of our favorite local coffee shops right now, so caffeine is definitely fueling this conversation!)
I first remember seeing tons of buzz about your debut, I Wish You All the Bestlast year, and I was so interested, especially because our books had some similarities (both are first love stories that feature a gender nonconforming protagonist). And when I looked you up, I couldn’t believe we both lived in Charlotte, North Carolina! So I promptly sent you a DM on Twitter to ask if we could meet up – I love connecting with other authors, and you were so gracious to meet me for coffee – we talked about lots of things that first time we met: books and writing, LGBTQ stuff, life in general, being in the South.
I moved to NC about ten years ago after having lived my whole life up North. But you’ve lived in NC your whole life… So I’m curious, what was your experience like growing up queer in the South?
MASON: Very weird, growing up there weren’t a lot of openly queer people at my schools, and those that were, were considered the ‘weird kids’ and so part of me always repressed that sort of thing. The South definitely has a reputation when it comes to queer people, especially queer teens, I think. What was it like for you? I know you grew up in New York, so that must’ve been a big departure from what you knew.
AMBER: Yes, it was a pretty big culture shock for me at first (not to mention the humidity down here!). It’s strange, even though I grew up in a more liberal environment in New York, I had a similar experience with there not being any queer people who were out at my high school (I am also, eh-hmm, a bit older than you, so I was in high school a lot longer ago than you were). But I still didn’t feel comfortable coming out to my family until years later as an adult. When I finally did come out to my mom, she was so supportive and accepting, but I remember her telling me that had I come out to her when I was a teenager (a decade or so earlier), she wasn’t sure she would’ve taken it so well. I think people’s perspectives can evolve and change with time.
What about you, Mason? What was your coming out experience like?
MASON: Whew boy, you know, speaking to the liberal environment for just a second. It’s been funny moving to a city in the South that is considered more ‘liberal’ and ‘open-minded’ but still being afraid to really be who I am. Which I think may just be the fear for any queer person no matter where they live or what environment they grew up in. But coming out is still a weird thing for me. I have friends who know, and people in my life who I’m comfortable telling, but it’s still very much a new thing. I’ve never officially come out to any of my family, and when it comes to introducing myself to strangers, I’m still in a place where I don’t tell them right away, like a defense mechanism of sort, which is feel is a very familiar feeling for loads of trans people.
AMBER: Oh yes, I totally get that! For so many years, I didn’t feel safe being out to anyone except a very close circle of friends, and while I will be forever grateful for their love and support, it made my world feel very small. I think you’re right, we still live in a time where so many queer people (especially when you live in the South, like you and I) have to be really mindful of our surroundings. I hate that I still have to check in on my own safety before holding my partner’s hand in public or simply saying “I love you” or calling her “honey” if I know people might overhear. But this is still a reality for so many of us.
Which makes me think of I Wish You All the Best – you chose to have your main character, Ben, not come out to their new classmates. What was it that influenced your decision to have Ben go back in the closet?
MASON: That was a very tough decision to make, because you want the best for your characters, right? And you don’t want them to have to go through anything harsh, but a character going back into the closet was something I’d never seen in any book before. But I’ve been there before, basically feeling like I have an arm or a leg out there, but still mostly firmly being in the closet or totally going back in around certain people or places. It all goes back to that defense mechanism thing, this way we have to protect ourselves. Which sucks because this is such a vital part of who we are, but for a lot of queer people, it comes down to either being ourselves, or surviving.
AMBER: Such a good point, Mason. I feel like “coming out” is often perceived as like this monumental before and after divide in a queer person’s life, but the reality is, we have to come out over and over again, when we meet new people, or making the decision to correct someone when they make a wrong assumption about our identities. I can’t even count how many times I’ve been asked about my husband or boyfriend, and sometimes it just doesn’t feel worth it (or wise) to correct them.
I had to make a similar decision with my main character, Chris, in Something Like Gravity, who is struggling with whether or not he will come out to his love interest, Maia. He wants to be honest and show his true self, but is also afraid of losing the relationship, or something even worse happening if he reveals himself. While I’m not transgender, I’ve had to weigh similar options over and over in my life. And you’re right, it does suck!
If you had to say what you think the most important step/things that we can all be doing to move the needle towards all queer people being safe and accepted, what would it be?
MASON: Oh, I feel that ‘constantly coming out’ thing. It’s never a one and done kind of thing. When you’re queer (visibly or otherwise) you’re constantly weighing in your head, picking your battles and deciding whether or not it’s worth it.
That’s something I loved about Something Like Gravity, was Chris’ decisions. Because it’s hard to trust people, even the people you think you can assume the best of, or even love. There are so many moments where Ben wants to come out to Nathan, but doesn’t. Because there are so many alarms going off in your head like do you really know this person? Will they really react the way you want?
As for moving the needle? I think we’re already doing so much. Publishing is at the height of queer inclusion, I think. Not to say there isn’t more work to do, there are still so many chances that haven’t been given to queer authors of color, or disabled queer authors (or any intersection of the three), but I also feel that we’re steadily moving towards the right place. It’s just taking us a long time to get there unfortunately.
AMBER: Yes, I couldn’t agree more! When I look at where things were when I was a teenager (some twenty years ago now!) there were practically zero queer books out there, and I mean, YA was barely a genre yet, so there has been so much progress. It is very encouraging to see so many new and diverse voices being embraced. There is truly nothing more powerful than sharing our stories and experiences.
And that’s one of the things I loved so much about I Wish You All the Best – that it isn’t just a coming out story, but it’s also a love story. Ben and Nathan’s relationship was so beautiful and felt so real; the way they each gradually opened up to one another and earned each other’s trust was so natural. Was the love story thread always such a prominent part of the book, or was it something that developed as you were writing?
MASON: Well Ben and Nathan have always been Ben and Nathan (or BeNathan, which was a happy accident). In my head they’ve always been destined to be there for one another, it’s always been Ben and Nathan for me. I think it’s so important that we showcase queer teens living and thriving. Getting their love interest, accomplishing their goals, getting the chance to live happy lives.
And for me, there’s no doubt that Ben and Nathan live a happy life together. They’re meant for each other, and I don’t like the idea of them ever being separated from one another. I see a lot of tweets about how it’s more realistic to show people breaking up, that high school relationships hardly last past graduation. And while I think those stories are definitely needed and wanted, with Ben and Nathan I want them to have a happily ever after. I think they deserve it.
What about you? What inspired this love thread through Something Like Gravity? Your other books have handled pretty heavy topics, so was it tough to find a balance between the two in this latest book?
AMBER: BeNathan – I love that (you totally need to start a hashtag!) I agree, I think it’s just as important to show both sides of experience as a queer person: the challenges and hardships, but also the joys and triumphs. I actually started writing Chris and Maia’s stories as two separate books at first. Chris’s story was primarily about his journey with coming out as trans (and a lot of the problems and heartache he was going through because of it). Maia’s story was all about her grief over her sister’s death and trying to rediscover who she was going to be.
I was working on their stories at the same time, but at a certain point they just became too bleak, and I thought about giving each of them a love interest as a way to lighten things up a bit…but then it hit me: Chris and Maia would be perfect for each other! And so, I started re-writing their stories as one book, and I’m so glad that I did. Writing SLG was good for my soul. I loved being able to show a more positive aspect of a queer life through a respectful, loving, romantic relationship.
So, on that note, what’s next for you? Do you plan to continue writing queer characters and storylines?
MASON: Definitely, I remember times even when I was in high school not having a lot of queer books to pick from. And even the ones that were there weren’t… we’ll say the best. I’ve got a second book in the works, and I’d love to venture into middle grade at some point with a few ideas. More queer stories all around, I really can’t imagine writing a book with a non-queer main character haha.
What about you? Any future plans you can talk about with us here or is everything hush hush?
AMBER: Ha, yes I know exactly what you mean! Now that I’m finally out in both my life and in my writing, I have no intention of going back into the closet! It’s still a little hush hush, but I can say that I plan on continuing queer representation in my books – I’m toying with some different genres and formats myself, including (fingers crossed) a middle grade novel, as well.
Okay, my last question for you is a fun one: Since we love getting together for coffee, what do you think Ben and Nathan’s favorite drinks on the menu here would be?
MASON: Oh I like this, unfortunately it won’t be some super fancy coffee drink, Ben would definitely go for a Limonade Classique (can you tell we’re in a French inspired café?) I guess there’s just something about the color yellow that calls to them, I don’t know.
As for Nathan, he’d be the most extra. Like more sugar that actual caffeine or coffee. So he’d pick a Salted Caramel Brownie Café Mocha. That kid’s dentist is going to have a field day. What about Chris and Maia? What are their drinks of choice?
AMBER: Ah yes, very good choices, Ben and Nathan! I think Chris (being a Northerner like me) would love the Café Fouetté – a fancy French iced espresso drink – he would need the caffeine to keep up with all of the overthinking and over planning and worrying he likes to do on the long drives he takes in his old clunker of a car. But Maia (who is a North Carolinian) is a bit more low-key than Chris, a little more laid back, so I think she’d go for something more subtle and sweet, like Lavender + Honey Soda.
Well, that’s it for our coffee talk – thank you Mason, and HUGE thanks to Dahlia Adler and LGBTQ Reads for having us!
Mason Deaver is a non-binary author and librarian in a small town in North Carolina where the word ‘y’all’ is used in abundance.
When they aren’t writing or working, they’re typically found in their kitchen baking something that’s bad for them, or out in their garden complaining about the toad that likes to dig holes around their hydrangeas.
Amber Smith is the New York Times bestselling author of the young adult novels The Way I Used to Be, The Last to Let Go, and Something Like Gravity. An advocate for increased awareness of gendered violence, as well as LGBTQ equality, she writes in the hope that her books can help to foster change and spark dialogue surrounding these issues. She grew up in Buffalo, New York, and now lives in Charlotte, North Carolina with her partner and their ever-growing family of rescued dogs and cats. You can find her online at AmberSmithAuthor.com.
I don’t know what we did to get so lucky, but queer kidlit seriously struck gold when it got Kacen Callender, who seems to be multiplying their glorious catalog every five minutes. Their first MG, Hurricane Child, is both a Lambda and Stonewall award winner, so you know this newest, King and the Dragonflies, which releases from Scholastic on February 4, 2020, had better fly onto your TBR ASAP! Here are the details:
In a small but turbulent Louisiana town, one boy’s grief takes him beyond the bayous of his backyard, to learn that there is no right way to be yourself.
Twelve-year-old Kingston James is sure his brother Khalid has turned into a dragonfly. When Khalid unexpectedly passed away, he shed what was his first skin for another to live down by the bayou in their small Louisiana town. Khalid still visits in dreams, and King must keep these secrets to himself as he watches grief transform his family.
It would be easier if King could talk with his best friend, Sandy Sanders. But just days before he died, Khalid told King to end their friendship, after overhearing a secret about Sandy—that he thinks he might be gay. “You don’t want anyone to think you’re gay too, do you?”
But when Sandy goes missing, sparking a town-wide search, and King finds his former best friend hiding in a tent in his backyard, he agrees to help Sandy escape from his abusive father, and the two begin an adventure as they build their own private paradise down by the bayou and among the dragonflies. As King’s friendship with Sandy is reignited, he’s forced to confront questions about himself and the reality of his brother’s death.
The Thing About Jellyfish meets The Stars Beneath Our Feet in this story about loss, grief, and finding the courage to discover one’s identity, from the award-winning author of Hurricane Child.
And here’s the incredibly stunning cover, with art by Tonya Engel and design by Baily Crawford!
But wait, there’s more! Keep reading for a guest post by author Kacen Callender on the inspiration behind the book!
Elizabeth Gilbert has a beautiful TedTalk on the expectations of artists, and the concept that there’s a source of ideas and creativity that we humans are sometimes granted access to. It’s a thought that’s stuck with me for years now: that writers are only tools who tap into some sort of stream of energy and creativity, gifted with stories by the universe—stories that the divine wants us to tell.
It may seem a little too New Age-y for some, but I feel this is true even more after my experience with King and the Dragonflies. I had a deadline approaching and sat down to write the novel, nervous and unsure of where the story would go, or what I wanted to say. As if I’d heard a whisper, I suddenly knew that the main character was a boy named King, and that he thought his brother Khalid had turned into a dragonfly. Almost the entirety of King and the Dragonflies came to me as though a dream over the next few weeks after that, spilling onto the page—the fastest manuscript I’ve ever drafted.
When the novel begins, King’s brother Khalid has already unexpectedly and tragically passed away. King has also decided that he can no longer speak to his best friend Sandy because he’s gay, and King is afraid others will think he’s gay as well. It doesn’t help that King is questioning his identity and is afraid that others will learn his secret. As the novel progresses, King struggles with his identity as a gay black boy in the south, centering around something I myself had been told as a child: “Black people can’t be gay. If they are gay, it’s because they’ve been around a white gay person too much.”
It sounds ridiculous, but after writing and sharing this novel with some early readers, I’ve learned that other black people have been told the same thing. We’re in a society that usually only celebrates queer people who are white. Black queer people tend to be invisible, to the point that others have tried to speak us out of existence. If there aren’t enough stories showing black, queer people, then where is the proof that we do exist—not only for ignorant folks, but for the black queer people who need to know that they aren’t alone?
Beyond the idea that black people can’t be queer, there’s also the fear of facing two stigmas: bad enough that we’re black in a racist United States, but to have to face homophobia from all sides, regardless of race, as well? It’s a real fear that many black, queer people struggle with, and one that I explore in King and the Dragonflies for any young reader who worries about the same things.
By the end of the novel, King has evolved, both due to grief for his brother, and for the courage he must find to face his identity. I’ve always been super interested in symbolism in dreams, so months after finishing the first draft and working on revisions, I suddenly had the urge to look up the dream meaning of dragonflies. Change, transformation, self-realization. I can’t think of a stronger symbol for this novel.
Writing King and the Dragonflies was an emotional, raw experience, exactly like waking up from a vivid dream, one that I’m still reeling from in some ways. I can’t take the credit for being a transmitter or antennae of some kind, passing along messages and stories from the beyond, but I can be grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to help share King and his story with the world.
Please welcome author Taylor Ramage to the site today to talk about erasure and her recently released poetry collection, Lest I Know Your Weakness. Before we get into the post, here’s a note from the author on the book’s actual crafting:
I made this poetry collection by taking words, phrases, and letters from the 1872 novella Carmilla and reorganizing them into poems. That’s what erasure or blackout poetry is in a nutshell–transforming the content of an existing text into something new.
Although Carmilla does have undeniable lesbian representation, it was still written in 1872 by a white man and has a tragic ending like we’ve seen on some mainstream TV shows that kill off their wlw characters. But creating erasure poetry from this old text allows Laura and Carmilla’s narrative to be reclaimed and redeemed, even though it’s certainly still angsty. It’s another form of adaptation, much like the webseries “Carmilla,” only I’ve created new meanings from the original text provided on the page. I think this ability to apply a very contemporary form of poetry to old texts can result in reclaimed narratives for all kinds of marginalizations.
How cool is that?? So now, let’s get to the book and to the post!
A twisted love story told in alternating poetic snapshots. Intrigue, tension, darkness, beauty–Carmilla and Laura experience it all as they traverse the ups and downs of their relationship through poetic dialogue. Love is alluring and terrifying.
Erasure is often something that happens to us, especially if we embody marginalized identities. History, culture, someone standing in front of us, or even we ourselves will not recognize a part of our humanity, ignore our contributions, or categorize us with labels that wilt the nuances of our beings. Erasure imposes. It takes away in an instant and across a lifetime.
But what if, in one sliver of life, we could harness the power of erasure to reclaim the narratives handed to us?
This is the potential of erasure poetry, a poetic form in which you start with an existing text, then pull out words, phrases, and letters until you’re left with a poem. I used this form to create my new poetry collection Lest I Know Your Weakness. I crafted poems from the text of Carmilla, a novella written in 1872 and one of the first vampire books to exist in English literature. This story is both undeniably gay and undeniably written by a white man in a culture whose sensibilities had to align the sapphic with the grotesque and the horrific. Laura and Carmilla’s relationship is deep, eerie, strange, and haunting throughout the book, yet the frame narrative around it presents it as unnatural and tragic. Poor, innocent Laura got whisked away by this seductive monster!
And of course, the monster dies in the end.
I don’t need to repeat the litany of wlw couples who don’t get happy endings due to death or some other tragedy. That narrative runs deep in history and culture as shown with old books like Carmilla. Yet the beauty about that book being published in 1872 is that now it’s in the public domain.
This means anyone can do whatever they want with the text without any copyright restrictions. It’s why we have the Carmilla web series that adapts the story into a contemporary college setting and reclaims it from the tragic spectacle it originally was.
I’ve done something similar with my poems. Now, the original words of the book are reorganized and reframed into poems that alternate between Laura and Carmilla’s perspectives. I approached this old text with the entire context of my life and sensibilities, and chose what to take and form into a new(ish) story.
I did set some limits for the sake of following a form. For instance, I took screenshots of the text to give myself “pages” that restricted the words I could pull from for any given poem or idea. The sentence or two I got from each page became entire poems or stanzas that I later grouped together.
While I engaged with the old language of this book and pulled out what appealed to me, I also harnessed the power of erasure to reclaim the narrative of this couple. It can be strange, angsty, and a tad spooky. But it doesn’t have to be yet another tragic queer story.
The potential for applying such a contemporary form of poetry like this to old texts creates endless opportunities for people with marginalizations of all kinds to recenter stories written about them. A Native American poet could create erasure poems from Lewis and Clark’s journals, or a black poet could make poetry from texts written about abolition during the Civil War. In fact, Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith has written erasure poems from texts like the Declaration of Independence, evoking this very concept of reclaiming the past.
Erasure poetry allows us to actively engage with ideas of the past while creating new meanings from them. The public domain is filled with thousands of old stories. Source material is bountiful and waiting to be erased.
Taylor Ramage is the author of two poetry collections, Forgive Us Our Trespasses and Lest I Know Your Weakness. She also writes fantasy, enjoys stories in all forms, and leads an active, healthy lifestyle. You can follow her on Twitter @TaylorRamage and Tumblr at taylorrama.tumblr.com. You can also catch her writing updates on her WordPress blog.