After an assault, bigender seventeen-year-old Aleks/Alexis is looking for a fresh start―so they voluntarily move in with their uncle, a Catholic priest. In their new bedroom, Aleks/Alexis discovers they can overhear parishioners in the church confessional. Moved by the struggles of these “sinners,” Aleks/Alexis decides to anonymously help them, finding solace in their secret identity: a guardian angel instead of a victim.
But then Aleks/Alexis overhears a confession of another priest admitting to sexually abusing a parishioner. As they try to uncover the priest’s identity before he hurts anyone again, Aleks/Alexis is also forced to confront their own abuser and come to terms with their past trauma.
Today on the site, I’m delighted to welcome Jake Martinez, whose debut YA, The Mixtape to My Life, releases today from Deep Hearts YA! Here’s a little more about the book:
Justin Ortega might as well be starring in his very own coming-of-age 80s movie. If only he could find his dream boy to pull up in front of his house in a red convertible and sweep him off his feet, already! At seventeen years young, he isn’t quite Mexican enough for his South Texas town; isn’t manly enough for his father; can sometimes be too much of a smart mouth for his mother; and as for the other kids at school—let’s just say he’d be cast as the quiet nerd with a heart of gold…and an ear for music.
The one solace Justin has is his love of 80s hair metal bands, which he listens to on his beloved Sony Walkman. The songs, lyrics, and melody keep him just sane enough to escape the pressures of school and help navigate the hurdles life brings. Especially with the doozy this year is shaping up to be. Not only does he have to try out for a captain position which is rightfully his, but his best friend has found a new girlfriend, leaving Justin to fend for himself in a school where he’s mostly known as simply Coconut.
Enter Dominic Mendoza. Sweet, funny, and a blast from his past, the hunky football player has moved in next door. Justin could never forget how Dominic protected him in the eighth grade, nor the way Dominic made him feel, then…and now.
Except, this isn’t a movie. Confusion, friendship, and love won’t guarantee a happy ending unless Justin can learn to accept himself for who he truly is. Hair bands and all.
I’d like to thank LGBTQ Reads for giving me the opportunity to talk about my book and why I decided to set it during the 90s.
When I started writing The Mixtape to My Life, there were certain things I knew I wanted. First, that it was going to be a Young Adult story. Second, that I wanted it to be set in South Texas. Then third, and most important, I wanted it to take place during the 90s. It’s not that I didn’t think that I wouldn’t be able to write a novel set in today’s world, it’s just that I thought if I were able to tap into the feelings I had as a young gay kid growing up in 90s era South Texas, then it might make the main character and all his pent up emotions feel more authentic. But it did make me wonder that if my novel is set in the 90s, would today’s YA audience be able to relate? The answer is yes, because even though it’s a different time, some things never change.
One of the main motivations I had for writing a YA novel was the fact that even though we have made great strides in this world towards LGBTQIA+ acceptance, there are still places where many young people feel the need to hide who they are. The fear and uncertainty of what might happen if they came out is a frightening thought. Some go on with their lives, while others pray and pray that they will change and become what others consider to be “normal.”
I thought, maybe, just maybe if they saw that someone in a different time went through the same thing and came out of it okay, then maybe it might give them hope. That’s why it doesn’t matter if they don’t know what Teen Witch is or know the words to Welcome to the Jungle by Guns N’ Roses. Emotions are universal despite the time frame. So is hope. That’s what I wish for people to feel when they read this: hope.
Bullying and Homophobia
One thing that maybe make people uncomfortable about The Mixtape to My Life is the use of homophobic and racial slurs that bullies in the book hurl at Justin, the main character. Some of them are quite harsh and could cause a negative reaction in someone. Trust me, I thought long and hard about whether or not to use them. But in the end, I felt that the story would lose something without it. I heard them on almost a daily basis, and while those slurs may not be as accepted as they were before, they are still used against many in the gay community. A queer teen who hears them as much as I did needs to see that someone can overcome this and find true acceptance. Like I mentioned before, I want that shy queer kid who feels alone to know that no matter what people throw at them, there is still hope that things will get better. You can find people who accept you, and you don’t have to change who you are to have that.
So yes, despite possible unfamiliar cultural references, I do feel that today’s YA audience can relate to a book set during the 90s. The techniques may be more advanced in this current age, but bullying is still bullying, and we can all relate to the hurt that it causes.
Jake Martinez is a former South Texas resident who has found a new home in Chicago. He has been writing all his life but has only recently sought to be published. His debut novel, The Mixtape to My Life, reflects on life as a gay teen growing up in South Texas. Jake holds an MFA in Creative Writing and also loves to write plays and screenplays. Aside from writing, you can find him hanging out at home with his husband, their newborn son, and an eclectic group of fur babies.
You may remember Lindsay Smith from one of my favorite bi YA thrillers, A Darkly Beating Heartor her excellent queer historical story in A Tyranny of Petticoats. Well, now she’s back with something entirely different but still wildly queer, and we get to reveal the cover! The Shadow War is a new YA fantasy releasing on October 13th from Philomel/Penguin, and it’s pitched as Inglorious Basterds meets Stranger Things, which !!! Here’s the official blurb:
World War II is raging, and five teens are looking to make a mark. Daniel and Rebeka seek revenge against the Nazis who slaughtered their family; Simone is determined to fight back against the oppressors who ruined her life and corrupted her girlfriend; Phillip aims to prove that he’s better than his worst mistakes; and Liam is searching for a way to control the portal to the shadow world he’s uncovered, and the monsters that live within it–before the Nazi regime can do the same. When the five meet, and begrudgingly team up, in the forests of Germany, none of them knows what their future might hold.
As they race against time, war, and enemies from both this world and another, Liam, Daniel, Rebeka, Phillip, and Simone know that all they can count on is their own determination and will to survive. With their world turned upside down, and the shadow realm looming ominously large–and threateningly close–the course of history and the very fate of humanity rest in their hands. Still, the most important question remains: Will they be able to save it?
And here’s the electrifying cover, designed by Kristie Radwilowicz!
Fires raged, purple and blue and savage, flowing like liquid through the trees. The sky glowed with unnatural light against a swallowing gulp of darkness. And in the distance, a column of flaming stones soared skyward—a pillar. Shadows circled it like giant bats, impossibly long wings scraping against one another in their jagged dance.
Daniel shrank back, pulse racing. What had happened to his world, his life? The wings beat louder, threatening to drown out his thoughts. “What have you done to me?”
“To you? Not a damn thing. In fact, I think we might be able to help each other.”
Daniel turned toward him. Liam smiled so easily, as if his earlier black rage had never happened. He’d said the rules were different here, without explaining, yet, where here was.
Liam appeared to be in total control. He was confident—calm, even—despite the strangeness surrounding them. He was just an ordinary college student, a little disheveled, though nothing that couldn’t be fixed by a hot bath. His tweed jacket, his satchel, his tidy leather loafers—nothing about him hinted he could unleash hell from his palm.
But Daniel was used to monsters that wore the plainest faces.
In the distance, something howled, slavering and cruel.
“What is this place?” Daniel asked again, though he wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to know the answer.
“This,” Liam said, “is how we’re going to win the war.”
Lindsay Smith is the author of Sekret and other novels for young adults. She writes for Serial Box’s Marvel’s Black Widow: Bad Blood, Orphan Black: The Next Chapter, and The Witch Who Came In From the Cold. She has also written for comics, RPGs, and more. She lives in Washington, DC, where she works in international cybersecurity.
I’m so thrilled to have Kevin Craig on the site today to reveal the cover of his sophomore novel (and first with Duet Books), The Camino Club, which releases on October 6th! Here’s the story:
After getting in trouble with the law, a group of wayward teens from diverse backgrounds are given an ultimatum: serve time in juvenile detention for their crimes, or walk the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route across Spain over the summer holidays with a pair of court-appointed counselor guides. Although unlikely friends, they all try to make the best of their situation. The pilgrims grow closer on their journey, but when and if they reach the Cathedral in Santiago, will they each find what they’re looking for and come out of the walk ready to conquer the shattered worlds they left behind?
And here’s the beautiful cover designed by C.B. Messer!
We’ve been lost for over an hour. The way Claire is so chill about it, I’m beginning to think she doesn’t much care. She might have had something to do with us taking the wrong turns in the first place.
We were only a city block or so ahead of Meagan. Every once in a while I would slow our pace down so she was always able to catch glimpses of us. And Manny and Greg walked just slightly ahead of us. They sped up, and as soon as we lost sight of them, bam. Everything fell apart.
The rain didn’t help. We’re soaked through. At least it’s stopped. Hopefully it stays this way. I need to either dry off or find my way back to the path before I go mad. I can’t be wet and lost.
But here we are, drenched, on this quiet street with no peregrinos anywhere in sight. We have lost our way. And I kept letting Claire lead me in the wrong direction, because I had assumed she was trying to find her way back to the yellow arrows.
Clearly, not a good idea. Not an arrow in sight. I should have just kept walking with Manny and Greg. Even Gil disappeared back at the albergue after he realized Claire finally had a new walking partner.
I think last night may have been a one off, though. She seemed nice enough at the time, but I think today’s Claire may have gone rogue. I’m almost positive. Maybe she’s possessed by Cacabelos Jesus.
“I give up,” I say, stopping in front of a small grocery. “I’m asking for directions.”
“No, don’t. It’s more fun this way. Can’t we just wander around and figure things out for ourselves. Where’s your sense of adventure?”
“You know what I think,” I say before heading inside. “I think you want to be lost. I think you did this to us on purpose. I don’t want to be drawn into any of your plans to screw this up. You’re sabotaging me.”
I turn and walk into the small grocery. I let the door close on Claire, shutting down her ability to respond. I hope they can point me in the right direction. I don’t care if she follows me or not. I’d rather she didn’t.
I have my phone out, getting directions from the lady behind the counter, when Claire finally enters the store. We’re struggling through the language barrier, but the woman understands Camino and is able to show me on Google Maps where it is I have to go to get back on the path. Claire stands behind me, skulking noisily. After I have the directions, I buy a couple apples that happen to sit in a basket on the counter.
I turn to Claire and give her a dirty look as I put one of the apples into a side pocket in my backpack. I bite into the other and say, “Come on. Let’s go.” I hold up my phone to show her I know where I’m going.
“Nah,” she says. She pops a handful of Skittles. It was cute at first, but those little candies are beginning to annoy me. “I think I’ll sit this one out.”
“What does that even mean?”
Claire heads for the door without saying another word. I thank the woman behind the counter again before I leave. She says Buen Camino and I wave as I leave her store.
“What is your problem?” I ask Claire as I catch up to her. She just shrugs and keeps walking, in the opposite direction we need to go in order to get back to the yellow arrows. “Come on, Claire. You’re going the wrong way. You can’t just get lost in Spain. Are you nuts, girl? What is wrong with you? I thought we bonded last night. I thought—”
“Oh, what?” She pivots, cutting me off mid-sentence. “You think because we spent half an hour together we’re best friends now? What about the day before that? Or on the plane? You know, when you didn’t say two words to me?”
“I just want to get back to the Camino, Claire. I don’t want to fight with you.”
“What are you even in for, anyway?” she says. She walks over to where I stand waiting for her.
“You don’t want to know.”
Kevin Craig is a playwright, poet, and short story writer who lives in Toronto with their husband, Michael. An author of six published novels, Kevin’s books include Pride Must Be a Place (MuseItUp Publishing, 2018) and Burn Baby Burn Baby (independently published, 2014). Kevin was a founding member of the Ontario Writers’ Conference Board of Directors, and sat on the Writers’ Community of Durham Region’s (WCDR) Board of Directors as Membership Coordinator. Website: https://ktcraig.com/
Today on the site, I’m thrilled to have Rachael Allen, whose upcoming young adult contemporary, The Summer of Impossibilities, releases May 12 from Abrams! We’ve got an exclusive excerpt from the story, so check out the blurb and dig in! (And pssst: keep scrolling for your chance to win an advanced copy!)
Skyler, Ellie, Scarlett and Amelia Grace are forced to spend the summer at the lake house where their moms became best friends.
One can’t wait.
One would rather gnaw off her own arm than hang out with a bunch of strangers just so their moms can drink too much wine and sing Journey two o’clock in the morning.
Two are sisters.
Three are currently feuding with their mothers.
One almost sets her crush on fire with a flaming marshmallow.
Two steal the boat for a midnight joyride that goes horribly, awkwardly wrong.
One of them is hiding how bad her joint pain has gotten.
All of them are hiding something.
One falls in love with a boy she thought she despised.
Two fall in love with each other.
None of them are the same at the end of the summer.
I WAS HOPING SHE WOULD BE THE FIRST PERSON I saw. Only, now that I’m here, I have no idea what to do. I know what she was thinking about doing with that knife—it’s why I stopped dead in the doorway, so she’d have a chance to put it down and paste a smile on her face before my mom could see around my body. But maybe I would have stopped dead no matter what. There’s something about seeing her in person after so many emails that makes me forget how to breathe.
“Scarlett, hi.” Mom gives her a hug. “You’ve gotten so tall.”
She’s definitely taller than I imagined she would be, but I’m only five foot four, so everyone is tall. She’s even more beautiful than in her pictures, all long red hair and curves and freckles. But somehow different. Edgier or sexier.
I stay on the other side of the room. If I get too close to her, will she know? I feel like my mom would know.
“Is Adeline around?” Mom asks, brows furrowed with concern.
“She’s upstairs.” Scarlett bites her lip, and I have to look out the window. “I think she’s not doing so well. Can you check on her?”
“Of course.” Mom squeezes her shoulder and leaves immediately. There’s something about the way she walks out of the room—her steps are so purposeful. I almost don’t recognize her for a second.
Skyler bounds in just as Mom is leaving. She grins at me, but her eyes are red.
“Amelia Grace!” she squeals, giving me a big, bouncy hug. “I haven’t seen you in forever! You look just like your pictures on Insta!”
And then it feels like it would be weird for Scarlett and me not to hug after I’ve just hugged her sister, and she must be feeling the same way because she takes a couple steps toward me too. Her shirt is wet in patches, and so is her hair.
“Are you okay?” I ask. It’s a general are you okay, but buried underneath is a very specific are you okay? Because back when things were really bad, with the girls at school and the cutting, she used to email me every day. But that was three years ago, before our emails trickled to every few weeks and then every few months. A part of me wants to pick back up right where we left off, but—
“I’m fine,” she says.
She hugs me, and it isn’t a big or bouncy one like Skyler’s, and it’s over too quickly, and it doesn’t answer any of my questions. I guess I thought we meant more to each other than that.
There’s the sound of another car pulling up outside, and Skyler runs out of the room to meet them, her chestnut ponytail swinging behind her. Scarlett takes exactly one step closer. She lowers her voice and says in a whisper that’s just for me, “I’m really glad you’re here.”
My heart squeezes in my chest, and I almost choke on my own spit. “Me too.”
The kitchen gets really quiet. I can hear Skyler outside, greeting the new arrivals with some unintelligible bubbliness. A trickle of water from the faucet goes drip- drip- dripping down the sink.
“I should, um, go upstairs and change.” She gestures to her shirt.
“Right. See you.” See you? Of course, I’ll see her. We are living in the same dang house for the summer.
Her footsteps echo up the stairs, and I feel like I’m on the cusp of realizing some great truth. Then my phone dings in my pocket. Carrie? I type in my password. Nah, just a bunch of social media updates. Including one from Carrie. It’s a photo of a book she’s reading—she posts those a lot—with a tiny caption.
So, she does have her phone. Well, maybe she doesn’t know what to say or maybe she’s feeling really bad about things or maybe she wishes it never happened and she never wants to see me again but she’s too sweet to tell me.
What if you just promised you wouldn’t kiss any more girls or go on dates or anything?
Maybe it wouldn’t be such a big deal to promise that after all. If Carrie doesn’t want to talk to me, I mean, I don’t know anyone else in Ranburne who might be interested. And Scarlett, well. She’s in a relationship. I know this. She has emailed me about this. I have pretended to be happy for her on multiple occasions.
I could email Pastor Chris—he’s our youth minister, the one I was going to be serving with. See about being a junior youth minister when I come back in the fall, maybe sooner. I could promise him, like Abby said. I only have one more year of high school anyway. And it wouldn’t be changing who I am so much as it would just be . . . waiting.
Sometimes I imagine what life will be like on the other side and all the shapes my life could take, but mostly I’m scared to even think about it. Because if I do, all the possible futures start to shift like a kaleidoscope, each one falling into place, forming a single dream. I want to marry a sweet girl who I’m in love with. And I want us to have kids; I don’t even know how many. Two? Three? Seven plus a menagerie of pets? I don’t even know how the baby- having part would work exactly, but who cares as long as they’re ours? And she and I will walk down the street holding hands and we’ll sit together in church on Sundays, each holding up one half of the same hymnal.
That’s about where the future starts to fall apart. Because I already know I’ll never be able to have all those things at the same time.
I realize I’m still staring at the stairs, so I go outside, because I don’t want to seem like I’m creeping around Scarlett’s kitchen waiting for her. Skyler is dancing circles around a woman I recognize as my aunt Seema, and her daughter, Ellie. I remember playing with her brother, Zakir, when I was little. I haven’t seen them since Mom married Jay and moved to Tennessee. We stopped seeing all the aunts after that.
I walk up to the group of them, everyone talking at once. I say hi to Ellie, who is impossibly gorgeous and who gives me a hesitant side- hug like she isn’t sure what else to do.
Seema beams at me. “Amelia Grace, love, you look beautiful.”
I smile and allow myself to be scrunched into a hug. I remember that about her from when I was little—she gives the best hugs.
A tan SUV pulls up next to us. There’s not exactly a driveway, more just a dirt road that makes a circle in front of the house. A tall, Latinx woman with golden brown skin and glossy hair gets out. She has a piercing through one eyebrow and a flower tucked behind one ear. Definitely Val.
“I’m here, and I have everything we need!” she hollers. She pulls out a cardboard box from the passenger seat. “My ‘fasten seatbelt’ alarm has been going off since the liquor store. You know it’s a good day when you have enough alcohol in your seat that your car thinks it’s a person.”
She sets down the box so she can give Seema a hug. It’s like watching family members get reunited at the airport.
“How are you, Seema?”
“Good.” Seema smiles slyly. “I’m good. Because I have everything we need.”
“Wh—? Excuse me? I have wine, whiskey, bourbon, and tequila. I’m not sure there’s anything else a person could need.”
Seema swings a wrinkled brown paper bag. If she has weed in there, just, I don’t know, shoot me dead. I am so not prepared for this.
“Every kind of Cadbury you can imagine from when I visited my mother in Canada.”
Val clutches her heart. “You brought Cadbury? Did you bring—”
“Coconut cashew? Yes, five bars of it, one of which I instructed Ellie to write your name on in Sharpie.”
“God bless you.”
I used to think Cadbury was just those eggs you get at Easter, but it turns out Canada has a whole new level of chocolate going on. I remember I would totally freak out every time a care package from Aunt Seema came in the mail.
“Is that whole bag really filled with chocolate?” I ask.
Seema smiles. “About three kilograms.”
“I love it when you talk metric to me,” says Val, and Seema cackles.
And then it’s like they both remember why they’re here at exactly the same time.
“I am going to kill Jimmy Gable,” says Aunt Val.
“You’ll have to arm wrestle me for it, jaan, because I’m going to kill him first.”
I stare up at the blue house with the white wraparound porch, where my mom is no doubt holding my aunt Adeline like she’s trying to put her back together. Scarlett stands in the second window from the left, looking down at the lawn. The way the light hits her makes her look like a ghost. She’s never even talked about liking a girl, so I know she’ll probably never feel the same way, but the things I’m feeling, they’re so big, it doesn’t even matter. I look at her, and I feel lucky just to feel this way.
The great truth finally takes shape inside my head: If I was ever thinking about doing what they want, of going back to the way I was before and locking away the part of me that likes girls and hiding the key until college—seeing her makes me realize that is no longer an option.
* * *
And here’s more from Rachael!
In addition to giving away ARC’s of THE SUMMER OF IMPOSSIBILITIES, I thought it would be fun to do a giveaway where each of the girls in the book gives away her favorite YA book, and next up is an Amelia Grace giveaway and exclusive excerpt with LGBTQ Reads!
About Amelia Grace
Amelia Grace (Nickname: Ames)
Loves: interior design, kindness, being a junior youth minister, friends that feel like family
Favorite YA book: HOW TO BE REMY CAMERON by Julian Winters
Why: Remy is earnest and kind, and he’s confused about how to define himself because he’s a lot of different things – adopted, black, gay, a brother, a best friend. For Amelia Grace, being inside Remy’s head feels like talking to an old friend. It feels like everything. Especially because it’s really rare to find a book that talks about being LGBTQ+ and about religion. Also, Julian Winters is the absolute best at turning high school stereotypes upside down and he’s funny as hell. Like, catch-you-off-guard sly and witty. Please go read this book immediately.
Giveaway includes (open internationally!):
1 signed ARC of The Summer of Impossibilities
1 signed copy of HOW TO BE REMY CAMERON by Julian Winters
Giveaway note: As a rule, LGBTQ Reads doesn’t host giveaways because they are kind of a lot to deal with. Please note that this giveaway is 100% my (Rachael’s) responsibility, and if you have any questions or concerns, please take them up with me and not LGBTQ Reads. Thanks for being awesome!
* * *
Rachael Allen is a scientist by day and kidlit author by night. She is the winner of the 2019 Georgia Young Adult Author of the Year award, and her books include17 First Kisses, The Revenge Playbook, and A Taxonomy of Love, which was a Junior Library Guild selection and a 2018 Books All Young Georgians Should Read. Her next novel, The Summer of Impossibilities, is out May 12, 2020 (Abrams/Amulet). Rachael lives in Atlanta, GA with her husband, two children, and two dire wolves.
Rachael’s books have been published internationally in German, Spanish, French, and Polish. She is represented by Susan Hawk of Upstart Crow Literary.
Visit Rachael on Twitter: @rachael_allen and Instagram: @rachael.stewartallen
Today on the site, we’ve got some extra fun in the form of character portrait and excerpt reveals from one of my absolute favorite upcoming releases, Late to the Party by Kelly Quindlen! The book releases on April 21 from Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan, but you can get to know its stars now! (And, a fun note: you can also come see me and Kelly talking about said book at Books of Wonder this summer in NYC on Thursday, June 18th at 6:00 p.m., so save the date!)
Here’s a little more info on Late to the Party:
Seventeen is nothing like Codi Teller imagined.
She’s never crashed a party, never stayed out too late. She’s never even been kissed. And it’s not just because she’s gay. It’s because she and her two best friends, Maritza and JaKory, spend more time in her basement watching Netflix than engaging with the outside world.
So when Maritza and JaKory suggest crashing a party, Codi is highly skeptical. Those parties aren’t for kids like them. They’re for cool kids. Straight kids.
But then Codi stumbles upon one of those cool kids, Ricky, kissing another boy in the dark, and an unexpected friendship is formed. In return for never talking about that kiss, Ricky takes Codi under his wing and draws her into a wild summer filled with late nights, new experiences, and one really cute girl named Lydia.
The only problem? Codi never tells Maritza or JaKory about any of it.
And here are the portraits and excerpts! All portraits in this post have been done by Rima Salloum, a good friend of the author’s.
Codi Teller – the protagonist and narrator, a quiet artist who is questioning her wallflower status
You know how adults are always talking about teenagers? When I was in fourth grade, my family drove past a house that had been rolled with toilet paper, and my dad shook his head and chuckled Teenagers under his breath. My mom griped about Teenagers every June, when dark figures hung over the monkey bars of the clubhouse playground long after closing hours, but she never actually seemed mad; she seemed wistful. And then there’s all those shows and movies, the ones where thirty-year-old actors pretend to be high schoolers, and they go on dates and drive their fast cars and dance at crazy house parties where their fellow Teenagers swing from chandeliers and barf into synthetic tree stands. You grow up with these ideas about Teenagers, about their wild, vibrant, dramatic lives of breaking rules and making out and Being Alive, and you know that it’s your destiny to become one of them someday, but suddenly you’re seventeen and you’re watching people cannonball into a swimming pool in the pouring rain, and you realize you still haven’t become a real Teenager, and maybe you never will.
Maritza Vargas – Codi’s best friend, a headstrong dancer who is determined to expand her social world
Maritza leaned forward, an urgent energy about her. “Listen to me,” she said. “Last night we picked up your little brother from a date, something none of us have ever experienced, and we watched him almost kiss a girl for the first time, something I’ve been wanting to do for ages. Didn’t that feel as shitty for you as it did for me? I’m tired of feeling like I’m missing out. We keep hanging out just the three of us, doing the same shit we always do, watching bad movies we’ve already seen . . .” She clasped her hands in front of her and steeled herself. “We need to try something different, meet people who are different. It’s like Einstein said: The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and hoping for a different result.”
JaKory Green – Codi’s other best friend, a hopeless idealist trying to push beyond his anxiety
“Did you feel horrible yesterday, too?” JaKory asked.
I looked up from the colors I was mixing. “The worst I’ve felt in a long time.”
JaKory was silent. Then he screwed up his mouth and said, “I went home and wrote a poem about it.”
I smiled wryly. “’Course you did.”
“There was one line I really liked. ‘My youth is infinite but my fears are intimate.’”
I mixed my orange and yellow paints. Such bursts of color, such vibrant promises, like the infinite youth JaKory spoke of. And yet those intimate fears loomed larger.
“I’m scared, too,” I admitted. “Scared of . . . I don’t even know what.”
“I’m so pissed at myself,” JaKory whispered. “I always knew I was different . . . black, nerdy, queer… but that’s not why I’m missing out. It’s because I’m standing in my own way.”
Ricky Flint – the closeted football player who takes Codi under his wing and introduces her to a new social group
After a while, we ended up along the river. Ricky parked with his truck facing the water, and we kicked our feet up on the dash, slurping the last of the ice cream from the bottoms of our cups.
“So what do you and Maritza and JaKory do when you hang out?” Ricky asked. “Is it anything like this?”
I told him. I kept checking his expression the whole time, worrying that I was boring him, but he had this open look on his face that made me feel like he cared what I had to say. When I’d said enough, I asked him, “What about your friends? What’s your favorite thing about them?”
He looked out over the river. A whole minute must have passed, but he didn’t seem pressed to come up with the answer right away. Finally, he started nodding to himself and said, “That I feel like I could have met them in kindergarten.”
“What do you mean?”
“I didn’t meet most of my friends until high school, but every single one of them is someone I could have met on the kindergarten playground—it’s natural and easy, nothing held against each other. Remember how easy it was to make friends at that age?”
Lydia Kaufman – Codi’s crush who is trying to be brave during her last summer before college
She bit her lip, a secret grin on her face. “What’s your favorite color?”
I laughed unexpectedly. “That’s what you want to follow up with?”
I smiled, my hands in my lap now, all thought of the painting abandoned. “It changes all the time. Right now it’s violet.”
“I love that.”
“Green,” she said right away.
I nodded, unsurprised. “Like your eyes.”
She laughed. “Not for that reason.”
“The first house my family lived in was green. Like a pastel shade, you know? And anytime a friend’s mom would drop me off, we’d turn on my street and I’d say, ‘My house is the green one.’ I didn’t know how to count the mailbox numbers but I knew my house was green, and I loved it.”
My heart expanded inside me. In that moment I felt like it was okay to be exactly who I was, because she was being exactly who she was, and that must have meant something. I absorbed it all: her eyes, her secrets, her space in the world.
The only thing I managed to say was, “I like knowing that.”
“I like knowing that you know it.”
Kelly Quindlen is the author of the young adult novels Late to the Party and Her Name in the Sky. A graduate of Vanderbilt University and a former teacher, Kelly has had the joy of speaking to PFLAG groups and high school GSAs. She currently serves on the leadership board of a non-profit for Catholic parents with LGBT children. She lives in Atlanta. Follow her on Twitter @kellyquindlen.
Today we’re excited to welcome Chris Bedell to the site to discuss his YA contemporary novel, I’ll See You Again, out now from Deep Hearts! Here’s a little more about the book:
It’s the start of his senior year, and Cyrus should be worried about college applications, procrastinating on homework, and staying up past his bedtime. And he does, until his mother’s cancer returns.
To make matters worse, Nico Valentine—the person Cyrus hates most—insists on being his friend. Carefree, flirtatious, and spontaneous, Nico is everything Cyrus’s childhood never allowed him to be. When their English teacher offers Cyrus extra credit to tutor Nico, Cyrus knows he shouldn’t accept. He could use the distraction, though.
A fling soon ensues, and Cyrus realizes they have more in common than he thought. What is more, Nico is the first person who seems to get him and who is there no matter what. But, if Cyrus wants his romance with Nico to turn into something real, he’ll have to do something he’s never done before—be vulnerable with another person.
(Warning: The following blog post contains spoilers from the YA Contemporary novel I’LL SEE YOU AGAIN)
Hope is a controversial issue in YA literature (and even pop culture in general). On the one hand, people argue YA literature is fiction. So, there’s no harm in having a happy ending. On the other hand, some will argue a YA book might seem unrealistic if an ending is too happy. And the issue of happy endings is something I debated while writing my YA Contemporary novel I’LL SEE YOU AGAIN.
My main character, Cyrus, goes through a lot in the book. His mother has a cancer relapse, and ultimately dies. Cyrus also has his relationship with Nico, which becomes tumultuous towards the end of the book.
Chapter 23 (the book’s second to last chapter) takes place on graduation. Cyrus skips graduation, and reconciles with Nico for that one night. Cyrus wakes up the next morning to find Nico didn’t stay the night. Nico ended things with him on a Post-it note. Some people might argue the book could’ve concluded with that. Cyrus and Nico reconnected very briefly, yet their second breakup reinforces how some relationships don’t always last.
I couldn’t let the book end with the morning after graduation when Cyrus discovers the Post-it note, though. Doing so would’ve been cruel. The arc of Cyrus and Nico’s begins with the book’s first chapter. So, readers deserve a payoff. Cyrus also deserves happiness beyond his writing ambitions, friends, and family. Nico is the one person who understands Cyrus the most despite their opposite personalities. Nico and Cyrus both like to write, had fathers who abandoned them, and had mothers who died of cancer.
Chapter 24 (the book’s last chapter) therefore pushes the novel’s plot forward about nine months. It’s the following March after graduation. Nico and Cyrus are both back in town for Spring Break, and they eventually reconcile.
To me, offering hope is important in YA literature. Something cathartic exists from seeing Cyrus get a happy ending after struggling so much. A general overlap exists with real life—some readers might be grappling with serious problems. And they deserve to know life gets better no matter how trite the sentiment sounds. People are more than their romantic relationship, but being Nico makes Cyrus happy. It’s only human, after all. Most people wanna feel loved and accepted.
Also, I offer realism in a less jarring way. If I wanted to make the book unbelievably happy, then I would’ve had Chapter 24 also mention Cyrus getting a career break with his writing. But I didn’t. Not because that’ll never happen for Cyrus—it will. But because readers don’t need the entirety of Cyrus’s life story to know he’ll be happy. Cyrus is just like most people. Taking life one day at a time. And that’s enough. If Cyrus survived his mother’s death and reconciled with Nico, then he can handle anything.
Chris Bedell’s previous publishing credits include Thought Catalog, Entropy Magazine, Chicago Literati, and Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, among others. His debut YA Fantasy novel IN THE NAME OF MAGIC was published by NineStar Press in 2018. Chris’s 2019 novels include his NA Thriller BURNING BRIDGES (BLKDOG Publishing), YA Paranormal Romance DEATHLY DESIRES (DEEP HEARTS YA), and YA Thriller COUSIN DEAREST (BLKDOG Publishing). His other 2020 novels include his YA Thriller I KNOW WHERE THE BODIES ARE BURIED (BLKDOG Publishing), YA Thriller BETWEEN THE LOVE AND MURDER (Between The Lines Publishing), and YA Sci-fi DYING BEFORE LIVING (Deep Hearts YA). Chris also graduated with a BA in Creative Writing from Fairleigh Dickinson University in 2016.
With sequel The First 7 releasing on March 7th, now is the perfect time to grab this alien sci-fi with a queer cast, including aromantic bisexual lead Clover. I am not typically a sci-fi reader, and this one had me on the edge of my seat the entire time and dying to see what comes next, so if you’re even on the fence because it isn’t your typical read, rest assured it’s the perfect choice to yank you out of your comfort zone a little bit without really doing that at all, especially if you love found family vibes!
A high-stakes survival story about eight teenagers who outlive an alien attack—perfect for fans of The 5th Wave
Clover Martinez has always been a survivor, which is the only reason she isn’t among the dead when aliens invade and destroy Earth as she knows it.
When Clover hears an inexplicable radio message, she’s shocked to learn there are other survivors—and that they’re all at the former Area 51. When she arrives, she’s greeted by a band of misfits who call themselves The Last Teenagers on Earth.
Only they aren’t the ragtag group of heroes Clover was expecting. The group seems more interested in hiding than fighting back, and Clover starts to wonder if she was better off alone. But then she finds a hidden spaceship, and she doesn’t know what to believe…or who to trust.