Archive for the ‘diversity’ Category

Recently I participated in a panel put on by RART (Readers’ Advisory Round Table,) called RE & RA: Racial Equity and Readers’ Advisory. These are the books I talked about. Astute readers might notice that a few of them are slightly modified versions of reviews I’ve previously published here, while others are new.

One Crazy SummerRita Williams-Garcia: One Crazy Summer

The Gaither sisters, Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern, live with their father and grandmother in Brooklyn, and have ever since their mother walked out shortly after Fern was born. Suddenly, Cecile takes an interest in her children, and the girls spend the summer of 1968 with their mother in Oakland, California. Instead of trips to Disney Land and the beach, however, they spend every day at a summer camp run by the Black Panthers. While the girls initially balk at this, they come to cherish their one crazy summer.

PS Be ElevenRita Williams-Garcia: PS Be Eleven

The following school year has more changes afoot for the girls. Their Uncle Darnell returns from the war in Vietnam a completely different man than when he left; their father is dating; their grandmother refuses to let them dress like all of their friends; and the Jackson Five are coming to Madison Square Garden. Sometimes it’s hard for Delphine to remember to just be eleven.

Gone Crazy in AlabamaRita Williams-Garcia: Gone Crazy in Alabama

The summer of 1969 sees the Gaither sisters off to Alabama to visit their grandmother and her family. The girls learn about their own complicated family history, and get up to a surprising amount of mischief. But when tragedy strikes, the girls learn that some bonds run deeper than expected, and family will always be there for family, even if they have gone crazy in Alabama.

Inside Out and Back AgainThanhhà Li: Inside Out & Back Again

Hà and her family live in Saigon. But because her father is a soldier for the South Vietnamese army, and has been missing in action for nine years, when Saigon falls, Hà and her mother and brothers are forced to flee. They end up in Alabama, sponsored by a local family. Each member of the family finds life in America difficult to adjust to, each for individual reasons. This novel in verse is inspired by the author’s experiences as a child.

Listen SlowlyThanhhà Li: Listen Slowly

Mai lives with her parents in California, a thoroughly modern girl. But instead of having the summer on the beach with her friends that she dreamed of, Mai is forced to go to Vietnam with her father and grandmother, to search for her grandfather who disappeared during THE WAR. Mai’s parents seem to think that this trip will help their daughter get in touch with her roots, while Mai knows it is just going to be a colossal waste of time. But as she learns to listen, slowly, Mai discovers a lot about herself, her family, and her past. And comes to realize that perhaps her grandmother’s quest isn’t such a waste after all.

Great Greene HeistVarian Johnson: The Great Greene Heist

Jackson Greene has turned over a new leaf, but no one will believe him. While he may be famous for the Shakedown at Shimmering Hills, the Blitz at the Fitz, and the unfortunate Mid-Day PDA, he’s gone straight. No more cons, no more schemes, nothing. It may be tough (and boring) toeing the line, but Jackson is determined to do it. But when notorious bully Keith Sinclair announces that he’s running for school president against Jackson’s former best friend Gaby de la Cruz, Jackson knows he has to do something. Because there is simply no way that Keith will run a clean campaign. So Jackson assembles a crack team to run the biggest con of his life: THE GREAT GREENE HEIST.

The CrossoverKwame Alexander: The Crossover

Josh and Jordan Bell are twins, almost thirteen. They are both on their school’s basketball team, and together they are the two best players on the team. But while they may seem to be interchangeable, they are not. Josh is intensely focused on basketball and school, while Jordan is starting to notice other things–namely, girls. And this drives a wedge between the two formerly inseparable brothers. But sometimes life intervenes in unexpected ways, and then you learn what really matters.

Under A Painted SkyStacey Lee: Under A Painted Sky

Seventeen-year-old Chinese-American Samantha is on the run from the law after killing a man who tried to rape her, but she manages to escape with the help of Annemarie, a slave. Determined to head west and start a new life, the girls quickly realize that they will attract far too much attention on the Oregon Trail, and disguise themselves as boys. “Sammy” and “Andy” fall in with a group of young cowboys who take the two youngsters under their wing—but how long can the deception be maintained, and at what cost?

FlygirlSherri L. Smith: Flygirl

Ida Mae Jones wants to get her pilot license now that she has finished high school, but because she is a girl it is proving difficult; because she is African-American it is proving impossible. After the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor, the US Air Force begins the Women Air Force Service Pilots program (WASP) to free up men for combat. Ida Mae is light-skinned enough to pass as white and enroll in the WASP, but her joy at finally being able to do what she loves battles with her shame and anger at having to hide who she is.

PointeBrandy Colbert: Pointe

Theo is well on her way to becoming a professional ballerina; school and friends and her health are all going as well as can be expected, when suddenly the unthinkable happens: Theo’s best friend Donovan suddenly reappears after being abducted four years earlier. Now Theo has to decide whether or not to reveal her unwitting role in Donovan’s disappearance—which could very well risk everything she has worked for her entire life. But sometimes doing what is right is more important than doing what is easy, and Theo struggles with what choice to make.

Gabi A Girl in PiecesIsabel Quintero: Gabi, A Girl in Pieces

Gabi Hernandez is about to start her senior year of high school, and uses her diary to record her thoughts about everything going on in her life. And there is a lot going on. In addition to all of the normal school things (grades, boys, college applications, and so on), Gabi is also dealing with one of her best friends coming out as gay, her father’s addition to meth, and more than one unexpected pregnancy in her circle of friends. Despite all of the trappings of what could be considered a “problem novel,” this is a true-to-life portrait of a modern teenager, and a joy to read.

A Bollywood AffairSonali Dev: A Bollywood Affair

Married as a child bride and then whisked away to live in her husband’s haweli with only her grandmother for company, Mili Rathod has done everything she can to make herself into a model modern wife—all in the hopes that someday her husband will come claim her as his own. When Mili is offered the chance to go to the US for graduate school, she takes it. Unbeknownst to Mili, her husband wants to dissolve the marriage, and sends his brother Samir to Michigan to track Mili down and make her sign the necessary documents. But much to Samir’s surprise, the woman he encounters is neither a simple village naïf nor a cunning gold-digger, and he soon becomes caught up in Mili’s life. Will everyone be able to secure a happy ending?

Claire of the Sea LightEdwidge Danticat: Claire of the Sea Light

The book opens with Claire running away on the evening of her seventh birthday. As her distraught father searches for her, we travel back in time to examine the lives of several residents of Ville Rose in Haiti. Only as the story slowly progresses do we understand how the seemingly unconnected people and events come together to bring us back to the starting point; some connections are obvious, while some have to be teased out slowly. The book closes where we began, with Claire running away. Nothing was resolved, nothing even really happened, but the story was told in such gorgeous and luminous language that it’s clear that the journey itself was the most important thing that we experienced.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar WaoJunot Diaz: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Oscar Wao is a fat ghetto nerd who can’t get laid. His older sister Lola rebels at every turn. Their mother Beli had to flee the Dominican Republic after a disastrous love affair when she was only 16. Their grandfather ran afoul of Trujillo and ended up in a prison camp. The family is cursed by a powerful fukú that follows them from generation to generation, ruining lives completely and utterly. But despite this they persevere. For a while it looks like Oscar and Lola have broken free of the curse, even though their lives are difficult and complicated and messy. When the fukú finally strikes, it does so with terrible consequences. There is a lot that happens in this book, it’s fast-paced, brutal, and graphic both in terms of language and violence, yet it also has passages of great beauty.

The Good Lord BirdJames McBride: The Good Lord Bird

A funny book about John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry, an event credited as being an impetus to the American Civil War? Well, yes, actually. Very funny, until you realize that there are also quite a few uncomfortable and ugly truths being exposed by the humor. Henry Shackleford may only be 12 (or possibly 14), and mistaken for a girl at that, but he observes with a sharp eye, and has an even sharper voice. It’s a tragedy told as low comedy–you know that it’s going to end badly for pretty much everyone involved, but you have to go on the journey with them because it’s such a good ride to get there.

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Yay, I did it! I made it through the whole month!

I don’t know if you noticed, but I tried to focus on diversity this month. For the most part, anyway. Given all the recent talk about the lack of diversity in the publishing industry, I thought it would be a good idea to try and be more mindful about what I consume, and to be more of an advocate when recommending and promoting things. This blog is obviously only something I do when I feel like it, and I almost only talk about things I like, but there’s no reason to not be more inclusive in what I read and talk about. If my unofficial goal is to read 200 books a year, I can do better than my current ratio of roughly 15-20% of them being written by non-white authors–that’s a number I make routinely, without trying. Imagine what I could do if I tried!

So my goal for 2015 is 200 books, but regardless of how many I actually read, 20-30% should be by non-white authors. And I don’t really think that’s an insurmountable goal at all.

Diversity Gap

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The good folks over at We Need Diverse Books are running an IndieGogo campaign, which I really think you should contribute to.

Because diverse books makes for a richer reading experience for everyone, and more importantly, every reader should see themselves reflected in what they read.

We Need Diverse Books


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I am a member of DORT, the Diversity and Outreach Roundtable, which is a subunit in the Minnesota Library Association. At the recent MLA conference, several members of DORT presented on diverse books. The topic desciption that was submitted to the conference was very broad, which allowed each of us to choose what we were persoanlly passioante about as our individual topic. I spoke about adult genre fiction, where it is often difficult for authors of color to break out. Since I only had ten minutes for my portion of the presentation, I was unfortunately only able to highlight the following six books (all of which I have read and enjoyed).

Additionally, I also created three lists of adult genre authors of color, which you can see here. There are at least 100 authors on each list, all of whom have been published or are soon to be published in the US, and should be available in print, digitally, or both. If you have any additional authors to suggest, please leave a comment here or there, and I will update the lists. These reviews, as well as other materials and resources related to our presentation, were originally published on the blog we created in lieu of presentation handouts for the 2014 MLA conference which can be found at: Diversity! Books for a Better Today


Night HawkNight Hawk by Beverly Jenkins

Beverly Jenkins always adds an unobtrusive history lesson to her books, which is part of the reason I enjoy them. Her characters are strong, diverse men and women who celebrate their heritage, and welcome breath of fresh air in a genre that can, at times, seem overburdened with tortured nobility. Night Hawk is the story of Ian Vance, a bounty hunter who had been featured in a few of Jenkins’ previous books, and Maggie Freeman, a woman accused of killing a white man who had molested her. Although Ian initially plans to simply deliver Maggie safely to her trial judge, he comes to admire her spirit and quickly realizes that she is not guilty of the crime she is accused of. The two travel to Ian’s home in Wyoming, while slowly building a life together—each is running from a past that still haunts them, and while both desire a future with the other, there are obstacles they must overcome.

My Fair ConcubineMy Fair Concubine by Jeannie Lin

Jeannie Lin’s Tang Dynasty romances are a series of four loosely connected books that take place in China during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE). She has recently started a new series, the Pingkang Li Mysteries, also set during the Tang Dynasty. My Fair Concubine is the story of Fei Long and Yan Ling. Fei Long’s sister has run away rather than be sold off in a politically expedient arranged marriage, and Fei Long must find a replacement to preserve the family honor. Yan Ling is a servant at a teahouse who yearns for a better life. Realizing that they are in a position to assist the other, the two come to an arrangement, and Fei Long does his best to transform a servant into a lady. But when the time comes to hand Yan Ling over to the Emperor, Fei Long realizes he might have gotten more than he bargained for. Yes, it is a retelling of “My Fair Lady,” just in case the title alone was not enough to tip you off. But the setting of the story and the attention paid to detail and characterizations raise this far above a run-of-the mill retelling to a thoroughly enjoyable read.



The CaretakerThe Caretaker by A. X. Ahmad

While many thrillers involve vast international conspiracies that only one man can thwart due to his superior skills and knowledge, this book (the first in a series by debut author Ahmad) is a thriller on a much smaller scale. Ranjit Singh, a disgraced ex-Indian army officer living with his family in the US, is trying to make a go of his landscaping business on Martha’s Vineyard. Things seem to be looking up when Ranjit gets a job as an off-season caretaker for Senator Neals—he has a steady income, and he decides, despite his better judgment, to move his family into the Senator’s house for the winter. But suddenly things go very wrong: Ranjit’s family has been picked up and is awaiting deportation back to India, and Ranjit has been sucked into a conspiracy that stretches all the way from Washington to India, to the scandal that drove Ranjit out of the army. I don’t read very many thrillers, as I generally find them too far-fetched or hysterical to suspend my disbelief, but this one had just the right mix of plausibility and intrigue to keep me interested. I will be reading the sequel, to see how Ranjit deals with the unresolved problems from this book.

The Concubine's TattooThe Concubine’s Tattoo by Laura Joh Rowland

This is the fourth of Laura Joh Rowland’s Sano Ichiro novels; the eighteenth was published earlier in 2014. They are set in Japan during the late 17th century, and frequently feature the Shogun and members of his court and household. Sano Ichiro, the Shogun’s Most Honorable Investigator of Events, Situations, and People, has just married Lady Reiko when their wedding feast is interrupted by the untimely (and violent) death of Lady Harume, a favored concubine. Rather than being allowed to take the vacation he was promised, Sano must delve into the complex world of court intrigue, power plays, and sexual politics. Meanwhile, Lady Reiko struggles with her new identity as a wife and her position both in society and in her husband’s household. Rowland is another author who is skillful at delivering history lessons within her novels, without making them feel like a chore. Another important skill, especially for a long running series, is that the characters grow and mature, and do not stagnate into caricatures of themselves


Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Speculative Fiction:

Throne of the Crescent MoonThrone of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

A high fantasy novel that does not take place in a stand-in for medieval Europe! Instead it is in a stand-in for a medieval Arabic kingdom, but without all the annoying orientalist trappings that so often mar these settings. It’s wonderful, and I can’t wait for the sequel. Doctor Adoulla Makhslood is ready to retire from his career as a ghul hunter and enjoy tea and biscuits and relaxing with his friends, when word comes that the clan of the Badawi has been almost entirely slaughtered. Adoulla and his assistant Raseed are soon joined by Zamia, the sole survivor of the attack. Together they discover that the massacre was part of a larger plan by an unknown evil adversary to destroy the great city of Dhamsawaat—and possibly the world.

Bloodchild and Other StoriesBloodchild and Other Stories by Octavia Butler (some of the links are no longer active or otherwise correct, but it is a good starting point)

The seven short stories and two essays in this collection are a perfect introduction to Octavia Butler’s work, especially as each piece features a short afterword by the author explaining how it came to be written, what her intent was with the piece, or how her thoughts on a particular subject led her to create something entirely different. While Butler did not consider herself a short story writer, and indeed in the introduction to this book says that she hates writing short stories, they still creep into your brain and stick with you, just as her longer fiction does. My favorite stories are “Speech Sounds,” set in a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by a disease that has destroyed people’s communication skills; “The Evening and the Morning and the Night,” in which individuals who have a terrible genetic disease are faced with limited choices, none of them good; and “Amnesty,” in which an abductee now works with the group that abducted her for the benefit of both. The two essays are about writing, and her experiences as an author of color in the sff community, and should be required reading for any aspiring writer, no matter what genre they hope to publish in.

Source: all books borrowed from the library, except for the Jeannie Lin title, which I own

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