Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Nancy on My Mind

Flashback a couple of years: At a New England SCBWI conference, we'd just watched a screening of  Library of the Early Mind and listened to a panel discussion with some of the authors featured in the documentary. One of them, a small, elfin woman named Nancy Garden, was charming but a bit self-deprecating about her appearance in the film, which included images far more memorable than anything she might have done with her hair. Bonfires of her book, for example. On our way back to our respective hotel rooms, a few friends and I ended up in the same elevator as Nancy. Everyone was silent for a moment, and I'm sure I wasn't the only one who wanted to say, "Nancy, you're brave and amazing and important." I finally settled for, "Nancy, I thought you looked lovely."

Flashback a few years earlier. I checked out Annie on My Mind knowing it was an iconic lesbian novel, and feeling like I was doing something a little daring. But when (minor spoilers ahead) authority figures in the novel treated same-sex relationships as something people should get in trouble for, I knew enough to be angry, to want to jump into the pages and say, "you know these people haven't actually hurt anyone, right? Or harmed themselves? Or done anything wrong?" I missed out on the pre-Annie novels in which homosexuality always ended in tragedy, but I knew of their existence. And I knew that though this was a happy novel, a positive portrayal of a same-sex relationship, it also depicted a time and place where the world's reaction to such relationships was not okay. (In many cases and places, it still isn't.)

Flash forward to today.  Lambda Literary's obituary for Garden quotes her on why she wrote for teens, and points out the astronomical growth in young adult literature since the height of her career. I would add that YA with queer characters has grown in leaps and bounds. We're way past the point of discreetly checking out one or two iconic novels. We have a ways to go, especially in the area of casual diversity (hero or heroine of story is queer but the main plot is about other aspects of his or her life), but look. Look. Look. Look. Look what Annie hath wrought.

Thank you, Nancy.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Stealing a school election, revolutionizing the publishing industry, potato, potahto

I'll admit I liked the galley's cover better.
He's lean, he's keen, he's of color and not just 'cause he's Greene, and he's getting seen.

But the finished book's cover ain't bad!
We're most of the way through the Great Greene Challenge, a friendly battle among indie bookstores to sell as many copies as possible of a funny, well-written-and-characterized middle school caper to prove that such a book with a diverse cast depicted on its cover can be a viable publishing venture. I'm not expecting us to end up in first place (what's this I hear about some stores' campaigns involving costumes?), but I don't much care. We've sold plenty more copies than we ever would have if the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement hadn't brought it to our attention, and if that's true in other stores, that's enough to say to the publishing industry that books like this are worthy of editorial energy and of marketing dollars. Yes, we're pushing this one extra hard, but the fact is, customers are buying it.

In some ways, "challenge" is an appropriate word. This is a hardcover by a debut author, and one that, regardless of its characters' ethnicities, doesn't have a wildly successful readalike right now. This is not an "if you liked Wonder" book, or an "if you liked Wimpy Kid" book, or an "if you liked Percy Jackson" book. The Ocean's Eleven comparison is apt, but it does more to encapsulate it for parents than to align it with kids' other favorites. It's just a book with great characters and a complex plot involving sticking it to the principal. (Don't worry, the principal deserves it.)

People like context with their books. When they already know the author, or there's a movie coming out, or they can make an easy comparison with another favorite, they feel like they know what they're buying. I've found that when I just describe the plot of this one without attaching it to anything, it's been hard to handsell. But when I say, "we're competing with other indie bookstores to sell this and prove to the publishing industry that a great book with a diverse cast can do well," they take an interest. Some of them may know about the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement; others don't but still know that we need diverse books. Some care deeply about indies, especially these days. Many, I suspect, like the feeling that they're participating in something current and important.

And they are. They're helping ensure that in a year or two, booksellers will be holding up other inclusive books and saying, "If you liked The Great Greene Heist..."

Friday, June 6, 2014

I'd let it go, but this is more fun.

The incredibly fresh suggestion that adults should limit themselves to adult books deserves an equally fresh response: a parody of "Let It Go."

The shelves bear tomes in some grownup homes,
not a youth read to be seen.
The books live in isolation.
It's your shelf, so you're the queen.

The masses howling that the fault lies in our stars
should be young and need fake IDs to bars.*

Don't crack the cover, don't you peek.
Let your age designate your brand of geek.
YA's a frenzy you won't feed.
Well, here's my creed:

Let 'em read, let 'em read.
Call it backward, call it down.
Let 'em read, let 'em read,
young and old and beige and brown.

I don't care
for your cold dismay.
Let the storm rage on.
The old never bothered me anyway.

It's funny how some distance
makes everything seem small,
and the power young adult has
can't get to you at all.

Come look at what YA can do.
A bunch of readers can break through.
If this is immaturity,
say we,

let 'em read, let em read,
raid our shelves for LGBT
let 'em read, let 'em read,
though they have a Ph.D.

Here I'll sit
on a bench by day
with my book of choice.
The old never bothered me anyway.

*Not encouraging this behavior. There's too much to read, anyway.