Tuesday, November 13, 2018

MUNMUN by Jesse Andrews

I saw Jesse Andrews on a panel at this year's Bay Area Book Festival, and he's one of the best speakers I've ever listened to. When he asked the audience who had bought a copy of his new book, MUNMUN, I held mine up proudly. Though Jesse Andrews is mostly known for YA realistic fiction like ME, EARL, AND THE DYING GIRL, MUNMUN offers a unique lens into the reality of social inequality through a fantastical premise.



In an alternate reality a lot like our world, every person’s physical size is directly proportional to their wealth. The poorest of the poor are the size of rats, and billionaires are the size of skyscrapers.

Warner and his sister Prayer are destitute—and tiny. Their size is not just demeaning, but dangerous: day and night they face mortal dangers that bigger richer people don’t ever have to think about, from being mauled by cats to their house getting stepped on. There are no cars or phones built small enough for them, or schools or hospitals, for that matter—there’s no point, when no one that little has any purchasing power, and when salaried doctors and teachers would never fit in buildings so small. Warner and Prayer know their only hope is to scale up, but how can two littlepoors survive in a world built against them?


I love your narrative voice, both in your stories, and on your website. When did you know that you'd finally found your writing voice? (Or are you still finding new ways to discover it?)

I don’t think I’ll ever feel comfortable calling a voice *my* voice. There are writers who have A Voice and then there are writers who are shapeshifting mimics who can only sound like other people and never themselves. Because they have no true selves! They’re completely contingent beings who only become people in reaction to other people or situations, and I am definitely in their category. That’s why I only write in the first person, from the perspective of characters who aren’t me and who have voices who aren’t mine.

So, that’s what I believe about myself, and yet it’s almost definitely not true, because with all three of my books so far plus a lot of the scripts that I write, the people who know me are always saying things like, “I read your book/script and it was like you were reading it in my head. I was just hearing your reedy nasal voice the entire time.” So I guess that pretty much *is* my voice.

Here’s a way better answer: I found my voice when I stopped trying to show everyone how smart I was. Before Me and Earl I wrote two novel-length manuscripts and about a dozen short stories and I was trying to smush the maximum of (what I thought of at the time as) intellect onto every single page. None of it got published. For Me and Earl I tried to just relax and let people sound like people. It went a lot better.

And it's a beautiful story as a result. Like Me and Earl, MUNMUN has an excellent premise, and it offers an interesting exploration of inequality and dreams. In what ways do you hope society can close some of these gaps? 

It’s going to be difficult for me not to be political in this answer, because the synagogue where I had my bar mitzvah was shot up by a maniac yesterday morning, and both his racist hatred and his capacity for violence were demonstrably enabled by the Republican Party. So I think we can begin by limiting that party’s power in every way possible. I think there’s at least a case to be made that the party itself should be outlawed, the way a democracy might reasonably outlaw a modern Nazi Party if one were to attempt to participate in its elections.

This is also a tough question because novelists are more at home describing and not prescribing. But one driver of inequality is people’s indifference (if not hostility) to the welfare of other people who aren’t exactly like them. So an obvious prescription is more empathy, in the form of more (and better) stories about more kinds of people. This is not a new or original point, but what I’d add is, let’s maybe tell fewer stories about Hero versus Villain, a banal and fundamentally conservative framework. If you believe some people are just evil and deserve punishment, you’re probably pretty into Fox News, or will be in ten years. If instead you believe—as anyone who actually studies this sort of thing for a living can tell you—that people’s attitudes and behavior and outlook are overwhelmingly shaped by their environments and peer groups and circumstances, and that people can change when those things change, then there’s hope. For both them and you!

But I can’t suppress my own certainty that the right wing must be put out of power as soon as possible, for as long as possible. The current presidency’s widest-reaching achievement is inarguably the sheer volume of fear it has manufactured. Monstrous, and monstrously unnecessary, fear. “I can’t just let my people get slaughtered,” said a man whose “people”—despite what his favorite websites told him—are not being slaughtered in any way, and in fact enjoy almost limitless power in this country. Then he took a (legally owned) weapon of war and massacred 11 of the gentlest and most thoughtful human beings in the world. I know because I grew up with them.

We are all definitely thinking about the community involved with the shooting in Pittsburgh, and I am so sorry for the loss of those amazing people who were so seminal in your life, and the lives of others. You are definitely right that there should be more layers of nuance in our society, and I hope that kind of change, both external, and internal, can happen soon. You also co-wrote the screenplay for the movie adaptation of ME, EARL, AND THE DYING GIRL, which won both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. (I also loved your adaptation of EVERY DAY!). What do you love most about writing screenplays?

The best part by far is the collaboration. You work with artists who can do things you could never, yourself, in a million years, do. How is acting even possible? How do you just become someone else?

I also love the economy it enforces. Novels allow you to be expansive and really sit in a conversation like a nice long bath. In a script, if you can’t say it in four lines, you’re probably wasting everyone’s time. That kind of pressure makes you a much better writer. It’s also pretty stressful. So maybe I don’t love it. I’m grateful for it, let’s say that.

And obviously it’s pretty cool to get to hang out with Nick Offerman sometimes, who is about as fantastic a dude in person as you would hope. (Also a great writer! Get his books too!)

Oh, wow! I definitely will! What are some of your current projects? 

I’ve been working on the script for a movie at a major studio since January, and I’m actually not allowed to say publicly what that movie or studio is. But the studio is one of the good ones! And I think the movie will be too. Check back with me in a couple years.


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Wednesday, November 7, 2018

The Lady Astronaut series, by Mary Robinette Kowal

I first heard about Mary Robinette Kowal when one of my writer friends joined one of her short story beta workshops back in 2016. I finally got to meet her at this year's WorldCon, and she treated each one of her fans with kindness and grace. I just finished reading SHADES OF MILK AND HONEY, the first in her Glamourist Histories (think Jane Austen with magic). Her new Lady Astronaut series is a fascinating alternative history that explores what might have happened if women had originally been the faces of the space program in the 1950s.

On a cold spring night in 1952, a huge meteorite fell to earth and obliterated much of the east coast of the United States, including Washington D.C. The ensuing climate cataclysm will soon render the earth inhospitable for humanity, as the last such meteorite did for the dinosaurs. This looming threat calls for a radically accelerated effort to colonize space, and requires a much larger share of humanity to take part in the process.

Elma York’s experience as a WASP pilot and mathematician earns her a place in the International Aerospace Coalition’s attempts to put man on the moon, as a calculator. But with so many skilled and experienced women pilots and scientists involved with the program, it doesn’t take long before Elma begins to wonder why they can’t go into space, too.

Elma’s drive to become the first Lady Astronaut is so strong that even the most dearly held conventions of society may not stand a chance against her.



Of course the noted Lady Astronaut Elma York would like to go, but there’s a lot riding on whoever the International Aerospace Coalition decides to send on this historic—but potentially very dangerous—mission? Could Elma really leave behind her husband and the chance to start a family to spend several years traveling to Mars? And with the Civil Rights movement taking hold all over Earth, will the astronaut pool ever be allowed to catch up, and will these brave men and women of all races be treated equitably when they get there? This gripping look at the real conflicts behind a fantastical space race will put a new spin on our visions of what might have been.



When we spoke, you said, "Only you have a true vision of what your story is." Have you encountered instances in which that vision has been somewhat unclear, and if so, what ways have you resolved it?

I've definitely encountered those, especially when I've signed up for an anthology and don't have a solid story idea. When I do that, I have a worksheet that I use for the things I'm having trouble getting traction on. For instance, I'll ask what it is that my character wants and then what are the concrete actions they take to try to achieve that goal. Then what goes wrong. I'll brainstorm lists of twenty looking for the thing that excites me. Really, it's all about chasing my joy. That's the piece that no one else can really know until you find it.

Joy is definitely an important thing to chase! Your latest book, THE FATED SKY, is the latest in the Lady Astronaut series, which explores an alternate history of the space race. What, if anything, did you discover while writing this series that surprised you?

I was amazed at how long and thoroughly women have been involved in the space program. Jet Propulsion Labrotory had a policy that they did not hire men for the computer department -- that's what they used to call the women who did calculations. They only hired women. So all of those orbital mechanics were worked out by women with, at most, a mechanical calculator. There's a great book called Rise of the Rocket Girls that talks about JPL, and of course, there's Hidden Figures.

The Hidden Figures book is great--and it includes a ton of fascinating stuff that the movie didn't get a chance to cover. You're also a member of the Hugo-Award winning podcast Writing Excuses. What led to your involvement in this podcast, and what do you enjoy most about contributing to it?

They asked me! What I enjoy most is the way the guys make me think. It's like being on a really good panel at a convention, where someone says a thing that opens up new avenues in your brain. I've been especially enjoying the last two seasons where we bring season-long guest hosts in. These folks are so very, very smart.

They are indeed! What are some of your current projects? 

Currently, I'm participating in NaNoWriMo by working on book 3 in the Lady Astronaut series. It's called The Relentless Moon and is a parallel novel to the events in The Fated Sky.

Lady Astronaut:


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The Glamourist Histories:


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Wednesday, October 31, 2018

THE DEVIL'S THIEF by Lisa Maxwell

I first featured Lisa Maxwell right before her novel THE LAST MAGICIAN came out. When its sequel, THE DEVIL'S THIEF, was announced, I contacted Lisa for a follow-up interview. THE DEVIL'S THIEF released on October 9 and is available to order.


Hunt the Stones.
Beware the Thief.
Avenge the Past.

Esta’s parents were murdered. Her life was stolen. And everything she knew about magic was a lie. She thought the Book of Mysteries held the key to freeing the Mageus from the Order’s grasp, but the danger within its pages was greater than she ever imagined.

Now the Book’s furious power lives inside Harte. If he can’t control it, it will rip apart the world to get its revenge, and it will use Esta to do it.

To bind the power, Esta and Harte must track down four elemental stones scattered across the continent. But the world outside the city is like nothing they expected. There are Mageus beyond the Brink not willing to live in the shadows—and the Order isn’t alone in its mission to crush them.

In St. Louis, the extravagant World’s Fair hides the first stone, but an old enemy is out for revenge and a new enemy is emerging. And back in New York, Viola and Jianyu must defeat a traitor in a city on the verge of chaos.

As past and future collide, time is running out to rewrite history—even for a time-traveling thief.


Stop the Magician.
Steal the book.
Save the future.

In modern day New York, magic is all but extinct. The remaining few who have an affinity for magic—the Mageus—live in the shadows, hiding who they are. Any Mageus who enters Manhattan becomes trapped by the Brink, a dark energy barrier that confines them to the island. Crossing it means losing their power—and often their lives.

Esta is a talented thief, and she's been raised to steal magical artifacts from the sinister Order that created the Brink. With her innate ability to manipulate time, Esta can pilfer from the past, collecting these artifacts before the Order even realizes she’s there. And all of Esta's training has been for one final job: traveling back to 1902 to steal an ancient book containing the secrets of the Order—and the Brink—before the Magician can destroy it and doom the Mageus to a hopeless future.

But Old New York is a dangerous world ruled by ruthless gangs and secret societies, a world where the very air crackles with magic. Nothing is as it seems, including the Magician himself. And for Esta to save her future, she may have to betray everyone in the past.

In our last interview, you said THE LAST MAGICIAN was more difficult to write than you'd expected. Did you have a similar experience with THE DEVIL'S THIEF? If so, why? If not, why not?

THE DEVIL’S THIEF was definitely a challenge to write, but for different reasons than THE LAST MAGICIAN. With the first book, I was figuring out how to tell such a big story, but for the second one I (like a lot of other writers) was dealing with the fall-out of the 2016 election. I’m writing time travel, and I’m also writing a story that has real historical resonance, and when the election turned out differently than a lot of us were expecting, I started to have doubts about where I wanted the series to go. I struggled a lot just getting started. But the writing itself was intense and pretty quick once I got myself unstuck.

I'll bet it was. In what ways does THE DEVIL'S THIEF expand on the world you built in THE LAST MAGICIAN? 

In THE LAST MAGICIAN, the Mageus are trapped in New York City. In THE DEVIL’S THIEF, Harte and Esta use the power of the book to get out. Because they’re outside the city, the map of the world is bigger. They head out west—to St. Louis and the World’s Fair—and they discover that everything they thought they knew about magic wasn’t completely true. In the city they were cut off, but there are Mageus that never came through New York, so there are Mageus who have avoided the Brink. There are also more dangers than the Order. In TLM, there’s talk of a Conclave at the end of the year, and Esta and Harte learn that there are other secret societies involved with the suppression of magic. There are also Mageus who are willing to fight back. In THE DEVIL’S THIEF, the Antistasi are modeled off of the anarchists from the early 20th century, and they’re another group that Esta has to decide whether to align with or to fight against.

What an intriguing plot! You've talked before about "gut decisions" versus "business decisions." What's the best way to tell the difference between the two? 

I think that was in terms of picking an agent?

Honestly, the thing about gut instinct is that we often discount that feeling that we should/shouldn’t do something. I think especially as a woman I do this, because as women we tend to be raised to not make a fuss or be a problem. But that gut feeling that you get—I’ve learned to listen to it more and trust it, because usually it’s my subconscious brain putting all these micro-level observations into play.

A great lesson for us all. If you could tell your younger writer self one thing, what would it be and why? 

Man, I don’t think I’d tell her anything. Every mistake I ever made led me here—to my husband and the family I have, to this career that I never even dreamed of as a kid. I mean, sure…maybe if I told her to try being a writer I could have gotten published sooner, but I wouldn’t trade any of this life. So I think I’d keep my mouth shut.


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Tuesday, October 23, 2018

GHOSTED by Leslie Margolis

I met Leslie Margolis at this year's Northern California Independent Booksellers Association (NCIBA) Conference. I was immediately drawn to the premise of her newest book, GHOSTED, which debuted earlier today:



Thirteen-year-old Ellie Charles has everything going for her: she's the smartest, prettiest, best-dressed, and most popular kid at Lincoln Heights Middle School. She's also the meanest, by design. Ellie's got sharp edges, which she uses to keep herself at the top of the social food chain. But one night, hours before her school's winter dance, a frightening accident leads her to encounter a ghost who just might change everything. This ghost, of a girl dressed all in black, makes Ellie visit her own past, present, and future--reliving her parents' divorce, her struggles in school, and worst of all, her massive falling-out with her best friend, Marley. Can what Ellie sees inspire her to change her ways? And is a new perspective enough to save her life?


What do you love most about libraries and independent bookstores? 

The books.  Seriously.  Reading is magical.  It transports, it transforms, and it saves lives. 

When I was seven years old, I remember being absolutely terrified by a first-season Twilight Zone episode called “Time Enough at Last.”  It’s about a bank teller named Henry Bemis who’s so crazy about reading, he reads constantly:  at work, during meals, while driving, I think.  He stays up all night reading.  It drives his wife and his boss crazy.

I had a lot of sympathy for Henry.  Of course he’d want to read constantly.  Who wouldn’t?  One day, Henry sneaks into the bank vault during his lunch hour to read and is knocked unconscious by a sonic boom.  When he wakes up and leaves the vault, he discovers that a nuclear bomb has obliterated all of humanity.  Henry wanders around his smoldering, void-of-life town, distraught, until he stumbles across the library.  Sure, buildings are destroyed.  Yes, every single human being on earth (other than Henry) has perished.  And yet hundreds of novels – all that paper – have remained intact!  Realizing he has all the time in the world to read, and no pesky spouse or boss to bother him, Henry is ecstatic.  Who needs human contact when he can read?  Feeling triumphant, he reaches down to pick up a stack of books and – horror of all horrors – his glasses slip off his face and shatter.  Suddenly the world becomes blurry.  Henry cannot read a single word.

That story haunted me.  It still does.  At the time, I couldn’t imagine a torture worse than being surrounded by books, without the ability to read.  Luckily, though, I do not wear glasses.  And I live walking distance to an excellent library as well as Chevalier’s, one of LA’s best, and the city’s oldest indie bookstores.  I visit both frequently.


I can definitely identify with Henry too. Books give such a needed lens into the human experience. As an example, GHOSTED grapples with the theme of forgiveness. What do you feel is the most challenging part of learning how to forgive?

Everything about forgiveness is challenging!  That’s why I think it’s worth writing about.  And worth aspiring to, in the right circumstances...


Something I hope to aspire to as well! I love your website's interactive design. How did the content develop into its current form? 

 Thanks!  It was fun.  GHOSTED is my lucky-number-thirteenth novel.  My first book was published twelve years ago.  The website has evolved, over time, and I’m lucky to have an extremely talented, creative, flexible web designer, Denise Biondo, who has been there from the beginning.


Wonderful. What are some of your current projects? 

 I’m working on a new mystery.  Story elements include a bank vault, an ice cream shop, baseball, a fake circus, a decrepit old mansion, and the hundred-year-old ghost of an old movie star.  That is all I can say about it right now.


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For Leslie Margolis's Annabelle Unleashed series, click here.

For the Maggie Brooklyn Mystery series, click here. 

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Tuesday, October 16, 2018

NOUMENON by Marina J. Lostetter

I've followed Marina J. Lostetter for a long time, and her series, Noumenon, explores what happens when the human experience stretches to its ultimate limits. Have a look:

In 2088, humankind is at last ready to explore beyond Earth’s solar system. But one uncertainty remains: Where do we go?

Astrophysicist Reggie Straifer has an idea. He’s discovered an anomalous star that appears to defy the laws of physics, and proposes the creation of a deep-space mission to find out whether the star is a weird natural phenomenon, or something manufactured.

The journey will take eons. In order to maintain the genetic talent of the original crew, humankind’s greatest ambition—to explore the furthest reaches of the galaxy—is undertaken by clones. But a clone is not a perfect copy, and each new generation has its own quirks, desires, and neuroses. As the centuries fly by, the society living aboard the nine ships (designated “Convoy Seven”) changes and evolves, but their mission remains the same: to reach Reggie’s mysterious star and explore its origins—and implications.


Generations ago, Convoy Seven and I.C.C. left Earth on a mission that would take them far beyond the solar system. Launched by the Planet United Consortium, a global group formed to pursue cooperative Earth-wide interests in deep space, nine ships headed into the unknown to explore a distant star called LQ Pyx.

Eons later, the convoy has returned to LQ Pyx to begin work on the Web, the alien megastructure that covers the star. Is it a Dyson Sphere, designed to power a civilization as everyone believes—or something far more sinister?

Meanwhile, Planet United’s littlest convoy, long thought to be lost, reemerges in a different sector of deep space. What they discover holds the answers to unlocking the Web’s greater purpose.

Each convoy possesses a piece of the Web’s puzzle . . . but they may not be able to bring those pieces together and uncover the structure’s true nature before it’s too late.


According to your website, you are represented by DongWon Song of the Howard Morhaim Literary Agency. What do you love most about your agent and why? 

 DongWon is an advocate first and foremost, and is very communicative, which is great.  His experience as an editor has been invaluable to me personally, and he is extremely business and marketing savvy. Best of all, he's done a great job connecting his clients to one another, so we kind of have a built-in support system of people who are all going through the same processes.  Go #TeamDongWon!



Support systems are so necessary. It's also interesting how Noumenon explores the realities that come with being born into myriads of different lives. How are the story's characters shaped by this experience, and in what ways, if any, does it impact their empathy? 

 I think, on the outset, it effects the reader's empathy more than the characters'.  The clones know they are clones, but they don't retain memories from the clones that came before them, they really only inherit their genes and their job, so there isn't much that's different for them than for people that aren't clones.  The reader, however, gets a long-term sense of personal connection, even though the characters are technically different people from chapter to chapter.

 But, as time goes on for the convoy, and the generations pile up, people do start to connect more emotionally with their clone ancestors.  I think being able to look back over thousands of years of records and see your face staring back--even if it's not strictly you--would certainly change your relationship with things like existentialism, sense of mortality, and the importance of other people.  I've tried to write most characters in the Noumenon series as exceptionally empathetic--even the AI--so, yes, I do believe the social structure aboard the convoy does have a long-term positive effect on their empathy.


Indeed! What was your experience writing the sequel, Noumenon Infinity, and was there anything that surprised you? 

Noumenon Infinity more or less follows the same structure (a series of vignettes) as Noumenon, but with one exception: it has two alternating storylines that follow two separate deep-space convoys.  Originally, I'd only planned to write about one of those convoys in the sequel, Convoy Twelve.  But my editor, David Pomerico, suggested some edits for book one that really necessitated the continuation of Convoy Seven's story into book two, which I think ultimately made both books much stronger.


What a fantastic way to explore how storylines can further intertwine. What are some of your current projects?

I recently sold a fantasy series to Tor.  The first book is THE MASKS OF ARKENSYRE, in which the enchanted death mask of a mass murder is stolen, effectively raising him from the dead and unleashing his reign of terror once more.  This series is full of magical artifacts, mystery, monsters, and mayhem.  I had a great chat with my editor, Will Hinton, and I'm very eager to dive into revisions.  In the meantime, I've been working on a new sci-fi novel.  The sale hasn't been officially announced yet, but I think fans of Noumenon and Noumenon Infinity will be excited!


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Wednesday, October 10, 2018

FRAT GIRL by Kiley Roache

I met Kiley Roache at a book event and was immediately enthralled with the premise for FRAT GIRL. Have a look:

Sometimes the F-word can have more than one meaning….

For Cassandra Davis, the F-word is fraternity—specifically Delta Tau Chi, a house on probation and on the verge of being banned from campus. Accused of offensive, sexist behavior, they have one year to clean up their act. For the DTC brothers, the F-word is feminist—the type of person who writes articles in the school paper about why they should lose their home.

With one shot at a scholarship to attend the university of her dreams, Cassie pitches a research project: to pledge Delta Tau Chi and provide proof of their misogynistic behavior. They’re frat boys. She knows exactly what to expect once she gets there. Exposing them should be a piece of cake.

But the boys of Delta Tau Chi have their own agenda, and fellow pledge Jordan Louis is certainly more than the tank top wearing “bro” Cassie expected to find. With her heart and her future tangled in the web of her own making, Cassie is forced to realize that the F-word might not be as simple as she thought after all.

Your first book was published a few months before you graduated college. What was it like finishing college and gearing up for the book's release at the same time, and what strategies, if any, help you find balance when things get hectic? 

 It was challenging, but it was also very exciting to still be at Stanford when the book came out, because I had all my college friends by my side to celebrate this milestone. That being said, I definitely had to practice time management both when I was writing Frat Girl and my second book, The Dating Game, while in college, and when preparing for the launch. One strategy I used was making sure to set aside certain times during the weeks for writing. I put it in my Google calendar and treated it like another class I had to go to. If I just waited until the end of the day to write, I might’ve watched Netflix or gone to sleep instead. But if I set aside 12:30-2:20 between classes to write, I would do it.


Sounds like a good strategy. And I love the voice in FRAT GIRL. What do you think makes a good writing voice? 

I think honesty and authenticity. In my writing, I always try to reflect the way my friends and I speak. My advice is to trust yourself and try to tell it how it is—like you are talking to your best friend. I had an amazing English teacher my sophomore year of high school, Ms. Garcia. She told us that great writing expressed complex ideas in an accessible way. She advised us to aim for that, rather than making our writing needlessly complex with unnecessarily large words or ambiguous phrasing. I have tried to follow that advice in all my writing since.


Such great advice. My English teacher in high school was also a big proponent of EUW (Eliminate Unnecessary Words). Completely changed the way I wrote. You've also written pieces for the SF Gate and the Huffington Post. What do you love most about journalism work? 

 I love meeting new people and hearing new perspectives. Whether it be a light story about a new movie or concert or something more serious, like religion, flooding, or body image, I learn so much every time I talk to a source. It is a great privilege to get to talk to people who have direct experience with something, learn about it, and then write about it.


Indeed. What are some of your current projects?  

 My second book, The Dating Game, will be out March 26! It’s the story of three Warren University freshman, Sara, Robbie and Braden, who create a dating app for a class project. The app becomes wildly successful on campus and beyond and even draws the interest of investors. But as it grows the creators start to question if the platform, which ranks users by desirability, is really a good idea after all. To make matters even more complicated, they also find themselves in romantic entanglements of their own. Think The Social Network, with a romantic twist!



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Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Release Feature and Review: BLANCA & ROJA by Anna-Marie McLemore

Ever since I read an ARC of BLANCA & ROJA, I've shared how much I love it with pretty much anyone who will listen. I'm ecstatic to announce that this beautiful book is out today. It's not only intricately woven, well-written, and crafted, it also confronts issues like identity and colorism.

The biggest lie of all is the story you think you already know.

The del Cisne girls have never just been sisters; they’re also rivals, Blanca as obedient and graceful as Roja is vicious and manipulative. They know that, because of a generations-old spell, their family is bound to a bevy of swans deep in the woods. They know that, one day, the swans will pull them into a dangerous game that will leave one of them a girl, and trap the other in the body of a swan.

But when two local boys become drawn into the game, the swans’ spell intertwines with the strange and unpredictable magic lacing the woods, and all four of their fates depend on facing truths that could either save or destroy them. Blanca & Roja is the captivating story of sisters, friendship, love, hatred, and the price we pay to protect our hearts.




Review:

Swan Lake meets Snow White and Rose Red in this magical realism story that explores how people find their true identity in a world of restrictive paradigms. The setting is rich with literary, symbolic detail, and the characters are not only fully fleshed out, but their journey of self-discovery is one that today’s teens are likely to identify with. The theme of identity is explored in an especially poignant way, both through metaphor (a boy turning in to a bear, girls afraid of turning into swans) and perceptions shaded through different points of view. This is especially true with the character of Page Ashby--a gender fluid individual who discovers that self and beauty have more to do with what you become, than what you are told you are, and that who you are naturally is more beautiful than what people try to mold you into. In another example, though both Blanca and Roja are Chicanx, they deal with very real struggles that come with that distinction. Roja knows that others perceive her has a troublemaker, and has a hard time breaking free of that narrative--especially with her meek sister Blanca. Blanca, meanwhile, only perceives herself as being not quite enough of anything to be distinctive--a burden that a lot of people, especially people of color, often bear. Most importantly, this story shows the importance of exploring the beauty within oneself--finding the values that hold true no matter what the outside world perceives. Many people struggle with what they should be doing, rather than exploring what is authentic within themselves--and this book will offer a necessary mirror into that. The style of the book, like all of Anna-Marie McLemore's other novels, is remnant of Gabriel Garcia Marquez with a spark of wit. This book not only deserves its place on the shelf, but in the hands of as many readers as possible.



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