The question industry professionals need to ask themselves is: “How can I use my position to help create a literary world that is diverse, equitable, and doesn’t just represent the same segment of society it always has since its inception? What concrete actions can I take to make actual change and move beyond the tired conversation we’ve been having for decades?”
Title: Ask Me
Author: Kimberly Pauley
Genres: Contemporary, Fantasy, Mystery
Publisher: Soho Teen
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: On shelves now
Summary: Ask Aria Morse anything, and she must answer with the truth. Blessed—or cursed—with the power of an Oracle who cannot decipher her own predictions, she does her best to avoid anyone and everyone.
But Aria can no longer hide when Jade, one of the few girls at school who ever showed her any kindness, disappears. Any time Aria overhears a question, she inadvertently reveals something new, a clue or hint. But like stray pieces from different puzzles, her words never present a clear picture.
Aria may be the only one who can find out what happened, but the closer she gets to figuring it out, the more she becomes a target. Not everyone wants the truth to come out.
Review: Ask Me is a quick, engrossing read, with a little bit of everything: prophecies, romance, high school problems, and murder. Aria is a fantastic narrator—I spent most of the book torn between the urge to wrap her up in a fuzzy blanket for safety and the urge to tell her to get on the murder-mystery-solving bandwagon.
Nevertheless, Kimberly Pauley did an excellent job showing the reader why Aria’s prophetic gift would be an absolute nightmare and building a sympathetic case for Aria being a loner who desperately doesn’t want to be noticed or even have much human interaction. It’s not easy to make friends when you must answer any question you hear, whether or not it’s directed at you. It leads to really awful/embarrassing moments where Aria tells people she barely knows things like “he doesn’t actually like you—he just wants in your pants” or breaks into sing-song-y rhymes or spouts cryptic answers. She has managed to cope thanks to a combination of headphones, loud music, and muttering/whispering answers, but that doesn’t stop her from being on the receiving end of a lot of bullying. Her inability to control her gift also makes a compelling case for why she can’t just walk up to the police and offer herself for questioning or even provide them with information under her own name.
Aria was a magnificent character, and Pauley really fleshed her out with all the little details of her life. I especially appreciated the minutia of how poor Aria and her grandparents were, from worrying about things like whether or not the rip in her Goodwill dress was reparable to having to use a landline phone (with a cord!) to talk to a boy because she didn’t have a cell phone to the mention of burning through gasoline in her ancient car that she couldn’t really afford to replace. Her relationship with her grandparents was one of the highlights of the book, especially her grandfather, who didn’t truly understand her gift but still did his best to phrase his questions as statements so Aria wasn’t forced to answer him all the time. I wish we had been able to see more of Aria and her grandmother together—a few stories about what her grandmother had done when she had her gift wouldn’t have been amiss.
As much as I loved Aria as our narrator, I felt that the central mystery—who killed Jade—was too easy for my taste. It’s probably unfair to compare a single 293-page book to some of the mystery series I have been enjoying lately, but I had already identified the killer before I got a quarter of the way through the book. Despite this, it was still an entertaining read, mostly because I was rooting for Aria to put all of the pieces together and freaking out about just how many people were going to die before she got everything sorted out.
Recommendation: Get it soon. Ask Me features a great heroine and a compelling storyline about a small-town murder. Aria’s struggles to deal with her gift and the turbulence in her life means it’s easy to root for her, especially as she tries to figure out how to handle the responsibility that comes with knowing information about the murder that other people don’t. The book is a fast, fun read that would be perfect for a weekend or school break.
Another agent, when asked why less than 1% of her submissions were from people of color, captured what seems to be the publishing industry’s general attitude in just 10 words: “This seems like a question for an author to answer.” This is the language of privilege – the audacity of standing at the top of a mountain you made on the backs of others and then yelling at people for being at the bottom […]
The disproportionally white publishing industry matters because agents and editors stand between writers and readers. Anika Noni Rose put it perfectly in Vanity Fair this month: “There are so many writers of color out there, and often what they get when they bring their books to their editors, they say, ‘We don’t relate to the character.’ Well it’s not for you to relate to! And why can’t you expand yourself so you can relate to the humanity of a character as opposed to the color of what they are?”
So we are wary. The publishing industry looks a lot like one of these best-selling teenage dystopias: white and full of people destroying each other to survive.
"The publishing industry looks a lot like these best-selling teenage dystopias: white and full of people destroying each other to survive."
A young writer that I mentor reached out to me last week. “None of these agents look like me,” she said, “and they don’t represent anyone that looks like me.” She’s wrapping up a final draft of her first novel and I’d told her to research literary agencies to get a feel for what’s out there. “What if they don’t get what I’m doing?”
In my seventeen years as a bookseller and three years as a school librarian before that, if there’s one thing I have noticed, it’s that we adults make all kinds of erroneous assumptions about what will and won’t interest children. Time and time again, at the bookstore and at children’s book festivals, I have observed white children picking up books with kids of color on the cover, and heard adults express surprise at the choice. “Are you sure you want that one?” they’ll ask. Or, “Wouldn’t you like this book instead?” It’s not the kids who are the problem. Kids really, really, really only care about a great story. In twenty years of connecting children with books they love, I have only seen one child—ONE!—balk at a book cover because the main character was a different race from her own. It’s the adults who underestimate a child’s ability or desire to see beyond race.
The good news is that those same adults will usually respond well to bookseller enthusiasm for titles and allow their own reservations (which they aren’t even consciously aware of) to be shifted.
Of 3,200 children’s books published last year, only 93 featured black characters—and the numbers weren’t great for Asians, American Indians, and Latinos either. What gives?…
Entertainment Weekly's brief take on the diversity discussion.
ReedPOP has responded to the firestorm that erupted on social media following its announcement of the author lineup for its Blockbuster Reads panel at this year’s inaugural BookCon.
Well, this is progress! In the end, though, I second blogger and librarian Kelly Jensen: “It would be nice if this had been taken into consideration during the initial planning instead of after it was pointed out, after the announcement. Four white men don’t reflect what the book world is like, not even to a general audience.” Especially not to a general audience.
You don’t look like an Indian.
Ever heard anyone say that? It’s a safe bet that you have if you’re a contemporary Native American. Or, as my friends in Canada put it, a member of a First Nation.
And those were the exact words that I heard this past Saturday. Standing in front of a group of fifty sixth and seventh graders at Henry Hudson Middle School (And no, I shall not go into a rant about its namesake right now) in the Bronx.
I’d just finished doing my presentation to that very polite audience. Great kids. The very fact that they were here spending a sunny Saturday morning in school spoke volumes about their motivation. I’d been introduced as an American Indian author.
And as I told a story and then talked a little about my two YA novels—Wolf Mark (Lee & Low, 2011) and Killer of Enemies (Lee & Low/Tu, 2013)—which had just been given to each of those young men and women, they’d listened attentively.
“So,” I said, “any questions?”
And that was when, in the second row, the young woman wearing a scarf had raised her hand and made that comment. “You don’t look like an Indian.” [read more]
I always find it so funny when people bitch about ‘forced diversity’.
because, like, once you work retail you start to see just how different everybody is.
for example, the other day I greeted a woman I was ringing up and started asking her the usual questions we’re supposed to ask (if they have a rewards card, etc) and she made a gesture pointing to her ear and mouthed ‘I’m deaf’.
and I was just like ‘Oh’, and so I skipped over the questions and just gave her a nice smile instead of the usual schpiel we’re supposed to give. she thanked me in sign language and smiled back before walking away.
and that’s just one tiny example. she was just one customer of hundreds that shift. that’s not even mentioning all the other types of people I ring in a day, of all ages, body sizes, races/skin colors, and gender expression.
it’s like…that’s how the world is.
when people say having diversity in a fictional universe seems ‘false’ or ‘forced’, that says to me that they must exist in a very homogenous, sheltered environment. because even working for a company that has a rather disproportionately-high white middle-class customer demographic, I still see more diversity on any given day than I tend to ever see in books and movies and TV shows.
it’s just kind of laughable to me when people say a movie/book/franchise has “too much” diversity. because there’s no such thing.
Talking Books, Culture & Identity
It’s that time of year when cities all across the country have weekends celebrated to the written word and this past weekend was one of my favorite weekends of the year, the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. Two days of a book addicts dream where there are all sorts of book talks, author signings, independent bookstores just waiting for my money, and just plain fun. At the festival there were literally hundreds of talks and panels fans of books and writers of all levels could attend. Of course, being my focus is diversity in YA literature, one of the panels I attended was titled, “YA Fiction: Writing Culture & Identity.” The panel included Maurene Goo, Cynthia Kadohata and Gene Luen Yang. The panel focused on the topic of incorporating culture and one’s identity into their writing.
Read more at Rich in Color