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Author Essay: Florence Gonsalves

A couple of years ago, when I’d just graduated from college, scared out of my mind with no idea what the future would hold, humor kind of saved my life. “Ancient Greece isn’t hiring,” I told people who asked how my philosophy degree would influence my career path. “I’ll probably be permanently unemployed in the year 450 BCE.”

 

At first, I’d tried the whole, “I’ll probably go to law school!” approach, but that wasn’t the truth at all and telling that little white lie was making me feel worse and worse. The truth was I was petrified, and the only way I could access those emotions was by poking a little fun at myself. Once I started joking about my predicament, I was able to come to terms with it and eventually move past it.

 

Instead of law school, I ended up writing what would become my debut novel, Love and Other Carnivorous Plants. The story follows nineteen-year-old Danny’s summer after her freshmen year of college. It covers a lot of taboo subjects—eating disorders, mental health concerns, drug and alcohol abuse, and questioning one’s sexuality. Danny’s approach to such “touchy” issues is to joke about them, which results in a lot of humor for a book about some pretty serious stuff.

 

One of the beautiful things about fiction is its capacity to speak to real life issues in a person’s life, but to do that the characters (and of course, the author!) have to somehow find a way into what is otherwise hush-hush. So often taboo topics aren’t discussed at all because they are treated so seriously. And treating a subject as so serious that it can’t be joked ironically increases its taboo.

 

As a writer, humor gives me the permission to approach the things that society tells me I shouldn’t. It is the access point to otherwise unapproachable topics, and if we never approach such things, how can we expect to confront them at all? If Danny couldn’t joke about her bulimia, for example, she wouldn’t have been able to talk about it, which would have been a missed opportunity to really explore the pain (but also the occasional lol! moment) of her situation. Taboo creates shame and shame creates secrets, as well as shadows where even darker emotions hide. I think it’s much more important that difficult subjects be broached in the first place, especially because usually those difficult subjects make a person feel lonely and laughter is a universal connector. A good HAHA! brings people together at times when connection is most needed, and at some point the humor does fall away, making room for other emotions.

 

I am so grateful that humor exists as a way of shedding light on those parts of ourselves that most need it. Laughter allows transformation to occur through acknowledgment and acceptance of what is, regardless of how lousy things seem. When it comes to expressing our struggles, I say, as Vievee Francis does, “Say it. Say it any way you can.” Find a way in to a find a way out. Crying is inevitable. Why not let laughter be, too?

 


 

 

Florence Gonsalves on writing Love & Other Carnivorous Plants

Florence Gonsalves photoA couple of years ago, when I’d just graduated from college, scared out of my mind with no idea what the future would hold, humor kind of saved my life. “Ancient Greece isn’t hiring,” I told people who asked how my philosophy degree would influence my career path. “I’ll probably be permanently unemployed in the year 450 BCE.”

 

At first, I’d tried the whole, “I’ll probably go to law school!” approach, but that wasn’t the truth at all and telling that little white lie was making me feel worse and worse. The truth was I was petrified, and the only way I could access those emotions was by poking a little fun at myself. Once I started joking about my predicament, I was able to come to terms with it and eventually move past it.

 

Instead of law school, I ended up writing what would become my debut novel, Love and Other Carnivorous Plants. The story follows nineteen-year-old Danny’s summer after her freshmen year of college. It covers a lot of taboo subjects—eating disorders, mental health concerns, drug and alcohol abuse, and questioning one’s sexuality. Danny’s approach to such “touchy” issues is to joke about them, which results in a lot of humor for a book about some pretty serious stuff.

 

One of the beautiful things about fiction is its capacity to speak to real life issues in a person’s life, but to do that the characters (and of course, the author!) have to somehow find a way into what is otherwise hush-hush. So often taboo topics aren’t discussed at all because they are treated so seriously. And treating a subject as so serious that it can’t be joked ironically increases its taboo.

 

As a writer, humor gives me the permission to approach the things that society tells me I shouldn’t. It is the access point to otherwise unapproachable topics, and if we never approach such things, how can we expect to confront them at all? If Danny couldn’t joke about her bulimia, for example, she wouldn’t have been able to talk about it, which would have been a missed opportunity to really explore the pain (but also the occasional lol! moment) of her situation. Taboo creates shame and shame creates secrets, as well as shadows where even darker emotions hide. I think it’s much more important that difficult subjects be broached in the first place, especially because usually those difficult subjects make a person feel lonely and laughter is a universal connector. A good HAHA! brings people together at times when connection is most needed, and at some point the humor does fall away, making room for other emotions.

 

I am so grateful that humor exists as a way of shedding light on those parts of ourselves that most need it. Laughter allows transformation to occur through acknowledgment and acceptance of what is, regardless of how lousy things seem. When it comes to expressing our struggles, I say, as Vievee Francis does, “Say it. Say it any way you can.” Find a way in to a find a way out. Crying is inevitable. Why not let laughter be, too?

 

Brandy Colbert on Writing Little & Lion

Little & Lion cover

I was having dinner with my cousin last year when she asked what my book Little & Lion is about. I gave a disjointed pitch, but she said it sounded interesting and circled back to my description of the main character, Suzette.

“Black, bisexual, and Jewish?” she asked.

I waited for her to question my choice to write about a character that represented several marginalizations. She never did.

“Cool,” she said. “My cousin on the other side of my family is black, lesbian, and Jewish. I’ll tell her to check it out.”

My eyes widened immediately. I knew that although my Suzette was fictional, more than a few people had to share her specific collection of identities in the real world. But I never expected to be so closely connected to someone who could “validate” the inclusiveness of my book.
I didn’t set out to write a highly diverse novel, which is how Little & Lion is often described. My only goal was to depict the Los Angeles that I live in and that very much exists.

I’ve talked a lot about how I grew up in a Midwestern town with a very small black population; there weren’t many people who looked like me, and especially not at the schools I attended. But I also craved meeting people from different cultures and ethnicities. I wanted to learn what it meant to have brown skin but not be black. I wanted to meet people who were part of the LGBTQ community, because by the time I was in high school, I’d met only one gay person—an adult man—who was out in my hometown, and I knew that number, even in a city as small as ours, was abysmal.

I grew up in a Baptist church, and I can’t remember when I first realized there were other religions, but I was instantly fascinated. Almost everyone I’d ever known had been Christian. My hometown has an overwhelming number of churches; on a recent visit, I counted about four within a two-block radius, and that’s not uncommon. I wanted to know about other religions and what millions of people around the world believed, even if it wasn’t reflected where I grew up. I finally took a Judaism class after high school, which was one of the most interesting courses in my college career, by far. It was taught by a woman, the rabbi at the only synagogue in town.

Moving to Los Angeles after college, I was astounded by how different it was from my hometown. People wore what they wanted and their outfits didn’t all look the same. They had varying shades of brown skin and diverse backgrounds to go with them. They spoke multiple languages and observed various religions—or, sometimes, they practiced nothing at all. They were gay and lesbian and bisexual and transgender and queer. They talked openly about their physical disabilities and mental illness. Sometimes one person claimed several of these identities at once.
I was surprised, and tremendously pleased. I’d lived for twenty-two years in a place where I was often ridiculed and judged for the color of my skin, and now there were so many people with identities that weren’t white and Christian and straight and able-bodied living and working among me. Los Angeles is the sort of city that celebrates the diversity of its inhabitants with neighborhoods like Chinatown and Little Ethiopia and West Hollywood and Boyle Heights, and I finally felt like I was home.

Sometimes people seem taken aback by a character that is Jewish, black, and bisexual, or a black and Korean-American boy who wears hearing aids, or a pansexual Latina. And some people are especially troubled by the fact that these identities can all exist in one novel. They believe that exploring these intersections is trying too hard to be politically correct, or that it’s just a tad too much diversity for one story. And I believe that to be insulting to people who are actually living these lives.

In Little & Lion, Suzette is made to feel ashamed about parts of her life and thus feels compelled to hide them. I grew up with people who believed they needed to hide their sexual identities because it made them too different in our small, homogenous town. And I’m certain there are people in several generations of my black Southern family who have felt the same, either keeping their romantic lives private or disengaging completely from the family to avoid potential judgment. I also know people whose bilingual parents didn’t teach them Spanish because they feared it would make them too different to be accepted.

Telling others that their identities are too diverse to be believable is erasure. It perpetuates the idea that we should all think and look and act the same, and that people can and should only concentrate on one aspect of their identity. Identity is at once private and also quite public in some instances.

Novels are fiction, but we know they can act as windows—a glimpse into the lives of people who look or act or believe differently than us. Too many children and teens don’t have the good fortune of growing up in diverse or inclusive neighborhoods and towns, and a book might be the closest they can get to learning about unfamiliar cultures and communities. Which is only a good thing, because books that serve as windows foster empathy.

I’m hopeful for the future of children’s literature and grateful that kids and teens have the chance to read a much more diverse array of books than I had when I was young.

And I hope there will be a day in the near future when people don’t find it unusual or unrealistic to read about a girl who just happens to be black, bisexual, and Jewish

 

Brandy Colbert photoABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brandy Colbert was born and raised in Springfield, Missouri. Her debut novel, Pointe, won the 2014 Cyblis Award for young adult fiction and was named a best book of 2014 by Publishers Weekly, BuzzFeed, Book Riot, and more. She was chosen as a Publishers Weekly Flying Start for spring 2014. Brandy works as a copyeditor and lives in Los Angeles, California.

 

ABOUT THE BOOK

★ “Subtle, neatly interwoven exploration of intersectionality.” –Booklist

★ “Colbert sensitively confronts misconceptions about mental illness, bisexuality, and intersectional identity.” –Kirkus

★ “Moving.” –School Library Journal

 

When Suzette comes home to Los Angeles from her boarding school in New England, she isn’t sure if she’ll ever want to go back. L.A. is where her friends and family are (along with her crush, Emil). And her stepbrother, Lionel, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, needs her emotional support.

But as she settles into her old life, Suzette finds herself falling for someone new…the same girl her brother is in love with. When Lionel’s disorder spirals out of control, Suzette is forced to confront her past mistakes and find a way to help her brother before he hurts himself–or worse.

 

Want to know even more about Little & Lion? Listen to our LB School Podcast interview with Brandy Colbert here.

Little & Lion

Little & Lion cover

Little & Lion

By Brandy Colbert

Genre: Young Adult Fiction

Curriculum Subject: Mental Illness; LGBT; Alternative Family; Siblings; Girls & Women; Prejudice & Racism

Grades: 10 & up

 

When Suzette returns to Los Angeles from the boarding school where she was forced to spend the past semester, she’s uncertain of whether she wants to return to Massachusetts or stay in California. CA is where her friends and family are (as well as her crush, Emil); and her step-brother Lionel, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, needs her emotional support. When Suzette and Lionel begin to fall in love with the same girl, however, Lionel’s disorder takes a turn for the worse and spirals out of control, forcing Suzette to confront her own demons. Having betrayed a secret girlfriend in her boarding school, allowing her to take the brunt of homophobic bullying, Suzette must face her own past mistakes, come to terms with her bisexuality, and find a way to help her brother, before he hurts himself–or worse.

The Truth about Twinkie Pie

The Truth About Twinkie Pie

By Kat Yeh

Genre: Juvenile Fiction

Curriculum Subjects: Family Life: Parents/Siblings/Babies, Personal Development: Self-Discovery

Grade: 3-7

 

Educator Guide Listen to interview with author

 

Take two sisters making it on their own: brainy twelve-year-old GiGi (short for Galileo Galilei, a name she never says out loud) and junior-high-dropout-turned-hairstylist DiDi (short for Delta Dawn). Add a million dollars in prize money from a national cooking contest and a move from the trailer parks of South Carolina to the Gold Coast of New York. Mix in a fancy new school, new friends and enemies, a first crush, and a generous sprinkling of family secrets.

 

That’s the recipe for The Truth About Twinkie Pie, a voice-driven middle grade debut about the true meaning of family and friendship.

 

PRAISE

“Yeh’s nimbly voiced, combination fish-out-of-water, personal transformation and emotional family tale is stuffed with charm.” – Kirkus Reviews

 

“[A] delight. GiGi’s voice keeps the story light and humorous… Endearing characters will keep readers engaged throughout as more than one character learns the true meanng of family and friendship.” – School Library Journal

 

VIDEO

If You Find This

If You Find This

By Matthew Baker

Genre: Juvenile Fiction

Curriculum Subjects: Adventure: Mysteries, Family Life: Grandparents and Extended Family, Personal Development: Friendship

Grade: 3-7

 

Download Educator Guide Listen to author interview

 

Mixing mystery and adventure in the tradition of Louis Sachar, Avi, and E.L. Konigsburg, If You Find This is the story of unlikely friendships, unexpected bravery and eleven-year-old Nicholas Funes’s quest to prove his grandfather’s treasure is real.

 

Nicholas is a math and music genius with no friends and a huge problem: His father has lost his job, and they’ll have to sell their house, which holds the only memory Nicholas has of his younger brother. Just in time, Nicholas’s senile grandfather arrives, filled with tales of priceless treasure he has hidden somewhere in town–but where?

 

With the help of misfit classmates, two grandfathers, a ghosthouse, hidden messages, séances, and an uncanny mind for numbers, Nicholas stages a nursing home breakout, tangles with high schoolers in smugglers’ tunnels, and gets swept up in a duel with the biggest bullies in the neighborhood. Will it be enough to find the treasure and save his house?

 

PRAISE

★ “The vivid setting, complex characters, and original writing style result in a story with lasting impact. Reminiscent of Louis Sachar’s Holes (1998), this is a rich, captivating tale about family and redemption that redefines the meaning of treasure.” – Booklist, starred review

 

“[T]his intriguing and multilayered novel will provoke interesting discussions.” – School Library Journal

The Darkest Part of the Forest

The Darkest Part of the Forest

By Holly Black

Genre: Juvenile Fiction

Curriculum Subject: Adventure: Magic/Fantasy, Family Life: Parents/Siblings/Babies, Personal Development: Responsibility

Grades: 7-12

 

Listen to interview with author Watch Booklist Myth Masters webinar Educator Guide

 

Children can have a cruel, absolute sense of justice. Children can kill a monster and feel quite proud of themselves. A girl can look at her brother and believe they’re destined to be a knight and a bard who battle evil. She can believe she’s found the thing she’s been made for.

 

Hazel lives with her brother, Ben, in the strange town of Fairfold where humans and fae exist side by side. The faeries’ seemingly harmless magic attracts tourists, but Hazel knows how dangerous they can be, and she knows how to stop them. Or she did, once.

 

At the center of it all, there is a glass coffin in the woods. It rests right on the ground and in it sleeps a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointy as knives. Hazel and Ben were both in love with him as children. The boy has slept there for generations, never waking.

 

Until one day, he does…

 

As the world turns upside down and a hero is needed to save them all, Hazel tries to remember her years spent pretending to be a knight. But swept up in new love, shifting loyalties, and the fresh sting of betrayal, will it be enough?

 

PRAISE

★ “Terrific…  Black is in fine form here.” –VOYA, starred review

 

★ “Black returns here to the dark faery realm that spurred her initial success, and if anything, she’s only gotten better, writing with an elegant, economical precision and wringing searing emotional resonance from the simplest of sentences…  [C]aptivating…” –The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, starred review

 

“Expertly weaving fairy-tale magic into a contemporary setting, Black slowly reveals Hazel’s mysterious involvement with the fairy court and her heroic role in setting the prince free…  Black’s stark, eerie tone; propulsive pacing; and fulsome world building will certainly delight her legion of fans.” –Booklist

 

“Black blends magic with the ordinary world deftly and believably…  Her empathetic protagonists are familiar in their vulnerability but compelling in their bravery. Rich descriptions of beautiful but terrible creatures and the thorny briar circling a fairy mound draw readers in to the vividly conjured world.” – The Horn Book

 

VIDEO

Freaks & Revelations

Freaks & RevelationsFreaks & Revelations

By Davida Wills Hurwin

Genre: Fiction

Curriculum Subject: Teen Life: Prejudice; Relationships; Sexuality

Grades: 10 & Up

 

This raw, moving novel follows two teenagers-one, a Mohawk-wearing 17-year-old violent misfit; the other, a gay 13-year-old cast out by his family, hustling on the streets and trying to survive. Acclaimed author Davida Wills Hurwin creates a riveting narrative told in alternating perspectives of their lives before and after the violent hate crime that changed both their futures. This tragic but ultimately inspirational journey of two polarized teens, their violent first meeting, and their peaceful reunion years later is an unforgettable story of survival and forgiveness.

 

This story is inspired by the real lives of Matthew Boger and Timothy Zaal, who have shared their story on The Oprah Winfrey Show and NPR.

 

Download Educator Guide

 

PRAISE

Stonewall Book Award Finalist

Inheritance

Inheritance by Malinda LoInheritance

By Malinda Lo

Genre: Science Fiction

Curriculum Subject: Adventure: Aliens/ Ghosts

Grades: 10 & Up

The sequel to Adaptation keeps the suspense through the roof.

Reese and David are not normal teens. At least not since they were “adapted” with alien DNA by the Imria, an extraterrestrial race that has been secretly visiting Earth for decades. Now everyone is after Reese and David: the US government, the Imria, and a mysterious corporation that would do anything to gain the upper hand against the aliens.

Beyond the web of conspiracies, Reese can’t reconcile her love for David with her feelings for Amber, her ex-girlfriend and an Imrian. But Reese’s choice between two worlds will play a critical role in determining the future of humanity, the Imria’s place in it, and the inheritance she and David will bring to the universe.

 

PRAISE:

“Dialogue rings true, and the characters are appealing … the alien and political machinations provide menace, a brisk page-turning plot and lots of fun.” –Kirkus