Please welcome Eric Smith today for our #ReadYourWorld Book Jam 2020 with the Children’s Book Council. He has created a wonderful list of Finding Books for Kids Like Him, and by this he means Middle Eastern Characters, Biracial characters, Gaming, and Bullying. We are grateful for a resource like this!
We are giving away one copy of Don’t Read the Comments. Please fill out the Rafflecopter at the bottom to enter.
Don’t Read the Comments by Eric Smith
Divya Sharma is a queen. Or she is when she’s playing Reclaim the Sun, the year’s hottest online game. Divya—better known as popular streaming gamer D1V—regularly leads her #AngstArmada on quests through the game’s vast and gorgeous virtual universe. But for Divya, this is more than just a game. Out in the real world, she’s trading her rising-star status for sponsorships to help her struggling single mom pay the rent.
Gaming is basically Aaron Jericho’s entire life. Much to his mother’s frustration, Aaron has zero interest in becoming a doctor like her, and spends his free time writing games for a local developer. At least he can escape into Reclaim the Sun—and with a trillion worlds to explore, disappearing should be easy. But to his surprise, he somehow ends up on the same remote planet as celebrity gamer D1V.
At home, Divya and Aaron grapple with their problems alone, but in the game, they have each other to face infinite new worlds…and the growing legion of trolls populating them. Soon the virtual harassment seeps into reality when a group called the Vox Populi begin launching real-world doxxing campaigns, threatening Aaron’s dreams and Divya’s actual life. The online trolls think they can drive her out of the game, but everything and everyone Divya cares about is on the line…
And she isn’t going down without a fight. [young adult, ages 12 and up]
Seeing yourself in a book can be one of those wild, life changing moments for a young reader. As someone who works in publishing and also writes, it’s one of those things I’ve seen first-hand, with stories posted on social media and tearfully retold in-person at festivals.
Growing up, this really wasn’t a thing for me. The book about the Middle Eastern / Hispanic teen didn’t quite exist, or at least, no one ever gave me that book. So, I’ve made it a point to write about teens that were a bit like me… mixed, but not mixed up (like Aaron in Don’t Read the Comments), and in some cases, adopted, but not quite sure what to make of their identity (my story in Sangu Mandanna’s Color Outside the Lines is all about that).
Once upon a time, I think a lot of my writing was about making things up to that childhood version of myself, who seldom saw that mixed kid in stories and was tired of always checking the “other” box on questionnaires. But these days, as a father to a beautiful boy who’s mixed like me, I think about him when I write and work on books.
I hope he sees himself in the words I write, the stories I champion, and the books I keep on my shelf. And if no checkbox can define him, that’s okay, sweet boy. You’re Black, Honduran, Palestinian, Sicilian, Ukrainian, and so very perfect. And there are plenty of novels out there that will echo that sentiment.
Let’s talk about a few.
Finding Books for Kids Like Him
The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig
Whenever I think about novels about family and identity, Heidi Heilig’s beautiful debut fantasy springs to mind almost immediately. A teen girl named Nix sails… well, everywhere. Quite literally everywhere. Her father’s ship is a magical one, going through worlds real and imaged. But unfortunately, at the heart of all their magical adventures is a quest that her father is obsessed with, one that can potentially reunite him with Nix’s mother. But the problem here, is if her father saves her mother, it could erase her from existence entirely.
Heilig’s novel digs into identity, as Nix is biracial, and throughout the book she’s quite literally being pulled in two different directions, again and again. The past, the future. Her father, her mother. Her life, and maybe not existing anymore? It’s a layered exploration of identity, and tied into all of it, is time travel, pirates, a magic ship… goodness, there’s just a lot to love here. [young adult, ages 14 and up]
See No Color by Shannon Gibney
This is the book I end up recommending the most, when friends or family or strangers on the Internet ask me for novels about adoption. After-all, I’m the adopted one, I should know, right?
Gibney’s debut novel is about Alex, a biracial teen girl in a white family, who has never really made a big fuss over any of that. Until she finds some letters from her biological father, and a guy who wants to get to know her a little better. Suddenly she’s questioning what it means to be Black, her entire family, what her biological parents were like…
It’s a story about trying to come to terms with who you are, when you’ve never really questioned that before. It’s the kind of eye opening and stunning book I wish someone would have handed me as a teen, and I’ll continue to give it to people as long as I can. [young adult, ages 12 and up]
Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
Oh Maddy. You are too good for this world, and you and Olly are so perfect. If you’ve somehow missed out on the blockbuster that is Everything, Everything, in Yoon’s beautiful debut readers meet Maddy, a biracial teen girl who is allergic to… well, everything. She can’t go outside.
In fact, Maddy lives inside of an airtight house, where her only interaction is with her mother and nurse. That is, until a boy moves next door, and starts holding up notes for her in the window.
And starts emailing her and opening up the world. He inspires her to take chances, and maybe risk coming out of her home, and risk it all for… well, everything. Hence the title. It’s one of my favorite YA novels, and also, one of my favorite novel-to-movie adaptations.
Treat yourself to both in a single weekend. Yoon’s prose is fast and devourable, and the novel is structured with fun illustrations and emails, making for such a breezy read. [young adult, ages 12 and up]
Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman
This story about a biracial teen wrestling with identity, anxiety, and her complicated, toxic family was my favorite novel of 2017. There’s a reason this gorgeous book was nominated for the Morris, my friends. It’s stunning and hard hitting, and just left me reeling.
In it, we meet Kiko, who daydreams of attending a prestigious art school that will, she hopes, solve all her problems. Life can really get started there. But all that comes crumbling down when she’s rejected, and she finds herself having to choose the life she wants to lead… one in a new city with a childhood friend, touring art schools… or stuck at home with toxic family.
Somehow, Bowman has kept the emotional hits coming, with Summer Bird Blue and the
upcoming Harley in the Sky. I’ll read every word she writes. [young adult, ages 12 and up]
Color Outside the Lines by Sangu Mandanna
So, I’m in this book. So maybe this is cheating as a recommendation. But it’s an anthology literally about interracial relationships, with so many wonderful, brilliant stars of YA, writing from their hearts. Don’t sleep on it. [young adult, ages 14 and up]
Giveaway: 1 copy of Don’t Read the Comments
We are giving away one copy of Don’t Read the Comments. Please fill out the Rafflecopter at the bottom to enter. We can only mail to U.S. addresses.
Eric Smith is a Young Adult author and literary agent with P.S. Literary living in Philadelphia.
His next novel, Don’t Read the Comments, will be published by Inkyard Press in January 2020. Pre-order it for very cute pins and bookplates, here!
His new anthology, Battle of the Bands co-edited with Lauren Gibaldi, is due out in 2021 with Candlewick.
He has short stories forthcoming in the anthologies Color Outside the Lines by Sangu Mandanna (Soho Teen) and Body Talk by Kelly Jensen (Algonquin).
His other books include the IndieBound bestseller The Geek’s Guide to Dating (Quirk), Inked (Bloomsbury), the adoption-themed anthology Welcome Home, and the novel The Girl and the Grove (Flux).
You can listen to him on Book Riot’s HEY YA podcast with Kelly Jensen. His writing is represented by Dawn Frederick of Red Sofa Literary.