Hey YA Reads: I’ve got a great interview to share with you today!
“What’s Up in YA?” is sponsored by KENS by Raziel Reed.
Ladies, get ready to clutch those pearls. Ken Hilton rules Willows High with his carbon copies Ken Roberts and Ken Carson. All Kens are create from same mould; straight out of Satan’s doll factory, soul sold separately. A once-in-a-lifetime chance at becoming a Ken changes everything for shy,under-the-radar Tommy. But how far is he willing to go to become a Ken? Ken Hilton makes Regina George look like Mr Rogers. Unlike anything else in YA, KENS is a biting social commentary and savage take-down of consumer culture.Taking cues from cult classics like HEATHERS and MEAN GIRLS, award-winning author Raziel Reid pulls no punches and holds no bars. KENS is available on September 18th from Penguin Random House Canada.
It’s not a secret that we’re big fans of Sara Farizan at Book Riot, and I’m thrilled to share this wonderful interview with her. Her next book, Here To Stay, hits shelves tomorrow, September 18, and it’s a book you’ll want to pick up from your bookstore or library ASAP.
Here To Stay is a book about a boy named Bijan who makes the key shot in a school basketball game and finds himself thrust in the spotlight. He’s always been a bit of a, uh, dork, and this attention puts him in a place he never expected.
But that attention isn’t all good. It’s not long before racism and Islamophobia begin to filter into the experience in more pronounced ways than they had been before. And Bijan has to figure out where he stands with his friends, with his school, and in the greater world.
The book is, despite taking on heavy and hard issues, really funny. Farizan nails Bijan’s voice, which is at turns totally nerdy and funny and delightful. He is as likable a character as you can imagine in every sense of the word — and it’s that likability that really drives home the bigger issues in the story.
Rather than going on about the book, time to turn it over to Sara to talk about it, about her inspirations, her favorite books, and more.
KJ: Talk a bit about the inspiration behind the book.
SF: For a while I was a bit confused about what I would write next. People kept asking me “what are you working on?” and I really didn’t have an answer. I was thinking about what people would like to read about rather than why I got into writing in the first place. I have always written to make myself feel better. It’s selfish, and perhaps not always sensible, but I write about people and subjects that I care about and want others to care about.
In February of 2015, I was personally not in a great emotional place and then the news of the killings of three young people, Deah Barakat, his wife, Yusor, and his sister, Razan, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina broke. Their deaths made me feel the same way Matthew Shepard’s death in 1998 made me feel when I was a closeted teenager; angry, helpless, nauseous, disappointed in the times we were living in, afraid, and wanting to do something to make some sense of it. Though I didn’t know any of them, and we all had different backgrounds, there were parts of them I identified with.
Deah was a huge basketball fan and Steph Curry was his favorite player. Curry, who is not only an exceptional athlete but seems to be a wonderful person, put Deah’s name on his sneakers during a game to honor him.
I’ve always been a huge basketball fan and grew up watching The Celtics. I played and loved the sport until it was clear I wasn’t going to get any taller my sophomore year. So I wrote to feel better again and began to write about a young man who loves basketball and finally gets to play on the Varsity team only to be met by prejudice.
Your book tackles some seriously heavy issues — not just bullying, but Islamophobia. And yet, it’s also a really funny book. Talk a bit about the humor in this book and how it characterizes Bijan.
Humor is the easiest way to get someone to listen. I really believe that if you can make someone laugh, and not at the expense of someone else, it can have a deep impact. Bijan is a great kid who really just wants to be allowed to be a great kid and not have to teach others about larger issues. He has awkward moments and goofy moments, but he also stands up for himself and his friends.
In the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the detective Eddie played by Bob Hoskins asks Jessica Rabbit, who is a very sexy humanoid cartoon, what she sees in her husband Roger, who is a rabbit? She says, “He makes me laugh.” I think that’s always stayed with me when I saw that movie as a kid.
I use humor in my day-to-day life because sometimes, when things are just too heavy, you have to laugh a little. It’s one of the best gifts we have, to laugh and make others laugh.
This is your first published book featuring a male main character. What drew you to writing Bijan’s story and how did it differ from writing and thinking about your prior novels — if at all?
I wanted to write about a young man dealing with a lot of questions I had/have to deal with. I had a work colleague once say to me “No one’s going to bother you, you’re a woman,” in regards to another heightened period of paranoia regarding xenophobia and that always struck me as messed up for a number of reasons.
I don’t like the idea of children being treated as threats once they have a growth spurt, particularly young brown and black boys. It’s insidious and I don’t know when it stops, but I hope it does soon because we’re doing a great disservice to our young people when they recognize which lives have value in the news and in society and which lives are described as collateral damage. I will never know what it is to be a young man, but I hope Bijan’s voice and the voice of his guy friends ring true.
This novel took me a lot longer and I still have a lot to learn. A large part of it was because I knew this book would have an audience whereas my other two were written in graduate school and I didn’t think they’d be published. I felt really concerned about not getting everything right and if someone reads one of my books but doesn’t read another with a main character of a similar background, my story would be the only one they’d think as an absolute experience and that’s daunting. I’m hopeful that people know my stories are only one perspective and not the singular experience of other people that share the identities that my characters have.
On a lighter note: HERE TO STAY is packed with references to other books and more specifically, a ton of contemporary and classic comics. Talk a bit about the choices you made in referencing those and also, what are some of your personal favorites?
Comics have always been a huge part of my life from when I was a kid to now. I was trying to curate a list of books that I loved and that I imagined a 17-year old kid would love, too. I was also trying to dispel the myth that there are ‘boy’ books and there are ‘girl’ books, which I think is ridiculous. I think kids gravitate to what they want to read and adults should kind of chill out about it. Bijan learns that when he talks with his love interest, Elle, and they have a lot of overlap regarding the graphic novels/comic series they like. Some of those books they mention are my favorites and I will read anything by Marjane Satrapi, Ed Brubaker, Jeph Loeb, Paul Dini, Mariko Tamaki, Juan Diaz Canales, Terry Moore, G. Willow Wilson, Jeff Lemire, Michel Rabagliati, Alison Bechdel to name a few. I just read Bingo Love and really enjoyed that. These days I’m also reading Lady Killer, What to Do When I’m Gone: A Mother’s Wisdom to Her Daughter, Outcast, and re-visiting For Better of For Worse strips by Lynn Johnston. I’m really in awe of people that get to work in comics and to me they are incredibly cool.
I used to work at a comics store in my twenties and now I often frequent comic shops, particularly when I feel restless or need to find comfort. In the acknowledgments for Here to Stay, I thank Steve who is the owner of a comic shop I frequent. I told him about it and he had no idea I was a writer. He said maybe he’d sell the book in the shop, but only if it was good and wasn’t preachy. That’s the kind of honesty you can’t buy! Especially when looking for back issues of Horror comics from the 60’s! I also don’t like the bad rap some comics get. Cathy is rad. Leave Cathy alone. She was just dealing with the patriarchy the best she could. In all seriousness, Cathy Guisewite is underrated and brilliant.
In your teen years, which books had a big influence on you?
The Color Purple by Alice Walker, The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, The Hotel New Hampshire and really any book by John Irving. Finding Annie on My Mind by the late, great Nancy Garden was a big deal. When I got a little older I found The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini and Mona in the Promised Land by Gish Jen. I used to read a LOT of plays especially by Neil Simon. And I read a lot of non-fiction back then and still do.
Who are some of the YA authors doing great things right now and books you’d recommend people pick up? Or maybe I could ask this question in a bit of a different way: you’re building your dream author basketball team. Who would you draft for this team?
Oh man! I don’t know that I deserve general manager status in that I feel like I’m still a rookie on JV, but I would love to be third string to these people: Jacqueline Woodson for team MVP and captain, Malinda Lo for point guard, Meg Medina for power forward, David Levithan as shooting guard and Emily M. Danforth as center. Chris Lynch would be my personal coach. Other players on the All-Star team include but are not limited to Adib Khorram, Sarvenaz Tash, Will Kostakis Maurene Goo, Meredith Goldstein, Aisha Saeed, Robin Talley, Jasmine Warga, Nova Ren Suma, Lamar Giles, Jessica Spotswood and Cori McCarthy. Jason Reynolds and Angie Thomas would own a team. Laurie Halse Anderson would be one of the revered greats like Bill Russell or Paul Pierce.
If you could give your 12-year-old self any YA book, what would it be and why?
Just one? That’s tough. One book I’d highlight and think would have helped 12 year-old me is Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram. I related to it very much and it would have helped me out a lot.
Thank you so much, Sara!
& thank you, readers, for hanging out. We’ll see you again later this week!