Author Archives: Caroline Fielding

Chartered School Librarian, CILIP YLG London Chair, Bea-keeper

Something to be Proud Of

Imogen Quinn is a chaotic bisexual with dreams of becoming a stand-up comedian, crushing stereotypes about autistic people. When she decides to put on a pride festival that’s accessible for everyone, she enlists the help of the openly gay captain of the football team, Ollie Armstrong.

Dealing with the fallout from his parents’ divorce, Ollie is initially hesitant. But it doesn’t take long for him to be swept up by Imogen’s passion, and he’s not the only one. Joined by the (infuriatingly perfect) head girl, musicians, an artist and a star baker – a dream team soon assembles to help plan pride and tackle injustices in their school and beyond. You’d better listen out – they’re getting ready to make some noise.

Packed full of fun, forever friendships and fighting back, this YA debut is perfect for fans of I Kissed Shara WheelerGwen and Art are Not in LoveFeel GoodHeartstopper and Not My Problem.

Little Tiger
Cover illustration by Lucía Gomez Alcaide

SOMETHING TO BE PROUD OF is Anna Zoe Quirke‘s debut novel and published TODAY! I really loved this book, it ticks most of my boxes: realistic teens, humour, friendship, angst (but not too much), romance (but not too much), positive disability rep, unashamedly LGBTQIA+ characters, present but imperfect families…and, a personal highlight: a non-US based author as I am often annoyed by the number of American titles published and highlighted in the UK when there is so much home-grown (or anywhere-else-on-the-globe-grown) talent we could be supporting. I got the chance to ask a few questions!

The book is own-voices but is it autobiographical at all?

Not really. Imogen is an own-voices character as I’m also a queer autistic person, but I definitely wasn’t brave enough in high school to get up to half the shenanigans that they do! (Although there was a photoshopping incident with my headteacher but that was less an act of protest and more a ‘teenager being a little sh*t’ thing.) 

I’ve always thought that I would have been more like Imogen had I known I was autistic and been able to unmask earlier. There are hints at what Imogen used to be like before they fully came into their own and felt comfortable in their identity and those experiences and feelings were definitely inspired by how I felt when I was younger.

If anything, Ollie’s story is the more autobiographical one for me. Nothing was taken directly from my life because, you know, boundaries, but my parents also got divorced when I was in high school, and I’ve had to navigate tricky dynamics with loved ones like he does. Plus, his journey with figuring out what his gender means to him was really special for me to write, as I’ve had to do a lot of figuring out what I wanted my gender to mean to me too.

Was the dual narrative there from the very first draft?

It was. I’m a very character-focused writer so when I’m coming up with a book idea I always know who the characters are first before I know exactly what the plot will be, and Something to be Proud Of was no exception. Both Imogen and Ollie burst into my head and demanded that I write about them, so yes, it was always going to be a dual narrative story – I always knew they both had really important things to say and I felt like they deserved to say them in their own voice. Plus – in my very unbiased opinion – I feel like it’s really lovely that we get to see what their friendship means to them from both their perspectives as it’s developing.

Which character was your favourite to write?

I loved writing all of the characters, but I think I do have to go with Imogen. Writing Imogen’s character was the most fun I’ve had writing ever. They’re funny, silly, unashamedly passionate and I’ll always have fond memories of sitting at my desk cackling out loud to myself and making my dog think I’d lost my marbles while I was writing certain chapters of Imogen’s. However, that being said, all of my absolute favourite moments to write were the ones that were between Imogen and Ollie. Their friendship was an utter joy to write and I’m so grateful that I had them to keep me company during the COVID lockdowns!

What advice would you give to a teen if you’ve inspired them to get involved in setting up an inclusive Pride event in their area?

I love this question and I really do encourage everyone to try and make all their Pride events as inclusive as they can! Here are some thoughts/questions you might want to consider:

–        Think about the specific community you want to do your event in – do you know of any particular needs there that you can take into consideration?

–        What’s been lacking from other pride events you’ve been to? Were they accessible for wheelchairs/people with other mobility aids? Did they cater to different sensory needs?

–        Don’t be afraid to do some research – no one’s expecting you to know absolutely everything straight away, in fact, it’s really important to recognise that you don’t know things. If you think you know everything then you’re closing off the possibility to continue learning. (Also, just as a reminder, when you’re doing research, reading the thoughts and opinions of the groups of people you’re trying to involve in your event is always best, rather than people without that lived experience.)

–        Imagine an environment where you are entirely comfortable, calm, and feel celebrated for who you are. What does that space look like? How can you take even just small steps towards creating that space?

–        If you can, try and gather an amazing team around you. Chances are you’re not the only person that cares about making things more inclusive and besides, everything’s easier with a great team around you so that you can support each other, brainstorm ideas, commiserate when things don’t go to plan and celebrate together when they do.

–        A last reminder: the fact that you’re trying is such a wonderful starting place. You have that softness and that ‘I just want everyone to feel safe’ part inside you, and that’s a really beautiful thing. Be gentle with yourself, and if you feel like you didn’t do something right or forgot something you feel like you should have included, then give yourself grace and just make a note to do that next time. There’s so much pressure to be the ‘perfect’ activist and it’s often really counterproductive. If people worry too much about being perfect, then they might become so anxious that they can’t do anything at all. But doing something is always better than nothing.

What are you reading at the moment and who would you recommend it to?

I’m currently rereading Jane Austen’s Emma. I’d recommend any of Jane’s work (Persuasion is my favourite!) to pretty much anyone. Jane’s stories are so warm, her characters feel so real, and she writes with such wit – she’s a huge writing inspiration of mine.

And then I’m also rereading the Northern Lights trilogy with the students in the ‘Book to Screen Club’ that I run in my library (alongside watching the BBC adaptation) and we’re having an excellent time with it. If you like magic, adventure and high stakes, whether you’re a teen or adult, I definitely recommend those books.

I’ve also just been sent an ARC of Not for the Faint of Heart by my friend, Lex Croucher, which is a historical queer romance/adventure inspired by the story of Robin Hood. Lex’s books are always super fun, laugh-out-loud reads, so I’m very excited to dig into this one.

Will we see more of Imogen or are you working on something different?

Both Imogen and Ollie will always occupy a big chunk of my brain. I have dozens of little snippets of scenes written in my phone notes because I’m always thinking about them and what might have happened in their lives after we leave them at the end of STBPO. Unfortunately though, sequels are pretty rare, so I doubt I’ll ever fully return to the world of STBPO in that way. 

But, I am currently working on edits for another book that’s coming out in 2025. It’s a queer rom-com this time, with similar found family vibes and hijinks to STBPO but alongside themes of mental health and figuring out (or not) the nuances of your sexuality. I feel like I’ve properly fallen in love with this book during the editing process and I can’t wait for people to read it next year!

Anna Zoe Quirke is a queer and autistic author and librarian from the North of England. She currently lives in Manchester with her partner, Rachael, and their very angry tortoise, Sheldon. They’re at their happiest writing stories about queer and neurodivergent people finding and claiming their place in the world, exploring the literary wonders of the UK, or making a big ol’ mess in the kitchen baking things for their loved ones.

Homebody

‘An uplifting, hopeful, empowering memoir that celebrates self-discovery and self-love’ – Alice Oseman, author of the bestselling Heartstopper series

An unmissable graphic novel perfect for fans of the global hit Heartstopper and Juno Dawson’s What’s the T?

Hello! I’m Theo. I like cats, Dungeons & Dragons . . . and I’m trans and non-binary.

Ever since I was young, I’ve been on a journey to explore who I am. To discover the things that make me . . . me.

Sometimes it can feel like the world is trying to fit you into a box, to label you one way or another, but there is nothing more wonderful than finding your true authentic self, whoever you are. Whether you are transgender or cisgender, we are all searching for ways to make our houses feel like homes . . .

In Homebody, Theo tells the heartwarming story of discovering how to live life on their own terms through beautiful illustrations and lyrical text.

Macmillan

The way Theo looks back on their life so far is so honest and eloquent, figuring out how they feel about themselves as well as how to present themselves to the world on their own terms, and could really help teens and adults not only empathise but reflect on their own path and the journey they’re still on. I absolutely *adored* this book and wish everyone that has “concerns” about trans youth would read it to really think about what it means to be comfortable in yourself, something that many people take for granted especially as they get further away from the growing pains of their teen years. Some people will know themselves and hardly change, others will go through lots of different outward expressions before they feel that the world’s view of them matches their own, some are scared to express themselves honestly, while others still will think that they know themselves until they come across something new to them that opens their eyes to an aspect of themselves they’d neglected.

So much of it resonated with me: When I was a teenager I was frequently mistaken for a boy because of my short hair and baggy clothes and I had conversations with family and friends (not all, but enough) about how no one would ever love me if I didn’t change the way I looked…all the thoughts about what girls and boys should like and not fitting in and knowing that it *shouldn’t* matter what your hobbies are or what you wear wear or how you style your hair but that society will tell you that you’re getting it wrong because for some reason it *does* matter. I keep going back to the book because there are so many beautiful, insightful pages. Anyway, a boy did (does) love me, short hair and all, so listen to Theo’s advice below.

I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to share some pages from the book, and also ask Theo a few questions:

Tell us about your new graphic novel 

Homebody is an uplifting and affirming graphic memoir about life outside of the gender binary. An honest and heartwarming look at the joy and beauty of finding yourself and the positive impact of living as your authentic self. Homebody speaks to a universal experience of exploring what makes us who we are, how we express that to the world and of the relationship we all have between our minds and bodies. Whether you are transgender, cisgender or still figuring it out, we are all searching for ways to make our houses feel like homes, and to come to a place of ease within ourselves.

Which advice would you pass on to your younger self?

Find the people who love and accept you for who you are, exactly as you are, you don’t have to change anything about yourself to be liked. Instead of trying to figure out what other people want or expect you to be, focus on being the person that you want to be and the rest will fall into place.

Homebody is such a unique book, but do you have any titles you could recommend for teens that devour your story?

I have a long list of graphic novels I love! But my top picks for teens who enjoyed Homebody would be: ‘The Girl From the Sea’ by Molly Knox Ostertag- a sweet coming of age sapphic romance with a sprinkle of fantasy.
‘Deadendia’ by Hamish Steele – a funny and imaginative series set in a theme park that’s connected to demonic realms, with a trans protagonist and great LGBTQ+ and neurodivergent representation.
‘Welcome to St Hell’ – a hilarious, honest and relatable autobiography from trans creator Lewis Hancox about his time at high school and figuring out his trans identity. 

Have you any other projects on the go that are developing into full books? After such a personal debut, what would you most like to write about?

I am currently working on my second graphic novel, which is going to be another fairly personal book actually! It’s based on my experiences of moving through the world as neurodivergent but not realising that until much later in life. Beyond that I would love to write fantasy as it’s one of my favourite genres to read.

Homebody is published today by Macmillan, aimed at age 14+

Mina and the Cult

Mina’s having a hell of a family reunion. After the death and chaos of Halloween, Mina and the gang are looking forward to their road trip to Roswell, New Mexico, where they are hoping to be thrilled by the alien stories and have some R & R with Mina’s parents. However, their trip ends abruptly and before they know it, they are back in New Orleans. Instead of enjoying the fall celebrations and renovating the mansion, they find themselves investigating a serial killer who claims to be a real vampire in disturbing letters to the press.
As the city is gripped by fear, a group of believers is planning to disrupt the fragile balance between the humans and the supernatural creatures hiding in the shadows. This threatens the peace that Mina and her friends have been working so hard at maintaining.
Caught between investigating the killer and trying to stop the group’s destructive plans, Mina’s third mystery might be her last…

UCLan Publishing

I horrified Antonia, the publicist that organised this guest post for us by telling her that, in a school library, a book set in the 90s is a historical novel 😁 The Mina series are <historical> horror mystery for teens and YA and should be in all your libraries! The author, Amy McCaw, wrote a piece for us about how she establised the setting.

Why the fascination with 90s nostalgia?

Books, music, fashion and movies from the 90s seem to be more popular than ever. I’m still as obsessed with my 90s favourites as I ever was, and I have a few theories about why the fascination with the 90s persists.


When I started writing Mina and the Undead, I wasn’t sure what year I would set it in. During the very early stages of writing, I realised that the Interview with the Vampire movie came out in 1994, and 1995 was also the deadliest year in New Orleans history, with over 400 people being murdered that year alone. Those two things came together in my imagination to produce a murder mystery where vampires might be responsible for the high crime rates.


Once I’d settled on the 90s, I realised how fun it would be to lean into 90s pop culture in the plot, music, movie references and clothing. The book ended up having the feel of things I loved in the 90s, including Scream, Buffy and Charmed. I was a teenager later in the 90s, and I think enjoying those things so much in my formative years left a lasting impression on me. When I watch my 90s favourites, they’re still great on their own merits, but they also take me right back to that time.


There are a lot of reasons why the 90s might have continued to have such a lasting impact. The music has a distinctive feel, with that grunge and indie sound never really being replicated since. Slashers and paranormal books and TV shows had a real moment, and horror series like Point Horror and Fear Street were at the peak of their popularity. Like me, some people circle back to their old interests, but this can’t be true of younger readers who weren’t born in the 90s. In my experience, teenagers enjoy dipping their toes into a time period that feels relatively recent and yet so different from current pop culture, with an instantly recognisable flavour.


If you’re a fan of 90s pop culture, I highly recommend visiting the original influences I’ve already mentioned. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is still my all-time favourite form of any pop culture, and Scream reinvented the slasher genre, making it self-referential and delighting in outlandish, gory kills.


There are also plenty of YA books set in the 90s or that have that 90s feel that I always crave. Reading anything by Kathryn Foxfield, Cynthia Murphy or Kat Ellis will fill that Point-Horror shaped gap in your life. I also recommend Kendare Blake’s Buffyverse books if you’re looking for something that reads exactly like the Buffy TV show. I recently read The Babysitter’s Coven by Kate Williams, and that’s packed with 90s references and has a feel somewhere between Buffy, Charmed and The Babysitters Club.


I love delving into different time periods in my reading and writing, and I’m delighted that readers seem to agree with me.

Amy McCaw is a YA author and YouTuber. She’s the author of the Mina and the Undead series, YA murder mysteries set in 1995 New Orleans. She also co-curated the A Taste of Darkness horror anthology with Maria Kuzniar. Her main interests are books, movies and the macabre, and her novels have elements of all of these. Unsurprisingly, she’s a huge Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan and has gone to conventions to meet James Marsters more times than she cares to admit.


If you want to talk with Amy about books or 90s movies, you can find her on Twitter, Instagram, Tiktok and YouTube.

Mina and the Cult, the last in the trilogy, is published in the UK by UCLan Publishing on 4th April 2024

Trigger

An unflinching verse novel about a teenage boy who is sexually assaulted in an attack he struggles to remember.

Jay wakes in a park, beaten and bruised. He can’t remember what happened the night before. But he has suspicions.

Jay realises he has been raped — and that his ex-boyfriend may have been involved.

Counselling sessions cause Jay to question everything. His new friend Rain encourages his pursuit of justice. Jay wants answers, but his search will lead him down a perilous path.

Warning: sexual assault 

Little Island

TRIGGER is not an easy read by any means, definitely YA+, I read it in one sitting with my heart in my mouth. It is definitely one to spark conversations but also definitely one that requires talking about because it could bring up a lot of feelings for some readers. It ends with hope but isn’t unrealistic about how such a traumatic event affects a victim’s life in an ongoing way. If you’re feeling up to an emotional rollercoaster in verse, it is a gripping read!

I was given the opportunity to ask the author, C.G. Moore, a few questions:

Your very first novel was prose and then your second was verse, as is TRIGGER. What prompted you to try verse? How different is the process?

Both TRIGGER and GUT FEELINGS are deeply personal novels. When I was having a relaxing weekend in the Lake District, everything clicked into place and I started to write GUT FEELINGS it in verse. It was all very natural. Initially, I tried to write TRIGGER in prose but as someone who was a victim of sexual assault, I often felt like I couldn’t talk about it and there was shame attached to my experience (like I had brought it upon myself which is obviously not the case). I couldn’t find my voice in the moment so when approaching TRIGGER, it became clear that it needed to be in verse with each word carefully weighted. Writing in free verse is a massive challenge and it has its limitations but it makes you hyperaware of the words on the page and how they contribute to the plot, characterisation and narrative of the story.

Do you think you’ll only write in verse now or does it depend on what you’re writing about?

I have no plans to write in verse going forward although I am sure I’ll return to it at some point. With that said, I have a lot of ideas that play with form so we’ll see. For now though, I’m focused on prose.

TRIGGER is, unsurprisingly given the title, about a very emotive subject. How did you balance writing an impactful story with the potential for sensationalising or downplaying the ongoing impact of rape on the victim?

There are also different ways to approach subjects like this but I think that inferring the rape was more important than showing it and making it somewhat gratuitous. I wanted consent to be one of the key focuses of the story, and for the book to facilitate discussion and engagement around this. The main character’s – Jay’s – experiences are not my experiences. It was definitely a challenge tapping into the emotions of my past without letting those memories and experiences seep into my writing. One of the key messages I wanted readers to take away was to think about what consent means and how it might apply to them in their own lives. I was also conscious of the audience I was writing for and ensuring the reading experience allowed them to explore some issues that are often considered taboo, but doing so in a way that was sensitive and considered.

In your author’s note you mention that you had similar experiences yourself. Do you think that made it harder or easier to write this?

I think it was easier to write than GUT FEELINGS in some ways. I’d already written a verse novel and although I won the KPMG Children’s Books Ireland Book of the Year Award, I didn’t feel any pressure or concern in being compared to GUT FEELINGS. I had a clear idea of Jay’s experience, what happened and how the story would turn out which made it easier to write.

Was the ending different when you first wrote it or did you know what you wanted to happen (if you can answer that without spoilers)?

The ending was always the same but I wrote Jay as having a gun but agents found it a bit sensationalist and unrealistic, and I agreed.

Who, do you think, is the target audience of TRIGGER?

I would say readers aged 13+ but although it’s considered Young Adult, it shouldn’t stop adults picking it up. I wrote in a way that could bridge that gap and appeal to both audiences without patronising teenage readers.

What are you working on at the moment?

I can’t say too much about it but it will definitely be told in prose. It’s a YA “coming out” story with a massive twist.

C.G. Moore

C. G. (or Chris) Moore is the published author of three books. His second book – Gut Feelings – explored his own experiences living with chronic illness and was nominated for the Yoto Carnegie Medal and won the KPMG Children’s Books Ireland Book of the Year Award 2022. His new book – Trigger – is inspired by his own experiences of sexual assault and looks at consent. Chris has also contributed a poem to Our Rights – an anthology endorsed by Amnesty International. He previously taught on the BA and MA in Publishing programmes at the University of Central Lancashire. When Chris isn’t writing, he can be found walking his Jack Tzu, Lola, baking or caffeinating at his local coffee shop.

Jamie

A beautiful and uplifting story from L.D. Lapinski, author of The Strangeworlds Travel Agency, about how to make your own place when the world doesn’t think you fit anywhere.

Jamie Rambeau is a happy 11-year-old non-binary kid who likes nothing better than hanging out with their two best friends Daisy and Ash. But when the trio find out that in Year Seven they will be separated into one school for boys and another for girls, their friendship suddenly seems at risk.

And when Jamie realises no one has thought about where they are going to go, they decide to take matters into their own hands, and sort it all out once and for all.

https://www.ldlapinski.com/jamiebook
cover illustration by Harry Woodgate

I adored L.D. Lapinski’s debut (trilogy) about the STRANGEWORLDS TRAVEL AGENCEY, and when their next title was announced I was surprised by how different it was as I’d already pigeonholed them as a fantasy/adventure author (sorry…though I am enjoying their return to fantasy in ARTEZANS: THE FORGOTTEN MAGIC, publishing soon!). Last year JAMIE was published and I adored it equally but differently. To celebrate JAMIE being one year old, and to kick of LGBT+ History Month in the UK, I have a wonderful personal guest post from L.D. which explains how JAMIE came to be:

How old were you when you first saw a character in a book who reminded you of yourself? Or are you still waiting to find them?

I was at university, aged nineteen, when I first picked up a book with an LGBTQ+ cast, as part of an eye-opening English Literature module that would go on to change my creative and personal life in ways I’m sure the tutors didn’t anticipate. It was as though a curtain had been pulled back, and suddenly all the hidden workings of my life were accessible, in a university library.

I grew up under a law known commonly as Section 28 – a legislation brought into effect in 1988 (the year after I was born), and not retracted until 2003 (the year I left Year Eleven). This meant that I grew up in an educational universe where LGBTQ+ people were not spoken about. Literally, teachers and librarians could have lost their jobs for doing so. Being queer was something to be bullied about, a stain on your personality, and bullies would not even be told what they were doing was wrong. LGBTQ+ characters in fiction were like unicorns – probably not real and certainly no one seemed to have ever seen one.

By the time I started writing children’s books, the disappointment I felt over the lack of representation in my own past had turned into creative fuel. I wanted to make up for the fact that I’d never seen a queer kid at magic school, or solving crimes, or having an adventure. Whilst there were now some LGBTQ+ books for young people on the shelves, they were often romances, or angst-ridden tales with tragic endings… I didn’t want to write those stories (though I often read them – other people are better at those!). I wanted to write the magical adventures and school-based dramas I’d loved as a kid, but starring young people like me.

I needed to be brave. My first series, The Strangeworlds Travel Agency is queer in a blink-and-you-miss-it way. Both of the lead characters are queer, but the story is driven by magic and mystery, and the characters just happen to be LGBTQ+. I was, and still am, extremely pleased with it – I got queer kids to go to magic school, and the world was still standing! By the time the last book came out in 2023, there was a wealth of LGBTQ+ literature for kids and young people. We were making up for lost time, and we were putting ourselves into the stories we had never had.

But despite these victories, it’s no secret that in the past few years, right-wing driven opinion pieces and social media rage-for-clicks have fuelled an increase in transphobia in the UK. As a non-binary person, I have felt increasingly unsafe, fearful for my friends, and outraged on behalf of the young people being let down by our government. I had been asked by my wonderful publisher to write another fantasy trilogy. I sat down to write it.

And JAMIE came out of my keyboard, instead.

JAMIE is a joyful story, about a non-binary kid being asked to choose between a secondary school for boys, and another for girls. It’s a story of friends coming together to raise awareness, of found family supporting one another, and of non-binary happiness. JAMIE is not a true story – I went to a mixed secondary, but as a kid who had never heard the term non-binary and just thought I was performing my gender wrong for decades. But JAMIE is still intensely personal. I wrote it as proof that trans happy endings exist. That there are adults out there who will listen and take young people seriously. That changes can be made, even if it’s one small step at a time.

Some of the events in JAMIE are entirely fictionalised. Some artistic liberties have been
taken with paperwork – and others are no longer accurate due to governmental changes since it
was written. But the support and joy are real. The story can be real, and it will be real. I am
writing it into existence. I have to make it exist. I owe it to myself as an eleven year old, who
never saw themselves in a story. I have written them a happy ending.

And I believe it will come true.

L.D. Lapinski

When We Become Ours

A groundbreaking and must-read young adult fiction anthology written by adoptees of all backgrounds, for adoptees, that inclusively represents diverse experiences of youth adoptees, edited by award-winning authors Shannon Gibney and Nicole Chung. Includes a letter from the editors as well as a foreword by Rebecca Carroll and an afterword by JaeRan Kim.

Two teens take the stage and find their voice . . .

A girl learns about her heritage and begins to find her community . . .

A sister is haunted by the ghosts of loved ones lost . . .

There is no universal adoption experience, and no two adoptees have the same story. This anthology for teens edited by Shannon Gibney and Nicole Chung contains a wide range of powerful, poignant, and evocative stories in a variety of genres.

These tales from fifteen bestselling, acclaimed, and emerging adoptee authors genuinely and authentically reflect the complexity, breadth, and depth of adoptee experiences.

This groundbreaking collection centers what it’s like growing up as an adoptee. These are stories by adoptees, for adoptees, reclaiming their own narratives. 

With stories by: Kelley Baker, Nicole Chung, Shannon Gibney, Mark Oshiro, MeMe Collier, Susan Harness, Meredith Ireland, Mariama J. Lockington, Lisa Nopachai, Stefany Valentine, Matthew Salesses, Lisa Wool-Rim Sjöblom, Eric Smith, Jenny Heijun Wills, Sun Yung Shin.

Foreword by Rebecca Carroll. Afterword by Jae Ran Kim, MSW, PhD

Harper Teen

Today we have a guest post from one of the editors of this new anthology, Shannon Gibney:

It is a very strange thing to never see yourself represented, and then when you do, to
not even recognize yourself.

And yet, this is often the experience of the more than five million American adoptees,
and millions more around the globe.

Don’t get me wrong: adoptees and “orphans” are well-represented in American popular
culture – especially in KidLit. From Harry Potter to Loki to Peter Parker, adoptees are
imbued with magic powers, enact elaborate schemes to seek revenge, and generally
misunderstood by all the “normal” non-orphans and non-adoptees around them. Our
lack of an origin story is seen as a mysterious advantage, something that not only sets
us apart from mundane others, but also conveys a sense of specialness, an ethos that
something else of consequence (not just to us, but the world) is buried and waiting to be
uncovered.

In real life, of course, things are different.

We feel strange in a culture that so deeply values at least the appearance of a
seamless individual or family history, not having any. And as a result of this condition,
we are unable to prepare for or even acknowledge any troubling health issues (such as
breast cancer in my family) that may be hereditary.

If we are transracially adopted, that is, a BIPOC child adopted into a white family, we
may keenly feel the loss of not just our first family and community, but also our culture
and racial identity.

All of these losses are rarely if ever present in mainstream narratives of adoption –
whether they are imaginary or real. Adoption is presented as an uncomplicated and
beneficent act on the part of the adopters, and the positives that adoptees gain
(economic mobility, educational stability, etc.) are seen to eclipse any possible
negatives.

And of course, this is because the vast majority of these stories are written by non-
adoptees. They are written by people who have never felt strange in their own bodies
because they don’t look like anyone in their family/school/town. They are penned by
people who never had to process the loss of a first mother’s embrace as a baby, the
lack of that primary first attachment present in every cell of their body.

Historically, these stories have been written by white adoptive parents, either
intentionally or not intentionally putting forth a very different view of the adoptee
experience, occupying a very different location in the adoption triad. But lately, many of
these stories are being written by non-adopted BIPOC writers, many of whom use
troubling tropes of adoption as shorthand (this character is mentally ill because of
adoption; due to her blackness in this white family, this secondary character
demonstrates the cluelessness of the white protagonists; etc.).

When this is the territory of adoptee stories, as it has been for generations, it becomes
clear why it is absolutely necessary for adoptees to write our own. And why a book like
When We Become Ours, the first anthology of stories by adoptees about adoptees, is
resonating so deeply with adoptee readers and allies.

Edited by myself and Nicole Chung, this collection features sci-fi, fantasy, horror,
straight literary, and even graphic stories from fifteen of the best adoptee writers today.
Our writers are straight and queer; youngish, oldish, and middleish; cis-gender and
gender queer; Black, Korean American, mixed, Latina, Chinese American, Taiwanese
American, and Native American; and hail from all over North America and the world (we
have one contributor who is Canadian, and another who lives in New Zealand). Their
stories are as broad and inclusive as their experiences. And as adoptees, they each
have an embodied understanding of living as an adoptee in a world that has little idea
what this is actually like.

All of this turns out to be very important, in terms of how readers engage with the
stories. Although the book has only been out for two months, the response from
adoptee communities has been overwhelming. I had one Chinese American adoptee tell
me she never expected to see herself in her favorite genre: sci-fi. She called the
experience, “mind-blowing.” A group of transracial adoptees at the same event told me
that although they appreciated the honesty and craftsmanship of many adoptee
memoirs, the emotional rawness of this genre was just too close. But in the imaginative
realms of short stories by and about adoptees, they could confront some difficult truths
of their lives far more easily.

We are in an era of incredible adoptee-authored cultural output, and I am here for all of
it. Adoptees telling our own stories, on our own terms, in our own voices is transforming
inner and outer landscapes: our own, and those of the people we love.

Adoption — the institution, and the stories we tell about it – will never be the same.

Shannon Gibney is a writer, educator, and activist in Minneapolis. Her newest book is
When We Become Ours: A YA Adoptee Anthology (HarperTeen, 2023), co-edited with
Nicole Chung.

Catch Your Death

Trapped in a mansion with a murderer and a family of liars – how would you survive? A mind-blowing thriller from the author of THIS BOOK KILLS, perfect for fans of Holly Jackson and Karen McManus.

When three girls are stranded at the grand Bramble Estate in the middle of a snowstorm, they stumble into a murder plot. Someone has poisoned wealthy Emily Vanforte in the middle of a family dinner – which means Devi, Lizzie and Jayne are trapped in the house with a killer and a mystery to solve. With knives under floorboards, vanishing guns and secret passages in the walls, no one is safe and everyone is a suspect. But in a house of liars and corruption, will the girls save themselves…or learn to fit in?

Usborne

Ravena Guron’s debut YA, THIS BOOK KILLS, was a brilliantly fun murder mystery set in a school with lots of twisty turns and only a slight suspension of disbelief needed to carry you along to the big reveal and I’d highly recommend it…CATCH YOUR DEATH however, is a million times better than TBK and I implore you to read it immediately!

I don’t want to say a lot about the plot because I don’t want to spoil it for you, which means this is a very short review, but the 3 perspectives are brilliantly rounded characters with distinctive voices (really hard to do) and I honestly gasped aloud at a couple of points, as well as laughing because there is a great use of humour. Definitely add this to your Christmas wishlist as, although it isn’t even remotely festive, it is a perfect read for a cold day.

Ravena Guron

Huge thanks to Usborne for sending me a review copy.

CATCH YOUR DEATH publishes today!

Babushka

‘A little babushka is made when you’re young and something happens to you that leaves a scar…’

Cerys Williams has swapped her village in the Welsh Valleys for art college in London and the spare room in glamorous Auntie Wyn’s flat. Cerys knows there’s more out there for her in the world; it’s the year 2000 – she definitely doesn’t have to just get married and have babies and wear beige and cook stews for the rest of her life, even if Mam thinks she should.

But Cerys’s London is not glossy or cool or sophisticated, despite what Adept, her favourite magazine, has told her. It’s lonely and overwhelming and confusing. Until, that is, she meets him

The prequel to Toxic. A coming-of-age novel about love – the love you think you know and the love you never realised you had, all along.

UCLan Publishing

I’m reading BABUSHKA at the moment and am feeling very emotional about the concept of us having babushkas inside us like nesting dolls, reacting to events of today in your subconscious in different ways because of personal experiences and traumas. I was also a 90s teen (went to uni in 2000) so a lot of it is very familiar, I’d love to hear what modern teens make of it. Natasha Devon is a proving to be a great writer of thoughtful and thought provoking YA. Another brilliant YA author, Kate Weston (you must read MURDER ON A SCHOOL NIGHT, it is a hilarious and gripping and maddening all at once thriller), did a Q&A with her for a Waterstones event and I’m very happy to be able to share that with your here:

What was the inspiration behind Babushka?

Babushka is the prequel to my previous novel Toxic. My protagonist Cerys is the mother of Llewella, who is the protagonist in Toxic. At some point it occurred to me that Cerys and I would have been teenagers at the same time – the turn of the century. I wanted to write what about life was like for young women at the millennium, when we’d lived through the kind of inch-deep, Spice Girls inspired feminism of the 90s but were still contending with things like lads’ mags and celebrity magazines which put big red rings around women’s ‘flaws’. I wanted to make the point that some of the things Cerys grapples with – like consent, victim blaming and misogyny weren’t invented by social media. Sure, these problems have shapeshifted for the modern era but they were just as prevalent in the lives of women throughout the ages.

Where did the title come from?

Right at the beginning of the novel, someone says to Cerys that we all have previous versions of ourselves that live inside us, like Russian dolls. In Russia, these are called matryoshka dolls but elsewhere in the world people call them Babushka dolls. I went with Babushka as the title because it’s also the name of a track by Kate Bush, and what with ‘Toxic’ being a Britney track, I thought it would be fun if both my novels had titles which were songs by iconic women.

When during the process of writing and planning Toxic or after that, did you realise that you wanted to write about Loo’s mum’s story?

When people first read Toxic, some said they were surprised by how ‘hands off’ Cerys apparently was as a parent. It’s obvious Cerys really cares about her daughter, but she doesn’t try to micromanage her life in the way that another mother might. I wanted to explore why Cerys became that way and in my head it was all to do with how her mother was (the polar opposite – always interfering and nagging, or at least that’s how Cerys sees it). That’s how the idea for Babushka originally took root.

What’s your process when you’re writing? Do you plot or do you let your characters grow as you go?

Babushka was a very different writing process from Toxic. With Toxic, even though it’s also a character-driven novel, I already had a really strong idea of how the plot was going to play out. With Babushka, I had fleshed Cerys out almost entirely in my head before I even put pen to paper (or finger to keypad, technically), so the story really evolved through the prism of her. It’s fitting, really, because at one point Cerys tells another character that she’s never felt that she didn’t know who she was, just that she was in the wrong place.

You absolutely nailed the vibe or the women’s magazine in 2000 – especially with things like the circle of shame around someone’s cellulite – do you think that culture is in anyway improved? Or has it just moved on to a different format? 

Misogyny shapeshifts as patriarchy uses the considerable resources at its disposal to protect itself. Some of the things that used to happen in media at the millennium would be considered unacceptable now, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t found a different way to do the same thing (straightforward fat-or-skinny shaming has now become ‘concern for health’ for example. Pointing out someone’s flaws just for the hell of it has become ‘aren’t they brave for going out like that?’).

What I do think is great is how much more of a breadth of content young women have to choose from, now. There are truly revolutionary content creators, TV series and magazine-style articles that you can get at the click of a button. There also isn’t the sense of ‘everyone’ watching the same thing and therefore absorbing the same beauty paradigms and life advice that we had with, say, Friends or Sex & The City. 

There’s a conversation around page 40 between Wyn and Cerys where they discuss whether you would want to be remembered as you are or with certain perceived imperfections changed or “improvements” made. I liked how the conversation focused on “the real you” but avoided mentioning anything about a person’s personality, focusing solely on looks. I imagine this was on purpose because this was very much how things were perceived back then but do you think in 2023 that we’ve moved on from that? Or do you think looks still form the basis of how we’re remembered as a person.

That conversation is based on a thought I have all the time – Does a painting or a sculpture capture the essence of a person better – because artists can draw out certain otherwise intangible qualities – or is a photograph more accurate? And is even a photograph a ‘real’ representation of you when it can’t show how you move, what you sound like or how you smell?

I think in 2023 we’re all David Bowie (bear with me on this one). He talked about how there was a version of him he had curated and sent out into the world and that was what his fans were responding to, not the real him. So there’s a lack of actual connection, there. I think in the age of social media we all do that. We create an avatar of who we wished we were and send it out into the internet to interact with other people on our behalf. And that’s part of the reason there’s been an epidemic of loneliness because in order to truly connect with someone they need to see the whole you, perceived ‘imperfections’ and all.

How do you think the beauty industry has changed since 2001 and what impact do you think that’s having on young people?

Again, the answer is different depending on what end of the telescope you are looking at. On the one hand, we’re seeing more diversity in media and advertising and a greater breadth to the understanding of what it means to be beautiful than ever before and that’s to be celebrated. On the other, the beauty industry has continued to create areas of the face and body for women to feel apologetic about. When I was young the message was ‘be as thin as possible’, which was problematic for a number of reasons and left many people in my generation with eating disorders and other enduring issues. But now there are all these obscure beauty trends dictating exactly what shape and size every single millimetre of your body should be.

We’re also seeing the resurgence of hellish fashion trends we endured in the early 2000s like low rise jeans (just no), so-called ‘heroin chic’ and really thin eyebrows. Although not strictly relevant I do just want to mention to any young person reading this that is thinking of overplucking their eyebrows that, unless you are in the small percentage of people who are genetically blessed, THEY DO NOT GROW BACK.

Do you think that things can get better in terms of the way that the media and society views women and the things that are expected? Or do you think the list of things that we’re disapproved of for will just get longer?

You have to believe it can get better or you’ll just go and live in a hole in the mud somewhere and cry.

I have noticed two things about the women in their early twenties I work with at LBC that are very different from my generation. 1. They’re not afraid to take up space. Nothing about their body language suggests they are trying to make themselves smaller. And 2. They’re so supportive of one another. When I was in my twenties the message to women was ‘there’s a limited slice of the pie for you so every other woman who might have her eye on it is a threat’. A lot of us ended up very ‘pick me’ as a result (and I include myself in this – I’m a Pick Me Girl in recovery). Young women now seem to be all about celebrating each other and raising each other up, which is wonderful.

I want to talk about Darsh a bit without any spoilers. It feels like it would have been really easy to make him into a complete bastard but there’s far more subtle things that he does that are in the guise of protecting her or ‘loving’ her. How did you come up with his character?

I’ve learned through experience that the people who are going to treat us badly in life don’t announce themselves with a giant neon sign saying ‘HEY! I’M REALLY TOXIC AND I’M GOING TO MAKE YOUR LIFE UNBEARABLE!’. If they did it would be really easy to avoid them. The red flags are much subtler, in reality, and therefore easy to miss or overlook. It also had to be believable that someone as clever and independent minded as Cerys would fall for Darsh. Like most f**kboys, Darsh is really charming, exciting, handsome and a little bit mysterious.

I also learned writing Toxic (which is also features a dysfunctional relationship, albeit a platonic one) that creating a good story means it would make sense if told from the perspective of any of the characters. People aren’t generally badly behaved or mean for no reason – There’s always a journey that’s brought them to that point. 

What’s next? Are you working on anything you can share with us at the moment?

I’m in the very early ideas stages for another novel but I have no idea if it’ll ever see the light of shelves at this moment. In the meantime, I’m doing my ‘day’ job of visiting three schools a week delivering talks and conducting research on mental health, writing my columns for Teach Secondary and doing my weekly radio show on LBC.

Bad Magic

Experience Skulduggery Pleasant as never before – in this fully original graphic novel brought vibrantly to life in full colour.

A small town in the middle of Ireland, a string of unexplained deaths and a monster on the loose. Better call in the experts.

When Skulduggery Pleasant and Valkyrie Cain drive into Termoncara, they discover a town with a dark past and a people haunted by their own secrets. There is a creature stalking the streets – a creature who delights in cruelty, who feeds off the little hatreds, who grows stronger with every drop of blood spilled.

Horror and mystery collide in an original graphic novel by Derek Landy, P. J. Holden, Matt Soffe, Rob Jones and Pye Parr.

Skulduggery Pleasant

What I love most about the Skulduggery Pleasant books is the humour. Without it the darkness would be overwhelming, but it also doesn’t undermine the intensity of some harrowing scenes! I wasn’t sure how much an illustrated fight scene (because, let’s face it, there are a lot of fight scenes) would keep that balance and worried the violence might become the most important part of the story…but it still works! Derek Landy’s script was limned by P.J. Holden, coloured by Matt Soffe and lettered by Rob Jones (I must give thanks to the excellent Comics Review blog post about it for this detail).

Be warned though, it is pitched older than the first novels, there is a 15+ rating on the back cover.

You can read a sample on the Skulduggery Pleasant website to get a taste for it. I’m pleased it wasn’t an adaptation but a whole new story, quite an unexpected but very current storyline about intolerance & guilt that is pretty hard going but very satisfying!

I was given a copy by Harper Collins to review but also knew that I’d have a few students desperate to read it so ordered it for school…my biggest Skulduggery fans absolutely loved it. They inhaled the book and want to see more of Jamie. One said it was too short but another said that they really liked how fast paced it was and found it even more un-put-down-able than the original novels. They then had the disappointment of realising that it is the only one (so far) and they couldn’t move straight onto the next book like they had with the series! The other brilliant thing about it though is that it has tempted some students that have been put off reading the novels because they get quite long, it can definitely live as a ‘stand-alone’ with no prior knowledge necessary.

Bad Magic is out now!

Only This Beautiful Moment

2019 – Moud is an out gay teen living in Los Angeles with his distant father, Saeed. When Moud gets the news that his grandfather in Iran is dying, he accompanies his dad to Tehran, where the revelation of family secrets will force Moud into a new understanding of his history, his culture, and himself.
1978 – Saeed is an engineering student with a promising future ahead of him in Tehran. But when his parents discover his involvement in the country’s burgeoning revolution, they send him to safety in America, a country Saeed despises. And even worse – he’s forced to live with the American grandmother he never knew existed.
1939 – Bobby, the son of a calculating Hollywood stage mother, lands a coveted MGM studio contract. But the fairy-tale world of glamour he’s thrust into has a dark side…

Set against the backdrop of Tehran and Los Angeles, this tale of intergenerational trauma and love is an ode to the fragile bonds of family, the hidden secrets of history and all the beautiful moments that make us who we are today.

Little Tiger
Cover illustration by Safiya Zerrougui

Abdi Nazemian has won numerous awards for his writing in America but this is the first of his books to be published in the UK, so when Little Tiger offered me a review copy I thought it would be worth giving it a go! The story is heartbreaking and soul-mending all at the same time, as intergenerational relationships are shattered, openly discussed, and repaired. I found Saeed’s story the hardest to read, full of emotional gut punches, but they all have moments of happiness and sadness (and realisations about how unfair the world is). It is a thoughtful and thought provoking look at how badly “ordinary people” are let down by their governments and that it is too easy to judge someone (or a group of people) for something we know little about. Moud’s “Peak White Gay” boyfriend is a brilliant foil for a lot of reflection about culture and family. The voices are wonderful and I loved the use of Iranian poetry and references to Persian food. I hope more of Abdi’s work is picked up by UK publishers because this one is well worth a read.

Photo credit: Mandy Vahabzadeh

Only This Beautiful Moment is published in the UK by Little Tiger on the 9th November.

Thank you for the review copy!