Category Archives: Ya

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!

Girls

A determined girl gives up on kissing a frog.
A fearless heroine comes face-to-face with a not-so Big Bad Wolf.
A monstrous princess, held captive on a deserted island, yearns to break free.

Within this book are seven famous fairy tales turned into enchanting, inspiring and sometimes hair-raising stories for today’s world, about girls with their own dreams and desires. These are no damsels in distress, but real young women of flesh and blood – who certainly don’t need rescuing.

Pushkin Press

Annet Schaap writes in Dutch but Laura Watkinson has done a brilliant job of translating her work into English for Pushkin Press: I’ve read and loved both the Carnegie shortlisted LAMPIE in 2020 and this, her self illustrated collection of short retellings of fairy tales. I loved the sketches, they suit the text perfectly and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it on the [was Kate Greenaway] awards list for illustration next year, so I am pleased to be able to share an extract (click here) and accompanying illustration.

Rumpelstiltskin

The stories are almost instantly recognisable and put a brilliant spin on how the girls could/would/should behave in the various situations. The book was over far too soon!

Annet Schaap

Thank you Pushkin Press for sending me a copy for review, GIRLS is out now.

Black History Month UK 2023

I said on twitter (‘X’) that I wasn’t going to do a thread of favourite books for Black History Month this year because I’m trying to wean myself off it (but also it may well have imploded by the end of October…) but then I felt bad because there have been some real gems this year! So I decided to put a month’s worth in a blog post (each picture should have a link to more details)…

The eagle eyed amongst you might notice that there are only 30 books there and 31 days in the month of October…that’s because my last recommendation is in recognition of this year’s official theme of SALUTING OUR SISTERS…that you simply must read (and push on younger readers) everything by the inimitable Catherine Johnson, Patrice Lawrence, Nadia Shireen, and Malorie Blackman (even if they are all terrible at updating their websites 😅)!

There are loads of resources on the Black History Month UK website, including a reading list of books for grownups.

While it is still accessible, have a look through my old lists for some more faves!

But also, Matt and I have both moved over to Bluesky for some fresh air, so come find us.

You Could Be So Pretty

BEAUTY COMES AT A PRICE. AND GIRLS MUST PAY.

In Belle and Joni’s world there are two options for girls:

One, follow the rules of the Doctrine like Belle: apply your Mask, work hard to be crowned at the Ceremony, be a Pretty.

Or two, fight the rules like Joni: leave your face bare, work hard to escape to the Education, be an Objectionable.

But maybe there is a third option…
Change the rules. Reclaim your power. If you can…

What would you choose?

Warning – this novel deals with issues that some readers may find upsetting, including references to pornography and sexual assault.

Usborne Books

This book made me angry. Proper, impotent rage at how horrifyingly possible this scenario is. I don’t think words could do it justice, you just need to read it, and then hand it to every teen you know.

I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to ask Holly Bourne some questions!

I feel like this is essential reading for teens, if only we could put it in the hands of everyone in a UK secondary school. What would you say to encourage boys to pick it up as well?

I do think this book would help male readers have a sense of enormous empathy for just what girls put themselves through each day in order to look like a girl. I can imagine it’s quite shocking to know the extent of the pressures their female friends are under, and how they probably respond to that pressure invisibly and effortlessly as they create their faces each morning. Beauty standards are a vital part of feminism to understand because they stunt girls’ confidence to fight for a better world, so any boy wanting to be an ally needs to have a grasp on what they are, and how they serve those in power. The book also looks at the more toxic ideas around what masculinity is too, and would hopefully give them food for thought in their own lives too.

Which character came to you most easily? Was it always from the dual POV?

I definitely found Belle easier to write because I was a slave to beauty standards for most of my life, and still struggle to show my ‘raw’ face to the world. Even just a decade ago, I used to spend almost two works just getting ready for work each morning – applying a full face of makeup, GHDing my hair into ringlets, mashing my feet into heels which has caused lasting podiatric damage. Since I found feminism in my late-twenties, I’ve definitely eased up on myself and read so much about the contradictions and confusions of feminism and the concept of ‘beauty’ – but I’m still nowhere as near as brave as Joni. I loved writing Joni’s parts, and feel I’m braver as a result, and go out looking like myself more often.  

Did you know from the beginning that it would have to end as it did (no spoilers)?

I’d say the book has a typically ‘Holly Bourne’ ending – in that it’s not the ending you want, but it’s the ending my readers need. I always knew what the afterword would be and say, though I still sobbed while writing it.

Have you thought about what Belle and Joni do next? Would you write a sequel?

I’m very excited for what they’d do next and feel the world of The Doctrine certainly needs to watch out. However, their adventures are likely to remain off page for now. I’m currently writing a new YA, away from the world of The Doctrine, and don’t think I’ll return for a while. I always welcome fan-fic though!

All of your books are fiercely feminist and pretty rage-inducing. I imagine that while you’re writing it could be quite emotionally overwhelming, how do you enable yourself to switch off and calm down?

Weirdly, I calm down by consuming ridiculously trashy and problematic media that goes against all the messages of my books. For some reason, I’m able to hold my feminist ideals and bring myself to the brink of sanity writing about the wrongs of this world and how rage-inducing they are…and then I’m quite happy to curl up on the sofa and watch some horrendous reality TV show. 

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

I’m just finishing I’m A Fan by Sheena Patel and I’m absolutely loving it – although I’m not sure that’s the right word for that book. It’s a very claustrophobic funny, dark, and lyrical exploration of parasocial relationships and I’m wincing with each page. The narrator is deranged but I kind of love her. Her takes on social media and inauthenticity and race and abusive power dynamics are just gaspingly insightful. 

Overemotional by David Fenne

Steven is one unlucky closeted sixth former. Whenever he has a strong emotion, be that happiness or sadness, weird things happen. Like, potentially dangerous things. Recently, he kissed another boy for the first time and . . . the boy’s head literally exploded. Steven flees to the miserable town of Grunsby-on-Sea, determined not to hurt anyone else with his “Emomancy”.

With a best friend as determined as Freya, it is impossible to stay hidden for long though, especially when she realises Steven might be in danger after a mysterious organisation called DEMA start asking questions about him. Where Freya goes, her boyfriend Marcus and American friend Troy soon follow. Together, they are determined to find out more about this organisation and what “neutralising” someone like Steven might mean.

By chance, Steven meets a handsome stranger who claims to share his powers and who offers to teach Steven how to control them. But who is he in relation to DEMA? What on earth happened to make Grunsby-on-Sea so lethargic a town? And can you really trust a charismatic stranger you meet in a café bathroom?

Ink Road
Overemotional cover artwork by Jacqueline Li

I’ve been neglecting the blog over the last few months, but what better to come back to it with than a Q&A with a brilliant debut author, David Fenne. Overemotional, a UKYA queer fantasy set in the most boring town in England, is great fun.

What aspect of Overemotional came to you first?

The concept of the powers came first. I had been rolling the idea around in my head based on conversations I’d had with my husband about how his anxiety manifests. I thought emotion-based powers were an interesting concept to explore, but they would just result in someone just trying to be happy. So I thought, “What if it were reversed?” What would the pursuit of misery do to a person? Almost immediately, Steven’s voice began to form in my head.

How soon in the process of creating the story did you decide to start with a head exploding?

Actually, VERY early on. I wanted something to kick off the plot in an explosive manner … literally! It’s such an extreme scenario, especially after what was a formative first queer experience, that sets up his character arc for the rest of the book. The initial concept was slightly different to how it plays out in the finished book, but I think this way is great at catapulting Steven back in the closet and rasing his walls at the start of the book.

Who was your favourite character to write as?

I find Steven’s voice the easiest because he’s the most similar to me, but I love Troy. He’s so earnest, polite, and optimistic in everything he does, and his fish-out-of-water point of view (being an American in the UK) is a great comedic vein to mine. He’s such a golden retriever that you can’t help but love him.

Writing comedy is notoriously difficult, but the voices were full of humour, was it difficult to balance jokes with tension?

Sometimes. My background is in comedy, being an improv comedian, so humour comes quite naturally during the writing process. I never wanted the humour to eclipse sincerity, though. There are times when it can break the tension or subvert an expectation or trope, but I think people are a little exhausted with “Marvel-quips” that don’t allow moments of genuine sincerity to land. The book gets quite tense at points, so I made sure jokes or funny situations (like throwing breast pumps at a monster) don’t entirely diminish from the tension built up.

Have you thought about what Steven & his friends do next? Or have you finished with their story and moved on to something else?

Well, funny you should ask! I’ve just handed in book 2 in the OVEREMOTIONAL Trilogy! The gang will be heading off to London for university, but not everything is as it seems . . .[CFi ed: I didn’t notice that it was first in a trilogy and I’m so pleased that we’ll meet them again a little older, with the new challenges of uni!]

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

I’m currently reading Murder on A School Night by Kate Weston and I am LOVING IT! It’s a laugh-out-loud funny murder mystery featuring death by period products. It’s so refreshing to have such an overtly feminist, period-positive voice in the YA scene. Did I mention it was funny? It’s VERY funny. Highly recommend to any fans of YA murder mysteries like Holly Jackson’s A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder or just anyone who fancies a good giggle.

A Calamity of Mannerings

‘It is a curse to be born a girl…’

Take a peek into the diary of Panth (never enquire as to her given name), a young woman knocking on the gilded door of adult life and high society. But kicking up one’s heels at the Cafe de Paris does not come easily to a girl navigating:

1. Poverty (even the genteel kind), thanks to her papa’s sad demise

2. A lack of any experience whatsoever with the opposite sex, of course not counting Freddy Spencer (and he wasn’t that sort of experience, anyhow) 3. Multiple sisters with ideas, a grandmother with opinions and one recalcitrant sheep

Panth knows there is more for her out in the world – it’s 1924, for goodness’ sake – and that could include swoonsome American with excellent teeth, Buck Buchanan. The question is – how in the name of Tatler is she to claim it?

A hilarious coming-of-age story for fans of I Capture the Castle and Bridgerton.

Published by UCLan

Cover illustration by Emma Block.

Joanna Nadin has such range, writing for the breadth of ages and tastes, always with humour, and hitting the spot every time. A CALAMITY OF MANNERINGS is her newest offering for teens/YA. I have to admit to having only dipped into it so far with other things having overtaken life lately, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to have a piece from her for the blog having loved everything of hers so far…

My 10 favourite coming-of-age YA novels

by Joanna Nadin

Inevitably, because of the age of the protagonists, so much of YA reads like a coming-of-age tale. Here, though, I’ve had to be pretty strict in order to get the number down to ten, with huge apologies for the myriad brilliant books I couldn’t fit in. 

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

This is a book I come back to time and time again when I’m teaching dialogue and the importance of final lines in chapters, but more than that: when I want to feel joyful. It’s a celebration of friendship and love between two Mexican-American boys, which blossoms in a summer of utter boredom. 

The Outsiders by SE Hinton

The original YA novel – written for, about and, incredibly, by a teenager. I cry at this tale of class conflict in 1960s America every time. Stay gold, Ponyboy. 

Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli 

The book before the hugely successful film Dear Simon, which charts sixteen-year-old Simon’s crush on Blue, what happens when one of his emails gets into the wrong hands, and asks the excellent question ‘shouldn’t straight people have to come out too?’

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan 

I could have picked any book by either author, but you get double bubble with this one, as well as the glorious Tiny Cooper, who is ‘very gay, and very proud’. The story of two boys with the same name whose lives are turned upside down when their paths cross. 

Heartstopper by Alice Oseman 

An opposites-attract love story with a difference, this is the brilliant graphic novel behind the brilliant TV series. A book that bursts with kindness and charm as overthinker and openly gay Charlie falls for apparently straight rugby player Nick.  

The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth

Rightly a cult novel now, this is the eye-opening story of orphan Cameron, who is sent to a gay conversion centre when her strict aunt finds out she’s in a relationship with her best friend. 

The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han

You’ve watched the TV series (and if not, why not?); now read the novel. Awkward fifteen-year-old Isabel spends every summer with brothers Conrad and Jeremiah, who have never shown her any interest other than friendship. But this year, something flips.  

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Unfolding in a series of letters to an unnamed ‘friend’, this 1990s-set book follows Charlie as he navigates high school, falls for one of his best friends, and struggles to come to terms with the death of his aunt. Hard-hitting and poignant, this deals with suicide and sexual abuse, but manages to be celebratory as well. And extra kudos for getting Rocky Horror into a novel.

 Love is for Losers by Wibke Brueggemann

One of only two books on this list that hasn’t yet made it onto the screen, but I have high hopes it will. I had the privilege of seeing this brilliant and hilarious novel at its conception, and have watched its protagonist – the bitter but witty Phoebe, who would rather marry herself than any of the boys at school – and its writer, Wibke, become incredible women. A queer love story that will have you howling with laughter as well as set your heart pinging. 

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

Not strictly YA (it was written for an adult audience), but it’s in my top five books ever, so I’m shoehorning it in. Also, it provided inspiration for A Calamity of Mannerings, with its historical setting and naïve but loveable narrator, Cassandra Mortmain, whose eccentric almost-aristocratic family have fallen on terribly hard times. 

Thank you Jo! And thank you Antonia for organising the piece for TeenLibrarian and a review copy for me.

A CALAMITY OF MANNERINGS is published this week!