Highlights of 2016 reading

Thanks to audiobooks, I read 144 books in 2016. (If you look at that list, some are still in progress—the problem with relying on the library; when I can’t finish an audiobook in the rental period, I have to wait months on hold for it to come back to me again. I’ve been waiting for The Passion of Dolssa to come back for something like 3 months.)

OBVIOUSLY, this list doesn’t include the books I’ve edited. OBVIOUSLY, you should read all my books! Check out the sidebar under Books I Edited, or go here for more info on Tu Books.

In more than a year of my outside-of-work reading being mostly on audio, I’ve found that audiobooks have an even worse diversity problem than print books. I’m not surprised by this; most of the books I publish haven’t gotten audio versions made, and that’s likely similar to the audiobook market as a whole. So my outside-of-work reading isn’t as diverse as I’d like it to be, but I’ve been able to read a lot more than I would have otherwise, given my aversion to reading finished books outside of work lately. (I work such long hours that I need a change-up when I’m off—I was reading maybe five books outside of work before picking up audiobooks.)

Here are some highlights, in no particular order, of my reading in 2016:

The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig

Adventure, magic, and traveling to alternate worlds and timelines. So much fun. Looking forward to the sequel this year.


The Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde

Clever, funny, and just what I needed to escape in November…

The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett

The last volume in the Tiffany Aching series, and Pratchett’s last book. It moved me. Pratchett had an ability to make you laugh at human foibles and poignantly appreciate the death of a character—and the author!—in such a unique way. This is a series I’ll return to again and again in the future, I think.

Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee

Historical fiction, set in San Francisco, 1906. If you don’t know why that’s significant, you need to read the book even more. Beautiful.

I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest

Listening to this hybrid book on audio made me not even realize what I was missing in the print version–a comic-with-the-book! But Mary Robinette Kowal’s narration created an audio experience of the comic parts that translated well from the page—I knew from the change in narration that it was was a story-within-a-story, and it all came together perfectly.

Better Nate than Ever by Tim Federle

One of the few audiobooks in which the narration by the author enhances the book rather than detracts from it. Few authors have a good reading voice, I’m sorry to say. (Few audiobook narrators are good in general, honestly.) So this excellent story was made even better via Tim Federle’s voice.


Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina

Speaking of excellent narrators, this narrator sounded like she was a Latina from Queens. That made this fascinating story about a teen girl in Queens just trying to make ends meet while worried about the Son of Sam murders even more fascinating. And man, I felt for Nora in her worries about her brother.

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

I didn’t realize till MONTHS later that this was narrated by Lin Manuel Miranda. And it didn’t stand out to me because his voice was seamlessly Aristotle’s. A beautiful book with top-notch narration.


My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

This book is HILARIOUS, especially if you know the real history of Lady Jane Grey. And the audiobook’s narrator REALLY gets this book. She’s great at all the accents, and growls and emotes and simpers and everything perfectly.

Starflight by Melissa Landers

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen some good space SF in YA. This was an enjoyable read.








Where do I even start?

I often discuss diverse books with people, especially white people, who need the “101”—parents and other people who love children who want to give them good diverse books but don’t know where to start. And that’s GREAT! Saying, “I don’t know what I don’t know” is the perfect place to start when you’re looking to bring diverse books into your home or classroom, because that means you’re ready to learn.

This is a general post collecting some of the things I’ve been telling people lately, so I can point them to it, especially as you start shopping for holiday gift-giving.

First of all: buy my books! Because that’s what I do: publish diverse middle grade and YA books.

And next, be aware of older, problematic books that perpetuate racist stereotypes. (For example, did you know that The Education of Little Tree was written by a member of the KKK? Stop sharing that book with kids! Study it if you must with the real history behind it, but too few people actually know the true history behind it and think it’s a “sweet story.”) Some resources from children’s literature scholars and reviewers to help you evaluate texts:

These resources also review books that have quality representation and are a great source to find new books.

Looking for book lists broken down by age group, topic, genre, and more? Check out the Lee & Low Pinterest board–we’ve got more than 100 boards dedicated to all sorts of topics, including anti-racism, #WeNeedDiverseBooks, teachers and educators, getting published, and book lists galore.

Lee & Low Pinterest board

But most importantly, what I want my friends to remember when they’re thinking about buying diverse books for their kids this holiday season: remember that authors of color are the least represented, and often get the least amount of publicity for their books. You have to look for them, but they’re well worth looking for. If you want to introduce your children to authentic voices from communities different from your own, look at the authors of the books you’re buying. Are they writing from their own experience? (Inasmuch as that experience pertains to racism, sexism, ablism, Islamophobia, etc., not to whether or not they’ve lived in space or used magic…) Look for ways to support authors of color.

This is not to say to shun white authors, who often do a very good job at writing about characters of color, but just asking people who are often in white-centric communities to thoughtfully evaluate the voices getting the most time and attention in their home or classroom, and look for ways to be more inclusive. Often for white people that means actively seeking out authors of color, because we’re rarely going to be running into them naturally in our often-segregated circles.

This post is a work in progress and I’ll add resources to it as I have time or discover new resources.




Fantastic yet realistic Columbus Day reading

Columbus Day is a complicated holiday—after all, we really shouldn’t be honoring a man who introduced the slave trade to the Americas for “discovering” the New World. His legacy includes the decimation of native Caribbean and American populations, a greedy search for gold that involved horrendous atrocities, and all sorts of other terrible things. Love him or hate him, though, Columbus’s first journey marked a huge turning point in history, and it’s one that young readers should know the true history of (at a developmentally appropriate level).

If you’re looking for a book for teens or mature middle readers that explores the complexity of the year 1492 in a fantastic setting, you should be reading Hammer of Witches by Shana Mlawski. The book is about a boy’s journey with his half genie friend to find his father, but he boards Columbus’s ship as part of that quest. And it includes a thorough author’s note detailing what we know and don’t know about that era, and what the author made up—a handy reference for use in schools. The only content warning I’d note for young readers is that the book doesn’t flinch away from the truth of what happened on Ayiti to the Taino—though it doesn’t show it in detail, there is reference to rape and other atrocities.

On the back cover of the book, we printed a short quote from award-winning and prolific Abenaki author Joseph Bruchac, but that isn’t all he had to say about it. Here’s his full review (my emphasis added):

This is a truly enjoyable energetic tale, a hero’s journey that is filled with as much magic—and wry humor—as I’ve ever seen crammed into one story. The narrator is intelligent, engaging, and grows throughout his New World voyage of personal discovery in as way that should make him truly sympathetic to any young adult  reader.

A more or less historical fantasy, it’s an altogether original take on one of the most important events in human history—the first voyage of Columbus. In fact, with its emphasis on a totally different point of view—that of a converted Jewish Christian in late 15th century Spain who finds out his father is actually an infamous Moorish warrior and magician—it turns history and storytelling upside down.

Interesting, though this is an action-packed fantasy filled with everything from genies and giant monsters to magical caves, it is grounded in real history.

In fact, anyone who reads this may end up learning more about this period than is taught in most classrooms—including about the complex Taino cultures of Ayiti.—Joseph Bruchac, author of Killer of Enemies and Code Talker

Read it today in e-book or hardcover! (Links to online booksellers on the book page I just linked, or you can ask your local bookseller to order it.)

Or sign up for our e-news, because there will be an announcement later this week about an upcoming sale on the hardcover…



Notes from SCBWI Winter Conference

I had such a great time talking to everyone at SCBWI Winter Conference this weekend and teaching the multicultural books breakout. In one of my sessions, we didn’t get to this part of my notes, and for the others, we had to go through the list quickly because it was so long.

One thing we talked about is how the industry itself is working on awareness and furthering diversity among the books themselves and future publishing personnel. Last night, we launched the CBC Diversity Committee, which is working on these goals with other publishing partners. We have a brand-new website (which will gain content as time goes on) and plan a variety of events such as panels discussing diversity, visiting school career days and job fairs, and just continuing the conversation about diversity in all platforms, such as social media. See also some press coverage, where Robin Adelsen, the CBC’s executive director, shares our goals:

To make a difference, we will focus on recruitment by visiting high schools and colleges, providing resources on the CBC Diversity blog and promoting discourse by hosting panel and roundtable discussions.

I also promised attendees of my session that I would share with them the list of questions we discussed that might help us to know what questions to ask when thinking about deep cultural differences, whether we’re talking about writing cross-culturally in the sense of writing from a perspective not our own, or whether we’re thinking about reaching a readership that isn’t entirely our own culture, and if perhaps there might be some ways to express/acknowledge those differences in our writing. In the case of writing from our own cultural perspective, these questions may be less useful, but nonetheless I think they might get us all thinking about how culture affects decisions we make—not as a form of conditioning, at least no more than any other culture, but as a framework by which we interpret the world. Thinking about these questions may help us in our writing as we apply them to characterization, worldbuilding, plot (how a character reacts to certain problems may certainly be affected by cultural attitudes, whether he or she goes with mainstream culture or not, as does how other characters interact with that person, which eventually over the course of a book turns into a sequence of actions that turn into plot), setting, and so forth.

These questions are from chapter 9 of the excellent book A Beginner’s Guide to the Deep Culture Experience: Beneath the Surface by Joseph Shaules. The author was writing to an audience of potential U.S. expats living abroad, with the idea of helping them to think about cultural differences and ways to adapt to their new countries and enjoy the journey, but as I read it, I found so much that is applicable to ways we might think of culture in terms of writing about it, not to mention the adaptation experiences I had living with college roommates from other countries The intercultural experience goes both ways—though I didn’t live in another country, and so my experience wasn’t quite as deep, I still found I had to adapt and learn from my roommates if I wanted to get along with them.

I highly recommend reading the whole book, or at least chapter 9, where he expands on these questions and discusses how the answers are not either-or, good/bad—just choices that don’t have a value attached to them that show how different people choose to handle universal human questions in different ways.

  1. Whom are people loyal to?
  2. Who gets respect?
  3. How do we ensure fairness and efficiency?
  4. How do we manage our emotions?
  5. Who is in control?
  6. What time is it?
  7. How can we judge goodness and truth?
  8. How different are men and women?
  9. Am I in your space?
  10. Shall we look forward or back?

Also: I loved that there were several Koreans in my seminar over the course of the day, two in one session alone! After that session, we got to talking about why and how I’m learning Korean, so I wanted to give a shout-out to the excellent Talk to Me in Korean and their sister site, HaruKorean. I think for those with middle-school aged kids and older, and for us adults looking to learn, it’s a great place to learn Korean both by ear (with the short podcasts that feel like you’re just listening to your Korean friends bantering, yet you’re learning at the same time) and in writing (at HaruKorean you can practice Korean sentences and get corrections from native Korean speakers).

And lastly (but not least), one thing I didn’t get to include in my presentation for lack of time was bookseller Elizabeth Bluemle’s anecdote about how she talks up diversity to her customers, which illustrates well the bookseller-reader part of the diversity in publishing equation. She noted,

“Thinking about our own approach to race in children’s books requires ongoing self-assessment for all of us booksellers, me included. For instance: when I handsell books to customers, I usually gather three to five possible titles and booktalk each one.”

She said that in that stack, she tries to include at least one book featuring a character of color, and if she sees resistance on a customer’s face about the book about the character of color,

“…and they say those coded things like, ‘I don’t think that’s really for him,’ or ‘Oh, she wouldn’t like that,’ you can say, ‘Kids in town LOVE this book!’ (Of course, that has to actually be true. You never compromise your integrity or reputation by pretending a book is good or popular when it isn’t.) And you can make one more gentle try, by saying why you chose that book for that customer’s grandchild…”

…focusing on what’s great about the story—the adventure, the specifics of the plot.

“If they still say no, at least they will be more aware of why they’re saying no.”

Read Elizabeth’s whole post here at the Shelftalker blog.


Celebrating diversity booklist

Given that today is Martin Luther King Day, and that we’re still dealing with book banning based on race even today, I’d like to make a booklist in honor of those books banned in Arizona. Let’s crowd-source. This can be a pretty wide list, and some of the books might be a little radical, if by “radical” we mean considering that Columbus might not have had the best of intentions when it came to indigenous peoples in the Caribbean and on the American continents, but I think that books like this are important to the discourse in this country, especially in places like Arizona where they’re dealing with the confluence of several cultures with conflicting goals. After all, couldn’t that apply in so many places in this world? How will we come to understand one another’s points of view if we ban those viewpoints? From the Salon.com article:

Another notable text removed from Tucson’s classrooms is Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest.” In a meeting this week, administrators informed Mexican-American studies teachers to stay away from any units where “race, ethnicity and oppression are central themes,” including the teaching of Shakespeare’s classic in Mexican-American literature courses.

Here’s the list of books banned in the Tucson school district last week (source). What other books like this should we celebrate?

*For more on the situation in Arizona, see here and here.

Curriculum Audit of the Mexican American Studies Department, Tucson Unified School District, May 2, 2011.

High School Course Texts and Reading Lists Table 20: American Government/Social Justice Education Project 1, 2 – Texts and Reading Lists

Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years (1998), by B. Bigelow and B. Peterson

The Latino Condition: A Critical Reader (1998), by R. Delgado and J. Stefancic

Critical Race Theory: An Introduction (2001), by R. Delgado and J. Stefancic

Pedagogy of the Oppressed (2000), by P. Freire

United States Government: Democracy in Action (2007), by R. C. Remy

Dictionary of Latino Civil Rights History (2006), by F. A. Rosales

Declarations of Independence: Cross-Examining American Ideology (1990), by H. Zinn

Table 21: American History/Mexican American Perspectives, 1, 2 – Texts and Reading Lists

Occupied America: A History of Chicanos (2004), by R. Acuna

The Anaya Reader (1995), by R. Anaya

The American Vision (2008), by J. Appleby et el.

Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years (1998), by B. Bigelow and B. Peterson

Drink Cultura: Chicanismo (1992), by J. A. Burciaga

Message to Aztlan: Selected Writings (1997), by C. Jiminez

De Colores Means All of Us: Latina Views Multi-Colored Century (1998), by E. S. Martinez

500 Anos Del Pueblo Chicano/500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures (1990), by E. S. Martinez

Codex Tamuanchan: On Becoming Human (1998), by R. Rodriguez

The X in La Raza II (1996), by R. Rodriguez

Dictionary of Latino Civil Rights History (2006), by F. A. Rosales

A People’s History of the United States: 1492 to Present (2003), by H. Zinn

Course: English/Latino Literature 7, 8

Ten Little Indians (2004), by S. Alexie

The Fire Next Time (1990), by J. Baldwin

Loverboys (2008), by A. Castillo

Women Hollering Creek (1992), by S. Cisneros

Mexican WhiteBoy (2008), by M. de la Pena

Drown (1997), by J. Diaz

Woodcuts of Women (2000), by D. Gilb

At the Afro-Asian Conference in Algeria (1965), by E. Guevara

Color Lines: “Does Anti-War Have to Be Anti-Racist Too?” (2003), by E. Martinez

Culture Clash: Life, Death and Revolutionary Comedy (1998), by R. Montoya et al.

Let Their Spirits Dance (2003) by S. Pope Duarte

Two Badges: The Lives of Mona Ruiz (1997), by M. Ruiz

The Tempest (1994), by W. Shakespeare

A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America (1993), by R. Takaki

The Devil’s Highway (2004), by L. A. Urrea

Puro Teatro: A Latino Anthology (1999), by A. Sandoval-Sanchez & N. Saporta Sternbach

Twelve Impossible Things before Breakfast: Stories (1997), by J. Yolen

Voices of a People’s History of the United States (2004), by H. Zinn

Course: English/Latino Literature 5, 6

Live from Death Row (1996), by J. Abu-Jamal

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven (1994), by S. Alexie

Zorro (2005), by I. Allende

Borderlands La Frontera: The New Mestiza (1999), by G. Anzaldua

A Place to Stand (2002), by J. S. Baca

C-Train and Thirteen Mexicans (2002), by J. S. Baca

Healing Earthquakes: Poems (2001), by J. S. Baca

Immigrants in Our Own Land and Selected Early Poems (1990), by J. S. Baca

Black Mesa Poems (1989), by J. S. Baca

Martin & Mediations on the South Valley (1987), by J. S. Baca

The Manufactured Crisis: Myths, Fraud, and the Attack on America’s Public Schools (19950, by D. C. Berliner and B. J. Biddle

Drink Cultura: Chicanismo (1992), by J. A Burciaga

Red Hot Salsa: Bilingual Poems on Being Young and Latino in the United States (2005), by L. Carlson & O. Hijuielos

Cool Salsa: Bilingual Poems on Growing up Latino in the United States (1995), by L. Carlson & O. Hijuielos

So Far From God (1993), by A. Castillo

Address to the Commonwealth Club of California (1985), by C. E. Chavez

Women Hollering Creek (1992), by S. Cisneros

House on Mango Street (1991), by S. Cisneros

Drown (1997), by J. Diaz

Suffer Smoke (2001), by E. Diaz Bjorkquist

Zapata’s Discipline: Essays (1998), by M. Espada

Like Water for Chocolate (1995), by L. Esquievel

When Living was a Labor Camp (2000), by D. Garcia

La Llorona: Our Lady of Deformities (2000), by R. Garcia

Cantos Al Sexto Sol: An Anthology of Aztlanahuac Writing (2003), by C. Garcia-Camarilo, et al.

The Magic of Blood (1994), by D. Gilb

Message to Aztlan: Selected Writings (2001), by Rudolfo “Corky” Gonzales

Saving Our Schools: The Case for Public Education, Saying No to “No Child Left Behind” (2004) by Goodman, et al.

Feminism if for Everybody (2000), by b hooks

The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child (1999), by F. Jimenez

Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools (1991), by J. Kozol

Zigzagger (2003), by M. Munoz

Infinite Divisions: An Anthology of Chicana Literature (1993), by T. D. Rebolledo & E. S. Rivero

…y no se lo trago la tierra/And the Earth Did Not Devour Him (1995), by T. Rivera

Always Running – La Vida Loca: Gang Days in L.A. (2005), by L. Rodriguez

Justice: A Question of Race (1997), by R. Rodriguez

The X in La Raza II (1996), by R. Rodriguez

Crisis in American Institutions (2006), by S. H. Skolnick & E. Currie

Los Tucsonenses: The Mexican Community in Tucson, 1854-1941 (1986), by T. Sheridan

Curandera (1993), by Carmen Tafolla

Mexican American Literature (1990), by C. M. Tatum

New Chicana/Chicano Writing (1993), by C. M. Tatum

Civil Disobedience (1993), by H. D. Thoreau

By the Lake of Sleeping Children (1996), by L. A. Urrea

Nobody’s Son: Notes from an American Life (2002), by L. A. Urrea

Zoot Suit and Other Plays (1992), by L. Valdez

Ocean Power: Poems from the Desert (1995), by O. Zepeda

ETA: Also appropriate to this discussion, OTHER things that MLK once said besides the quotes you normally hear on this day:

One parent’s perspective on e-readers for kids

More and more teens are getting e-readers in the last year or so. There was a big wave of e-reader purchases for them at Christmas and Hanukkah last year (see this article in the New York Times covering that trend—a NYT article that actually gets it right about children’s books!). E-books are growing, especially in e-books for teens, and with the iPad there’s even potential growth in e-books for younger readers with illustrations.

Teens, particularly, seem suited to e-readers and electronic devices that can carry an e-reading app. For parents who can afford it, e-readers might be the thing that gets that reluctant reader child to get interested in reading again.

Then there’s the flip side of the coin. My friend Sandra Tayler, the mother of four children, recently blogged about the reasons they still do paper books, including with their kids, two of whom are teenagers and two of whom are in middle school. She’s got some great points:

I can hand a child a $7 paper back and not have to police the treatment of the book. Books end up in bathrooms, spattered with snack food, left on floors, buried under piles of clothing, stepped on, shelved, stacked, and read. I could not do the same with a device costing over $100. I would have to keep track of it and spend time training my kids to treat it correctly.

I have four kids. I want them all to be reading, sometimes simultaneously. I don’t want to spend $400-$700 to get enough reading devices for everyone to read at the same time. Additionally we have a house policy that a child can have an electronic device when they care enough to buy it with their own money. This way they have an emotional stake in taking care of the device. If my kids save up $150, they’ll buy an iPod or a 3DS, not an e-reader. They regularly spend $3-$15 buying books for themselves.

One of the best ways to get kids to choose reading is to have books laying around where the covers can catch their interest. Many moments of boredom have resulted in hours of reading because book was laying nearby. This does not happen if all the books are neatly filed on my Kindle.

Physically taking my kids to the library addresses reading in a new way. The kids are able to speak with a librarian and really think about what they are looking for in a book. Then sometimes their favorite books are ones that happen to be shelved near the one that the librarian was showing them. Involving a librarian in the book selection process means a new perspective and opens up new possibilities for the kids.

Owning a physical book and shelving it with their possessions is one of the ways my kids begin to form their identity. Different kids will latch on to different books or series of books. Then they loan them to each other. There is power in being the one who loans or recommends a book. If all the books are organized in the same electronic library my kids will not feel the same sense of ownership.

My children spend a lot of time playing computer and video games. Sitting down with a paper book gives their brains a break from the flicker of screens. It encourages them to switch over into a relaxed way of thinking. I’ve had them read things on my Kindle or Howard’s iPad, they read for shorter lengths of time because the presence of the electronic device is a constant reminder that there are video games in the world and that those video games might be more fun than reading.

In the same post, Sandra talks about how sometimes reading on her e-reader makes her think of work, which I completely agree with. Reading a paper book, for me, is completely unlike work. I know this book is finished. On my Sony Reader—or now on my Nook or Kindle app on my phone—I can read finished books, but I find myself easily distracted because it feels like I’m working, so I keep noticing typos and things that I would have edited a different way. The Reader is the device I read a lot of manuscripts on, so it really feels like I’m editing.

And I notice a lot of the things that make reading an interesting experience for Sandra’s children are the same ones I enjoy: going to the library and browsing, or just browsing my own shelves. Those experiences are tough to replicate on a device, especially for kids. I still read electronically—mostly on long trips or my commute (though if I’m reading electronically on my daily commute, it’s likely a manuscript).

But let’s talk about this in terms of the children’s book industry. As e-books become more ubiquitous, what might the future library or bookstore look like for children? Are there ways to address these very real concerns that a parent has about losing the benefits of siblings sharing books, owning their own physical books, finding a book to relieve boredom, and other reasons that a physical book is so important?

Not all parents will have Sandra’s same concerns. An only child won’t have sibling concerns, or some parents might prefer a more minimalist look in their house over owning possessions. But however you feel about any individual point, Sandra’s concerns in general reflect a lot of thoughts I’ve been hearing from other parents. Sandra’s reasons are the same reasons I don’t think paper books will ever go away entirely. Yet I also think that we need to think about usability in more than just the actual reading process in our rush to convert to e-books, and think about innovating ways that address these very real parental and sibling needs. Heck, they’re not just parental/sibling. I need these things too when I go to the library or am bored, and I’m a single adult woman who lives alone. Sure, it’s easier for me as a tech-savvy adult to just go look for a book on Amazon or even on my library’s website, where I can check out electronic books (and it’s so easy to do so–the books return themselves, which is something I have difficulty with doing on time in real paper!). But as Sandra notes in the rest of her post, there are ways to get distracted from that if I go onto a multipurpose device like a computer.

If you’re in publishing, how do you see our industry and libraries addressing these issues in the future? If you want to get into publishing as an editor or other industry professional, these are issues you’ll be dealing with as the industry continues to evolve. Maybe your generation will—should—innovate something that my generation never would have thought of?

Villain POVs

I have to admit, I really hate villain POVs. There are so few villains that have any redeemable qualities, and especially starting a book out with the villain’s point of view when they’re murdering and/or plundering just makes me go, “Why do I want to read this book, again?”

This is actually one of the things I hated most about the Wheel of Time series, though I loved the series in general: I hated the amount of time spent on this Forsaken’s love of naked mindless servants, and that Forsaken’s love of skinning people, or whatever. Yeah, yeah, I get it, they’re irredeemably evil. Get back to someone I’m actually ROOTING FOR, which is why I’m reading the book!

Sometimes it’s important to briefly show the villain’s point of view to convey to the reader some information that our hero doesn’t have, but I find more and more that my tolerance for even these kinds of scenes is thinning fast. Too often it’s a substitute for more subtle forms of suspense, laying clues that the reader could pick up if they were astute, the kind of clues that the main character should be putting together one by one to the point where when he or she finally figures it out, the reader slaps their own forehead and says, “I should have seen that coming!”

It’s a completely different matter, of course, when the whole point is for the “villain” to simply be someone on another side of an ideological or political divide where there are no true “bad guys.” Usually this happens in a book in which your narrators are unreliable, which can be very interesting.

But there’s a line for me, generally the pillaging/raping/murdering/all manner of human rights abuses line, at which I’m sorry, I just don’t care about this guy’s point of view. The equivalent of this in middle grade books—where pillages/murders/rapes are (hopefully) fewer—is the pure evil villain who’s just out to get the main character because the villain is black-hearted, mean, vile, whathaveyou. Evil through and through, with no threads of humanity. (Though honestly if he’s killing people “for their own good” to protect a certain more nuanced human viewpoint, I generally still don’t want to see that from his POV.)

So, what’s the line for you? Do you like villain points of view? Do you feel they add depth to a story? At what point do you think a villain POV goes from adding nuance or advancing the plot to annoying?

ETA: Coincidentally, my author Bryce Moore recently reviewed the Captain America movie and had this to say about how a character becomes evil, which I think is apropos to this discussion:

Honestly, if writers spent as much time developing the origin and conflicted ethos of the villains of these movies, I think they’d all be doing us a favor. As it is, it’s like they have a bunch of slips of paper with different elements on them, then they draw them at random from a hat and run with it. Ambitious scientist. Misunderstood childhood. Picked on in school.

That’s not how evil works, folks. You don’t become evil because you get hit in the head and go crazy. You become evil by making decisions that seemed good at the time. Justified. Just like you become a hero by doing the same thing. A hero or a villain aren’t born. They’re made. That’s one of the things I really liked about Captain America. He’s heroic, no matter how buff or weak he is.

This is, perhaps, the best description of why villain POVs bug me so much: because they’re oversimplified, villainized. And for some stories, I think villainization works, but I don’t want to see that point of view, because it’s oversimplified and uninteresting. When it’s actually complicated and interesting, then it becomes less “the villain” and more nuanced—sometimes resulting in real evil (after all, I doubt Hitler was an evil baby; he made choices to become the monster he became) and sometimes resulting in a Democrat instead of a Republican or vice versa—ideological, political differences between (usually) relatively good people (though our current political discourse would probably make little distinction between *insert the opposite of your own party here* and Hitler, I do believe there is truly a difference).

What have you read lately?

I’m currently splitting my time between two favorite authors’ newest books: James Dashner’s The Death Cure and Tamora Pierce’s Mastiff. I’m a HUGE Tamora Pierce fan. As she often says when she introduces herself at conventions, she writes about girls who kick butt. You can see a really interesting progression of feminist thought from second wave to third wave in her work, too—the Song of the Lioness quartet about Alanna, published in the 1980s, are very much “girls are ‘as good as’ boys,” with something to prove, and then you can see how the idea of “girl power” has changed over the years all the way down to today, in the Beka Cooper books, in which Beka has nothing to prove: she is who she is, because duh, she kicks butt because she can and should be able to defend herself and those who have no power or voice. (She’s a medieval cop who can talk to ghosts and Hunts with a scent hound. I love it!) The Beka Cooper books are really interesting to me because they’re actually set at a time in the history of Tortall before Alanna, and you can see how the beginnings of the belief in the Goddess as the Gentle Mother influences Alanna’s circumstances later when she’s in such a sexist situation that no one believes women should be lady knights, despite there being many storied lady knights in the past.

And of course The Death Cure is the last in James Dashner’s Maze Runner trilogy. Even though I worked with James on the first book years ago before it ended up selling to Delacourte (curses! But I’m glad it found a good home), I could never have predicted where the next two books would end up. It’s good, guys. I’m not quite finished reading yet, but it’s action packed and if you haven’t started with The Maze Runner you should catch up to me so we can talk.

Once I finally finish those (tonight I’m off again on a Hunt with Beka Cooper), I’m digging right into Prized by Caragh M. O’Brien, the sequel to her Birth Marked, which I also enjoyed. I’m curious where it’ll go next.

And now my cat Mogget is racing around the apartment with the kitty crazies. Maybe I’ll go toss a mouse to him so he’ll stop scratching up the dining room table. While I’m gone, share your latest favorite reads!

Diversity in YA Summer Reading Challenge

I’m up to my gleezers, as Galaxy Games alien M’Frozza would say, in printer proofs for Fall books. I’ve been working on a post to expand the Examining Privilege section of the Beyond Orcs and Elves talk/posts, but haven’t quite found as succinct an approach as Scalzi’s Things I Don’t Have to Think about Today post. But I’ll have a few things to think about for writers as soon as I find some breathing room.

In the meantime, you should check out Diversity in YA if you haven’t yet. Especially libraries! They’re running a summer reading challenge, and the prize is free books for the winning library! There are two parts of the challenge, actually—one for libraries to diversify their collections/programs, and one for readers and book bloggers to diversify their reading. For more details, check it out over at their site.