In This Issue...
#1 Kids' Next List Pick...
By Tobly McSmith
(HarperTeen, 9780062943170, $18.99)"Pony and Georgia will steal your heart in this gentle gem of an #OwnVoices contemporary young adult novel about a transgender teen who wants his body to match his identity and the girl who slowly but steadily falls for him. Stay Gold is one of those rare novels that reads easily and has comic romantic appeal, but punches hard realism into your gut. Reminiscent of the nuanced storytelling in K.A. Holt's Redwood and Ponytail, the novel is both accessible and humorous, yet deeply moving and emotional as Pony and Georgia balance being true to themselves with the often-destructive expectations of family and friends. Hopeful, heartfelt, and very needed."
Indies Introduce -- outstanding debuts as selected by independent booksellers
#1 Kids' Next List Pick Author Interview...
Indie booksellers nationwide have chosen Tobly McSmith's Stay Gold (HarperTeen) as the Summer 2020 Kids' Indie Next List top pick. Here, McSmith talks about crafting the novel.
Where did the idea for this book come from?
I was actually at a sales conference for HarperCollins [in Miami]. I was listening to a presentation by the YA department about #OwnVoices, and in particular it was The Hate U Give that they were featuring, and I hadn't really heard of or thought about #OwnVoices. As I was sitting there really thinking about it, I realized that I am a part of #OwnVoices. I have my own voice, and a story came into my head--he was always named Pony and she was always named Georgia, and the plot points were just coming and I was trying to grab onto them in my head. I'd never written a book. I studied business in college, so I had to learn how to write, too, but I was so passionate to get the story out that I did it on top of a job and writing musicals.
I wanted to write this book for two reasons. I wanted to tell the experience of one trans person in America, so that other trans and nonbinary people can see a little bit of themselves in the story. But I also wanted to educate more people to our everyday experiences, our everyday setbacks, and all of that. It was important to me to write a book where somebody in Texas could read it and get those facts, and understand things like binders in a fun way. I tried to be as fun and entertaining in that education as possible.
Stay Gold and Pony's name are references to The Outsiders. Why did you choose to do this book?
I have "stay gold" tattooed on my arm, and I got it tattooed about a year after I'd transitioned. I'd seen it tattooed on somebody else, because I lived in Brooklyn and everyone has tattoos. When I saw the phrase, it meant something to me. It automatically locked into place that it meant, to me, staying true to yourself. I'd read and loved The Outsiders, and I think that when that book was written in the '60s, Johnny was asking Pony Boy to stay innocent in a world of violence and hate. When I think about the LGBT community, it's not an innocence that we can have because there's so much violence and discrimination. It's really staying true to ourselves despite all of the things going on around us. "Stay gold" had always meant so much to me, so it was always obvious that would be the title of the book. And Pony Boy is a nod to S.E. Hinton, but I also really love ponies. I have one tattooed on me--to me, they represent a feeling of freedom, a freedom to be who you are.
Stay Gold follows Pony, who is going stealth at a new high school in Addison, Texas. How did you craft his character?
Pony is a lot like me. This is my debut novel, and I wrote what I knew. I wanted to write a story about a boy who has gone through a lot of the things that I went through, especially in the first couple of years after I had transitioned. I wanted to write a character that was getting misgendered and deadnamed, and wearing a compression binder and saving up for top surgery. These are all things that I've been through. Coming out is also a big theme--coming out to a girl you like. These are all things that I've been through, and I wanted to put that into a character so people could understand one story of what it's like to be trans right now.
And Georgia is the popular cheerleader he develops a crush on. How did you craft her character?
Georgia felt fun to me. I love Georgia because when I was in high school, I was the [team] mascot--I was fifth in the nation for mascoting--and I hung out with cheerleaders. Many of my best friends are girls, and Georgia is a lot of everybody that I knew. I wanted her to be fun, but I also wanted her to take a journey of understanding a trans person and understanding herself. She lies a bit, she makes up stories, she exaggerates, and I wanted her to get to her truth, too. That was important for me. And it was so fun to do two POVs between Georgia and Pony because I wanted to see both sides of a trans experience, from the inside but also from the outside.
Pony's close friends and his sister, Rocky, urge him to come out at his new school and to be a more active participant of the LGBT community in Texas. But Pony isn't sure he wants that. Can you speak more to this?
Coming out is an interesting topic when it comes to transgender and nonbinary people because no one should ever feel like they have to come out. There are safety concerns, as well as other concerns. And Pony's friend, Max [who urges him to come out], I understand. I've met a couple of people that believe what he does. He's still young, and he's very out and proud, and he thinks that we need as many people as possible in the fight to make change. He believes everyone should be out fighting, and that isn't correct thinking.
No one should ever have to come out as trans, but my hope with this book and the understanding of just one trans person's life is that we can create a safer and more accepting world, so if people do want to come out they can feel safe. That's my hope. I am one who stays stealth in communities where I don't feel safe, and it's been interesting to write a book with a trans character because I have to come out every time anyone asks what my book is about. It's kind of changed my life and how I have to live. But it's an interesting topic and there's a lot of discussion around it, and I'm glad the book is bringing that out.
As Pony learns about himself, and as Georgia learns about him, the reader learns about being transgender and what that means. Information is included about discrimination and hate crimes, medical costs and procedures, petitions and fundraising campaigns for trans youth, and statistics. Are there resources you can recommend readers look at next?
There is lots of general information regarding transgender issues at PFLAG.org. For healthcare, Callen-Lorde is my provider and also provides classes and community. The Trevor Project is a place for those in crisis or who need a safe place to talk. And the Transgender Law Center is good for legal questions.
I also want to mention the Stay Gold Fund. Halfway through writing Stay Gold Trump passed his ban on transgender people serving on the military, pointing to the high cost of gender-affirming surgeries. I was sitting here writing a book about a kid who wears a binder and was saving up for his gender-affirming surgery, and I felt so devastated by that bill. I wanted to do something to help. With the Stay Gold Fund, we are providing financial assistance for gender-affirming surgeries for trans and nonbinary people who need it. Not everybody needs gender-affirming healthcare to feel like themselves, but for those who do, the cost can be high and insurance can be prohibitive. We want to be there to help.
I also want to raise awareness of how important gender-affirming healthcare is for a trans person's wellbeing, as it lessens depression and suicide. There's more information at StayGodFund.org.
Is there any one thing you'd want readers to take away from this book?
I would love for readers to understand one experience of what it's like to be trans today. That's why I put the dates on it--I wanted to be sure it lives in history as it was today. In two years, I hope it's easier, and in five, even easier for trans people. I wanted readers to understand one life, and to have compassion, and that's it. The theme of it is really staying true to yourself, and it means something different to everybody, but it's such an interesting thing to think about.
Can you tell readers what you're working on next?
I'm working on another young adult novel. I love YA, I love the space, I love the stories that are being told, and I'm honored to write in it. So, I'm writing a new young adult novel with a transgender boy, and I'm basing it in New York at a prestigious art school. I've been doing theater for 16 years; me and my friends write parodies that play in New York off-Broadway and travel around the world. I'm so excited to bring my theater background into a young adult novel and have another transgender boy as the lead character.
By TJ Klune
(Tor Teen, 9781250203656, $18.99)"The Extraordinaries is a superhero story that abounds with character. From the dynamic narration that captures Nick's perspective with ease to the very believable teen characters, this is a fun read for fans of Becky Albertalli and Marie Lu. I laughed, I cried, and I am ready for more."
Burn Our Bodies Down
By Rory Power
(Delacorte Press, 9780525645627, $18.99)
"Power's second novel has prose sharp enough to carve your heart out and a plot that aims to do just that. While there are supernatural elements at play in the novel, the keenest pain in the story comes from the very human relationships between the members of Margot's small, splintered family. The complex web of love, resentment, isolation, possession, and fear that binds the Nielsen family is brought to life in all its terrible brilliance by Power's unique voice. The horror elements serve to further amplify the dark and desperate emotions at the core of the story, creating something truly unlike any other YA novel I've read."
By Hana Tooke
(Viking Books for Young Readers, 9780593116937, $17.99)"This endearing debut introduces five supposedly unadoptable orphans--Milou, Sem, Lotta, Egg, and Fenna--who were abandoned as infants at the Little Tulip Orphanage in late-19th-century Holland. When the cruel matron sees an opportunity to sell the unadoptables to an unsavory character, the children hatch a plan to escape the orphanage--and along the way discover the truth about their past. With echoes of Dickens and Hans Christian Andersen stories, this book has something for everyone!"
Indies Introduce -- outstanding debuts as selected by independent booksellers
By Abi Cushman
(Viking Books for Young Readers, 9781984836625, $17.99)
"Sometimes we just need pure fun, and this book is it. The illustrations are wonderful, the characters have a depth that only a fine author and illustrator can produce, and I am looking for some hula hoops for a totally fun event! Awesome!"
By Jonathan Fenske
(Penguin Workshop, 9781524793081, $12.99)"This might be my new favorite picture book! A wonderfully weird and completely hilarious story about the power of art and squids. Beautifully illustrated, full of great rhymes, and topped off with the perfect amount of creepy--I loved every ink-soaked page."
Doctor Who: The Runaway TARDIS
By Kim Smith
(Quirk Books, 9781683691846, $18.99)"This is a cute introduction into the world of Doctor Who for the children in your life. With bright, fun cartoon illustrations, it is something that everyone can enjoy flipping through. There is a great storyline about how it is okay to say goodbye to old friends, and to make new ones as well. Plus, you have the fun of seeing the power of peanut butter sandwiches. I loved reading this book and look forward to sharing it with my niece, who also happens to love peanut butter sandwiches."
A Family for Louie
By Alexandra Thompson
(G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers, 9781984813213, $17.99)
"Louie is a dog with taste, and his daily restaurant outings are all a dog could ever want... right? But there's one thing missing: a family to share his feast with. It's not so easy to find a family that shares his sophisticated diet, or one that operates at the same pace as Louie. He considers giving up, but then he finds a very special young person who might be just right. Adorable, humorous, and classy. I would love to go to brunch with this little buddy!"
First Day Critter Jitters
By Jory John
Liz Climo (Illus.)
(Dial Books, 9780735228559, $17.99)"These critters have the jitters. They each have their own worries, as we do, but they also find out that worries don't need to be shouldered alone. A great, fun, first-day-of-school picture book. Plus, the illustrations by Liz Climo are so light, fresh, and happy, they help ease the anxiety, too!"
Gustavo, the Shy Ghost
By Flavia Z. Drago
(Candlewick, 9781536211146, $16.99)"I want to be Gustavo's friend! This shy ghost would like for someone to be his friend, if only he could bring himself to appear and talk to someone! Flavia Z. Drago's beautiful illustrations help tell such a wonderful story."
Sheep Dog and Sheep Sheep: Baaad Hair Day
By Eric Barclay
(HarperCollins, 9780062677396, $17.99)"Sheep Sheep finds sidesplittingly funny ways to avoid shearing day even though Sheep Dog assures her it's for the best. A hilarious follow-up to the laugh-out-loud funny Sheep Dog and Sheep Sheep. 'Water chickens' may be the best thing ever."
By Benji Davies
(HarperCollins, 9780062563590, $17.99)"Growing up, my brother and I would always go looking for frog eggs in ponds during the spring and summer, then watch them evolve into tadpoles and frogs. Benji Davies illustrates this life cycle while telling a thrilling tale about Tad, a tadpole who is just a little smaller than all the others and might need to escape a giant fish--or else. The bold illustrations will draw kids in!"
By Faith Pray
(Random House Books for Young Readers, 9781984892706, $17.99)"What a gorgeously illustrated book about the power of kindness! This book shows kids that no matter how small or inexperienced, they are able to effect real and important change in our world just by being kind."
By Carrie Firestone
(G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers, 9781984816436, $17.99)
"After her friend gets unfairly targeted for a dress code violation, Molly Frost decides to start a podcast... and ends up starting a revolution. In her crusade to eliminate the school dress code, she and her friends discover what true friendship is all about. What an incredibly timely and important book! Firestone perfectly captures the problems of enforcing a strict dress code on young people, from stressing over the expense of school-appropriate clothing to being targeted for wearing normal clothes while having a developed body. This should be required reading in schools."
The Girl and the Witch's Garden
By Erin Bowman
(Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 9781534461581, $17.99)
"Erin Bowman has perfectly captured both the magic and loneliness of being a kid. A creepy house, a daring rescue, a magic portal, a secret garden--this book has everything that the best books of my childhood had. The characters are vibrant and real, and their problems take more than magic to solve--though the magic definitely helps!"
Kerry and the Knight of the Forest
By Andi Watson
(Random House Graphic, 9780593125236, $20.99, hardcover; 9781984893291, $12.99, paperback)"When Kerry gets lost in the forest while trying to find medicine for his sick parents, he has to figure out how to get home and who to trust to help show him the way. Friendship, trust, betrayal, and finding yourself are all common themes in this lovely graphic novel. An adventurous story with a heartfelt ending."
Kiki's Delivery Service
By Eiko Kadono
(Delacorte Press, 9781984896667, $16.99)
"Kiki's Delivery Service is one of my favorite animated films, and reading this book allowed me to revisit the story with brand new eyes. I loved the clear writing, charming pictures, and varied adventures Kiki got up to. While different to the film in many ways, this book is just as wonderful and beautifully told."
Rise of ZomBert
By Kara Lareau
Ryan Andrews (Illus.)
(Candlewick, 9781536201062, $15.99)"What would you do if you found a stray cat in a dumpster? Would you take it home knowing your parents don't approve of pets of any kind? Well, that's exactly what Mellie does, keeping it hidden from her parents. Little does she know that the cat has escaped from an experimental lab. And before long, the mystery--and the chase--is on!"
Something to Say
By Lisa Moore Ramée
(Balzer + Bray, 9780062836717, $16.99)"Speaking up about changing a school's name may sound like a dry topic, but under Lisa Moore's Ramée's deft hand, the reader is thrown into the middle of an important topic as seen through the eyes of one of the shyest activists they'll ever confront. I loved this warm book of social justice and heart!"
The Time of Green Magic
By Hilary McKay
(Margaret K. McElderry Books, 9781534462762, $17.99)
"Hilary McKay is a funny, heart-grabbing, rollicking master of middle-grade family stories. If you love books like The Penderwicks or The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street, The Time of Green Magic is your next favorite. In this story, McKay blends the complications of a big, new blended family, a wondrous house, and magic that may be a little more dangerous than anyone expects at first."
The Black Flamingo
By Dean Atta
(Balzer + Bray, 9780062990297, $18.99)"Dean Atta has written the bildungsroman I wish I'd had around to read at age 16. His line of questioning for the world would have been a treasured confidant--a confidant to my identity, my sexuality, and my artistic self all at once. Don't let the sparse pages fool you; Black Flamingo is loaded with thought and a ferocity for transcendence. Atta has pulled off a feat with his debut young adult novel and it's a joy to read."
By Len Vlahos
(Bloomsbury YA, 9781681190372, $17.99)"You think you've got problems? Try imagining you're a sentient supercomputer, the first of its kind, suddenly realizing what or who you are. That's what Len Vlahos does with cleverness, suspense, and wit in Hard Wired. The result is a provocative, entertaining, fast-paced novel that explores not just the complex relationship between man and machine but what it means to be human."
The Montague Twins: The Witch's Hand
By Nathan Page
Drew Shannon (Illus.)
(Knopf Books for Young Readers, 9780525646761, $25.99, hardcover; 9780525646778, $17.99, paperback)
"What a perfect book for summer! The Montague Twins is a modern take on the Hardy Boys and the '60s. This graphic novel expertly mixes magic, detective skills, madcap adventure, brotherhood, and friendship. One of the most fun reading experiences I have had in a while--highly recommended!"
By Kelly Yang
(Katherine Tegen Books, 9780062941084, $18.99)
"This is a must-read! The overarching themes of this book are: 1) What it means to make decisions based on prejudice (you didn't know you had); 2) Figuring out the right way to handle a difficult situation within a relationship; and 3) Standing your ground and doing the right thing, even if it doesn't bring about the desired result. The characters are beautifully developed. One can feel the joy, anger, agony, and hope leaping off the pages."
Today Tonight Tomorrow
By Rachel Lynn Solomon
(Simon Pulse, 9781534440241, $18.99)"With pitch-perfect teenage twitterpation and whip-smart repartee, Solomon puts a 21st-century spin on the classic 'frenemies become lovers' romance. But this is more than a romance--it's also about what it means to be a true friend and how to stand up for yourself. It features a city-wide scavenger hunt through Seattle that will make you want to plan a trip yourself."
We Are Not From Here
By Jenny Torres Sanchez
(Philomel Books, 9781984812261, $18.99)"This tale will grab you, get under your fingernails, and not let go, so vivid is the story of these three friends on a harrowing journey to save themselves. This story is ripped from the headlines and extraordinary in its depiction of kids running from their country's violence, depredation, and hopelessness. The sometimes-unspeakable events are also tempered with the hope and humanity of kind people along the way. Traveling from Honduras to the promised land of the U.S., your eyes will be opened and your heart will plead for our nation to see these children and treat them with compassion."