"Books transmit values. They explore our common humanity. What is the message when some children are not represented in those books? Where are the future white personnel managers going to get their ideas of people of color? Where are the future white loan officers and future white politicians going to get their knowledge of people of color? Where are black children going to get a sense of who they are and what they can be?" —Walter Dean Myers (1937-2014)
If the year 2014 will be remembered for anything in the world of children's literature, it will be the groundswell of discontent over the lack of diversity and the subsequent #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign. On March 15, the New York Times published an op-ed piece by author Walter Dean Myers, who asked, “Where are the people of color in children’s books?” It’s not the first time he's asked that question, as nearly 30 years earlier, Myers raised the same issue in another Times article, “I Actually Thought We Would Revolutionize the Industry" (1986).
While the market continues to reflect a disparaging lack of diversity in children's literature, there are fortunately lots of people who make it their job to write, read and share books that feature main characters of all colors, ethnicities, religious persuasions, sexual orientations and socioeconomic backgrounds. Myers will be missed dearly, not just as an author but as a champion for diversity in books. So we honor Myers—and all authors like him—with a list of a few of our favorite multicultural books so far this year:
Abuelo by Arthur Dorros and Raúl Colón
Spanish words are sprinkled throughout Dorros' sweet story of a young boy's adventures with his abuelo as they explore the Argentian countryside on horseback. When the boy's family moves to the city, these memories stay with him, and his connection to his grandfather and their heritage remains despite the distance. Colón's warm and windy illustrations are just perfect for this story. (And if you're as big a fan of Colón's work as I am, watch for his next book, Draw!, coming September 16.) Read our review.
Bird by Crystal Chan
On the day Jewel was born, her brother tried to fly off a cliff and died. Twelve years later, Grandpa has still not uttered a word, and Jewel feels stifled by her moody parents. She meets a boy who calls himself John (which was her brother's name), but Grandpa's convinced that the boy is a duppy, a type of malevolent spirit. Chan drew on her own mixed-race upbringing for this heartbreaking story, as Jewel takes pride in her Jamaican heritage but gets frustrated when people expect her to speak Spanish—even more frustrated when strangers ask what she is instead of who. Read our review.
The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda Woods
Coretta Scott King Honor-winning author Woods (The Red Rose Box) was inspired to write Violet’s story by the circumstances of a biracial daughter of a friend who was unable to trace the African-American side of her family. From this true story comes the uplifting tale of a biracial 11-year-old girl who meets the African-American side of her family for the first time. After a rocky start, Violet and her dad's family build a relationship around personal prayer, her family’s difficult history and her own racial identity, all while dancing to old records and whipping up some delicious meals. Read our review.
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
This novel-in-verse about family and basketball is full of quick wordplay, deft rhymes and allusions to classical and jazz music. Twelve-year-old Josh and his twin brother Jordan live for the game, but their home life is just as strong. Their mother is tough but fair with the boys, and their father is an ex-player whose pro dreams faded after an injury. After an irreplaceable loss, familial bonds become even more important. This book definitely has a rhythm all its own, as the verses here are more than just a device to encourage reluctant readers. It is kinetic, gripping poetry. Read our review.
The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
Created by Chinese American artist Chu F. Hing and first appearing in 1944 in Blazing Comics, the Green Turtle was the very first Asian-American superhero. National Book Award finalist Yang and artist Liew rescued the Green Turtle from obscurity with this funny origin tale. Nineteen-year-old Hank was just an average boy—until his mother decided he should be a hero. Now he's training in martial arts and getting in over his head with the local crime scene. Fortunately a dash of Chinese mythology gives him the chance to fulfill her dream. Read our review.
Girls Like Us by Gail Giles
Special-ed teenagers Quincy and Biddie have just graduated from high school and must enter the real world. They've been matched up as roommates (though mixed-race Quincy isn’t sure how she feels about interacting with a white landlady), and as they learn how to fend for themselves, the girls find unexpected friendship with each other as well as with their landlady. The story unfolds in dual voices that are truly unforgettable, revealing their progress and fears, as well as physical, mental and sexual trauma. It's a frank and honest story about physical and mental disabilities that never feels cliche or sensationalized. Read our review.
When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds
Ali lives with his mom and sister in the Bed-Stuy neighborhood of Brooklyn. He hangs out with his best friends Noodles and Needles—who was born with Tourette's syndrome and knits to help focus his attention—on the streets and on the brownstone stoop, and of course they get themselves in a bit of trouble. Reynolds' depiction of urban life is authentic, and his characters are well developed and relatable. This debut immediately announced Reynolds as an author to watch. (I'm serious about that . . . his follow-up, The Boy in the Black Suit, is coming out next January. Watch for it.) Read our review.
Readers, share in the comments below! What should be added to this list?
A very sad day indeed: Walter Dean Myers died yesterday at the age of 76 following a brief illness, according to the Children's Book Council.
Myers was and will continue to be an icon in children's literature. He received two Newbery Honors, six Coretta Scott King Awards and Honors, the first-ever Michael L. Printz Award and the first Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement. In 2012 he was appointed the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature and served for two years. Over the course of his 45-year career, he authored more than 100 books, both fiction and nonfiction, poetry and prose.
Richard Robinson, Chairman, President and CEO of Scholastic, shared some kind words:
“Walter Dean Myers changed the face of children’s literature by representing the diversity of the children of our nation in his award-winning books. He was a deeply authentic person and writer who urged other authors, editors and publishers not only to make sure every child could find him or herself in a book, but also to tell compelling and challenging stories that would inspire children to reach their full potential. My favorite quote from Walter is a clarion call to embrace the power of books to inform and transform our lives – he said, ‘Once I began to read, I began to exist.’ He will be missed by us all.”
Look back through our coverage of some of our favorites. Myers will certainly be missed.
Locker Combinations is a Book Case feature by BookPage contributor and young adult (YA) literature expert Jill Ratzan. Using a variety of literary, cultural and educational perspectives, Jill guest blogs about the latest in YA lit and the general direction, trends and changes of the field. This month, Jill addresses a growing trend in YA lit: books featuring physically and mentally disabled teenagers.
Earlier this month, fans of John Green's iconic young adult (YA) novel The Fault in Our Stars lined up to be the first to see its newly released movie adaptation. Green's boundary-pushing book, in which two teens with cancer fall in love, has arguably set the contemporary standard for how YA literature portrays characters with disabilities.
Recently three books about differently-abled teens caught my attention. Like The Fault in Our Stars, all three take a nuanced, sensitive approach to their characters' physical and mental disorders, emphasizing that these teens' disabilities aren't the only factors that define who they are.
Revealing the narrator's disability in She Is Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgewick is almost-but-not-quite a spoiler: The careful reader will quickly figure out why 16-year-old Laureth needs her 7-year-old brother's help getting through a busy airport. Laureth and Benjamin are on their way to America in hopes of finding their father, who has mysteriously vanished. Laureth is blind, but she spends more time thinking about secret plots, numeric games and her father's cryptic notes than about her lack of sight. And Sedgewick's book is at least as much of a thriller and a fast-paced mystery as it is a book about a visually impaired teen.
Girls Like Us by Gail Giles is told from the alternating points of view of two new high school graduates, both developmentally disabled, who've been paired as roommates for their first post-high school jobs. Quincy and Biddy seem at first to have little in common with each other—let alone with their elderly landlady—but the three soon form a friendship that will help them meet ongoing challenges from the past as well as new ones in the present. Both narrators of this slim, accessible volume are fully realized characters with thoughts, fears, dreams and goals that extend far beyond the labels often used to dismiss them.
At the beginning of Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern, Matthew, a high school senior struggling with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), signs up as a peer helper for fellow senior Amy, who suffers from cerebral palsy. Like their non-disabled peers, Amy and Matthew experience many of the milestones of senior year, including afterschool jobs, college acceptances and of course prom. Neither expects that Amy will help Matthew at least as much as he helps her . . . or that their friendship will gradually blossom into romance.
Say What You Will doesn't end at Amy and Matthew's graduation, though. During their first months as newly independent adults, Matthew learns more about the world of work while Amy finds that her first semester of college isn't quite what she'd hoped it would be. And an impulsive decision of Amy's is about to change the course of both their lives.
(Note: Both Girls Like Us and Say What You Will focus at least in part on characters navigating jobs, college, roommates and living on their own for the first time. Fiction about this life stage has recently taken on the publishing label "new adult." This category name is often mistakenly seen as synonymous with "lots of graphic sex scenes," but these two books provide solid counter evidence to this claim, as neither book contains any consensual sex at all between so-called "new adults.")
In some ways, YA lit has been a welcome home to stories about marginalized teens ever since S.E. Hinton penned The Outsiders in 1967. While Hinton's book compared the working-class Greasers to the high-society Socs, contemporary YA fiction's protagonists represent a wide spectrum of differences across economics, ethnicity, sexuality and many other aspects of identity, including disability. The Fault in Our Stars (in both book and movie form) may have spearheaded the contemporary conversation about disabled teen protagonists, but it's done so as part of a longstanding tradition that continues to refine, and redefine, the portrayal of difference in YA lit.
This summer, let your child or teenager choose their own summer reading! There are plenty of brand new books that will keep your youngster—reluctant or eager—reading all summer long. Of course, they should be soaking up sunshine and swimming so much they could grow gills, but spending time with a book is just as important.
We've selected our favorite new books for summer reading, categorized by the genre your child or teen might enjoy. This is a particularly helpful guide if your child is participating in the Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge, which encourages young readers to choose their own books and log minutes to earn rewards.
Ready, set, read!
If your child or teen is interested in steampunk adventures,
why not try . . .
The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel
Ages 8 to 12
"From the best-selling author of Airborn and This Dark Endeavor comes another cinematic adventure. In this historical steampunk folktale, young William Everett is traveling across Canada on the maiden voyage of The Boundless. With seven miles of cars, including enough freight cars to form a circus “town,” The Boundless is the longest train in the world." Read our full review.
Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times by Emma Trevayne
Ages 8 to 12
"Who hasn’t imagined a new life, with new parents, in an exciting place? And a castle—definitely a castle! With chefs and maids and servants—everything you could ever want. In Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times, written by Emma Trevayne, 10-year-old Jack gets exactly this. Unfortunately, things are not as wonderful as they may seem." Read our full review.
Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson
Ages 10 and up
"Jaleigh Johnson has created a uniquely imaginative world in her first book for middle-grade readers, The Mark of the Dragonfly. Thirteen-year-old Piper is a feisty, orphaned girl who survives by discovering and restoring flying objects from meteor showers. What she doesn’t count on is finding Anna, who is being chased by a member of King Aron’s army and bears the mysterious mark of the dragonfly." Read our full review.
If your child or teen is interested in juicy mysteries,
why not try . . .
Three Bird Summer by Sara St. Antoine
Ages 10 and up
"For the first time ever, it will just be Adam, his mom and his aging grandmother at their cabin on Three Bird Lake. His parents have recently divorced, and although it will be a different kind of summer, 12-year-old Adam looks forward to escaping the routine of school, sitting on the dock by himself and watching the loons." Read our full review.
Ghosts of Tupelo Landing by Sheila Turnage
Ages 10 and up
"On the heels of solving her first mystery in the Newbery Honor book Three Times Lucky, Mo LoBeau faces more intrigue in her tiny North Carolina town of Tupelo Landing. Just when her adoptive kin buy the old Tupelo Inn, now abandoned and rumored to be haunted, her sixth-grade teacher assigns an oral history report to coincide with the community’s 250th anniversary." Read our full review.
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
Ages 12 and up
"How do you talk about a story so shrouded in secrecy, its own heroine doesn’t know what’s going on? Here’s what we do know: The characters in E. Lockhart’s 10th novel are members of a privileged American family. We know that a private island is involved, on which both intense friendship and romance bloom. But anything else we think we know could be a lie." Read our interview with Lockhart.
The Prince of Venice Beach by Blake Nelson
Ages 12 and up
"Set on the beaches and back alleys of Los Angeles, The Prince of Venice Beach is the tale of a homeless runaway who lives an easy life off the grid—until his only means of income turns morally complex." Read our full review.
If your child or teen is interested in sun-filled drama,
why not try . . .
I Kill the Mockingbird by Paul Acampora
Ages 10 to 14
"Everyone should read Harper Lee’s classic To Kill a Mockingbird; at least that’s what eighth-graders Lucy and her friends Michael and Elena think. In fact, they believe so strongly in this summer reading-list classic that they decide to put their clever and surreptitious marketing skills to work to get everyone talking about—and searching for—the book." Read our full review.
Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour
Ages 12 and up
"At just 18, Emi has parlayed a Hollywood internship into work as a production designer, a job for which she has natural talent. While prop shopping at an estate sale, she finds a letter from a deceased movie star that sends her and her best friend, Charlotte, on a quest to find the actor’s troubled granddaughter, Ava." Read our full review.
This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki
Ages 12 and up
"For Rose, summers at Awago Beach are a constant. She and her parents have been renting a cottage there for as long as she can remember, and none of the changes in her life can alter the yearly trip to the beach—not even her parents’ sudden surge of fights. She’s reunited with her best beach friend Windy, and at first everything falls into the usual rhythm." Read our full review.
What I Thought Was True by Huntley Fitzpatrick
Ages 14 and up
"Set on the beaches of a fictional island located off the coast of Connecticut, What I Thought Was True is the story of a young woman learning firsthand of the mystifying intricacies of love, lust, luxury and loyalty—and how each can change drastically for her friends, her family and herself." Read our full review.
If your child or teen is interested in a thrilling new fantasy series,
why not try . . .
The Thickety by J.A. White
Ages 8 to 12
"By age 6, Kara Westfall has seen and suffered unimaginable loss: Her mother was convicted of witchcraft, and Kara was accused as well. By 12 she’s developed a dark sense of humor, but she’s a dutiful sister to younger brother Taff and tries to care for her grieving father. Their village hates and fears her, so when a strange bird appears in her path and leads her into the Thickety, the oppressive forest that surrounds them, she’s frightened but curious." Read our full review.
The Glass Sentence by S.E. Grove
Ages 10 and up
S.E. Grove’s debut novel is set in a world unmoored from time. Different countries can exist in the 19th century, Dark Ages, prehistory or even the future. This grand adventure involves a glass map, a kidnapped uncle and a cast of complex and endearing characters. Look for a review in the July issue of BookPage.
Deep Blue by Jennifer Donnelly
Ages 12 and up
"Mermaid princess Serafina is nervous. Today’s the day she’ll prove herself a true descendant of her famous ancestor Merrow in the royal family’s traditional Dokimí ceremony. She’ll demonstrate her worthiness to rule through “songcasting” a complex musical spell, and the day will end with her formal betrothal to the handsome but rebellious crown prince Mahdi." Read our full review.
Take Back the Skies by Lucy Saxon
Ages 12 and up
"The first book in a new series from 19-year-old author Lucy Saxon, Take Back the Skies offers readers an incredibly fast-paced mixture of fantasy and steampunk. It’s full of twists and turns that will shock even the most ardent fantasy fan." Read our full review.
What books would you recommend to a young reader this summer?
Locker Combinations is a Book Case feature by BookPage contributor and young adult (YA) literature expert Jill Ratzan. Using a variety of literary, cultural and educational perspectives, Jill guest blogs about the latest in YA lit and the general direction, trends and changes of the field. This month, Jill addresses the importance of summer reading.
The days are getting longer, the mercury is climbing and the siren song of beaches, summer camp—or pretty much anything at all that isn’t school—is becoming irresistible. As the school year comes to an end, why should the teens in your life think about picking up a book during summer vacation? Research on summer reading provides some noteworthy answers.
One good reason is that reading over the summer has been shown to reduce “summer slide,” the term educators use to refer to the skills and knowledge that students lose over long summer breaks. A research brief produced by Karen Balsen and Douglas Moore for the New York State Library in 2010/2011 provides an accessible summary of much of this research, especially as it relates to socioeconomic factors. For example, Balsen and Moore cite a 2007 study that found that “two‐thirds of the 9th [sic] grade reading achievement gap can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities during the elementary school years.” Having year-round access to a wide range of interesting reading material, this and other studies conclude, helps narrow achievement gaps and prevent summer learning loss.
Reading over the summer has been shown to reduce “summer slide,” the term educators use to refer to the skills and knowledge that students lose over long summer breaks.
Many schools assign books to be read during vacation months, but why should teens also be given the chance to choose their own summer reading? In his various writings, including the seminal books The Power of Reading: Insights from the Research (Libraries Unlimited, 2nd ed. 2004) and Free Voluntary Reading (Libraries Unlimited, 2011), educational researcher Stephen D. Krashen advocates for free voluntary reading (FVR), “reading because you want to: no book reports, no questions at the end of the chapter.” Citing dozens of research studies, Krashen explains that FVR—“the kind of reading that most of us [especially BookPage readers!] do obsessively all the time”—promotes reading comprehension, acquisition of general knowledge and most of all the positive attitudes toward reading that are all but necessary for achieving reading fluency. Summer is the perfect time for teens to catch up on the FVR that busy school year schedules often preclude.
Finally, in what might possibly be the most unusual piece of research ever produced about summer reading, emergency room doctor Stephen Gwilym and his colleagues noticed in 2005 that traffic in their pediatric trauma center had plummeted on certain July weekends . . . the same weekends that new Harry Potter books were released. Writing in the British Medical Journal, they report “a [statistically] significant decrease in attendances on the intervention weekends . . . At no other point during the three year surveillance period was attendance that low.” Why weren’t kids and teens getting hurt in typical summer accidents on those weekends? Because instead they were sitting still, reading about Harry’s latest adventures.
Why weren’t kids and teens getting hurt in typical summer accidents on those weekends?
Of course, this doesn’t quite work backwards: Dusting off your old copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince won’t necessarily keep you (or your teen) out of the ER this summer. But since Gwilym et al argue that Harry’s “lack of horizontal velocity, height, wheels, or sharp edges” contributed to low injury numbers, perhaps any book will do just as well.
In the end, teens (in general) don’t read research studies; their own reasons for reading over the summer are more likely to be about good stories than about achievement gaps. What books are your teens especially looking forward to reading this summer? How do you help convince them that, as the weather gets hot, reading is still cool?
It starts with one teenage girl—the severe tics, the twitching. Then it spreads to another, then another, then another. Is it a virus? Anxiety? Are the girls faking it? Soon, a dozen or more girls are twitching, and mass hysteria has an entire town in a panic.
I could be talking about the notorious Salem Witch Trials, the girls in LeRoy, New York, in 2012—or the two novels coming out this summer, one for adults and one for teen readers. Both novels were sparked by the mass hysteria in 2012 and tell the same general story—with some key differences. Both blend the thrills of a plague narrative with the psychological tension of paranoia and guilt.
We'll never forget how Megan Abbott addressed the cunning powerplays and precarious hierarchies of high-school girl world in her dark and twisted novel, Dare Me. In her next adult novel, The Fever, coming June 17 from Little, Brown, teenage girls fall one by one to unexplained seizures, sending the town into chaos. There's something distinctly sexual about the girls' twitching, and Abbott's dreamlike prose gives these events a haunting, disturbing quality.
YA novel Conversion by Katherine Howe, coming July 1 from Putnam, heads in a more supernatural direction and makes the satisfying connection between past and present twitching. Howe is a direct descendent of two of the women accused of witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials, which has inspired her before. Conversion moves between Salem Village in 1706 and an all-girl's high school in Danvers, Massachusetts, in 2012. When girls start twitching and people start panicking, a parallel is drawn: Danvers was once Salem Village.
It seems the mass hysteria narrative is catching. I suspect we will see several more novels featuring twitchy girls before the end of the year.
Locker Combinations is a Book Case feature by BookPage contributor and young adult (YA) literature expert Jill Ratzan. Using a variety of literary, cultural and educational perspectives, Jill guest blogs about the latest in YA lit and the general direction, trends and changes of the field. This month, Jill tackles reluctant readers.
"My teacher told me to pick out a book," the seventh grader standing at my library reference desk complains. Clearly, she wishes she'd been sent to choose a poisonous octopus instead.
Avid readers can easily be boggled at best—and horrified at worst—by teens who seem completely uninterested in reading. As adults who love the written word, we want the teens in our lives to love it too. So how can we reach out to teens who don't like to read?
Librarians use the term "reluctant readers" to describe young people like the one above. The term is both alliterative and subversive: Reluctance doesn't imply refusal, just hesitation. The idea is that the right book can overcome a potential reader's misgivings and inspire them to give reading a chance.
Reluctant readers love lists: They're easy to follow and present information in quick, short chunks. In that spirit, here's a list of four ideas for matching reluctant teen readers with books they're likely to enjoy. Or, at least, not likely to hate.
1. Take advantage of resource lists.
The American Library Association publishes an annual list of Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, including a Top Ten Quick Picks list. These lists feature "books that teens, ages 12-18, will pick up on their own and read for pleasure; [they are] geared to the teenager who, for whatever reason, does not like to read."
On this year's list, I love Game by Barry Lyga, the second book in a series about a boy who vows to catch serial killers . . . starting with his own father. The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey, about an alien invasion, has also been a big hit with the reluctant readers in my neighborhood.
Many public libraries put together their own lists too. For example, check out the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh's "But I HATE to Read!" list for teens, whose refreshingly honest title speaks directly to its target audience.
2. Choose books with inherently high-interest topics.
Alien invasions and serial killers are usually good bets. In a press release announcing the 2014 Quick Picks choices, Derek Ivie, chair of the Quick Picks committee, enumerates other topics and formats of perpetual interest, including "zombies, dystopias, dogs, crafts, [and] graphic novels." (He goes on to apologize that "there are no graphic novels of zombie dogs making crafts in a dystopian world" but adds, "Maybe next year?")
3. Choose books that don't look intimidating.
Page counts should be low and amount of white space should be high. Illustrations, if they're relevant, should be plentiful. And, of course, cover art should be inviting and book description blurbs should be attention-grabbing. My favorite blurb from this year's Quick Picks list is for Eat, Brains, Love by Jeff Hart: "Jake and Amanda just ate most of their friends. They feel really bad about it."
University of Richmond Department of Education Curriculum Materials Center director (and BookPage contributor!) Angela Leeper has the right idea when she assembles this terrific list of Books Under 200 Pages for Booklist magazine. These 20 choices are sure to be hits among teens who might eschew more intimidating-looking tomes.
(Of course, rules were made to be broken: Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, which takes up only 72 pages in its Dover edition, is a much more difficult read than the 870-page Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. But in general, shorter books help reading seem more manageable.)
4. Discard your avid-reader instincts.
Gold and silver award seals, like those of the Newbery and Printz medals, can be off-putting to reluctant teen readers, who associate them with uninteresting, difficult books that carry that known kiss of death: adult approval. (Again, every rule has its exceptions: Rainbow Rowell's love story between two misfit 1980s teens, Eleanor & Park, was named both a Printz Honor book and a Quick Pick for 2014.)
While avid readers often relish the cracking sound that a pristine hardcover makes the first time it's opened, a reluctant teen reader might have just the opposite view. A creased spine and worn out pages indicate a book that's been well-loved. Teens are observant people and they notice these cues.
So what about my seventh grader? After being assured that it had not won a Newbery—but that it had been made into a movie—she left with a well-worn paperback copy of the YA suspense classic I Know What You Did Last Summer by Lois Duncan. I hope she didn't hate it.
Young adult mystery Death Spiral is working double duty: It introduces the Poisoned Pencil, the new YA mystery imprint of Poisoned Pen Press, and kicks off the Faith Flores Science Mysteries.
Death Spiral might be intended for teen readers, but this science thriller tackles some dark stuff. Sixteen-year-old Faith Flores wants to go to college and study science, but she has a lot to overcome. When her junkie mom dies, Faith doesn’t believe it was an overdose, and she begins a dangerous search for the truth that takes her from the drug houses of North Philadelphia to the labs of the pharmaceutical industry.
Author Janie Chodosh is a "scientist wannabe and a naturalist." Chodosh shares 10 fascinating tidbits on the science behind her debut:
Death Spiral: A Faith Flores Science Mystery is a genetics-based mystery. Check out this list of interesting genetics facts that inspired the story of Faith Flores and her quest to find the true cause of her mother’s death from a supposed heroin overdose.
1) The human genome consists of approximately 3 billion chemical base pairs and about 21,000 protein-coding genes. There are probably thousands more genes. Despite so many base pairs, any pair of humans is 99.9% identical in DNA.
2) Many genes play a role in addiction. For example, The A1 allele of the dopamine receptor gene DRD2 is more common in people addicted to alcohol or cocaine.
3) Although no mice were tested on to write this book, with the help of mouse studies, scientists have identified many genes that play roles in addiction. The reason mice are so helpful in studying addiction is because the reward pathway in our brains functions in much the same way in mice as it does in people. (If you want to know about mice and their addiction issues, read the subpoints; if rodent addiction is not of interest to you, move on to #4.)
a) Mice lacking the serotonin receptor gene Htr1b are more attracted to cocaine and alcohol.
b) Mice bred to lack the β2 subunit of nicotinic cholinergic receptors have a reduced reward response to cocaine.
c) Mice with low levels of neuropeptide Y drink more alcohol, whereas those with higher levels tend to abstain.
4) Gene therapy is a set of methods that uses genes to treat or prevent disease by inserting genes into a patient’s cells. There are three approaches to gene therapy: replacing a disease-causing gene with a healthy copy of the gene; inactivating a mutated gene; or introducing a new gene to help fight a disease.
5) When many people, including yours truly, think of patents, they think of things like curling irons and doodads that make cars work. In fact, the U.S. Patent and Trade Office has been issuing patents on genetic material since 1982. There are currently 3,000 to 5,000 patents on human genes in the United States.
6) However, (see #5) on June 13, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that human genes could not be patented.
7) Opponents of genetic patents worry about the financial aspect of gene patenting. What about this: If just one company is allowed to patent a particular genetic test or treatment, they will have a monopoly for the term of the patent and can charge whatever they like for it, limiting access to people who cannot afford to pay. Or this: Without any competition from other researchers, the company who owns the patent wouldn't necessarily have to respond to consumer feedback.
8) Myriad Genetics filed several patents for BRCA1 and BRCA2, genes associated with breast and ovarian cancer. In March 2010, a U.S. District Court ruled that the company's patent claims were invalid because genetic material was, in fact, a product of nature.
9) The age of personal genomic medicine is here. Whereas it used to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to get a genome sequenced, the cost has gone as low as $1,000 and will continue to get cheaper. However, getting the meaning out of the data might cost you a lot more. Plus, where are you going to keep that valuable information?
10) We can find now find out if we are carriers for thousands of different diseases with a genetic component—things like Alzheimer’s Disease, Schizophrenia and Huntington’s Disease. Now, the question is, do we want to know? And if you know, it might have an impact on your siblings and children.
Thanks, Janie! Readers, Death Spiral is out now.
Meg Wolitzer, author of The Interestings, will publish a new young adult (YA) novel this September! Coming from Dutton Children's Books, Belzhar is inspired by The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath.
It's the story of 16-year-old Jam Gallahue, who is coping with the death of her boyfriend. She is sent to a boarding school in rural Vermont for "emotionally fragile, highly intelligent" teens, and she is placed in a small, elite English class that is reading Sylvia Plath. During this semester, Jam and her classmates discover a fantastical and strange world called Belzhar.
Wolitzer spoke with NPR about the new book, what it's like to write a YA novel and how Plath inspired her. I found her explanation of the Belzhar world to be especially intriguing:
". . . I guess it can be described as a kind of alternate universe in which the person (or thing) they've lost is returned to them. The fantasy is fairly lightly handled (I hope), and to my thinking somewhat metaphorical. It's about having unmet needs met, about getting rid of the ache of loss. I also employed a very light drift of fantasy in my adult novel The Uncoupling, as well as in a book for middle-grade readers about kids who meet at a Scrabble tournament, called The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman. (I remember comparing the level of fantasy in Duncan Dorfman to the amount of fudge running through one of those ice cream sundae cups we ate as kids: a very light vein, a suggestive and necessary ripple.)"
I can see this one having major crossover appeal for Wolitzer fans of all ages. Who else is excited?
Sally Green recently kicked off her much-anticipated Half Life trilogy with the release of her first YA novel, Half Bad. Green weaves a paranormal world of do-gooder White Witches and evil Black Witches into her setting of a modern-day United Kingdom.
Sixteen-year-old Nathan Byrn is seen as "an abomination, a Half Code" thanks to, you guessed it, his White Witch mother and Black Witch father. After Nathan's mother takes her own life out of shame for her role in the affair, he is forced to struggle for freedom from his cruel father, Marcus, and from the regulatory hand of the Council of White Witches.
Murky alliances, questionable methods employed by the self-proclaimed good guys of the Council and a cliffhanger ending make this an absorbing read that's sure to lure fans of strong YA series.
Get introduced to Nathan in the darkly cinematic trailer from Penguin Young Readers below:
What do you think, readers? Does this sound like a book for you?