I know a lot of people didn’t have the energy to read much this year (totally understandable!), but reading is normally one of my escapes, and it was even more so this year. I’m closing in on 100 books for the year (two left to go), but I’m more than halfway on both of the last two, so I can safely say they won’t be favorites. As usual, most of my reads this year were YA titles, along with some MG, a handful of adult fiction, and a healthy stack of nonfiction research titles.
Also as usual, some of my favorite books of 2020 were YA historicals!
WE ARE NOT FREE by Traci Chee. This beautifully-written book showed me how little I knew about Japanese internment camps during WWII, despite having read several books about the subject already. It was a National Book Award finalist, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it picks up other awards down the road. Fourteen POVs! One of them in verse! So many feelings!
DARK AND DEEPEST RED by Anna-Marie McLemore. Simply gorgeous writing! This queer retelling of THE RED SHOES set in 1518 in Strasbourg made me swoon. McLemore often makes my personal best-of lists, and this was one of my favorites yet.
A CLOUD OF OUTRAGEOUS BLUE by Vesper Stamper (author/illustrator). This (1348) plague book felt incredibly relevant today (oof), and the beautiful illustrations alongside the lyrical text brought the story to life. A orphaned teen with synesthesia illuminating manuscripts when the Black Death comes to town? Yes, please.
Besides historicals, something else I always love to read are books in verse. Two of my favorites this year:
THE BLACK FLAMINGO by Dean Atta. Somehow I missed that this came out in 2019 in the UK, but it was out here in the US this year. This coming-of-age story about a mixed-race gay teen growing up in London was just stunning.
PUNCHING THE AIR by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam. This powerful book about a Black boy wrongfully incarcerated showed me so much I didn’t know about the prison system. So much emotion in these pages.
I also found myself wanting to escape into the Before Times, so some of the contemporary novels out this year but written in the Before were favorites of mine, including:
MAD, BAD, & DANGEROUS TO KNOW by Samira Ahmed. Travelling to Paris in this dual-timeline (present day and 19th century) was a delicious escape, and unraveling the mystery of a Muslim woman connected to Alexander Dumas made for a gripping read!
THE LIFE AND (MEDIEVAL) TIMES OF KIT SWEETLY by Jamie Pacton. This feminist story is about a teen who wants to be a knight at the medieval restaurant where she’s a serving wench so she can earn more to help her family and attend her dream college. With a diverse set of characters and an honest look at poverty, this book offers a unique take on the college-bound YA novel.
Finally, books I loved in other genres and categories:
STAMPED: RACISM, ANTIRACISM, AND YOU by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi. Nonfiction! This was such a fantastic non-history book (you’ll get this if you’ve read the book). I listened to the audiobook with my family, and we all learned so much history we didn’t know. The audio version was especially fantastic.
EFRÉN DIVIDED by Ernesto Cisneros. Middle grade! I loved quite a few middle-grade books this year, but this one really captured my heart. Efrén’s parents are undocumented, and when his mother is deported to Mexico, he must not only help with his young siblings and make do with very little, but also try everything he can to get his family back together. So many feelings in this lovely book. Dreamers and their families deserve to stay here!
UPRIGHT WOMEN WANTED by Sarah Gailey. Adult fiction! This book came out in 2019, but I didn’t read it until this year. It’s got an old west feel, but it’s set in a near-future United States, with a group of queer librarians delivering subversive literature on horseback. I loved everything about it.
What about *you*? Please share your favorite books of 2020 here!
Some exciting audiobook and paperback news to share about White Rose! These formats will both be released less than a month from now (on January 12, 2021).
I’d really hoped for an audiobook someday, so this truly a dream come true. The narrator (Nicola Barber) has a great voice for Sophie Scholl, and I can’t wait to listen to the whole book. Please take a look over at libro.fm, where it’s currently up for pre-order. And there’s a sample available right there!
I’m also thrilled that the paperback is scheduled to release on the same day. You can pre-order from your local independent bookstore, or if you’re looking for a non-amazon way to get it shipped to you, you can find it on bookshop.org.
You can support any listed independent bookstore (click “Find a Bookstore” up top to search), or you can support individual enterprises, like What’s Her Name, a fantastic podcast I love about women from history.
In thanks of all the support for White Rose so far, I’m currently running a giveaway over on Twitter. I’ll be personalizing two hardcover copies for the winners. Enter over there by 17 December!
Yesterday afternoon I had the great pleasure of attending the virtual launch of Friends & Anemones, a poetry anthology for kids.
FRIENDS AND ANEMONES: Ocean Poems for Children, is a fun and informative collection of original poems and art by New England authors and illustrators. Hands join fins in an adventure through kelp forests to meet sea otters and whales. Attend an underwater birthday party! Voyage through tempests to bottom-of-the-ocean volcanos and mysterious creatures in the deep, deep darkness. This book is a valuable ecological and poetry resource for parents as well as librarians and teachers. The Writers’ Loft brings together authors and artists from all over New England to collaborate, because writing doesn’t have to be a solitary pursuit!
The Writers’ Loft in Sherborn, MA curated this project, with Kristen Wixted and Heather Kelly editing. I was lucky enough to serve as one of the judges, along with fellow poet Matt Forrest Esenwine, and I even have a poem in the book myself! It’s wonderful to now see all the beautiful poems and illustrations in their finished forms.
Please do order your copies through Bookshop.org to support The Blue Bunny bookstore, which hosted the event! Happy reading!
I’m so excited to share that HMH Versify will be publishing my next YA historical novel-in-verse, THE MOST DAZZLING GIRL IN BERLIN!
I have been working on this project for a long time, but I continue to love it as much as I did when I began the very first draft. The Weimar Republic was a fascinating and complex era, and Berlin was most decidedly the hub of its universe. Finding out what it was like to live then and there–especially in the queer community in Schöneberg–totally captured my heart. I hope it captures readers’ hearts too!
For any other writers (especially those writing historical fiction) who might want to know how long my projects have taken me:
I wrote my first draft of (a very different version of) WHITE ROSE in 2005, and it was published in 2019 (14 years).
I wrote my first draft of (a very different version of) THE MOST DAZZLING GIRL IN BERLIN in 2013, and it will be published in 2022 (9 years).
It’s been a busy few months in many ways, but I’ve been the lucky recipient of three pieces of lovely news about my debut novel, White Rose:
It’s been named on the longlist for the Massachusetts Book Award (in some fantastic company with fellow Massachusetts authors)!
It was named on the shortlist for the 2020 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award (again in fantastic company, including the winning Lovely War by Julie Berry).
Finally, White Rose has been named the 2019 Malka Penn award winner! This annual award is for works addressing human rights in children’s literature, and I’m so incredibly honored. Read all about the award and the amazing honor books here!
There are plenty of places to submit short fiction, as you can see from a quick scroll through Submittable, but it hasn’t always been so easy to find the perfect home for your shorts that truly fall under the YA umbrella. Back in 2017, I summed up a list of five journals accepting YA short fiction, but the landscape has definitely changed. Only two of the original five publications are still in operation. Even a new one suggested by a reader (The Passed Note) has since shut down. However! There is now a brand new YA journal! Voyage launched in the summer of 2020, and they not only have some great content up already, but they are also open to submissions!
In summary, the following journals are now open for YA:
Voyage is the latest YA journal on the scene. They are interested in quality work by writers from a variety of backgrounds, especially #ownvoices.
Lunch Ticket is the Antioch University literary journal, and accepts YA submissions. They also accept general submissions from authors aged 13 and up!
Writers aged 13-17 are also welcome to submit to the School Lunch feature at Lunch Ticket.
Hunger Mountain This is the VCFA literary journal, and accepts YA regular and contest submissions.
Any other favorite journals I missed that accept YA submissions? Please feel free to share in the comments!
I’ve been posting my favorite books of the year for several years now, and even though my own debut novel came out this year, I have plenty of other favorites! As usual, I fell hard for some historicals and novels-in-verse, and I’m also including a graphic novel that both my kids and I absolutely adored. In fact, I had quite a few middle grade books among my top picks:
THE BRIDGE HOME by Padma Venkatraman. As with all of Padma’s stories, this book is full of heart (which might break just a little while reading, but it’s so worth it).
NEW KID by Jerry Craft. This graphic novel is a must-read for everyone. Fantastic artwork and story.
OTHER WORDS FOR HOME by Jasmine Warga. A gorgeous novel-in-verse about a new immigrant and her family.
HOW HIGH THE MOON by Karyn Parsons. This racially-charged historical is set partially in South Carolina and partially in Boston, and takes the reader along on a difficult journey they won’t soon forget.
But as usual, most of my favorites this year were young adult titles. So many favorites this year! Here are a handful of my top picks:
INTERNMENT by Samira Ahmed. This dystopian places a teenager and her family in a Muslim internment camp and follows her resistance from within its walls.
LOVELY WAR by Julie Berry. The setting in this WWI historical was vivid, the writing gorgeous, and the story layered and rich and divine. Also, the romance(s)! Simply lovely.
THE DOWNSTAIRS GIRL by Stacey Lee. I adore all Stacey Lee’s books, and this one is my favorite yet. Jo is a Chinese American girl living in Reconstructionist Georgia whose determination is an inspiration.
BUTTERFLY YELLOW by Thanhha Lai. I love Thanhha’s verse, but the prose is just as lovely here. It’s a post-Vietnam War historical and a tragic reminder of the scars immigrants fleeing terrible situations bear.
I also had a couple of really innovative favorites:
PET by Akwaeki Emezi. People have been calling this one genre defying and it sure is. Jam calls forth Pet, who returns to Jam’s world to hunt a monster. Absolutely incredible.
IN PARIS WITH YOU by Clémentine Beauvais, translated by Sam Taylor. I read this novel-in-verse in the English translation, but I do want to try it in my (rusty) French as well because aaaaah, all the feelings! I loved this gorgeously-written retelling of Eugine Onegin.
Finally, a few bonus books from the 2020 ARC titles I was lucky enough to read this year:
THE BLOSSOM AND THE FIREFLY by Sherri L. Smith. Get this one on your radar pronto, and get those tissues handy! I love everything about this historical set in Japan in the final days of WWII. Absolutely stunning.
THE ASSIGNMENT by Liza Wiemer. This fictional story is based on a real incident that had high school students taking sides in a mock debate about the Final Solution. Like the real-life students, these students refuse to participate, taking a powerful stand against hate.
FLOWERS IN THE GUTTER by K. R. Gaddy. This work of narrative non-fiction offers an impressive body of research about the Edelweiss Pirates, a loosely-grouped band of teen resistance members during WWII.
That’s it from me for 2019. What were your favorites from this year? And what books are you most looking forward to in 2020? Please share!
I’m thrilled to announce that A Kiss Before Breakfast, a project I submitted to the SCBWI WIP translation grant, has won the award!
Translation is a relatively new obsession for me, but the source text (Un beso antes de desayunar, a picture book from Spain) has been one of my family’s favorite books for years. The text is so lovely that I couldn’t stop thinking about it and had to give it my best shot.
Find the full list of grants and winners here. Congrats to all!
Last week, I shared a post of my path following the White Rose in Munich on my recent trip to Germany. One of the other stops on my trip was Berlin, which had nothing to do with the White Rose, but which gave me a dash of Weimar Republic I was looking for.
First off, traces of history are hard to find in modern-day Berlin, rebuilt after about 80% of the city was destroyed in WWII and then modernized again after the fall of the Berlin Wall. So sometimes a hint means “[XYZ] used to be here,” where [XYZ] was once a cabaret, the most popular cafe in town, or an old dance hall.
Sometimes hints can be found in actual items from back in the day. There are several vintage and antique shops in Schöneberg, and I also got to visit the Saturday flea market at the Rathaus.
Just walking around the neighborhood provided glimpses of what once was, even though most of these structures have at least been partially rebuilt.
(Literal) signs of some of the more famous residents still exist today as well. I’d made a point of booking in the Hotel Sachsenhof, where the poet Else Laske-Schüler used to live, but other famous residents in the neighborhood included writer and director Billy Wilder and writer Christoph Isherwood.
But there were a couple of places that went virtually untouched and still exist today with much of that century-old detail. One such place is the Einstein Cafe, an art nouveau villa that now serves excellent meals with loads of ambience.
Another is Clärchens Ballhaus, a still-active restaurant and dance hall that makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. There’s been talk of the place switching hands or closing down, but I certainly hope it remains for years to come.
Overall, it’s not easy digging for history in a city that’s been through so much, but it was definitely worthwhile to find those small traces that remain.