A lifestyle columnist with The Sun-Sentinel in Florida, young adult author Sherri Winston has made writing her career. She is familiar with a life defined by deadlines, rewrites, and feedback from her editor and readers. She is also not afraid to tackle controversial issues within her writing, be it an analysis on the lack of media coverage when African American women are missing, or shine the spotlight on a grieving mother helping others. Reading Winston’s columns shows me that she respects the issues and people that she writes about and she wants to give a voice to those whose stories are under represented in our news coverage and our literature.
Along with M.E. Kerr, Rita Williams-Garcia, Naomi Shihab Nye, Winston was a contributing author to Face Relations, an anthology edited by Marilyn Singer that addresses racial issues and race identity across America. “Snow” is the story of a high school journalist who exposes tensions between Haitians and African Americans in her school.
In a column penned in 2001, Winston talks about her own literary childhood where she read some of the great young adult classics, including Sounder and Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. But like many African American readers, she wanted to see herself reflected in the stories she read. She had a desire to read regular stories, not just historical fiction, that contained characters who liked the same music as her, worried about boys and dating, school, and parents.
I don’t know Sherri personally, but reading that article makes me think that she was itching to write tales for teens then. I like to think that soon after writing that article, she began to start pecking at the keys to write her first young adult novel, Acting, which was published in 2004.
I checked out a copy of The Kayla Chronicles a year ago from my local library after hearing so much buzz about the book in our nominations for the first 28 Days Later. I was sold on Kayla’s story for several reasons. Because of a strong relationship with her grandmother, Kayla is empowered and has a strong feminist identity. Kayla Dean is mission minded and determined to make a difference in life like her beloved grandmother. But as we read on, we discover that Kayla is caught in the middle. She doesn’t feel like she belongs in her own family, and especially doesn’t feel like she and her father even like each other. As Kayla’s chronicle transpires, Kayla learns more about who she is, what she believes in, and how to accept others for who they are.
Winston has written a book that would be a welcome addition on reading lists for teenage girls across the country. Through an engaging story, she teaches readers about recognizing their self-identity and standing up for their beliefs.
Acting: A Novel (2004)
The Kayla Chronicles (2008)
The Buzz on The Kayla Chronicles
“After finishing The Kayla Chronicles . . . , I came to the conclusion that I need to read more young adult novels featuring non-Caucasian protagonists. It’s not something I’d given much thought to previously, but I now realize my reading habits have been lacking. . . What I enjoyed most was how becoming a Lady Lion challenged Kayla’s views on feminism. . . Told in a voice with the right amount of attitude and sass, this was a nice way to spend a cold, winter afternoon.” ~ Jia, Dear Author
“It is wonderful to read in a young adult novel aimed towards girls about a respect for the women who have come before and how their accomplishments helped pave the way for the life they are able to live now. Since Kayla is African American, these memories take on an even more poignant bent as she deals with the unspoken taint of racism in the world around her. She manages to embrace all the sides of herself as a young woman and give others the same benefit of the doubt, all the while proving to herself and to her unbelieving father that the strength inside her suits her to a tee. Such journeys of personal discovery, peppered with a healthy dose of women’s history, make THE KAYLA CHRONICLES a special and fascinating book . . . Congratulations to Sherri Winston for proving that “chick lit” can be fun, intellectually satisfying and emotionally relevant, all at the same time. ~ Jana Siciliano, Teen Reads
“Narrated with sharp language and just the right amount of attitude, The Kayla Chronicles is the story of a girl’s struggle for self-identity despite pressure from family, friends and her own conscience. Kayla’s story is snappy, fun and inspiring, sure to appeal to anyone who’s every questioned who they really are.” ~ Young Adult ARCs