Our Own Worst Enemy

December 14, 2011


If enough folk turn their backs on Black History Month because they’re sick of it being the “only” time anyone pays attention to anything African-American related, will it actually make people pay more attention to us the other 11 months of the year?

Answer: NO

The contributions African Americans continue to make to society-at-large are significant enough that they should be well-documented and covered in classrooms, on television, in books and anywhere else anytime.

There are still hurdles to climb, for recognition,  in every single one of those arenas.

Let’s not pummel the one vehicle that may actually bring new folks to everyone’s attention.

I don’t get knocking BHM-related activities. It’s not like anyone is mandated to do anything to actually recognize Black History Month. Take a poll, we’ll probably find most don’t.

BHM gets more recognition for its controversy and the dickering over whether it should exist at all than for its purpose: an attempt to remedy the significant lack of consistent coverage of African Americans, in a positive light, among mainstream outlets.

On a good day, we’re barely recognized outside of the flavor of the month. In the absence of Oprah, I guess it’s Tyler Perry. And that’s among the mainstream outlets that recognize us at all.

Even the publications designed specially for African American accolades seem to cover the same people over and over.

Check out how often Mary J. Blige has appeared on the cover of Essence magazine as if she’s literally the ONLY female Black singer in the world.

If someone can tell me how we cure our own outlets from ignoring all but the already-popular and over-covered – we can begin working on the mainstream, together.

Black History Month isn’t a cure for our lack of mainstream recognition, it’s a simple way to remind all of us that there are more than three of us who have actually made a contribution.

So let me get on to the real beef here – low-grade grumbling that our 28 Days Later campaign is during Black History Month.

The Brown Bookshelf launched its annual campaign during Black History Month because we assumed (and rightly so, I still believe) we’d get the most bang for our buck among our key audience – librarians, teachers and parents – as they were actively seeking good books about and by authors of color.

Even among the well-intentioned, the same Black authors or at least the same type of books get pulled out and displayed in bookstores and libraries in February. Enough already – there’s a lot more to choose from. Enter The Brown Bookshelf.

We chose the month where the rest of the world, out of obligation or actual interest, turns their attention to African Americans.

Some believe if you build it they will come – no matter where you build it. Well some of us believe that it’s better to build your lemonade stand on the main thoroughfare rather than hope someone will find you out in the boondocks.

Black History Month is a main thoroughfare, whether we like it or not. Utilizing it as a springboard for attention doesn’t mean you support ignoring the rest of the year. It means you’re smart enough to get in where you fit in.

Certainly, turning your back on it doesn’t help things much.

The joy it brings to provide authors and illustrators a little recognition outweighs most else. But it bugs me that said recognition could be taken negatively simply because it’s in February. Must we constantly shoot ourselves in the foot over things?

Race-based recognition is often put under the microscope as if it’s the problem and not a solution to fill obvious voids. It’s not a perfect solution. And I’ll be the first to back flip the day our books are equally as best selling and in equal contention for mainstream honors.

When that day comes, sites like BBS will have outlived their usefulness. We’re waiting as anxiously as everyone else.

Brown Book Review: My Own Worst Frenemy

December 13, 2011

I’d ask where books like My Own Worst Frenemy were when I was a young reader, but I already know the answer – they didn’t exist. It’s why I started writing YA, in the first place.

Reviewing books like Reid’s first in the Langdon Prep series is bittersweet for me. On one hand I feel like doing a friggin’ back flip to celebrate their arrival. On the other, I’m so annoyed that it’s seriously taken publishing this long to acknowledge that readers (of color or not) would enjoy a book like this.

So yeah, obviously I liked this book. And sorry a portion of my review was done on a soap box. This issue isn’t just close to me, it formed my identity as an author. It’s tough to sit back and separate the individual book from the overall issue of diversity in YA. Maybe one day…

That said, My Own Worst Frenemy is quite a gem. Readers looking to infuse a little mystery in their lives will love it. Chanti Evans (confession: every time I saw the MC’s name I wanted to call her Chianti – just how my brain works) is from a working-class hood in Denver. Her mom’s an undercover cop who wants Chanti’s academic career to have a fighting chance, so she sends her to Langdon Prep a snooty private school where all schools are in books – across town.

My Own Worst Frenemy is a good first in a series book. We meet Chanti, Bethanie (a sure-fire frenemy in the making), Marco (the future BF) and of course there’s a female and male meanie, Lissa and her twin Justin. Getting to know them all is most of the fun, but this is a mystery after all – so there’s some intrigue and sleuthing involved.

The 4-1-1 breaks down like this:

The Good
Chanti and Marco are full-bodied characters. They feel real and readers will care about them. But note to authors: stop making main characters so insecure. We all know they’re going to end up with dude in the end. Enough with them putting themselves down just to build up the tension revolved around the growing love interest!

Chanti is African-American and Marco is Mexican. I’m fairly certain the other characters are of color too, but the book doesn’t dwell on that. Which is a plus. The reader can assume everyone is brown or not – it’s up to them really.

The Bad
The chapters revolve between the present and flashbacks of how Chanti ended up in trouble and thus at Langdon. The flashbacks were distracting and sometimes slowed down the action. It was obvious Chanti had gotten caught up in something, but since she’s not in juvie or jail, it couldn’t have been that serious. So, really, it almost didn’t matter to me how she ended up there. For the sake of the series, I hope the flashbacks end at book one.

The Ugly
No ugly.

Like most mysteries that involve teen sleuthing, the reader will have to suspend a little belief about just how much knowledge and moxie Chanti has. But that’s the fun of reading mysteries, right? We all want the MC to be a bit more courageous and smarter than we would be in the situation. Chanti’s righteously nosy and observant which makes her a great investigator and ripe to be a new millennium girl-detective idol.

Fans Live Here

December 12, 2011

Witnessing the pure unadulterated love from fans for the authors and their work makes managing The Brown Bookshelf so much fun. Sometimes the joy of reading can be lost in the hand wringing about the industry. Seeing fans come out for authors and books they love keeps things in perspective.

Well, over the years, we’ve found that some authors don’t maintain websites.

I know, hard to believe. But since many of us don’t write “full-time” I understand.

For those authors, when a reader Google’s them, their 28 Days Later spotlight may be one of the few interactive sites that pops up. In other words, they may find plenty of other sites that give a short bio but not many that give them the chance to leave a comment.

Yes, 28 Days Later authors, some of you are totally getting fan mail via comments here.

If any of our regular visitors knows or has access to any of the authors featured here, remind them to stop by and check out their pages now and then. They may be pleasantly surprised to see they’ve received comments from readers well after the campaign ended.

Without doing one stitch of research, I know the author who has received the most comments here and whose BBS page pops up FIRST on a Google search is Dana Davidson. Hey, Dana, stop in and get your love, lady!

Dueling Wild Nights

December 9, 2011

Though I never had one myself, I think every teen deserves one adventurous wild night out, Ferris Bueller or Sleepover-style (for the Lindsey Lohan generation). For the uninitiated, the wild night out is pure unadulterated no parents, throw caution to the wind and live like there’s no tomorrow adventure.

The theme is as old as storytelling, but I’m glad to see it rear its head in YA via The Anti-Prom by Abby McDonald and Glitz, by Philana Marie Boles. The suspension of belief it takes to go along with the characters as they stay out way past curfew (Glitz) or walk the line of the law (Anti-Prom), is what makes these books fun. Truth is, most of us fear breaking curfew too much to dip a toe, much less our entire selves into a wild night out. So safer to go along on the ride with Ann Michele and the motley crew of Bliss Merino, Jolene Nelson and Meg Rose Zuckerman.

There’s a little Ann Michele in us all. The question is, are we bold enough to let our Glitz shine through?

Bored with her straight-laced existence with her grandmother, Ann Michele befriends Raquel, an aspiring singer/rapper with a checkered past. The two share music in common and despite Ann Michele’s grandmother’s concerns – of which she has many, Ann Michele refuses to give up on the friendship. Desperate to live a little, Ann Michele accepts Raq’s invitation to hit up a concert of their favorite rapper. Not only is Glitz, Ann Michele’s quietly sassy alter-ego, born but she sets off on a road trip with Raq, their hip hop idol and his entourage. The trip opens her eyes to what true friendship is about and life behind hip hop’s iced out posturing.

The old school vs. nu school battle that Ann Michele’s family situation provokes is at the heart of the story. Boles could have made the Glitz persona an instantly out of control diva and 180 degrees different from Ann Michele herself. Instead, Glitz is merely Ann Michele out of her shell, a gradual personality-lift born of frustration. All her life she’s been a good student and remained out of trouble, but that isn’t enough for her grandmother. So becoming Glitz is a chin-thrusting “take that” to her grandmother and all parents/guardians who forget they were once young experimenters.

Glitz walks the line between wild adventure and slightly realistic. At first, readers may question the road trip. I did. I mean, in her place would I go road tripping with a bunch of rappers knowing I’d have NO life once I got back home to face the music (no pun intended)?

But given Ann Michele’s circumstances, I just might. Readers will empathize with her thirst for something, anything that allows her to spread her wings. And Boles keeps it real because for every moment “Glitz” throws caution to the wind, Ann Michele spends another ten moments concerned about the consequences.

The Anti-Prom

First thing that came to mind as I read The Anti-Prom – this is Ferris Bueller meets The Breakfast Club. Any teen readers who don’t know these movies need to get a quick tutorial. My God, they’re pop cult faves.

When Bliss Merino finds her boyfriend hooking up with her best friend in the limo AT prom, she sets out to get immediate revenge. Okay, “immediate,” because it takes the entire night and half way through she has second thoughts…so more like eventual, sort-of revenge.

In truth, the revenge itself is beside the point. The Anti-Prom is about the journey on revenge road.

No one can get revenge on their own, so Bliss recruits the help of outcast Jolene and quiet girl, Meg. This is where the Breakfast Club comes in. The girls are from a variety of high school’s walks of life, so as expected they clash over their social differences only to come together when it’s most crucial.

Frankly, I never really got how Bliss’s revenge was truly revenge. Decking the jerk boyfriend and dumping the BFF could have resulted in equally as much drama but I digress.

For the fun of it, The Anti-Prom is an easy and enjoyable read. Nothing wrong with a night living on the edge and realizing that we’re all more alike than different.

Since this is a duel, my nod goes to Glitz as the winner. Where The Anti-Prom is centered around an age-old event that a vast majority of teens have experienced or will, Glitz offers a peek into a world that most of us will never touch. But heck, why not give yourself two wild nights and read ’em both.