Just 5 Things with E.M. Kokie: Author of “Personal Effects” and more

Welcome to my second in a series of mini-interviews with authors I’ll be paneling with at the ALA Annual Conference in Orlando. The panel is called It’s Not Just a G Thing: Exploring the LBTQ (and Beyond) in Middle Grade and Young Adult Literature, and I really hope you can make it for what I am 100% sure is going to be brimming with some compelling discussion about representation in YA and middle grade titles.

To get you totally hyped up about this all-star panel, I’m conducting mini-interviews with the participants. I’ve already interviewed the lovely Alex Gino and am now super pumped to share this talk with E.M. Kokie.

Hopefully you know E.M. (or Emily, as I’ll be sometimes calling her in this interview), from her novel Personal Effects, which is a YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults and Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults Top Ten, a Lambda Literary Award Finalist, and a 2013 IRA Young Adult Honor Book. It received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. School Library Journal said that, “Kokie beautifully crafts a story about the troubled relationships between an emotionally stunted father and his two sons,” and that it’s “a strong choice for reluctant readers and lovers of realistic fiction alike.” In addition, Emily is passionate about social justice issues, especially in the context of y0uth literature, and blogs about it over at The Pirate Tree. In fact you can read about fellow panelists e.E. Charlton-Trujillo and Alex Gino over there. Check it out. It’s a great resource.

Oh, and did you know that she’s also a lawyer?

Now, if you please, here are Just 5 Things with E.M. Kokie:

Ingrid Abrams:  How has your background as a lawyer helped you as a writer?

Emily Kokie: I suppose my training as a lawyer helps with my writing, at least in terms of training the way I think and forcing me to become disciplined about writing and revision.  But I think it is more that I have natural tendencies that have helped me become both a lawyer and a writer. I think there is a reason we see so many writers for kids and teens who are also lawyers.  Effective lawyers are very good at putting themselves in other people’s shoes, figuring out what that other person thinks, wants, needs, and will compromise. Effective lawyers are natural storytellers — whether that story is persuading a client to imagine a future scenario, advocating for a client’s goals, examining the what-ifs of the application of laws, or, perhaps the height of storytelling, persuading a jury or court to accept your client’s version of events.  We are often called on to look at competing explanations, look at documents, and figure out what really happened. And so much of that is also what goes into making a good novel — being able to effectively tell someone else’s story, to know how they would feel and what they would want. To understand that people don’t always say what they mean or show who they really are, and so often the greatest truths of a story are hidden between bits of dialogue and action.

IA: Is there a current YA novel that you wish you had when you were a teen?

EK: Oh, there are many. I was a voracious reader, but I didn’t really find books about queer kids — few about queer adults, either — when I was an adolescent. And I didn’t know any out queer people, and the ones I suspected were queer were also people for whom the suspicion meant they were made fun of or ridiculed behind their backs. I didn’t want to be laughed at or worse. And I’d never even heard the term bisexual. So, I spent my teens and a good chunk of my twenties totally confused about my sexuality and worried something was wrong with me, or that I wouldn’t be able to have a good life if I was queer. If I had had books with queer teens then I might have understood myself sooner, and might have felt more able to be who I was. Books like Empress of the World by Sara Ryan, Ask The Passengers by A.S. King, Sister Mischief by Laura Goode, Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger, Ash by Malinda Lo — books that explored friendship and love and showed me queer girls living, loving, questioning, growing, etc. And books that would have expanded my world view beyond the heart of middle-class, predominantly-white suburbia, like How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon, The Boy In The Black Suit by Jason Reynolds, Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai, Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, and Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang.

IA: On The Pirate Tree, you talk a lot about social justice issues. The term “social justice” can be really loaded. What does it mean to you?

EK: I think of social justice in terms of social conscience. To me it means being aware of and interested in the ways in which societies restrict the rights, opportunities, and lives of people without social or political power — whether those restrictions are issues like systemic racism, sexism, ableism, or homophobia, constructs like toxic masculinity or imbalances of economic power, and even violence and war.

IA: What literary character, of any genre, would you least like to spend time with?

EK: Well, there are many. I read a lot. But probably the one with whom I would least like to spend time would be Randall Flagg from The Stand by Stephen King.

IA: You’re a huge Buffy fan. Who is your favorite Buffy-verse couple? Fanfic pairings totally count.

EK: And here is where I admit that fandom/fanfiction questions make me anxious, like admitting to deepest secrets and desires. But, I digress… None of the cannon pairings were my end-all-be-all pairings. Willow and Tara felt incredibly important and empowering to me at the time that relationship was first developing on the TV, but it also always felt very sweet to me. Not enough heat. I wish we had had longer to see where Giles/Jenny would have gone. Jenny had potential to be interesting. I wanted more  Faith (though I found the Faith/Wood cannon pairing boring and uninspired). I will admit to being intrigued by a lot of the Buffy/Spike dynamic, as highly problematic as it was (and we could talk for hours about that, and some of the later plot moments I wish had been handled differently).  But in fanfic I’ll read almost any pairing if well done. I am incredibly interested in layered stories that explore these characters as full-fledged adults (though not necessarily as portrayed in the post-series comics). Especially well-done Willow and Faith stories. I wish for a post-series Faith exploring her sexuality. And I was always fascinated with Giles, and the layers of that character — straight-laced facade, a lot of darkness, but good intentions, underneath.  And Giles’ practically-cannon pansexuality has made for a lot of interesting Giles-centric fanfiction. When I first found Buffy-verse fanfiction, I read a lot of Giles/Xander post-series stories and I hunted for Faith/Willow. But since I see almost all of the characters as having fluid sexuality, at least in fanfiction, there is almost no one I wouldn’t ship, if written well.

Since Alex’s post ended with a picture of them being lovingly glitter-bombed, I figured it was only fair that I did the same for Emily:

This is how I show people I like them.

Did I mention Emily has a new book coming out in September of this year? Stay tuned for Radical and pre-order it here!

As I mentioned in the previous post, since we’ll be meeting in Orlando, I’d be remiss if I didn’t once again ask you to donate to the following:

I did so myself and encourage you to do the same. They take donations of any size. In addition, you can donate directly to The Center in Orlando (you can find their donation button on the top right-hand corner).

Check back in on Monday, when I’ll be talking with author Robin Stevenson.

~Love and Libraries, Ingrid

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Rainbow List-ing and it Feels so Good: My first go-round on an ALA book committee

As soon as I became aware that the GLBT Round Table and the Rainbow List existed, I knew I wanted to be involved. I have always wanted to be a good ally and advocate for LBGTQ patrons of the library (and out of the library, naturally, but the library is my home). I have known that LGBTQ kids, teens, and families have been shamefully underrepresented in literature. It’s not as if a multitude of LBGTQ characters in children’s and YA books will fix anyone’s life or experience, but I’ve always believed in the healing power of literature. All children need to see themselves reflected in the books they read. This includes children of a variety of races, ethnicities, financial backgrounds, physical/mental abilities, geographic locations, religious affiliations, sexual and gender identities, and a number of other factors that I’m not clever enough to think of at this point. When a child (or teen, but I think it’s especially important in a person’s early years) reads about a character that speaks to their experiences, it can instill a love of reading and a sense of belonging in the world. We’re all looking for a witness. We all crave someone to validate our experiences and to say, “Yes. You went through this and you are not the only one.” Books can be so life-affirming.

This is why I am a proud Rainbow List member. I want LGBTQ kids and teens (and the children of LGBTQ-identified parents) to have the opportunity to see themselves in the books they read. I want to recognize and promote the authors who make this possible.

I know lots of librarians want to be involved with the Printz, Newbery, Caldecott or Alex Awards and that’s totally valid. The awards committees seem (I say “seem”, I’ve never been on one) very exciting and they’re certainly prestigious and impressive. However, there’s so much to be said for committees like Rainbow List. The Rainbow List is not an award. We’re a list of quality books for kids and young adults (birth to 18 years). The titles must contain authentic and significant LGBTQ content. The Rainbow List can include as many titles as the members would like, but it also includes a Top Ten list that features the best titles of the year. The Rainbow List, and other lists like it, are a tremendous resource for librarians, teachers, parents and readers of all ages. If you’re a youth services librarian, the Rainbow List is a valuable resource for collection development purposes. It’s not always apparent which books are LGBTQ-oriented and it can be difficult to locate them. The good folks of the Rainbow List find these titles for you, read them, and let you know which ones are worth including in your collection. I have cut-and-pasted entire Rainbow Lists into Baker and Taylor for ordering purposes, and this was way before I was involved with the list or the Round Table.

On Sunday, January 26th, the Rainbow List committee members made our final decisions concerning this year’s titles.

Are we not adorable?
Are we not adorable?

Here’s our committee with our Top Ten picks. That’s me on the left with the pink hair. I’m holding Kate Bornstein‘s My New Gender Workbook and The Culling by Steven dos Santos. Christine, right next to me, is holding Pantomime by Laura Lam and Better Nate than Ever by Tim Federle (the latter being one of the few exceptional submissions for young readers. Most of our submissions were YA books). Anna, in the scarf, is holding Sara Farizan’s If You Could Be Mine and Love in the Time of Global Warming by Francesca Lia Block (it pained me to not hold either of these titles. I really love them both. They hit me right in the gut. I should say that I’m honored to being holding Kate Bornstein and Steve dos Santos’s books. No doubt). Erin, who has the gorgeous curly hair, is holding Freak Boy by Kristin Elizabeth Clark (give this one to your hardcore Ellen Hopkins fans) and Leap by Z Egloff. Seated on the floor is my girl Naomi and she’s holding Branded by the Pink Triangle by Ken Setterington and Alaya Dawn Johnson‘s The Summer Prince.

Though they are not Top Ten selections, I’d like to bring some attention to some of my other favorites: Tyler Buckspan, Giraffe People, Rapture Practice, Archenemy (great for your not-so-advanced teen readers), If I Lie, The Waiting Tree, Calling Dr. Laura, and Blue is the Warmest Color, all of which I think would make worthwhile additions to your collection.

If you work in a library that serves teens and children, I would like to insist that the above titles are essential for your patrons. If you don’t think you have LGBTQ library users, you are wrong, I assure you. Also, these are great titles for expanding the horizons of all your readers, including those who identify as straight. A book that represents an unfamiliar voice can truly broaden one’s understanding of the world.

I highly recommend serving on the Rainbow List (Or any ALA book committee. I also think that the Amelia Bloomer book list looks like the jam and I can’t wait to work with them in the future). Here are a couple of reasons to get involved:

  • Not to sound like a hipsterbrarian, but I read Better Nate than Ever before most people did. Being on the Rainbow List gets tons of ARCs/galleys delivered right to your door. Receiving all those books and getting that smug “I read it before you did” look on your face is truly priceless.
  • I got so many nice emails, tweets, and Facebook messages from authors thanking me for getting them on this list. Seriously, it makes you feel so good.
  • There’s not a much better feeling than participating in a committee that helps bring underrepresented voices to libraries everywhere.

Not convinced? Non-award committee meetings are open to anyone at ALA. Come on in. See what we do. See if it’s something you’d enjoy. We usually have chocolate.

Want to volunteer to be on the Rainbow List? You need to be a GLBT Round Table member, as well as a member of ALA. Click here to get involved.

I am serving one more year on the Rainbow List until I have to take a break. Here’s what I’d like to see in upcoming Rainbow List submissions:

  • More books including and representing People of Color. Books about middle-class white boys are great and needed, but we’re failing a good deal of the population here.
  • Picture books! Come on now! Todd Parr can’t be the only one knocking out books like this. More! More!
  • More books for young readers. Hopefully Better Nate than Ever has opened the door for more LGBTQ children’s chapter books.
  • More books featuring women.
  • More books with trans* characters.
  • More books that acknowledge that gender is a spectrum.

I hope you read through our list and order some titles for your library. Put these books on hold. Trot over to your local bookstore and purchase these titles. Go on Twitter and tell these authors that you appreciate them.

I love you, Rainbow List.

~Love and Libraries, Ingrid

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Where the Links are: “I like the things about me that I once despised”


I’m a sucker for a good link round-up. I can’t lie. Kaelah from Little Chief Honeybee does weekly round-ups that I live for (it’s not a library-related site, but all library and no play makes Ingrid something-something). I used to bust out Things I Love Thursdays (TiLTs) once in a while, but they were kind of a chore and I gave up. So, I’m taking another go at this, posting them on Fridays instead of Thursdays (I guess Thursday always crept up on me. I was never ready for it). Here we go:


♥ This is a thing that happened:


The Slog Days of Summer: Have I complained about Summer Reading lately? Marge over at Tiny Tips for Library Fun totally feels all of our collective sad summer feels.

A library is not just about books: it’s also a place for the vulnerable: Did you know that the UK is predicted to lose 400 more libraries by 2016? I had no idea the numbers were so big. This moving article drives home the fact that libraries are so much more than books (though, books are pretty darn important):

My own fragility revealed that a library is not just a reference service: it is also a place for the vulnerable. From the elderly gentleman whose only remaining human interaction is with library staff, to the isolated young mother who relishes the support and friendship that grows from a Baby Rhyme Time session, to a slow moving 30-something woman collecting her CDs, libraries are a haven in a world where community services are being ground down to nothing. I’ve always known libraries are vital, but now I understand that their worth cannot be measured in books alone.

The Magicians: This is Libraries Changed My Life‘s most popular submission to date. For so many of us who were teenagers dying to escape from our small towns, our libraries helped us hold on just a little longer, until it was time to go.

Continue reading “Where the Links are: “I like the things about me that I once despised””

I AM READING THIS SO HARD RIGHT NOW: The Culling by Steven Dos Santos

For those of you just tuning in, this is I AM READING THIS SO HARD RIGHT NOW, where I talk about books I am loving the hell out of.  Of course, I won’t summarize them, because I am a busy 21st century woman with some heavy, heavy shit on my mind. Go find your plot recaps somewhere else! I’m looking at you, teens doing book reports.

If you were my patron at the library, I’d be shoving this book into your hands like nobody’s business. I am aggressive when it comes to Reader’s Advisory. Take the books I recommend or face the wrath of an over-caffeinated, neurotic librarian!

Or maybe I’m feeling tough and ballsy because I’m talking about The Culling: The Torch Keeper: Book One  by Steven Dos Santos. There are some tough mofos in this YA novel and it’s gory and suspenseful as hay-ell. The Culling comes in one of my favorite book flavors (yes, I call them flavors), Dystopian and Post-Apocalyptic. Remember the Capitol and President Snow in The Hunger GamesThe Establishment, the tyrannical government that rules the world of The Culling, makes the Capitol look like a bunch of pussycats knocked out on ‘ludes. I hope Dos Santos won’t begrudge me making a comparison to The Hunger Games, but I feel it’s very apt. The Culling is fast-moving and totally gruesome. It also bares a  bit of a resemblance to the Furnace books by Alexander Gordon Smith, which I also enjoyed.

The Culling, of course, stands apart from The Hunger Games and the Furnace books in many ways. I’ve been referring to it as “The Gay Hunger Games”, which I have to stop doing, because people immediately imagine some sort of lip-sync for your life scenario. So, let me explain myself a little better. The Culling features families being torn apart (literally and figuratively) by cruel, totalitarian governments and bloody fights to the death. But, unlike other titles of this ilk, this novel features several gay male characters. Lucky, our narrator? Diggory? They are tough and strong and absolute badasses. They are the ideal action movie heroes. Are they into each other? Sure. But you wouldn’t think of messing with either of them for a second.

Squeamish readers better head for the hills, because I’m about to go straight into an excerpt. Don’t say I didn’t warn you, suckers! Here, all the Recruits for the Trials are gathered together in front of their drill sergeant:

The Culling Final-1

Continue reading “I AM READING THIS SO HARD RIGHT NOW: The Culling by Steven Dos Santos”

I AM READING THIS SO HARD RIGHT NOW: If You Could Be Mine, by Sara Farizan

Diversity in YA literature is a subject that bops around my big dumb head all time. I adore Young Adult literature and I’m so proud of the leaps and bounds I’ve watched it make during my short career as a librarian. Still, there’s much to be desired. I work in one of the most ethnically (and otherwise varied) cities in world. Sometimes I look at the best-selling teen titles and don’t see too many protagonists that look like the kids that hang around the Youth Wing. This troubles me, as it’s important to find yourself reflected in the literature you read AND equally important for teens to be exposed to other cultures and experiences.

Generally speaking, LGBTQ teen literature is considered diverse in its essence. However this facet of literature is still overwhelmingly white-washed. I hardly ever get to read about LGBTQ people of color. In fact, more often than not, I’m presented with a book about two white, middle-class gay male teenagers (typically, these boys tend not to be on the femme-y side). Lesbian protagonists are less common, but clearly not non-existant. I’ve been pleased to discover a few titles that speak to the transgender experience (some better than others) and I just finished a fantastic YA fantasy featuring an intersex protagonist. Forget bisexuals. Sorry, bisexuals! Maybe next year. What I’m saying is, I’m seeing similar experiences rehashed far too often. 

Malinda Lo speaks to this much better than I ever could. I’m not going to bother linking to a specific article or posting one of her quotes, because there are way too many options to choose from. Just bop on over to her blog to access a number of more eloquently stated posts on the topic of diversity in LGBTQ teen literature (and teen literature at large).

All this brings me to If You Could be Mine, by Sarah Farizan, which will be published in August of 2013. Farizan introduces us to Sahar and Nasrin, who are in love. The premise of this book is vastly different than the typical LGBTQ literature I’m accustomed to reading. There’s no awkward coming out to friends and family here, as these characters don’t have that luxury. There’s no end-of-novel prom story or making out behind the bleachers. There’s not even the promise of living as an out lesbian as an adult. Sahar and Nasrin live in Iran where homosexuality is a crime.

There’s a palpable feeling of hopelessness and longing in If You Could Be Mine. Loneliness and desperation permeate every page. There are possible solutions, but none of them are easy or desirable. I don’t do summaries or spoilers, but here’s an excerpt:


“You’re staring again,” Nasrin says. She looks up from her nails and gives me a smile. I look down at my textbook  and hope my face isn’t red, like all the other times Nasrin catches me watching her.

“Don’t you have homework?” I ask.

Nasrin just blows on her nails and rolls her eyes. “I’m not a genius like you, Sahar. I’m going to move to India and be a Bollywood actress.” She stands up and goes into one of her Indian dance routines. Nasrin is an excellent dancer and gets a group of girls together from her school to practice. They usually have me film them while they dance Persian, Arabic, or whatever other dance routines they have been working on…

If she spent as much time on her studies as she did her dancing, maybe we could end up at the same university, but I know that isn’t going to happen. Now that we are getting older, we only have a few more years left like this together. Things will change. Nasrin will have a lot of suitors. The men will line up on her block. All of the well to do Tehran will come to her family’s house, dressed in their best suits.

The suitors will have tea with Nasrin’s parents, and they will explain that they can provide her with a good life with whatever important and boring job they have. Her parents will pick the best man for her, meaning the one with the most money. Nasrin comes from a good family, and they have money themselves, so she will marry the best that there is…I don’t know when I am going to lose her, but it’s going to happen, and I don’t know if I will be able to handle it.

Nasrin finishes her dance, and her face falls when she sees mine.

“What’s wrong, Sahar joon?” she says. She’s always been able to read me, even when she doesn’t want to.

“I wish we could stay in this room forever,” I say. She grins.

“I want to marry you,” I say, and Nasrin looks at me with a sad expression that makes me feel helpless and pathetic. 

“I know you do, azizam. We’ve talked about this.”

“I’ll find a way for us to be together.” I look her in the eye to let her know I mean it.

She bites her lower lip, as she’s done since she was little, and gently pulls at my hair. “We’re together now, Sahar. Let’s not waste time on what can’t be.”

~If You Could Be Mine, by Sara Farizan, pgs. 5-8

It’s odd to say that I’m excited about a book that caused me this much heartache, but it’s true. If You Could Be Mine puts LGBTQ rights in a global perspective for teen readers. I’m certain it deserves a place in your library.

~Love and Libraries, Ingrid

I AM READING THIS SO HARD RIGHT NOW: Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell


Welcome to “I AM READING THIS SO HARD RIGHT NOW”, where I blather on about books I’m loving. I don’t do summaries, so don’t come looking for ’em. But, before I get started:

Magpie's back with a brand new invention.
Magpie’s back with a brand new invention.

I am pretty dedicated to not including any spoilers in my half-assed reviews (I should really call them reflections instead of reviews), but this book is super special. I won’t intentionally spoil anything, but if I accidentally reveal something that would curb your enjoyment of this marvelous book, I’d never forgive myself. So, if you want to U-Turn on out of here until you read Eleanor & Park, no hard feelings. Come on back after you read it. Trust me, you want to read this. I don’t care if you don’t like YA fiction. Read it.

Continue reading “I AM READING THIS SO HARD RIGHT NOW: Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell”

GAY BOOKS!: A Sorta Valentine’s Day Display

It’s time for an LGBTQ-themed Teen book display. It’s got hearts, glitter, rad people, and lots of books from the Stonebook Book Awards and Rainbow Book  lists.

LGBTQ Display

Yeah, I got a bit sloppy/lazy with the lettering after all that cutting and pasting. Still, I think it's a pretty sweet little display.
Yeah, I got a bit sloppy/lazy with the lettering after all that cutting and pasting. Still, I think it’s a pretty sweet little display. Can you find Anna Paquin and Brooklyn author Jacqueline Woodson in this picture?
You can see Sally Ride chilling up in the corner, Orlando Cruz out to kick your ass, Zachary Quinto who scares the crap out of me on American Horror Story, the glam Justin Vivian Bond, Ellen and Portia, and Anderson Cooper, who has eyes like the sea.
You can see Orlando Cruz out to kick your ass, Zachary Quinto who scares the crap out of me on American Horror Story, the glam Justin Vivian Bond, Ellen and Portia, and Anderson Cooper, who has eyes like the sea.
Malinda Lo, author of Ash and other YA novels.
Malinda Lo, author of Ash and other YA novels.
Here we have Wanda Sykes, Frank Ocean, my girl Beth Ditto, James St. James (author of one of my favorite YA books, Freak Show), and Jane Lynch (who I will forever think of as a cocktail waitress on an oil barge).
Here we have Wanda Sykes, Frank Ocean, my girl Beth Ditto, James St. James (author of one of my favorite YA books, Freak Show), and Jane Lynch (who I will forever think of as a cocktail waitress on an oil barge).
The cast of RuPaul's Drag Race, getting up, looking sickening, and making them eat it.
The cast of RuPaul’s Drag Race, getting up, looking sickening, and making them eat it.
Honey Boo Boo Child's Uncle Poodle ("Ain't nothing wrong with being a little bit gay), Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Neil Patrick Harris, and Carrie Brownstein, the woman who my boyfriend will be leaving me for shortly.
Honey Boo Boo Child’s Uncle Poodle (“Ain’t nothing wrong with being a little bit gay), Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Neil Patrick Harris, and Carrie Brownstein, the woman who my boyfriend will be leaving me for shortly.
Hard Times of RJ Berger Actor Paul Iocono and Actor Jim Parsons
Hard Times of RJ Berger Actor Paul Iocono and Actor Jim Parsons.
Andrew Rannells, RuPaul (in drag and out), and Lana Wachowski.
Andrew Rannells, RuPaul (in drag and out), and Lana Wachowski.
Andy Cohen who has eyebrows for days, David Levithan, author of everything that's good in the world, and George Takei, king of the internet.
Andy Cohen who has eyebrows for days, David Levithan, author of everything that’s good in the world, and George Takei, king of the internet.
Ricky Martin and Amanda Lepore. I don't know much about clothes, but her hair looks FIERCE.
Ricky Martin and Amanda Lepore. I don’t know much about clothes, but her hair looks FIERCE.
Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger and It Gets Better.
The Year They Burned the Books (maybe it's time for an updated cover on that sucker) and Boyfriends with Girlfriends.
The Year They Burned the Books (maybe it’s time for an updated cover on that sucker) and Boyfriends with Girlfriends.

gay power!

Thanks to all the Twitterbrarians (Tweetbrarians?) that helped me come up with this idea and compile a list of people to include in the display.

What are your favorite books that speak to the LGBTQ experience?

~Love and Libraries, Ingrid