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Posted on Jun 21, 2023 in Blog, Writing

A Sneak Peek at Other People’s Books

A Sneak Peek at Other People’s Books

The fact that I don’t travel like I used to and am working much more — between writing my own books, translating, teaching, and authenticity reading or consulting — means I have less time to update this blog and less to write about. (In some cases, the problem isn’t time and money but contracts that restrict what I can talk about — also known as NDAs, or Non-Disclosure Agreements.) At the same time, I’m starting to receive  advance copies of other authors’ books. Some of these are books I’m reviewing for the Historical Novel Review. Others are ones publishers or authors send me because they want me to blurb these books.

I reviewed this book for the August 2023 issue of the Historical Novel Review.

I really don’t like the word “blurb” to describe an endorsement of an upcoming book, but I’m not going to singlehandedly change publishing industry jargon. In any case, authors and their publishers seek these endorsements, or blurbs, by bestselling or award-winning authors with the idea of capturing the bestselling author’s fanbase or impressing critics who value the award winner’s opinion. There’s some debate as to the effectiveness of blurbs, but I was the beneficiary of one that made a difference. Coming from an unknown small press, Gringolandia had little chance of attracting the attention of trade reviewers, except that Deborah Ellis — then at the top of everyone’s to-read list because of her timely and acclaimed Breadwinner series — called it “a stunning achievement.” On the other hand, blurbs tend to have little effect on the works of well-known authors whose books people are going to read anyway, except that they show who’s friends with whom. After having my tray pushed to the floor when I tried to sit at the popular girls’ table in seventh grade, thinking it would make me popular,* I’ve become wary of friend-to-friend endorsements. I like to know the praise comes from the merits of the book and not the social skills of the author.

I blurbed this YA novel coming out in August 2023.

Some authors have a no-blurb policy. They neither solicit blurbs for their own books nor give them to others. Asking other authors to blurb can be a humiliating experience and uncomfortable when the asker ends up on a panel, for instance, with the author who rejected them. I was once rejected by my own MFA advisor, leading me to believe I was the worst student ever. For the person asked to blurb, they take time — time that comes out of working on one’s own books — and what if the potential blurber doesn’t like the book? However, I do think providing blurbs is important for building a community of readers and writers, particularly for genres like historical fiction that typically don’t get the attention and sales of more entertainment-focused genres. I also know that fans of a given era and approach are always looking for more of the same.

Another historical novel I blurbed, set in Sri Lanka in the 1990s.

As a result, when my agent asked me after my L.A. Times award if I was willing to blurb forthcoming books, I said yes, but I wanted to limit my efforts to middle grade and YA historical fiction in my areas of specialty, 20th century any location or late 19th century U.S. labor and immigration. My only exception is books with autistic protagonists written by autistic authors, because I know how damaging the canon of older works is and want to replace it with newer, better books by authors writing from lived experience.

So far, I’ve blurbed three books coming out in 2023, reviewed one other that I’m highlighting in my upcoming Highlights Whole Novel Workshop in Historical Fiction, and read another in advance copy that a friend shared with me. I’ve listed the titles below in alphabetical order  and what I appreciate about them. I hope you will look out for these books once they’re published (one has already been published):

The Fire, the Water, and Maudie McGinn by Sally J. Play. HarperCollins. MG. July 11, 2023.

Anyone who’s different in a place where being different is feared and under attack will identify with Maudie’s struggles, cheer her on, and cheer her father and the other allies who take her side. Maudie’s journey from blaming herself for her neurodivergence to standing up for herself and what she needs brings joy and hope to this autistic reader.

This middle grade novel with an autistic protagonist is due out in July 2023.

Focus. Click. Wind. by Amanda West Lewis. Groundwood. YA. August 2023.

Vivid language immerses us in the world of 1968 New York City and Toronto through the eyes of Billie, a gifted photographer whose commitment to social justice and ending the Vietnam War leads her to physical and moral danger as she rebels against a mother who will do anything to keep her safe. This tight, gripping story perfectly captures a time, place, and young woman who will go to any lengths to right wrongs.

I Am Kavi by Thushanthi Ponweera. Holiday House. MG. September 19, 2023.

The civil war in Sri Lanka in the 1990s serves as a tense backdrop for this powerfully written coming-of-age novel in verse. Kavi’s struggle to fit in at her elite urban private school as a scholarship student from the war-torn countryside will resonate with readers moving up and dealing with the social pressures and temptations of middle school.

A Sky Full of Song by Susan Lynn Meyer. Union Square Kids. MG. April 2023.

Gorgeous, immersive prose captures the closeness of the family’s village, the ever-present threats of violence, and the vastness of the Great Plains. The tension between those who want to preserve their customs and those who want to assimilate as soon as possible is a common theme in Jewish immigration stories, one that Meyer makes fresh and tangible through her focus on a little-known experience and her weaving of music into the story.

Due out in November 2023 is this MG novel focused on the war in Syria, but from a distance.

Tagging Freedom by Rhonda Roumani. Union Square Kids. MG. November 2023.

A 13-year-old graffiti artist sent away from Syria for his own protection in 2011 ends up living with his cousin in Massachusetts. Their goals clash when she ignores him in favor of the popular girls in Spirit Squad at their middle school. Alternating point-of-view chapters show the struggles of immigrants today, the pull of home in the midst of revolution, and how young people far away can support the fight for freedom.

One book I blurbed isn’t coming out until 2024, so I plan to feature it in a later post, along with future books that I plan to showcase. So expect more of these posts!

*This incident inspired the opening scene of my novel Rogue.

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