Our February #YADiversityBookClub pick:
Sixteen-year-old physics nerd Aysel is obsessed with plotting her own death. With a mother who can barely look at her without wincing, classmates who whisper behind her back, and a father whose violent crime rocked her small town, Aysel is ready to turn her potential energy into nothingness.There’s only one problem: she’s not sure she has the courage to do it alone. But onSixteen-year-old physics nerd Aysel is obsessed with plotting her own death. With a mother who can barely look at her without wincing, classmates who whisper behind her back, and a father whose violent crime rocked her small town, Aysel is ready to turn her potential energy into nothingness.There’s only one problem: she’s not sure she has the courage to do it alone. But once she discovers a website with a section called Suicide Partners, Aysel’s convinced she’s found her solution: a teen boy with the username FrozenRobot (aka Roman) who’s haunted by a family tragedy is looking for a partner.Even though Aysel and Roman have nothing in common, they slowly start to fill in each other’s broken lives. But as their suicide pact becomes more concrete, Aysel begins to question whether she really wants to go through with it. Ultimately, she must choose between wanting to die or trying to convince Roman to live so they can discover the potential of their energy together. Except that Roman may not be so easy to convince.
SOURCE: ARCs provided by the publisher (Thank you!)
For this month’s selection I am hosting our Q & A with the lovely Jasmine Warga!
1. Describe your book in a sentence or two.
A girl with an infamous father meets a boy with a tragic family history online and together they form a suicide pact, which becomes complicated as they get to know each other on a deeper level.
2. What was your inspiration for writing this book?
I started to write the book in the month following the death of a close friend of mine, and so I think my grief served as a chief inspiration. The book isn’t in any way based on him or me, but the feeling of loss and despair definitely guided my writing. But I pull inspiration from everywhere–a song on the radio, a poem, a conversation with a friend–and all of it then feeds back into my main character’s voice, and that voice is usually what guides me through the story.
3. What kind of research did you have to do to make sure your characters were authentic?
To be honest, I didn’t do any real research while writing the novel. I just wrote from my heart and from my gut. I did make one phone call to a prison in Kentucky to inquire about how someone would go about visiting an incarcerated parent. Though after I’d finished working with my editor on the manuscript, she suggested that we have it reviewed by a psychiatrist, and I was so pleased when his review stated that he found the book to be authentic and responsible.
4. How did you come to incorporate the diverse elements in your book?
Well, there are two answers to this question that contradict each other even though both of them are true–first, I never really thought about it. I wrote Aysel as the daughter of immigrants that are originally from a geographical location similar to my own father. But the second answer is that I really fretted about it because I was worried no one would want to read a book about a teenage suicide pact, let alone a teenage suicide pact book that starred a brown girl. I’m pretty sure I never read a book with someone who looked like me or had a similar ethnic background to mine until I was at least eighteen and I had to fight that ingrained desire to self-erase. There were many moments while drafting that I thought I should just make her white–a nasty voice in my head would hiss that the mental illness stuff was enough to turn someone off, I shouldn’t also incorporate racial diversity. Also, I felt really strongly about depicting a town where people weren’t outrageously wealthy, and where teenagers worked in order to afford things like movie tickets or cell phones or etc. Socio-economic diversity is really lacking in YA, I think, and so I wanted to showcase something different without putting too fine a point on it. (As goes for her race–I’ve gotten asked a lot why it’s not a bigger factor in the book, which makes me think that white people believe brown people just think about being brown all the time. To me, this was never a story about Aysel being Turkish, but rather that her being Turkish informs the story in the way anyone’s race informs their life experiences.)
5. How does the diversity in your book relate to your life?
Oh, man. I guess I just answered that above. But like Aysel, I was raised by an immigrant father, and often felt like an outsider amongst my mainly all-white peers. I’m interested in telling first generation immigrant stories, as I think lots of times children almost serve as cultural ambassadors for their parents. Also, sometimes first generation kids end up feeling like they have one foot in one world and one foot in another, but no secure footing anywhere. It took me a while to embrace my diversity, and so I often write stories about characters grappling with their identities. Not in a self-hating way, but in a I-Don’t-Want-To-Be-Different-But-I-Am-And-What-Does-That-Mean? sort of way.
6. What are some of your favorite YA books about diverse characters?
First, I have to give a shout out to one of my favorites, Francesca Lia Block, who wrote a gay main character back in 1989. The love I have for Weetzie Bat is infinite. I also want to give a shout-out to both Adam Silvera and Sara Farizan who write queer characters of color, and I think that representation is so important. And in adult fiction, I’m inspired by Junot Diaz’s raw and honest work, as well as this book by The Professor’s Daughter by Emily Raboteau that very accurately captured what it feels like to be biracial.
7. What areas of diversity do you want to draw attention to or do you feel are underrepresented in books?
Oh, this question is such a grenade. It’s hard because I don’t want to privilege one type of diversity over another, but I would really love to see more main characters who happen to be women of color, especially in genre fiction.
Thank you so much to Ms Warga for taking the time to answer our questions. Be sure to check out the posts of the other wonderful ladies in the #YADiversityBookClub!
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