February Roundup

by Kayla Whaley

Recommended Reading


Earlier this year, Rachel Syme started a book club dedicated to reading biographies of women written by women, and this month was the inaugural read: The Silent Woman by Janet Malcolm. (I was particularly pleased with this selection as it gave me an excuse to finally read The Bell Jar.) Ostensibly it’s a biography of Slyvia Plath, but in reality it’s a critical look at biography as a genre, the role of the biographer, how (and by whom) legacy and narrative are shaped, and other fascinating issues. In many ways, the reader learns more about Malcolm herself and the various parties who survived Plath than about Plath herself. The book asks a lot of complicated questions, and Malcolm answers them (or doesn’t) in a way that’s both utterly compelling and understandably divisive.

Conviction by Kelly Loy Gilbert was nominated for the 2015 Morris Award and for good reason. This book wrecked me. It follows a high school baseball player whose white father has been arrested for murdering a Latino cop. Gilbert creates some of the most complex, fully-formed characters I’ve ever read, and navigates a whole host of complicated subjects (religion, race, class, abuse, homophobia, and more) with the deftest hand. I was particularly drawn to the way the main character engages (or doesn’t) with his whiteness. I also couldn’t help thinking of Pointe by Brandy Colbert while reading; both feature a tender yet unflinching look at power imbalances in relationships (and society) and the devastating consequences that result.

Easily the early front-runner for Favorite Book of 2016, The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi is Indian-inspired fantasy and gorgeous in every possible way. I’m often drawn to beautiful language—sentences that are perfectly crafted and hauntingly lovely—but Chokshi’s language manages to surround you, suffuse you, carry and claim you. Her writing isn’t just technically flawless, it feels alive. It’s also in service to an achingly romantic, thoroughly suspenseful, and beyond epic story. I could gush about literally every aspect of this book, but I’ll end by urging you to pre-order immediately.



Inkscrawl’s latest issue, “Atypical Weather,” is guest-edited by Bogi Takács, and it’s phenomenal. I particularly loved “Even If You Want To” by Gabby Reed, “a weather witch’s vengeance” by Stuti Telidevara, “Confections” by Alexandra Seidel, and “Mage / / Cirrus” by Naru Dames Sundar. Inkscrawl is a great venue to follow for those who don’t have a lot of experience reading poetry. The poems are no more than ten lines, so you can read and reread and reread to fully appreciate the depth, complexity, and beauty that these poets manage to fit into such a small space.

I also hiiiiiiighly recommend “The Dead Girls Speak in Unison” by Danielle Pafunda.



“The Unopened Wardrobe: Brown Girl Beauty and the Written Word” is everything I’ve come to expect from a Kaye M. essay: thoughtful, nuanced, and beautifully written. (I’d also like to point out that she just announced her BOOK DEAL writing as Karuna Riazi!!!)

“A More Perfect Love” by Sophie Lucido Johnson is a wonderful essay on friendship, platonic love, romantic love, and the ways those categories can blur so easily.


Personal News

I forgot to include this in January’s round-up since it went live right at the end of the month, so here’s my review of I Funny for Disability in Kidlit.

Again, violence is shown as the purest way to tell you aren’t being pitied or given special treatment because of your disability. Over and over we see Jamie being grateful for his abuse. This is dangerous. It tells disabled kids that they should long for physical and/or verbal abuse, and that anything short of that is pity. It tells disabled and abled kids alike that abuse is the standard way to interact with others. That it’s expected. That it’s normal.

I’m thrilled to be conducting a series of interviews with disabled creators, artists, and makers for Design*Sponge. The first of these went up earlier this month, featuring disability fashion stylist Stephanie Thomas.

Founder and editor-in-chief of Cur8able (a site dedicated to curating the best in disability fashion), and a fashion instructor at the Art Institute of California, Stephanie has become a “disability fashion thought-leader.” In addition to her teaching and editing, she is a stylist for paralympians, actors, and public figures with disabilities. She’ll be branching out even further soon, offering seminars to the general public. “Just as people without disabilities benefit from understanding basic styling,” so do those with disabilities, and Stephanie intends to use her decades of knowledge to provide specialized styling tips to that underserved audience.

Finally, I talked about the importance of #ownvoices in children’s literature for Brightly. (I also nearly had a heart attack when the NY Public Library retweeted said article to their 1.3 million followers. THAT IS A LOT OF FOLLOWERS.)

Even when portrayals of diverse characters by majority-group authors arerespectfully and accurately done, there’s an extra degree of nuance and authority that comes with writing from lived experience. Those books that are #OwnVoices have an added richness to them precisely because the author shares an identity with the character. The author has the deepest possible understanding of the intricacies, the joys, the difficulties, the pride, the frustration, and every other possible facet of that particular life — because the author has actually lived it.

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