July’s Diverse Book Giveaway

The Defectives coverOver on Tumblr, I’m continuing my series of giveaways of books that showcase diversity. For July, I’m giving away The Defectives which I’ve reviewed in a previous post. This book has a disabled protagonist, multiple disabled and neurodivergent characters, as well as racially diverse characters.

If you want a chance to win this book, head over to Tumblr and reblog the giveaway post.

I’m still looking for suggestions of other books to include in this campaign, so if you’ve read a great SF&F book that features diverse characters, let me know in the comments and I’ll take a look.

Review: The Defectives

The Defectives by Burgandi RakoskaThe Defectives cover is a story that manages to be both fun and deeply emotional. It made me laugh out loud in a few places and cry in others, sometimes only pages apart.

Juniper is a teenager with telekinetic abilities, all set to go to a prestigious school for superheroes – until she is left paralysed from the waist down in a car accident. She has to figure out who she is now that her expected future has shattered. Juniper is sent to a school for kids with disabilities as well as superabilities. At first, she feels that the school is like a prison, but she finds friends who can help her learn how to move forward.

The plot of the book follows a number of standard tropes, including the gruff mentor who turns out to have a heart of gold, and the protagonist who learns she’s no less of a person now that she’s disabled. Despite the occasional cliché, The Defectives remains an interesting read, with touches of humour in places, and some very genuine emotions in others.

The author is herself in a wheelchair which helps make Juniper’s experiences have serious impact. I really felt like I understood what Juniper was going through as the narrative explored her emotional journey. There are ups and down, moments of depression and times of joy, creating quite a journey that’s rooted in something very sincere. I can imagine readers who find themselves in a similar situation getting a great deal of comfort from this character’s experiences.

There are some background concepts that I wish were explored more. The story is set in a world where superheroes are common, and there are mentions of a war that took place without much explanation of its history or impact. At one point, it’s revealed that all people with superabilities have to take a test to determine if they will be heroes or villains. This seemed a very strange concept which is never really explained and I can’t imagine how the test could be administered accurately – people give the answers they know are expected to get sorted into the right house on Pottermore, so of course people would choose the “nice” answers to get tested as a hero. This whole idea jarred me out of the story because it seemed very strange and my questions about it are never addressed. I thought that the whole book would have made more sense if this aspect were just edited out. None of the other points jumped out as much as the morality test but there were elements of world-building I thought could have done with deeper explanations.

Where it does extremely well however is in how it addresses subjects of disabilities and accessibility in ways that would be relevant to the real-world. There are background details mentioned here and there, such as a bell tower chiming quarter hour marks to help blind students tell the time, that show how the school is built with accessibility in mind. There are moments when the disabled students show annoyance at how reporters ask a non-disabled person to speak for them instead of asking the students themselves, or when a character compares a broken leg to a long-term disability. All these touches add to the realism of an otherwise fantastic world.

On the whole, I did enjoy this story a lot. It’s a quick read that gets right to the emotions of the situation. Despite the gaps in the world-building and the occasional predictability, it’s still a book I would recommend.

Four stars.

Author Interview: Corinne Duyvis

Please share a little bit about your books.

On the Edge of Gone coverRight now, I have two books out. My first book, Otherbound, came out in 2014. It’s a young adult fantasy novel which is about a boy from our world who witnesses the life of a mute servant girl from another world every single time he blinks. She has no idea—until they learn to communicate, and they have to work together to discover what binds them together.

My second book, On the Edge of Gone, came out in March 2016. It’s a young adult sci-fi novel about an apocalypse-in-progress: a guarded, autistic girl tries to keep her family together in the immediate aftermath of a devastating comet impact.

Do you have a favourite character in your books?

Ohh, choosing favorites! That’s always hard. I think I’d have to choose Cilla from Otherbound, as I found her an unusual and intriguing character to write—that balance between sweet and haughty, well-intentioned but clueless, made her very appealing to me.

From On the Edge of Gone, it’s Denise herself. I just related to her a lot—which probably isn’t surprising, since a large part of the reason I wrote her was because there were so few autistic characters for me to relate to!

Could you explain a little bit about the Disability in Kidlit program?

Disability in Kidlit is a website I co-founded alongside author Kody Keplinger in 2013; it was originally intended as a sort of temporary blog fest but turned into an actual resource. We post reviews of the portrayal of disability in MG/YA novels, write articles about tropes and stereotypes, and discuss representation from various angles. All of our contributors identify as disabled themselves. I’m so very proud of what we’ve accomplished over the years. A lot of people have expressed gratitude and stated how helpful the website is to them, which means the world to me.

Your books are great examples of diverse fiction. Could you tell us why you feel so strongly about diversity in fiction?

Once I started seeing (a) the extreme imbalances in both the real world and inOtherbound cover fiction and (b) the results in society, I found it impossible not to care strongly about this topic. After all, these imbalances didn’t appear out of nothing. They’re a result of an unjust system, which doesn’t go away by simply waiting, hoping, or asking. I don’t want to support that system.

My thinking is: If I’m a writer, I have to make a choice—whether conscious or unconscious—about who it is I write about, and how I do so. Will I perpetuate the problems and imbalances, or will I try to do my part in combating them?

That doesn’t mean I should arrogantly try to “fix” everything myself and tell stories that aren’t mine. It means is that I try to be aware of my choices, and make those choices conscious ones. Sometimes, the best choice is to step away from a certain character and story, as I’m not the right person to write it.

Instead, I should listen to those who are the right person to write these stories, and do what I can to help their voices be heard.

What has surprised you most since getting published?

I think the ups and downs and backs and forths. It’s not like you’re just taking a step forward. Instead, one part of your life shifts, and the rest doesn’t necessarily shift with it.

So on one hand, your life is completely different: you’re put into different situations, you worry about different issues, and you have different concerns to keep in mind. Being published is such an entirely new set of experiences.

At the same time, nothing much has really changed. You’re still thinking up stories, you still have to do groceries and scoop out the litterbox, you still geek out with friends and eagerly anticipate the next book in someone else’s series.

Sometimes, you’ll pause during the cool parts of being published and realize, wow, when did this start feeling so normal? Or you pause during the regular everyday things and think, wow, I’m actually balancing this average life with signings and book deals and interviews?

It’s a constant seesaw. After several years, I’m still figuring out how to incorporate and balance it all.

What advice would you give to someone just getting started writing books?

As corny as it sounds: just keep going.

I must’ve written over ten books by now, and I still find myself constantly procrastinating, constantly doubting myself, constantly comparing myself, constantly getting distracted. Life throws so much your way that can distract you from writing, whether it’s obligations or brain chemistry or rejections from literary agents or more.

But if you just keep going, you can’t go wrong. You’re always learning and developing as an author, and the more you write, the more material you have to work with. Don’t get discouraged. Don’t use preparation as a means of procrastinating. Don’t linger on the rejections. Don’t spend years on the same project if you aren’t making actual progress on that project.

Just keep going.

If you want to find out more about Corinne Duyvis and her books, check out her website at http://www.corinneduyvis.net or you can connect with her on Twitter or Tumblr. You can find her books on Amazon and I have reviewed On the Edge of Gone here.