Fresh Ink, edited by Lamar Giles and dedicated to the late Walter Dean Myers, is set to publish August 14, 2018
Thank you, Penguin Random House for an Advance Reader’s Copy in Exchange for an Honest Review
Fresh Ink is an anthology of “twelve label-defying” stories. For those familiar with Point-of-View short story works that have recently come out, Fresh Ink is not centered on a central plot point. For instance, it isn’t the same as Feral Youth by Shaun David Hutchinson (a fantastic read if you get the chance). Edited by the co-founder of We Need Diverse Books, Lamar Giles, the anthology includes topics on coming out, poverty, untimely death, transitioning and romance. I am not going to go through every story, but I am going to talk about my favorites without giving too much away. Dedicated to the late, great Walter Dean Myers, I am going to leave Tags for last.
Forward: Lamar Giles I am often guilty of skipping the forward of a book. Don’t be me. The forward of this book is a powerful reminder of how reading can impact, change and even save lives. How it provides escapes from bullying, anxiety, stress, fear and the harshness of our day-to-day-realities (ages 8-88 as games often say). It is a stark reminder of how damaging it can be when reluctant publishing agencies, schools, libraries, governments, municipalities, and the like don’t allow for full representation in literature. It not only takes away the chance for all of us to see our story represented but for the rest of us to learn more about all the wonderful types of people that make up our society.
Eraser Tattoo: Jason Reynolds Super Human: Nicola Yoon
Fresh Ink poignantly (whether intentional or not, I can’t say) starts with Eraser Tattoo, a short story by Jason Reynolds. Eraser tattoo is a sweet story about teenagers having to say goodbye to their first love because one must move away. Through a series of flashbacks along with actions happening in present time that one of them always has been and always would have been more in love with the other. If not Wilmington, North Carolina something else would have broken them apart. Until this move one was just able to fool themselves into believing the excuses and actions of the other so that it could just be “us” a little while longer. This is a story we can all relate to at any age. We have all been there. Princess Leia has even been there!
That is the beauty of Jason Reynolds…. Well, one of many, many beauties. If you haven’t read his latest, For Everyone. Stop reading this and don’t start again until you have read For Everyone. Quick, powerful and life-changing.
However, the cyclical and poignant connection between starting with Jason Reynolds and ending with Super Human is in his authoring of Miles Morales: Spider-Man. Miles Morales is part African-American and part Puerto Rican teenager from Brooklyn with a white supremacist for a teacher, trying to save a society that often only judges him on his skin color no matter what he does as Spider-Man. Then it ends with Super Human by Nicola Yoon, a short story about a superhero that goes by the name of X. The first girl X saves is a wealthy African-American girl named Syrita. Immediately America wants to know everything about X’s race. News cycles obsess over his skin color, zooming in where his mask leaves the skin around his eyes exposed. A couple years later when X has a crisis of humanity and decides maybe this world isn’t worth saving, the president sends Syrita to change his mind. The story is complex and forces both characters to face moral, philosophical and complex questions about their own identities, society and privileges. Those who have seen Black Panther will recognize some themes around the philosophical questions Syrita begins to ask herself.
Why I Learned How to Cook: Sara Farizan
I had not heard of Sara Farizan before reading Fresh Ink. On the surface, this is a wonderful, heartfelt story about coming out from a cultural and generational perspective. However, it offers so much more. Within this “short story” Sara tackles ageism, how we often leave older generations in our family to become lonely, let people feel like their mere existence is a bother in a society that wants everything to be instant oatmeal, or in this case: microwave burritos and takeout food. Sara reinforces the importance of not just learning to cook from the generations before you but the advice, stories, and wisdom they pass while you cook. And most importantly to never apologize for who you are, who you love, reveling in every moment you have with the people you care most about in life. When you bring the generations together there is power in unity and passing down, and “up,” what we can all learn from each other. While everyone’s coming out story won’t be this smooth, it provides hope and wisdom through the universal themes that are interwoven throughout.
Catch, Pull, Drive: Schuyler Bailar
Schuyler Bailar is the first out Transgender Division One Athlete. He swims for Harvard University and I chose to include this story as because it did something very important. Not only did it tell the story of star swimmer starting the transitioning process. One that had just come out on facebook to the world that she no longer wanted to be known as Chole, but Tommy. It was a story that did not then focus on him feeling lonely or heartsick or needing romance or finding a romantic partner. Instead, it focused on the risks he was taking on a promising and prominent swim career. In six weeks, Chloe would no longer exist in the swimming world. Her accomplishments (and there were many) would be erased and Tommy would now start swimming in the men’s categories. Bailar did an incredible job focusing in on the fears that Tommy faced and anxiety for all he was choosing to give up being the person he was meant to be. Whether or not his friends, family, teammates and the swimming world that meant everything would still accept him. Could he still compete at the level that he did in the women’s categories? This was his entire life and his future. However, it meant nothing living a lie as Chloe.
Tags: Walter Dean Myers
Walter Dean Myers died on July 1st, 2014. I was very lucky in that my first principal saw professional development for teachers beyond our current assignments. This meant that although I was teaching second grade in East Flatbush Brooklyn, we held book studies around novels that had nothing to do with the PK-2nd Grade School we worked. One of those books was Monster. It irrevocably changed me as a person, not just an educator. I will always be grateful to Ms. Challenger for exposing me to his work. I was a new teacher and didn’t know who Walter Dean Myers was, and probably would not have known for a very long time. His list of accomplishments includes not just the quantity of having published over 100 books, but the quality of the work was represented by:
- Two Newbery Honor Books
- Three National Book Award Finalists
- Six Coretta Scott King Award/Honor-winning books.
- First-Time Winner of the Michael L. Printz Award
- First-Time recipient of the Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement
- Recipient of the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in writing for young adults
- In 2010, Walter was the United States nominee for the Hans Christian Andersen Award
- In 2012 he was appointed and served two years as the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature
- In 2012 recognized as an inaugural NYC Literary Honoree by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, for his substantial lifetime accomplishments and contribution to children’s literature.
Tags was originally published as a one-act e-book in 2013 about four New York City teens as they try to stay alive in the limbo between life and death by painting their tags on the walls in Harlem. They talk about how sanitary always ends up removing the make-shift memorials people make with flowers and signs and that recreating their tags are more permanent until Big Eddie announces that sanitation has come up with a chemical that removes tags almost instantly, too. Throughout the play, they talk about how they died, how others like them got old, stopped recreating their tags and were forgotten. How they wouldn’t become like them and would live forever. But how can you live forever if you are already dead? There are surprises twists throughout the story and at the end. It is a fitting dedication to a man that changed the landscape of both the content and structure of Young Adult storytelling.
I enjoyed most of the stories on some level. If there were three critiques I have? First, there weren’t any stories about young adults with disabilities. This is still a severely underrepresented population in young adult books. Second, other than Superhuman and A Stranger at the Bochiniche there was little diversion from realistic fiction. It was mostly realistic/contemporary fiction with a teenage romance thread. I would have like to see less romance and more of a genre mix**. Tags (realistic fiction minus the romance) and A Boy’s Duty (which was historical fiction minus the romance) was still realistic fiction, there wasn’t anything you would consider science-fiction, fantasy or alternative history. There are so many genres out there that are tackling stories from a POC, LGBT, Disabled perspective and doing it not just through romantic storylines but through how their lives are affected every day, and in every part of their lives. It is unrealistic to think that the only part of life that should be shown is their romantic life. As reviewed above, Catch, Pull, Drive was the only story that really drove this point home. Literature needs more narratives that show all the risks and obstacles faced every day when brave teenagers and young adults step into the world unashamed of who they are, where they are from and what they stand for- and often that has nothing to do with a date. Until they do, this will remain a gap and silence in literature.