Beneath a Meth Moon

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Laurel Daneau has moved on to a new life, in a new town, but inside she’s still reeling from the loss of her beloved mother and grandmother after Hurricane Katrina washed away their home. Laurel’s new life is going well, with a new best friend, a place on the cheerleading squad and T-Boom, co-captain of the basketball team, for a boyfriend. Yet Laurel is haunted by voices and memories from her past.

Where it takes place:

Pass Christian, Mississippi, Jackson, Mississippi and in the Midwest.

Where I wrote it:

In Park Slope, Brooklyn, and at the Macdowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire

Why I wrote it:

I wanted to understand why someone would get involved in a drug that could ruined their life. And I wanted to understand the devastation of Katrina. Long after the news stopped reporting about it, people were still struggling. Laurel’s story is a hopeful one because I wanted to believe people survived hard circumstances and were able to move on.

Hush

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When she is twelve, Toswiah and her older sister Cameron have to leave the place they’ve always known, change their identities and leave no trace of their past life. Toswiah becomes Evie. Her sister becomes Anna. In the new city, they have to reinvent themselves and figure out how to move on when just about everything they ever loved is behind them.

Where it takes place:

Denver, Colorado and an unnamed city in the United States.

Where I wrote it:

In Brooklyn and in Bennington, Vermont

Why I wrote it:

I read an article about the Witness Protection Program and it fascinated me. I kept asking myself “What if….”

Awards
  • National Book Award Finalist
  • 2003 ALA Best Book for Young Adults
  • School Library Journal Best Book
  • 2002 Booklist Editor’s Choice
  • 2003 New York Public Libraries Books for the Teen Age
  • Bank Street Best Children’s Books of the Year (“Today” category / 12 & up)
  • 2003 Riverbank Review Children’s Books of Distinction Short list
  • 2003-2004 Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award Master List
  • 2003-2004 Maine Student Book Award Master List
  • 2002 Pennsylvania School Librarians Association Young Adult Top 40 Nominees
  • 2004-2005 Maud Hart Lovelace Book Award Nominee (Grades 6-8) (children’s choice award for Minnesota)
  • 2005 Garden State Teen Book Award Nominee (NJ)

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Behind You

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Even after he dies, Jeremiah and the people he loved can’t seem to figure out how to move on. Told in vignettes, this is the story of two teenagers who suddenly lose each other.

Where it takes place:

Fort Greene, Brooklyn and Manhattan’s Upper West Side

Where I wrote it:

At home in Brooklyn and in Manhattan

Why I wrote it:

I had written a book called If You Come Softly. Once I finished that book, the characters still haunted me. Then 911 happened and I was faced with trying to figure out how we move on when we lose people so suddenly. I started thinking about it all and this book began.

Awards
  • 2005 YALSA Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers
  • YALSA Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults for 2005
  • New York Public Library Best Book for Teens 2005
  • ALA Best Book for Young Adults

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If You Come Softly

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If You Come Softly is about Jeremiah who is fifteen and black and Ellie who is fifteen and white. They meet at a private school and fall in love and then have to deal with how society treats them because they’re an interracial couple. It was inspired by a poem by Audre Lorde that begins:

If you come softly
as the wind within the trees
you may hear what I hear
see what sorrow sees.

Where it takes place:

In the Washington Heights section of Manhattan

Where I wrote it:

Whidbey Island which is off the coast of Seattle, Washington and in Olivebridge, NY

Why I wrote it:

I wrote If You Come Softly because I wanted to write about first love—how hard it can be and how great it is. I also wanted to write about being fifteen because I remember that age very well. As I was writing it, I came across some lines from Romeo and Juliet and realized this story was a modern-day Romeo and Juliet. The enemies to Jeremiah and Ellie’s love are racism, police brutality and people’s general stupidity. I also wanted to write about Time—about how fleeting it is, how important it is to love who you want and be who you want in the moment so that you don’t look back and think “I should have…” or “I could have…”

Awards
  • ALA Best Book for Young Adults
  • Award Nominee (all readers)
  • 2001 Detroit Public Library Author’s Day Award

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German language version
of “If You Come Softly”

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Miracle’s Boys

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Three brothers who are orphaned by the death of their mother, are trying to get by. Twelve year old Lafayette tells the story of what happens to him and his older brothers, fifteen year old Charlie and twenty-one year old Ty’ree, after Charlie comes home from a juvenile detention center where he has spent time for armed robbery.

Where it takes place:

In the Washington Heights section of Manhattan

Where I wrote it:

Whidbey Island which is off the coast of Seattle, Washington and in Olivebridge, NY

Why I wrote it:

I wanted to write a story that had no girls in it. I also wanted to write about how hard it is to be poor sometimes. I also wanted to write about how hard it is to lose someone you love—in this case, both parents—and how that pain starts shaping itself into other things sometimes like anger and isolation. Most of all, I wanted to write about three brothers who are funny, handsome, searching, and caring of one another.

Japanese book cover
Japanese language version
of “Miracle’s Boys”

Awards
  • Coretta Scott King Award
  • Los Angeles Times Book Prize
  • ALA Best Book for Young Adults
  • Sequoyah Book Award Master List, Young Adult Category
  • 2003-2004 Sunshine State Master List (grades 6-8)
  • 2003-2004 Georgia Children’s Book Award nominee

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From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun

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Thirteen year old Melanin Sun has a great life with his single mom. He feels like she’s the person he can tell anything to. His friends think she’s beautiful and tease Melanin about how they’d love to go on dates with her. Then one day, his mother brings a white woman named Kristin home. Melanin dislikes Kristin the minute he meets her and because of her, his life with his mother will never be the same again.

Where it takes place:

In the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, New York

Where I wrote it:

In Provinceown, Massachusetts and in California’s Napa Valley

Why I wrote it:

This was the first time I wrote from the point of view of a boy. I wanted to challenge myself and see if I could actually do it. I also wanted to write about different kinds of love and different kinds of families because I hadn’t seen many books written about what Melanin goes through. Just like with If You Come Softly, I wanted to say that it’s important to love who you want as long as you’re happy.

Awards
  • Coretta Scott King Honor

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I Hadn’t Meant To Tell You This

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Marie and Lena are both motherless. Marie is black and well off. Lena is white and poor. And in the small town of Chauncey, Ohio blacks and whites don’t mix. But Lena and Marie become friends anyway. One of them has a terrible secret and the other must decide—Is it best to keep it? Or should she tell someone fast?

Where it takes place:

In the small town of Chauncey, Ohio

Where I wrote it:

Provincetown, Massachusetts and Brooklyn, New York.

Why I wrote it:

I wanted to write a novel about friendship and in it, I wanted to show how destructive racism and classism can be. I also wanted to write about the “secret” in the book—to say to young readers—”Don’t be afraid. You are not alone.”

Awards
  • Coretta Scott King Honor

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Lena

book coverWhen things get too bad at home, twelve year old Lena and her eight year old sister, Dion, runaway. Dressed as boys to make it easier for them on the road, they travel from Ohio to Kentucky looking for a safe place to call “home”.

Where it takes place:

West Virginia and Kentucky

Where I wrote it:

In the Park Slope section of Brooklyn and in Peterborough, New Hampshire at the MacDowell Colony.

Why I wrote it:

I wrote Lena because I got so many letters asking me about the end of I Hadn’t Meant To Tell You This. I hadn’t planned to write a sequel but I’m glad I did.

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The House You Pass On The Way

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Evangeline (nickname Staggerlee) meets her adopted cousin Trout for the first time the summer they are both thirteen. The two girls form a strong friendship and learn a lot from each other about what it means to be the children of heroes and what it means to grow up in a world that isn’t tolerant.

Where it takes place:

In South Carolina in the fictionalized town of Sweet Gum

Where I wrote it:

In Provincetown, Massachusetts and in Brooklyn, New York

Why I wrote it:

I wanted to write about the south—something I hadn’t really done before. I wanted to write about friendship and I wanted to write about what it means to love someone—how painful and confusing that can be.

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The Dear One

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Rebecca is fifteen and pregnant and poor. Afeni is twelve, wealthy, spoiled, and doesn’t care to have a pregnant girl living in her house even if the girl is the daughter of her mother’s best friend from college. From day one, the girls hate each other and must figure out how to live under the same roof with each other and all of their opposing ideas.

Where it takes place:

In Pennsylvania in the fictionalized town of Seton

Where I wrote it:

In Harlem, New York and in Brooklyn, New York

Why I wrote it:

The Dear One was the second novel I ever wrote. I wanted to write about teenage pregnancy. At the time I was working with runaway and homeless young people—many of whom were pregnant. I wanted to write a novel that spoke to them.

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