It’s incredibly surreal to think that this day has actually come. You spend years, probably decades, anticipating it. It’s like waiting for Christmas when you were a kid. The day itself always seemed so impossibly far away that your whole life was just anticipation.

But the anticipation is over ― and my first book, LIES WE TELL OURSELVES, is here. It’s in stores! It’s got an actual “Order” button on websites! (Preordering is so yesterday.)

Lies We Tell Ourselves


In 1959 Virginia, the lives of two girls on opposite sides of the battle for civil rights will be changed forever.

Sarah Dunbar is one of the first black students to attend the previously all-white Jefferson High School. An honors student at her old school, she is put into remedial classes, spit on and tormented daily.

Linda Hairston is the daughter of one of the town’s most vocal opponents of school integration. She has been taught all her life that the races should be kept “separate but equal.”

Forced to work together on a school project, Sarah and Linda must confront harsh truths about race, power and how they really feel about one another.

Boldly realistic and emotionally compelling, Lies We Tell Ourselves is a brave and stunning novel about finding truth amid the lies, and finding your voice even when others are determined to silence it.

Advance praise for LIES WE TELL OURSELVES:

“A beautifully written and compelling read.” – School Library Journal

“A well-handled debut.” – Booklist

“A piercing look at the courage it takes to endure…forms of extreme hatred, violence, racism and sexism.” – Kirkus Reviews

“The big issues of school desegregation in the 1950s, interracial dating, and same-sex couples have the potential to be too much for one novel, but the author handles all with aplomb. What makes it even better is that both Linda’s and Sarah’s points of view are revealed as the novel unfolds, giving meaning to their indoctrinated views. Educators looking for materials to support the civil rights movement will find a gem in this novel, and librarians seeking titles for their LGBT displays should have this novel on hand…. This is a meaningful tale about integration.” – VOYA

Lies We Tell Ourselves is a phenomenal story of two high-school seniors experiencing desegregation for the first time in their Virginia school. The story provides no easy solutions; instead, it offers a solid and responsible ending that leaves hope for both girls to find a better future, while indicating that there is still much left for us to do.” – Sara Hines, Eight Cousins Books

Launch event:

This Saturday, I’m having a joint launch party with Caroline Richmond (whose debut THE ONLY THING TO FEAR comes out today too ― hurrah!) in Arlington, Va., right outside of Washington, D.C. You should come! Here are the details.


IndieBound | One More Page Books | AmazonBarnes & Noble | Harlequin

Robin Talley lives in Washington, D.C., with her ornery cat, goofy hound dog, and very patient wife. Robin’s debut novel, LIES WE TELL OURSELVES (Harlequin Teen, September 2014), follows a black girl in 1959 Virginia who’s the first to desegregate an all-white high school, and winds up falling in love with a white girl in the process. Robin tweets at @robin_talley.

PUSH GIRL Release Day!

It’s here, it’s here! It’s the release day of PUSH GIRL by me and Chelsie Hill, one of the stars of Sundance Channel’s reality TV show Push Girls.
Push Girl New
Kara is a high school senior who’s loving life. She’s popular, has a great group of friends and an amazing boyfriend, and she’s a shoo-in for homecoming queen. Even though her parents can’t stop fighting and her ex-boyfriend can’t seem to leave her alone, Kara won’t let anything get in the way of her perfect year. It’s Friday night, and Kara arrives at a party, upset after hearing her parents having another one of their awful fights, and sees another girl with her hands all over her boyfriend. Furious, Kara leaves to take a drive, and, as she’s crossing an intersection, a car comes out of nowhere and slams into the driver’s side of Kara’s car.

When Kara wakes up, she has no memory of the night before. Where is she? Why are her parents crying? And, most importantly — why can’t she feel her legs? As Kara is forced to adjust to her new life, where her friends aren’t who they seemed to be and her once-adoring boyfriend is mysteriously absent, she starts to realize that what matters in life isn’t what happens to you — it’s the choices you make and the people you love.

Co-written by “Push Girls” star Chelsie Hill, whose real life closely mirrors Kara’s experience, this novel will open the eyes of readers everywhere who have never met someone who lives with paralysis.

I’m so excited that the book is out there for people to read and enjoy, and I thought I would introduce you to the characters and share with you, dear OneFour blog readers, the pictures I dug up way back when we first started writing this book and I needed some character inspiration.
KaraMooreKara Moore
Kara loves to dance, has a cute boyfriend, and is distressed that her parents are fighting all the time. But things are about to change for her in a big way when she gets hit by a drunk driver.
“I loved dancing, and it came easily to me, but I worked my butt off at it. I always had. I took as many classes as we could afford and my schedule would allow. I was in the studio on evenings and weekends, choreographing, rehearsing, practicing technique.”

Curt Mitchell
(Yes, this is Bing Lee from The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. He was just TOO perfect for Curt.)
Curt is Kara’s super hot but not-too-bright water polo-playing boyfriend.

“..it’s not like he’d actually forget about me. He did that only one time, and it was totally an accident.”

AmandaReynoldsAmanda Kenyon
Amanda is Kara’s long-time bestie, who loves all things movies and movie-making. They’ve been growing apart lately, though.

“Amanda Kenyon, who was my best friend in title more than practice these days. It wasn’t for her lack of trying, though. It was me.”

Jack Matthews
(I ended up not giving him glasses, which is a damn shame.)
Jack is Kara’s ex. He is trying to stay friends with her, so likes to text her with random trivia.

“Then, one [text] from my ex-boyfriend Jack with another one of his ridiculous ‘fun facts.’

Jenny Roy
Jenny hates Kara because she’s been in love with Curt forever. She’s…not the nicest girl to Kara.

“She was that girl with the perfectly tanned skin, long, black hair in immaculately tousled beachy waves, and the tiniest shorts this side of the toddler section at Nordstrom. She was also the one girl at school who had randomly decided to hate me once I started dating Curt.”

So, there you go! The cast of characters in PUSH GIRL by me, Jessica Love, and Chelsie Hill. It’s out TODAY, and check out all these places you can get it!

Jessica Love is a middle school English teacher, an MFA student at Spalding University, and a full-time internetter. She lives in Orange County, California where she spends her free time going to concerts, brunching, and instagramming pictures of her dogs, Gunner and Patrick. Her debut YA novel PUSH GIRL, written with Chelsie Hill from Sundance Channel’s reality TV show Push Girls, comes out in June ’14 from Thomas Dunne/St. Martin’s.

When We Say YA: May Edition

Each month on the OneFourKidLit blog, those of us who love YA answer a question about our reading and writing. In honor of the recent movement for diversity in YA, this month’s question is: “Which diverse YA book has been most influential to you, and why?”

Monster MyersMONSTER by Walter Dean Myers. This book blew me away. The idea that we judge, react, criticize, and demean without even realizing made me consider how I respond to all people. In MONSTER, the main character is accused of a crime but realizes that the jury and even his lawyer don’t look at him as innocent until proven guilty, but as African American and therefore guilty, needing to prove innocence. If we look at our penal system, this certainly appears to be the case. All young adults should read books like this and reevaluate how they respond and react, even subconsciously, to those of different ethnicities.–Chris Struyk-Bonn, author of Whisper

MockingbirdTO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee. As a young reader, TKAM was perhaps the first place I consciously encountered the idea of the “other” through Boo Radley. He is damaged and creepy and easy to fear. But he is also good. Being able to see his ultimate goodness through Scout’s eyes was really important to me as a child. It gave me the strength to be kind to people who deserve kindness, despite the fear they may instill–like the hulking, brain-damaged man who lived down the street from me when I was young. When he rang the bell and grinned his strange, other-worldly grin, I wanted to hide. But because of Scout, I opened the door. I let him in.–Mary Crockett, co-author of Dream Boy

everworldThe EVERWORLD series by K.A. Applegate. It’s been so long since I read it that I don’t even recall how well the various characters were handled, but I do remember vividly one scene in the first book where a black character was insistent on leaving the scene of an incident before the police came, because he knew they’d suspect him regardless of what he did and didn’t do. Reading the book as a young white girl, that was the first time I realized that racism was a lot more complex than the belief that “certain people are inferior,” which was the impression I’d gotten up to that point. I might’ve read other books later that handled the topic of racism better, or with more nuance, but this was the first to really stick with me.–Corinne Duyvis, author of Otherbound

adaptationI’ll go with a couple of recent books, the ADAPTATION series by Malinda Lo. The point of view character comes to identify as bisexual, and the books features a love triangle among her, a nice guy, and a “bad girl.” I’d never seen either in YA before. I’d read a similar scenario in maybe one adult book. Everything about ADAPTATION and INHERITANCE felt so refreshing. The series totally revitalized the love triangle trope, and it gave me a new perspective. I’ve talked with bisexual friends about their experience but never really put myself in their shoes in terms of thinking about how that might complicate relationships or how societal perceptions on bisexuality might hurt them. Reading this series, I felt such freedom as a writer because when I grew up, those subjects would have been taboo, and I kept internally cheering, yes, our culture has arrived! At least enough of it that these characters are rocking it out in a mainstream YA sci-fi. It made me feel like no human experience was out of bounds–it just takes great authors with the courage to write true.–Rachel M. Wilson, author of Don’t Touch

left handTHE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS by Ursula K. Le Guin blew my mind as a teen–though it’s not YA. (I didn’t have a massive amount of YA as a teen.) Not only is the MC, Genly Ai, black without such a big deal being made over it (much like some of Le Guin’s other characters, e.g. in the EARTHSEA books), but Genly visits an entire society that is asexual–until they’re occasionally not asexual, and then they can either adapt male or female attributes. This book flexed my mind in terms of gender, sexual orientation, and relationships more than any other book had, at the time.–AdriAnne Strickland, author of Wordless

pantomimePANTOMIME by Laura Lam. The MC, Micah Grey, is intersex, but was raised as a girl. The bulk of the novels I’ve read where the character has questions about sexual identity have been contemporary, so it was really fantastic to come across an epic fantasy novel with a hero facing those challenges.–Danielle L. Jensen, author of Stolen Songbird

cameron postNot really YA, and not a diverse MC, but TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD was the first book that really spoke to me as a young person about racial inequality in the deep south. I’d lived there my whole life and that book opened my eyes in ways my parents never would have. A recent favorite was THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST by Emily M. Danforth, a literary coming-of-age, coming-out story about a small-town girl who’s sent away from home to be “healed” of her sexuality. The part I loved most about it was Cameron’s eventual total acceptance of self.–Jaye Robin Brown, author of No Place to Fall

douglassThis isn’t really YA–as the category didn’t exist when the book was written–and it’s not fiction, but it is the story of a young adult learning to overcome severe challenges, which is the basic plot of all YA. I’m speaking of NARRATIVE OF THE LIFE OF FREDERICK DOUGLASS, AN AMERICAN SLAVE, which was profoundly influential to me when I first read it in high school. Douglass’s ability to provide a vivid first-hand account of slavery, and to peel back the institutional racism that existed not only in the South but in the North, demonstrated to me the power of diverse voices to shock white readers like me out of their complacency, while affirming for readers of color the validity of their experience.–Joshua David Bellin, author of Survival Colony 9


Joshua David Bellin has been writing novels since age eight (though his first few were admittedly very short). His debut YA science fiction novel SURVIVAL COLONY NINE will be published in September 2014 by Margaret K. McElderry Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. Josh likes (in no particular order) gorillas, frogs, monsters, and human beings.

Diversity in YA: Lessons from History

Did you hear the one about the future president and the slave poet?

It’s not that funny, actually. And it’s true.

It appears in Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia, a guidebook to Jefferson’s home state published in 1785. In the chapter on Virginia’s laws–and in the larger context of justifying slavery–Jefferson comments on what, to him, is an obvious proof of African-American mental inferiority:

“Comparing [blacks] by their faculties of memory, reason, and imagination, it appears to me, that in memory they are equal to the whites; in reason much inferior, . . . and that in imagination they are dull, tasteless, and anomalous. . . . Misery is often the parent of  the most affecting touches in poetry. — Among the blacks is misery enough, God knows, but no poetry. . . . Religion indeed has produced a Phyllis Whately; but it could not produce a poet. The compositions published under her name are below the dignity of criticism.”

Phillis_Wheatley_frontispieceHaving disposed of Phillis Wheatley, an African-born slave poet whose Poems on Various Subjects (1773) was the first work of literature published by an African-American woman, Jefferson concludes: “the blacks, whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time and circumstances, are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind.”

The spectacle of Thomas Jefferson, one of the post powerful men in America, taking aim at a lone female slave poet is sorry enough; the failure of Jefferson to recognize that the nearly universal illiteracy enforced by slave laws might account for the small number of slave poets demonstrates that this was not (to say the least) one of his finest moments. But systems of privilege will perpetuate themselves however they can, and if that involves constructing tortuous arguments to discredit a racial group’s literary achievements, so be it.

I was thinking about Jefferson and Wheatley in the context of the current movement for diversity in YA literature. What roadblocks stand in the way of a full recognition of diverse YA voices? What gatekeepers will seek to diminish the achievements of underrepresented groups in the field?

Orleans_comp12.inddThere are many answers to that question, but let me provide a single example. Recently I read Sherri L. Smith’s YA dystopian novel Orleans (2013), which narrates a young black woman’s harrowing adventures in a New Orleans that has been separated from the United States both politically and physically in the wake of catastrophic flooding and epidemic disease. A brilliant book, written in a rich language that vividly describes narrator Fen’s experiences in a society divided by blood type and ravaged by a new form of slavery, I’d put Orleans among the top YA novels of the past decade. But according to today’s gatekeepers—namely, many of the reviewers of the book on Goodreads—the virtues of Smith’s book are outweighed by her decision to adopt Fen’s patois in the first-person narration:

“It made [me] wonder, didn’t people speak proper English in Orleans before they were shut off from the world?

“Fen’s chapters are written with poor English and use the helping verb ‘be’ a lot.”

“Biggest problem I had was the language. Fen, while obviously educated, spoke what is referred to as ‘tribe’ in the book. It was mostly some reversed parts of speech and dropped words, but my brain had a hard time following along.”

“Fen’s narration was really hard for me to get into, and most of the time had me stumbling over sentences trying to parse her dialect. I understand that it needed to be written like that since it’s in first-person, because that’s how Fen speaks, but to me it just felt like a barrier. Instead of adding to the story, it held me back from it.”

That’s just a sampling. But the final review speaks volumes. Fen’s distinctive language, this reviewer writes, is a “barrier”; since it’s not the kind of language s/he’s accustomed to, it “held me back.” That Smith’s story is specifically about overcoming such barriers—the barriers of blood, the barrier of the Wall erected to separate Orleans from the United States—seems not to have occurred to the reviewer.

Obviously, there are differences between the historical example and the present-day one. But what both cases demonstrate is that the movement for diversity in literature is going to meet resistance; social forces that like to keep the barriers intact are going to line up to do so. Sometimes, those forces will have the power of the state behind them; other times, the power of industry or custom. But the barriers won’t fall on their own; barriers never do.

Which means that, if we truly believe we need diverse books, we’re going to have to be prepared to fight for them.


Joshua David Bellin has been writing novels since age eight (though his first few were admittedly very short). His debut YA science fiction novel SURVIVAL COLONY NINE will be published in September 2014 by Margaret K. McElderry Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. Josh likes (in no particular order) gorillas, frogs, monsters, and human beings.

Diversify your shelves

Last week there was a huge online campaign to take action about the need for more diversity in books for young readers. At OneFour, we posted about it here. Today, we’ve rounded up a list of 2014 debut titles that feature an author and/or a main character from a diverse background. These titles were suggested by their authors. If you’re looking to diversify your shelves, you might want to explore some of these:



OutherboundOtherbound by Corinne Duyvis
Whenever Nolan Santiago blinks, he sees through the eyes of a mute servant girl from another world. She’s completely unaware–until now.




Push Girl by Chelsie Hill and Jessica Love
After a drunk driving accident leaves her paraplegic, high school senior and talented dancer Kara is faced with the struggles and triumphs of adjusting to life on two wheels.




The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher By Dana Allison Levy
Meet the Fletchers! Four adopted boys, two dads – and one new neighbor who just might ruin everything.




The the secret side of empty, maria e. andreuSecret Side of Empty by Maria Andreu
An undocumented Latina facing an uncertain future… as well as everything else that high school brings.




Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley
In 1959 Virginia, the lives of two girls on opposite sides of the battle for civil rights will be changed forever.




Far Frfar from youom You by Tess Sharpe

Fresh out of rehab, Sophie Winters is determined to find her best friends killer, while trying to keep their relationship secret from their grieving friends and family.



Caminar by Skila Brown
Set in 1981 Guatemala, a novel in verse tells the tale of a boy who must decide what it means to be a man during a time of war.




Gilded by Christy Farley
A Korean-American girl with a black belt and a deadly proclivity with steel-tipped arrows discovers an ancient Korean god has been kidnapping the first-born daughters of her family for generations. And she’s next.





Midnight Thief by Livia Blackburne
A gifted thief joins the Assassins Guild only to find out that what she thought was the perfect job is much more sinister than originally imagined.



Screen Shot 2013-05-15 at 1.08.15 PMNo Surrender Soldier by Christine Kohler
Set in Guam during the Vietnam War era, 15-year-old Kiko discovers his mother was raped during WWII by a Japanese soldier. What he doesn’t know is that a WWII Japanese soldier is hiding in the jungle behind his house.



Gates of Thread and Stone by Lori M. Lee
A girl who can control the threads of time must join a rebellion to save her brother and find answers about her mysterious past.



girl from wellThe Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco
A Japanese revenant who has spent her afterlife killing murderers discovers something strange and deadly inside a teenage boy – something that would just kill to get out.



firewishcoverThe Fire Wish by Amber Lough

Two girls–a Kurdish princess and a jinni spy–trade places while the humans and jinn are at war.



tabula rasaTabula Rasa by Kristen Lippert-Martin

A girl battles for her life within the walls of her hospital-turned-prison when a procedure to eliminate her memory goes awry and elite soldiers burst in to eliminate her.



walled cityThe Walled City by Ryan Graudin

Three teens race against the clock to escape a lawless, walled city.



DONT-TOUCH-HC-1(1)Don’t Touch by Rachel Wilson

A moving story of a talented girl who’s fighting an increasingly severe anxiety disorder, and the friends and family who stand by her.




We’d love to hear what your favorite books with diverse characters are. Tell us about them in the comments.

Skila Brown has an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She grew up in Kentucky and Tennessee, lived for a bit in Guatemala, and now resides with her family in Indiana. Her debut novel, CAMINAR, is available now from Candlewick Press.




Friday Q & A – #We Need Diverse Books

Here’s a last minute Friday Q and A that we starting up this morning. We’d love to hear your answer in the comments below.

Why do we need diverse books?


We need diverse books, because we live in a diverse world. In any group, each person has something that makes them unique or different from the rest of the crowd. Whether it’s gender, race, religion, physical disability, or any number of other factors, each of us is unique, different, or “other” at times. In order to be realistic, books should reflect this diversity.
-Veronica Bartles


The beauty of humanity is that we are all packaged differently, that we’re not “one size fits all.” Books should reflect this diversity; otherwise, we’re missing a major component of what makes our world special.
–Vivi Barnes


#WeNeedDiverseBooks because not having them sends a message. Kids will pick up on that message.
– Corinne Duyvis


We need diverse books because voices, like people, come in all shapes, colors and orientations. If “history is told by the winners,” we create a new shared experience – a new way to win – by celebrating more kinds of stories.

-Maria Andreu


We need diverse books because it opens up our world, our eyes, and our hearts every time we care about another character. 
-Skila Brown


We Need Diverse Books

People! In case you haven’t heard, there’s a huge online campaign this week to take some action about the need for more diversity in books for young readers.

Is this an issue that you care about too? Want to know what you can do to help? Click on this link to learn all about it. Read about the lack of diversity in published books, join the conversation on twitter, and put your money where your mouth is by pre-ordering a copy of Varian Johnson’s soon-to-be-released novel The Great Greene Heist which has already gotten a shiny starred review from Kirkus, my friends. Why would buying one book matter? Kate Messner explains.


This is a great campaign and I applaud the organizers for thinking of action we can take to make some changes. I have a post up on my own blog about why I care about this and what I think about it.

Join in the conversation. It’s an important one.


Skila Brown has an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She grew up in Kentucky and Tennessee, lived for a bit in Guatemala, and now resides with her family in Indiana. Her debut novel, CAMINAR, is available now from Candlewick Press.