June, 1993. Claire is dumped in rural Indianola, Texas, to spend vacation taking care of mean, sickly Grammy. Indianola seems unremarkable, but Claire quickly realizes there’s something not right in this tiny town . . . Memories change. Lizards whisper riddles under the pecan trees. People disappear. And worst of all, a red-lightning storm from beyond our world may wipe the town off the map, if Claire and her maybe-girlfriend Julie can’t stop it. Surprising, brilliant, and full of all the 90’s references your Alanis Morissette-loving heart could want, Forget This Ever Happened is a sci-fi thriller at its finest, featuring an OwnVoices Queer romance and dark, dazzling world-building.
Everything old becomes cool again, and the 1990s are definitely no exception. While I definitely appreciate choker necklaces, mixtapes, and scrunchies, I’m even more excited to have YA books set in the ’90s that give me all the nostalgia from a bygone era. Whether you deem YA books set in the 1990s “historical” or not, there is undoubtedly a sentimental for many older YA readers.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily Danforth
Hours before her parents’ death in a car crash, Cameron Post kissed a girl. She’s forced to move in with her conservative aunt and grandmother in Montana, where blending in with this strict religious family is the key for survival. But when a beautiful cowgirl named Coley moves to town, feelings that Cam had pushed down start to emerge once more. Cam’s aunt sends her to conversion therapy to try to “fix” her niece, and Cam faces the struggle of what her religious community tells her and the truth that she knows deep down.
Fireworks by Katie Cotugno
The popularity of boybands and girlbands is one of the defining features of the 1990s. When a producer holds auditions for a new music group, Dana tags along with her best friend Olivia, ready to cheer her on for her audition and sing backup. When Dana is discovered along with Olivia, they both join the group and start training to be pop stars even though fame was the last thing on Dana’s mind. But there’s only room at the top for one girl.
Let Me Hear a Rhyme by Tiffany D. Jackson
In 1998 Brooklyn, Quadir and Jarrell’s best friend, Steph, is murdered, but they aren’t about to let Steph’s music remain unknown and forgotten. Teaming up with Steph’s younger sister Jasmine, they hatch a plan to promote Steph’s music under the name the Architect and pretend he’s still alive. Before long, the Architect’s demo tape makes its way to a rap label, and the pressure to keep their secret grows for Quadir, Jarrell, and Jasmine. With everything riding on Steph’s fame, the trio is forced to reckon with Steph’s loss and learn that they knew less about his life than they thought.
The Mall by Megan McCafferty
Cassie is looking forward to spending the summer of 1991 working at the Parkway Center Mall before she heads off to college in NYC in the fall with her boyfriend. Everything is part of The Plan. But The Plan is thrown away when Cassie comes down with a bout of mono that leaves her in the hospital for weeks. Soon she loses her job, her boyfriend, and her home life starts to disintegrate. Throughout it all though, Cassie finds unexpected friendships, love, and discovers that sometimes it’s okay when everything doesn’t go according to plan.
The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed
In 1992 L.A., Ashley is finishing up her senior year of high school and looking forward to sunny days and a typical summer. But in April, four LAPD officers are acquitted after beating a Black man, Rodney King, half to death, and violent protests erupt all over L.A. Even as the city burns, Ashley tries to continue life as usual at her elite private high school, but she’s no longer just a pretty, rich girl; she’s one of the Black Kids now.
SkunkGirl by Sheba Karim
High school is tough enough, but when you’re the younger sister of a supernerd and the only Pakistani American girl in your mostly white class, it’s just a little bit harder, especially for Nina Khan. Nina’s parents encourage her to stay true to her Muslim values, and Nina wants nothing more than to keep them happy, but when Asher moves to Nina’s town from Italy, Nina becomes preoccupied with getting Asher’s attention and mustering up the courage to ask out the new Italian boy—regardless of what her parents might think.
Rani Patel In Full Effect by Sonia Patel
Rani Patel lives with her Gujarati immigrant parents in a remote Hawaiian town, where Rani is isolated by her peers because of her strict culture. After Rani catches her dad cheating on her mom, she shaves her head and embraces her dream of starting a rap career. She’s helped along by the much-older Mark, who introduces her to an underground hip hop group—and other dangerous things she’s never done.
Rebel Girls by Elizabeth Keenan
Athena’s love of punk rock and her staunch feminist viewpoints don’t exactly help her fit in with the rest of her peers at her conservative Catholic high school, St. Ann’s. When a malicious rumor that Helen, Athena’s popular and pro-life sister, had an abortion over the summer, Helen risks getting expelled from St. Ann’s. It’s up to Athena and her sister to convince the rest of the school and the administration that it shouldn’t matter what Helen did or did not do—even if it risks Athena and her rebel girls getting expelled.
Those Who Prey by Jennifer Moffett
After her first semester in college, Emily expected to find friends and belonging, but unfortunately she found none of that. But the Kingdom, an exclusive campus group, finds her and offers Emily everything she wanted from her college experience, including friends and a missional internship in Italy. But the trip is much more than Emily ever bargained for when her disciplining partner turns up dead. Emily realizes that the Kingdom is not what she thought it was at all. It’s much more sinister and dangerous than she ever could have imagined.
Everything Grows by Aimee Herman
Eleanor’s bully James died by suicide, causing a ripple effect in Eleanor’s life. When Eleanor’s teacher assigns a project for students to write a letter to someone who could never receive it to get their feelings out, Eleanor chooses James—the guy who bullied her, taunted her, spit on her, and even threw frog guts at her once. As Eleanor writes to James, she begins to understand herself better…and James, too.
Recently, I have been writing one sentence a day (often more) toward, into, from behind, from within my body. It is a way through.
When we are taught how to read, we begin with simplicity. The vocabulary of others. Oftentimes, the language of us, our innards, our guts are overshadowed and forgotten.
I am reaching toward the alphabetics of my innards. It is painful. It is queer. It is changing my mind about things. It is political. It is overdramatic and gutsy. It fidgets and fondles. But it is time.
There are three generations in a room. The room is white. The people are white. The food is white. The first generation has rippled skin, says the third generation.
What is wrong with rippled skin? says the second generation.
It’s gross, says the third.
The second generation has rippled (wrinkled) skin and tattooed skin. The second generation has undeclared skin and skin that has been re-declared. The second generation has skin that they try to tear apart on a daily basis and skin they try to tend to. It is a daily struggle.
Why do you have so many scars, asks the third generation to the second.
Because I have lived, the second replies. But what they do not add is that each scar is from a different war within the body and mind. Some truths are not able to be told until. Until. When?
The first generation watches the third generation play. They do not play with imagination and paper. Their play is made up of wires and screens.
I can only concentrate on one thing at a time, says the second generation to the third. Can we unplug, at least while we eat breakfast? At least while we complete our sentences?
The third generation does not know what this means.
The second generation understands all about the ripples, the thinning of pockets and hair, the fear of government as rights are removed or excluded. They do not have extra food in their pantry. They cannot afford to throw that meat away.
The third generation wears t-shirts advertising liberalism and feminism and gay rights and trans rights and human rights and Black lives mattering, but when you ask them a question: What does dissent mean? They ask Google.
Cotton and flags have become the new voice of the movement.
The second generation listens to the stories reiterated by the first generation. They need to remember so that no one forgets.
The third generation wants to play with other third generations while the second and first watches.
This is youth, the first generation says. They can request what they want and the second generation will give it to them.
There will be a time, though, says the first generation, that they, too will run out. And we will be gone. And they will have the ripples and empty pockets they never thought would come to them. The outlets will be stuffed by the dissenters, and they will have no way to understand the answers. They will not know how to approach paper, because all they know are screens. The first generation will be just a page in their photo albums, if they ever get around to making one. The second generation will be lost somewhere in the woods, hoping to escape all the wires. And the third generation will become someone else’s first, ignored for lack of relevance, ignored for too many ripples, ignored for not enough incentives in their pockets.
Thank you for honoring me with two Goldie awards! Thank you to Three Rooms Press for believing in my words! This book is for all the queer ones who are still searching for the shape and language of their queerness, of their wild, of their magnificence. And thank you to the writers out there who inspire me to write: Audre Lorde, Kathy Acker, June Jordan, Lidia Yuknavitch, Carmen Maria Machado, and so many more who live on my bookshelf.
I could keep going but then I would be taking up your time that you could be reading books! I believe there is a book out there (I’d argue many) that are written just for YOU. Books which lead you to see yourself and others in illuminating ways, that help you to find your language, that lead you to question and feel and perhaps even want to write your story down.
Before I even begin writing, I am approached with Add Title and I don’t quite know what to title the language inside me now. Yesterday, sharing coffee with my spouse, I said: I don’t know what to say right now, so I am listening. And I am reading. I want to make space for the voices that get trampled.
I walk toward the park I usually walk to with my dog. This is the first time I am here without her. This is the first time I am getting close to hundreds of other humans since March. A community meditation for Black lives. A breathing in and out for Black lives. A call for action, reaction, response for Black lives. So, I close my eyes and sit with these strangers. I cry into my mask. I think about what George Floyd liked to eat for breakfast. I think about what book made George weep or laugh or wonder. I inhale. I sit. My body aches and I am angry at myself for focusing on my discomfort. I exhale. I peek one eye open and see a dog laying beside its human in front of me. I smile at this dog.
“We come to understand who we are by understanding who we are not.” In White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo confronts and questions why white people need to talk about racism, why we need to be uncomfortable, why it is time to be uncomfortable. “Though white fragility is triggered by discomfort and anxiety, it is born of superiority and entitlement.” When I tell my mother that we must defund the police, she said: Aimee, we need the police. You can’t just eliminate them. I said: Black and brown people have never had a system of safety, of protection by the police, so whom are we protecting? To defund is not to suggest complete elimination. To defund is to disassemble. Reallocate funds to communities that have been completely left behind, to offer mental health services, health services, social programs to rebuild what we have crumbled.
I travel on the subway for the first time in three months for a root canal. I hold onto my favorite rock as though it contains every poem by Audre Lorde. It calms me as I try to move through the many layers of my anxiety. I pass by boarded restaurants, cafes, an empty jewelry store. Everyone in masks. I smile at those who pass me by, but my mask hides my friendliness. I ask the dentist if she can explain to me every part of what she will be doing, so I can understand. I ask questions, just like I tell my students. Every question deserves an answer. The dentist is kind, gentle, communicative. At the end of the procedure, I cry. Not because of pain, but because of gratitude.
I walk to Fulton Street, just a few blocks from my apartment and stand beside others carrying signs of protest, signs of solidarity, signs which demand Black Lives Matter. I cannot hear what is being said because there are layers and layers of people, but I clap because I know that I agree. Martin Luther King said, “a riot is the language of the unheard.” Are we listening? When the protests fade and the signs get recycled, will we continue to listen? The moment we stop listening is the moment we become part of the problem.
While playing cards with my spouse last night, we talk about this month of pride. LGBTQ folks are given one whole month to see rainbows everywhere, purchase over-priced pride clothing from Target and other box stores. I say to him: When you designate a month for people (women, Black people, queer people), you are acknowledging that every other month leaves them behind.
Last year, I let go of the largest story inside me, which was published by an independent press here in NYC. It’s a little book with a big, queer heart. It’s currently on sale at Three Rooms Pressthrough June 30th. Code: PRIDE2020. But if you can’t afford it right now, email me directly and I will mail you one for free.
One year ago, my best friend Rebecca arrived from Colorado to celebrate the release of my new novel, “Everything Grows”. It was a very different time then and perhaps I didn’t appreciate the ease of which we had to walk around together, browsing in the local thrift shop for something to wear and sharing a meal of crepes together at the place across the street from where I live.
We will forever live in BEFORE and AFTER now, but that is life, right? These BEFOREs and AFTERs have marked us in ways we don’t always have words for. Before I was sober. Before I fell in love. Before I really fell in love. After I came out. After I moved away. Before I joined the workforce. Before I lost my job. After I graduated. After we fell out of love. Before I got married. Before I moved to Brooklyn. Before I relapsed. Before that panic attack. After I finished my novel. Before after before before before.
Ten (and some) years of writing inclusive of many starts and stops, and many, many rejections until a YES from an independent press called Three Rooms Pressand suddenly dreams were coming true.
With Rebecca here, we adventured and caught up, reminding each other the magnificence of friendship.
On the evening of my book release, I draped myself in polyester and mismatching colors, and tried to combat the immense anxiety of letting go of this story that was just mine for so many years.
These days, my words arrive much slower. Sometimes, barely a sentence. Other days, I can write pages. I do my best to be kind to my brain, my thinning imagination, knowing that these are times of great grief and uncertainty. Just getting through a day feels like a triumph. I tell my students that we must accept–without judgement–who we are now and what we are capable of, even if it feels so small, or not enough. I took a shower. I changed my socks. I read an article in the newspaper. I walked my dog. I slept through the night. I graded a student’s paper. I smiled.
On this anniversary of the publication of my novel, I celebrate all that grow from sadness, from death, from mourning, from loss, from uncertainty. It is beautiful and it is tragic and it is magnificent and it is exhausting. If you haven’t read this book yet, what better time to lose yourself in someone’s else’s words? Purchase it HERE. Or I can mail you a copy as well. If you can’t afford one, privately email me (email@example.com), and I will make sure you get one.
A lot of hunkering these past few weeks. Baked some homemade pita bread. Walked with my mate and pup to Prospect Park. Felt the previously napping sun against my face. Last week, I was invited to chat with Dan Dissinger and Katie Robison, creators of the Writing Remix podcast through USC Writing Program. We spoke about teaching through this challenging time, managing anxiety (if you have some suggestions, please send some my way!) and trying to find comfort through isolation.