book review: Ask Me

book_askme_100title: Ask Me

author: Kimberly Pauley

date: Soho Teen; April 2014

main character: Aria Morse



Ask Me is the most recent offering from Kimberly Pauley who self describes as “half Chinese half everything else”. She was born in California and now lives in London. Pauley is the founder of YA Books Central, one of the largest teen book websites in the world.

Ask Me is a the story of Aria, a paranormal teen growing up in Florida with her grandparents. Like her grandmother, Aria has the ability to give and honest answer to any questions she hears. She provides an answer whether or not the question is directed at her. And, the answer is sometimes more of a riddle. This ability came to Aria at the age of twelve. Imagine being a 12 year old girl living with your grandparents who struggle to make ends meet and you suddenly find yourself blurting our answers to every question you hear. Aria was not very popular.

As a defense mechanism, she chose to wear earbuds as much as possible  to block the questions. But, when Jade, the one classmate who defended her turns up dead, the questions fly so fast that Aria cannot avoid hearing or answering them. She hears herself speak truths that she does not know how to handle. And she actually begins connecting to people.

She gets to know Will and Alex, the two boys who had been involved with Jade. Each of them warns her about the other and Aria follows her instincts in deciding who to trust. Readers wonder who will bring harm to Aria and who may be behind the murders but Aria trusts that she knows. Pauley maintains the intrigue about who really killed Jade until the very end.

Aria was meant to be a weak character, one with no friends and little confidence in herself but in giving her so little support, Pauley neglected to develop her beyond her supernatural ability. She was simply a girl who answered questions. When she finally begins to have a relationship with Will, he manages to speak to her in a way that doesn’t ask questions; that allows her to have a choice in what she says. While this had to be so empowering for her, why did this freedom have to come from a male friend?

Nonetheless, Pauley wrote this scene so well that readers will feel the flip of the switch when Aria becomes turned on to him.

The ability to answer questions is an usual talent in which Pauley explores the power of truth and coming of age by embracing both our talents and our voice. Ask Me is a fun, smooth read that keeps you wondering to the end.

Blog Tour: Ask Me by Kimberly Pauley


Ask Me by Kimberly Pauley was released this month by Soho Press.

Aria Morse is an Oracle, blessed—or cursed—with the gift of prophecy.  Ask her anything, and the truth spills out immediately. But Aria’s answers sound like nonsense, even to herself… just as they did at Delphi 2500 years ago. 
book_askme_100To cope, Aria has perfected the art of hiding in plain sight—until Jade Price, the closest person she has to a friend, disappears.  All of a sudden, everyone around her has questions. The “nonsense” Aria spouts becomes a matter of life and death.
She may be the only one who can find out what happened to Jade.  But the closer she gets to the truth, the closer she comes to being the next target of someone else who hides in plain sight. Someone with a very dark plan.  (Amazon)

She doesn’t want to hear the questions so that she won’t blurt our the answers. She avoids the questions by putting in her earbuds and cranking up her playlst.

Aria’s First Day of School Playlist
Music is so important to Aria, the main character in ASK ME. It’s what she uses to shield herself from the world. Each of the chapter titles in the book is a song that she would have been listening to during the chapter in question. But, what would she have listened to on her first day of school? This is what I think it would have been:

Listen on Spotify

Don’t Ask Me Why by Laura Marling
Mad World by Adam Lambert (rather than the Tears for Fears version, which would be mine)
You are Invisible by Anya Marina
Doesn’t Remind Me by Audioslave
On the Outside by Sheryl Crow
Stay Out of Trouble by Kings of Convenience
One of Those Days by Joshua Radin
Sullen Girl by Fiona Apple
Impossible by Shontelle
Unhinged by the Eels


Male Monday: Tim Z. Hernandez

Tim Z. Hernandez is an award winning author and performance artist. His debut collection of poetry, Skin Tax (Heyday Books, 2004) received the 2006 American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation, the James Duval Phelan Award from the San Francisco Foundation, DSC03383and the Zora Neal Hurston Award for writers of color dedicated to their communities.


Dr.Tim Z. Hernandez in his own words.

“Growing up I wasn’t one of those well-read literary types, not in high school, and not in those liminal years after, when I found myself in a void, a space of total possibility. I was not well read at all, but well read-to. My first encounters with literature were through voice, expression, and embodiment. It was my mother, Lydia Hernandez, a self-made woman and product of the harsh New Mexico landscapes, who believed in the transformative magic of language and narrative. And she would read to me during those long migrant road trips, field to field, across state lines and shifting landscapes. The whole way my father, Felix Hernandez, a sarcastic Tejano, spun these tales, these written words, off in new and strange directions. He was a consummate jokester, a stand-up comedian of the fields, and of family barbecues. But always, stories were at the heart of our family. This was my beginning.” source



Fresno is the inexhaustible nerve
in the twitching leg of a dog
three hours after being smashed
beneath the retread wheel
of a tomato truck en route to
a packing house that was raided
by the feds just days before the harvest,
in which tractors were employed
to make do where the vacancy
of bodies could not, as they ran out
into the oncoming traffic of Highway 99,
arms up in dead heat, shouting
the names of their children,
who were huddled nearby,
in an elementary school, reciting
out loud, The House That Jack Built.

source; with reading by the author


The following is from an interview by Dini Karasik and appeared on the blog “on writers and writing” earlier this month. Click here to read the entire interview

DK: Speaking of limitations, young writers are often told that they should write what they know. Do you agree with this instruction? What is a writer’s obligation to himself, the craft, the reader?

TH: I think each writer has to come to these terms on his or her own, it’s different for each. In our process, if we stick with it long enough, we build our own philosophies about why we write and who we write for. Around 1997, the late poet Andres Montoya and I were having a conversation one day, and he asked me about a poem I had written. I was trying to articulate to him what it was about and when I was done he leaned his head to one side and sort of chuckled, then said, “What’s your purpose, bro?”

I think this is the question we ultimately end up confronting. What is our purpose? As to the question of “writing what we know/don’t know,” that’s a one dimensional way of looking at it. Things aren’t merely black or white. Right or wrong. True or false. Know and don’t know. And this is precisely why we write, to work through the complex layers toward some sense of an understanding.

If we look honestly at our own lives, we know this is true. Sometimes I look in the mirror and wonder who the hell that is staring back at me. On the one hand, I know that guy. On the other hand, there are things taking place inside me, tiny exchanges, unjust compromises, molecular wars going on, things I’ll never know about within me. But again, this comes down to personal philosophy. If I was forced to choose a side I would have to say I only write about what I don’t know. I have experiences and impressions about things, and maybe some informed opinions, but I truly, simply, do not know.

So for me, I write to explore the possibilities, and am perfectly okay with not knowing. But it’s because of this not knowing that I’m free to write about whatever I want. This is what dictates my approach to subject, form, obligation, audience—the investigations. I suspect every writer wants the freedom to write about whatever piques their interest.



They’re that eyeglass wearing black family in that cellphone commercial. They’re all over Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

They’re watching Cosmos with @neiltyson

And now, they’re reaching YA Lit.


Black + Nerd = Blerd

The numbers of urban lit books for teens has been decreasing for quite some time and nothing had really become the new niche for black authors. With very few romance, adventure, dystopian, science fiction or mystery books written that featured black protagonists, one had to wonder what publishers would establish as the next genre where we would find black characters.

This month, HMH Books for Young Readers give us Eddie Undercover: Mystery on Museum Mile written by debut author Marcia Wells and illustrated by Marcos Calo. In May, Varian Johnson’s Great Green Heist (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic) hits the shelves. I believe both books are part of a series.

The timing is great for each of these as MG fiction is becoming the hottest thing since sliced bread and Blerds are in!!

image001 I think the glasses were the first sign that Blerds were trending.

I’ve stumbled across some on Twitter.

@BlackGirlsCode Our mission is to empower young women of color ages 7-17 to embrace the current tech marketplace as builders + creators. 

@BlackGirlNerds An online community devoted to promoting nerdiness among women of color. Live tweeter. Ranter. Raver. Geeker Outer. Tweets by (Shorty Award nominee)

@BlackGeeksMeet A place where Geeks of Color can Meet, Talk and get excited over their passions. Not exclusive, just empowering and energizing.

@blkintechnology Blacks In Technology is the premier online community for Black techies. Membership is free. Visit us. Bringing Unity to the Black IT Community Cincinnati, Ohio ·

@TheNerdsofColor Pop culture with a different perspective. Watch us at:

No, they’re not only Black.

@GirlsinCapes On identity in geek culture. Tweets by @FelizaCasano.

@LatinasinSTEM Org established and run by #Latina #MIT alumnae. Our mission is to inspire and empower Latinas to pursue, thrive and advance in #STEM

@Latinitas Empowering Latina youth through media & technology, 1st digital mag by & for Latina youth. Now accepting Summer internship applications!·

Melo Funkademic1 @melofunkademic1 STEM Ambassador for The People. Tumblr:

And, they morph into futurism and fantasy.

@iafrofuturism Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci Fi & Fantasy Culture (Lawrence Hill Books) by @ytashawomack  The Future of Now ·

@scifilatino Commenting on Latinos and Latinas in science fiction and fantasy. Includes TV, movies, books, and other media.The ‘Verse ·

Asian girls fight this stereotype and aren’t as likely to embrace nerd power. While I’ve found several black and Asian males who tweet about technology and STEM, I’ve not found a consolidated effort tweeting for male nerds of color.

So, why am I giving all the attention to these nerds? I do so for three reasons. First, I think they’re part of a growing trend that tells our children that it’s OK to be smart, it’s preferable to be intelligent and information in necessary for success. I see this as a direct consequence of having a black president.

Second, I hope this trend continues to influence publishing. Not only should it lead to a wider variety of books, but it should get decisions makers to make that tiny leap to realize that Blacks, Latinos, Native Americans and Asian Americans do read (and write!!) books.

And finally, it’s also important for librarians to be aware of nerds of color. It would be wonderful if we could attract them to our profession because their knowledge and skills are germane to librarianship of the future. 21st century librarianship is all about collaboration, data management and scholarly communication. These new activities transcend all areas of librarianship in different forms.

As these new groups begin to develop and strategize, they benefit from our ability to network with them as they seek new collaborators and ways to organize information and data. Working with them grows our field and provides many mutual benefits. I’ve reached out to do some networking and found myself in the middle of a tweetup on coding. As participants shared their needs and frustrations, I saw ways librarians could easily address these concerns while participants could go on explore the world of coding. Other librarians would find ways to develop their coding skills.

We can also work in our public, school and academic librarians to provide space and leadership for those groups who need to know it’s OK to be a nerd.

Students of Middle Eastern decent.

American Indians.

Even Asian girls and boys need to know it’s OK if the want to be a nerd.

Black and Latino males. Let’s overcome the lies told about black boys. (Read this informative article to find out how the numbers of black males in college and prison are misrepresented and how sports do not build habits of mind necessary for success in our young men.)

It can start with book groups that provide safe places for students to talk about their love of reading or technology clubs that developing information literacy skills, but it needs to expand to uncover and nurture these students desire to go to college, invent new technologies, lead countries or vacation on the moon. Move them forward with metaliteracies. Librarians touch the future. (BTW, National Library Week begins today!)

Have you read any books featuring nerds of color?

April New Releases

Danny Blackgoat Rugged Road to Freedom by Tim Tingle; 7th Generation
 Son Who Returns by Gary Robinson; 7th Generation
 A Matter of Souls by Denise Lewis Patrick; Carolrhoda Press
 Point by Brandy Colbert; Putnam Juvenile
 To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han; Simon and Schuster
 Promise of Shadows by Justina Ireland; Simon and Schuster

Prom Ever After: Haute Date\Save the Last Dance\Prom and Circumstance by Dona SarkarCaridad Ferrer; Deidre Berry (Kimani Tru)

Ask Me by Kimberly Pauley; Soho Press

Male Monday: Frank X. Walker

Frank X. Walker is an African American poet from Danville, KY.  In 2013, he became the Poet Laureate of  the Commonwealth of Kentucky. (Wikipedia) Hes’ the first African American and the youngest person to hold this post.In 2014, He won an NAACP Image Award for his poetry.

He’s founder of Affrilachian Poets and is a Professor of English at the University of Kentucky.


In the parking lot behind the funeral home, my eyes settle on
the bulky white noose my father has lost a wrestling match to.
Though he is not convinced Windsor knot know-how can plantwalker_frank_x
tobacco or drive a nail true, he concedes his flawed results,

abides my desire to fix it. Calling up knowledge passed to me
from a book, I execute the maneuvers with fluid precision
and imagine I am creasing and folding a Japanese paper swan.
He stares at my knuckles, smiling, perhaps seeing his own hands



Listen online to Walker reading from his work on a radio program produced by UK’s NPR affiliate, WUKY 88.1 FM, at

review: Knockout Games

KG cover2datetitle: Knockout Games

author: Greg Neri

date: Carolrhoda Labs; August 2014

main character: Erica “Fish” Asher

Note: There are minor spoilers in this review. I could not avoid them. ARC courtesy of NetGalley.

Greg Neri is unpredictable if nothing else. His writings have ranged from Surf Mules to Yummy to Ghetto Cowboy to Hello, I’m Johnny Cash. And now, Knockout Games.

If you’re an adult, if you’re over, let’s be generous and say 30, you need to get your hands on an advanced copy and begin reading this book from the back. Start with the conversation between Greg and Carrie Dietz, the school librarian who gave Neri the idea for Knockout Games.

It didn’t take me long to realize I didn’t like Erica Asher, aka Fish, the books main character. She’s weak, indecisive and has little to say. She’s a white girl with long red hair and is a new student in an urban school in St. Louis filled with Black and Latino students. Destiny is the only person in the school who bothers to become friends with Erica and she’s the one who gives her the moniker “Fish”.

“I been watching you ever since you came to Truman. All you do is sit there and look at people, filming them and what not. It’s like that camera’s your tank and you just watching everyone pass you by. And with that hair, you the same color as Nemo, Fish. Yeah, that’s what you are.”

Erika and her mother move to St. Louis from Kansas after her parents break up. Erica’s mom finds a job working nights in a lab and can’t afford much of an apartment for them to live in.

Fish’s friendship with Destiny and her access to a camera gives Fish access to Kalvin, ‘King K’, and the knockout games.

Fish makes decision that I thought were just plain stupid. But, I’m not a teenage girl growing up in a new city with just my mom in the 21st century. My teen years are far behind me and I just ought to know better.

I’ve never really experienced this before while reading YA: realizing that a books just wasn’t written for me. Fish was true to her teenage self, figuring out the kind of person she wanted to be, what she valued and how to maintain relationships. Neri reveals her talents to us, but Fish has no idea what she’s capable of doing. This book was not written for those of us oldheads!

As an adult, I wanted clarity on Destiny and her relationship with Fish, but relationships are complicated, especially for teens. Remember those weeks you didn’t speak to your best friend and suddenly you were spending hours on the phone? There was no more of an explanation for the not talking as there was for the sudden forgiveness and certainly there weren’t pages of dialog between the two of you about your ‘feelings’.

Fish’s ignorance, which I should politely call ‘naiveté” is magnified in her relationship with Kalvin, the smooth talking, game playing, King K. First person narrative gives us no room to figure him out, it just gave us Kalvin in Fish’s eyes. We meet him and are pulled in by his soft voice with a slight rasp and piercing green eyes just she is. We feel her falling for him.

His hand engulfed mine. It was all rough on the outside, he’d seen battles. But his inside palm was soft. He pulled me up and his height caught me by surprise. He seem about two feet taller than me.

Kalvin teaches the Tokers about classic movies, boxing and how to be a leader. Yet, he’s as elusive to them as he is to us, the readers. Just as he seems to be spilling his emotions, he yanks all of ours with a line that has us doubting anything he’s said. Yea, he probably saw Fish as soon as she hit town.

In the conversation at the end of the book Dietz tells Neri “I feel like a lot of YA authors write great books for adults but not necessarily for teens, but the books that you write are definitely for teens. You write in a way that’s real, the way they really talk. They recognize those worlds.”

They recognize the knockout game, an activity that I heard about a few months ago on the national news. This game has actually been played in Dietz’s school for years and it involves students picking random strangers, walking up to them and hitting them hard enough to knock them out.

Young people don’t often consider the consequences of their actions, but that’s what they get in Knockout Games. What kind of people do we become when we join gangs and participate in such violence? Don’t get me wrong, Neri’s no preacher. He gives this to teens in ways they don’t even know what’s been put on their mind. And, teachers wise enough to teach with these books will find a multitude of ways to reach their students.

Knockout Games is a tough read for us old heads as it shows the many ways we’re letting our young people down. It’s a tough read for teens as it reflects one of the ways they’ve chosen to fight for their survival. The tough reads show us who we are and leave room for us to figure out who we’re going to become.

I can’t help but wonder what Neri will write about next.