Raise Your Voice 2016 with Jay Coles

Raise Your Voice is a special annual month-long series on Pop! Goes The Reader whose purpose is to celebrate diversity and inclusivity in literature, with a particular emphasis on #OwnVoices stories. In it, authors recommend books with sensitive, positive and accurate representation that will help to create a resource of diverse books that marginalized readers can turn to when they need them most. Your voice matters. Raise it! For a complete list of the participants and their scheduled guest post dates, click here.

About Jay Coles

Jay Coles is a young adult and middle grade author who resides in the gorgeous midwest. He holds degrees in Liberal Arts, English and education, and may be found wrapped in his favorite warm, fuzzy Star Wars blanket and drinking a green tea latte at your nearest Starbucks. He lives with two dogs that are really evil masterminds. Jay’s also a composer registered with ASCAP and is represented by superhero agent Lauren Abramo of DGLM.

Author Links: WebsiteTwitterFacebookInstagramGoodreads

(You can add The Boy In The Black Suit to your Goodreads shelves Here!)

When I was in middle school, my 8th grade teacher made us read several books over the entire school year. She had passed around a list to all of us — a list of roughly 30 or so young adult books that we could choose from. Of course, being a huge book nerd, I was cheerful and all grabby-hands at all the options. I had read almost every book on the list by the end of the school year. Reflecting back on my 8th grade year, every book on the options list either didn’t have a black character at all or had a single black character but they were the beast or villain of the story.

Since you can’t see me, I’m just going to tell you: I’m rolling my eyes.

Growing up thinking that that’s all I would ever be, a villain or beast, I had started to get really turned off from reading and starting going down a really rough patch in my life. And it didn’t help that I struggled finding a young adult book that I could see myself in — a book where I could be the hero and save the day, a book to save me from the horribly false thoughts that had been put into my head that either 1) I wasn’t good enough to be the hero of any story and 2) I didn’t deserve it.

I mean, I also grew up with my folks always telling me: “Jay, you live in a white man’s world,” and that was a way for me to come to terms with the fact that I didn’t see myself in books, that was a way for me to tell myself that maybe books with black characters didn’t exist because of this very fact, or maybe they existed but were nowhere to be found within my school.

But this certainly made teen Jay mad. Really mad. And I got tired of reading young adult books about sad white kids that I could not relate to, and I turned to comics where I found black superheroes: Luke Cage, Black Panther, Nick Fury, Storm, Misty Knight, etc. GOD. BLACK SUPERHEROES ARE GODDAMN AMAZING. It was great solace and everything, but I missed reading about books set in real time and in this particular universe.

And then, one day, years later — I’ll never forget — I found books by Walter Dean Myers. I became completely in love with them and how real and close to home they all hit — themes of broken families, absent fathers, race relations. And years after that, during the big push for diversity in the publishing industry, I was walking through a library with my mother because at the time she was in medical school and was checking out books to do research, and I ended up stumbling on a book with a black boy on the cover and it didn’t look like he was being portrayed as a criminal or monster. It was Jason Reynolds’ The Boy In The Black Suit. I checked out that book in a heartbeat and stayed up all night devouring it. It rekindled my passion for reading young adult fiction. It helped me come to terms with what it meant to be black in America. It helped me push through the grief I had been carrying on my shoulders for years — some of that grief coming from my folks reminding me that I live in a “white man’s world.” Jason Reynolds’ book saved me, honestly, and he and his words got me into the world of writing. The Boy In The Black Suit — an outstanding story about loss and love and self-discovery — helped me find my voice again. So, thank you, Jason! *Toasts glass of wine*

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(You can add Dear Martin to your Goodreads shelves Here!)

Recently, I read a phenomenal, upcoming 2017 debut that has completely shaken me, and whose main character is still stuck with me. I wake up with his name falling out of my mouth most mornings — mostly because I just want him to be my BFF, even though he and I share a lot in common. Other than skin color. And this experience is so rare for me — to be completely charmed by a character, because there aren’t very many #OwnVoices books out there geared toward black kids like this one. Nic Stone’s Dear Martin is a profoundly poignant and hugely necessary story about a very nerdy black boy who’s always cracking jokes and listening to rap music, about him being mistaken to be a criminal looking for trouble and what follows after his closest friend is gunned down and the media turns against him. He begins writing letters to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to process his grief. Having had a cousin get killed by police officers in a similar way, this book is very special to me, and it has helped reaffirm why I read: to be completely captivated with hope.

“I am reminded that people look at me and see a threat instead of a human being.”

Police brutality is a huge issue right now, and has been for years, but so is the idea of justice and how our society defines it. Because it’s so goddamn hard to be black in America and the fact that I stress about whether or not I’ll become a hashtag, if my brother will, or if one of my sisters will, I related to the main character Justyce in several ways that had me reading his story teary-eyed through gritted teeth and curled fists. One line that I might even get tatted on me is: “I can’t seem to find where I fit.” Because with every new hashtag, that’s exactly how I feel. But like the main character, Justyce, I still have hope. If you aren’t already, get ready to be woke. Nic Stone’s #OwnVoices novel Dear Martin will change and challenge you and is for literally everyone.

Title A Night Devoid Of Stars
Author Jay Coles
Pages (Approximately) 370 Pages
Intended Target Audience Young Adult
Genre & Keywords Contemporary, Realistic Fiction
To Be Published To Be Announced

Marvin Johnson is a geek. A geek who wants so desperately to have his first kiss and get into Harvard. He is so obsessed with 90s pop culture that he wears Hammer Pants, planning to write his way out of the hood. A brother who’s slowly straying away from him, a mother who is falling apart as each day passes, friends who can’t give him the attention he needs, Marvin turns to Tupac for an escape and when that doesn’t work, he finds particular interest in drug dealers who are actually the ones splitting up Marvin from his twin brother Tyler. One night hanging with the drug dealers and Marvin’s life is turned upside down, and he has to learn to push through all the tragedy to build a better future and leave his hood once and for all. Inspired by personal experience, A Night Devoid Of Stars is The Outsiders meets the Black Lives Matter movement, a contemporary YA about grief, self-discovery, family, belonging, and being black in America.

2 responses to “Raise Your Voice 2016 with Jay Coles”

  1. Chasia Lloyd says:

    Beautiful post. I am such a huge fan of Jason Reynolds, and I can’t wait to read both Nic Stone’s and Jay Coles’s books!

  2. Ashley says:

    I’m really enjoying this series, Jen. Thank you for it and the message it carries. And A NIGHT DEVOID OF STARS sounds like it’s going to tear up my heart! Thank you for sharing your story, Jay.

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