Thanks to the cafés cropping up on every street corner these days, everyone I know seems to be two steps ahead of a caffeine headache - but Sarah Jamila Stevenson, debut author, has an answer: THE LATTE REBELLION. It just hit the shelves this week and promises to be a funny, thoughtful look at a mixed-race girl who must choose her convictions in an increasingly mixed-up world.
readergirlz co-founder Justina Chen (NORTH OF BEAUTIFUL) says, "Get ready to start your own rebellion after gulping down Sarah Stevenson's deftly written, multi-layered story about growing a voice, growing apart, and most of all, growing up girl."
I had the pleasure of meeting Sarah at a kidlit blogger conference a few years ago and am so proud to see her book on the shelf!
Asha Jamison, the narrator, and her best friends, Carey and Miranda, decide to make their senior year a little more interesting by creating a fictitious social movement for students of mixed ethnicity: the Latte Rebellion. The proceeds from the t-shirts they sell will go straight into a vacation fund for after they graduate. But their movement gains a life of its own, and various aspects of Asha's life spin out of control as a result—in some good ways as well as not-so-good ways.
Holly Cupala: Welcome to the blog, Sarah! I heard you've had some pretty fascinating stops on the road to publishing this book. Will you tell us about it?
Sarah Jamila Stevenson: It allowed to me to realize one of my geeky lifelong aspirations—to be on NPR! When I was working on the first draft of The Latte Rebellion, it was National Novel Writing Month. A local NPR program, Insight (Capital Public Radio), was doing a segment on NaNoWriMo and posted a call for volunteers to appear on the show along with NaNoWriMo founder Chris Baty. I was one of those selected, and I got to read a passage from my work-in-progress on the air. It's the third and final segment on this show.
Of course, my real dream is to be some kind of expert whose sound advice and/or witty commentary is regularly sought on NPR, but I suspect that'll probably stay a pipe dream.
Holly: I would tune in to hear you on NPR, definitely. When you are in-progress on a novel, do you talk about your ideas, or do you keep them top secret?
Sarah: If I get stuck, or, conversely, if I'm particularly excited about something, I often talk it through with my husband. He always has a unique take on things, and he's got an uncanny ability to guess where a story might be heading, so he often has plot-related suggestions that keep me from making the story too predictable.
Sometimes I'll bring the ideas to my writing group, but usually I wait until I've got things solidly underway (i.e., until I've got a clear idea of where the story's heading and have several chapters written) before I open myself up to feedback. It can be difficult to stay on track if I'm struggling with a "too much input" situation.
As far as everyone else—I'm pretty secretive! Mainly this is because I prefer to have a clearer sense of what the project is about before I start talking about it. The only exception is when I'm specifically looking for an outside perspective on the story—then I might go into more detail.
Holly: Asha's story runs deep into difficult cultural territory. Did her story come out of your life experiences?
Sarah: The fact that, like my main character Asha, I'm also of mixed ethnicity--that certainly influenced my decision to even write Asha's story in the first place. Some of her experiences are definitely inspired by my own high school years—being an overachiever, being very focused on getting into a good college, but also trying to stay balanced in other areas of my life.
Unlike Asha, however, I was not a social activist by any means! I was far more introverted and cautious in many respects. However, one of the volunteer activities I do off and on is interview local high school students for the UC Berkeley Alumni Leadership Scholarship—and the level of activity of top-flight high school students is insanely impressive compared to when I was in high school! I think that also influenced the way I conceived of Asha as a character...the idea that nowadays, in order to really stand out in your high school class, it seems like you need to practically start a non-profit organization or found an orphanage in order to stand out from the herd. :)
So when I started thinking about the phrase "latte rebellion" and what that might mean, my thoughts drifted towards this idea of a phony underground movement that Asha and Carey could then use as an activity on their college applications. This is not something I would advocate people actually do, by the way, but it sure was fun to write about.
One more thing. Like Asha, I did encounter a few kids in school who would insist I was, specifically, Mexican—even though Latino is one of the ethnicities I can't lay claim to. I've had people guess I was all kinds of things. There are quite a few random details like that scattered throughout the story that are drawn from my personal experience. And there have been many friends and family members of mixed ethnicity throughout my life, whose experiences have been inspiring to me and have informed the story in numerous ways. I'm thankful for that, and this story wouldn't be the same without them.
Holly: What do you most hope your readers will take away?
Sarah: I'd love for readers of mixed race or mixed ethnicity to come out of it feeling like it's okay to be a mixed-up blend of identities. Sometimes it's easy to feel like you're somehow fractured, or incomplete, or not quite one or the other. I've certainly felt that way a lot, and I don't know if it ever goes away completely. But there are ways to make that a part of you, to make that a strength, too. I also wanted to convey the idea that being of mixed race isn't always an "issue." Often it's simply a part of who you are, not something that you have to constantly struggle with. I think that's why it was important to me to inject a sense of humor into the book, and to maintain a focus on the madcap out-of-control aspect of it all, rather than making it simply a problem novel about ethnicity.
Thank you, Sarah!
Readers, check out THE LATTE REBELLION's website here. Sarah has generously offered to give a book to one lucky US resident - just leave a meaningful comment below by midnight on Monday for a chance to win!