I first met Lisa Moore Ramee at an author event, and bought her debut middle grade novel, A GOOD KIND OF TROUBLE at an SCBWI event in October. Her book has been cited as one of NPR’s best books of 2019, and was mentioned in Booklist as one of their Top Ten #OwnVoices Middle Grade novels. Have a look:
Twelve-year-old Shayla is allergic to trouble. All she wants to do is to follow the rules. (Oh, and she’d also like to make it through seventh grade with her best friendships intact, learn to run track, and have a cute boy see past her giant forehead.)
But in junior high, it’s like all the rules have changed. Now she’s suddenly questioning who her best friends are and some people at school are saying she’s not black enough. Wait, what?
Shay’s sister, Hana, is involved in Black Lives Matter, but Shay doesn’t think that’s for her. After experiencing a powerful protest, though, Shay decides some rules are worth breaking. She starts wearing an armband to school in support of the Black Lives movement. Soon everyone is taking sides. And she is given an ultimatum.
Shay is scared to do the wrong thing (and even more scared to do the right thing), but if she doesn’t face her fear, she’ll be forever tripping over the next hurdle. Now that’s trouble, for real.
According to your website bio, you wrote your first book in second grade (Me too!–it was called Stewert and the Wind, and was basically a rip-off of The Muppets Take Manhattan). What was that first book about, and in what ways, if any, did it inspire your writing journey?
My book was called Sky Palace and told the story of Princess Avistina (because even then I was a killer at creating names) who was unhappy living with the gods and goddesses and wanted to be with humans. (Let me add this was before Disney’s The Little Mermaid movie and before Rick Riordan brought so much attention back to mythology. Lol) I think even at seven I was interested in exploring themes of not belonging and writing stories that would appeal to a young audience. I also gave my mc a small bit of personal power, something I still try to instill with my characters.
I love characters that have personal power! A GOOD KIND OF TROUBLE explores finding identity and conquering fear in new and unfamiliar environments. How did Shayla’s story form as you wrote it?
When I first started the book, a had a few primary goals, that all can be narrowed down to say, I wanted to write Judy Blume for Black girls. Which is not to say that Black girls can’t read and enjoy Judy Blume–I certainly did–but rather, I wanted Black girls to have a story where not only could they identify with the themes of friendship and crushes and family but also see themselves. The theme of social justice came later and was a direct result of all the stories I saw on the news, (seemingly every day) that showed yet another Black person being killed by police instead of simply being arrested/questioned, and I started imagining how it would feel to see those news stories if I was only twelve? How would it make me feel about being Black? How would I feel being told over and over that because of the color of my skin, my life matters less than others, or perhaps not at all? I knew that Shayla had to be affected by these questions and ultimately I knew I had to show her take a stand. Another thing that developed was the character of Bernard who became a larger part of the story. His character gave me a great opportunity to show how a kid might be judged too quickly.
And I’m so glad that kids with those experiences can see themselves in books like yours. What kinds of books would you like to see more of in Middle Grade?
Always more books with kids of color. We’ve made some progress but we have a long way to go. I’d also like to see more books that are at the higher end of middle grade. There’s a noticeable gap between traditional middle grade and young adult and I think we’re missing a whole lot of readers who want stories that speak to their specific age group. There’s a big difference between an eighth grader and a junior in high school. But in addition to that I want more middle grade FANTASY with the main character being a person of color–especially with boy mc’s.
Sounds wonderful. What are some of your current projects?
My next book is another MG contemporary but the main character, Jenae, is very different from Shayla. Jenae wants to be invisible and left alone. She doesn’t want friends. She just wants to fix her older brother who is home from college with a basketball injury. But a new boy is determined to befriend her, and eventually Jenae has to decide if she’s willing to give up this new friendship in her effort to never stand out or up. I love the book because it touches on the fear of public speaking (something I struggled with all through school) and it looks at what history we remember and respect and whether we should still value celebrities after we know of their objectionable beliefs. It will be out summer 2020. Right now, I’m working on a middle grade fantasy that goes directly to my desire to see a Black boy front in center in a fantastical world. I’m really excited about it–even though the writing has been challenging. Hopefully an editor will love it as much as I do.
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