Paula Chase writes both teen and upper middle grade books that offer a glimpse into what tween and teen life is really like. Her latest novel, KEEPING IT REAL, comes out on October 19, 2021. It stars Marigold, the only Black kid at her fancy private school, who explores what it means to fit in–and experiences the unexpected changes that come with it.
Marigold Johnson can’t wait to attend a special program at her family’s business, Flexx Unlimited, for teens who love fashion. But Mari quickly realizes that she’s out of place compared to the three other trainees–and one girl, Kara, seems to hate her on sight.
As tension builds and the stakes at the program get higher, Mari uncovers exactly why Kara’s been so spiteful. She also discovers some hard truths about herself and her family.
You are one of the co-founders of The Brown Bookshelf. How did The Brown Bookshelf come to be, and how did you originally get involved?
Some years ago there was a message board, Verla Kay’s Blue Board. I met so many writers there who are still my friends, to this day. It’s where I met Varian Johnson. We only knew one another from the Blue Board, but our YA books came out around the same time. We noticed how books like ours – meaning books that weren’t about Black pain, weren’t about characters from the inner city – got very little attention. We realized that we weren’t alone. There were many Black children’s lit creatives that simply flew under the radar.
It’s been so long now that I can’t figure out which of us came up with the idea of a blog first. But we each roped errr invited someone to go in on the idea – me, Kelly Lyons Starling and Varian asked Don Tate. Carla Sarratt was also an inaugural member. And The Brown Bookshelf was born.
And I’m so glad it exists! KEEPING IT REAL explores conforming to fit in. What would you like to say to young girls about the balance that comes when trying to find yourself?
No matter what I say, they wouldn’t take heed. That’s the beauty of youth – the arrogance that makes you believe that you will be the one to avoid the balancing act that every other person before you walked. It’s why I let stories like Keeping it Real speak for me. Marigold is proof that no matter how much money your family has, no matter how together you think you are the reality is that change is inevitable and it’s how you cope with that change that matters. Don’t let adversity crush you and don’t let your ego swell too big when you’re riding high.
Wonderful advice! I also loved your conversation with Tiffany D. Jackson, entitled “Grown Too Soon.” In what ways does this relate to your book SO DONE?
I think with Grown and So Done, Tiffany and I were both showing how easily Black girls are sexualized. Because So Done is an upper middle grade I was very careful to focus on the after math vs. the trauma itself. But the aftermath was Mila’s fear. So much fear that she risked her own mental health and safety to protect her dad, because she knew if/when he found out what happened he’d be in danger of doing something that might get him in trouble with the law. That’s a huge burden. And in that burden, she’s robbed of a very large chunk of her innocence. It’s important for girls to know that these experiences aren’t rare and that they shouldn’t be ashamed because it’s not their fault, it’s the adult’s fault.
So true. And that truth is something so many survivors need to hear. What are some of your current projects?
Naturally, I have one of those obligatory really cool projects that I can’t talk about yet. *sigh* All I can say is that it’s traditional Middle Grade. A first for me. But I’m also returning to my “roots” and have a YA series on the horizon. The first book in my Charm City Heights series comes out Fall 2022. I put roots in quotes because I’m realizing that even my early YA was more Young Young Adult/Upper Middle Grade. That’s definitely my space. But Charm City Heights is legit YA because the characters are fifteen. It’ll be fun to play in that space again.
And the Brown Bookshelf continues to spread our wings. We’re hoping to do another round of our Amplify Black Stories program. It’s important that we get as many voices out there as we can to double down on the reality that the Black experience is not a monolith.
Paula Chase is the cofounder of The Brown Bookshelf, a site designed to increase awareness of African American voices writing for young readers. She lives in Annapolis, Maryland. Her novels include the acclaimed So Done and its companion, Dough Boys. www.paulachasehyman.com