Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Twinja Book Reviews 3rd Annual Diversity Month Day Fourteen: Interview with Anisha & Jess @Bookmark_Place + month long #giveaway

So we’re very pleased with this week’s line up. Most are some really cool super-homies coming up, and today isn’t any different.

We highlight a ton of authors this month, because, duh! We love reading books! But what we get the most out of this month is our feedback from other bloggers. When we were as unknown as you could be(even though I wouldn’t say we’re very well known. But people find it hard to forget the word Twinja XD) we were invited into the book blogosphere from so many friendly faces that helped us build the type of themes we highlight to this day. We couldn’t have done it without the community of bloggers we’ve become apart of, and I for one love seeing blogs like today’s guests, because it feels like the community seeking and wanting more for the conversation about inclusion is only getting bigger.

And we’re not getting just one, but two voices, all in one interview =D

We’re almost kinda twin-ish, because one of them likes SFF(Me/Guin) and the other blogger reads a ton more Contemporary(Bum/Libertad).

I’m wasting a lot of time talking! Why don’t you guys read about them for yourselves!

Twinja Book Reviews Annual Diversity Month Event Day Fourteen:

Anisha and Jess from The Bookmark

Ok, so we totally know you guys from Twitter(we’ve even bought some books off your reviews!). We hope that there end up being blogs of many like yours! But for those who aren’t familiar, why don’t you guys introduce yourselves!

Anisha: Hi everyone! I’m Anisha, and I’m one of the co-creators of the Bookmark, a book review podcast and website dedicated to reviewing diverse YA books. I currently live in North Carolina with my (new!) husband, but I left a piece of my heart with Jess in DC. I love Ethiopian food, Gilmore Girls, baking, libraries, and, of course YA.

Jessica: Hi! I’m Jess, and I’m the other co-creator of The Bookmark. I live in Virginia outside DC and the commute is terrible – but it gives me plenty of time for book reading on the metro! I like reading, handwriting letters, Doctor Who, and finding the perfect presents for people.

What can you tell us about your journey becoming book bloggers?

Anisha: I’ve been an avid reader for as long as I can remember. I love consuming and discussing literature, though I’ve never had a big interest in writing. When Jess and I met a few years ago through work, we connected over books. We had such different tastes in YA (I like fun teen-romances while she’s into science fiction and fantasy), but her recommendations never steered me wrong. Anyway, we used to chat every day across the office, and one day, one of us suggested starting a book blog. It took a few weeks for us to think through it, and I’m not sure if either one of us thought we were serious at first. But we ended up launching The Bookmark in early 2015!

Jess: Anisha covered it pretty well, but I’ll add that I’m pretty opinionated so a book blog and podcast seemed like a great way to get those ideas out there for others to see. It’s not about my voice being the “right” one, but about starting conversations involving topics we’re passionate about!

What types of books did you guys consume growing up?

Anisha: I read a LOT of romantic young adult – Sarah Dessen was front and center of my reading list as a teenager. In earlier years, I read a lot of Babysitters Club and American Girl Doll books.

Jess: I started reading a lot of adult stuff fairly early and roamed the Sci Fi and Fantasy shelves at the library extensively. I still love Dune by Frank Herbert and The EarthSea Books by Ursula K Le Guin. All the high fantasy stuff I read probably gave me some messed up ideas about the place of women in society, but Le Guin helped balance that out with her strong feminism.

You’re blog is awesome btw, but we’re curious…What created the initiative behind your blog?

Anisha: The Bookmark focuses on diverse YA literature featuring underrepresented or marginalized characters and/or authors, and Jess gets 100% credit for this idea. We both wanted to blog about books, but Jess really reminded me of the issues facing underrepresented authors, and showed me that this our blog could be more than just a fun book review site (though there’s nothing wrong with that!). We are able to focus on issues that are core to our values: Diversity, inclusion, and a voice for all. We also wanted to be sure that we didn’t brand the blog as “diverse” too clearly. We wanted to be sure that we were talking about the featured books as valuable literature, regardless of what people or groups they represented. So often these types of books get segregated to the “diversity list” and we wanted to be sure we were reviewing them as books on the “awesome list.”

What inspired your review policy?

Both: Honestly, we just started out and we wanted to be sure everyone would feel welcome to share their book with us. Right now, we’re not big enough to need a really hard and fast rule. We just want to feature books that cover our blog’s goals. We have said no to a few requests because they didn’t fit our target age range, but so far, even if a book isn’t something we would normally pick, we were happy to feature it because someone out there would want it.

We talk about how sometimes our upbringings shape us to review books a certain way, and since you two have very different experiences, what can you tell us about what it was like for you guys growing up?

Anisha: I’m a first-generation American – my parents emigrated from India a few years before I was born. Growing up, I almost never saw myself in conventional media – books, movies, or television. In fact, even into my teenage years, the only Indian characters were the dorky foreigners (like Raj in the early seasons of Big Bang Theory) who just talked about India all the time. I hated any representation of my culture. In fact, there was a while that I hated going to the movies because of this ridiculous Fandango commercial. Not having Indian-American role models contributed, in part, to my confusion over identity. In middle school and early high school, I would tell people “I’m basically white”, instead of explaining that my family was very Western, I only spoke English, and had been to India twice in my life.

I didn’t think the American experience was anything but the white one. I was having a white childhood, in an Indian girl’s body. To be honest, I think every teenager goes through an identity crisis at some point. But I do wonder if actors like Mindy Kaling and Aziz Ansari had been on television when I was growing up, would I feel differently? Would I have been able to explain that I was Indian-American, rather than “basically white”? I don’t have an answer to that, but I do know that every time I see an Indian-American character in media, I feel a little bit more normal, and less “outside.” And I want to promote diversity in literature as much as possible, so we can all feel a little more normal.

Jess: I’m a white girl nominally raised Protestant in Virginia, so I could find tons of similar faces in books and media growing up. Even so, I always felt a little awkward because I wasn’t participating in the larger teen culture in the same way that (it felt like) everyone else was. Books were a solace and a way to understand that there are lots of ways of living.

But, in college I started on a journey that led me to be much more intersectional than I was before. I’m still not great with claiming that part of my identity publicly, but I’ll say my religious identity has shifted a ton since I was finding myself in high school. I also began to have friends from much more diverse backgrounds and, as a student of anthropology, was dealing with hard realizations about the state of the world and what it’s like to be an underrepresented or marginalized person. I blame this delayed realization partly on the fact that books featuring all kinds of life experiences weren’t widely available while I was growing up. I had deeply held beliefs about justice and rightness, but I wasn’t able to articulate what exactly was wrong with the world until I started to have real exposure to the lived experiences of people without representation. Now, I’m passionate about making those experiences visible so that all readers can find themselves in a book and so that people like me aren’t learning these lessons too late.

We wrote about this issue on our blog here:

What would you tell your teenage self that you wish you knew now about your growth?

Anisha: This is such a good question! I would tell myself that as I grow, my dreams, priorities, and goals will change. And that means that something you work hard for may not satisfy you in a few years. So you’ll never have this “light at the end of the tunnel” moment where everything in your life is perfect and the credits start rolling. And that’s okay. That, and to stop being jealous of all the girls who got Uggs for Christmas. They went out of style pretty quickly.

Jess: I think Anisha’s answer is great! I would tell teenage-me that things get better and you DO find your “people.” It takes time, but if you stay open to the beauty of the world and the people in it, you’ll suddenly find yourself with a rich collection of friends that don’t make you feel sorry for who you are…and while you’re waiting, look in books!

How can we make the conversation about diversity where it needs to be?

Both: We wish we had a good answer to this. We know that people have confirmation bias with their media – so those who are looking at a diverse literature blog are the ones who know about the importance of diversity, not the Facebook crazies talking about closing the borders to all Muslims. But we do think two key places are schools and libraries. Kids are teachable, and we’d like to believe that kids exposed to more diverse curriculums will grow up to seek out diversity in other ways.

Do you feel well represented in books and/or media?

Anisha: No, but it’s getting better. I think television has taken a big leap lately – Aziz Ansari, Mindy Kaling, and Priyanka Chopra are all leads on mainstream television shows. While I don’t watch Master of None, I am addicted to The Mindy Project and Quantico. And Mindy Kaling’s view of the world (through Mindy Lahiri) has shaped my thoughts more than I care to admit. I’m seeing more Indian-American girls in literature, though not as fast as I’d like. I recently read The Rearranged Life by Annika Sharma, which was a great story with wonderful references to Indian culture. But I am still searching for more Indian-American girls in books!

Jess: No and yes. Of course, there are plenty of white girls in the media, but even they don’t get a wide spectrum of representation (thanks, patriarchy!). And, right now the worst kind of religious representation is being displayed all over the media. Even when there’s a “good” Muslim on TV, that person is portrayed as the exception, not as the norm. I was so happy when TLC had the Muslim reality series and really upset when it was cancelled after a single, brief season. I think we’re getting there, with some great examples that Anisha pointed out, and also with Marvel slowly expanding and making canon identities that were only eluded to previously, but there’s a long way to go.

What are creators not doing well when it comes to the conversation of diversity?

Anisha: For the most part, I think most creators are doing well – telling their stories with respect. I just wish we saw more minority creators getting their work published by mainstream publishers!

Jess: I think this depends on which creators you’re talking about. I think the biggest thing is realizing that, if you choose to create outside of your own identity, you need to consult with lots and lots of people from that identity to be sure you get things as right as you possibly can (and you’ll always miss something). I think another big issue is how people react when they receive criticism about their representation choices.

We’ve seen a couple of big time authors called out for poor representation and then reacting really negatively. I think we need to ensure there’s a culture of listening and empathy from creators choosing to represent people unlike them and we need to ensure that “own voices” work is getting promoted equally or more heavily than those from outside.

Are there any books that you thinks gets representation right?

Anisha: There are a lot of books that get it right – and by that, I mean, they respectfully show one character’s experience without making an overarching stereotype about a group. This Side of Home, Tell Me How A Crush Should Feel, and None of the Above are three wonderful examples.

Jess: I would say no one form is getting it right, it’s more about the individual creators or collections of creators that are forming spaces for healthy representation of all types of people.

What draws you into a book? What themes do you look for? What makes a book an amazing read?

Anisha: Strong female heroines are my weakness. I realized the other day that I rarely pick up a book with a male lead. I love any book that includes a bit of self-discovery – finding yourself through your journey. Ah, the best books, the ones with the biggest book hangovers, are those with main characters who you want as best friends. For me, plot is just a tool to get to spend more time with your character, kind of like when you walk to Starbucks with your best friend. It’s about the time you spend together, not the chestnut praline latte.

Jess: Beautiful writing and well developed characters. I also look for world building. Since a lot of the books I read are not placed in present day Earth, I have to truly believe in the time and world being created for me. There should be richness! Also, very importantly, the story has to respect the people it’s representing. I stopped reading a very popular fantasy series because I couldn’t handle the misogyny.

What is the book(or books) that have the biggest impact on you and why?

Anisha: Little Women has been my favorite book since childhood. I loved being able to relate so well to characters who lived during the Civil War. Reading Little Women was the first time I realized that people in the past are not all stiff black-and-white portraits, but real people. I could relate so well to both Amy and Meg, and loved their stories of sisterhood, school girl jealousy, family, and love.

Jess: As above, EarthSea because once you read all five books you get such a full picture of love and family and the position of women and men and what fear can do to society. But, also Pride and Prejudice because I want to be that kind of sister and to love my parents even if they’re a bit farcical and to land in a place where I have love while feeling true to myself.

Jess, since you’re into Spec Fic more, if you can have any superpower or supernatural ability, what would it be and why?

Jess: I think I’m going with the general “magic,” but in the sense of interacting with the world and making things happen in it. Like natural force magic? From The Circle Series by Tamora Pierce or Gandalf in Lord of the Rings or, again, EarthSea. I appreciate that it keeps you grounded in the world as it is and that, when you respect the earth and your own power, it’s really hard to get too big for your britches because natural forces are still way stronger than you.

Which fictional world would you want to live in? Please divulge why!

Anisha: This is such a cop-out answer, but the Harry Potter from The Marauder’s time. I want all the greatness of the wizarding world in a time before modern-day technology would distract us from it. Also, I want to date Remus Lupin.

Jess: I would go to EarthSea. I want magic and I love that in EarthSea it’s deeply connected to the world, people, and animals around it. Plus, there are dragons!

Who is your favorite Book Bae and why?

Anisha: This question is too hard! There are so many book boys I want to date. Most recently, I fell in love with Baz from Carry On by Rainbow Rowell. Yes, I know he’s gay, but this is hypothetical! I love a strong male lead who can be both a fighting partner and romantic interest.

Jess: I never really felt that way about a character, maybe because all the dudes I was reading about had tragic endings full of self-sacrifice or realizations about how there is always work to do. But, Aragorn from Lord of the Rings did have that loner, mystery thing going for him.

Since your blog is awesome, we just know you have to have a favorite post! What has been your favorite one to date?

Anisha: I really liked our podcast discussion (and post) of This Side of Home. The book is amazing, and I loved being able to dig into the culture, diversity, and fun (romance) topics.

Jess: I knew Anisha would choose This Side of Home and I agree, it is a seriously amazing book. I will also point to Out of Darkness because it’s a heavier book that addresses the more violent side of the issues we’re trying to take on with our blog. And, they are both amazingly, beautifully written. 

Here’s the link to our This Side of Home podcast and review: 

Here’s the link to our Out of Darkness podcast and review:

What type of advice can you give to those starting out?

Both: Just start somewhere. You can only improve on a second draft, not something that still lives only in your head. Nothing happens if you don’t get something on the page.

For those who may not know where to go, but want to learn more about the issues marginalized groups face in reference to kid lit/YA, would you suggest any cool sites?

American Indians in Children’s Literature
Disability in Kid Lit
Diversify YA
Diversity in YA
Gay YA
We Need Diverse Books campaign
Writing with Color

Finally, where can folks go for updates, and to learn more about your reviews, podcasts, or anything else you guys have going on =)

Both: Our Twitter @Bookmark_Place) or website (Our Official Website).

Anisha loves books, Gilmore Girls, and her Kuerig. She’s been reading mainstream YA since she was actually a young adult, and Jess is helping her expand her horizons with more diverse, interesting books from newer authors.

Jess loves SFF – old and new school – and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.


  1. You guys are awesome! I've been mulling over your questions since we were filling out the survey and trying to decide if my answers are complete. I think my book baes never really formed because the dudes I was reading about when I was younger were all enjoying their privilege just a little too much and now, reading lots of YA, I feel just a tad too old to be falling for characters.

    Thanks again for such an AWESOME effort!


  2. @jess, girl we not gonna shame you for liking who you like😆but its still ok not to want to be on some creep factor (which I totally am lol) with YA book baes lol.

    Were so happy we met you guys, and were able to get you to join us in our month to support inclusion in books :)

    Really means a lot that more blogs are actively seeking inclusion, because there was a time we felt like the only ones, and it sucked.

    You guys are both pretty awesome, so we hope you keep blogging for as long as its still rewarding to you :D

  3. HAHA. yes! the creep factor. I mean...some dudes do give me a blush, but then they say "i had to go home for curfew" and I remember it's NOT OK. But book bae =/= real life so it's allllll good. :)


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