This is a transcript of Recommended Season 2 Episode 12.
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This is Recommended, where we talk to interesting people about their favorite books. Today we’re joined by kids author Karina Yan Glaser, discussing Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor, and romance novelist Alyssa Cole, who picked To Find You by Cerece Rennie Murphy.
Karina Yan Glaser has had a varied career teaching and implementing literacy programs in family homeless shelters and recruiting healthcare professionals to volunteer in under-resourced areas around the world. She’s currently a contributing editor at Book Riot, where she writes the weekly The Kids Are All Right newsletter as well as children’s book recommendation posts. She’s also the author of The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street, which received starred reviews from Booklist and the School Library Journal, and follows the adventures of five siblings fighting to stay in their beloved brownstone apartment in Harlem. The sequel, The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden, will be out on September 25.
KARINA YAN GLASER:
My name is Karina Yan Glaser, and Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor is my recommended.
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry is about a girl named Cassie Logan, who’s part of a big family, and the story is set in rural Mississippi in 1933, so around the great depression time. It’s about her coming to age during this time, and dealing with the family’s confrontation with racism. Her family, the Logan family, they’re owners of a lot of land, which makes some of the people in the community really upset. She’s sort of getting to an age where she’s learning more about what’s going on, and also confronting some unpleasant situations where she is experiencing racism very blatantly and cruelly.
It’s a story of her coming to find her own voice in all of that, as well as learning about how to protect her family, and how to protect herself. And just learning more about herself and how she can come out into the world, and add her own voice to it.
I first encountered this book when I was young, and I read it. I grew up in suburban California, so this was very foreign to me, and that story really captured my imagination and learning more about the realities of what life was like; black Americans living in the rural south was very eye-opening to me.
It wasn’t until last year that I picked up the book again. The book was celebrating its 40th year anniversary, and they repackaged the book with all new covers. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry is just one book out of many that Mildred D. Taylor has written about the Logans. The publisher repackaged all the books in paperback with new art by Kadir Nelson, and he is one of my absolute favorite illustrators, and I just think he’s amazing. I saw the cover at a bookstore and I grabbed it. In this copy, it also has a forward by Jacqueline Woodson, which is really beautiful.
I was really touched by the introduction, as well as the cover, so last year I re-read the whole thing, and just was so captured by the story again, and especially … This book was written, I believe, in the 1970s, and it is still so relevant today, which is heartbreaking in a way, but also important to still read these stories. Even though it was written in the ’70s about a family in 1933, we see these patterns coming up again in the current day, and I think it’s a really important book for everyone to read, even now, to really see what was going on during that time, and how that’s being repeated in history today, and how we can stand up and think about systemic racism and different ways we can contribute to moving forward, and just trying to rectify some of these ingrained ideas that I think so many of us have.
When I first read this as a kid, I knew that I wanted to be a writer. I had known I wanted to be a writer since I was very young. It was always something that had always been a part of my thinking and what I wanted to do when I grew up. When I read this book, it was sort of intimidating because the writing is so amazing and lush and descriptive, and she is brilliant. Mildred D. Taylor is absolutely brilliant at crafting a story that is filled with adventure and humor. Even though it tackles such serious topics, there’s a lot of humor in the family, and a lot of humor to Cassie. She has a really energetic voice, and she’s very stubborn, as well as very direct, so her voice is pretty amazing. I just adored hearing that.
Reading this book, Jacqueline Woodson says that it encouraged her to be a writer. I think it sort of made me afraid. I just didn’t know how she did it. She was just such a brilliant writer. Reading it now, I still am afraid, because there’s just so much that she could do with writing.
When I read this book after I had written the Vanderbeekers, the first book and the second book, I definitely did not analyze it, because I was so wrapped up in the story, and because she wrote this as a saga … The actual series spans decades, and there’s a prequel. There’s multiple prequels, and there’s a lot to unpack because there are generations of families. There are side stories that get addressed in different books, so when I read them … Usually when I read books, because my work at Book Riot and reading a lot all the time, and a lot of times, I do sort of read with an analytical mind because my editor is very focused on making sure that every word is related to the story, and that nothing superfluous is in it. Sometimes when I read, I review books, I can get distracted because I think, “Oh, my editor … If I had written something like this, she would definitely have things to say.” But when I read Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, my brain just shut off, and I just enjoyed the story as it was.
I definitely have recommended this book to so many people. My neighbor, who lives down the hallway from me, she’s in her 70s, and I had it out on my table when she came over for dinner, and she was looking at it. She said that she definitely recognized the cover, but she had never read it. She, herself, is African-American, and grew up in Harlem and lived in New York City her whole life. I gave the book to her, and then I had to buy another copy, because I didn’t know if she was going to return it, which was fine. But I bought another copy.
My older daughter, who is 10, she has already read it. The superintendent in our building, he is just about the nicest guy you could ever meet. He’s from Ohio, which I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone from Ohio. The nicest person. Every year, during the holidays, he gives both of my kids gift certificates to Barnes and Noble because he knows that they love to read so much. I brought both of them to Barnes and Noble. My daughter has read so many books … Both of them have read so many books, that when they get to Barnes and Noble, they don’t even know what to do, because one of them they’ve read, or have gotten them from the library, and because I review so many books, they get so many books from the publisher directly, so they are just wandering around, and 20 minutes later my daughter came up to me holding Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, and said that was the book that she had wanted.
I was so glad to see her holding it, and she read it that day, and she loved it. I asked her if she thought it would be good to read aloud to my eight year old, her sister, and she said that she thought parts of it would still be too scary for my eight year old, because my eight year old is very sensitive, and extremely empathetic, so any tale of hardship or racism, it just makes her so incredibly upset, so we’re going to hold on to that for a couple a years, until she’s a little older. But my older daughter loved it, and she wants to read the other books in the series, and she said she would do that in the summer.
It’s one of those books that, because it’s a classic, and a Newbery winner, but it was in the 1970s, I feel like it’s sort of been forgotten, in a way, which is sad because it’s … Like I said before, it’s so relevant to today. I was reading it, and I was like, “Oh my gosh, this is still relevant today. This is still happening.” It was really upsetting to read in some ways, because I could give it to my 10 year old, and she said that a lot of these things were still issues today. A book that’s written … that’s set in a time that’s 90 years ago, it was upsetting in that way.
But what I like about the author, is that she always makes the family redeemed at the end. There is some awful things that happen in all of her books to the family, and there’s just such a powerful story of redemption at the end. Even Jacqueline Woodson talked about this in her introduction. She said that she just holds her breath and just … Even though she had read it so many times, when she re-reads it, she sort of holds her breath and waits for the circle to be finished, and for there to be redemption, and that the characters are in a safe spot and going to be okay. I think this author is just brilliant in crafting a story that way, and addressing so many issues.
Thanks again to Karina Yan Glaser for joining us and recommending Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books For Young Readers, is available wherever books are sold. You can follow her on Twitter at KarinaYanGlaser.
This episode of Recommended is also sponsored by Annotated.
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Alyssa Cole is an award-winning author of historical, contemporary, and SFF romance. Her Civil War-set espionage romance AN EXTRAORDINARY UNION was chosen as the RT Reviewers’ Choice Award’s Best Book of 2017 and the American Library Association’s RUSA Best Romance for 2018. She’s contributed to publications including Bustle, Shondaland, The Toast, Vulture, RT Book Reviews, and Heroes and Heartbreakers, and her books have received critical acclaim from The New York Times, Library Journal, BuzzFeed, Kirkus, Booklist, Jezebel, Vulture, Book Riot, Entertainment Weekly, and various other outlets. A Duke By Default is the second book in her contemporary romance series, Reluctant Royals, and follows New York City socialite Portia as she takes on a sword-making apprenticeship — and a grouchy Duke — in Scotland.
My name is Alyssa Cole and Cerece Rennie Murphy is my recommended.
The book is called To Find You. It’s kind of hard to summarize, but it’s basically a tale of two souls who find each other, who are destined to be with each other and find each other during different time periods, and keep losing each other. Then, ultimately, come together in the end because it’s a romance.
I actually saw this book on Twitter. Someone had shared the cover of the book, which is a really cool illustrated image of a black woman’s face. It looked kind of cool and different and unique. I went and checked out the synopsis. It appeared to be a time travel romance, which I thought was cool. It’s actually not a time travel romance. It’s something even cooler I think.
I did it read it at a point where I really didn’t have time to read very long books. When I would open a book in my Kindle, I would see how many pages it was because, if I started reading a book and I put it down to write or work or whatever, I wasn’t having a great success rate of picking books up again. I saw that it was a reasonable length. I was already interested in the story, so I decided to just give it a shot.
The thing that I found most compelling first is the writing. She’s an amazing writer. She has this really evocative, romantic, and super interesting writing style that really drew me in. The book is in first-person, which a lot of people don’t like. When people say, “I don’t like first-person POV,” I actually think that they mean, “I don’t like badly written first-person POV.” Not even badly written. I think with first-person, you really have to have a strong sense of the characters. In this book, there are actually four different stories because the souls are set in four different time periods. There’s eight different first-person POVs. She writes all of them extremely well. They’re all really captivating and attention-grabbing and make the book hard to put down. The main thing I enjoy about the book is her writing, but also how imaginative and unique it is.
The first part of the book is set in Ghana in the 1700s. Then we jump to India in the late 1800s. Then we jump to Hawaii during World War II. Then we jump to near-future United States and Ghana. Kind of all of the different historical aspects, but then there’s also futurism. It’s just how she managed to fit all of these things together in a way that worked out so well in the end.
I wouldn’t say they would all be great as stand-alones because the first three have sad endings. There’s a lot of angst before you get to the happy ending in part four. I really enjoyed the first part, which is set in … Like I said, it’s set in Ghana in the 1700s. It’s about a girl and a guy who are in the middle of their wedding festivities. It talks about how they were basically childhood friends to lovers, if you want to go by tropes. They’re getting married. Then their village is attacked and they are captured to be enslaved and to be sent to America. She makes it so clear how deep their love is. There’s one line, “How can I love one person this much and survive?” Which is an overarching theme to the book. That question gets answered, I guess. It’s this amazing, beautiful, romance set in this time period that we don’t often get to see. Then it’s hit with tragedy.
Also, throughout the other stories, we see that they don’t know exactly why they care about each other. They do have glimpses of their past soul connection, even if it’s not always coherent to them. I like how she weaves in this … It’s kind of a gritty World War II spy historical section, but also with some elements of the supernatural in the fact that they do know each other for some reason, and they’re trying to figure out why.
I also was an editor. I try to turn it off when I’m reading. Obviously, if I really am enjoying something, it’s not at the forefront of my mind. With this book, I did pay attention to it a bit more just because the structure was so different from anything I had read. I did say like, okay, this is really cool how she puts this there, and she references something from two parts ago, or how she pulls everything together. I guess it’s always working in the background but, sometimes when you see something really cool, you have to focus on it. Afterwards thinking about what made it really work and how the structure was integral to how the story worked for you, or worked for me rather.
I wouldn’t say that it’s informed my writing, but it basically was like smack-dab in the wheelhouse of things that I am working on and have planned. There’s the historical setting that is not always written about. There are not that many books about African historical romance. Chanta Rand has some African historical romance, but there isn’t that much of it. Even colonial Indian historical romance, I don’t think there’s very much of it. And World War II historical romance with two main characters of color. It really appealed to that aspect of finding other romance authors who have similar motivation or also want to read and create things set in these different time periods.
Also, the final part, which is science fiction and futurism and talking about physics and teleportation and stuff like that, also really appealed to me because, like I said, it was sci-fi and I’m working on some sci-fi stuff. It was cool to see. While I don’t think it’s necessarily inspired any particular project, but to also find another author on the same wavelength who’s also writing in similar settings and interested in the same things.
I haven’t read many other books by her yet, but she is currently working on a book that looks like a fantasy. I’m not sure if it’s fantasy romance. It’s called The Wolf Queen. On Instagram, she has been posting little snippets from it. It seems really awesome. I’m really excited and looking forward to that being done. Also, trying not to be that person that says, “Is the book done yet?” That’s like, “No pressure. No pressure. Finish the book.” Yes, I’m excited for that.
Generally, I recommend it like, “There’s this book. It’s so cool because it starts in ancient Ghana. Then it ends in future Ghana. There’s all these different time periods, and people falling in love in these time periods. It’s about these two souls and the soul connection.” Generally stuff like that. I feel like it takes the idea that could be so cliché when it comes to romance of soulmates. Outside of paranormal romance, you don’t see it that often. It integrates it in this really organic way that makes it so interesting and fresh, I think.
Thanks again to Alyssa Cole for joining us and recommending To Find You by Cerece Rennie Murphy. A Duke by Default, published by Avon Books, is available wherever books are sold. You can follow her on Twitter at alyssacolelit.
This episode wraps up Season 2 of Recommended. We hope you’ve enjoyed it! Mark your calendars for Season 3, which will start airing on Wednesday, September 5.
Thanks again to our sponsors for making today’s episode possible. If you like what you heard, please take a moment to review and rate us on Apple Podcasts. We love to hear your feedback and it helps other folks to find the show. You can find shownotes at Bookriot.com/recommended, and you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.