MY TOP 17 OF 2017

According to Goodreads, I read 83 books on this past revolution around the sun. Of those, here are my 17 favorite in no particular order. To be clear, these are not “THE TOP 17 BOOKS OF THE YEAR!!” or anything like that. They’re simply the books I liked most of the ones I read. Some were published this year, some were not. (If you’re interested in seeing all of the books, here ya go.)

The Hate U Give






Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie


Love Is Love by Marc Andreyko




Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl


Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer


Want to win one of these glorious books? Here’s how.



A few weeks ago, the publishing industry came together to raise over $200,000 for hurricane relief in Puerto Rico through auctioning books, critiques, Skype visits, etc., so the good folks behind #USVIPubFund are trying to do it again to help the U.S. Virgin Islands. Check out their site here and if you feel so inclined, please consider placing a bid on one of the over 300 items up for auction. I’ve donated a book bundle that includes signed copies of An Infinite Number of Parallel Universes, Welcome Home, and an ARC of my forthcoming After the Shot Drops. But hurry–the auction ends today (Oct. 19) at 9PM Eastern Time!


ATSD cover with quote

A little over a week ago, Paste Magazine hosted the cover reveal for my next bookAfter the Shot Drops which comes out on March 6, 2017 from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. I might be biased, but I’m all about it! The designer (whose name I don’t know yet) did an amazing job of creating some beautiful imagery that manages to visually convey some of the book’s most important themes. Even though I’ve included the cover above, you can follow the link to Paste’s post to read the opening chapter of the book. ATSD is also now available for pre-order over at Amazon, and don’t forget that every time someone adds it to their Goodreads to-read shelf, a narwhal gets its wings.


I put on my teacher hat last night and talked to my friend CJ over at his vlog, Real Rap With the Reynolds, primarily about getting kids into reading. One of the questions we were asked at the end of the livestream was how does one know what good YA books are out there. This is a great question–one to which the answer could be useful to teachers, parents, or readers themselves. As I said in the vlog, when kids tell me they hate reading, most of the time I think they mean that they hate reading the types of books usually assigned in school. But I believe there are books out there for every type of kid, now more than ever, and as an English teacher, I try to keep on top of what’s out so I never miss an opportunity to connect a kid with a book they might enjoy. I also believe in the transformative power of the written word, so I think making such a connection can be more important than anything I might teach in class.

With that said, my instinct is to make a list of all my favs. However, it’s probably more helpful to teach someone to fish. So, instead of a list of books, here’s a list of ways you can keep up with what’s coming out in children’s literature:

  1. Pay attention to bestseller lists. These are not the be-all-end-all, but they’re an easy starting point for tracking what’s selling/what kids are reading these days. Personally, I keep an eye on the YA sections of the NY Times and Indiebound lists.
  2. Pay attention to award winners. For a multitude of reasons, there are some amazing books (which tend to be more “literary”) that never hit the above lists. For that reason, check out award winners. The National Book Award has categories for children’s lit, and the NewberyPrintz, and Caldecott are probably the most well-known of awards for children’s lit. But it’s a fact the selection committees often overlook books by/about marginalized people, so don’t sleep on the Coretta Scott King awards (African American), the Pura Belpré awards (Latino/a), the Lambda and Stonewall awards (LGBTQIA+), or the APALA awards (Asian/Pacific American). Of course, there are many other book awards out there, so if you have a specific community in mind, a quick Google search can help you find awards organizations geared towards those specific communities.
  3. Follow your (or your students’) favorite authors on social media. Many authors post about books they’re reading or that they’ve really enjoyed, so this is an easy way to have new books cross your path with little effort.
  4. Keep track of hashtags like #WNDB (We Need Diverse Books) or #ownvoices. People will often use these to highlight books by marginalized authors that may be getting overlooked by bestseller lists and awards committees. Also, We Need Diverse Books recently launched a new app, Our Story, which is a great curated resource for discovering books about specific marginalized communities.
  5. Find a book blogger, book tuber, book tumblr ,or #bookstagram account that you like. There are a lot of book enthusiasts out there on all social media platforms, but once you find someone who seems to jive with the kind of books you’re looking for on a platform you feel comfortable using, this can be a fantastic stand-in for a real life friend feeding you recommendations.
  6. Check end-of-year lists. A quick Google search for “Best YA books 2017” or something like that can be another easy way to discover new books that might be overlooked in other realms. Again, there are a lot of lists like that out there, so look for someone who seems to share your (or your kids’) tastes. My caution with this is that just because a book isn’t appearing on these lists doesn’t mean it wasn’t great (or vice versa)–I think sometimes people build their own lists by searching such lists, creating the whole mirror-reflecting-another-mirror kind of effect.
  7. Talk to your school’s librarian. I tend to overlook this because I haven’t worked at a school with a library for almost a decade, but librarians are obviously people who have dedicated their lives to books, so they tend to have deep knowledge of what’s current and relevant to the community. If your school doesn’t have a librarian, most public libraries or bookstores will have someone who’s responsible for ordering the children’s books, so make them your bestie.
  8. Convince your school to subscribe to a children’s literature review publication. The Horn Book and School Library Journal are great resources that offer short reviews of upcoming books for kids, while other publications like Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus offer reviews across all categories/age ranges. Whichever one you subscribe to, I’d recommend keeping a hard copy of the latest issue in the teacher’s lounge for all to peruse.
  9. Attend book events. Certain bookstores and libraries often host author events, book clubs, panels, etc., so see if there are any near you that do so. If so, sign up for their newsletter so you know what they’ve got going on (Pro-tip: Usually the independent bookstores host the best events). Also, find book festivals that occur in your area. Beyond meeting and hearing from authors you already know, festivals are great places to discover new books and to connect with like-minded people. If you find any such events, be sure to share them with your students.

Keep in mind that “good” is subjective. The most important thing, in my opinion as a teacher, is to know your kids’ interest and keep an eye out for books to put in their hands.

Obviously, there are A TON of books in the world. You don’t need to do all of the above–I’d find some manageable combination of a handful. Also, you certainly don’t need to read every single book you come across. Most of the time, it’s enough to go to a kid and be like, “Hey, I saw this book the other day that I think you might like. I haven’t read it yet, but you might enjoy it because I know you’re into ___.” I’d also say that it’s important for all teachers and parents to have some knowledge of what’s out there. English teachers tend to prefer fiction, so math/science/history/art/etc. teachers who have a finger on the pulse of nonfiction offerings can play a vital role in a kid’s reading life, as well.

If there are any methods you use for staying current with children’s literature that I missed, feel free to include it in the comments below!


In what I believe is the first photograph of me that exists, there is a woman standing behind me who is neither my mother nor my lola (with whom I lived with for the first year of my life). Instead it was a woman casually referred to as the “maid.” In my visits to the Philippines over the years, I had noticed many such “maids.” These women were all but invisible. I was told that these were the poorest of the poor, those from far-flung provinces who had so little that they moved to the cities to clean, cook, launder, and care for the slightly less poor for the sake of survival, for the sake of sending something back to their families so that their children might have more someday.

I had completely forgotten about the woman in that photograph until Tuesday morning when a number of Filipino friends sent me Alex Tizon’s article “My Family’s Slave” published online by the Atlantic on May 16.  When I had the chance to read it, I had to fight back tears so I wasn’t crying in front of my colleagues and students. It struck me as beautifully written, not because of flowery language, but because of its brutal honesty. I found it nuanced and unflinching. It read to me like a confession, a balancing act of hatred for the worst parts of self/family /culture/immigration and love for the best parts of Lola Eudocia, as noted by @sarahjeong. Throughout it all, I felt the author acknowledged how fucked up the entire situation was, especially his own complicity.

But the most important thing about the article, in my opinion, was that it called out the arrangement for what it was—slavery. I ended that article empathizing with Lola Eudocia’s tragic life and a number of questions haunted me throughout the day: How complicit am I in such a system? Were/are my family’s domestic “helpers” paid fairly, or were/are they enslaved? Did they choose that arrangement, or were they “given” to someone like Lola Eudocia? Should I ask my family? How widespread is such a situation in the Philippines and among Filipinos abroad today? What can we do for her family? What can we do about it globally? What else am I complicit in perpetuating?

Without Lola Eudocia’s story, I wouldn’t have been asking these questions of myself yesterday. I hoped to find others’ responses to them around social media when I logged on after work. Instead, I was confronted with a much simpler one: Is Alex Tizon a villain?

My Twitter feed was filled with threads that clearly and carefully laid out the reasons they believed he was, each one delivered in 140 characters or less. Generally, the tweets I read criticized the article as a well-written attempt to trick readers into sympathizing with a slaveholder. They equated it to the American South’s attempts to justify slavery. They called out Alex Tizon for doing nothing about it once he became an adult. They mourned the erasure of Eudocia Tomas Polido’s identity and voice. They decried the lack of statistical context. One made an argument founded on a blatantly inaccurate reading of part of the article (and was, disturbingly, retweeted and favorited by hundreds). For these reasons, the overall conclusion seemed to be that Alex Tizon and his family should burn in hell and we should all cheer for that.

These responses baffled me. I know that we all bring our own specific biases into anything we approach, yet it was like we had read two completely different articles. When I got to the end, I didn’t feel as though Tizon had denied or excused himself or his family from their sins. He named it as slavery. He confessed to his family’s cruel treatment of Lola Eudocia in great detail. He claimed his complicity and recounted his own feeble attempts to fix a situation he didn’t know how to fix. He acknowledged the shittiness of not returning her ashes in an urn. And, finally, he tried to tell Lola Eudocia’s story with the information he was able to glean from her and her family. Ultimately, I didn’t get to the end of the article and feel like he was trying to exonerate himself. I felt for Lola Eudocia, not Alex Tizon, and I thought that was a result of the text having achieved its purpose.

Of course, Alex Tizon was not perfect and neither is the article. Why didn’t he try to do more in his young adulthood? Why did he word certain things in certain ways? Why didn’t he include interviews with her surviving family members? Did he ever offer her family any kind of reparations? Do they want reparations? I don’t know the answers to these questions, and, unfortunately, Tizon is no longer alive to tell us.

But perhaps a lot of these answers are rooted in the same reasons all of us fail to do what is right in a thousand small ways every day. There’s a pretty good chance that you’re reading this on a smartphone, and I’m guessing in the last few years you’ve probably come across a number of reports about the poor working conditions in the Chinese smartphone factories or about the Congolese who mine the rare earth metals that power those phones. Knowing this is all unspeakably unjust, what have you done? I’m not pointing this out to let Tizon off the hook or to put you on trial, but rather to suggest that asking why he wasn’t better at doing what was right every step of the way isn’t the most fruitful line of discussion. We are all complicit in a number of evils. We all perpetuate oppression throughout our daily lives. (Granted, some more than others.) This is not a reason to give up all efforts to reduce the extent to which we do so, but it is a reason not to spend all of our time cataloging an individual’s sins.

I think it’s also important to note that those defending Tizon are mostly Filipino, while those whose immediate response was overwhelming criticism are mostly not. Many are justifiably upset when men coopt conversations about women’s rights, or when white people try to take over Black Lives Matter issues. Yet, that is what is happening here. Many people are calling out a foreign culture with unabashed confidence that their assessment of the situation is an objective truth. As @RinChupeco questions, do they know the history of the Philippines and its hundreds of years suffering at the hands of imperialism? Are they familiar with its customs and values? Do they know what it feels like to call someone “lola”? I’m not asking any of these questions to imply that outsiders should never voice their opinions on the matter, but rather to wonder if they first listened to those who are part of the community.

I haven’t looked through the entire Twitter history of everyone who criticized Tizon’s article, but my guess would be that if I did, I wouldn’t see a whole lot of previous attention paid to the Philippines on many of their accounts—and I’m guessing I won’t see many  more after this story stops trending . Ultimately, the anger I feel regarding the pushback isn’t because the criticism itself is invalid, but because the critics—for whom this topic might just be the Controversy of the Day—hijacked the conversation away from my community, just as @luiinthesky and @nicasiosilang lamented. This article was poised to spark a necessary and difficult conversation for Filipinos in the Philippines and abroad, and I’m not sure it will anymore. The spotlight has shifted, and it seems too heavy to move back. Here we all are, writing think-pieces and Twitter threads back and forth trying to measure the villainy of the deceased author and his family instead of confronting these issues and exploring how we can dismantle the widespread, systemic horrors of the modern-day slavery that allow Lola Eudocia’s story to resonate with so many of us in the first place.

Related reading (s/o to @JiaTolentino for compiling many of these links in her thread):

“The Cost of Caring” 

“Below Deck” 

“Israel’s Invisible Filipino Work Force”  



Welcome Home cover

Today, YA Books Central is hosting the cover reveal and a giveaway for WELCOME HOME, the adoption-themed anthology edited by Eric Smith in which I have a story! The other contributors include Adi Alsaid, Nic Stone, Dave Connis, Helene Dunbar, Libby Cudmore, Lauren Gibaldi, Matthew Quinn Martin, Mindy McGinnis, Sammy Nickalls, Shannon M. Parker, Karen Akins, Erica M. Chapman, Julie Eshbaugh, Shannon Gibney, Jenny Kaczorowski, Julie Leung, Sangu Mandanna, Lauren Morrill, Tameka Mullins, C.J. Redwine, William Ritter, Courtney C. Stevens, Kate Watson, Stephanie Scott, Natasha Sinel, and Tristina Wright. Add it to your Goodreads shelf, and pick it up in September!



IMG_20170222_062500 - Copy

I’ve been home for a few days now, and I think I’ve just about recovered from the 17-day trip with our school’s junior class to Israel. Since returning, a lot of people have asked me, “How was the trip?” I usually say something like, “It was really good!” and then scuttle away like a crab because conversation is hard. So this is my attempt to genuinely answer that question in some detail for those who might be interested. I’ll briefly recap what we did, and then I’ll give you my take-aways.

First, we spent a couple of days in the Judean and Negev deserts. We hiked Masada at sunrise, ate lunch at a kibbutz called Yeroham, hiked a makhtesh, swam in the Dead Sea, and rode camels.

From there, we headed into Jersualem where we spent five days exploring the city. We walked around the City of David, shopped in the Mehane Yehuda Market, welcomed Shabbat at the Western Wall,  went to services at a synagogue where the resistance hid weapons during the War for Independence in 1948, checked out the wall/fence at the border of East Jersualem and Bethlehem, walked around the old city and went to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (where Christ was crucified, buried, and resurrected), went to Yad Vashem  (the national Holocaust museum) and Mt. Hertzel (Israeli military cemetery).

We then headed to the north for a few days where we learned about the Ethiopian Jews, hiked the Arbel Cliffs overlooking the Sea of Galilee, went to the Lebanon border, spoke with soldiers at an IDF base, made chocolate in the Golan Heights, walked around Tzfat (the home of Kabbalah), learned about the Arab Christian community in Nazareth, and learned about the Druze community on Mt. Carmel. Next, we traveled to Haifa where we checked out the Ba’hai Gardens, walked around Akko, and conversed with Iraeli-Arab students.

Finally, we spent the last few days of our trip in Tel Aviv. There, we shopped at the Carmel Market, biked along the coast, explored Old Jaffa, enjoyed our second Shabbat of the trip, heard from a LGBTQ activist, relaxed on the beach, hung out with kids at a home for Save a Child’s Heart, experienced Dialogue in the Dark, and went to Independence Hall.

Besides all of that, we had amazing guides through an organization called Keshet. We ate a lot of shawarma, falafel, and kababs. We saw many, many stray cats. Overall, this was an amazing trip for me. I had never been to Israel before, and I didn’t think I’d ever end up visiting. (Of course, it was extremely exhausting to wear my teacher-hat for seventeen straight days.)

I’m still processing a lot of what I learned and experienced, but below are some of my take-aways as of right now. Not all are incredibly insightful or deep, but sometimes it’s helpful to re-realize things.

  1. This shit is complex. By “this” I mean pretty much the whole geopolitical situation in that region. Going into the trip, I knew next to nothing about any of it. I knew Israel was a country. I knew Palestine was something. I knew there were problems between those two entities. After learning some of the history and talking to some of the people, I now understand a bit more of the details, but mostly I’m walking away with an appreciation of how little I know about the situation. It’s complex, and I’m not sure there’s any comparable situation in the world. This made me think about how often I feel the need to form an opinion on topics about which I know next to nothing.
  2. Conversation is powerful. One of the things I really appreciated about Keshet’s tour is that they made an effort to expose our students to the diversity of Israel, setting up programs with speakers representing several minority groups in the country (most of which I mentioned in my recap above). It was powerful to hear their perspectives and  to have the chance to ask questions. While it’s certainly not going to resolve all the problems in the world, it’s a first step toward breaking down some of the barriers that perpetuate misunderstanding, fear, and conflict.
  3. We need to learn other languages. In order for the  kind of conversations I mentioned above to occur and to be more than just one-way, short-lived spectacles, we (Americans, mostly) can’t just rely on others to know English. Language is important. We must learn other languages and have the ability to have these conversations not just in English if we truly hope for transformation.
  4. Maybe mandatory service is a good idea. One of the things that I kept thinking about while  on this trip was Israel’s requirement that all Jewish and Druze citizens are required to serve in the military (2 years for women, 3 years for men), with some exceptions. As a pacifist (in theory), this rubbed me the wrong way. But the more I learned about it and thought about it, the more I saw the potential benefits of such a requirement. First, students entering college are 21 or so instead of 18 and bring “real life” experience. They might have more maturity and a better sense of what they want to study than students who are just pushed straight into college after high school because it’s what they’re supposed to do. Second, politicians (and citizens, in general) who have served in the military themselves might consider more carefully the costs of entering war–especially if they have children who might lose their lives as a result. Finally, for some segments of the population, there’s the ability to serve in another capacity such as working in a community service capacity instead of combat, which can affect people in many positive ways. Of course, there are many negatives I can think of as well, so I’m still thinking on this one.
  5. Getting to know students outside of the classroom is good for a teacher’s soul. I was in a unique position going into this trip–I knew only a handful of the students, who were all juniors. I just started teaching at the school, and I have sophomore and senior classes. This initially struck me as a negative, but it was actually refreshing to get to know students outside of the context of the classroom. I could just have conversations with them about their lives, Star Wars, their reactions to different parts of the trip, etc. I didn’t have preconceived notions of who they were based on how well they could write essays or how often they completed homework, and I knew I didn’t have to grade them on anything when we returned.
  6. I need Shabbat. I know Judaism is not the only religion that commands followers to take a Sabbath once a week, but one of the most amazing things about this trip was seeing the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem completely shut down from sunset on Friday until sunset on Saturday. Stores closed. The roads were filled with people instead of cars. People powered down cell phones and electronics. In such a hyper-connected world, it was almost magical to see this happen and to conceptualize the fact that it happens weekly. You don’t even need to be religious to see and sense the value in carving out and protecting a time to rest and be present with one another.