Jill Ratzan

One hot summer day, Syd storms into work at the Proud Muffin—the best queer-owned bakery in Austin, Texas—full of breakup woe and ready to channel it into baking delicious treats, including a spur-of-the-moment special, Syd’s Unexpected Brownies. To Syd’s horror, everyone who eats the sorrow-laden sweets soon finds their love lives in disarray. So Syd and Harley, the bakery’s bicycle delivery worker, embark on a mission to serve everyone who ate the brownies an antidote, like a piece of Very Sorry Cake or a slice of Honest Pie. Getting the right treats into the right mouths turns out to be more complicated than Syd thought, and then Harley begins to look awfully cute in their (or sometimes his; pins on Harley’s messenger bag signal Harley’s pronouns that day) bike shorts and Western boots.

In The Heartbreak Bakery, author A.R. Capetta describes both baking and the excitement of first love in luscious, sensuous detail. The book’s sumptuous recipes combine real directions with Syd’s colorful commentary; the first ingredient in Breakup Brownies is “4 oz unsweetened chocolate, broken up (I mean, it’s right there, how did I not see this coming?).” Plus, Capetta folds in food metaphors throughout: An awkward situation feels like a crumbling sheet of pastry dough, and at one point Syd’s heart “wobbles like an underbaked custard.”

Syd, who is agender, is an expertly constructed protagonist and a notable step forward in representing the full spectrum of gender identities in YA fiction. Syd’s earnest musings about gender, bodies, performance and identity are likely to resonate deeply with teens who’ve shared those thoughts and experiences, while offering cisgender teens an approachable lens through which to begin to understand their peers. The Proud Muffin’s welcoming atmosphere provides Syd a home away from home. Among its customers, a range of identities and relationships are modeled and celebrated. Capetta offers a multitude of ways to use and share one’s pronouns, as well as techniques for avoiding pronouns altogether.

Like the contrasting flavors in a peach strawberry basil pie, Syd's journey of self-discovery melds perfectly with the quest to find and repair the brownies’ damage. Suspend your disbelief in everyday magic and enjoy this frothy, fulfilling confection with a lemon ginger scone and a tall, chilled glass of iced green tea

Like the contrasting flavors in a peach strawberry basil pie, this frothy confection melds a journey of self-discovery with a quest to repair broken hearts.

It’s difficult to think of a bigger children’s literature success story from the past decade than R.J. Palacio’s Wonder. The emotional tale about the importance of kindness has sold more than 12 million copies since it was published in 2012 and still regularly earns a spot on bestseller lists. In Pony, Palacio creates a very different tale: a slim, taut odyssey set in the American Midwest in 1860, anchored by a young boy named Silas, whom readers will find as irresistible as Auggie. BookPage chatted with Palacio about why she had to throw her new novel away (literally) in order to unlock the key to writing it.

Could you start by introducing us to Silas and Pa?
Silas is a 12-year-old boy growing up in an isolated house on the American frontier. He’s being lovingly raised by his widowed father, Martin, who’s an inventor and something of a genius, with only 16-year-old Mittenwool, whom no one else can see or hear, for a companion. Silas, it turns out, can see ghosts.

The story opens when three horsemen storm their little house in the middle of the night and take Pa away. Silas is left alone and quite shaken, so when the white-faced pony that one of the men had been leading shows up on his doorstep the next day, Silas takes it as a sign from the universe that he has to ride the pony in search of his father. Mittenwool, who is very protective of Silas, tries to talk him out of it, but Silas is determined to go.

The book is called Pony, so I have to ask: Do you ride? Do you like horses?
I love horses! When Iw as little, I used to draw them all the time. I would doodle them in my notebooks. I was obsessed—so much so that my parents got me horseback riding lessons when I was about 8 years old. Imagine two Colombian immigrants shelling out money they didn't have so they could give their daughter weekly riding lessons in Flushing, New York. It was kind of crazy, but they did it. I only took lessons for a few years, and no, I don't have a horse now or ride. I can still draw horses, though!

Family history, revealed in pieces over time, is such an important motif in Pony. Did any of your family’s stories inspire parts of Silas’ story?
The whole story of Pony was sparked by a scary dream my older son had when he was young. The events of the dream are different, but the imagery was taken right out of his head.

“We hold the people we love close to us, no matter where they are.”

I had my father in my mind when describing Martin. My dad was easily the most brilliant person I’ve ever known, an encyclopedia of knowledge. He could build anything, make anything, remember everything. He was the kind of father who would wake me up in the middle of the night so we could go up to the roof of our building to watch a meteor shower.

And of course, my mother is someone I speak with every day, even though she’s been gone for almost 20 years. We hold the people we love close to us, no matter where they are. I think of this book as a love letter to my mom and dad.

How did you develop the rules for the novel’s ghosts?
Silas sees and experiences the ghosts in Pony as they see and experience themselves. If they wear the wounds of their deaths, that’s how he sees them. If they don’t know they’re dead, Silas also doesn’t know they’re dead.

As to why some people stay behind and some don’t, Silas doesn’t know, and neither do they. He guesses that some people are more ready to go than others. Some people may have things they still want to see through. But in time, when they’re ready, they pass on. Everyone does eventually. Which is what I wanted to say: People leave us, but not forever.

Do you believe in ghosts? Have you ever had an encounter with something you couldn’t explain?
I’ve never seen a ghost, but I’ve experienced a sense of connection with loved ones who are no longer here. Whether that’s internal or external, whether there’s a science to it or it’s just wishful thinking, I can’t tell you. I don’t know. That’s part of the mystery of life, which is what this book is about. Silas learns to embrace the mysteries.

Pony features incredible old photographs throughout the book. You discuss these in your author’s note, but can you tell us a little bit about them here?
This book takes place during the dawn of early photography. New processes were being invented all over the world. People were experimenting with the incredible notion of being able to use sunlight and a mix of chemicals to freeze an image onto glass or paper. It’s pretty extraordinary! Silas’ father is one of those early tinkerers and invents a new form of photography.

“If you answer every question, you ruin the mystery for the reader. We can’t see everything in the dark. We see only what we shine a light on.”

I’ve had a daguerreotype collection for years, long before I wrote this book. I’ve always been drawn to old cameras and photographs in flea markets and antiques shops. As I was writing, faces from my collection would come to me. They helped form the characters in my mind. Ultimately, as I designed the book, I decided to use the images that literally inspired the characters as chapter openers.

In addition to your passion for old photographs, do you enjoy photography yourself?
I was a photographer for my school yearbook in middle school, which is when I got my first Pentax K1000 camera, and I've been hooked ever since. I love taking photographs on film, but I shoot digitally now, though I do miss the feeling of processing a latent image in a darkroom.

Your author’s note begins, “I spent many years researching this book, and I hope none of it shows.” Authors are often asked to discuss their research process, but instead, I want to ask you: Can you tell us about the work you did to hide all that research?
I was 400 pages into the first draft of Pony, which represented about two years of work, when I realized it wasn’t the book I wanted to write. I had so many notes, so much information. I knew how many miles and hours an Arabian horse could ride in a day. I knew their provenance, the name of the Bedouin tribe that Pony had come from. I knew the different photographic processes, what kind of lanterns were used, the names of real counterfeiters, the types of horse carts that were driven. I had topographic maps of the woods and the ravines and, well, so much!

I had a vision in my mind about the kind of novel I wanted Pony to be: a “quick epic.” That first draft, had I continued it, would have turned into a James Michener novel! So I literally threw it away. And I do mean that literally. But the story stayed with me, even as I worked on other projects. I knew I’d figure out a way to write it with the minimalism I had in my head for it.

“It was really challenging to tell a story with as few words as you can.”

After years had passed, I suddenly had a vision for how to approach it. I realized that I’d remembered all the essential parts of the research I’d done and forgotten what wasn’t important. The research had settled into the recesses of my mind, and that’s what made its way into the book. The woods became the Woods. The ravine was the Ravine. The only map of the world I needed was the one in Silas’ mind. That’s not to say the world wasn’t built, because it was—utterly and completely—but it didn’t need to be fully described.

The world is full of mysterious pockets and unexplainable and unfathomable crevices. That’s the kind of world I wanted to build. If you answer every question, you ruin the mystery for the reader. We can’t see everything in the dark. We see only what we shine a light on. That’s what I was trying to do here.

I kept saying I wanted to write Pony almost like it was a radio play, just voices in the dark, and then during lockdown, it started flowing out of me one day. It was a remarkable writing experience.

Your note also says, “Historical novels can be seen as road maps through history, but this book is more like a river running through it.” I love this metaphor. What were the challenges of telling a story with such a tight focus? What was rewarding about it?
It was really challenging to tell a story with as few words as you can. I kept trying to strip every sentence of words. Paragraphs. Pages. I wanted to get everything down to the bare minimum: enough to deliver an idea of the world, describe a linear sequence of events, and let the story almost tell itself. In that way, the narrative felt more like a river. It’s just barreling through. Going in one direction. And that’s all the reader gets.

Now, as the river passes through, we get the idea that it’s passing through other stories. We know there’s a lot going on with the other characters. The picaresque adventures of Chalfont and Beautyman, two characters Silas meets along his journey, could fill their own novel! But, see, that would have been part of that original epic that I had started to write. It’s not the epic I wanted to write, though.

The final version of Pony really is the closest I could get to the image in my head of what I wanted to do. Good or bad, right or wrong: It’s faithful to the image.

The bestselling author of Wonder reveals why she had to throw her new novel away (literally) in order to unlock the key to writing it.

The novel in verse is experiencing a bit of a renaissance in children’s and YA literature. Writers including Kwame Alexander, Elizabeth Acevedo, Jason Reynolds, Candice Iloh, Jasmine Warga and Joy McCullough have garnered both critical acclaim and commercial success. These two YA novels feature teenage narrators for whom the carefully chosen words of poetry hold the key to self-discovery.

The title and cover of Tina Cane’s first YA book, Alma Presses Play, set the scene immediately: Portable cassette players and big headphones are the technology of the day as 13-year-old Alma and her Jewish Chinese family ring in the new year of 1982 in New York City.

For Alma, eighth grade and the following summer are a time when “there’s a lot going on / but also nothing at all.” She ponders her possibly romantic feelings for her neighbor Miguel, gets her first period, dodges her parents’ increasingly frequent arguments and misses a friend who moves away. Along the way, Alma’s guidance counselor, Ms. Nola, encourages her to write down her feelings about race, gender and life in her neighborhood. Plus there’s candy to eat and share—Tootsie Rolls and Pop Rocks and Twizzlers—and music for every mood, from Stevie Wonder and Blondie to David Bowie and the Pretenders.

The most noticeable feature of Alma Presses Play is the way Cane arranges Alma’s words on the page. Most lines consist of blocks of words set apart by white space, which allows readers to inhale between each phrase and makes Alma’s words feel breathy, immediate and authentic. Lists, letters, dictionary-style definitions and outlines break up the pace. Cane sprinkles in details of life in the 1980s such as mixtapes, Atari video game systems and Judy Blume novels, as well as the ever present question of what, exactly, the plural of Walkman is.

The Greek and Roman mythology that Alma studies in school—especially the character of Janus, the god of transitions, and stories of female protagonists such as Helen and Pandora—provides an ongoing lens through which Alma makes sense of her life. Cane offers multiple, sometimes contradictory versions of these myths, enabling Alma and the reader to wrestle with the stories’ alternating messages of women’s power and powerlessness. “Even though fiction is made-up / it contains a certain kind of truth," Alma muses, a fitting description of Cane's writing. As Alma makes decisions about school, relationships and even the city she wants to live in, it’s wonderful to watch her realize that she can set her life to the music that she chooses.

Two years ago, Moth’s parents and brother were killed in a car crash, leaving an emotionally and physically scarred Moth to live with her aunt. Despite being an elite, talented dancer, Moth vows that she will never dance again: It “feels too joyful, too greedy now.” Moth wishes that she had learned more Hoodoo practice from her grandfather, who promised before he died that he would “never leave [her] trapped—defenseless.”

None of the other Black kids at her mostly white school want to be friends, but soon Moth meets Sani, who also feels out of place living with his mother’s white family after his Navajo father left, and whose depression stops him from singing and playing the music that once brought him joy and meaning. Together, they depart on a cross-country road trip, visiting historical sites where enslavement and genocide underly white prosperity, exploring moth-related metaphors for growth and maybe even starting to fall in love. Will they find the courage to break out of their cocoons and emerge in new forms?

If you think you know where this story is going, think again. Me (Moth) will surprise you.

As in Alma Presses Play, the placement and alignment of words on the page plays a key role in the storytelling of Me (Moth). Line spacing varies, and some lines are only one or two words long. Even punctuation is unusual: Ampersands replace standard conjunctions, and names often appear in parentheses even when meanings are otherwise clear (“my aunt (Jack)” or “my mom (Meghan)”). Author Amber McBride rhymes occasionally (“the accident that split / our car like a candy bar”), drawing attention to the sounds of words, and her imagery is often tactile and tangible (“the choreography is choppy water instead of wind blowing / through a field of wheat”).

Moth engages in Hoodoo practices like lighting candles, burying significant objects and leaving offerings of food to ancestral spirits in the hopes of shifting odds in her favor. She also matches Sani’s Navajo creation stories with traditional Hoodoo stories of her own. “All stories have ghosts,” Moth tells Sani, and she’s right. In this brilliant novel, the past haunts the present in places where history, memory and spirituality intertwine.

These two YA novels feature teenage narrators for whom the carefully chosen words of poetry hold the key to self-discovery.

Lesa Cline-Ransome is an acclaimed children’s author whose first middle grade novel, Finding Langston, received a Coretta Scott King Award Honor. Being Clem completes a loose trilogy that began with Finding Langston and continued in Leaving Lymon. It’s a poignant story of a young boy in 1940s Chicago who must deal with the tragic loss of his father while navigating challenges at school, complicated friendships and swimming lessons.

How would you describe Being Clem to someone who hasn’t read the previous two books in the trilogy? What was different for you about creating this story compared to the earlier two?
Clem is smart, outgoing and funny. He is the cherished youngest child and only boy, with two bossy older sisters and an overprotective mother who are all striving to protect him, but it’s not protecting Clem wants. He wants to be independent, brave and strong, like his father. His struggle to discover who he is as a young man finds him caught between a bully and a friend and never quite feeling that he can be honest about his fears without the risk of disappointing those around him.

Unlike the first two books, this story uses humor as a way of tackling many of the difficult issues Clem is facing. Being Clem also finalizes some of the loose ends of the friendship of Clem, Langston, Errol and Lymon, and readers will see how their stories ultimately play out.

Were these books always going to be a trilogy? What was it like to revisit familiar characters in Being Clem?
Interestingly, Finding Langston began as a too-long picture book that my editor suggested I attempt to expand into a middle grade novel. I never intended the book to evolve into a trilogy, but my editor and I found that readers wanted to know more about the cast of characters introduced in Finding Langston.

The problem for me was that I had only a limited scope for the secondary characters I created, so for Lymon’s and Clem’s stories, I began by looking at the culminating events in their lives that I alluded to in the first book—Lymon’s struggle with reading and the loss of Clem’s father in the Port Chicago Disaster—and worked my way into their backstories until I fully understood their uniquely individual stories.

Clem has internalized gender stereotypes, including ideas that boys can't be librarians or talk to other boys about their inner thoughts. What drew you to exploring these stereotypes? How did you balance representing them while also challenging them?
I am a mother of three daughters and one son, and I have always encouraged my son to be open with his feelings and emotions. His sisters were so verbal and emotive, and I’ve always encouraged my son to be the same, but outside of our home, the messages he received were very different. I often worried about my son and wondered if there was a space for boys who are sensitive or cry easily. It made me wonder about how often boys are asked to hide their emotions—how emotions are often feminized. To this day, I feel so proud of my son who, I feel, is so emotionally evolved in his ability to be honest about his feelings, to gauge and adapt to others’ emotions. I do believe that is because he had the space to freely express emotion as a child without being ridiculed. So it is my son I thought of when writing the characters of Langston, Lymon and Clem, who are all in their own ways sweet, sensitive, intuitive souls.

There were so many pieces of history that were presented inaccurately or incompletely when I was a student in school, so writing for me is often a way of relearning the truth of history, in particular the ways in which practices and systems directly impacted people of color.

In the book, Clem is given so many rigid messages about gender roles and what it means to be a man, but none of those definitions seem to apply to him. He begins to wonder, Can I ever be a man if I am afraid or not a fighter or smart or athletic? No one has told him that there are other ways to be a man. I think these are issues that so many young men are grappling with today.

Fear is another emotion that comes up repeatedly in the book. Expressing fear, Clem eventually discovers, is part of the journey toward conquering it. What do you hope young readers realize about fear through Clem’s story?
In a world where Black boys are often painted as hardened, violent and to be feared, I know the opposite to be true. In fact, because of that perception, Black boys are often the target of daily slights and injustice and violence. I wanted readers to see that fear and courage are not mutually exclusive. You can experience and embrace fear while forging ahead. It doesn’t have to immobilize you.

Many children’s books that involve bullying focus on either the person being bullied or the bully themselves. Clem, however, finds himself caught between the two. How did you decide this would be his role?
There is always the temptation to paint the antagonist as all bad and the protagonist as all good, but the truth of it is, people are never all one. There’s a little bit of both in all of us, so it is important to show readers that even good people can make bad choices on occasion and hurt others, which is what Clem does when he goes along with the bullying. Ultimately, when he is able to reflect on his own moral compass and inner strength, Clem is able to make better choices, but sometimes people can take longer to get to that place of awareness. I think these types of difficult choices that are nuanced and complex are the choices that kids are making every day, none of them simple. 

I want to ask specifically about Clem’s mother, who struggles between her desires to both empower her children to succeed and protect them from adult responsibilities. I think she will be understood very differently by young readers versus adult readers. Can you talk a bit about creating her character and what you wanted to explore or represent through her?
As a writer, there was a part of me that wanted the opportunity to create a different mother than was presented in the previous two books in the trilogy. In the first novel, there was Langston’s loving but deceased mother. In the second, Lymon was estranged from his difficult mother, and when they reunited, he discovered that she was far from maternal.

Clem’s mother is loving and maternal, but she is also grieving and depressed, and her mental state shapes the ways Clem and his sisters interact with her. Even while she feels she is being protective of them as a mother, her fragility means that her children are forced to mother and protect her.

I don’t think we talk enough about the challenges of motherhood and parenting through pain, depression, grief and loss, the lack of support available to mothers and what the reality looks like of having to provide ongoing daily care for children through it all. 

Your writing oeuvre includes middle grade historical fiction, picture book biographies and even a quilt-based abecedary, all united by your goal to “explore periods from America's past that were never discussed in the classrooms of [your] youth.” Being Clem in particular focuses on the Port Chicago Disaster and is set against the background of the Great Migration. Do you usually begin writing with a story or a character and then choose a historical setting, or vice versa—or are the two inextricably linked?
Generally speaking, I discover a period or an event from history I am looking to explore and then I envision it through the lens of a child. There were so many pieces of history that were presented inaccurately or incompletely when I was a student in school, so writing for me is often a way of relearning the truth of history, in particular the ways in which practices and systems directly impacted people of color.

When I first began the Finding Langston trilogy, it was because I had just read Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, which explores the stories of the 6 million Black people who left the South and travelled north in the 1900s. Reading that book led me to examine so many other historic events and touchstones that appear in the trilogy, including the Parchman Farm penitentiary, sundown towns, segregation and the Chicago Defender.

My own parents were part of the Great Migration and my father left Shelby, North Carolina, when he was 12 years old and moved to Providence, Rhode Island. I began wondering how, as a child, it would have felt as a child to leave behind everything and everyone you know and travel to a region so different in every way from your own. And by asking that question, I developed a character named Langston who finds he doesn’t quite fit into the city of Chicago, is teased and called “country boy,” but who eventually finds solace in the poetry of Langston Hughes and the Chicago Public Library. In that book, Clem from Being Clem becomes Langston's first friend in Chicago, in part because, like Langston, he has also lost a parent, a father in the Port Chicago Disaster.

Clem interacts with real events, objects and places, including the Bud Billiken parade, the Chicago Defender newspaper and his local high school's champion swim team. Can you tell us more about the process of researching these real-world elements?
Honestly, many of the real-world elements that I’ve included happened coincidentally and often took on a life of their own. For example, as I began researching segregated swimming pools in Chicago in the 1940s while trying to uncover where Clem might have been able to take lessons, I stumbled across one article about the undefeated DuSable High School swim team, whose members were all Black students, so I did some more digging until I had enough information to include it in the book and make it a central part of Clem’s story. What began as a small portion of Clem’s story revolving around his struggle to learn to swim ultimately evolved into a much larger social statement involving historic references to segregation, mentorship, newspaper delivery boys and the Chicago Defender.

Clem's friend Langston loves the poetry of Langston Hughes, and Clem is intrigued by him as well. How did you decide to highlight Hughes’ work in the novel?
Hughes’ work wasn’t even included in the initial drafts until I discovered a lecture series featuring Black writers who would share their work at the George Cleveland Hall branch of the Chicago Public Library, which was the library Langston visited. As I looked up the writers, I began reading the works of Gwendolyn Brooks, Arna Bontemps, Countee Cullen and Margaret Walker, but when I read the work of Langston Hughes, I discovered many of his pieces had references to the South, specifically to red clay roads and coming north and missing his mother. That’s when a light went on for me, and I decided to connect his work to my character Langston and his leaving Alabama.

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our review of Being Clem.

What do you enjoy about writing longer narrative forms like middle grade novels versus shorter forms like picture books?
I do enjoy both, but the beauty of writing in a longer form is that I have the opportunity to get to know my characters so deeply that they begin to feel like family. I am with them as they travel to school, spend time with their families or are in bed at night, so the way in which I inhabit their consciousness is very different from the way in which I write about a picture book subject.

Some writers love researching, some the initial draft and some revising. Do you enjoy one of these processes more than others? What do you enjoy about it?
I can tell you which one I enjoy the least: revision! Each provides its own rewards, but I have to say, there is no other feeling like when I begin getting that first draft down and the story begins to reveal itself to me. I know that I am going to have to change much of it, remove portions, rework entire sections, but it is so wonderful to meet the characters and find the settings and see where they will take me. 

We understand you’ve recently gotten a dog. Will you tell us about him?
Ah, Miles. Miles began as a foster dog from our local shelter. My plan was to keep him for just a few months until he was adopted. My family thought this was a terrible idea because they said I would become too attached and want to adopt Miles for myself.

Miles is an 8-year-old pitbull who has spent much of his life in shelters. There is nothing he loves more than a good couch and company, so he immediately set up camp in my office and happily stretched out, softly snoring behind me all day long as I worked or did my virtual school visits. We’d go for long walks, and at night he loved to watch movies as he stretched out on the couch next to me.

Miles is not easy. He cries too much, has arthritis and separation anxiety, is so terrified of rain that I have to coax him outside and cover him with an umbrella in order to get him to leave the house on rainy days, and you can never leave food on his level or he’ll steal it. But just as my family predicted, we fell in love and now he’s mine. I signed adoption papers two weeks ago.

Author photo of Lesa Cline-Ransome courtesy of John Halpern. Photo of Miles Cline-Ransome courtesy of the author.

Lesa Cline-Ransome is an acclaimed children’s author whose first middle grade novel, Finding Langston, received a Coretta Scott King Award Honor. Being Clem completes a loose trilogy that began with Finding Langston and continued in Leaving Lymon.

On the very first page of Lesa Cline-Ransome’s Being Clem, a knock at the door brings terrible news: Clem’s father has been killed in the 1944 shipyard munitions accident that will become known as the Port Chicago disaster. Clem’s mother, unable to find anyone willing to hire a Black secretary, is soon behind on the rent, and his older sisters, busy with friends and boys, have little time for their little brother’s grief. 

When Clem skips a grade to attend middle school, he begins hanging out with Lymon, a new boy in town. But when Lymon begins to bully another new boy, Langston, who shares Clem's affinity for the local public library, Clem must make a difficult choice. Should he go along with Lymon, despite his misgivings, or stand up for the new boy—but risk losing a friend in the process?

As if all this weren’t enough for one boy to deal with, Clem's swimming lessons aren’t going smoothly either. How can Clem grow up to be a Navy man like his father when he’s afraid of the pool? Clem may know all the answers in school, but there's still so much he doesn't understand.

Although Being Clem can be read independently, fans of Cline-Ransome’s previous books Finding Langston (which received a Coretta Scott King Honor) and Leaving Lymon will appreciate the daring narrative choice to place Clem in friendships with her two previous protagonists—who are, in turn, one another's enemies. 

Cline-Ransome also fills Being Clem with rich details from 1940s Chicago, including the real-life, award-winning DuSable High School swim team, whose members were Black and against whom some white teams refused to compete. Cline-Ransome explores societal issues of race, class and gender alongside Clem's more internal struggles to express difficult emotions like fear and sadness. Being Clem gains poignancy from Clem’s personal journey as he mourns the father for whom he is named and whose legacy he hopes he will one day honor. 

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Being Clem author Lesa Cline-Ransome reveals the real-life inspiration behind Clem and his friends.

On the very first page of Lesa Cline-Ransome’s Being Clem, a knock at the door brings terrible news: Clem’s father has been killed in the 1944 shipyard munitions accident that will become known as the Port Chicago disaster.

It's time for Pachelbel’s “Canon in D”—again. Though Quinn dutifully plays the harp for her family's wedding-planning business, Borrowed + Blue, she doesn't believe in romance anymore, especially not the kind that starts with grand gestures and always ends in heartbreak. Now that she's graduated from high school, her parents expect her to follow in her older sister’s footsteps and join the family business after college. But Quinn yearns to build a future she can call her own. This summer, she plans to wear animal-print dresses, eat chocolate mug cakes, hang out at Seattle’s farmer’s markets with her best friend, Julia, and Julia's new girlfriend . . . and swear off guys completely.

But then she runs into Tarek, the cute Egyptian American baker who’s a hopeless romantic and whose family's catering business often works with Borrowed + Blue. Bickering with Tarek used to be Quinn's favorite part of working at weddings, but they haven't spoken since she confessed her feelings for him just before he left for college last fall. Amid mishaps with missing bridal attendants, melted cakes and last-minute tofu runs, Quinn soon finds that she's falling for Tarek again, despite her best efforts not to. Meanwhile, a reality show wedding seems poised to help Borrowed + Blue really take off, but only if everything goes perfectly.

We Can’t Keep Meeting Like This is a classically structured romance with a contemporary social consciousness, exploring such topics as Quinn’s Jewish identity; mental and physical illnesses, including obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression and eczema; and the effects of celebrity culture. Discussions of sexuality and gender are modeled and normalized, and B+B’s clients include couples of all sorts—two grooms, two brides and second marriages. Frequent humor keeps the tone light (funny slogans on T-shirts and mugs are particularly chuckle-inducing) and sensuous language about everything from pizza to kissing abounds. The idea of a “perfect” special day gradually gives way to the notion that what makes life sweet are the bumps along the way.

Fans of Stephanie Perkins’ YA love stories or the satisfyingly independent-minded heroine in Gayle Forman’s Just One Day will adore this sweet, fizzy confection of a romance.

Though Quinn dutifully plays the harp for her family's wedding-planning business, Borrowed + Blue, she doesn't believe in romance anymore, especially not the kind that starts with grand gestures and always ends in heartbreak.

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