Something Personal

By Soman Chainani

Writing THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD & EVIL series is like running a fantasy corporation. Six years into writing, five books later, I wake up every day and juggle over 150 characters, 40 plot lines, and a world so big it feels like it’s outgrowing my own head. But it’s what I was born to do – write big worlds and sophisticated stories that can keep up with a clever child’s imagination. 

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But there was something else I was born to do, only I never thought I’d find an outlet to do it: tell my own story.

And my most personal story is about my grandmother, who without sounding too crass, was a person far more significant in my life than my own parents. We shared the same birthday. We both liked gourmet food and fancy hotels, even if we couldn’t afford them. We both were highly suspicious of my grandfather. And most of all, we were deeply, deeply unhappy.

But Nani didn’t want me to be. And something about my own unhappiness made her intolerant of her own.

And so the summer trips began.

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Industry Q&A with editor Phoebe Yeh

Please tell us about the most recent diverse book you published. 

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For the purposes of this response, I propose that we define “diversity” in a more expansive way.

I suggest that “diversity” should mean more than issue based books by authors of color about protagonists of color. (While I believe that these books are still needed, the definition of diversity in the 21st century needs to be broader. I encourage all of you to read Christopher Myers’ excellent Horn Book piece for more on this subject.

Please consider the work of the debut novelists Korean American Ellen Oh and Asian Indian Soman Chainani. They are part of a growing number of authors of color who are breaking boundaries with regard to the diversity of book content and genre.

In Prophecy by Ellen Oh, our heroine is a girl soldier/demon slayer. Oh based her research on Genghis Khan and feudal Korea. Readers may pick up on the nods to Asian history and culture, or they can be content with reading an action packed adventure with a strong heroine.

Darius & Twig by Walter Dean Myers, is about the friendship of an aspiring writer, Darius and a runner, Twig, set against an urban landscape. Myers sets the standard for challenging himself as a writer and for giving voice to young people, their fears and frustrations, but also their hopes and dreams. But do not be fooled. These are not “just urban novels for urban teens.” Pay more careful attention, dear reader. Myers’ message is about universality.

In The School for Good and Evil, Chainani skillfully upturns our notions of the good, bad and ugly. Readers will find the travails of Sophie and Agatha uproariously funny but I also like to think that the novel offers another perspective, a broader perspective about identity that maybe, you may have taken for granted.

All three novels were acquired with the slightly subversive intention of pushing us along just a little bit farther as readers.
 

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