Review: That Asian Kid by Savita Kalhan

I (Leah) was delighted when Savita Kalhan asked if I’d liked to review That Asian Kid. I pretty much immediately said, of course, even before she had a chance to tell me anything about it! Last summer, I absolutely adored (even as it was an incredibly difficult read) Savita’s The Girl in the Broken Mirror, so I had high hopes for Jeevan’s story.

I wasn’t disappointed.


It would be easy to identify That Asian Kid as a YA novel about racism. However, it is so much more. It’s the story of a British teenager, Jeevan, as he’s getting ready to sit his GCSEs (there isn’t really a US equivalent to this one!), hanging out with friends, meeting girls, navigating parents (and one brilliant grandmother), and social media. 

Indeed, social media – particularly the ethics of posting something that is technically yours, because you filmed it, but that is also to some degree not yours because it of other people, without their knowledge or consent – is central to That Asian Kid

Synopsis (from Amazon): Despite his hard work and brains, Jeevan, is doing badly in his GCSE English literature class. His teacher, Mrs Greaves, dislikes him intensely and Jeevan is convinced that he is the victim of racial prejudice. Can he stand up for what’s right? When he comes upon her in the woods outside school in a compromising situation with another teacher, Jeevan can’t help but film the scene on his phone. With this secret new ammunition at his fingertips – dare he upload it to social media?

If you’re looking to purchase the book,
I’d highly recommend your
local independent bookshop.
Even better, why not see if your local,
public library has purchased it
(if they haven’t, ask them to!)

Never would I give the plot away (go read it), but I will say: the ‘other teacher’ is Mr Green, Jeevan’s favourite, which certainly adds to Jeevan’s anxiety around posting, or not, the video, a question that becomes increasingly fraught as Mrs Greaves actions become increasingly racist.   

Interestingly, while I found Mrs Greaves utterly deplorable (there is a scene in the novel I’m sure I read just as wide-eyed and agog as Kalhan narrates Jeevan), I disliked Mr Green – yup, Jeevan’s favourite teacher – and Mr Rawson, the school’s head, more. These two ostensibly good men continually stand up for Greaves even in the face of mounting ‘evidence’ that her behaviour is racially driven and that she is explicitly targeting Jeevan. In Mr Green’s case, there is also a failure to immediately and publicly denounce her actions once racial prejudice becomes, even, utterly undeniable. 

Their support of Greaves, even as Green calls our her out in private, is tantamount to supporting her racism – in Green’s case, it felt even worse: he ‘gets it’ and yet doesn’t speak out and up. So, while Greaves is the ‘baddie’, Green and Rawson demonstrate just how embedded White privilege is. 

But, I mentioned above, the novel isn’t just about the racism Jeevan experiences; it’s also about being a teenager. And, the thing I loved most about That Asian Kid: Jeevan’s fabulous group of friends. Dread, Sandi, and Jeevan are such a great trio, despite and because of their differences. I loved reading their interactions with one another and the continued support and camaraderie throughout everything – even girlfriends!   

Definitely not one to miss – trust me, you need to know if he posts the video or not – and it’s now! Check your favourite local bookshop and tell your library to order it (if they haven’t already). 

You can also follow along with the rest of the blog tour…

Blog Tour Klaxon! We’re reviewing Savita Kalhan’s That Asian Kid

One to watch for, Leah Phillips will be reviewing Savita Kalhan’s latest book That Asian Kid on 2 September!

While you wait, check out my review for Savita’s The Girl in the Broken Mirror.

THIS book is out in August and follows Jeevan as he faces decides what to do with some dirt he has on a teacher who seems to have it out for him…

(What would you do?!)

TAK blog tour banner

An Interview with Hafsah Faizal, Author of We Hunt the Flame

By Meriem R. Lamara @Meriem_Lamara





People lived because she killed.
People died because he lived







Set in a fantasy world inspired by Ancient Arabia, Hafsah Fiazal’s debut novel We Hunt the Flame comes out May 14th 2019. YALMC’s North African Officer, Meriem, had the chance to ask Hafsah some questions about her writing inspirations, being a #ownvoices writer, and more!


We Hunt the Flame comes out in May 14th. How do you feel now that it’s almost here?

We’re little over a month away! It feels surreal. I still can’t believe I have an agent, let alone a book deal, despite it being nearly two years since it all happened. I think it’ll really hit me when I finally hold the hardcover in my hands!

The characters in the story represent a culture that we don’t often read about in YA Fantasy. What can you tell us about the characters of Zafira and Nasir? And what do their characters mean to you as a #ownvoices author?

Zafira is a huntress who will do anything for her people. Nasir is the crown prince and the greatest assassin alive. Both are legends, neither are content with their lives. By those descriptors alone, they could fit the bill for almost any YA fantasy, which is why they exist—one of the main reasons I set We Hunt the Flame in a Middle Eastern inspired world was to introduce readers to a world that isn’t as twisted as the media leads us to believe. You’ll find characters who wear turbans, who know the difference between dates, who speak Arabic, and know what it’s like to live amidst the ever-shifting desert.

As someone who has always been fascinated by the world of ancient Arabia with its rich history, mythology, and customs, I am very pleased to see it represented in YA Fantasy. What attracted you to it? And what type of research did you conduct for the story?

I think I was attracted to ancient Arabia because of my own ties to it! I wanted the world to feel fantastical, yet clearly inspired by the Middle East, so most of my research pertained to place names, language, weaponry and sometimes legends.

I am really curious as to how your process is when it comes to world building. What can you tell us about the world of Arawiya?

I love world-building, which I like to think stems from my career as a designer. The visual aspect of the story is my favorite—whether it’s constructing a palace down to the latticework along the wall or adding ornamentation to a character’s clothing. Having the Middle Eastern as a baseline for Arawiya most certainly helped. The world of We Hunt the Flame is lush and full of tiny details that I think work to immerse readers that much deeper into the story.

Did the title ‘We Hunt the Flame’ come to you fully formed or did you have to experiment with other ideas first?

It didn’t! The story was originally titled something else, which was more apt for what the story used to be (a tournament). It felt too concrete a title, so when brainstorming more abstract ideas, We Hunt the Flame made the list of a few titles I sent to my agent before we submitted the story to editors!

We can’t talk about the book without mentioning the stunning cover with Arabic Calligraphy nicely reflected in the title’s typography. Did you have any input on the design of the final official cover?

 Oooh, yes. My editor knew right from the start that I wanted to be a part of the cover design process. As a lettering artist (as well as a designer), typography is important to me, and creating something that emulated Arabic calligraphy was a dream come true, thanks to Erin Fitzsimmons! I was also asked for “scene” ideas for the cover artist, Simon Prades, to depict. Zafira standing before the shadow of an ominous palace is an unseen moment-between-moments that occurs in the story—it’s also a huge pivoting moment and I love that we were able to portray it so beautifully.

What do you think you’ve learned as an author in the process of writing We Hunt the Flame?

We Hunt the Flame is my fifth manuscript, yet I’ve always felt that it was, in my ways, my first. It was my first fantasy. My first time writing in the third-person, and my first time writing in the past tense. I’ve learned so much more while working with my editors—my favorite is how to differentiate the heart of the narrative from the bulk of the story—and I continue to learn as the days progress!

 What do you like to read? Was there any book that inspired We Hunt the Flame or inspired you as a writer in general?

Fantasy is my favorite genre. I also enjoy science fiction and the occasional contemporary, though I rarely read outside of YA. I’d say every young adult novel I’ve read over the years has contributed to my writing in some way. It’s taught me more than I could learn from any syllabus!


We Hunt the Flame is out on the 14th of May 2019!
Hafsah Faizal, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with Meriem. ❤

CFP: Radical Young People’s Literature & Culture

Hosted by
The Irish Society for the Study of Children’s Literature

Friday 29th and Saturday 30th March 2019 Marino Institute of Education, Dublin 9, Ireland

Keynote address: Professor Kimberley Reynolds

It is now over ten years since Kimberley Reynolds highlighted the importance of radical dimensions of children’s literature in her book, Radical Children’s Literature: Future Visions and Aesthetic Transformations in Juvenile Fiction. Texts for young people have always been embedded in norms, concepts and systems regarding socialisation, education, and enculturation and offer empowering and disempowering possibilities for everyone who engages with them. Concepts of childhood, youth literature and youth culture are situated and operate within diverse contexts and contested spaces which are negotiated by readers, audiences, publishers, creative industries, authors, librarians, teachers, families, gate keepers, institutions, cultural movements, and political and religious groups. Radical youth literature challenges dominant expectations and norms about childhood, society, socialisation, and young people’s reading, acts as a force for change and encourages children and young adults to question the authority of those in power. In today’s world, the role and liberating possibilities of radical youth culture and literature have become even more urgent.

This conference will explore the experimental, subversive and/or disruptive potential of Irish and international literature and culture for young people. The conference will also consider the extent to which children’s and young-adult texts and culture can promote, cultivate and/or establish radical representations and ideas. In what ways is today’s radical youth literature different from that of earlier decades? What contemporary issues are addressed in radical youth literature and culture and how? To what extent have publishing, schools, libraries, multimedia and entertainment industries engaged with radical youth texts and radical youth culture? How is radical children’s and young adult literature and culture created, distributed, enacted and experienced?

Please email an abstract and a biographical note to by 5pm Friday 7th December 2018. You will be notified of the outcome of the selection process in mid January 2019. 250-350-word abstracts are welcomed but not limited to the below areas and themes. Cuirfear fáilte roimh pháipéir trí Ghaeilge.

  • Class
  • Gender
  • Sexualities
  • Age and ageing
  • Ethnicity
  • Nationality
  • Embodiment
  • Performativity
  • Social engagement
  • Children’s rights
  • Engagement with new media, technologies, film, television, theatre etc.
  • Adaptation and/or translation
  • Visual narratives e.g. picturebooks, comics
  • Radical forms and/or genres
  • Fandom and fan cultures
  • Disruptive texts


A Database: YA Lit, Media, & Culture, Key Texts


A few weeks ago, one of those “I wish there was” conversations happened. In this case, I wish there was an easier way to find YA scholarship. YA scholars are acrobats. They publish EVERYWHERE. Coupled with the absence of a journal dedicated to YA* (as a distinct field related to, but different from children’s lit), it can be difficult to find things. So, we’ve started a database.

Approaching YA Literature, Media, and Culture: Key Texts

At the moment, it’s an editable Google Sheet, but I am looking for more user-friendly options.

Have fun!





What I Read in August (@Le_Phill)

Highlight Your Personality (2)

I kicked August off with Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun, a heartwrenching story about love, loss, sibling relationships, growing up, and art. It did take me a while to get through the novel — it’s hefty and the chapters — told alternatively from Noah and Jude’s perspectives — are long. If you’re also a “read a chapter before pausing” person, you might find it difficult to find a pace for this one, but doing so is WELL worth it!




Alongside I’ll Give you the Sun and at least one of the novels that followed, I read Roberta Seelinger Trites’ most recent monograph Twenty-First Century Feminisms in Children’s and Adolescent Literature. In a “where are we now” look at feminism in literature for young people, Trites engages many of the 21st-century’s key feminist themes as they intersect with children’s and young adult literature studies: critical race theory, ecofeminism, embodiment and neoliberalism, gender and disability studies. I’ll save a more extensive unpicking for my monograph! 😉




15750874The Glass Arrow by Kristen Simmons followed I’ll Give you the Sun. In the story world, women are property, sex slaves really. If captured — and the novel’s heroine Aya is caught by Trackers at the novel’s start — girls are groomed for auction where they’ll either become a Wife or sent to the whore houses. The Glass Arrow would be a great read for anyone who loved Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (novel or series). Thinking about the novel again today, I can’t help but think about Yandy’s utterly bizarre and downright appalling decision to market a ‘sexy’ Handmaid’s Tale costume for Halloween — take a look at Rachelle Hampton’s “Yandy’s Sexy Handmaid Costume Is the Perfectly Logical Merger of Halloween Sexification and Consumer Feminism“. Thankfully, the costume has been pulled.

The Glass Arrow also links quite nicely to Louise O’Neill’s Only Ever Yours, but with a more fantasy feel.

I wrapped August up with Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan, and I wasn’t able to read another book for nearly two weeks. Book hangovers are the best kind of the worst. The WONDERFUL team at Hodderscape sent me an arc, and there’s a full review coming soon (short version: Girls gets ALL THE STARS, all of them). And – super secretly, don’t tell anyone – we may even have a little Q&A with the fabulous wonderful, Ngan in the build-up Girls release!! Shhhh.


Each year, eight beautiful girls are chosen as Paper Girls to serve the king. It’s the highest honour they could hope for…and the most demeaning. This year, there’s a ninth. And instead of paper, she’s made of fire.

Girls due for release on the 6th of November 2018. Do yourself a favour, pre-order it. #PaperAndFire


  And that’s what I read in August, what did you read?

— Leah





Flash Review: What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera – Jennie Gouck


From the blurb:

Arthur is only in New York for the summer, but if Broadway has taught him anything, it’s that the universe can deliver a showstopping romance when you least expect it. Ben thinks the universe needs to mind its business. If the universe had his back, he wouldn’t be carrying a box of his ex-boyfriend’s things.

But when the boys have a chance meeting at the post office, they leave wondering what exactly the universe does have in store for them.

What if – in a city of eight million people – they can’t find each other again?

What if they do … and then can’t nail a first date even after three do-overs?

What if Arthur tries too hard to make it work and Ben doesn’t try hard enough?

What if life really isn’t like a Broadway play?

But what if it is?

What if it’s us?


Review by Jennie Gouck:

If ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ were candy and nuts…well, this novel would have a very merry Christmas.

Set in New York City, this collaborative title from (LGBTQ+) YA powerhouses Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera capture the essence of young love in one of the most vibrant places on earth.

Arthur Seuss, a dreamer and musical-lover from Georgia, is in the Big Apple for the Summer, having taken up an internship at his mother’s lawyer’s firm. He sees New York as a city of opportunity, the kind of place you can only look at with awe as your eyes drink in the bright lights of Times Square and dizzying heights of the skyscrapers on every corner. He dreams of seeing Hamilton on Broadway, of one day going to Yale, and of falling in love.

Meanwhile, Ben Alejo, a New York native from Alphabet City is more pragmatic. He’s been burned by The Universe one too many times and carries a hurt from his recent break-up with his boyfriend, Hudson. While he’s creative, privately writing his fantasy novel The Wicked Wizard War, school hasn’t gone so well for him, either, and he finds himself spending his holidays in Summer school in a desperate attempt to pass Junior Year and become a Senior with the rest of his friends. Ben’s Puerto Rican, working-class heritage is a sore-spot for him. Yale (or any college, really) is a pipe dream. Plus, he looks ‘too white’ and doesn’t speak enough Spanish to hang out with the other Puerto Rican kids, yet doesn’t feel at home with his peers who aren’t of colour. Ben, it seems, is an occupant of The Inbetween.

What If It’s Us follows Arthur and Ben as they attempt to navigate the beginnings of their relationship in the city that never sleeps, all the while tumbling toward Summer’s end. ‘Do-overs’ are a theme throughout the book; first dates and second-first-dates, writing and re-writing their story to find a scenario that matches who – and what – they want to be. The chapters alternate between Arthur and Ben’s point of view, sweeping us up in their whirlwind romance. The narrative is unstable. It’s rocky. It climbs to the top of the rollercoaster before throwing us through the loop-de-loop with reckless abandon. It reminds us that, even in New York, relationships aren’t what they seem in the movies. They aren’t Broadway musicals with a strongly defined beginning, middle, and end (although the tri-partite structure of What If It’s Us tries to trick us into thinking otherwise).

Most importantly, though, What If It’s Us is another book for the LGBTQ community – one which shows that not all queer narratives are ones laced with unimaginable sadness and hardship. The hardships here, from first date and first kiss nerves to meeting the parents, are like those faced in any other teenage romance. And that’s perfectly okay.

‘What If It’s Us’ (9781471176395) is due for release in the UK on 18thOctober 2018

Black Snow Falling (MacWhirter) – Flash Review and Author Q&A

BSF Front[1]

I was sent a copy of Black Snow Falling by Scotland Street Press in exchange for an honest review — I’m thrilled they reached out; I loved it.


In 1592, a girl with spirit is a threat.

Ruth has secrets. An old book of heresy belonging to her long-absent father. A dream that haunts her. And love that she and Silas hide from the world.

When she is robbed of all she holds true, her friends from Crowbury slide into terrible danger. Hope is as faint as a moonbow. Dare Ruth trust the shadowy one who could destroy them all?

This is a story about hope overcoming evil, written with satisfying moral complexity. Ruth’s devastation breaks apart time. She sees that her hopes and dreams are a visceral halo of rainbow colours spinning to white… and that evil dream thieves are severing these halos from sleeping victims, many of whom she knows. Those disturbing dreams of black snow lead Ruth to a perilous discovery: one dream thief is connected to her past.

For young adults and up.

Before I even opened the book, I was hooked: secrets, heresy, black snow, a girl with spirit, dream thieves, hope. The premise felt simultaneously new and fresh as well as deeply rooted in the past — no small feat!

A time slip novel, the story opens with Jude’s dream being stolen, with dire consequences for his life, before transporting us to Ruth, some fifty years in the ‘future’ (it’s difficult to call 1592 the future). Ruth lives with her stepmother, stepsisters and an array of servants. Her father is off on an exploration. Yes, there’s a nod to Cinderella motifs, but it’s a nod more about the saturation of such material within our collective consciousness — a passage from Shakespeare’s The Tempest and a quote from Queen Elizabeth I paratextually frame the story — than it is about telling *another* Cinderella tale. The way in which MacWhirter handles the many, many threads of story is the treat of this novel.

So, in lieu of my ramblings, let’s have Liz tell you a bit more about Black Snow Falling (as well as a few cheekily requested recs!)
For those who haven’t yet read Black Snow Falling (BSF), could you tell us a little bit about it — without giving anything too important away?

In this Elizabethan fantasy, 15 year-old Ruth is betrayed and trapped by monstrous sexism. Her devastation splits apart time itself, where she encounters dream thieves coming to steal her hopes and dreams.

Dreams, dream thieves, black snow – what inspired BSF?

The idea came to me a long time ago in 2002. I was volunteering for a charity in Glen Etive in the north of Scotland with young adults who had all suffered a very hard start in life. One was telling me how much he wanted to become a gardener. I was struck by his strength. He’d faced more trauma than most of us will ever have to cope with, and yet he still had hope. I found myself wishing that nothing would ever happen that could snatch this away… a chilling What If? struck me.

What if our hopes and dreams were actual physical entities that could be stolen from us? A physical dream, I thought, would surely be close to our minds, where we imagine and think. They could look like the halos in old paintings, which symbolised purity… a white dream halo.

William Wordsworth called Glen Etive ‘the land of rainbows’, because of the many waterfalls and incredible light in this dramatic valley. Rainbows are an ancient symbol of hope. I imagined a rainbow arcing in the sky then plunging down into dark, hard places and out the other side, a circle. White light refracts into the colours of the rainbow. So a dream halo would start as a tiny circular rainbow and spin to white as it started imparting its goodness to the sleeper.

I loved the idea. I knew I had to write about this. Ruth and her haunting dream of black snow came to me later.

Given the timeslip elements – but also not through them alone! – there’s a deep sense of history, an embeddedness in place, and almost mythological feel to the novel. How difficult was it to weave the strands of story together? (or, did they perhaps weave you?).

Good question, thanks Leah. The idea felt so simple but the weaving together was a challenge. I think the creative process is often like this. It can start with a simple idea, then you have to write through the complexity until the story starts to feel simple again, as though it has always existed.

I felt the idea would best work as magical realism, placing my characters in a real setting where they could lose all hope. This would have happened more easily in the past when there was no safety net in society. So I chose the time of the Tudors for all its fascinating dynamics – it’s early modern Britain grating against tradition, which traps my characters, Ruth and Jude. I loved the research, finding documents such as the medical records and personal letters of Elizabeth I in a very old book in a second-hand bookshop.

What’s the publication story? I feel like I read (maybe on your blog?) that the novel was a project of love.

It took 16 years from first idea to publication! For most of those years, I was a lone parent working as an advertising copywriter. So I wrote in the margins of the day and couldn’t have persisted unless I completely loved the story. The novel inched forwards.

Around 2007, I had lunch with a lovely editor with a major publisher, who suggested making the time slips closer. Ultimately the rewritten MS didn’t receive an offer. The rejection, while ‘positive’, I found discouraging and had to set the story down. I started another novel set in WW2 Paris, spent over a year researching it and writing three chapters, then had to set it aside while writing a 30,000-word website for a client. When I returned to the WW2 novel, the urge to write it had vanished, although I may return to it one day. I re-read the manuscript for Black Snow Falling, completely loved it and saw exactly how I wanted to restructure it.

Another major publisher then considered it. Their feedback was that my writing was ‘very strong’ and the concept was ‘fantastic’ but sometimes overshadowed the main character, Ruth. I rewrote it, adding in another point of view: Ruth’s secret love, Silas. At the end of the process, for the first time I felt that the novel had reached that ‘simple’ place, where it just felt real. Sadly, it didn’t make acquisitions. The editor commented that I had cracked it, but that it was ‘too serious’ for their list at that point. The publisher who made a firm offer, Jean Findlay at Scotland Street Press, said that it’s that very seriousness that she loves.

After so many rewrites, it was ready. My agent was willing to take it to Bologna, but I felt that Jean ‘got’ the novel and I decided to go with this small traditional press. They may be tiny but they have seriously invested in its production. It’s a beautiful hardback with debossed silver foil. It looks gorgeous! I am so proud of it.

BSF is effectively a book about hope, as well as its absence, across centuries. Do you feel that’s a particularly important narrative for contemporary culture?

Yes, I feel hope is such an important narrative. There are so many things that can take hope away – the modern monsters of today – especially for young people. Some monsters are faceless, such as the climate crisis, the tyranny of the beauty myth for women or masculine stereotypes that won’t allow men to be vulnerable or fail, or bullying amplified by social media. Other monsters have faces, a politician, teacher or relative.

Perhaps by reading shadowy stories about myth and monsters, we can connect with our fear, and somehow, following the narrative, move through it. Once we do that, we can do something about it, like Ruth in Black Snow Falling. Whatever is frightening us, by facing it, we ask ourselves if it’s okay? If it’s not, we can make the first small step and do something about it. Even a small step makes a difference. Taking action creates hope – hope that things could be better in the future. Going on a climate protest march, or voting with our feet and leaving an abusive relationship, or telling someone about a bully. Otherwise, we can get stuck, and hope shrivels away.

BSF has been published as YA. Did you set out to write it as YA? Did it just happen? Did someone suggest it?

I’ve worked as a copywriter in advertising for years, so I have a fairly good nose for ideas and audiences / ages. When the idea came to me, it ‘felt’ like YA… a spirited girl coming of age, where hope is the driver for the story. I love writing YA.

When the manuscript was under submission, we had lots of feedback saying that they felt it was genuine crossover with adult fiction. Perhaps this is why it took a while to find the right publisher.

Could we have a few recommendations? Books, Netflix…

Stranger Thingson Netflix, for the upside down world. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel for making Cromwell and the time of Henry VIII feel so real. More than This by Patrick Ness for compelling science fiction.

Finally, anything else we *need* to know? About Black Snow Falling? About any works in progress?

Black Snow Falling is nominated for The First Book Award at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. If you love it, please vote for it! My first ever book event was there on Saturday, Feisty Fantasy with Alice Broadway.

There’s a follow up bubbling away, but I’m currently writing a love story set 100 years earlier. There’s also a contemporary thriller set in a mining town in the North of England.

Thanks for interviewing me, Leah. I loved answering your questions.


L.J. MacWhirter[2]

L.J. MacWhirter was born just outside London, grew up in the North of England and today lives in Edinburgh with her husband and family. After studying English Literature she went on to become an award-winning creative copywriter. Black Snow Falling is her debut novel for young adults and up. @LizMacwhirter


Last but NOT least, Scotland Street Press is up to some pretty cool things, and they’re on twitter! @ScotlandStreetPress

Q&A – Savita Kalhan author of The Girl in the Broken Mirror

I was utterly thrilled when Savita asked if YALMC would be like to be included on the blog tour for The Girl in the Broken Mirror — and even more excited when she agreed to doing a Q&A!


What’s your favourite thing about YA? About writing YA?

I love YA because it is really a ‘meta-genre’ which encompasses a whole range of genres from contemporary to historical, crime fiction to psychological thrillers, fantasy to dystopian, science fiction to magical realism. YA books can be read by all young people, from teenagers to the age of a hundred years old! I guess the only commonality is the writing must be immediate and accessible.

When I was growing up I read the contents of the children’s library, which basically meant that I read books in all those genres. I think it’s the reason why I read so widely today. I think it’s also the reason why I love writing YA. There is so much scope and range that a writer can explore in YA, so many voices, so many stories waiting to be told.

girl in the broken mirror jpeg

Do you have a favourite character in The Girl in the Broken Mirror?

Apart from Jay, of course, I adore Sita. I think she is a great role model – she had a career as well as a family, she understands girls from having worked so closely with them, and whilst she shares a similar heritage to Jay, there are some very big differences. To be Indian is to be many things. It is a country so vast that each region has its own language, traditions, and religion – and that’s before you factor in people of Indian origin all over the world. For Jay it is an eye-opener that being Asian can mean so many different things, and I think the same would be true for any non-Asian reader too.

I also have a soft spot for Ash, who tries to be a friend to Jay, and sticks by her despite the huge problems he knows it will cause him with his family.

For most of the novel, Jay is obsessed with Tess of D’Urbervilles, which makes me want to ask several questions! Stories shape the ways in which we view the world, and “the power of story” seems to be a theme running throughout the novel. Tess, in many ways, serves as a (broken?) mirror for Jay. What stories did you read when you were young Jay’s age?

I have to admit to a Thomas Hardy obsession when I was Jay’s age! I read everything he wrote when I was a teenager. I also read everything that Wycombe Library had on their shelves. So you are so right when you say there is a “power of story” theme that runs throughout the novel. It’s not an exaggeration when I say that books and stories had a huge impact on my life. I grew up in a very strict household where our only outings were to school and to the library. Education was very important to my parents – equally for girls and boys – so we were taken to the library every week. My world was my home and school life, and the worlds that existed in the pages of books. Stories opened my eyes to so many worlds, to a whole range of experiences, to so many characters and their thoughts and experiences and interactions.

Tess does serve as a ‘broken mirror’ for Jay. Jay’s life feels as splintered as Tess’s life was, despite the centuries that divide their stories. There are so many strands that run through Tess of the d’Ubervilles that reflect upon Jay’s life. The poverty, the reliance on someone else’s good will, the rape, the promise of love, the betrayal felt by both Tess and Jay by their parents, the need for revenge, and, ultimately, the feeling that there can be no happy ending.

Related were those stories mirrors for you? If so, where did they succeed? Where did they fail?

No, none of the stories I read growing up were mirrors for me. I didn’t see my reflection in any of the books in the library. I don’t recall reading any Asian writers as a child, or as a teenager, or as a young adult. I didn’t think I could be a writer as I thought that people like me didn’t write books. Stories for me were ultimately about escapism and the library was my safe space. So, there may not have been stories that specifically served as mirrors, stories meant something else to me. I lost myself in fantasy epics, which have remained a passion, in thrillers, in historical fiction, in contemporary fiction, in classics, in world literature, in…everything. I lapped up all the different, disparate experiences and stories of a huge wealth of characters. But very few were like me.

I discovered Asian writers when I was older. I would absolutely love teenagers and young adults to come across more diversity on the shelves of their libraries and bookshops, because not only might they find mirrors of themselves and their lives, other kids would read about them, too, perhaps understand the differences and commonalities in cultures and backgrounds better. With understanding can come tolerance, which I think is one of the most important things young people’s eyes should be opened to in today’s world.

Jay’s story covers some difficult ground – culture clashes and rape, specifically – what drew you to it? Made you want (need?) to tell it?

There are very few books that deal with the issue of culture clash in young adult literature. I think to some extent there is always a clash of culture in the lives of most young adults – their views on life, on politics, on social issues, their whole world-view can vary in a few degrees or more radically from their parents – and some of these clashes are present in young adult literature. But there are not many books that deal with the conflict in culture for a young adult living in a society where the culture in his/her home life is radically different to the general society they are being raised in.

In the UK, I know of only a couple of books that deal with rape in YA. Anne Cassidy’s No Virgin is an uncompromising read, and in Ireland, Louise O’Neill’s Asking For It. I highly recommend them. Both books deal with very different circumstances surrounding the rape. There is nothing in YA literature that tells the experience of a British Asian girl who is raped. It is a very different story to both Anne and Louise’s, yet it is a story of our time, sadly. Rape knows no boundaries, it’s a crime that’s not confined to any one community – so it needs to be talked about in everycommunity. Only by talking about it and raising awareness of the global nature of this crime can we move forwards in dealing with it.

Rape is also a very personal attack. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that it is a horrifying experience – yet it is one where the victim is often as much on trial as the perpetrator, and too often this stops the victim from speaking up. When society points the finger at you and says it was your fault, you shouldn’t have dressed that way, you shouldn’t have behaved in that way, then you will begin to believe that maybe it was your fault. It was very important for me to make it clear that it is NEVER the girl’s fault – in a patriarchal society where girls and women are often treated like second-class citizens, it’s even more important to speak up for girls like Jay, and to give girls like a Jay a voice.

I have to ask about the chapter from, Jay’s mum, Neela’s POV (it’s 15, for curious minds). I loved it! YA stories so rarely include parents (feel free to discuss!), and when they are present, they’re usually relegated to the periphery. Why was it so important to not only include the mother/daughter relationship but also to give Neela a voice in the novel – a YA novel (which typically excludes such)?

One of the most important relationships in any young person’s life is the one with their parents – necessarily so because the child is dependent on the parent, relies on the parent for everything, and as the child becomes a teenager, that relationship begins to change. Writers for teenagers and young adults usually keep any adult involvement to the minimum. Editors generally don’t want to see stories with too much parental or adult involvement. The same is often true of middle-grade books too. The question of how to get the kid away from the parent so they can have their adventure is one that’s often in a writer’s mind.

But children, teenagers and young adults don’t exist in isolation to their parents, and most of my writing reflects that. Their actions, reactions, views and opinions are informed by their parents – whether they subscribe to them or are in opposition to them.

For me, the relationship between Neela and Jay was central to the book. I think it was important to show how close they are, how much they rely on each other and how they are there for one another in the earlier part of the book. So that when they drift apart because of force of circumstance with the move to Primrose Avenue, the reader really feels the pain of Jay’s loss.

Neela’s voice, her chapter, came about naturally. I didn’t even think about the sudden change in POV when I wrote it. In that moment when Jay is in Sita’s house on her own, waiting for her mum to arrive, and she stops to think about what her mum might be going through – did she know or even guess at what had happened to her daughter? Was she oblivious to the pain that Jay was going through? And suddenly I really wanted to know what Neela was thinking, how she had spent her day, and where she thought her daughter was? That was when I wrote Neela’s chapter.

I was asked by an editor to consider removing it. But I think for readers it’s not only really interesting to see both sides of the same day, but also helps the reader understand both Neela and Jay’s very different points of view. They see Neela go through a whole range of conflicting emotions.

If you had to identify one theme dominating The Girl in the Broken Mirror, what would it be? I ask because there’s one jumping out at me (readers, I’ll confess mine below – after reading Savita’s answer!).

For me, the theme in The Girl in the Broken Mirror is that of survival after trauma. Coping or dealing with a difficult, dangerous or traumatic event is, I think, a recurring theme in my writing. In The Long Weekend, two eleven-year-old boys are abducted after school. The book is essentially a thriller, but the theme is that of survival in very tough circumstances. My next book has a similar theme, although the subject of the book is very different to both The Girl in the Broken Mirror and The Long Weekend.

I look forward to reading your answer to this question, Leah!

Mine relates! The dual theme of having a voice and being heard.
I feel like it underscores culture clash, trauma and rape, as well as Jay’s relationships in the novel. Jay feels like her mum doesn’t hear her. She’s afraid Matt won’t like what he hears. She struggles to speak about what happened, to voice how much its changed her. She discovers a true hear-er in Sita… 

Anything else you want to tell us? Next project? The thing you’re most looking forward to reading?

I’m not sure I am allowed to discuss the next book yet! I will say that it is a much easier read in that it won’t be harrowing – it has a much lighter touch, it’s funnier without losing sense of the more serious subject of the story – and there are some great characters in the book! And, yes, I definitely have my favourite characters in the new book!

There are lots of books I’m looking forward to reading – my must-read pile is literally about to topple over! I was very lucky to meet Pooja Puri at the YA Shot event a few weeks ago, so I have a signed copy of The Jungle to read. I’m also looking forward to reading Toni Adeymi’s Children of Blood and Bone, and The Astonishing Colour of After by Emily X R Pan.

* * *

Leah, thank you so much for your questions – they were really interesting and insightful, and made me think! It’s an amazing thing to have a book out there in the world and in the hands of readers, and even more thrilling for the book to be The Girl in the Broken Mirror.

If your readers want to know more about me they can head to my website, or tweet me @savitakalhan. I love to hear from my readers!

Review: The Girl in the Broken Mirror by Savita Kalhan


I was sent a copy of The Girl in the Broken Mirror by Savita Kalhan and Troika Books in exchange for an honest review – and I’m SO GLAD they did.


The Girl in the Broken Mirror tells the story of Jay, a British-Asian girl living with her mother in London. They’re struggling to make ends meet — Neela (Jay’s mum) is training to be a teacher while working and Jay has a Saturday job — but they have each other and it’s working, or so Jay thinks. When Neela decides to move them in with distant relatives, to save money for a better life in the future, Jay doesn’t understand. Her world utterly changes, and not in a good way. Uncle Bal and Aunty Vimala, especially AuntyV, have super strict rules for girls (and a totally different set for boys). Jay describes those rules as “trapped in a time warp of India circa 1950” (33).

As I was reading…

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(*Apparently, my southern roots still show on occasion)

Despite the difficult themes, there is also light and love, making The Girl in the Broken Mirror an absolute must-read. Indeed, it not only sits comfortably alongside Laurie Halse Anderson’s classic Speak and Louise O’Neill’s Asking for It, but it also surpasses those novels and not just because it features a British-Asian teen attempting to navigate life and life after being raped. Jay’s story — and the good people in it — will stay with you for quite some time.

Culture clashes are one key theme throughout the novel and one that strongly resonated with me, a Tennessee native who’s lived in the UK for the last more-than-decade(!!). Kalhan writes the clashes Jay faces so that they supersede the specifics of the British-Asian dilemma. Anyone who’s ever faced a clash of cultures or views — be it between generations, differing family values, or the views of an adopted culture — will find a kinship in Jay’s story. Working on Adolescent Identities where we’re investigating how YA serves the very different identities of young people in the UK and as an immigrant myself, YA that reflects both the world around us, in all its messy, wonderful diversity and that shows how similar we all our is vital. After all, hasn’t everyone had *that* argument with aunty this or uncle that about anything you’re doing differently from the way you were raised (or the way your grandparents were raised!).

Finally, my favourite chapter of the year thus far is in The Girl in the Broken Mirror. It’s an unusual chapter for a YA novel, perhaps one of the reasons I love it… your job: go read the novel to figure out which one it is! 😉



And this is just a preview!! On Friday, we’ll be posting a Q&A with the woman herself! I put a few of my burning questions to Savita and she answers them brilliantly. You’re in for a real treat!!

Here’s the rest of the blog tour lineup!

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