Publishers' Preview: Spring 2020: Five Questions for Kelly Yang

This interview originally appeared in the March/April 2020 Horn Book Magazine as part of the Publishers’ Previews: Spring 2020, an advertising supplement that allows participating publishers a chance to each highlight a book from its current list. They choose the books; we ask the questions.

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In Parachutes, Dani’s working-class Filipino American family hosts Claire, a privileged Chinese girl come to get an American education. Can they navigate their experiences together?

1. Is Crazy Rich Asians more realistic than I thought?

I think the luxury aspect is accurate, but Parachutes takes you inside all the emotions, the turmoil, the unspeakable secrets that families are keeping, that are often tearing their children apart, that come along with having all that wealth.

2. This question is actually yours, from the book: “What does it mean to live well?”

To live well is to find your joy and passion in life. To live life for you, not for your parents, or someone else’s suffocating notion of “success.” To be yourself. And speak your truth.

3. How can we help young people feel safe enough to ask for help?

By showing them. By opening up about our own struggles, however terrifying that may be, and letting them see how we asked for help. It took courage for me to dig into my own experience of sexual assault, something I never wanted to talk about. For a long time, I wanted it to stay buried, so I could pretend it never happened. But through Front Desk, I’ve come to realize that speaking up about our pain isn’t shameful. It’s healing. It’s empowering. It brings hope to the next generation, and that’s what I’m trying to do with my books.

4. What was it like to move from middle-grade (Front Desk) to the mature end of YA?

Parachutes is a story about two teenage immigrant girls growing up in today’s world, trying to find their voice, their sense of self, while also dealing with the messy complications of our world, like how do I have sexual desires but not be preyed upon or violated? It’s that authenticity that always interests me most as an artist. I love that both Front Desk and Parachutes are about spunky immigrant girls, though I think Parachutes challenges the way we think of the immigrant experience. And I love that.

5. Okay, I have to ask: do you think there was enough room for Jack on the raft next to Rose?

I believe there is always room at the table, er, on the raft. 😊

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Photo: Harold de Puymorin.

Roger Sutton
Roger Sutton

Editor Emeritus Roger Sutton was editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc., from 1996-2021. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his MA in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a BA from Pitzer College in 1978.

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