May 31 was not only the last day of American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, which celebrates the diverse histories of Asians living in the US, but also when award-winning Asian-American author Kelly Yang visited Linden Tree Books in Los Altos to promote her latest young adult novel, “Private Label.”
“It seemed like such a natural thing to do to come to the Bay,” said Yang, whose “New from Here” and the “Front Desk” series of books reached No. 1 on the New York Times Best Sellers list.
Mary Sheila McMahon, events coordinator at Linden Tree, said “kids are the best salespeople” for such books.
“They read it, they tell their friends and their friends come in,” she added. “There’s nothing like it.”
Yang echoed the sentiment, sharing how Linden Tree is a huge advocate for diverse books that let kids see themselves on the page.
Count a 13-year-old from Graham Middle School among them.
“I love her books, and I think she is just such a unique author because she writes about her own experiences,” the student said at the event. “Some authors are too afraid to share, and she’s fearless in that sense, and it’s great knowing that I have some Asian-American representation from her.”
Yang said she was fortunate to grow up in Southern California among diverse communities of people.
“I’ve always gone to school with people from all different walks of life, and because of that, I just naturally think of the world as a very diverse place,” she said. “So, in my books, they’ll have characters from all different backgrounds and ethnicities because that’s our world. I am very honored to be able to write books that reflect the world around me. ”
Targeted for banning
However, sharing these stories has not always been easy for Yang. In some states and districts, Yang’s books have been heavily criticized and even banned.
“That’s very gutting as an author,” she said. “Especially if you’re writing a lot about your personal life, because you’re basically being told that they don’t want kids learning about immigrants in their schools.”
According to Yang, banning books are not only disheartening, but also unconstitutional.
“I believe that it’s so dangerous for setting such a strong precedent to kids that the stories in these books don’t deserve to be told,” she said.
“Front Desk,” Yang’s book about a young immigrant girl trying to achieve the American dream, was among those targeted for banning.
“If you think that a child immigrant trying her best is inappropriate, then what does that say?” she asked.
Yang noted that the banning of books merely emphasizes the difficulty people of color face.
“Finally, we have a book. Finally, some of our stories are in the book, and we have something to be proud of. Even then, we can still be smacked down, ”she said. “It’s a terrible, chilling feeling, and the only way around it is to all speak up and not be afraid.”
Yang’s efforts have not gone unnoticed. Many of her readers value seeing their narratives represented on the page.
“Kelly Yang is very relatable and makes me feel better as a person that she goes through the same things,” said a rising sixth-grader at Oak Avenue School. “It makes me feel like she’s changing the world. And that makes me happy. ”
For others, Yang’s books offer exposure to topics many young readers haven’t learned about.
“It was interesting, because her books are based on real life, which was shocking for me to see because we never really saw books about what it was like for immigrants,” another rising sixth-grader said. “It was my first introduction to how they were treated. I knew it was bad, but I didn’t know how bad racism was. ”
Aside from racism, Yang’s books touch on gentrification, xenophobia and sexual assault. Although she has thrived writing children’s literature, she has also written several books for young adults, including “Parachutes” and “Private Label.” Yang said she prides herself on writing what she wants, hoping that an audience will come later, rather than initially catering to a particular group of readers.
Yang’s debut novel, “Front Desk,” came out in 2018, meaning most of the series’ original readers are currently high schoolers. With her latest book, she said she wants to tell stories that will help all of her readers and offer them something new and timely to think about.
“Private Label” and Yang’s other books are available at Linden Tree, 265 State St.
Editor’s note: Town Crier intern Kelly Yang is not related to the author.