This is a story about a teenager, but unlike many teen leads, Juniper Sawfeather didn't drive me crazy. In some ways she does fill the typical teen role--she has a best friend, she can't seem to fit in, her parents drive her crazy--but not in an annoying way. Unlike most of the teens I've read, she has real goals like making the world better and a specific degree in college, and doesn't fill the pages obsessing over boys. I mean, she is interested in a boy, but I appreciated the way it was handled. Refreshing. Education is so important to her and to her family, but as a reader I didn't feel preached at. It's just part of their lives. A part they argue about, lol.
I got so involved in June's life for a chapter or two that I forgot it was a book about mermaids! I almost exclusively pick up books of fantasy, so I should have been expecting something, but I was caught up in her world and forgot all about it. June's parents are environmentalists and she comes into contact with the mermaids when she helps her dad rescue animals from an oil spill.
I chose to review this book on my blog because I believe it's a great example of diversity. June has a Native American heritage, which plays into the story quite a bit, but at the same time, the story isn't about the struggles of being a Native American. It's a part of her life, but not the focus of the story.
Sexual Content: None. There is a romantic interest, but it's all sweet and un-irritating and the guy is actually realistic and likeable. Yes, he likes her, but it's not that swooning-oh-I-would-do-anything-for-you-you're-the-center-of-my-universe-for-no-apparent-reason nonsense that I so often whine about.
Language: I can't remember any foul language at all. Sorry if I missed something.
Violence: Aside from an oil company sending out a leaky tanker and wreaking havoc on the ocean and everything in it, none.
Overall Plot/Message: The story feels completely character driven and yet has a solid plot and is full of message. Readers who are anti-environmental protection may not appreciate it, but I certainly did.
Find the book here. Find D. G. Driver's website here.
Interview with D. G. Driver, author of many books and stories including the one I've reviewed, 'Cry of the Sea'. Please take a few minutes to read what she has to share!
RA: Juniper's story is more about her mission to save the mermaids than it is about her Native American ancestry, but the history and stories of her people play a significant role in her life and in solving the mystery. My question is, where did you get the idea of linking Native American traditions, mermaids and environmentalism?
D. G. Driver: That's a great first question.
I originally came up with the concept for Cry of the Sea after the 10-year anniversary of the Exxon-Valdez oil spill. It was all over the news, and it got my creative mind thinking, "What if mermaids were caught in an oil spill?" I knew I wanted a teen heroine for this book, but who would be on a beach during an oil spill to discover the mermaids and where would this beach be located?
Well, I've been a teacher all of my adult life. Just prior to writing the first draft of this novel, I'd been working with 3rd and 4th graders in California. Part of our curriculum each year was a lengthy unit on American Indian culture and history. We covered tribes from various regions around the country. My favorite nations were the ones of the Pacific Northwest. A lot of the mythology and legends from that region spoke to me. So, I decided that since the Exxon-Valdez spill affected the shores from Alaska down to Oregon, I would set this smaller fictional spill off the coast of Washington. I decided my heroine would have environmental activists parents to explain why she was at the beach. Then I decided her father would be American Indian, someone with roots in the region, a real connection to the land, who would care about it and the creatures living on it more than the average person. I never considered another person for the leading lady of my book than Juniper Sawfeather.
I wrote this book long before the We Need Diverse Voices movement began, but it was published around the same time. I didn't go into great depth about Juniper's heritage in book 1 of this series, choosing to focus more on the mission of saving the mermaids. There is a lot more about her family, background, and mythology in books 2 and 3 of the trilogy and in the short stories I published for two subsequent anthologies. You can learn more about all of those books at my website. www.dgdriver.com
RA: Thank you, and I look forward to reading the rest of the series. I already have my copy of 'Whisper of the Woods' *smiles*.
It's interesting to me that you chose Juniper's heritage because it added so much value to the story rather than for the sake of diversity or more Native Americans in fiction. I think there's a lesson there for all of us. Sometimes in books and movies I get the impression that the diversity is 'token', only there to check off the 'diverse box', but many of us understand that a story made up of different kinds of people can have strength that other stories can't. What would you say to writers who believe diversity would add to their stories, but are afraid of 'getting it wrong' and offending their readers?
D. G. Driver: Whew, this is a tough question.
It is extremely important to have more books featuring diverse characters available for young readers. That said, I think what is wanted is more stories where the main character "happens to be" diverse, where the plot isn't centered around someone's race or ability. I know as a teacher at a school that has a large population of special needs students, we are always on the lookout for more books featuring kids with special needs playing and experiencing childhood alongside their typically developing friends, rather than it being a book about "look how so-and-so gets through his difficult day."
Also, the #ownvoices movement is strong in publishing right now. Agents and editors are on the lookout for more books written by authors of color. I believe it is important for stories to be written from the unique point of view of a person's experience. #Ownvoices authors are more able to write the kind of stories that probe what it is like to be a certain race, or to have a certain disability, or to be from a certain culture, or to be LGBTQ. It's harder for an author like myself to write a diverse character authentically. It's important to do research, research, and more research. It's important to be careful. It's extremely important to avoid clichés or things you only know because of other books or movies. A lot of publishers are now using "sensitivity readers" to test out material.
I think white authors should continue to be bold and write books with diverse characters, but be aware that people are less forgiving now than they used to be. Focus on your story and why you're putting a diverse character into it. Then make that character as real as possible. When I wrote Cry of the Sea I wasn't trying to write about the contemporary American Indian teenage experience. That is not my story to tell. I wanted to write a fantasy novel and decided that my ideal main character would be American Indian. The fact that Juniper is American Indian then led me to discover more about her culture and mythology which helped shape the trilogy as a whole.
RA: I love your answers! That's a lot of good advice.
Well, I just want to ask one more question, and maybe it'll be a little easier than the last two. I wonder, were there any parts of the writing, publishing, and marketing process that were especially difficult for you? What did you do to get through them?
D. G. Driver: I have been a published author since 1995. I started with stories and articles in magazines, anthologies, and websites. While I've had quite a few book published, both as Donna Getzinger (all out of print now) and as D. G. Driver, I still haven't managed to achieve my big dream of having an agent and a New York publishing contract. I keep studying the craft, attending workshops and conferences, writing, and submitting, but I don't seem to write the big "hook" type books the biggies are looking for. This has been my biggest frustration as an author, and at times I battle with wanting to quit and feeling envy about the success of others. Usually, right when I'm feeling at my worst, I'll get a new review or sell a story, and then I'm ready to get going again. (Today, for example, I just found out that Whisper of the Woods won the 2018 New Apple Independent Book Awards, Young Adult Fantasy Official Selection.)
In 2013 I learned about Fire and Ice Young Adult Books (an imprint of Melange Books) through the Children's Book Insider Newsletter, which I receive quarterly. I checked out their existing line of books, read some first chapters, and double-checked that they were a traditional publisher (they pay for all publishing expenses, including editing, and provide royalties on sales) before submitting. I was thrilled when they accepted Cry of the Sea. I love working with this small press and have four books with them and my fifth coming out later this year. I think self-publishing gives an author more freedom to experiment with marketing and pricing than working with a small press, but I like not having any upfront costs. SCBWI considers my publisher to be 'Published and Listed', which is their form of validation and allows my books to be included in their special events. The only problem with being with a small press or going full indie is that it is difficult to convince schools and librarians to purchase your work. Getting reviews from Publisher's Weekly or School Library Journal are nearly impossible, and librarians base all their purchasing decisions on those reviews. This is rough when you write children's or young adult novels.
I've got plans right now to do a sixth book with Fire and Ice (if they accept it) which is nearly complete. I've started my first real effort in self-publishing this year with a series of original fairy tale ebook novellas. The first, The Royal Deal, was released in January. Then I plan to try something new: writing a book targeted to adult readers and see if maybe that will catch an agent's eye. We'll see what happens. A career in writing is about being creative, having ideas, and finding ways to share them.
RA: Wow, you have so much experience and knowledge to share! I'm taking notes, lol. Thanks so much for sharing! This has been a valuable experience for me!
Find the book here. Find D. G. Driver's website here.