Award-Winning YA #Own Voices Author Natasha Deen

Award-Winning YA #Own Voices Author Natasha Deen

Award-winning author Natasha Deen writes for kids, teens, and adults. She believes the world is changed one story at a time, and as a Guyanese-Canadian whose family immigrated to Canada, she’s seen first-hand how stories have the power to shape the world. When she’s not writing, Natasha enjoys visiting schools, libraries, and other organizations to help people to find and tell the stories that live inside of them. She also spends an inordinate amount of time trying to convince her pets that she’s the boss of the house. Natasha is the author of the Lark Ba series (CCBC Best Pick for Kids & Teens, Starred

Selection) and the Guardian series (Moonbeam Award, Sunburst Award nominee, Alberta Readers’ Choice nominee). Her latest novel, In the Key of Nira Ghani, is a Junior Library Guild selection and a Barnes and Noble Top 25 Most Anticipated Own Voices novel. 

Is it true that you grew up wanting to be a superhero? 

It is true! My family moved from Guyana to Canada at a time when Canada had just opened its doors to non-White immigrants. This meant my family and I were often the only POCs in our neighborhoods and school. It led to a lot of funny moments, but also a lot of painful ones. When I was a kid, I thought if I had a superpower—specifically if I could read minds—I’d know who the good people were and maybe, just maybe, I would feel safe in my skin and my environment. I also saw how much people loved superheroes and figured being a superhero would be a more attractive spotlight than the one that currently shone on me as (often) the only POC in the room. As I grew older, I realized what made a superhero an actual superhero wasn’t their power, but their acceptance and embracing of being different. They remained grounded in who and what they were, despite any contrary messages sent by society. I suppose in that sense, I still want to be a superhero.

Your popular books for kids, teens, and adults mix mystery, action, and creepy with a whole lot of humor. Tell us about the Spooky Sleuths Series. 

I’m so excited about this series! Published with Penguin Random House Young Readers, the series follows Asim and his friends as they try to solve the mysteries behind the creepy occurrences in their town.

In book one, The Ghost Tree, Asim moves to Lion’s Gate, where he meets Rokhsar and encounters a host of spooky things—like hovering objects in the sky, people disappearing into the fog, and a tree in the town cemetery…one that seems to be growing at an alarming rate and whose leaves seem to make the outline of a skull. Like his mom, Asim is a lover of supernatural stories, especially the stories she shares from growing up in Guyana, and he’s convinced something supernatural is responsible for the tree. Rokshar, on the other hand, is a scientist at heart and thinks an experiment gone wrong might be at the heart of the mystery. When the tree seems to turn the adults into mean, bug-eating grouches, Rokshar and Asim team up with their friends Max, Malachi, and Devlin, to figure out the truth behind the tree. There’s a lot I loved about writing the series, from the healthy dose of humor to offset the spooky factor, to including age-appropriate scare factors. But two of the things I really enjoyed was that while Rokshar and Asim may not always agree about a science or spooky solution to the tree, they are always open to the possibility the other friend may be right and they’re supportive of each other throughout. The other thing I love is that the conclusion is open-ended, leaving it to the reader to decide who was correct, Asim or Rokshar.

The book is illustrated by the wildly talented Lissy Marlin and features bonus material (excerpts from Asim and Rokshar’s journals and a note on the inspiration of the story).

You just released the book, The Signs and Wonders of Tuna Rashad. Where did your inspiration for the main character derive from? 

One of the most difficult parts of being human is having to deal with loss and grief. In Tuna’s story, I wanted to ask questions about the different ways we grieve and how a broken-heart can simultaneously push people together and pull them apart. But I didn’t want the novel to be heavy or sad. I wanted to show that once we have been loved by a person, that love never leaves. Their impact on our lives is with us, offering comfort and beautiful memories, forever.

The Signs and Wonders of Tuna Rashad unfolds like this, “Let’s be clear. No matter what her older brother, Robby, says, aspiring screenwriter Tuna Rashad is not “stupidstitious.” She is, however, cool with her Caribbean heritage, which means she is always on the lookout for messages from loved ones who have passed on. But ever since Robby became a widower, all he does is hang out at the house, mock Tuna for following in their ancestors’ traditions, and meddle in her life.

Tuna needs to break free from her brother’s loving but overbearing ways and get him a life (or at least, get him out of hers!). Based on the signs, her ancestors are on board. They also seem to be on board with helping Tuna win over her crush, Tristan Dangerfield. The only hiccup? She has to do it before leaving for college in the fall. A ticking clock, a grief-stricken brother, and a crush who doesn’t believe in signs. What could possibly go wrong?”

It was a lot of fun to write a strong, confident protagonist who wasn’t afraid to be herself and lean into the things she wanted. Especially when those decisions landed her in hilarious scenarios! 

Signs and Wonders of Tuna Rashad has received rave reviews. 

“Deen handily navigates sudden loss and elusive love by blending art, science, and spirituality into this breezy romance.”- Publishers Weekly

“Effervescent and irrepressible, Tuna Rashad will leap off the page and straight into your hearts.” – Nafiza Azad, author of The Candle and the Flame, The Wild Ones

What did you enjoy the most when writing this book? 

Hands down, writing the funny! I loved the challenge of combining heavy topics with a lot of light, and creating unique, loving characters whose journeys connect with readers. 

Do you have a favorite book? 

My favorite book is Watty Piper’s The Little Engine that Could. I first heard the story when I was five and since then, have been enthralled and inspired by the small but mighty character who faced danger and failure in order to help those around her.

What is your most popular series? 

Oh, great question! I’m not sure (book sales are an ever-changing number), but I love writing the Lark Ba series, which is for ages 6-9. 

Lark and her twin brother Connor are spending the summer solving mysteries in their town. From missing pets to stolen diamonds, vandalism and ghostly encounters, there isn’t a mystery too big or small for this duo!  

Readers enjoy Lark’s humor and problem-solving abilities. One of the things adults who read the series with their little ones is how much they love the small touches in the series. For example, Lark is dyslexic, and in the books, readers can see her misspelling then correcting words. Readers also like the use of idioms (some of them Lark and Connor understand, while they sometimes get the other ones hilariously wrong). There’s a section at the back of the book that explains vocabulary and the idoms for young readers. And of course, readers definitely enjoy solving the mysteries alongside her!

What is next for you? 

This fall, I’m teaching “Writing for Children: Introduction” with the University of Toronto (online) and I’m currently at work on two YA novels and an early reader.

www.natashadeen.com

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Jules Lavallee is an International Journalist from Los Angeles, CA. For the past eight years, she has covered celebrities, global leaders, royalty, entrepreneurs for over 20+ magazines and countless cover stories. Staying true to roots in Boston, MA, Jules is a true humanitarian. She has supported many nonprofits in fundraising, strategic partnerships, and media. She has served on the Board of Big Brothers & Big Sisters and is currently on the Board of Fund Duel, gamified fundraising platform. She is an influential person in the areas of gender equality, diversity, and empowerment. She is a graduate of Harvard University.
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