Richmond author Meg Medina has received national recognition for her young-adult novel, “Burn Baby Burn,” including a nomination for the National Book Award and selection as a finalist for the 2016 Kirkus Prize. Overwhelmed when her editor shared the news, she says, “It was a huge surprise; it doesn’t really feel real when you’re reading the list. Every one of those books is lovely.”
Although she did not make it beyond the nomination stage for the National Book Award, Medina’s novel was chosen from 515 young reader’s literature titles to be among the six finalists for this year’s Kirkus Prize. Winners in the three categories, fiction, nonfiction and young reader’s literature, will each receive $50,000.
A panel of judges including nationally respected writers and booksellers, librarians, and Kirkus Review critics will choose three winners for the 2016 Kirkus Prize at a ceremony on Nov. 3 in Austin, Texas.
“Burn Baby Burn” is about New York City in the citywide blackout in the summer of 1977 and the serial murderer David Berkowitz, also known as the Son of Sam, who terrorized the area at that time. Medina was living in New York during this time and remembers it vividly.
“I can remember the feeling of dread that I was going to be murdered by Son of Sam,” Medina says. “Young people right now have that same dread and fear of violence all around them.”
When she wrote the book, Medina says, it was prior to much of the police brutality and violent events currently in the news. Now she reflects and sees that much of what she saw in the ’70s has come back — there is the same struggle between police and neighborhoods, she says, and there are still racial problems, making this book relatable to young adults today even though the story took place in decades ago. “I think it was such a pivotal year in our history,” she adds.
As a young-adult, middle-grade and children’s book author, Medina has a passion for writing for kids. A child of Cuban immigrants, she strives to write books with strong Latino voices as the main characters. Medina’s own kids were in high school when she wrote her previous novel, “Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass.” She says she was inspired by her kids’ stories about their lives in school and the bullying that went on there. They inspired her to write truthfully about the life of a high school student.
“If I tell the truth and [don’t] shy away from ugly things, it will resonate. We shouldn’t sanitize the story. That doesn’t work with young people,” Medina says.
Beyond drawing inspiration from her own children, Medina is inspired by who she was as a child. As a young adult author, she says, she thinks about writing for her past self more than about writing for kids in general.
“You are writing for one kid. The kid you were. I’m writing to that girl who had all the questions,” Medina said.