With all the great talk going on in kidlit with the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign, I was super happy when Sieni A.M. agreed to tackle a diversity topic in her guest post for her new YA contemporary romance SCAR OF THE BAMBOO LEAF. Let’s give her a warm welcome as she shares the inspiration behind the characters and setting. And don’t forget to enter the giveaway!
My mother is from a small village in Samoa and my dad is from Portland, ME. They met when he was a Peace Corp volunteer. I was born and raised in Samoa, moved to New Zealand for university, and am currently living in Israel with my husband and two daughters. My husband is ethnically Persian/Australian/Canadian, so our daughters probably have every continent running through their blood. As a result, diversity is a very normal thing in my life so its influence on my characters reflect that normality. It’s simply what I know.
In Scar of the Bamboo Leaf, Kiva is a blend of Polynesian/Melanesian, raised by her aunt and uncle with little knowledge about her parents, while Ryler is an Arab American dealing with racism post 9/11. They’re two young people trying to navigate through life. They learn and grow and have challenges just like any other teenager…bullying, loneliness, heartbreak. Despite all of that they have dreams and aspirations and goals. Although their diversity is responsible for some of their troubles, it doesn’t overwhelm the story. The messages are universal and relatable.
The setting is in Samoa because it is what I know most intimately about and can describe best in detail–the landscape, oppressive heat, the culture, people. It is also not a place most often set in novels, so it has been a joy to share this little corner of the globe to international readers.
“Her heart wept when she realized that the hardest part about loving him was the idea that his love was never meant for her.”
Walking with a pronounced limp all her life has never stopped fifteen-year-old Kiva Mau from doing what she loves. While most girls her age are playing sports and perfecting their traditional Samoan dance, Kiva finds serenity in her sketchbook and volunteering at the run-down art center her extended family owns.
When seventeen-year-old Ryler Cade steps into the art center for the first time, Kiva is drawn to the angry and misguided student sent from abroad to reform his violent ways. Scarred and tattooed, an unlikely friendship is formed when the gentle Kiva shows him kindness and beauty through art.
After a tragic accident leaves Kiva severely disfigured, she struggles to see the beauty she has been brought up to believe. Just when she thinks she’s found her place, Ryler begins to pull away, leaving her heartbroken and confused. The patriarch of the family then takes a turn for the worse and Kiva is forced to give up her dreams to help with familial obligations, until an old family secret surfaces that makes her question everything.
Immersed in the world of traditional art and culture, this is the story of self-sacrifice and discovery, of acceptance and forbearance, of overcoming adversity and finding one’s purpose. Spanning years, it is a story about an intuitive girl and a misunderstood boy and love that becomes real when tested.
Sieni A.M. is a coffee addict, Instagram enthusiast, world traveler, and avid reader turned writer. She graduated as an English and History high school teacher from the University of Canterbury and is currently living in Israel with her husband and two daughters. “Scar of the Bamboo Leaf” is her second novel.