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Author Spotlight: Justina Ireland

February is Black History Month and currently there are some wonderful kidlit blogs highlighting African American authors and books featuring African American protagonists, such as Lee and Low's Black History Month Giveaway and The Brown Bookshelf. Here at the YA Highway, we thought it would be fun to take a look into the future and spotlight African American YA authors who have debut novels forthcoming. We are so pleased to introduce Justina Ireland, author of the upcoming YA thriller VENGEANCE BOUND, coming on April 2, 2013 from Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers. 

About the author: Justina is a YA author and purveyor of awesomeness who write books about dangerous girls. Learn more about her at and on twitter.

About the book: The Goddess Test meets Dexter in an edgy, compelling debut about one teen’s quest for revenge… no matter how far it takes her.

Cory’s mind houses the Furies—the hawk and the serpent—lingering always, waiting for her to satisfy their bloodlust. By day, she lives a normal life, but by night, she tracks down targets the Furies send her way. And she brings down Justice upon them. But when she meets a mysterious boy named Niko at her new school, she can’t figure out how she feels about him. For the first time, the Furies are quiet in her head around a guy. Does this mean that Cory’s finally found someone who she can trust, or are there greater factors at work? As Cory’s mind becomes a battlefield, with the Furies fighting for control, Cory will have to put everything on the line to hold on to what she’s worked so hard to build.

What books did you read when you were a teenager?

I loved category and historical romances when I was in high school. The soapier the better. I also read a ton of sci-fi and fantasy and those trashy thrillers that end up in the grocery store next to the magazines. Basically anything that let me escape for a few hours I completely devoured. Dean Koontz, Johanna Lindsey, Anne Rice. I read just about everything and I loved it all.

Can you tell us anything about the main character in your book (your influences, characters details, etc.)?

Amelie in Vengeance Bound is really the product of two things: my time spent in the Army and being a light-skinned black girl and the expectations attached to both of those situations. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met people in person and they’ve stared at me all googly-eyed and said “Oh, you don’t look anything like you sounded on the phone.” Translation: you don’t sound black. I always quip that I sound exactly like I look, and let them figure out their faux pas for themselves.

I used that experience in crafting Amelie. At first I wanted to make her a light-skinned black girl, but in scene after scene it just didn’t work. Amelie had to be able to go places without being noticed, or by getting noticed for superficial reasons, like guys hitting on her. I couldn’t see a person of color getting away with that, especially in the rural setting where Vengeance Bound takes place. But that’s my reality and I have to write what I know. In my experience I’m always getting noticed but mostly in the scope of my difference. And for most people different equals bad.

So Amelie became a stereotypical dumb blonde.

But that’s one of the things that I loved about writing Amelie. She doesn’t look like the girl who would go around killing men in the dark. She’s small and blond and pale with big blue eyes. She wears tight clothes and acts a little silly, so that people expect her to fit into this Barbie archetype. She uses that underestimation to her advantage when she hunts for the Furies’ victims.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Write what you want to write. I kind of hate how people like to tell authors “don’t write this” or “that’s dumb” or “everyone is over genre X”. It’s just not true. People are different, and we all need different stories. Even the most derivative story can be amazing if it’s done well. After all, how many fairy tale retellings are out there?

And just because your story is different or the same or like a hundred other things doesn’t mean you should give up on it or that it’s not marketable. I personally don’t care for Tom Clancy’s novels, but just because I don’t like something doesn’t mean tons of other people shouldn’t either. One of my least favorite things to read in book reviews is “I don’t know how anyone could like this book.” It’s a very narrow-minded statement. People are different and they like different things. And for the most part publishing reflects that.

So aspiring writers should write those stories they want to write. If the market is crowded you’ll just have to write a story that stands out from the crowd. Either way, you have to be true to your authorial voice. Otherwise, the work will suffer, period.

Writing should be fun. Ignore the naysayers and enjoy the ride.

What 3 words would you use to describe the publishing journey so far?

Slow as molasses.

Seriously, if you aren’t a patient person when you start out on your publishing journey, you will be by the end. Or you will be insane.

Are there any African American authors who have influenced your writing?

Angela Johnson is one of my favorite YA authors. Her Heaven trilogy is amazing, and I love her economy of words. She uses such few words to convey such strong meaning. I want to be able to do that one day. I also love Dia Reeves because her books are just plain awesome. She pushes limits in both Bleeding Violet and Slice of Cherry, and I love that.

Vengeance Bound on:
Indie Bound 
Barnes and Noble
Kristin Halbrook

Kristin Halbrook is the author of the critically-acclaimed young adult novels Nobody But Us (HarperTeen, 2013) and Every Last Promise (HarperTeen, 2015). She likes many things.

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  1. Yesss, bring on the books about dangerous girls! I love when MCs break the stereotypical molds suggested by their outward appearances. She sounds like a fun protagonist!

    And re: "slow as molasses" - TRUTH.

  2. Wow! The premise hooked me in right away! Furies living in your head? Fantastic! Also, love that Ireland isn't afraid to change things up to suit her story. Great advice to aspiring authors!

  3. Now THAT sounds like a seriously good book! And it was a really awesome interview as well. I loved the advice to aspiring authors. Definitely true, and totally encouraging.


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Item Reviewed: Author Spotlight: Justina Ireland Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Kristin Halbrook