‘WANT’, ‘RUSE’, and Why Diversity Is Important in YA: Interview With Cindy Pon

Reading Time: 5 minutes
RUSE cover and Cindy Pon
Image By Simon Pulse

RUSE By Cindy Pon

“I continue to write for teen Cindy who never got to see herself in all the books that she read.”
Cindy Pon

WARNING: Spoilers for Pon’s first book, WANT.

I am given many books to review, and am selective with my time. When WANT came in the mail, I was immediately captivated by the handsome teen boy in a spacesuit. That boy was Jason Zhou, an orphan on the futuristic, polluted, and corrupt streets of Taipei. His world was one where only the rich could afford clean air and medical attention.

Jason and his friends put together a daring plan to change that world. I wrote a very positive review for this YA book by Cindy Pon. When I heard she had written a sequel, I was very excited to read what happened next.

In RUSE, the storytelling voice branches out to two other people in Jason’s world, his friend Lingyi, a tech wiz who is the ‘boss’ of the gang’s operations. And Daiyu, the daughter of one of the most powerful, rich (and corrupt) men in their world. She and Jason are dating in secret. Although the plan worked at the end of WANT, the group lost one of their best friends.

RUSE shows how that loss permeates all their hearts and minds as they continue to try and save their world. Jason wants to trust Daiyu, but neither of them has been completely honest with each other and when tensions rise, Jason must make a tough choice between the woman he loves and the friends he considers family.

I asked Cindy Pon about the themes and characters in WANT and RUSE, her environmental message, inspirations, and her work on the organization We Need Diverse Books.

GeekMom Rebecca:
Let’s start with Jason Zhou, the main character for both novels. How did he come to you? Was he first or the story first?

Cindy Pon:
WANT started as a short story titled “Blue Skies”, which serves as the first chapter in the novel. In that short story, I knew there would be a boy who would kidnap a girl, but I wasn’t quite sure why. And I didn’t know either of their stories. But I found Zhou intriguing enough to want to get to know him better and learn his background and what drives him. I feel like he and the story emerged together for me.

GeekMom Rebecca:
You write from other voice perspectives in RUSE. What were the challenges and/or fun writing as Lingyi or Daiyu?

Cindy Pon:
I think the most fun was that we got to get a glimpse of our hero through Lingyi and Daiyu’s eyes, which broadens the story. I definitely did have to delve deeper when writing from their points of view, which was the most challenging aspect.

GeekMom Rebecca:
One of the main themes is dealing with loss and guilt after a friend dies violently (at the end of WANT.) How did you approach each character’s differences with these complicated emotions?

Cindy Pon:
That was one way in which I had to understand each character more, and how they’d react to such a loss. I felt that Jason Zhou would definitely withdraw, because he led a large part of his life alone, dealing with tragedy and loss. I felt Lingyi’s reaction was the most important for me, as the designated leader of the group, she was very affected by Victor’s loss. Still, she struggled to lead, as the group looked to her for guidance. But in the end, they had to all come together in support and trust of each other.

GeekMom Rebecca:
Jason is torn between his loyalty to his friends and his love for Daiyu. What do you hope young readers get out of your book about this struggle?

Cindy Pon:
I would say that there aren’t always easy answers in life, and people are complicated? And sometimes you will be thrown into difficult situations where hard choices are presented. But mostly, how important friends truly are in our lives, and how important trust is as well, when we give it to those who matter to us.

GeekMom Rebecca:
Your books are both a love note and a warning to the city of Taipei for pollution. Where does your passion for environmentalism come from? Are you active in other ways other than writing? (which is important!)

Cindy Pon:
That’s an interesting question, as I never considered myself “passionate” about environmentalism. I think WANT stems more from my love of mother earth, and that would naturally fall into environmentalism. I just feel that this world we live in is such a precious gift, and it’s pretty clear to me how we are mistreating it. Much of what I show in WANT I grabbed directly from current headlines (or not so current now). I really want the readers to think about the path we are on, and where we are headed.

GeekMom Rebecca:
At the end of RUSE, one of the characters is taken to a Chinese prison in Shanghai and we get the impression that the political climate in your fictional future is the same as now. Do you have any hope for better relations between China and Taiwan in our world?

Cindy Pon:
I think it is fraught and complicated, and honestly, I do not know how it can resolve in a manner that both Taiwan and China would be happy with.

GeekMom Rebecca:
What are your literary influences as a child? Now?

Cindy Pon:
I really loved the “shoes” series by Noel Streatfeild; my favorites were Dancing Shoes and Ballet Shoes. As an adult, I’m a huge fan of Octavia Butler, Sarah Waters, Stephen King, and Ursula LeGuin. There are many writers I adore as well like Anna-Marie McLemore and Malinda Lo.

GeekMom Rebecca:
What inspires you to keep writing?

Cindy Pon:
I continue to write for teen Cindy who never got to see herself in all the books that she read.

GeekMom Rebecca:
Please tell me about We Need Diverse Books.

Cindy Pon:
We Need Diverse Books is a wonderful organization that has really brought the conversation of inclusivity in books to the forefront of children’s literature and young adult. Beyond that, they are a non-profit organization that has created amazing grants and opportunities like internship grants in publishing and mentorships for emerging writers.

GeekMom Rebecca:
Are you planning more books in the series? If so, do we get to hear from Arun and Iris?

Cindy Pon:
As of now, WANT and RUSE are complete as a duology. But I love this world and these characters, so never say never!

GeekMom Rebecca:
You have almost 50% female speaking characters in RUSE. That’s great! Do you keep track?

Cindy Pon:
Hmm. I honestly do not keep track. But it’s natural for me to feature women in my stories, because so many of them in my own life are amazing, inspiring, and encouraging of me.

GeekMom Rebecca:
Not only does this series feature ethnically diverse characters (from typical American YA fiction) but sexual orientation as well. Again, is this intentional or did your characters just write out that way?

Cindy Pon:
I definitely aim to write All Asian All the Time as I joke. But it’s really not a joke, because I follow through? As for my girls in love, I’m not sure it was such a conscious decision as the ethnic diversity. But I do believe that writers will tend to gravitate to topics, themes, characters that speak to them.

GeekMom Rebecca:

Thank you so much, Cindy, for taking the time to answer my questions. I highly recommend both WANT and RUSE to the GeekMom community for upper YA.

 

Female Speaking Characters: 50% (11/24)

Ethnic Diversity: Yes. Set in Taiwan and China with all Asian cast.

Sexual Diversity: Yes. Two main characters are LGBTQ.

GeekMom received a copy for review purposes.

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