By Lisa Gachara
“Everyone has a unique story, a unique perspective, and unique identities, intersecting identities, that intrigue me to grow and learn more.”
Jay Coles, author of Things We Couldn’t Say, presents the complexities of identity, along with issues within society, through the story of Giovanni Zander.
Gio is a 17-year-old high school student who finds solace in playlists and being with his close friends but is ultimately adrift in his search for internal and external peace.
Through this young adult perspective of different lived experiences, the author guides readers through a journey of understanding within different topics varying from race to community to family.
From his own fears and desires, author Jay Coles incorporates his young adult experiences into the development of the main character, Gio, inviting readers to reflect and expand on their own perspective and position within society.
Through Ayesha, who is inspired by personality traits of the women in his own life, the author empowers Black women by rewriting their position and significance in literature. He shares the intentionality behind presenting a supporting character who is not supporting at all, and not comedic relief, but rather has her own storyline and experiences, including finding love.
As the characters grow through their individual challenges, Coles represents today’s youth in a manner that transcends ethnicity. In doing so, he provides a “diverse perspective but also a diversity of issues the characters face: disability, mental health, poverty, gentrification.”
In addition, contemporary cultural experiences for queer youth of color are illustrated in this YA novel. For example, the main character’s fear of abandonment partially stems from society’s tendency to ostracize this community.
The family unit, and brokenness within it, presents readers with an understanding of the complexities of building a family. The redefinition of family that occurs for Gio parallels reality in the real world, especially for LGBTQ and Black communities.
Rather than ignoring the presence or absence of parents, Jay Coles uses a young adult perspective to bring forth the significance of a parent’s position in one’s character. Within the parental dynamics of this story, from a present father-son to an absent mother-son, readers come to understand alongside the main character that parents are “also broken people, with hurts and wounds from their parents.” A topic of discussion often neglected in YA.
Things We Couldn’t Say, released September 21st, is inquisitive by nature in that it presents issues in the modern world, while also requesting reflection from readers within their own lives.
In pursuit of “painting all the diversity of the world in a positive light” in this novel, author Jay Coles speaks to the fears and excitement that accompany its release. And while this story is personal to him, he looks forward to seeing how lives will be changed by reading this book, especially for youth of color.
Jay Coles is a graduate of Vincennes University and Ball State University. When he’s not writing diverse books, he’s advocating for them, teaching middle school students, and composing for various music publishers. His debut novel Tyler Johnson Was Here is based on true events in his life and inspired by police brutality in America. His sophomore novel, Things We Couldn’t Say, will be published by Scholastic Press on September 21, 2021. He resides in Indianapolis, Indiana, and invites you to visit his website at jaycoleswrites.com.
Lisa Gachara is a graduate student at the Duke Global Health Institute. Kenyan-born, she is passionate about the health and well-being of children worldwide. As a student, advocate, and storyteller she strives to promote global health through media which currently takes place through her blog and podcast.