Just Ash: An Interview with Author Sol Santana

Set in contemporary Salem, Massachusetts, Just Ash is a heartrending but ultimately empowering journey of an intersex boy learning to embrace both his body and his identity. Ash Bishop has never thought much about being intersex. But when he gets his period during soccer practice his friends and teachers start to view him differently, and his own mother thinks he should “try being a girl.” Gradually, Ash realizes that he needs to stand up for who he really is, or the cost of his silence might destroy his life. With Intersex Awareness Day coming on October 26th, this book is the perfect addition to your fall TBR list.

Today we welcome author Sol Santana to talk about the decisions she made while writing, the story’s setting, and her hopes for young adult readers.

Is intersex a real condition? 

100%.  A significant minority of people are born with genital or chromosomal conditions that don’t adhere to the accepted sex binary, e.g. mixed genitalia or gonads.  We often don’t know about these people because their parents elect to operate on them in infancy and withhold their medical information from them growing up.  The intersex community is estimated to make up 2% of the population, but may be even higher because of insufficient records.

What made you decide to write about this? 

I think it’s about time people knew that intersex people exist, because most people just don’t, and that’s not an accident.  We’re long overdue for a conversation on why we shouldn’t be mutilating children, or forcing them to conform to a sex binary, to make ourselves feel more comfortable with them.  If we were cutting off people’s fingers or ears shortly after they were born, the backlash would be unthinkable.  If a someone presents with characteristics of both sexes, it is not up to anyone but that person to decide what they really are.  And I think the existence of intersex opens the door for an even bigger conversation about bigotry in general.  How can trans and non-binary identities be invalid if the sex binary doesn’t really exist?  If the sex binary doesn’t really exist, how can we police which sex men and women are allowed to marry?  Intersex people are here to change the world, not shut up.

Why Salem, Massachusetts? 

Because it’s a fun, scenic town.  Besides, the parallels are uncanny.  Salem was the first well-known place in America where standing out in society meant a literal death sentence.  We’ve gotten better, but there’s still room for improvement!

What do you hope readers will take away from this book? 

Empathy and love.  The world we live in would be so much different if we loved each other without needing a reason.  When you put yourself in another person’s shoes, you become that person, for a little while.  It’s magical.

What do you hope happens next? 

That other intersex writers will feel encouraged to come forward with their experiences and continue the dialogue!

Teacher Resources

Download this free discussion guide to start conversations in the classroom!

Watch Sol Santana Introduce the Book

Praise for Just Ash

★”There are few books and even fewer authors who have endeavored to give readers a real glimpse into the life of an intersex teen, which is just one reason Santana’s debut is so unique. . . . Santana—who is intersex herself—has written a smart and deeply introspective main character with whom readers will easily sympathize.”—starred, Booklist

“[T]his title offers frank education about intersex people and representation for an underrepresented group. Harrowing but hopeful.”—Kirkus Reviews

“An empowering, recommended story about Ash’s fight to define himself on his own terms.”—School Library Journal

“A page-turning, harrowing, but ultimately empowering tour-de-force…a must read for all humans.”—I. W. Gregorio, author of None of the Above and This is My Brain in Love

“A tough, powerful, necessary read, especially as Intersex Awareness Day approaches.” —BuzzFeed

Connect with Sol

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