An independent publisher of nonfiction titles for adults for more than a quarter century, Santa Monica Press will launch a line of books for teens next February.

Publisher Jeffrey Goldman, a Los Angeles native who founded Santa Monica Press in 1994, was motivated to make the foray into YA by his decade of experience as a board member, board chair, and classroom volunteer with the nonprofit literacy organization Words Alive. Especially compelling was his work as a writing facilitator at the Monarch School in San Diego, which serves children impacted by homelessness.

“I knew from my own children’s education and from my friendships with the librarians at their school that YA literature could have a profound effect on a young person,” Goldman said. “But what I saw at the Monarch School was how YA literature could literally change lives. High school kids who barely had an interest in school sparked to the carefully chosen books in Words Alive’s curriculum.”

The publisher recalled a particularly pivotal encounter he had with a student who had recently arrived at Monarch after having been in and out of various schools and detention situations. “This boy was one of the most amazing student writers I’d ever come across,” Goldman said. “But he thought nothing of it, because he had never had anybody at home to encourage him, until he read the book Words Alive gave him: Jimmy Baca Santiago’s memoir, A Place to Stand. That book changed his life. He became devoted to his writing.”

And Goldman became committed to an additional publishing mission. “I decided that it was time for Santa Monica Press to take on a new challenge that would impact young readers, while at the same time raise funds through book sales to help support literacy organizations such as Words Alive,” he said. The press will donate a percentage of the proceeds from its new teen imprint to this and other nonprofit groups dedicated to promoting literacy.

Bringing the List to Life

Santa Monica Press/Teen’s debut list comprises two memoirs and two novels: Pork Belly Tacos with a Side of Anxiety: My Journey Through Depression, Bulimia, and Addiction by Yvonne Castañeda, Flowing with the Pearl River: Memoir of a Red China Girl by Amy Chan Zhou, The Dressmaker’s Daughter: A Novel by Linda Boroff, and Ventura and Zelzah: A Novel by J.G. Bryan. Santa Monica Press books are distributed by PGW.

Noting that Santa Monica Press/Teen will issue between six and 10 titles annually, Goldman observed that its launch list is representative of the imprint’s focus going forward. “True to our roots, it’s a diverse mix,” he said.

A look at the debut releases bears this out. In Pork Belly Tacos with a Side of Anxiety, Yvonne Castañeda shares her story of growing up in Miami as the daughter of a Mexican mother and a Cuban father, struggling with the conflict between the cultural norms of her Latino heritage and American societal expectations. Amy Chan Zhou’s memoir, Flowing with the Pearl River, chronicles her family’s harrowing experiences during the Cultural Revolution in China and their eventual emigration to the U.S.

Goldman emphasized the value of memoirs by authors “with unique voices and relatable stories,” which he said the press is actively seeking for its YA list. “Working with teens in the classroom, I have seen the impact memoirs can have on readers when they realize that authors have gone through crises similar to those they are battling themselves,” he said. “If not life-saving, this reading experience can be life-changing.”

Historical fiction—especially work that spotlights the 20th century—is also a focal point of Santa Monica Press/Teen, as evidenced by the imprint’s two debut novels. Providing what Goldman called “a unique perspective on the Holocaust,” The Dressmaker’s Daughter by Linda Boroff centers on a brave Jewish teen who endures the brutality of the Nazi troops invading her Romanian homeland, and who ultimately escapes to freedom. In Ventura and Zelzah, J.G. Bryan relays the coming-of-age tale of four boys in suburban Los Angeles in the confusing, permissive 1970s.

Goldman pointed out that the imprint’s second list will include a work of fiction that ventures into an earlier century—the 19th. Set during the Civil War, The Revenge of Joe Wild by Andrew Komarnyckyj introduces an Illinois boy who goes on the run and joins the Union Army after being falsely accused of murdering his friend. The novel, Goldman quipped, is “a book in the grand tradition of the Great American Novel—only written by a Brit! I assure you, we will always keep things eclectic here at Santa Monica Press.”