Book Review: Color Outside the Lines edited by Sangu Mandanna – An Anthology About Interracial Relationships; A Heartfelt Celebration of the Diversity of Love

TEXT: Color Outside the Lines: Stories about Love, edited by Sangu Mandanna. Hands of different skin tones holding each other frame the image. Bottom right corner: Xiaolong the pink axolotl with an upside down flower hat at the center of a stamp, with the text "Review by CW, The Quiet Pond" around it.

This modern, groundbreaking YA anthology explores the complexity and beauty of interracial and LGBTQ+ relationships where differences are front and center.

When people ask me what this anthology is about, I’m often tempted to give them the complicated answer: it’s about race, and about how being different from the person you love can matter but how it can also not matter, and it’s about Chinese pirate ghosts, black girl vigilantes, colonial India, a flower festival, a garden of poisons, and so, so much else. Honestly, though? I think the answer’s much simpler than that. Color outside the Lines is a collection of stories about young, fierce, brilliantly hopeful people in love.—Sangu Mandanna, editor of Color outside the Lines

CW’s review:

A few years ago, I talked about how I craved a good story about interracial relationships beyond a superficial portrayal. I wanted a story that examined the ups and downs of being in an interracial relationship, to illustrate the complexities and the challenges and the dynamics and the unexpected joys and challenges of being in an interracial relationship. Such a book would have held my whole heart with its words, as I craved to see my experiences of being in an interracial relationship depicted in a story. Thus, when I saw that Eric Smith, one of the contributing authors to the anthology, announced that Sangu Mandanna was editing the Color Outside the Lines anthology, I was over the moon; I was thrilled beyond words.

Earlier this year, I wrote a post: Sixteen Reasons Why You Should Read Color Outside the Lines in November. And now that the release of this anthology is only a month away, I’m so excited to share with you all my thoughts on this book. Color Outside the Lines meant so much to me, and it was a joy to read from start to finish, especially since I got to see my own experiences of having an interracial relationship across the wonderful stories throughout Color Outside the Lines. I loved this book, and I hope my review of its stories will convince you all to read this too.

Turn the Sky to Petals by Anna-Marie McLemore

If you love McLemore’s gorgeous writing, then you’ll be pleased to know that Turn the Sky to Petals is as beautiful and vivid as you would expect. The story centers on a Romani boy and a Latinx girl who, unexpectedly and by chance, meet in a small town, and are brought together by their passions, their dedication to their craft, and their experiences of chronic pain. The writing in this story is lush, soft, and the story also speaks of the prices we may for pursuing our dreams and the terrifying beauty of taking chances. This story deals less with the dynamics and challenges associated with interracial relationships, but is more about how two people from different backgrounds and passions meet by chance, and introduces the reader to the wonderful beauty of love from different backgrounds.

What We Love by Lauren Gibaldi

The following story is a sweet contemporary, set in a high school, and follows Jewish girl, Viv, and Indian boy, Nikhil, who band together to enact revenge on the ‘mean and popular’, but racist and horrible girl at school. I adored this story, and loved seeing how Viv and Nikhil, who set out to be just partners-in-crime begin to learn about each other and that, despite their differences, they share mutual love for the important and meaningful things. I also loved how this story depicted the awkward but earnest process of learning about each other, and finding joy in exploring their differences. The story has a lovely ending – and if you know Rose’s iconic line in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, then you will have an inkling of how it may end. (Also, look out for the ‘we shouldn’t be here so let’s pretend to be a couple to blend in!’ trope, which made me absolutely weak in the knees.)

Giving Up The Ghost by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas

Perhaps the most original and wildest story in the anthology, Giving Up The Ghost is set in an alternate reality where people are haunted by the ghost of their ancestors. Sanjiv is a South Asian teen who is plagued by his ancestor, Ching Shih*. Nearing his birthday where he can remove his ghost for good, Sanjiv struggles with confessing to his crush (despite Ching Shih’s persistent demands to just talk to her) and grapples with the conflicting personalities, conflicting differences, and conflicting cultures between him and Ching Shih, and considers undergoing the procedure to remove her from his life. Indeed, although this story was a wild ride from start to finish, I found it incredibly charming and endearing. Although I found Ching Shih’s diction to be less of the fearsome pirate that she was and more of a whiny child, it made the story much more fun. This is certainly a story that doesn’t take itself seriously, so leave your expectations at the door, and enjoy this story.

*If you don’t know Ching Shih, quick history lesson: Ching Shih was a Chinese pirate who lived 1775 – 1844, and she – yes! she! – was the most successful pirate in history. She commanded the largest crew ever assembled, evaded capture by the Chinese government (and gave them a lot of grief in the process), and was eventually granted amnesty in exchange for her surrender. With her booty, she opened a gambling house and brothel, and eventually died as a free woman.

Your Life Matters by L.L. McKinney

I have several favourites in this anthology, but Your Life Matters, about a Black teen superheroine named Candace and her white girlfriend, or ‘the gal in the chair’, that surprised and delighted me the most. Centered in the context of the Black Lives Matter movement and police violence, this story tackles the interpersonal conflict that arises when you date someone with a racist family, and how that racism is challenged. McKinney dives into exploring this challenging topic and does so unapologetically and without taking the easy way out. Despite the heavy subject matter, the tone of this short story is ultimately hopeful and speaks of the potential for change and goodness. I loved this story immensely, and although I wish it was a novel, it worked perfectly as a short story as well. A highlight of the anthology.

Starlight and Moondust by Lori M. Lee

I enjoyed Lee’s story in A Thousand Beginnings and Endings, and I enjoyed this one as well. Lee has a wonderful way of words when describing scenery, and I love how she brings the night and stars alive with her storytelling. This story follows a Hmong girl, Hlee, and her meeting with Argus, a white boy who resides with an elderly niam tai who is a healer. It’s a wonderful tribute to stories and their beauty, and how just because they are different and from another culture, it doesn’t make them silly or absurd. The ending was such a fantastical and unexpected twist, and I loved the fairytale-like feel of Starlight and Moondust.

Five Times Shiva Met Harry by Sangu Mandanna

I adored this story, and am thankful for its inclusion in the anthology. The story follows Shiva, an Indian girl, and Harry, a White boy, whose meet-cute and the magic of subsequent meetings is interrupted by Shiva’s father, who calls Harry out on his ignorance and privilege, and how this changes the trajectory of their relationship. This story was brilliant; I loved the dynamics in this story, but I also love what this story represents for interracial relationships. And maybe I say this with a bias, but I found the story utterly delightful – but I think that’s because it made me feel a little vindicated. Nonetheless, the story is ultimately hopeful and optimistic, and its open ending worked wonderfully in the context of this story.

The Agony of a Heart’s Wish by Samira Ahmed

Whew, this story was rough (in a good way) and I cried my eyes out after. The story follows an Indian girl, Tara, and her chance meeting with an Irish soldier, Jimmy. Set during Colonial India and although both are from different worlds, it follows the two who are drawn together by attraction and bond over Yeats’s poetry. The story also explores how people have the power to change our lives and open our eyes to a different narrative and world, the power of words and how words can change others, and the consequences – for better or worse. A heartbreaking story, but immensely powerful despites its short length.

The Coward’s Guide to Falling in Love by Caroline Tung Richmond

This was such a cute story, and I really liked the unconventional ending to this. It follows Juliet, a Chinese-American teen, who has a crush – a crush so big that it feels like it’d be the end of her – on Milo, a Montenegrin teen. Both are musicians (Juliet is a violinist and Milo is a cellist!), and it follows the day Juliet decides to confess to Milo. The problem: she’s a massive coward. I related to Juliet’s anxieties about confessing, but I also loved the story for its cacophony of missed opportunities and incongruent expectations and the messy hope of it all. This story was absolutely endearing and lovely.

Death and the Maiden by Tara Sim

I adored this, and it was easily one of my favourites in the anthology. This is the f/f Hades and Persephone retelling that my heart never knew it needed. It follows Parvani, an Indian teen, who gives her life to be one of Hades’ brides – though she has an ulterior motive. This book had such spectacular atmosphere that oscillated between eerie and beautiful, and was brilliantly written with vivid and gorgeous imagery. I also loved how Sim deftly interwove great themes such as the price of life, price of death, consent, and the cost of sacrifice without compromising the excellent and simple story and the development of the romance.

Faithfull by Karuna Riazi

A majority of the stories in this anthology is about romances, so it was a lovely to see a story about mixed families. It follows Emmeline and the fraught relationship she has with her mother, who is going through her new umpteenth boyfriend. (The new boyfriend is Morrocan.) This story is centered around friendships in the context of Sunday School at the mosque, about Em navigating new experiences, internal conflict and the fallout of pushing people away, and also grappling with the absence of her father. For a short story, Riazi incorporates a stunning amount of emotional depth into her story, and the ending was ultimately heartwarming and hopeful.

Gilman Street by Michelle Ruiz Keil

Set in the early 90’s and in the Bay Area punk scene, the story follows Tam, a biracial and bisexual Mexican teen, and her wild evening after meeting Lourdes who takes her to a gig at Gilman Street. Gilman Street examines biracial identity, the idea of being enough, and how people come into our lives as hurricanes and that is all they may ever be to us. The ending of the book was sweet, though I didn’t expect the direction of the story at all. Nonetheless, it ends with an optimistic note.

The Boy Is by Elsie Chapman

I felt Chapman’s story in my soul, and loved that this story was in the anthology. The story follows Holly shortly after breaking up with her boyfriend who, she inadvertently discovers, has yellow fever and was only dating her to check an Asian off his list (a reality that a lot of Asian girls are probably familiar with). It explores the hopes parents have for their children (and the weight of those hopes) and how those hopes seep into expectations of one’s love life (thank goodness my parents aren’t like this, but I know a lot of parents who are), and interrogates the idea of compatibility, and how that intersects with race, of two people. Told with a bit of tongue-in-cheek, this story was ultimately delightful, interesting, and a fun read.

Sandwiched by Eric Smith

I loved this story, and I hope that more of these stories will be told. Why? Because this story follows Amina, a Middle-Eastern teen, and Mike, a Palestinian transracial adoptee, and how they both meet each other’s families on Thanksgiving. This story was wonderful – from how it depicts the awkward and sometimes messy first meet-the-parents, and how that awkwardness and messiness is doubled when parents lack tact about racial differences. The subtleties in the story were excellent, particularly the way Smith illustrated the dynamic between Amina and Mike – for a short story, the nuances in their dialogue and thoughts told me their story before Sandwiched began. In the end, this story is about the ups and downs of relationships, how interracial relationships can be challenging, but so loving and wonderful too.

Yuna and the Wall by Lydia Kang

Kang writes atmosphere wonderfully, and this shows in Yuna and the Wall. The story follows Yuna, the daughter of a poisoner who lives within the confines of her family’s farm, and Himil, the boy from over the wall. Both Yuna and Himil are ostracised by their community; Yuna, for being the daughter of a poisoner, and Himil, a survivor of the poxplague and is heavily scarred, and are both thus feared and alienated by the villagers. Most of the stories in this book explores the differences that exist across our lives and relationships, but this story celebrates that, sometimes, appearances and differences can be deceiving and how similarity and like can be beginning points of understanding and love.


There’s a dearth of young adult stories that explore the complexities of interracial relationships, and I am so thankful to have read this anthology and to feel pieces of my personal experiences represented in these stories. I think what I also liked that, although a significant portion of the stories in Color Outside the Lines centered on relationships that involved a white partner (and a common critique of interracial relationships depicted in YA is that it always involves a person of colour and a white person), the character’s whiteness was always interrogated, the implications of power differences also explored.

Although not all of the stories are message-driven, I liked that all stories grapple with differences at some point, which, I would say, is a reality of interracial relationships. As you can probably tell from my review, the stories across this anthology are highly diverse, and that represents interracial relationships quite perfectly: that love can be diverse and that is what makes it wonderful.

Goodreads | Book Depository | My short review on Goodreads

Is this book for you?

Premise in a sentence: An young adult short story anthology about interracial relationships.

Perfect for: Readers who love anthologies; want to read something a little different and new; want to read about interracial relationships.

Think twice if: If anthologies aren’t your thing; if you aren’t a big romance reader.

Genre: anthology contains: romance, contemporary, science-fiction, fantasy, historical

Let’s discuss!

This was such a long review, but I hope you all enjoyed it and are excited to pick up Color Outside the Lines when it releases on November 12th! It’s so refreshing to see stories about interracial relationships, and I hope that this anthology paves the way and inspires writers to explore the sometimes-complicated, sometimes-frustrating, but mostly-wonderful dynamic of interracial relationships.

  • What story are you looking forward to reading in Color Outside the Lines?
  • Have you read a story about an interracial relationship before? What was it, and do you recommend reading it?

3 thoughts on “Book Review: Color Outside the Lines edited by Sangu Mandanna – An Anthology About Interracial Relationships; A Heartfelt Celebration of the Diversity of Love

  1. I have to admit I’m especially curious about “Giving Up the Ghost.” First of all, Ching Shih promises some interesting historical perspective. Also, the ancestor-advising-descendant dynamic sounds like a great way to explore how family figure into the relationship equation. It’s never as simple as 1+1=2, after all.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s