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Books

The Kaleidoscope Sisters is the first novel in a young adult series hinging on the indomitable spirit of young women. It centers on fifteen-year-old Quinn and her younger sister, Riley, who is dying from a degenerative heart defect. As the novel opens, Riley is weeks away from her seventh birthday, and her decline is obvious. Years in and out of hospitals have left the family with no support system, but Quinn is determined to save her younger sister. In her quest, Quinn discovers a portal to another realm peppered with characters based in history, all of whom disappeared mysteriously. Aiding Quinn throughout her journey in the Other Realm is Meelie. Quinn learns that a new heart for Riley can be harvested in the Other Realm, but not without sacrifice. While Meelie helps Quinn come to terms with an impossible decision, Quinn uncovers the truth about Meelie’s disappearance and why she never returned home. The book chronicles Quinn’s journey, focusing on the inevitability of loss and the realization that no matter what Quinn decides, her mother must lose one of her daughters.

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“Simultaneously odd and intriguing.”
– Kirkus Reviews

“Stephens’ poetic writing is beautiful . . . and deftly blends realism and fantasy.”
-Booklist Online

“This novel is a heartrending story of the deep love of family and the hardships of terminal disease and loss…that is Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper mixed with Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story…”
– School Library Journal

“Stephens masterfully chips away at Quinn’s exterior, revealing a girl who is sometimes humorous, at times heartbreaking, and always authentic.”
-Cecilia Galante

“Written with the sweet clarity of a child’s eye and the depth of life’s toughest challenges…The Kaleidoscope Sisters is adorned with an array of unforgettable characters in a realm touched by magic and wonder.”
-Morowa Yejidé

Both Desarae Lee and Ronnie K. Stephens draw on art as a form of catharsis. Both have struggled with anxiety and mood disorders. For them, art is a place of healing or, at the very least, a place of respite. Stephens found the same solace in Lee’s illustrations, and she found something similar in Stephens’ words. And so they became friends who spoke in ekphrastics, who somehow mastered a form of collective meditation that spanned thousands of miles, who spent years in different cities without ever growing apart.

Awarded Best in Show, 
2018 New England Book Show

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“…a beautiful, modern poetry collection featuring narrative poems about women, whether they be lover, mother, ex or little girl, and their relationships to the obstacles that shaped them into heroines of strength and wisdom. Mostly told from the point of view of a male who bears witness to their everyday miracles, this collection is both intelligent and accessible. There is an undercurrent of a single family’s story connecting each poem to the next. Ronnie K. Stephens’ ability to paint with language is expertly connected to artist Desarae Lee, whose illustrations evoke whimsy, fantasy, and a kind of grief that threads through each narrator’s story. Her work is reminiscent of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are.”

“Stephens hides nothing in these poems, walking us through time with the eye of a journalist and the heart of a friend. Both confessional and rooted firmly in the outer world, aware of all its miseries yet finding all the pinpricks of light—in the eyes of lovers, daughters, students and even himself.”

Stirring Literary Review

“Ronnie Stephens is a poet who writes a poem about a word he doesn’t fully understand. How so? Perhaps this is because his other mouth is a violin. Or, perhaps this is because he understands that speaking in tongues is the secret to any speaking. What I loved most about these poems is that there is an unmistakable sense of time, a weight of time, a spell of time, in these poems of incantation and intimacy. Here, the refrigerators sound like bluebirds, fathers become totems. Here too, the smell of garlic and mashed garbanzo beans overpower a life. This is a wonderful debut.”
-Ilya Kaminsky

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“Universe in the Key of Matryoshka is a ballad crafted carefully in the hands of Ronnie K. Stephens. These poems are simple, yet wild beasts that sing with all the love these poems hold: love for family, love for women, love for a mother and a wife, love for self. These words dazzle with their unmoving, unrelenting fierceness, or as Stephens would say, ‘I carry histories in my marrow and I will not buckle. I never learned how.’ May we all aspire to be so solid.”
-Danez Smith

“Ronnie K. Stephens’ Universe in the Key of Matryoshka operates much like a Matryoshka doll itself, one world opening into another. This is a poet of exceptional craft and image who charts ‘the shame of survival’ utilizing autobiography and confession to undress a deeper truth about masculinity, education, love, and loss. Stephens is a cartographer of nostalgia who reminds us that even at our bleakest ‘there is still a fire in your bones.’”
-Hieu Minh Nguyen