Friday, January 21, 2011

Author Yasmin Shiraz Takes On Retaliation

Author Yasmin Shiraz writes about the tough realities today's girls face, especially when it comes to peer pressure and fights. In her novel, Retaliation, 17-year-old Tashera is brutally attacked by a group of high school girls. Can Tashera, her mother, and her brother (who considers rejoining a gang to send a message) rise above their anger? Or, will they fuel the cycle of violence and retaliation?

We had a chance to ask this inspiring writer, filmmaker, and WedTV producer a few questions:


What motivated you to write Retaliation?

I visit schools and after-school programs conducting workshops on self-esteem, youth issues, teen pregnancy and the like. In one of my workshops, girl fights were brought up. I began to do additional research on girl fights, the fights on YouTube, and girl fights across the country. Once I started to do the research, I knew that I had to do a book that addressed girl fights and the retaliation that comes as a result of it.

Did any of your experiences as a teenager, or the people you knew at the time, make it into the book?

Yasmin Shiraz
The feeling of helplessness, the feeling that nobody understands what you're going through -- those were all my genuine feelings from when I was a teenager. I incorporated a lot of my teen experiences in several of the characters in Retaliation. For Tashera's character, I drew on my personal experiences of having girls pick on me when I was in high school even when I hadn't done anything to them.  For Alexandra's character, I saw so many people in high school who wanted to fit in no matter what the cost. So, a lot of my feelings made it into the lives of the characters in Retaliation.

The characters face difficult and violent life-and-death situations. Are they modeled after your own experiences as a teenager or young adult?

When I was in 11th grade, I was attacked from behind as I was about to get into a car with this guy who liked me. I didn't know why this girl had pulled my head and my hair. Apparently, she was dating this guy or used to date this guy and didn't appreciate the fact that he wanted to drive me home after the dance. In the moment that she yanked the back of my head, I was overwhelmed with feelings of having to protect myself, but also being completely clueless as to why I was being attacked. Though I have never been jumped, per se, I've had experiences -- violent ones -- in which I've had to defend myself. I have a little bit of Tashera inside of me in that respect.  
Also, I wanted to show in Retaliation that the person who is fighting is not necessarily always the aggressor. I've been in fights in school, I've been suspended from school, but never have I been the aggressor. In situations like Tashera's, people often blame the victim and say, "She asked for it...." or, "She must have done something." Sometimes with girl fights, a girl doesn't like you, and she'll do everything she can to make your life miserable, including trying to beat you up.

Shiraz wrote the film
"Can She Be Saved?"
Were there times when you felt like retaliating? How did you handle it? 

I remember one time feeling like retaliating and that was with the girl who yanked my head and hair. She was wrong for that, and I was so angry about it. Me and my friends went to her school, and after a basketball game we were planning to beat her and her friends up. It's not my proudest moment. But she and her friends were so scared that they wouldn't leave the building. They stayed in the school and got the police so that we would leave. It was a good thing because I don't know what would have happened to me if I got a hold of the girl who yanked my head and hair...

Otherwise, I haven't had any other instances of feeling like I needed to retaliate. After high school, I didn't even have any more problems with girls or young women where I felt that I had to defend myself.

 Did you get along with your parents as a teen? Who else influenced you?

I got along with my parents as much as any other teen. My parents went through a divorce when I was a teenager so it was a little strange around my household for a while. Thankfully, I connected to women from church and my favorite teachers were mentors to me. Many times when I couldn't talk to my parents about issues, I would reach out to my mentors, and they were always there for me.

I also had two best friends when I was in high school. We went through everything with each other. We were as close as sisters. Their friendship sustained me through my high school years. I was also heavily influenced by music. Music was and still is therapy for me. I believe music can make the world a better place.


  1. I can relate. I went to a HS with a 85:15, male:female, ratio. Many girl fights stemmed from insecurities with self, masked in the form of aggression. A little girl needs to be told she is beautiful...

  2. Melodie, you're right. So many girls' problems start with low self-esteem. We should all try to make sure the young women in our lives feel beautiful, smart, and valued. Thanks for commenting!