In One of the Good Ones, Maritza Moulite reminds us that the present is past

January 22, 2021
Maritza Moulite

Maritza Moulite’s lifelong passion for language and story have led to this momentous month:

January 5, just before starting her second semester as a Penn GSE doctoral student Moulite’s second Young Adult novel One of the Good Ones was published to rave reviews. Kirkus called it “close to perfection.” Co-written with her sister Maika, the book explores personal growth and change amid a greater struggle for social justice.

 Now as a first-generation Haitian-American author Moulite is paving the way for a new generation of young readers to see themselves reflected in books. As an emerging scholar in Penn GSE’s Reading, Writing, and Literacy program, she’s understanding how children learn to read — and the social implications of being labeled “at risk.”

Growing up, Moulite was constantly checking out books from the library because her parents wouldn’t let her watch TV during the week.

“I read a lot but the books I read weren’t diverse,” she reflects. “Sometimes I felt compelled to write, but I didn’t think that it was possible for me to be the kind of author I wanted to be.”

One of the Good Ones explores the aftermath of the death of social justice activist Kezi from the perspective of her sisters Happi and Genny, who go on a journey using a copy of The Negro Motorist Green Book to honor their sister. “We think it will leave you shook and wondering what it really means to be an ally,” says Moulite.


The Moulite sisters sold the book two years ago, before they’d ever heard the names Breonna Taylor or George Floyd. But there was a name that spoke to them and prompted the story: Trayvon Martin. In the author letter in One of the Good Ones, the Moulites describe being at a funeral for a great aunt several years ago.

“We were walking through the cemetery looking at the mausoleum wall, and one of the names we saw was Trayvon Martin. It was so jarring,” Moulite reflects. “We knew he was from Miami, and he had gone to the same schools as our sister at different times. It was a terrible reminder about what happens to Black people, especially Black young people. It really stayed with us. It was a lightbulb moment; this boy was part of our community.”

As older sisters, they began thinking about what it would look like to explore a story about a Black person dying unjustly through the perspective of a young Black woman.

“You can’t have a conversation about race and prejudice in contemporary times without talking about the past, because everything is so intertwined, and you have to see it in context. We used The Negro Motorist Green Book as an anchor to our story,” explains Moulite, who is quick to point out that while there is no denying that the issues of police violence and racial justice are on more people’s radars after last summer, it is far from a new issue.

Identity and justice are themes in the Moulite sisters’ work. In Dear Haiti, Love Alaine, their debut YA novel, published in 2019, the lead character is suspended. It includes a scene where Alaine’s parents explain how Black girls are more likely to get suspended.

After exploring these questions in fiction, Moulite is delving into their implications in the classroom. 

“In my program, we’re talking about the social, racial, and gender implications of what that means and how teachers and administrators interact with students based on their identities,” Moulite said.

Her journey to Penn GSE began with a year of service as an AmeriCorps member with Florida Reading Corps. Before then, she wasn’t sure the path she wanted her career to take.

Her time in the Corps was wonderful, but Moulite saw the inequities that children of marginalized communities must often contend with while developing important literacy skills.

“It changed my life,” she said. “Those questions bothered me enough to go back to school.” 

As she juggles being a student and author, Moulite and her sister are finding ways to connect with and inspire younger readers.

Moulite and her sister donated books to students at their high school and hosted a Q&A. Moulite remembers when author Brad Meltzer did the same when she was a student. “Being able to return that favor 10 years later was mind boggling to us,” she shares. “We’re in talks now with our local bookstore to be able to do more virtual school visits. Speaking to young people is something we’re very passionate about. Young adult literature is so popular, but it’s for youth and we want to be sure we’re listening to them.”

In addition to being an author, Moulite is enjoying being a student again. “I really am enjoying my experience at Penn GSE,” she says. “It’s made me push myself and allowed professors, advisors, and classmates to push me in ways I couldn’t have on my own.” Moulite notes that she still has a lot to learn and is trying to use this time to explore as much as she can and think about how she can contribute to the field. “I’m trying to figure out what my piece can be in this puzzle.”