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#SJYALit: Walk A Mile In Their Shoes, a guest post by Christina June

sjyalitWhen I was in grad school, a required course for my degree was Multicultural Counseling.  An assignment in that class was to do something outside “your box” so you could experience what it feels like to be uncomfortable, maybe even upset, at what was happening around you.  It could be something as small as watching a movie or going to a restaurant.  My professor, an African-American woman, even offered to take any of us who wanted to go to her Baptist church.  One of my peers, a young white Morman guy, took her up on it.  She told us whatever experience we chose was to help us learn empathy for those who were different from us.  So we would be able to put our own biases aside when helping clients or students who came from different backgrounds.

 

At 22, I took that message with me not only during that assignment, but for every assignment, every client session, every interaction, then and now.  Though I’d been lucky to grow up in a fairly diverse area of the country, I’m aware that not everyone has the opportunity to interact regularly with people who are different from them.

 

With the chaotic political climate of the US, it’s hard not to see the cracks that have always been present widening into canyons.  The differences in philosophies on life are staggering and frankly, for me, confusing.  I think back to that class in grad school all the time and wish more people could get out of their boxes.  They way I see it, it all boils down to this:

 

  1. Some people are selfish.
  2. Some people are not selfish.

 

Sounds harsh, I know, but hear me out.  When I say selfish, I don’t mean a little kid who doesn’t want to share his toys.  I mean someone who puts their personal interests first, before the needs of the masses.  Someone who lacks empathy and compassion.  Someone who is unable to put themselves in the mind and body of someone else for a little while.  I’ll admit there are times when acting on one’s own behalf is important, but most of the time, when we think about the greater good, everyone wins.  Seems pretty simple, yeah?

 

But what if you’re not there yet?  This is where books can make a huge difference.

 

Books magically allow a reader to put themselves in the head of a narrator for several hours and feel what they feel.  They allow a reader to experience different ways of life—try them on for a little while—which can lead to greater understanding of others.  And once we realize that experiences are universal, it’s easy to see we’re more alike than not.

 

hate-uHave you lost a friend to tragedy?  Pick up THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas.

 

Is your romantic relationship complicated by your family dynamics?  Try IT’S NOT LIKE IT’S A SECRET by Misa Suguira or GIRL MANS UP by M-E Girard.

 

Feel like you’re the only one hiding something?  Check out THE THING WITH FEATHERS by McCall Hoyle.

 

 

It’s much easier to fight for your friends than strangers, right?  If you know someone, what they’ve been through, the specifics of their life and their struggles, you’re more likely to go to bat for them.  You’d probably think that fight was worth your time.  Books can help kids make new friends that’ll stick with them for their whole life and inform which battles they’re willing to walk into.  And the earlier they learn these lessons, the better off all of us will be.

 

Teachers, librarians, booksellers, mentors—they are all magicians.  They have the unique and tremendously important ability to put books in the hands of kids who need something.  Maybe they need that new friend.  Any book has the potential to change—or even save—a life.  Books can have a ripple effect for years and years and it is my sincere hope that the amazing books that are being written right now will make long-lasting impressions on young readers.

 

I don’t expect—or want—all my neighbors to look like me, love like me, or believe like me.  Many agree with me, but many do not.  However, I’m optimistic that the more we learn about others, the more we will consider them in our decisions.

 

Make new friends.  We’re all in this together.  There’s no I in Team.  Walk a mile in their shoes.  Together we stand, divided we fall.

 

We’re better when we lose the selfish and work to make sure everyone feels supported.  Books are a great starting point.

 

Meet Christina June

View More: http://hannahbjorndalphotography.pass.us/authorchristinajuneChristina June writes young adult contemporary fiction when she’s not writing college recommendation letters during her day job as a school counselor.  She loves the little moments in life that help someone discover who they’re meant to become – whether it’s her students or her characters.  Christina is a voracious reader, loves to travel, eats too many cupcakes, and hopes to one day be bicoastal – the east coast of the US and the east coast of Scotland.  She lives in Virginia with her husband and daughter.  Her debut novel, IT STARTED WITH GOODBYE, was released in May 2017, and a companion, EVERYWHERE YOU WANT TO BE, will be available in 2018.

 

About IT STARTED WITH GOODBYE by Christina June

goodbyeSixteen-year-old Tatum Elsea is bracing for the worst summer of her life. After being falsely accused of a crime, she’s stuck under stepmother-imposed house arrest and her BFF’s gone ghost. Tatum fills her newfound free time with community service by day and working at her covert graphic design business at night, which includes trading emails with a cute cello-playing client. If Tatum is reading his emails right, her virtual Prince Charming is funny, smart, and talented—and he seems to think the same about her. Too bad he’s spending his summer across the ocean in Ireland…not that Tatum would be allowed to go on a date anyway.

But over the course of the summer, Tatum will learn that sometimes going after what you want means breaking all the rules. And when Tatum discovers she’s not the only one in the house keeping secrets, she finds she has the chance to make amends with her family and friends. Equipped with a new perspective, and assisted by her feisty step-abuela-slash-fairy-godmother, Tatum is ready to start fresh and maybe even get her happy ending along the way. A modern play on the Cinderella story arc, Christina June’s IT STARTED WITH GOODBYE will appeal to fans of Sarah Dessen, Stephanie Perkins, and Jennifer E. Smith.

 

Book Review: Feral Youth edited by Shaun David Hutchinson

Publisher’s description

ra6Ten teens are left alone in the wilderness during a three-day survival test in this multi-authored novel edited by award-winning author Shaun David Hutchinson.

At Zeppelin Bend, an outdoor-education program designed to teach troubled youth the value of hard work, cooperation, and compassion, ten teens are left alone in the wild. The teens are a diverse group who come all walks of life, and were all sent to Zeppelin Bend as a last chance to get them to turn their lives around. They’ve just spent nearly two weeks hiking, working, learning to survive in the wilderness, and now their instructors have dropped them off eighteen miles from camp with no food, no water, and only their packs, and they’ll have to struggle to overcome their vast differences if they hope to survive.

Inspired by The Canterbury Tales, the characters in Feral Youth, each complex and damaged in their own ways, are enticed to tell a story (or two) with the promise of a cash prize. The stories range from noir-inspired revenge tales to mythological stories of fierce heroines and angry gods. And while few of the stories are claimed to be based in truth, they ultimately reveal more about the teller than the truth ever could.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

feralFirst things first: the stories in this book are written by Shaun David Hutchinson, Suzanne Young, Marieke Nijkamp, Robin Talley, Stephanie Kuehn, E. C. Myers, Tim Floreen, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Justina Ireland, Brandy Colbert.

 

Great lineup, right?

 

Zeppelin Bend camp, in Wyoming, is the last chance these characters have to turn their lives around. They’re all there for the trouble they landed themselves in. But as they each reveal their story (or parts of their stories, or dance around their stories), readers come to understand that the characters are (of course) more than just their alleged crimes and that they made the choices they did for very complicated reasons. The stories cover a lot of ground: arson, rape, bullying, revenge, theft, drugs, dress codes, runaways, fairy tales, mythology, other worlds, paranormal activity, ghosts, horror, and more. Some of the stories come in bits and pieces. It’s hard to tell what’s the whole story, if the narrators can be trusted, and who might by lying. But the one thing all these stories do is show the characters to be multifaceted people. At one point, Lucinda notes, “Our parents see us as these problems to solve, delinquents to deal with. But we’re more than that.” But, as another character points out, none of that really matters is if all people can see is what they’ve done. And, is what they’ve done really who they are? Does it define them, shape them, change them? And, even if they’re together at camp, and now together for three days as they wander the woods and share their stories, do they still really know each other? Or can you never really know someone? If nothing else, telling their stories gives them some sense of controlling the narrative about them, of being seen and heard, if only for a little bit by a few people.

 

I really enjoy this multi-author format (like Hutchinson did with VIOLENT ENDS, too). It’s such a smart way to tell a story with a wide cast of characters, one that really benefits from the variety of voices, writing styles, and diversity of identities that the authors bring. This is an easy recommendation, especially for reluctant readers, who may be drawn to the attention-grabbing format and that fast narrative pace. A great choice, too, for those who enjoy unreliable narrators. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781481491112

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Publication date: 09/05/2017

Things I Never Learned in Library School: That Time Someone Asked for Help Printing out Swastikas

thingsineverlearnedinlibraryschoolThese are charged political times. A little over a week ago, a group of white supremacists walked down the streets of an American town carrying Nazi flags. As a counter-protestor, Heather Heyer was killed by a white supremacist who drove his car into the crowd. The events of Charlottesville are being discussed everywhere, as they should be. But I was in no way prepared for the text I got from my co-worker the other day: I just had to help an older gentleman print off a bunch of swastikas.

My knee jerk reaction was: Wait – do we have to do that? Followed by, I imagine it’s a 1st Amendment issue. It’s a question I haven’t really stopped thinking about in the current context. And make no mistake, context is everything.

So I went to my friends on Twitter to get a feel for the crowd and the responses ranged from everything to:

1. No, I would no do that.

2. Yes, I would do that because I am the only white person at work and I would not want to make a poc co-worker be put in that position.

3. Yes, I would do that because it’s a free speech issue.

4. No, I would not do that because hate speech is not protected speech.

5. Can you ask them why they need it? (The answer to this question is that no, we can not. We don’t ask patrons why the are requesting the information they are requesting. It crosses important ethical boundaries regarding the freedom to seek information without judgment.)

Let me be clear here, my co-worker did help this patron. And I think in the end, it was probably the right thing to do from a librarian standpoint. And it’s not the first or last time a librarian has had to step outside of their comfort zone to help a patron. For example, I have had to hand many a patron the book Baby Wise which advocates baby training in a way that has been linked to the possible death of some babies. I personally loathe and detest those books, but I still have to help patrons find them in the library.

As a private citizen, I am staunchly anti-Nazi and white supremacy. But what are the professional boundaries we must follow? I have a personal answer to this question, but I am not sure what my administration would say. It’s not a conversation we’ve ever had to have before in our library. And make no mistake, Nazi flags and symbols are hate speech. They are symbols used by people to denote the superiority of the white race. Nazis literally support at a minimum the violation of the civil rights of people of color, people of non-Christian faiths, women and people with disabilities. In the extreme, they are advocating for genocide. These symbols make many people in our community unsafe and legitimately terrified, especially when they are used for anything other than educational purposes such as a lecture on these are what Nazi symbols look like and mean.

But as I mentioned, we have no way of knowing what a patron’s intent is. And does intent matter?

In many other countries, Nazi symbols are explicitly outlawed. That is not the case here in the United States.

This is entirely new territory for me, and I have been a librarian for almost 25 years now. It’s a question I’m personally wrestling with. And I am going to my administration to ask for clarification on what any future actions moving forward should be. I think we should all be having these discussions as we move forward and get all staff on the same page.

TPiB: Superhero Lock-In by Michelle Biwer

tpibThe recent release of the amazing Wonder Woman film was the perfect excuse to host another teen lock-in for two hours on a Friday evening.

With 3 floors of library to work with, there was lots of opportunity to let the teens run around (literally) and utilize all of our meeting rooms for different activities. With 4 staff members and 4 teen volunteers, we had at least one staff member on every floor and had teen volunteers to help lead different activities.

Icebreaker Activity: As we were waiting for all of the teens to arrive, a teen volunteer led a Superhero versus Villains version of the popular party game Mafia. This is a great team building and warmup activity because teense can join in the game as they arrive and the game can be ended at any time.

After the icebreaker activity, the teens were free to go to any of the 5 stations we had set up for the next hour.

Trivia Station: At my last TAB meeting a few teens had made superhero themed Kahoot! Quizzes. Some teens didn’t have phones, in which case we played in “team mode” with library tablets.

Light-Up Captain America Shield: Nothing too techy ever succeeds at my library as a standalone teen program so I’m always looking for ways to bring STEM into my well attended “fun” programs. Instructables has a neat tutorial on how to make sewable circuit superhero badges. I adapted their instructions to use cheaper materials with a similar result. With just conductive thread, felt, and LEDs, the teens sewed a circuit into their superhero badge.

Perler Bead Craft: We printed out some example perler bead creations for teens to follow, but some opted to make their own creations! Of course a librarian was on hand to do all the ironing.
perler beads

Guardians of the Galaxy Movie Screening: A low key option for teens who might need a little rest from the excitement.

Scavenger Hunt: Legendary DC and Marvel villains kidnapped various superheroes and hidden them around the library! Teens had to find where the superheroes were hidden based on clues. All teens who completed the scavenger hunt received a prize from one of our summer reading sponsors.

Superhero Themed Escape Room: Once again I turned one of our conference rooms into an escape room. This time groups of 8 or less teens were superheroes trapped in a creepy abandoned warehouse by the Trickster (anyone else watch The Flash?). I do not think my coworkers have ever been so disturbed as they were when they saw the room. That is how I knew it was creepy enough to be a success! The teens had to locate two bomb detonators and turn them off in order to save Central City and themselves. They also had to “escape” the room. For an extra challenge, I gave groups the option to escape the room in the dark, with only blacklight flashlights to help them solve the clues.

Screen Shot 2017-08-20 at 9.47.04 AM

While this after hours program series takes a lot of work to put together, they always get great attendance and the teens always leave asking when the next lock-in will take place!

Sunday Reflections: At Least They’re Coming to the Library ISN’T Always the Right Idea

tltbutton5Yesterday 95 people came into my library asking about solar eclipse glasses. The day before it was 75. I wasn’t there either day, but the Circulation staff started keeping track. That’s 170 people who came into the library and walked away empty handed. That’s a lot of negative experiences for patrons and staff both.

We did have solar eclipse glasses. We gave out roughly 1,000 pairs beginning on August 14th, first come first served while supplies last. They were gone in less than an hour. And yet all week long they read online or heard from their friends that they could go to the library to get solar eclipse glasses. The media kept pushing the narrative that you could get solar eclipse at the library, and many libraries have been struggling this week with this very same scenario.

I’ve seen several of my fellow librarians comment that well at least they’re coming into the library. But I maintain that this isn’t necessarily a good thing. Yes, they’re coming into the library, but many of them are leaving empty handed and upset and this is a bad thing. In their mind, we failed to deliver this one time they finally came to us for something and for many people, they won’t be coming back. They came to us, we failed to deliver, and now we’ve broken trust.

This is not the first time something like this has happened to libraries. We are often a victim of the infamous “They”. It goes something like this.

Patron: They said that you have x, y or z.

Staff: I’m sorry, but we don’t have that.

Patron: But THEY said you did, that I could get it at the local public library.

Staff: Well, THEY don’t work here, and I’m sorry but we don’t have that. (We don’t really say this, we just think it in our head. We always do our best to try and satisfy the patron or re-direct them to someone who can genuinely help them.)

We can try and offer an alternative solution. For example, we can have a handout prepared with solar eclipse information and a DIY tutorial for making your own solar eclipse glasses. But for those people who want solar eclipse glasses and want them now, this will not be a way to satisfy them. We’ll do our best, as we always do. But the truth is, for some people this is the first time they have come to us for something and we have failed them. They’re not coming back. And that’s too bad. Because we have lots to offer, but it can be hard to come back from a negative experience.

We can’t always control the narrative, unfortunately. Though we need to work really hard to do so. But this is another one of those moments when forces outside of the library put the library in a really unfortunate position. The solar eclipse is tomorrow, and patrons will stop coming in and asking for eclipse glasses. But I hope they keep coming in and asking for things we can provide for them, because we have lots to offer and we work hard at it.

Friday Finds: August 18, 2017

fridayfindsThis Week at TLT

Sunday Reflections: Talking with Teens about Charlottesville

A Grief Moderated: Middle Grade Fiction for Young Readers Dealing with Loss – Guest Post by Kerry Sutherland

What’s New in LGBTQIA+ YA August 2017

I Tried to Escape the Bus (and Failed!) – An Escape the Bus Review

I Went to a STEAMFest and This is What I Learned

#FSYALit: From Rejection to Reconciliation: Changing Notions of Faith and Spirituality in LGBTQ YA, a guest post by Rob Bittner

One in Three: Teen Dating Violence and Michelle Carter – a guest post by author Heather Demetrios

Around the Web

Author Celeste Ng Reads These Books To Fuel Her Resistance

Enlisting young adult fiction in the fight against racism

Malala Yousafzai Has Been Accepted to Study at Oxford University

YA Movies Get Real

We’re crushing HARD on teen movie Everything, Everything.

Teen Choice Awards 2017

County library rolls out new Book Bikes

 

One in Three: Teen Dating Violence and Michelle Carter – a guest post by author Heather Demetrios

Today we are honored to have Bad Romance author Heather Demetrios with us to talk about teen dating violence. She shares her experiences and thoughts regarding this serious issue and her recent release, Bad Romance.

badromance

As a young adult author, I think a lot about what it feels like to be young and in love. It’s my job to figure out what makes a teen tick, what concerns them and influences them, what keeps them up at night. I often have to delve into my own past to do this with accuracy, mining my own adolescent struggles in order to articulate the teen experience with authenticity and compassion. Michelle Carter’s trial and recent sentencing to serve fifteen months in jail for her involvement in her boyfriend, Conrad Roy’s suicide has forced me to go back, once again, to the abusive relationship I was in during high school, one that led me to contemplate suicide myself and ultimately led me to write my most recent YA novel, Bad Romance (Macmillan / Holt June 2017). Like Conrad Roy, I wavered, undecided: I’d go so far as to grab a knife and hold it in my hand and wonder: how much will it hurt? Obviously I never went through with it, but, unlike Conrad, I had people in my life begging me not to kill myself, rather than a significant other encouraging me to go through with it. My significant other was the reason I wanted to end my life, and, in this, Conrad Roy and I are kin: we were teenagers whose partners held incredible sway over our very lives simply through their words: manipulative and cruel comments, suggestions, and demands that were hypnotic in their power to move us toward self harm.

Michelle Carter’s trial ended in a landmark ruling of manslaughter, one with far-reaching legal implications that lawmakers are, at present, attempting to untangle and which will be further examined in the appeals process. Her sentencing underscores what many people believe to be true: even if you didn’t pull the trigger (so to speak), your hand can still be on the gun. Regardless of whether or not Michelle Carter’s sentence was fair or if she should have even been on trial in the first places, there is this to contend with: teenager is dead in part because of his abusive girlfriend. This came as no surprise to me and, I doubt, to the thousands of people who have been, or are currently in, abusive relationships, physical or otherwise. And yet the larger problem of abuse hasn’t been the focus of this conversation. The controversial nature of the trial and sentencing has eclipsed what this tragedy is about: teen dating violence.

I want you to keep this number in mind: three. According to Love is Respect, a non-profit working to help teens in abusive relationships, Teen Dating Violence affects one in three teens in the United States. TDV isn’t limited to physical and sexual abuse—it includes emotional and verbal abuse which, as we’ve seen in the case of Michelle Carter and Conrad Roy, can be just as damaging as wounds that leave marks. The texts and phone calls between Ms. Roy and her boyfriend are a chilling example of the power young people are able to exert over one another and the vulnerability of teens in these abusive relationships. When Roy turned to his girlfriend, admitting his suicidal thoughts just a day before he was found dead, this is one of the conversations through text he and Carter had, as transcribed by the Wasshington Post:

Carter: So I guess you aren’t gonna do it then, all that for nothing…I’m just confused like you were so ready and determined.

Roy: I am gonna eventually. I really don’t know what I’m waiting for…but I have everything lined up.

Carter: No you’re not, Conrad. Last night was it. You keep pushing it off and you say you’ll do it but u never do. Its always gonna be that way if u don’t take action. You’re just making it harder on yourself by pushing it off, you just have to do it. If u don’t do it now you’re never gonna do it.

This is textbook abuse here. Carter’s employing manipulation, exploiting her boyfriend’s weakness while masquerading in the guise of an encouraging supporter in order to get him to do something she wants. This is just one of many disturbing interactions between the couple in which Carter establishes and maintains the unequal distribution of power between them. And it’s so easy. It takes seconds to send a text, to take part in ending a life with just a few words. This alone is reason to be more concerned than ever about teen dating violence. Technology gives abusers more access than ever to their partner. Intimate, dangerous conversations such as these can happen any time, anywhere. Social media gives jealous partners unlimited fuel for fire. Tracking apps allow boyfriends to see exactly where their girlfriends are at any given moment. The possibilities are endless.

To use the vernacular of my genre, being young and in love sucks. You’re a walking wound: all your insecurities and fears and hurts are on display and that vulnerability makes you a target if your boyfriend or girlfriend so desires. And because you’re young and haven’t yet figured out how to put on your armor each day, you often go into battle with nothing but your desire to be loved. To be seen. To matter. This can result in hellacious highs and lows that feel so life and death—and, as we’ve seen in the case of Michelle Carter and Conrad Roy, can often actually be life and death. Through pop psychology, we all now know that the whole “sticks and stones” mentality is retrograde: words can hurt, and they do. Since Bad Romance came out, I’ve had so many readers who have reached out to me about their bad romances—teens and adults alike. Whether I’m talking to librarians in Texas, the young publishing crowd in New York City, or teens at a school visit in Vermont, there will always be more than one woman in the group who says, Me too. Me too. There is always relief in these interactions, as though a window has been opened in a stuffy room. As though these women are finally giving themselves permission to admit what they’ve been through.

Jay Asher’s 13 Reasons Why has helped bring to light how many teens struggle with suicide, a conversation that needs to be had—and often. But we need to start talking about teen dating violence with the same gravity. Several organizations, such as Love is Respect, Day One, and Planned Parenthood, are trying to help teens through campaigns on Tumblr that aim to educate kids about what constitutes a healthy relationship and how to get help. Through the support and efforts of former Vice President Joe Biden, February is now Teen Dating Violence Awareness month. There are hotlines and online quizzes and free resources for teens—Day One even offers legal aid and in-person counseling to teens in the New City area. The efforts of countless teachers, social workers, and survivors is all in the hopes of changing that 1 in 3 number, to empower teens through education so that they know their rights, understand what is and isn’t healthy in a relationship, and to avoid tragedies like Conrad Roy’s suicide. What I think is particularly important to note in Roy’s experience is how the expected roles are reversed: here, the female is the abuser. For most people in abusive relationships, shame plays a huge role. In the age of Queen Bey and Nasty Women, no one wants to be seen as a doormat. This is even more so for teen boys in abusive relationships, who may find it very hard to admit that their girlfriends are abusing them, for fear of being seen weak or less masculine. The more we have these conversations in the open, the easier it will be for teens of any gender to get the help they need.

Though nothing “good” can come of what happened between Michelle Carter and Conrad Roy, the tragedy can be used as an opportunity to take a good, long look at the influx of teen dating violence and its far-reaching implications. I can’t help but think of my teen self: what would she have done if she’d heard about what Michelle Carter did? Would she have seen a bit of herself in Conrad Roy? I don’t think so. She would have needed to hear that teen dating violence isn’t just relegated to boyfriends who slap their girlfriends, or girlfriends who tell their boyfriends to kill themselves. She would have needed to see and hear, again and again, that jealousy and manipulation and control have no place in a healthy relationship. She would have needed teachers and parents and other adults who could recognize the signs of an abusive relationship and not just relegate that to teen drama. The stakes in young love are high and, yes, they can be life and death. And the sooner we respect the seriousness of teen relationships and validate the emotional pain teens are going through rather than grumbling about hormones, the sooner we can save the next Conrad Roy.

To that end, I’m offering free Skype sessions to teachers and librarians for their classroom or events with teens to help raise awareness about teen dating violence and get this important conversation started. I wrote Bad Romance for the express purpose of reaching teens who are in unhealthy relationships to help give them the courage to get out and, even more, I wrote it so that teens can avoid such relationships altogether—and help their friends do so, as well. I also have a resource guide which you can access here, in addition to loads of inspiration and information for teens on the Bad Romance website. I also have some availability for in-person workshops and school/library visits. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me with questions. Together, I know we can change these statistics and help the teens in our lives have the healthy relationships they deserve.

Meet Author Heather Demetrios

demetrios

When Heather Demetrios isn’t traipsing around the world or spending time in imaginary places, she lives with her husband in New York City. Originally from Los Angeles, she now calls the East Coast home. Heather has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts and is a recipient of the PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Discovery Award for her debut novel, Something Real. Her critically acclaimed novels include Exquisite Captive, I’ll Meet You There, and Bad Romance. She is the editor of the forthcoming anthology of epistolary essays, Dear Heartbreak: YA Authors on the Dark Side of Love, which features letters from real teens. Find out more about Heather and her books at www.heatherdemetrios.com. Tweet to @HDemetrios.

About BAD ROMANCE

Grace wants out. Out of her house, where her stepfather wields fear like a weapon and her mother makes her scrub imaginary dirt off the floors. Out of her California town, too small to contain her big city dreams. Out of her life, and into the role of Parisian artist, New York director—anything but scared and alone.

Enter Gavin: charming, talented, adored. Controlling. Dangerous. When Grace and Gavin fall in love, Grace is sure it’s too good to be true. She has no idea their relationship will become a prison she’s unable to escape.

Deeply affecting and unflinchingly honest, this is a story about spiraling into darkness—and emerging into the light again.

#FSYALit: From Rejection to Reconciliation: Changing Notions of Faith and Spirituality in LGBTQ YA, a guest post by Rob Bittner

faith and Spirituality“What I would love to see more of in Queer YA with Christian sub-plots is the ability of characters to reimagine their spirituality—their faith—in ways which incorporate gender and sexual identities, instead of feeling the need to abandon all religious and spiritual components of their identities.” –Rob Bittner

 

Back in 2015 (was that really two years ago already?) I wrote a piece for TLT exploring the role of religion and religious communities on the lives of queer teens in YA literature. In these last two years (though more like the last two months) I’ve been coming across a significant number of the texts that I had been hoping for in my last post. I wanted nuance, and I’m starting to see it. I wanted complexity, and it’s happening. I can’t tell you how excited that makes me! But first, let me go back and bit and plot how I got here and why I think this progress is so important.

 

I have been keeping an eye on books featuring queer characters in religious contexts for the last decade. When I was in my undergrad, I started on a directed study on books with LGBTQ content. My supervisor asked me about the direction in which I was hoping to go, and at the time I wasn’t entirely sure. Looking back at my own past and my history as a gay man within the Christian church, I wondered how, if at all, such experiences were being discussed in books for young readers. Keep in mind that only ten years ago, it was still difficult to find much in the way of LGBTQ literature for YA audiences, so trying to find religious representation within that limited subgenre felt at first like an impossible task. It certainly took a lot of effort to find materials, but I came across a few examples, and some from larger publishers, too. I discussed a number of these in more detail in my previous post. Here are some main points to refresh your memory:

 

  • Early LGBTQ YA tends to frame Christianity (or any major religion really) as the enemy, often in the form of a religious leader preaching fire and brimstone for any and all non-normative genders and sexualities (Nothing Pink, Desire Lines);
  • Queer teens often sent away to camps for degayification (Caught in the Crossfire, Thinking Straight, The Miseducation of Cameron Post);
  • Earlier narratives often include long and didactic passages with characters debating scripture in an effort to show which side is right (Nothing Pink, The God Box, Gravity);
  • The novels were basically able to be split into two categories: novels of reconciliation (characters are able to reconcile queerness and spirituality, though not very often), and novels of abandonment (characters have to abandon either their faith or their sexuality in order to survive, and this is the more common trope.)

 

After reading so many of these books, I started to feel as though I was just reading the same narrative multiple times with different characters at the center. It became quite frustrating. In a way, I started to avoid books with religious content if I knew about it beforehand. Recently, however, I started reviewing for a mainstream review journal, and they started to send me books with LGBTQ characters in religious contexts. I almost rolled my eyes, but I’m glad I didn’t. After reading the first book, Dress Codes for Small Towns by Courtney Stevens, I realized that the narrative wasn’t following my assumptions; the story was actively working against the tropes I noted above! In the last two years I’ve read a number of novels that I’d like to briefly talk about in terms of the ways that they reject stereotypes and normative tropes for the complexity and nuance I have been advocating for.

 

autoAutoboyography by Christina Lauren (due out in September 2017)—the combined pen name of authors Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings—follows once-openly bisexual Tanner Scott as he moves with his family from California to Utah, where he is asked by his parents to go back into the closet for a bit to avoid causing trouble. Tanner’s mother is an ex-Mormon and she is concerned about how Tanner being bisexual will affect his standing within the conservative community. Tanner himself is ready to coast through his senior year so he can leave for college and be himself once again. His plans, though, get interrupted when, in a writing seminar, he finds himself distracted by the seriously hot Sebastian. In the wake of this sudden infatuation, Tanner and Sebastian develop a relationship and are both placed in a precarious situation because Sebastian’s family is very much Mormon and very much opposed to non-normative sexuality. Though some of the descriptions of Sebastian’s family could be considered overly biased, I feel that the conversations around religion and sexuality between the main characters is ultimately hopeful. And the narrative also avoids use of scriptural debates, anti-gay preaching from the pulpit, and the use of a gay conversion camp within the overarching plot. I think it’s ultimately a novel that will provide food for thought for those who want something along the lines of Latter Days but without the stilted characters and the choppy plot.

 

georgiaAnother novel that uses the back-in-the-closet story, is Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit by Jaye Robin Brown. In this novel, Joanna Gordon has been out and proud for years, until her father, a radio televangelist, moves her family from Atlanta to Rome, Georgia. Similar to Autoboyography, the new, more conservative setting leads Joanna’s father to ask her if she might be willing to go back in the closet, at least until his ministry has had a chance to grow and find a following; he doesn’t want her to rock the boat. As always happens, Jo meets a new girl at school and falls for her. She begins to wonder if she will be able to keep her promise to her father, or if the request itself was just plain wrong in the first place. The role of the televangelist father could have led to fire and brimstone preaching, but the narrative is refreshingly devoid of such a problematic trope. The novel is actually a lot more nuanced than the plot might initially suggest, and religion and sexuality are allowed to coexist without either being demonized or made out to be wrong. Along with this, Brown puts queer sex on the page, and she isn’t afraid to discuss sex and religion within a larger spiritual context, something which is entirely missing from so many books that contain both non-normative sexualities and faith and spirituality. Quite a refreshing read!

 

dress-codesPerhaps my favorite, though, is the aforementioned Dress Codes for Small Towns by Courtney Stevens. Stevens herself was previously a pastor, and therefore has an insider knowledge that I think really helps to elevate her narrative. When reviewing the novel for Booklist back in July, I gave it a starred review because I felt that it was an exemplary text in what was previously a very small and problematic body of work on gender/sexual difference in YA with components of faith and spirituality. In Dress Codes, Billie McCaffrey—an artist, troublemaker, and the daughter of a preacher—finds herself at the center of a rather difficult situation after she and her friends accidentally burn down a section of their church. To make things worse, the Harvest Festival is coming up and one of the main supporters has just passed away, leaving the Festival in jeopardy. Billie has to find a way to keep her friends out of trouble while also performing community service, trying to save the Harvest Festival, and trying to explore her own gender and sexuality. Stevens builds characters with incredible depth and confronts expectations and assumptions of gender and sexuality head-on, but with delicacy and nuance. The representation of religion is one of compassion and a desire to build bridges rather than walls, giving teen readers the impression that reconciliation between religion and gender/sexual difference is indeed possible.

 

This brief glimpse at changes since my first post on the subject is not meant to be a comprehensive examination of all of the books released since 2015 that match the criteria, but rather to give a sample of the literature available and to show how representations have changed to be more inclusive, less didactic, more compassionate, and less polarizing. Other books such as Jeffrey Self’s A Very, Very Bad Thing (out in October) is a really interesting novel, but the obvious bias against evangelical Christianity is evident in the depiction of a number of characters and makes it easier for readers to demonize Christianity within the context of the novel. There is always room to grow and improve, but the last two years have shown me that sometimes change can happen more quickly than we sometimes think in children’s and YA publishing. I would love to hear of other examples that people have come across and recommendations from those who are also interested in this topic.

 

Meet Rob Bittner

Photo credit: Sonya Sones

Photo credit: Sonya Sones

 

Rob Bittner is an instructor in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies at Okanagan College in Kelowna, BC. He studies long-term trends in representation in YA fiction with LGBTQ content. You can find him on Twitter (@r_bittner) or his review blog, Sense and Sensibility and Stories (unquestionably-palatable.blogspot.com).

I Went to a STEAMFest and This is What I Learned

Monday night our local school district – where I live, not where I work – hosted a district wide STEAMFest and I took my family, but I also went to scope things out – as one does. Overall, this was a well crafted event that I would love to host (on a slightly smaller scale) at my local library.

makerspacelogo1

The Setting

This event was set at the local high school so they had way more space then many public libraries would traditionally have, depending on the size of your library. They had hallways, cafeterias, band rooms and outside quads and they made really good use of this space. All in all they had more than 20 stations set up and sometimes what appeared to be one station was multiple stations in one station. For example, the band room was set up as a MakerSpace so there were several stations within this one room. Similarly in the gym, they had life size chess, cardboard city, and some exhibitors. So scale will definitely depending on the size of your library. But if you have the means, I highly recommend it.

Cardboard City at the beginning of the event

Cardboard City at the beginning of the event

Outside they had a petting zoo, water balloon slingshot, band performances and food trucks. The addition of the food trucks was a really great idea as people stayed longer and were engaged. They also had concession sales inside. My family was there for the entire 5 hours (though they ran out of supplies at some stations before we got to them).

The Stations

There were a large variety of events that appealed to multiple age groups. The organizers definitely made sure to address all of the community needs. Here is a brief listing of the many stations they had:

  • Water balloon slingshots
  • Petting zoo
  • Slime making
  • Learning about germs
  • Stained glass art
  • Fingerprint art
  • MakerSpace Fun including Ozobots, Kinetic Sand, Snap Circuits, and a couple of other building toys
  • Nanotechnology with the Ross Perot Museum
  • Face painting
  • Robot mazes
  • Lego building
  • Building bridges challenge
  • Giant Tetris
  • A giant green screen and overhead projector
  • Life size chess
  • Cardboard City
  • Escape the Bus
Giant Tetris

Giant Tetris

Organizing the Event

The district obviously spent some time in planning this event as it was well organized. They had great signage and clearly labelled maps telling you where each station was. Every volunteer had a coordinated t-shirt so they could clearly be identified. Volunteers had clearly outlined shifts to help cover throughout the event, which lasted from 4 to 9 PM. Various student groups rotated in and out as greeters.

The map of the event

The map of the event

Funding the Event

I had the opportunity to talk with the school superintendent and asked if they had a grant, which I was surprised to learn they did not. They had many local business sponsors, who had tables set up throughout the event. For example, the Slime Time table had signage that said they were sponsored by a local insurance agent and then across from that station the agent had a table set up with information about their business. I’m not sure of the overall cost of the event, though I do know that the Escape the Bus web page says the bus is $3,500 for one day. Many of the other materials they already had in the various schools. There would have been money spent on things like signage, the t-shirts and more, but with the local business sponsors they probably didn’t spend as much money as you would guess an event of this magnitude would cost.

Cardboard City later in the event

Cardboard City later in the event

Their Mission

As I mentioned, I did have an opportunity to talk with the superintendent and she emphasized that the reason they were hosting this event was to engage the community and raise awareness of and interest in science and the arts. We are a sport heavy community without a lot of local science and arts resources so our community really needed this event. I love the mission and feel that they really succeeded.

The Mr made a TV for Cardboard City

The Mr made a TV for Cardboard City

Final Thoughts

I took pictures throughout the day (until my phone died) and immediately went to my assistant director proclaiming that we could – and should – do a scaled down version of this event for our local community. I say scaled down because we are a much smaller facility with a much smaller budget. But with our Teen MakerSpace already in place, we have a lot of the tools we could use already in place. The staffing and space would actually be our biggest stumbling block.

Robot Mazes

Robot Mazes

I Tried to Escape the Bus (and Failed!) – An Escape the Bus Review

Last night, the local school district hosted a STEAMFest (more about this in a different post). One of the events they had during this day was Escape the Bus and I want to make sure everyone knows about this.

escapethebus

Escape the Bus is a mobile escape room experience hosted by the iSchool Initiative. It is exactly what it sounds like: a mobile escape room that takes place on a bus. Groups enter the bus, are shown an introductory video, and then they have several minutes (our group had 25 minutes) to solve a series of puzzles that gave us clues to unlock various boxes and solve the overall mystery that would let us “escape the bus”. A group of 4th graders hold the record, they escaped in 20 minutes.

As I mentioned, my group failed. This was in part because we didn’t communicate well and people kept solving the same puzzles over and over again instead of moving on to new puzzles. I blame everyone but me, as one does.

The event itself was very well organized. People are invited in groups into the bus. The time slots are pre-arranged and there are tickets for each session. You approach the table to get your tickets and are told to come back 10 minutes before your session begins. You must have a ticket to get on the bus, and you must be there 10 minutes early or your place will be given to someone on standby. The event ran from 4:00 to 9:00 PM and they were out of tickets in about an hour. There were 8 sessions total and about 20 people per session.

The bus itself was epically cool. When you enter into the bus it is set up like a type of mobile maker lab. There is a 3D printer, a video projection wall, iPads and more. There are locks everywhere, locked boxes and locked cabinets that are just begging to be opened. But before you can open them, you need information.

The story is this: people from the future have come back in time to figure out what has happened to make the young person who cured cancer and created world peace suddenly become disinterested in school, changing the timeline. There is a very direct dig in the intro video against excessive testing and how it makes students lose interest in learning. Your goal is to figure out what this person was working on.

You start with some journals on the wall and the work begins from there. The kids were really good at working things out and we came incredibly close to escaping. Our facilitators were great with the kids and did a good job of talking to everyone afterwards about their experience. In the end there is a message about how young people can do things right now to make the world a better place.

You can find the website for Escape the Bus here. It looks like it is $3,500 for a one day event, which can definitely be cost prohibitive for a lot of places. However, I highly recommend this if at all possible because it was well organized and managed. They are located in Georgia and I don’t know how far they travel as I couldn’t find that information quickly on the website. They do, however, have a contact form that you can use to get more information. You can also do a Google search for “Escape Bus” and your location as it appears there are other mobile escape room experiences that may travel to your area or cost less money.

More on Escape Rooms at TLT:

TPiB: Locked in the Library! Hosting an escape room program

TPiB: Build an Escape Room by Michelle Biwer

TPiB: Escape Room The Game, a review