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Sunday Reflections: Mental health medications are not your enemy

On Tuesday, I’ll be sharing my review of The Last Time We Say Goodbye, by Cynthia Hand. For the most part, it was a book I really liked. But I had one MAJOR issue with it: the main character’s attitude toward taking medicine to help with the panic attacks and depression she’s feeling in the wake of her brother’s suicide.


After Alexis, the main character, tells her therapist about her panic attacks, he says, “There’s a medication we can get you for that.” He goes on to tell her about SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), and she refers to as him “waxing poetically about drugs.” Alexis goes on to explain Brave New World to him, telling him about soma, the drug that’s supposed to make everyone happy in the book. She says, “That futuristic society where everybody is drugged to be happy, all the time, no matter what happens–it’s horrible–monstrous, even–it’s like the end of humanity. Because we are supposed to feel things, Dave. My brother died, and I’m supposed to feel it.” She also reveals that her brother, Ty, had taken antidepressants for two years and “a fat lot of good it did him.” Alexis calls Dave a “drug pusher.” So, giving up on this train of thought, Dave instead prescribes her to write in a diary. This attitude of being anti-medicine, of medicine not letting you “feel” whatever it is you are supposed to feel remains consistent through the whole book. 


Here’s my issue: I like medicine. I believe in medicine. It’s what’s kept me a mostly functioning human being for 19 years. I have generalized anxiety disorder. If I didn’t take the host of pills in my cabinet every day, I would probably do nothing but obsessively ruminate my way through worrying about every single issue that has ever and may ever occur in the history and future of humanity. I would not be able to get anything done because I’d be too busy listening to my brain obliterate every good thought or idea I have. I would be busy listening to the lies that my unmedicated brain loves to make up–everything is actually awful, nothing good will ever happen, everything good is actually bad, etc. I would not be able to drive my car, because of my terror of being trapped in a moving metal box and my distrust of everyone navigating their little metal boxes (a fear that existed long before my dad was killed in a car accident two years ago). I would not be able to parent my kid because I’d be too busy crying and panicking and falling apart. I would not be able to sleep because nighttime is anxiety’s favorite time to eat my brain. The list goes on forever. The bottom line is that I would not be able to. Just to. To anything.


At the library, I spent a fair amount of my day hearing from my teen friends about their own mental health struggles. Being readily approachable and being a mandated reporter, I’d listen to them, give them a book either reflecting their experience or distracting them from it, and then turning around, filing a report, and worrying about them. The common theme in all of their stories: they didn’t want to be put on a medication. What I always, always, ALWAYS did was tell them that I have taken medication forever for my anxiety. That some days are terrible and I take three different medications just to be able to function. That going on medicine was hands down the best choice I made for myself in my entire life. I don’t walk around feeling terrible. I sleep. I breathe. I don’t usually have panic attacks. The kraken that is mental illness can’t reach its nasty tentacles quite as far into my brain because of medication. 


I know my teenage attitude was also, “Oh, I would never want to be on medication. It just makes you a zombie.” Apparently my teenage self thought being a complete basket case was preferable. It’s not. Medicine isn’t your enemy. Untreated mental illness is your enemy. Therapy is fantastic, but therapy combined with the right medicine–that’s your ticket. Getting help, in all forms, is good. Being open to help, in all forms, is good. It is good, it is necessary, and it is OKAY. If your medicine makes you feel funky, keep trying other medicines. Something will help.


I so deeply dislike and worry about the message in this book: Ty took meds and he still killed himself, so they don’t work. Alexis claims to generally not feel anything at all. “I don’t need drugs to numb the pain.” She has panic attacks and suffers terrible dreams for weeks after her brother dies. When her mother offers her a Valium, Alexis barks at her, “What is it with people trying to force-feed me drugs?” The only time she even in passing considers medication is when she’s having a panic attack at school and thinks “maybe this drug thing Dave suggested isn’t a bad idea after all.”  Alexis is an extremely smart girl. She excels in math and science and will be attending MIT, but she has a fundamental misunderstanding about mental health medicines.


An author’s note at the end explains that Hand’s brother committed suicide when they were teens. What I really wanted at the end was also some kind of list of helpful resources (helplines etc) or acknowledgement that while Alexis chose not to take any medications, they can greatly help people suffering from a variety of mental health issues. Do I think all books need to be instructional? Of course not. But I don’t like seeing a very common notion about medication perpetuated in a book like this. The best thing we can do to help not just teenagers but everyone suffering from mental illnesses is to be open and honest, to remove the stigma (of the illnesses and the various treatments), and offer hope. For many teens, the only places they might find these conversations may be in books. Let’s not let them walk away thinking, See? I told you. Nothing can help.

There is help. 


National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255

The Trevor Project hotline 1-866-488-7386

Trans Lifeline 1-877-565-8860


As always, we welcome your thoughts. Talk to us in the comments or you can find me on Twitter–I’m @CiteSomething. 

Friday Finds – January 30, 2015

This Week at TLT

INTERVIEW+GIVEAWAY from YA Author Trisha Leaver (interview by Cuyler Creech) – still open for another few hours!

Sunday Reflections: A Road Trip, A Book Festival and a Teachable Moment

The #SVYALit Hangout on Hazing: January 28, 2015

Middle Grade Monday – Weeding in the Age of Online Subscriptions

Book review: Cut Me Free by J.R. Johansson

Book review: Better Than Perfect by Melissa Kantor

Serving Full T.I.L.T.: Teen Brain Science 101

The Spiritual Lives of Teens in YA Lit: A discussion of faith and science in Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande (guest post by Ramona Lowe)

The #SVYALit Hangout on Hazing – and a hazing book giveaway!

Around the Web

We Need Diverse Books has announced their Walter Award (honoring Walter Dean Myers) – find out more on their web site.

NPR discusses the Teen Brain

Tell me again why teens like to read dystopian YA?

Our own Heather Booth was interviewed by In the Library with a Lead Pipe.

This looks like a very important documentary on gender based human rights issues in the US.

Ferguson Library is getting a youth services librarian!

I’m excited about the all-female Ghostbusters cast announcement!

15 books that will be movies in 2015

Speaking of movies – the Insurgent trailer is here!

Read all about the splash Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl made at Sundance!



2015 Calendar

Planning. It takes, well, planning. What kind of displays do I want to do? What kinds of programming? Here are some upcoming events that I am using to help me plan. I am a big movie junkie so I like to do tie-ins when I can, even if it is just a genre display. And of course there are a lot of educational events that happen throughout the year which are important. I’m trying to work on a calendar list. Here’s what I have so far. Please let me know what’s on your calendar that isn’t on mine.


Teen Dating Violence and Prevention Month – Call your local hospital and ask if they have a Sexual Assualt Nurse Examiner (SANE), they sometimes do educational programs on the topics of healthy relationships

2: Youth Media Awards are announced

6: Jupiter Ascending movie opens (science fiction)

20: The Duff movie opens (based on the book by Kody Keplinger)

22-28: National Eating Disorders Awareness Week


8-14: Teen Tech Week

13: Digital Learning Day

13: Live action Cinderella movie opens

20: Insurgent movie opens


Drop Everything and Read

3: Furious 7 (Fast and the Furious part 7)

16: Celebrate Teen Lit Day

12-18: National Library Week

18-25: Money Smart Week


1-7: Choose Privacy Week

1: The Avengers 2: Age of Ultron movie opens

15: Pitch Perfect 2 movie opens

22: Tomorrowland movie opens


GLBTQ Book Month, Audio Book Month

12: Jurassic World movie opens

19: Paper Towns movie opens, based on the book by John Green


18: Ant Man movie opens, Marvel comics


7: The Fantastic four movie opens (again)

7: Goosebumps movie opens


Library Card Sign Up Month

4: Kitchen Sink movie opens

“In the town of Dillford, it used to be that vampires, humans and zombies used to get along, but then something unexpected arrived and now it’s humans vs. vampires vs. zombies in all-out mortal combat. Now three teenagers must try to get things back to ‘normal’” – Wikipedia

18: The Scorch Trials movie opens

25: Hotel Transylvania II movie opens

27-Oct 3: Banned books Week


Will there be a Star Wars Reads Day in 2015? I haven’t seen a date mentioned yet. But with the new Star Wars movie coming out in December, it seems likely.

18-24: Teen Read Week

23: Jem and the Holograms movie opens

30: Scouts Vs. Zombies movie opens

“Three scouts, on the eve of their last camp-out, discover the true meaning of friendship when they attempt to save their town from a zombie outbreak.” – IMDB


20: Mockingjay Part 2


8: Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens

What other dates/events do you have on your calendar? Let us know in the comments!

The #SVYALit Hangout on Hazing – and a hazing book giveaway!

Yesterday we had a great discussion with authors Eric Devine (Press Play), Anthony Breznican (Brutal Youth) and Joshua Cohen (Leverage) about their books and the topic of hazing/bullying. If you missed that conversation, you can watch below, or for you podcast fans you can “press play” and listen to it as a podcast. Great news! Author Anthony Breznican is donating a copy of all 3 awesome book titles for a giveaway so do the Rafflecopter thing after the video to enter and win! For all the previous hangouts, discussions, book reviews and more be sure to visit the #SVYALit Project Index.

Don’t just listen to us talk about how awesome Press Play, Brutal Youth and Leverage are, read them for yourself! Or put them in your library for teens to read! We’re giving away a #SVYALit Hazing bookpack with 1 copy of all 3 titles to one lucky winner in the U.S. Enter between now and February 7 at Midnight with the Rafflecopter below.


a Rafflecopter giveaway

More on Hazing at TLT:

Take 5: Hazing

Breaking Tradition: Brutal Youth author Anthony Breznican on the fight against hazing

 Initiation Secrets: Press Play and a look at hazing rituals by Eric Devine

Bearing Witness to Violence, a guest post by Eric Devine

Take 5: Five thoughts I had while reading Brutal Youth


The Spiritual Lives of Teens in YA Lit: A discussion of faith and science in Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande (guest post by Ramona Lowe)

When Ally Watkins and I put up our announcement that we were going to host a series discussing the spiritual lives of teens in YA lit, Ramona Lowe sent me a beautiful, long email saying “I hope you discuss Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande because . . . ” And I replied, “I think everything you have said here is wonderful and can be made into a post.” So she turned it in to a post sharing with you today why she is a huge fan of Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature. . . .

I’m a sucker for anything on television with cute kids, so I watched Lifetime’s Child Genius and found the family dynamics of the children competing in a Mensa challenge to be nothing sort of fascinating, if at times, disturbing.  During the portion of the competition that focused on astronomy, one mother quizzed her ten-year-old son in preparation and then asked what he would do if the judges asked him something that was contrary to their Christian beliefs. What?  I did a double take. Addressing the camera later, he says the Big Bang Theory is “stupid” and, since they are “Christians” they don’t believe anything other than God created the heavens and the earth. Before the quiz competition, he addressed the judges and audience with a statement of faith that God created the universe. The repeated claims by mother and son seemed to be expressing “I’m a Christian . . . and you’re not if you believe science.” (Fortunately, his questions did not include age or origin of the cosmos.) I wanted to immediately send that family a copy of Robin Brande’s Evolution, Me, and Other Freaks of Nature (Knopf, 2007) to make the point that Christians can believe in science.

When her fundamentalist church decides to push back against the teaching of evolution in freshman biology, Meena Reece isn’t exactly in the middle.  She’s been “kicked out” of the church that was her family’s life (and business since they sell insurance and most of their clients are church members) because she wrote a letter of apology to a fellow student targeted by members of her church youth group. After the boy survives a suicide attempt, Meena feels guilty and wants to do what her Christian faith expects and sends the letter without talking the idea over with her parents or her friends at church. The letter leads to the student’s parents suing the church and the parents of the youth group (minus Meena). In an instant, everyone in Meena’s life—including her parents—turn on her.

Meena isn’t excited for the start of school, but along with dodging the insults and bullying from her former friends, school brings her biology with Ms. Shepherd and her project partner, Casey Connor. Casey is a cute science nerd who idolizes Ms. Shepherd and fills Meena in on the teacher’s backstory, which is she is basically a brilliant scientist who teaches to give back.  Her love of science is evangelical:

“You are the people whose curiosity will uncover the riches of our universe. You are the ones who will show us what greatness the human mind is capable of. YOU are the people who will save us from ourselves.” (p. 9)

Aware that her parents would never let her go to a boy’s house to work on schoolwork (or, gasp, watch Lord of the Rings), Meena lets them think Casey is a girl. Her conscience bothers her, but her parents aren’t speaking with her since the incident and she lives in a state of permanent punishment (grounding and isolation). At the Connor’s house, Meena sees a different type of family: truly decent people who don’t go to church, and it makes her stop to think about what she believes and doesn’t believe anymore.

Mrs. Shepherd begins her unit on evolution, and Pastor Wells has once again primed the youth group for action.  Led by Teresa—whom Meena considers the master of mixing “church and sleaze”—the students turn their backs to Ms. Shepherd and demand equal time for instruction on intelligent design.  Meena sees the pastor in Teresa’s memorized speech, which calls evolution an “unproven theory.”  Ms. Shepherd, however, isn’t buying it. She maintains science is about facts, not philosophies, and goes right ahead with her lessons. Even when Pastor Wells himself visits the classroom and speaks with the principal cowering in the background, Ms. Shepherd holds firm.

Meena sees all the things she wishes she could be in Ms. Shepherd, namely, someone who can stand up to Pastor Wells and the church kids. Meena begins to take steps to own her life by working with Casey’s sister, Kayla to write a blog as Bible Grrrl  (who presents a very interesting take on the Parable of the Talents)  and eventually confessing her duplicity about Casey to her parents. Through everything that happens in this novel, Meena holds fast to her belief and love of God. It’s everything else that is confusing.  “I’d die if I didn’t have God. But I also believe in science. Does that make me a bad Christian?” (p. 151)

This book addresses head on the issue of evolution, with a big reveal as a sort of anticlimax near the end of the book. Meena, the Connors, and even Ms. Shepherd are well-drawn characters who express their struggles quite well.  The church folk do not fare as well. They are exclusively one-dimensional and their motivation isn’t godly—it’s based on a lust for power so their actions mostly ring hollow.  However, it’s Meena who is the voice of faith in this book and her journey makes this a very important book for the classroom library.

Meet Our Guest Blogger:

Ramona Lowe has a newly acquired PhD. Her Twitter biosays this: Unrepentant reader, newly-minted PhD, literacy advocate, expatriate Okie, NBCT, Comic Sans fan, love my boys Fergus and Sir Walter. She works for a school system in Texas where she is currently a Secondary Reading Intervention Specialist with Lewisville ISD (TX). She taught in the classroom for 25 years at Title I campuses, rural schools,  affluent suburban high schools and higher ed before moving into a role that lets her support teachers in their reading instruction. She’s also been at various times an atheist, an agnostic, a fundamentalist Christian, a mainstream Christian and a universalist. Romana love literature that features honest representation of spiritual issues and am excited about this topic.

Publisher’s Description:

I knew today would be ugly…

It’s the first day of high school for Mena, and already her world looks bleak: she’s an outcast, all her former friends hate her, even her parents barely speak to her anymore. And why? Because she tried to do the right thing. And then everything went wrong.

But can a cute, nerdy lab partner; his bossy, outspoken sister; and an unconventional, imaginative science teacher be just what Mena needs to turn her life around?

Or will the combination of all of them only make things worse?

As Mena is about to find out, it’s the freaks of nature who survive…

Evolution, Me and Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande was published in 2007 by Knopf Books for Young Readers

Want to join the discussion? Email Karen Jensen at kjensenmls at yahoo dot com

The Spiritual Lives of Teens in YA Lit: A Discussion

Introductory Post

YA Librarians Ally Watkins and Karen Jensen Talk the Spiritual Lives of Teens in YA Lit, part 1

Upcoming posts include Muslim Representations in YA Lit, Catholocism in YA Lit, Judaism in YA lit and more

Serving Full T.I.L.T.: Teen Brain Science 101

Our series continues with a brief look at the teen brain. Why? Well, first of all, it’s just really fascinating stuff. But those of us who serve teens need to understand where our patrons are if we are to structure environments, programs, and services that are appropriate to their developmental phase. Additionally, gaining a greater understanding of what is going on physiologically will help us advocate for teens by placing their behavior within the correct developmental context, and by knowing what to do about it.

We’ve known for years that teens’ brains aren’t done maturing until their early twenties, but just what that means, and what is going on as this maturation is happening, is becoming clearer thanks to the newer Functional MRIs (FMRI) technology. These discoveries are fascinating, and go a long way toward explaining the behavior, idiosyncrasies, and habits of the teen years.  Turns out, some of the seemingly illogical, frustrating, dangerous, and otherwise difficult behavior that we see from teens has a neurological basis.

Like a car with a hair-trigger accelerator and soft brakes

Laurence Steinberg, in his 2014 book Age of Opportunity: Lessons from the New Science of Adolescence, uses the above phase to describe the interplay of different brain structures in the actions of teens. Like driving a car with a touchy gas pedal and bad brakes, teens are quick to act – sometimes in risky endeavors – but it takes a lot longer to regulate their behavior and slow down. We see this happen all the time, and now there is a neurological explanation for this behavior.

In the above analogy, think of the limbic system as the accelerator, and the prefrontal cortex as the brakes. The limbic system is made up of a group of brain systems closely connected with strong emotions. Fear, love, sexual excitement, anger – all of this happens in the limbic system. As you might guess, the limbic system in teen brains is highly active, and much more sensitive than that of an adult. In the teen years, the thrill seeking behavior we often see can be explained, in part, by this brain structure. Doing thrilling, dangerous, exciting things gives the limbic system the extra jolt that it is seeking.

What’s more, recent studies have shown that that jolt is even bigger for teens who are observed in these thrill seeking behaviors by their peers. So when teens act differently, brasher, louder, more daring when they’re with their friends than they do one-on-one, it’s not just that they want the social validation that they get from being exciting and brave, their brains are actually craving that encouragement and the limbic system rewards the brain when it gets it.

As all of this is happening, the prefrontal cortex, the logical brain, is in charge of moderating the behavior. It’s the brakes. But in the teen years, it’s still maturing with a long way to go. Teens understand what behavior is risky. They don’t think they’re invincible. But the part of their brains that should catch them and pull them back from dangerous behavior is not as quick as the part that’s shouting Go! Go! Go!

It’s a dangerous combination, and one that we need to be aware of and help guide teens through. That said, it’s a duality not without an evolutionary purpose.

Risk and Reward

The interplay of limbic system and prefrontal cortex incoordination explains some of the risky behavior, but not all of it, and the jolt to the limbic system seems a fairly short lived reward for all that risk. That’s because there’s more to it. The teen brain is now thought to be going through a similar level of growth to that of a young toddler. That’s immense!

Part of the task of the teenage brain is to make the most of its plasticity. It’s very malleable at this age, and that malleability is what will help teens grow into intellectually curious adults: it’s the activities and experiences during these teen years that will reinforce the neurological pathways that will remain into adulthood as others fall off through the process of synaptic pruning. Risk taking, or novelty seeking, is a way to stretch the brain – and the person – beyond the familiar, and to introduce new and thrilling activities that will serve the adult. Here, thrilling and novel could be anything from learning a new hobby or sport to exploring the world through travel, to learning a new language… or less productive and more dangerous pursuits. The point is that the brain craves newness at this age, and it has a good reason for it.

The brain in real life

All of this is well and good – it’s hardwired and there’s nothing we can do about it so why even bother trying to moderate teen behavior, right? Well, yes and no. The synaptic pruning mentioned above is happening as a result not just of old, unused pathways dying off. The pathways that are reinforced during this age are the ones that will stick around for a lifetime. This is why drug addiction that emerges during adolescence can be much more difficult to quash than those that are acquired in later years. This is also why adults (that’s you!) being involved in and guiding the lives of teens are so crucial. When we offer help, lead them toward library activities, remain steadfast as confidants, encourage them in positive pursuits, welcome them back when we see them, and generally reward the behaviors and attitudes that we hope to see more of, we are essentially tending the pathways that are going to survive the radical pruning that goes on in teen brains.

But don’t just take my word for it.

I’m a librarian by training and education, not a neurologist or psychologist. So let this brief overview pique your interest, but please learn about all of these amazing developments from the researchers and scientists who know far far more about this topic than I do. My resources for this article:

Sarah-Jayne Blakemore: The Mysterious Workings of the Adolescent Brain

National Geographic: Teenage Brains

Frontline: Inside the Teenage Brain

Laurence Steinberg, PhD Research articles and his excellent interview on Here & Now

Next week, the 40 Developmental Assets . . .

Serving Full T.I.L.T. series:

January 14 By the Numbers, making the case for teen services using basic demographic information (Karen Jensen)

January 21 Sarcasm, Spice and Everything Awesome: The Developing Teen (Rebecca Denham)

January 28 Teen Brain Science 101 (Heather Booth)

February 4 Asset Building 101, How using the 40 Developmental Assets can help us plan and evaluate teen programming (Karen Jensen)

February 11 Diverse teens, diverse needs (Eden Grey)

February 18 Sharing stories, how knowing and sharing the stories of our teens can help make the case (Heather Booth)

February 25 Empathy, remembering what it means to be a teen and how it makes us better teen services librarians (Heather Booth)

March 4 A Teen Services 101 Infographic (Rebecca Denham and Karen Jensen)

March 11 Talking Up Teens: Discussing Teen Services with Library Administration (Eden Grey)

Book review: Better Than Perfect by Melissa Kantor

In Melissa Kantor’s Better Than Perfect, 17-year-old Juliet seems to have it all. She lives a privileged life, she’s been dating her boyfriend, Jason, for four years, and they’re both on track to go to Harvard. But after her parents split up and her dad moves out, her mother spirals. Juliet knows her mom has Good Days and Bad Days, but doesn’t really have any idea just how bad things have gotten for her mother until she finds her passed out on the bathroom floor after having overdosed on some pills. Later that night, Juliet makes out with Declan, a cute boy in a band, which sets in motion many weeks of self-analysis. Unfortunately for Juliet, this period of reassessing what she actually wants in life comes while she’s living with Jason and his family, who have taken her in while her mother is institutionalized. Suddenly, that 2400 on her SATs and future that looks all planned out doesn’t look like the thing she’s worked for and wanted—it looks stifling. Juliet is forced to consider if her family was ever actually happy, just how miserable her mother has been, and if being “perfect” is all it’s cracked up to be.


This realistic look at the pressures teenagers put on themselves both to be high-achieving and to somehow get their whole lives figured out by 18 follows a predictable path, but readers will root for Juliet to finally make her own choices. Secondary characters are not as well-developed as Juliet is—some of the friends mentioned may as well not exist—and Juliet never fully owns up to the mistakes she’s made, but that sort of blindness/self-absorption fits with her character.


Also, though her mother is clearly suffering from mental illness, this is not a book about mental illness very much. Yes, it’s a little about how it affects Juliet (she has to live with Jason, it forces her to interact with her father, she worries about her mother, she starts to take stock of her life), but the mental illness is mostly off the page. Her mom is “sick” and “sad” and apparently had been abusing her pills/drinking with them. She’s briefly institutionalized and the doctors mess with her meds, but much of her story is left to the imagination. Again—this is Juliet’s story. The ending isn’t tidy—there are a lot of unknowns still in her life and relationships that will need work—but what in life ever is?


Overachievers who’ve ever considered stepping off the path will relish Juliet’s journey to finding out who she really is.


ISBN-13: 9780062279231
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date
: 2/17/2015

Book review: Cut Me Free by J.R. Johansson

One of these days, I’m going to post the list of “things in YA books that are pet peeves/we’re so over/we flat-out hate” that I started with my YA book club. I referenced it in my review of The Prey (things from our list that that book hits: dystopia-fatigue and love triangles). I bring it up here because one of my reading pet peeves is when the entire plot of a book could be resolved or diverted by a character having one conversation or taking one step.


In J. R. Johansson’s Cut Me Free, Piper, the main character, has a ton of really compelling reasons to go to the police. Now, ostensibly she doesn’t do this because (as you’ll learn when you read the book), she doesn’t trust them. She’s worried about the consequences because of past incidents. But the reasons to go to the police multiply and at a certain point I shoved this book aside and shouted, WHY?! Let’s see: Piper has been kept captive and tortured for YEARS by the Parents (her Mother and Father, whom she always capitalizes and never refers to as “my,” always “the”). They killed her little brother. Piper managed to escape. She then, while living under the radar, stumbles across a little girl whom she thinks is being abused. She saves her, but they’re now being hunted and played with by some sicko who knows her real name (she now goes by Charlotte), repeatedly breaks into her apartment, and threatens her life. GO TO THE POLICE. Or get someone to go to the police on your behalf. But who could she ask? Probably not Cam, the boy who sets her up with new forged documents and has connections to the mob. Probably not Janice, her neighbor who is also apparently living under an assumed name/on the run from something/one. I know it’s not that simple—something bad is happening, just go to the police. In books or real life. But because of how the plot unfolds and how much is at stake, I was desperately irritated that she was not trying to ensure her safety or the safety of Sanda (the young girl she rescues). Sure, go take on this complete psychopath on your own, Piper. Sounds great. If it’s the Father come looking, you know he’s VICIOUS and crazy. If it’s Sanda’s captor, you know he’s VICIOUS and crazy. (Yes, that sound was me screaming at my computer.)


Here’s the thing: based on the blurb, I wanted to read this. I thought it might be a really interesting look at abuse. When she rescues Sanda and learns she lived in an orphanage in Myanmar, was taken, worked cleaning for a rich family, and then was sold to her captor, I thought, ugh, but also, tell me more. Too bad, me! You don’t get more! I thought maybe there would be more about child trafficking, some greater plot or information or something, but no. Here’s what we do get a lot of: really horrific scenes of brutality. REALLY HORRIFIC. Like, to the point that I eventually almost couldn’t read them because they felt less necessary to the story and more gratuitous. I felt like a voyeur. There are some flashbacks to the nightmarish 10 years Piper spent living in an attic and being abused (though, again, I wanted more of her story filled in). There’s what Piper sees when she begins to observe Sanda’s situation and what she discovers when she eventually rescues her. But it’s everything that happens once Piper comes face to face with her stalker that is just shocking. I know some people like books that are like this—graphic, violent, bloody, disturbing—and I’m usually okay with them. But this one was rough.


Fans of thrillers who like mind games will tear through this. I found it overwritten, sensational, lacking in meaningful world-building, and outside the bounds of believability. Much like The Prey, it features a completely unnecessary romance storyline. Cam could still have been a large part of the story and a significant person in Piper’s life without having to be the forced-feeling love interest that shows Piper she can trust and love someone (and really, a lot of their relationship made me uncomfortable, from his savior complex to their physical interactions in Krav Maga). Honestly, a more compelling story (to me) would have been more of a focus on the 10 LONG YEARS Piper spent locked up and tortured, more about what she did to escape the Parents, and how exactly she managed to travel from Wyoming to Philadelphia (especially after having spent nearly all of her life completely removed from all society and having, in theory, only a very rudimentary understanding of how real life works. I mean, we’re supposed to believe that she can’t figure out how to remember how much coins are worth, but she can escape, flee, and take on a crazed lunatic all on her own? Oooookay). At the end, an author’s note says she is “passionate about advocating for victims of human trafficking.” I believe that, and of course admire that and any attempt to bring more attention to this issue. Human trafficking is but one small piece of this psychological thriller. Read this one if you like suspense and don’t mind suspending your disbelief long enough to go along with what most of this story asks of you.   


ISBN-13: 9780374300234
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: 1/27/2015

Middle Grade Monday – Weeding in the Age of Online Subscriptions

I’ve been weeding a lot this year. I’m usually a gradual weeder. I take a section of the collection each year and go through it with a fine tooth comb looking for items that are missing pages, moldy, defaced, or severely out of date. How often do I find moldy items? I work in a middle school library. This age is really hard on books. Probably harder than any group I’ve worked with except for toddlers. The students put everything in their book bags – open Capri Sun pouches, mud covered gym sneakers – everything.

But this year is different. I decided to go through the non fiction collection and pull out anything that is severely out of date. Now that we have ready access to regularly updated information in our online subscriptions, I find that my definition of severely out of date is changing. Has this happened to you? We still have our opening day collection of country information books (their copyright ranges from 1992 to 1999.) Before we had a subscription to Culture Grams online and a computer for every student, they were indispensable. Now they just collect dust. I find the same to be true of almost everything that was purchased for the opening collection that was intended for ‘report writing’ type of research. The information we have available online, whether through a paid of free resource, is updated regularly and much more appealing to my students. I know that without these books cluttering up our shelves, my students will have an easier time finding reading materials they really want. But the shelves will be so empty! Of course, that might have something to do with 8+ years of woefully inadequate budgets…

Anyway, here is a picture of my weeding carts, just for inspiration (if you, like me, need to take a serious look at your collection.)

And, because I can’t resist, here is my favorite from weeding so far:

The #SVYALit Hangout on Hazing: January 28, 2015

Join us on Wednesday, January 28th, 2015 at 12 Noon Eastern for a Google Hangout led by Press Play author Eric Devine and featuring Brutal Youth author Anthony Breznican and Leverage author Joshua Cohen. The topic will be hazing. Learn more about the #SVYALit Project. Noon Eastern, 11 AM Central

Have a question you want to ask? Leave it in the comments or Tweet me at @tlt16.

Google Event Page:

YouTube Event Page:

You can watch live or come back here any time to watch the archived footage.