Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Thinking About Male Sexual Violence and Althea and Oliver by Cristina Moracho (The #SVYALit Project)

Karen's Short Thoughts: An amazing, complicated and at times flawed look at the relationship between two childhood friends.

Publisher's Description:
What if you live for the moment when life goes off the rails—and then one day there’s no one left to help you get it back on track?

Althea Carter and Oliver McKinley have been best friends since they were six; she’s the fist-fighting instigator to his peacemaker, the artist whose vision balances his scientific bent. Now, as their junior year of high school comes to a close, Althea has begun to want something more than just best-friendship. Oliver, for his part, simply wants life to go back to normal, but when he wakes up one morning with no memory of the past three weeks, he can’t deny any longer that something is seriously wrong with him. And then Althea makes the worst bad decision ever, and her relationship with Oliver is shattered. He leaves town for a clinical study in New York, resolving to repair whatever is broken in his brain, while she gets into her battered Camry and drives up the coast after him, determined to make up for what she’s done.

Their journey will take them from the rooftops, keg parties, and all-ages shows of their North Carolina hometown to the pool halls, punk houses, and hospitals of New York City before they once more stand together and face their chances. Set in the DIY, mix tape, and zine culture of the mid-1990s, Cristina Moracho’s whip-smart debut is an achingly real story about identity, illness, and love—and why bad decisions sometimes feel so good.

Karen's Longer Thoughts:

As I said, this is an amazing and rich book with very complicated characters.

Althea and Oliver both come from single parents home, Althea lives with her father the professor and she has a very strained relationship with her mother who took off. Oliver lives with his mother, his father died some time ago.

Oliver suddenly develops a rare condition in which he will unexpectedly fall asleep for days, weeks and sometimes even months at a time. Kleine-Levin Syndrome is a very real disease, though I had not heard of it until reading this book. While Oliver struggles with what this syndrome means to him - he loses whole chunks of his life - the syndrome also puts a real strain on their friendship.

Althea is also very lost, in part because she very much wants her relationship with Oliver to be something more, but Oliver does not return those feelings. He is, in fact, very clear about this. So when Oliver starts checking out for long periods at a time, Althea is forced to find an identity for herself apart from Oliver. It gets messy. Also, please note, some very real spoilers occur from this point on.

And this is where things get complicated. Althea really begins to spiral and is at times a very unlikable person. But worse yet, she does something horrific at one point when Oliver is in the midst of one of his long sleeps. You see, Oliver will some times "wake up" for a brief period, though he is most definitely not himself during this brief moment of awakeness. This fact is established in a previous scene where Oliver wakes up and goes on a hostile eating binge at Waffle House, only to crash back into the deep, unwakeable slumber on the way back home. In another instance, an episode that I think can only be called rape happens, as Rob Bittner at Sense and Sensibility and Stories points out:

What's new in GLTBQ this fall

by Amanda MacGregor

Every other month I’ll be doing a roundup of new and forthcoming GLTBQ YA books (and sometimes some non-YA books). I’ll try to include as many titles as possible. Know of a title I missed in this list? Or know of a forthcoming title that should be on my radar for an upcoming list? Leave a comment or tweet me @CiteSomething. This list covers September, October, and some November 2014 titles. All annotations here are via WorldCat or the publishers.


The Boy I Love by Nina de Gramont (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, September 2): Fifteen year old Wren has fallen in love with the most sought after boy in school, but his secret will both bring them together, and keep them apart.

First Time for Everything anthology edited by Anne Regan (Harmony Ink Press/Dreamspinner, September 4): There’s nothing like the first time. Whether it’s a first crush, first date, first kiss, or finding tolerance and approval for the first time, for gay, lesbian, bi, and trans teens—or those still exploring and discovering their sexuality and identity—these important firsts can shape the rest of their lives.

No One Needs to Know by Amanda Grace (Flux/ Llewellyn Worldwide, Ltd., September 8): Told from separate viewpoints, two seniors at an elite girls school grow close as they work together on a project and Zoey, a scholarship student, begins dating wealthy, troubled Olivia's twin brother Liam, but romance blossoms between the girls, threatening both of their relationships with Liam.

God Loves Hair by Vivek Shraya, illustrated by Juliana Neufeld (Arsenal Pulp Press, Limited, September 9): Vivek Shraya's first book is a collection of twenty-one short stories following a tender, intellectual, and curious child as he navigates the complex realms of sexuality, gender, racial politics, religion, and belonging.

This is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids: A Question and Answer Guide to Everyday Life by Dannielle Owens-Reid and Kristin Russo (Chronicle Books LLC, September 9): Written in an accessible Q&A format, here, finally, is the go-to resource for parents hoping to understand and communicate with their gay child. Through their LGBTQ-oriented site, the authors are uniquely experienced to answer parents' many questions and share insight and guidance on both emotional and practical topics. Filled with real-life experiences from gay kids and parents, this is the book gay kids want their parents to read.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Yes we do, in fact, need negative book reviews

This weekend my Twitter feed was overflowing with discussion about an article that Kathleen Hale wrote in the Guardian this weekend (Do Not Link provided). And while I won't talk here about the particulars of the article, because many have already discussed it eloquently and thoroughly, I want to discuss one trend I saw repeated over and over again in my timeline in response to this article: PEOPLE SHOULDN'T WRITE NEGATIVE REVIEWS.

That, apparently for some, was the take away. Don't write negative reviews. This is a dangerous speech suppressing idea and it concerns me greatly. The truth is, we need to be having thoughtful, critical and yes, sometimes negative, discussions about books.

Sometimes books contains negative and harmful gender stereotypes, racial stereotypes, and sexual stereotypes. Sometimes books are misogynistic, participate in slut shaming, or suggest that rape is something other than rape. There are a number of ways that a book may have some type of issue that we should in fact be discussing.

Take, for example, Kathleen Hale's book itself and one of her issues issue with review in question. The reviewer said she didn't like that the book had a problematic rape yet Kathleen Hale maintains that there is no rape in the book, thus this reviewer must not have even read the book. Yet there is a teenage character who is revealed to have a sexual relationship with an adult man. This is rape. It is, more specifically a type of rape known as statutory rape. Almost all states have a law which states the legal age of sexual consent is often 16, though sometimes as high as 18. And a great many of these laws further stipulate that the adult that the teen is in a relationship with can not be more than 3 or 4 years older than the teen. The laws vary by state, but by almost all state laws the relationship presented in Hale's book would legally be considered rape.

Middle Grade Monday - Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

I'm finally going to weigh in with my thoughts on the lyrical, breathtaking work of art that is Jacqueline Woodson's Brown Girl Dreaming. Not that you really need my opinion. It has received, at last count, six starred reviews from major review publications, Kirkus, Publisher's Weekly, Booklist, Horn Book, School Library Journal, and the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (I hope I didn't miss one.) And, oh, it so deserves those stars.

Let me be all hipster for a moment and talk about my love for Jacqueline Woodson's writing. My first year as a middle school librarian was a difficult one, due in large part to my co-librarian, who was a nightmare. But I will be forever grateful to her for introducing me to Jacqueline Woodson's books. The first one I read was If You Come Softly, and I was immediately captivated. I read everything she had written to that point. Obviously, I was delighted when I found that she would be at my state's school library association meeting. I got to her session early enough to get a seat on the front row! And then...I was dismayed to find that only half the seats were filled for the session. How could people skip it? Didn't they know what they were missing? If I'm calculating correctly, this was fifteen years ago. So yes, I liked her books before she was 'famous.' I'm such a hipster.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sunday Reflections: Why I'm a GLBTQ Ally

by Amanda MacGregor

In honor of LGBT History Month and on the heels of Ally Week, Karen asked if I would be interested in writing the Sunday Reflection on why I’m a GLBTQ ally, and I said of course. But when I started to think about what I wanted to write, I kept getting stuck on the fact that my answer is a short one: I’m an ally because of course I am. Because why wouldn’t I be? How could I not be? That’s the brief answer: I’m an ally because I don’t know any other way to be. I'm an ally because aren't all decent human beings?

There is a longer answer, one that starts somewhere in the murky years of forming Teenage Amanda and figuring out what she was all about. Being an ally just felt like a natural extension of my early identity as a feminist. I credit the early 90s communities that I was a part of—feminism, punk, zine writing—for leading me to this role as an ally.

So what solidified this role for me?

Maybe it was joining the very awkwardly named group Respecters of Diversity in high school, which wasn’t exactly a GSA, but was sort of GSA-adjacent in its purpose. Maybe it was in college, when I was a Women’s Studies major. Some stereotypes are just true facts—the women’s studies program was home to lots of gay and bi women. Maybe it was taking the Lesbian Studies class (a class whose name was changed the year I took it to something very clunky like History of Women-identified Women, as there had been some drama over people not wanting the word “lesbian” on their transcripts. Most everyone I knew still called it Lesbian Studies, because this new name was not just clunky, but made little sense.) where we spent many weeks looking at the history of gay rights, reading coming out stories, and sharing coming out stories. Maybe it was joining the GSA in college. Maybe it was the night we held our candlelight vigil for Matthew Shepard, and my brain reeled from the horrific details that we were learning about his death. Maybe it was all of those things. Maybe it was just thinking, learning, growing, and loving that never made me think “why this?” but instead made me think “of course this.”

Through high school and college, I’d had friends come out. Then there were the two girls I babysat. I’d started babysitting them when I was 16. I’d answered an ad in the newspaper. There weren’t a lot of punk kids in my small town in the early 90s. I went to the interview hoping that having purple hair, an eyebrow ring, and an infinite collection of band tshirts wouldn’t work against me. It didn’t. I spent the next many years babysitting those girls, telling them how Barbies were evil, playing the card game Punk Rock with them, introducing them to the eclectic mix of friends I’d made—a motley crew of kids I knew from bands, zines, and scenes. Even after I left for college, and then moved to Massachusetts for graduate school, we remained close. So when the older girl was visiting me in Boston, along with her mother, and nervously whispered to me late one night that she had been hooking up with a girl, and hadn’t told anyone else, I felt honored (and, honestly, not even a little bit surprised). This girl I loved was telling me something very new and very big. I immediately started shoveling books her way to show her other gay kids and their stories. A while later, when her sister emailed me that she’d met a girl at camp and they were dating, I did the same thing for her. These girls were and are my family, and my kneejerk reaction to “why do you care so much about GLBTQ issues” is to point at them.

But here’s where my identity as an ally really formed: working in a high school.

I started at the high school library in October a few years ago. The first thing I did was set up a bunch of displays for LGBT History Month. I put up a cheerful little sign on National Coming Out Day. When I did book talks to literature classes, I made sure to include all different kinds of books with GLBTQ characters, to talk about how important these books were. I tried to share as many books as possible, because GLBTQ characters and teens are not homogeneous. It didn’t take long for word to get around that I was “safe” to talk to. Before long, I had kids who would routinely come and tell me about their crushes, or their coming out stories, or stories about wanting to come out. I had kids come asking for books with gay characters and still remember one boy saying to me, “I didn’t know there were books about kids like me.”

By working in a high school, I saw firsthand just how important it was for teenagers to see themselves, to feel supported, to have someone listen. Their stories will stick with me for a long time. The boy who tried to kill himself, the girl whose mother told her she was going to hell, the girl whose parents kicked her out, the boy who told me about his first kiss, the girl who showed me pictures of her and her girlfriend at prom. Being an ally meant being vocal in my support for those teens. It meant lots of seemingly small things, like wearing purple for Spirit Day, giving high fives on the Day of Silence, and sitting where I was visible at the circulation desk reading books like Rainbow Boys or Empress of the World. Those seemingly small things spoke volumes. It meant calling out kids who I’d overhear saying “that’s so gay.” I'd say, “So perfectly normal? So born that way? So 10% of the population? So no big deal?” It meant telling kids when they were being offensive. It meant using inclusive or neutral language. It meant taking every opportunity to make it clear that I was an ally. I think a little bit of my initially getting stuck while trying to start writing this is that I don't generally march around and announce I'm an ally. I'd hope my actions and my words would make it clear that I am. Being an ally is not something I think of as an identity, as something I am, but as an action, as something I do. Not a noun, but a verb, you know?

I’m no longer at the high school, but of course still want to read books about GLBTQ kids, and I want to make sure those books get into the hands of both the kids who really need them and the people who work with these kids. My role as an ally has taken on a new meaning while raising my son, too. As a parent, I’ve only ever told my son that he can love whoever he wants. He knows we have friends who identify as bi, or lesbian, or queer, or genderqueer. As far as he's concerned, this is how everyone is raised--being taught that love is love, that all sexual identities are okay. As adults, we unfortunately understand that these are not the lessons being taught in every house, but we can do our best to help spread this message by our actions, our words, and our works. The most important thing we can do? LISTEN. We're here to help, but these are not our stories. Listen as hard as you can, then see what you can do from there.

Where to look for information about being an ally:

PFLAG Straight for Equality

GSA Network Straight Allies

GLAAD Be an Ally and a Friend

Human Rights Campaign's An Ally’s Guide to Issues Facing the LGBT Community

PFLAG's Straight for Equality

PFLAG's guide to being a straight ally

Thursday, October 16, 2014

In which I am concerned about the things John Grisham has said about child pornography

Today, author John Grisham said some pretty distressing things about child pornography:
"We have prisons now filled with guys my age. Sixty-year-old white men in prison who've never harmed anybody, would never touch a child," he said in an exclusive interview to promote his latest novel Gray Mountain which is published next week. 

"But they got online one night and started surfing around, probably had too much to drink or whatever, and pushed the wrong buttons, went too far and got into child porn." 

and later this . . .

"His drinking was out of control, and he went to a website. It was labelled 'sixteen year old wannabee hookers or something like that'. And it said '16-year-old girls'. So he went there. Downloaded some stuff - it was 16 year old girls who looked 30. 

"He shouldn't ’a done it. It was stupid, but it wasn't 10-year-old boys. He didn't touch anything. And God, a week later there was a knock on the door: ‘FBI!’ and it was sting set up by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to catch people - sex offenders - and he went to prison for three years." (source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/11165656/John-Grisham-men-who-watch-child-porn-are-not-all-paedophiles.html)

So today as I discussed these issues on Twitter with people like C. J. Redwine and #SVYALit Project author Trish Doller, I have been thinking about what he says, and why I find it so problematic.

Take 5: Hazing

Earlier this month it was revealed that the football program at Sayreville in New Jersey was suspended due to allegations that the team was engaging in horrific acts of hazing that included sexually abusing their team mates. Hazing asks - forces, requires - people to do embarrassing or dangerous acts in order for them to be accepted into a group. It says you can be one of us if you are willing to do this thing, and that thing often ranges from embarrassing to illegal, violent and sometimes deadly. To date, 7 teens have been charged for their participation in the Sayreville hazing acts, with more possible charges to come. It is a stark reminder that hazing is a real and current issue, not just in our colleges but in our middle and high schools as well.

Here today are five YA lit titles that deal with hazing.

Press Play by Eric Devine

Coming out later this month, Eric has already told us a little bit about Press Play. You can read that here and check out his Initiation Secrets Tumblr in support of the book and in an effort to raise awareness of hazing.

"Greg Dunsmore, a.k.a. Dun the Ton, is focused on one thing: making a documentary that will guarantee his admission into the film school of his choice. Every day, Greg films his intense weight-loss focused workouts as well as the nonstop bullying that comes from his classmates. But when he captures footage of violent, extreme hazing by his high school’s championship-winning lacrosse team in the presence of his principal, Greg’s field of view is in for a readjustment.

Greg knows there is a story to be told, but it is not clear exactly what. And his attempts to find out the truth only create more obstacles, not to mention physical harm upon himself. Yet if Greg wants to make his exposé his ticket out of town rather than a veritable death sentence, he will have to learn to play the game and find a team to help him.

Combine the underbelly of Friday Night Lights with the unflinching honesty of Walter Dean Myers, and you will find yourself with Eric Devine’s novel of debatable truths, consequences, and realities." (Publisher's Description)

Brutal Youth by Anthony Breznican

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Cybils Reviews: Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer and Dark Metropolis by Jacyln Dolamore

I am knee deep in Cybils reading, and this weekend I read both Belzhar and Dark Metrpolis.

Belzar by Meg Wolitzer

Jam Gallahue finds herself at a special school for "emotionally fragile" teens. Last year, her beloved Reeve Maxfield died and she is having a hard time dealing with this loss. Her roommate is a young lady with food issues who is jealous when Jam is chosen to participate in a special topics English class. There are only 5 students and this year they are going to be exclusively studying the works of Sylvia Plath.

Each student receives a journal to write in and when they do, they find themselves in a place they call Belzhar where for a few brief moments they are at peace. But what happens when they get to the end of their journals?

We eventually learn the background stories of each of the five students as they build a relationship and learn to trust each other in this nontraditional class.

Although I had a hard time starting this book, I ended up really liking it in the end. Each of the 5 students deals with some form of variation on the concept of loss and grief. With this unique concept, Wolitzer highlights that even though people can be facing very different situations, they are entitled to the emotional weight of what they bear and the opportunity to go through their own healing process in their own way. In this world where we are constantly being told that so and so has it so much worse than us so you should just be happy and grateful, it's a nice reminder that each person has their own life story and that story has meaning and power to them.

Jam meets a boy named Griffin in this group and, to me, he was the most compelling of the characters. I was very drawn into his story. Overall, the writing was strong, the characters were very real and relatable, and the story was engaging.

Dark Metropolis by Jacyln Dolamore

Set in a dark, foreboding 1920/1930s-esque post war world, Dolamore introduces a world where magic is forbidden. After a brutal war plagued by food rationing and a near collapse of the city's infrastructure, a group of teens come to learn just what it is that keeps their city running and why people keep seeming to disappear.

Thea's mother was bound to her father in a binding spell, a magic that would unite them for life. So when Thea's mother is told that her husband has passed away, she insists it can be true because she can still feel herself bound to him. Slowly, she becomes increasingly boundsick, which leaves Thea in a desperate attempt to discover the truth and help save her mother who appears to be slowly going insane.

Thea works at a place called the Telephone Club, and one day her best friend simply fails to show up. Nan wakes up in a bizarre factory with no memories and her task each day is to pull lever after lever. Where she is, and the how and why of it, are a truly fascinating tale.

Thea enlists the help of a silver haired boy named Freddy to help find out what happened to Nan. It turns out he has recently seen Nan and he is a very big player in everything that is happening.

Dark Metropolis is a wildly inventive story that weaves magic into a city in very interesting ways while addressing issues like class warfare and politics. Like Reboot by Amy Tintera, there is an interesting take on a very familiar monster story here - though I can't tell you what because it would ruin all of your fun.

For me, one of the most interesting parts of this story is the character of Father Gruneman. He is involved in the revolution movement, a fact that at first surprises Thea. When Thea approaches the Father about his involvement, he replies to her that he can't just stand at the pulpit and preach about faith and making the world a better place, but that he must go out and actively live his faith in a way that helps to bring about the good that he proclaims. So nestled in the middle of this very dark fantasy story is one of the strongest affirmations of faith I have found recently in YA literature.

Overall, I really loved how dark and macabre this story was. I loved Nan and her parts of the story. I thought some of the dialogue between Thea and Freddy was stilted and didn't feel very authentic and I felt the ending was a little rushed, but other parts of the story were very atmospheric and engaging. For me, this could be a complete story, but it's listed as being book #1 so it seems that there is more to come.

I definitely recommend both of these books.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Teen Read Week 2014 at Betty Warmack Branch Library (TPiB)

It's Teen Read Week! And one of the ways we're celebrating at my library - The Betty Warmack Branch Library in Grand Prairie, Texas - is by having a "Photo Booth" where teens can make their own ALA READ posters.  See . . .
A colleague used the READ software we purchased from ALA to create the backdrops. We used these to set up our "Photo Booth":

Another colleague had found a variety of props that we ordered from Oriental Trading:

I really wanted some awesome bow ties so we used the duct tape from our MakerSpace to make bow ties. If you use a large clip on barrette they are easy to clip to a stick and make your own props:

I just put my "Photo Booth" up yesterday before we opened and it was wildly popular and heavily trafficked. It was fun to sit at the Reference Desk and watch people of all ages join in on the fun.