Search on ....
Subscribe to SLJ
Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Sunday Reflections: Where’d you go, VOYA?

Some awful things are being said by an organization that I idolized. I first discovered VOYA in the LIS Library at the University of Illinois in 2001 and reported back to my Young Adult Literature Class as if I’d just struck California gold.

Did you know? I asked, Did you know there’s a journal called Voice of Youth Advocates and it’s all about teen services?” 

I pored over the articles. In those months overwhelmed by reading assignments, I checked out back issues and read just because. I saw names that I committed to memory. Names of authors to seek out when considering collections. Names of librarians doing good work. Names of libraries with vibrant teen services and spaces. Though I never wrote for VOYA, it felt like it was mine. It was a journal that was solely concerned with the field of librarianship in which I worked. Unlike Booklist or School Library Journal which reviewed YA titles and included some content pertaining to YA librarianship, or the YALSA journal which was connected to ALA and had to hove to the priorities of a larger organization, it had a singular and piercing focus.

It felt a little bit radical.

Then I read about its founders, Mary K Chelton and Dorothy Broderick, and was in awe that such a powerhouse presence in the YA library world got its start from two people and $400 in donations. It made me feel like good, big things can happen when people believe in them enough. That was a long time ago now. The founders retired, Dorothy Broderick passed away, new editors have taken, then passed the reins, and that brings us to the present.

The awfulness started in earnest on Thursday. On Thursday, I got angry about the attitude and disregard thrown at individuals, Tristna Wright in particular, who pointed out aggression and hurtfulness in the review of Kody Keplinger’s Run. We at Teen Librarian Toolbox released the following statement:


Then it didn’t get better. It got worse. Much worse.

I was angry that people weren’t being heard, that people weren’t listening, and that teens were potentially viewing this all unfold minute by minute on social media, watching professionals who stand under a banner of youth advocacy slinging invective about sexual orientation, gender identity; employing marginalization, tone policing, and othering in their responses.

There is a lot to be angry about. A lot of people heard a lot of awful things said in awful ways. If you’re still angry, I can stand with you in your anger and validate that feeling because that feeling is valid.

But I’m not angry anymore, I’m sad.

I’m sad that a legacy founded in part because of the exclusion of teen services from the library conversation is now tarnished by creating an atmosphere of exclusion.

I’m sad on a very practical level that the most efficient tool I had in my collection development drawer is now in peril and I worry about how that will impact my ability to serve my population well on my limited time.

I’m sad that GLBTQIA folks in general and bisexual, genderqueer, gender nonconforming folks in particular have been treated like little more than Googlable curiosities, and that their identities are being conflated with sexual activity when it comes to age ratings. There are plenty of venues to turn to if you need to “shield” your patrons or children from content that doesn’t jive with your worldview. VOYA, and other professional library review sources, should never be the place for that. We pinned our faith on VOYA being the journal that we could count on to put teen readership at the forefront of their reviews, taking into account literary quality and popularity in equal measure, regularly featuring teens themselves as columnists and reviewers. How did we get here? Because it’s not where VOYA came from. Roger Sutton was right: they may be in the midst of this awful, dismissive, unprofessional conduct, but once upon a time VOYA was groundbreaking:


And VOYA was right about one thing: it doesn’t define their past. But it is defining their present and it will define their future.

This is a pivotal moment for the journal, the ethic, the movement, the advocacy organization that so many of us have relied upon. It’s an opportunity for evaluation, change, renewal, regeneration, and a harkening back to its origins: a focus on the needs of teen librarianship and a dedicated space for authentic and accurate reviews of the books teens want, need, and deserve.

I don’t delight at this miasma of out of touch messages and social media misfirings. It’s embarrassing for those of us who have considered VOYA as a partner in our work and for those who have been proudly affiliated with the journal in its better days. It’s disappointing that they’ve given us ample reason to mistrust their editorial judgement. It’s sad that our field has lost a voice that we counted on.

It will take a lot [seriously a lot] of work to regain the trust lost, but for a journal that began with its mission being dismissed as one with “nothing to say” I believe–I hope–that in the right hands, it can overcome this. And if not, I’m encouraged that in the same spirit of carving out space for teen advocacy, new voices are emerging and will continue to emerge and rise to the challenge.

Links of interest:

Amanda reviews Run by Kody Keplinger for TLT

Teens Review Kody Keplinger’s Run Suspense and More in SLJ

Bisexual Books has been following the issue on their site

Getting Called Out: How To Apologize on Youtube

Flickering the Gaslight: Tactics of Organized Online Harassment from Model View Culture

Friday Finds: September 23, 2016

fridayfindsThis Week at TLT

Sunday Reflections: Faith Shaming and Mental Illness, Reflecting on Faith and Mental Illness for the #MHYALit Project

Middle School Monday: Classroom Crossover

Book Review: The Forgetting Machine by Pete Hautman

Rural Poverty and THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES by Mindy McGinnis

Book Review: Jess, Chunk, and the Road Trip to Infinity by Kristin Elizabeth Clark

#MHYALit: Kneejerk Reactions are Just Jerky, a guest post by author Stacie Ramey

Video Games Weekly: Undertale

Who in the world am I? Growing up in Wonderland, a guest post by Nicky Peacock

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Showcase and Giveaway

Around the Web

Sixth Grade Is Tough; It Helps To Be ‘Top Dog’

Don’t Believe the Charter School Hype

6 Adult Coloring Pages Inspired by Bestsellers

Back-To-School Advisory: K-12 Schools Must Address Sexual Violence | Huffington Post

I see some familiar names here.

You can meet some of us and several friends of the blog here.

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Showcase and Giveaway

Beyond the people I work with and the people this blog has led me to get to know, by far the best aspect of blogging for TLT is the constant influx of books. All of the books I get end up going back out the door in some fashion—to teen readers I know, to classroom libraries of friends, or in giveaways. I can’t read/review every book I get, but it’s fun to be able to sift through boxes and see what grabs my attention, and to see what books will find loving new homes with the right reader.


Today I’m sharing with you a few titles from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers’ Fall 2016 and Winter 2017 list. All annotations are from the publisher. They have kindly offered to do a giveaway with us. They are offering 5 copies of Dreamland Burning to our readers. Enter via the Rafflecopter between now and September 26th. Winners will be notified via email. US entries only, please.



treesAnd the Trees Crept in by Dawn Kurtagich (ISBN-13: 9780316298704 Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Publication date: 09/06/2016)

A stunning, terrifying novel about a house the color of blood and the two sisters who are trapped there, by The Dead House author Dawn Kurtagich
When Silla and Nori arrive at their aunt’s home, it’s immediately clear that the “blood manor” is cursed. The creaking of the house and the stillness of the woods surrounding them would be enough of a sign, but there are secrets too–the questions that Silla can’t ignore: Who is the beautiful boy that’s appeared from the woods? Who is the man that her little sister sees, but no one else? And why does it seem that, ever since they arrived, the trees have been creeping closer?

Filled with just as many twists and turns as The Dead House, and with achingly beautiful, chilling language that delivers haunting scenes, AND THE TREES CREPT IN is the perfect follow-up novel for master horror writer Dawn Kurtagich.



cloudwishCloudwish by Fiona Wood (ISBN-13: 9780316242127 Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Publication date: 10/18/2016)

Award-winning author Fiona Wood delivers a thought-provoking story of self-discovery and first love-one that will resonate with anyone who has ever realized that the things that make you different are the things that make you…you.

For Vân Uoc, fantasies fall into two categories: nourishing or pointless. Daydreaming about attending her own art opening? Nourishing. Daydreaming about Billy Gardiner, star of the rowing team who doesn’t even know she’s alive? Pointless.

So Vân Uoc tries to stick to her reality-keeping a low profile as a scholarship student at her prestigious Melbourne private school, managing her mother’s PTSD from a traumatic emigration from Vietnam, and admiring Billy from afar. Until she makes a wish that inexplicably (possibly magically) comes true. Billy actually notices her. In fact, he seems to genuinely like her. But as they try to fit each other into their very different lives, confounding parents and confusing friends, Vân Uoc can’t help but wonder why Billy has suddenly fallen for her. Is it the magic of first love, or is it magic from a well-timed wish that will eventually, inevitably, come to an end?


blood for bloodBlood for Blood by Ryan Graudin (ISBN-13: 9780316405157 Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Publication date: 11/01/2016 Series: Wolf by Wolf Series)

The action-packed, thrilling sequel to Ryan Graudin’s Wolf by Wolf.

There would be blood.
Blood for blood.
Blood to pay.
An entire world of it.

For the resistance in 1950s Germany, the war may be over, but the fight has just begun.

Death camp survivor Yael, who has the power to skinshift, is on the run: the world has just seen her shoot and kill Hitler. But the truth of what happened is far more complicated, and its consequences are deadly. Yael and her unlikely comrades dive into enemy territory to try to turn the tide against the New Order, and there is no alternative but to see their mission through to the end, whatever the cost.

But dark secrets reveal dark truths, and one question hangs over them all: how far can you go for the ones you love?

This gripping, thought-provoking sequel to Wolf by Wolf will grab readers by the throat with its cinematic writing, fast-paced action, and relentless twists.


love andLove and First Sight by Josh Sundquist
(ISBN-13: 9780316305358 Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Publication date: 01/03/2017)

In his debut novel, YouTube personality and author of We Should Hang Out Sometime Josh Sundquist explores the nature of love, trust, and romantic attraction.
On his first day at a new school, blind sixteen-year-old Will Porter accidentally groped a girl on the stairs, sat on another student in the cafeteria, and somehow drove a classmate to tears. High school can only go up from here, right?

As Will starts to find his footing, he develops a crush on a charming, quiet girl named Cecily. Then an unprecedented opportunity arises: an experimental surgery that could give Will eyesight for the first time in his life. But learning to see is more difficult than Will ever imagined, and he soon discovers that the sighted world has been keeping secrets. It turns out Cecily doesn’t meet traditional definitions of beauty—in fact, everything he’d heard about her appearance was a lie engineered by their so-called friends to get the two of them together. Does it matter what Cecily looks like? No, not really. But then why does Will feel so betrayed?

Told with humor and breathtaking poignancy, Love and First Sight is a story about how we related to each other and the world around us.



frostbloodFrostblood by Elly Blake (ISBN-13: 9780316273251 Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Publication date: 01/17/2017)

The first in a page-turning young adult series about a world where flame and ice are mortal enemies—but together create a power that could change everything.

Seventeen-year-old Ruby is a fireblood who must hide her powers of heat and flame from the cruel frostblood ruling class that wants to destroy all that are left of her kind. So when her mother is killed for protecting her and rebel frostbloods demand her help to kill their rampaging king, she agrees. But Ruby’s powers are unpredictable, and she’s not sure she’s willing to let the rebels and an infuriating (yet irresistible) young man called Arcus use her as their weapon. All she wants is revenge, but before they can take action, Ruby is captured and forced to fight for her life in tournaments that pit fireblood prisoners against frostblood champions. Now she has only one chance to destroy the maniacal ruler who has taken everything from her and from the icy young man she has come to love.



tragicA Tragic Kind of Wonderful by Eric Lindstrom (ISBN-13: 9780316260060 Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Publication date: 02/07/2017)

In the vein of It’s Kind of a Funny Story and All the Bright Places, comes a captivating, immersive exploration of life with mental illness.
For sixteen-year-old Mel Hannigan, bipolar disorder makes life unpredictable. Her latest struggle is balancing her growing feelings in a new relationship with her instinct to conceal her diagnosis by keeping everyone at arm’s length. But when a former friend confronts Mel with the truth about the way their relationship ended, deeply buried secrets threaten to come out and upend her shaky equilibrium.

As the walls of Mel’s compartmentalized world crumble, she fears the worst-that no one will accept her if they discover what she’s been hiding. But would her friends really abandon her if they learned the truth? More importantly, can Mel bring herself to risk everything to find out?

In A Tragic Kind of Wonderful, Eric Lindstrom, author of the critically acclaimed Not If I See You First, examines the fear that keeps us from exposing our true selves, and the courage it takes to be loved for who we really are.



dreamlandDreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham (ISBN-13: 9780316384933 Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Publication date: 02/21/2017)

Some bodies won’t stay buried.
Some stories need to be told.

When seventeen-year-old Rowan Chase finds a skeleton on her family’s property, she has no idea that investigating the brutal century-old murder will lead to a summer of painful discoveries about the past… and the present.

Nearly one hundred years earlier, a misguided violent encounter propels seventeen-year-old Will Tillman into a racial firestorm. In a country rife with violence against blacks and a hometown segregated by Jim Crow, Will must make hard choices on a painful journey towards self discovery and face his inner demons in order to do what’s right the night Tulsa burns.

Through intricately interwoven alternating perspectives, Jennifer Latham’s lightning-paced page-turner brings the Tulsa race riot of 1921 to blazing life and raises important question about the complex state of US race relations – both yesterday and today.


seven daysSeven Days of You by Cecilia Vinesse (ISBN-13: 9780316391115 Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Publication date: 03/07/2017)

Anna and the French Kiss meets Before Sunrise in this smart and swoony debut.

Sophia has seven days left in Tokyo before she moves back to the States. Seven Days to say good-bye to the electric city, her wild best friend, and the boy she’s harbored a semi-secret crush on for years. Seven perfect days….Until Jamie Foster-Collins moves back to Japan and ruins everything.

Jamie and Sophia have a history of heartbreak, and the last thing Sophia wants is for him to steal her leaving thunder with his stupid arriving thunder. Yet as the week counts down, the relationships she thought were stable begin to explode around her. And Jamie is the one who helps her pick up the pieces. Sophia is forced to admit she may have misjudged Jamie, but can their seven short days of Tokyo adventures end in anything but good-bye?

Who in the world am I? Growing up in Wonderland, a guest post by Nicky Peacock


Last year was Alice in Wonderland’s 150th anniversary, and this inspired me to re-read the book as an adult. I’d always known there were certain themes flowing through the story: growing up, madness, etc. but it was only on this second read that I started to truly understand them. My book, Lost in Wonderland, then began to take shape in my mind.

Adolescence is a difficult process for everyone, but it is universal. We all go through stages of high emotions and frustrations and feeling like our bodies are changing beyond our control. In Alice in Wonderland, we can see a perfect example of this when Alice drinks from the ‘Drink Me’ bottle, and her body shrinks, making her too small to use the key to open the door she wishes to enter. When you grow up, you are given more responsibilities as a teenager; you suddenly become a small person in a very big world.

When Alice eats the cake, she grows to massive proportions. Just like when our bodies change through our teens; we feel awkward and out of control. She is now far too big to enter the door, so starts to weep. She shrinks into the salty pool – consumed by her emotions.


Then she meets Mouse, my own character’s namesake. Mouse introduces her to a party of animals that Alice frightens by talking about her cat and once again Alice finds herself alone. We all experience delicate peer social systems in these years. The wrong words or actions can quickly bring on ridicule and abandonment, but are these fair-weather people who we want in our lives?

The perpetual Mad Hatter’s Tea Party is an excellent example of particular peer groups that we all find in our schools. Those who appear to be having fun, yet in reality are not getting anywhere in life. Alice wants to join in but is ostracized and insulted – a blessing in disguise?

The Queen of Hearts is a totally unfair ruler, and perhaps this is similar to how we can feel about our parents and guardians through our teens. Doing and saying things we don’t understand, and feeling that they are being ‘un-needlessly harsh.’ when they do not concede to our wishes – no matter how right we think we are.

On the face of it, Alice seems to have incredible adventures in Wonderland, but when you re-read it, it becomes obvious that she has to run a gauntlet of emotionally draining trials and is dramatically thrown from one weird situation to another.

When I wrote my book, Lost in Wonderland, I didn’t want to just re-hash the original Alice story; taking the themes of growing up and being lost and threading them through a supernatural thriller. I wanted to give it a modern twist that was ultimately about Alice but didn’t star her.

My protagonist, Mouse, looks like a little girl but is, in fact, much older. Although this aids her in baiting serial killers, it hinders her life. She’s developed a love of high-heeled shoes to try to compensate for this almost eternal youth and is sometimes needlessly violent. She works for a vigilante group known as Wonderland that gives their operatives codenames from the Lewis Carroll book in honor of a murdered young girl called Alice.  Mouse’s brother Shilo is her opposite. He has grown into a man, but behaviors like a child, worrying about mythical monsters and talking to an imaginary friend. Both are trapped in their own Wonderlands and only when they work together do they start to find their way out.

Puberty is hard for everyone and the key is to realize that you are not alone.  Being a teenager is temporary so make the most out of it. Believe in as many as six impossible things before breakfast. Embrace your emotions as you make your way through your own Wonderland. And remember this; no matter how insane of frustrating your life gets know in your heart that you will find your way out to become the person you want to be.

And if imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality, read books, preferably my books, but if you’d like to read others I won’t hold it against you…much :)

“Have I gone mad?”

“I’m afraid so, but let me tell you something, the best people usually are.”

― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

About Nicky Peacock


Nicky Peacock is an Amazon best-selling author of YA books. She has two series with Evernight Teen: Battle of the Undead and The Twisted and the Brave. She also has over 30 short stories published in horror and paranormal romance anthologies. In her spare time she runs a local writers’ group and volunteers to run creative writing workshops in schools and libraries to encourage the next generation of budding authors. You can find out more information here:

Lost in Wonderland can be bought on Amazon here:

Looking for a FREE Halloween read? Traitors’ Gate – prequel to the Battle of the Undead series is a historical vampires VS zombies YA read and can be found here:

Video Games Weekly: Undertale


This week’s video game, Undertale,  is once again a PC game that teens (especially teen girls) love, but circulating library collections may not be able to purchase because it is a digital download only.  My teens requested an Undertale themed library program, and it attracted a more diverse crowd of teens compared to my usual programs!  Next week, I’ll write a Teen Program in a Box post for Undertale.

YouTube Trailer

Platform:  PC

Rated:  No official ESRB rating. I personally would give it a T because there is fighting / genocide themes, but nothing gory.

Single or Multiplayer: Single

Storyline: The game begins with the universe’s history.  A long time ago, humans were at war with monsters, and the monsters were banished underground.  The monsters couldn’t escape because a magical seal only allows certain types of souls to get through.  Many years later, a human, which the player gets to name and control, manages to somehow fall through this barrier.  The human wakes up and meets Toriel, a maternal goat-like figure who protects humans who have fallen through the barrier (no spoilers about why she has to protect them…).  Eventually, the human leaves Toriel in order to explore the underground world.


Controls: The controls are old school keyboard controls. You use the arrow keys to move around, “Z” to select things, “X” to cancel, and “C” for menu. That’s it!

Gameplay:  Players will encounter monsters that are mean, shy, like to tell jokes, and more quirky personality traits.  Some are random spawns, while others are well fleshed out characters that are significant to the plot.  There are multiple options when interacting with a monster.  Whenever players select an option, you play different mini games that in essence protect their “soul” which is in the shape of an 8-bit heart.

Undertale is at its core a “choose your own adventure” game with three distinct story routes: pacifist, neutral, and genocide.  The game purposefully does not tell you that there are alternate routes until the very end, but my teens insisted that I should play through the neutral route the first time.  The game is meant to be played over and over again, and your actions will have consequences that carry over into the next game.

Neutral Route: The neutral route is the route where players do not kill many monsters, and tend to choose the nice options. You can kill one monster and it’ll be fine.  Players have to unlock the neutral route first before they can unlock alternate endings.


Pacifist Route:  The pacifist route is by far the most annoying.  When you meet a monster, you have to pick the “nice” option MANY times in order to do some good.  Sure, you can flee from monsters, but you don’t get any coins by taking the easy route. Coins are important in this game because you can buy silly items like a Cinnamon Bunny that give you life, so it’s in your best interest to be friendly to monsters.  Players who complete the neutral storyline first, then play the pacific route a second time will get a “happy” ending, basically the one that everyone wants.

Genocide Route:  The genocide route is pretty self-explanatory…you kill every monster.  Now, it’s important to note that this is the “easiest” route in the game in terms of gameplay.  It’s a lot easier to kill a monster because you only have to play through one mini game, instead of doing it multiple times like in the neutral/pacific route. However, the ending is incredibly heart wrenching, incredibly dark, and dramatic (and personally my favorite ending).

Audience: This game is unexpectedly appealing to my teen girl gamers.  I think it’s because there are female-ish (remember, Toriel is a maternal goat-like monster) characters that are fleshed out, not sex objects.  I also believe it’s attractive to teens because the moral of Undertale is “Actions Have Consequences”.  I believe teens really start to embrace this idea because they’re old enough to have experienced their own version of “actions have consequences”.  Finally, a teen told me that she loves the game because it teaches you that “it’s more difficult to choose love, but in the end, it will always pay off.”

Questions? Comments? Tweet them at me!

By: Alanna Graves
Twitter: @LannaLibrarian

Pricing: $10 on Steam

#MHYALit: Kneejerk Reactions are Just Jerky, a guest post by author Stacie Ramey

Today as part of the #MHYALit Discussion, we are honored to host author Stacie Ramey. You can read all the posts as part of the Mental Health in YA Lit Discussion here.


An experience hits me every time a celebrity admits they’ve been diagnosed with depression. I think. Wow. I had no idea. And then I get pissed at myself for being stupid.

Most illnesses are invisible. Mental health issues are no exception. People don’t go around with a sign around their necks saying they are battling depression. Depressed people don’t look alike, act alike, eat alike, hang out in the same places, any more than any other group of people do.

We wouldn’t expect people with shin splints to be an easily recognizable group, would  we? Or people with asthma or that condition where your internal organs are in the wrong place in your body.

But we expect people with depression, social anxiety, addiction, OCD, anxiety attacks, all to have a similar look and life. We expect them to flock together and congregate in easily identifiable groups.  Weird. And stupid. And also sort of a way to blame the victim.


We are made in all shapes and sizes. Some tall. Some small. Some big. Some little. All with the same desire. To live and be accepted for who we are, regardless of our unique biological make-up. If we can accept that some people will be NY Jets fans and some will be Pittsburgh Steelers fans, why can’t we decide that the specific things that each of us struggle with can be our private struggles? And all we need to do is accept that each one of us has a place in this world. Even Miami Dolphins fans.

So whenever we hear of a celebrity like John Saunders that suffers from depression, and we are surprised, we need to smack ourselves in the head. Snap a rubber band. Whatever it takes to stop being ignorant.  Celebrities are people, like we are. They just have more friends on Facebook and more followers on Twitter. But the point is, since celebrities are actual people, they will inevitably suffer from the human experience. And sometimes that will include mental illness. Just the way the cards are dealt.

Demi Lovato. Selena Gomez. Howie Mandel. Jennifer Laurence. What does the face of mental illness look like? What does the life of someone who suffers from mental health issues look like? All different. Just like we are all different.

If we are compassionate and giving and understanding with every single person, no one would feel the need to declare they suffer from hemorrhoids or endometriosis or athlete’s foot in order to receive our understanding.  Just like we don’t require people with hypothyroidism to testify, we shouldn’t require people with mental illness to.

If we, as a society learn to stop being amazed that people have physical make-ups that select them for specific diagnoses, then we will simply hand them the latte and ask them to pass the Scones (gluten free or not) and get on with our lives. Coffee tastes just as good with someone who has OCD as it does with people who have migraines. Or gallbladder disease. Or arthritis. Or high blood pressure.

We need to stop being amazed that people have mental health issues. We should be more amazed that there are New England Patriots fans and get on with our lives.

Meet Stacie Ramey


Stacie Ramey is a young adult author of THE SISTER PACT (Sourcebooks)  and THE HOMECOMING (Sourcebooks). She is a life-long NY Jets fan who married a Pittsburgh Steelers fan and has a brother in law who is a rabid San Diego Chargers fan. All opinions about football are hers alone do not reflect those of TLT.

You can write to Stacie on her website or follow her on Twitter or read her posts on her group blog  Tuesday Writers.

About The Sister Pact

A suicide pact was supposed to keep them together, but a broken promise tore them apart

Allie is devastated when her older sister commits suicide – and not just because she misses her. Allie feels betrayed. The two made a pact that they’d always be together, in life, and in death, but Leah broke her promise and Allie needs to know why.

Her parents hover. Her friends try to support her. And Nick, sweet Nick, keeps calling and flirting. Their sympathy only intensifies her grief.

But the more she clings to Leah, the more secrets surface. Allie’s not sure which is more distressing: discovering the truth behind her sister’s death or facing her new reality without her. (Sourcebooks, November 2015)

Book Review: Jess, Chunk, and the Road Trip to Infinity by Kristin Elizabeth Clark

When I’m reviewing books for professional publications, I stay quiet about them on social media. I’m always really excited once a review comes out to be able to talk about the book, finally! Here’s one of my most recent reviews, which originally appeared in the September 2016 issue of School Library Journal.


jess-chunkJess, Chunk, and the Road Trip to Infinity by Kristin Elizabeth Clark (ISBN-13: 9780374380069 Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux Publication date: 11/08/2016)

Gr 9 Up—Immediately after graduation, Jess and her best friend, Chunk, embark on a road trip from San Jose, CA, to Chicago. Trans teen Jess has tried to fly under the radar, but now she’s ready to show her true self. Where better to make her debut than a surprise appearance at her transphobic dad’s wedding to her mom’s former best friend? The road trip uncovers many worries, tensions, and truths. Jess is concerned for her safety and nervous about passing. Her friendship with Chunk—who really hates the taunting and judgmental nickname and would prefer to be called Chuck—is on the rocks, too. He’s spending the trip texting another girl while growing increasingly irritated at Jess’s utter self-absorption. For someone so aware of names, image, and identity, Jess is extremely insensitive, especially when it comes to weight. It takes seeing (and overhearing) Chuck interact with new people for Jess to understand her feelings and begin to see beyond herself. Though it relies on an engaging premise, the novel is a mixed bag. Some things are true simply because readers are told they are (such as a significant revelation about Chuck that’s barely addressed). Chuck and Jess avoid some really big conversations that would reveal more about themselves and their relationship. Much like their friendship, the ending feels superficial. VERDICT Despite its flaws, this is still a useful addition to collections because of its rare multifaceted picture of a trans girl with a story that is about more than just coming out.

Rural Poverty and THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES by Mindy McGinnis

Sometimes, it is indeed a small world after all. Shortly after moving to Texas, I learned that author Mindy McGinnis lived just 10 minutes from the very library I had spent the last 10 years working at in the state of Ohio. This town was my home, the place where my children were born. It was also, at the time, the county with the highest poverty rate in all of Ohio. So while there were many aspects about Mindy McGinnis’ THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES that stood out to me, one that stood out most vividly is the depiction of rural poverty. THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES is set in a small, Midwestern town that is ravished by poverty and in my mind’s eye I could picture the very places around this small town that I thought Mindy might be talking about. And while all poverty is bad, each type of poverty has its unique challenges. For example, one of the greatest challenges in rural poverty is transportation. Rural communities are often spread out and don’t have public transportation systems, which makes things like going to a grocery story or doctor’s appointment quite challenging. There are usually fewer options in rural communities, and less options means less competition and less price choices.

Although I currently live in Texas, I work in a public library in another rural Ohio community that is also fighting high poverty. Many of my patrons don’t have the money to buy current technology, and even if they did have the money the truth is, there are still parts of my community that have no providers offering wireless or DSL Internet. Like many other places experiences high rural poverty rates, drug use and drug related deaths are reaching epidemic proportions. So as I mentioned, THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES resonated with me in ways that I can not even begin to describe.

Today, I am honored to host author Mindy McGinni who talks about rural poverty and the part it plays in her newest release, THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES.


The Female of the Species addresses many issues within its pages; rape culture and vigilante justice being the most prevalent. A quieter issue raises it’s head though, one that is easy to overlook, shadowed as it is by the more controversial topics.

Rural poverty.poverty2Much of the time poverty is associated with urban life and that is certainly a truth that cannot go ignored. However, there is another face to poverty, one that looks picturesque. Farms with collapsed barns. Homes where no one lives anymore.

I was born and raised in a rurally impoverished area and now I live and work in one. For fourteen years I have been employed as a library aide at a local school where nearly forty percent of our student body receive free and reduced lunch.

During deer hunting season our attendance list shows double digits of our students are excused for the day to participate… and in most cases it’s not a leisure activity for them. They’re putting much-needed food on the family table.

Food pantry lines are long, faces are pinched, and during the summer months many of our students go without lunch because they depended on the school to provide it. Because it is a sprawling, rural community, people who have to weigh the cost of gas for the drive to the pantry against the food they will get there.

None of the characters in my book suffer the indignity of hunger, because I feel it’s an issue that deserves more space than there was room for within this particular story. But hunger breeds a specific type of desperation that calls for an escape, and this can open the door to darker things.


Upper and middle classes know the need for a vacation. We all feel the cycle of our daily lives triggering stress, causing irritation and anger, and even pushing us towards exhaustion. So we take a “mental health day,” call off work for little or no reason, or we cash in those vacation days and just “get away from it all.”

We have that luxury.

Many of the jobs available to the working poor pay by the hour, and to take a day off means to take a pay cut – one that the budget doesn’t allow for. Vacation time may be possible, but the idea of affording to actually leave is laughable. Escapes from reality are sometimes sought not in a getaway, but in drug use.

There is a major heroin epidemic in my area. We have lost students in my small school district to it. One Twitter user already thanked me for mentioning the epidemic in The Female of the Species, saying that she hopes it may draw more attention to the issue. If it doesn’t, this should; last weekend alone multiple people OD’d, two of them in a mini-van with a four year old.

It’s easy to point fingers, lay blame, criticize and judge. What kind of people do this?

The desperate. The addicted. The hopeless.

Such descriptions aren’t solely the realm of the poor, but there are correlations that can’t be denied.

On my worst days – and we all have bad ones, no matter who we are – I can get upset, feel like giving up or just ducking out of reality for awhile. Stress is present in all our lives, no matter our socioeconomic standing.

But on these days I remind myself that I have food. I have clothes. I have a working car that I can drive to my next school visit, library appearance, or book club talk. I can fill the gas tank and go to work without having to worry about paying for that stop.

The small luxuries of our lives are something that most of us take for granted until they are taken away from us – a cracked phone that doesn’t work, the car being in this shop for a few days, the heat and electric always being on.

When you do have one of those days, think about those who can’t afford a phone at all, and are literally holding their cars together with duct tape. In the past I’ve had students that heat their home with the kitchen stove, and the children sleep with the pets to share body heat.

Spare a thought for them on your bad days, and if you can spare more than that, please do.

Publisher’s Book Description

Alex Craft knows how to kill someone. And she doesn’t feel bad about it. When her older sister, Anna, was murdered three years ago and the killer walked free, Alex uncaged the language she knows best. The language of violence.

While her crime goes unpunished, Alex knows she can’t be trusted among other people, even in her small hometown. She relegates herself to the shadows, a girl who goes unseen in plain sight, unremarkable in the high school hallways.

But Jack Fisher sees her. He’s the guy all other guys want to be: the star athlete gunning for valedictorian with the prom queen on his arm. Guilt over the role he played the night Anna’s body was discovered hasn’t let him forget Alex over the years, and now her green eyes amid a constellation of freckles have his attention. He doesn’t want to only see Alex Craft; he wants to know her.

So does Peekay, the preacher’s kid, a girl whose identity is entangled with her dad’s job, though that does not stop her from knowing the taste of beer or missing the touch of her ex-boyfriend. When Peekay and Alex start working together at the animal shelter, a friendship forms and Alex’s protective nature extends to more than just the dogs and cats they care for.

Circumstances bring Alex, Jack, and Peekay together as their senior year unfolds. While partying one night, Alex’s darker nature breaks out, setting the teens on a collision course that will change their lives forever. (Katherine Tegen Books, September 2016)

More on Rural Poverty and America’s Rural Drug Crisis

Understanding the Epidemic | Drug Overdose | CDC Injury Center

Opioid Addiction 2016 Facts & Figures

About the Epidemic |

5 Charts That Show How Bad America’s Drug Problem Is | TIME

Rural Poverty Portal: Home

Why the Left Isn’t Talking About Rural American Poverty – Rural America

Child Poverty Higher and More Persistent in Rural America

Who’s Afraid of Rural Poverty? The Story Behind America’s Invisible

Hunger and Poverty

Additional Sources:

Social Mobility:

Cycles of Poverty:

How Poverty Affects Schools:

Karen’s Thoughts on THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES: Highly Recommended

femaleofthespecies femaleofthespecies2 femaleofthespecies3 femaleofthespecies4More From Mindy McGinnis

THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES 9.20.16 HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Books
GIVEN TO THE SEA 4.11.17 Putnam Children’s Books
Available Now:

Book Review: The Forgetting Machine by Pete Hautman

Publisher’s description

forgettingPeople all over Flinkwater are losing their memories—and it’s up to Ginger to figure out what’s going on—in this sequel to the “quirky, dryly funny” (Booklist) The Flinkwater Factor from National Book Award–winning author Pete Hautman.

Absentmindedness in Flinkwater, a town overflowing with eccentric scientists and engineers, is nothing new. Recently, however, the number of confused, forgetful citizens has been increasing, and no one seems to know why. Ginger Crump figures it’s none of her business. She has her own problems. Like the strange cat that’s been following her around—a cat that seems to be able to read. And the report for school due Monday. And the fact that every digital book in Flinkwater has been vandalized by a fanatical censor, forcing Ginger to the embarrassingly retro alternative of reading books printed on dead trees.

But when Ginger’s true love and future husband Billy Bates completely forgets who she is, things suddenly get serious, and Ginger swings into action.


Amanda’s thoughts

I love Pete Hautman’s books. I love that I never know what to expect next from him. Also, did you know that The Big Crunch is one of my all-time favorite books? Well, now you know—and now you should go read it. But anyway. The first thing you should know is that this book is a sequel, but it can be read on its own and still make sense. Multiple references are made to the first book, but you get enough details to sort of know what happened. That being said, you should read book one/direct your readers to book one if possible.


In The Forgetting Machine, the story really takes off once Ginger goes to the library (of course it does—everything interesting happens at libraries). Ginger Crump is 14 and really disdains “retro” paper books. They’re primitive and don’t have cool features, like enlarging fonts or being able to search. She’s forced to look at antique dead-tree books to do some research for school. While there, she irritates the librarian, sees a cat who appears to be reading a book, and overhears the local pastor having a fit about a book full of “wicked, sacrilegious filth.” The book’s crime? Being filled with talking animals. The book? Charlotte’s Web. Mr. Tisk (the pastor’s fantastic name) would like to protect all children from its wickedness. So Ginger has an interesting time at the library, even if she doesn’t find what she’s looking for for her report.


Meanwhile, something weird is happening in town. Her Iowa town is home to ACPOD, the world’s largest manufacturer of Articulated Computerized Peripheral Devices. Robots. Citizens of Flinkwater are experiencing bouts of forgetfulness. Ginger’s dad, a scientist, knows a coworker is working on a memorization technique—only he can’t remember what it is. People are acting goofy, but it’s only once Ginger’s true love, Billy, is affected that she really gets interested. Billy and Ginger set out to get to the bottom of what’s going on, finding more than they bargained for as they investigate various suspicious townspeople. To make things more interesting, there’s also the mystery of who hacked into the ebook copies of Charlotte’s Web and turned all of the talking animals into children. Ginger feels certain it’s Mr. Tisk, but things in Flinkwater are always more complicated than they seem.


This is a great pick for a wide audience of readers. There’s constant action, lots of mystery, dry humor, and clever characters. There are wacky devices, nefarious intentions, weird science, and even talking animals. It’s also a nice mix of pretty realistic-feeling but with lots of science fiction (see: the use of technology). Ginger is bold (if sometimes a bit foolish) and determined in her quest to figure out just what the heck is going on in her town. Funny, smart, and sure to generate conversations about just how far we’d be willing to go with technology in our pursuit of information.


Review copy courtesy of the author

ISBN-13: 9781481464383

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers

Publication date: 09/20/2016

Series: Flinkwater Chronicles Series

Middle School Monday: Classroom Crossover

MSM11We’ve all seen the same books used over and over in some Language Arts classrooms. Many* of them (*most of them) feature white characters and/or are written by white authors.

All of the arguments we know and make for authentic representation in books on our shelves are just as important for the books that are used as texts in our classrooms. More important in some ways, because we can help challenge the normative position of whiteness in the curriculum by flooding classrooms with reflective, engaging literature to be used as class texts.

crossoverThe Crossover by Kwame Alexander. Surely, every middle school library in the nation has multiple copies on its shelves. That’s really not enough.

I see no reason why The Crossover is not being used in Language Arts classrooms in every middle school. It is THAT good. It makes teaching poetry incredibly enjoyable and seamless. Intuitive. There is so much rich, figurative language in The Crossover that it explodes on every page. Similes. Metaphors. Extended metaphors. Alliteration. Personification. All of that beautiful writing makes it an ideal mentor text for students to use to guide and inspire their own poetry.

Plus, it is simply an amazing piece of literature. We pair the novel with the audio, which I highly recommend. Hearing our students verbally respond to the rhymes and rhythms of The Crossover is a highlight of my year.

This is my second year collaborating with our 8th grade ELA teacher to teach the novel, so I’ve read it about nine times. It gets better every time. The novel is so nuanced, the writing so skilled, that I am still seeing new twists and double meanings in each new reading.

Tomorrow, we’ll probably get to page 210. Questions. I cry each time on that page. My students will tease me about it, but I’m comfortable showing them how much I love this workisn’t that part of our role as librarians? Modeling that love of readingshowing the effect that words can have?

This year, we’re trying out a new choice-based creative project to culminate our learning and discussion with the novel. I’ll let you know how it goes!

Please, please get a class set of this novel and expose your students to the enjoyment of this beautiful piece of literature.  We’re planning on doing Booked in the spring. I can’t wait to hear Kwame Alexander himself on that audio!

What are YOUR favorite books to see used in middle school classrooms? How are you chipping away at the literary canon?

Julie Stivers