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Middle School Monday – Christmas Present Selections


My nephew is in his last year of Middle School, and his mother says he is reading constantly. He has a continued fixation on 20th Century history, so I sought out some books I thought he might not have been exposed to for his Christmas presents. There is a wealth of excellent options these days, so I had to narrow down my choices.

codeMy first selection was Code Talker by Joseph Bruchac. This novel follows the story of Ned Begay, beginning with his childhood as he is sent from a Navajo reservation to a white church school to be reeducated. Eventually he joins the service at the age of 16 to be a ‘code talker.’ During World War II, young Navajo men enlisted to be a part of the service and communicate through an unbreakable code based on their native language. This should be right up my nephew’s alley, as he is somewhat obsessed with World War II. It’s also incredibly well written and exhaustively researched. I hope it opens his eyes to yet another facet of the history of World War II.

Next, I wanted to get him a Steve Sheinkin book, but which to choose? I debated between The Notoriousbomb Benedict Arnold, Port Chicago 50, and Bomb: The Race to Build–and Steal–the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon. While I will probably get him the other two eventually, this time I settled on Bomb: The Race to Build–and Steal–the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon, mainly due to the sheer number of awards and honors it won. Bomb tells the story of the development of the atomic bomb in riveting detail. It is described as ” the story of the plotting, the risk-taking, the deceit, and genius that created the world’s most formidable weapon.” I’m hopeful that the science and espionage will intrigue him.

SymphonyCityDeadFinally, I wanted to pick something that might take my nephew a little out of his comfort zone and expose him to a ‘triumph of the human spirit’ narrative in hopes of strengthening his empathy skills while rounding out his knowledge base. For this I chose Symphony for the City of the Dead by M.T. Anderson. I’ve long been a fan of Mr. Anderson’s writings and was recently fortunate enough to meet him and have him sign a copy of this book. If I’d been planning ahead, I would have had him sign it to my nephew. Symphony for the City of the Dead tells the story of the siege of Leningrad, during which more than a million citizens died – most of starvation. During this long ordeal, Dmitri Shostakovich would compose the Leningrad Symphony, which would go on to represent the heart of the beleaguered city.

While I was at the book store, I picked up a couple of titles for the Angel Tree. I’ve had store employees express etiquetteappreciation in the past for the fact that I choose tween and teen recipients from the Angel Tree. I get the feeling that most donors gravitate towards the younger ages. I’m more comfortable picking for the older children, though, so it’s a win-win situation. For the 12 year old girl recipient, I chose a copy of Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger. I’m fairly comfortable with this choice as I’ve found the book to have broad appeal across my student population. I’m hoping that the young lady will enjoy it enough to seek out the rest of the series. For the 13 year old female Angel Tree request, I rebelchose a copy of Rebel Belle by Rachel Hawkins. I try to always pick at least one Rachel Hawkins book for an Angel Tree gift, as I feel that they have extremely wide appeal, especially in the south. I wanted Rebel Belle for the complexity of the main character as well as the humor of the novel. My hope is that it will be greatly enjoyed while prompting the young lady to think of herself and others more complexly.

To be honest, I wish I had more middle schoolers to choose books for this holiday season. Does anyone need a recommendation?


MakerSpace: Rethinking Food in Programming, Again? Yes, Again.

makerspaceThing 2 loves waffles, which is why The Mr. had a moment of brilliance: let’s buy a waffle iron. It did not realize that this small purchase – we bought ours at the local thrift store for $3.00 because we are poor – would become the inspiration for what may become one of my most popular program ideas. But let’s back up and lay some groundwork first.

Food programs tend to be incredibly popular for me. This is not surprising, teens love to eat. A lot. The library I currently work at – The Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County in Ohio – has an amazingly well developed and attended adult cooking club. They also have a program room with a full kitchen, including an oven and stove. I have thought about having a teen cooking club but there is one problem: I do not cook. At all. This is not an exaggeration.

I have also gone back and forth with the idea of food based programs because I am the parent to 1 of the 1 in 13 kids today who has severe food allergies. If she eats the wrong things we all suffer for days as she writhes in pain and suffers a variety of other effects that I will do you the courtesy of not describing. She won’t have an anaphylactic reaction, but it will cause her protracted health issues. And nobody likes to see their children suffer. For a while I was totally anti-food at programs for this very reason, but as she gets older I realize that I’m actually more anti-food for younger kids at programs. Teens, of course, can better understand their food issues and needs and can make better decisions in a environment with food. I would still like to see some programming that doesn’t involve food, because we live in a socially food based society and I want to remind teens that other things matter: like books and making and relationships.


Pizza! At a recent TLT TAB and Book Discussion Meeting

Also, as part of the Maker Workshops I have recently taken with School Library Journal – and I highly recommend that you take them when you have the chance – I am reminded of several things:

1) Learning to make food is indeed a type of making.

2) Kids and Teens need adults to teach them about food, food choices and yes – how to cook. This is part of my problem, there was no one to teach me how to cook so I don’t know how and I don’t embrace it.

3) 1 in 5 kids goes to bed hungry every day. Having food at programs – especially if you have food based programs where kids and teens are learning about food while eating food – can be a good way to help address this important need in our local communities.


As part of the LJ Lead the Change Maker Workshop that I participated in this summer, we heard from Spoons Across America. Spoons Across America’s “is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to educating children, teachers, and families about the benefits of healthy eating. We work to influence the eating habits of children through hands-on education that celebrates the connection to local farmers and the important tradition of sharing meals around the family table.” They presented a variety of ways that libraries could involve kids and teens in learning about food and meal preparation, depending on your library’s space and resources. You can learn more about them and the ideas that they shared at their website.

Libraries are about education, and there is a lot of education needed around the topic of foods. I discuss food a lot in parenting and those same discussions can be the foundation for some good program ideas. We talk about making healthy food choices. I have to talk with my daughter, recently turned age 7, about her food issues and how she can navigate them and make healthy food choices for her. We have talked about religious customs and food. We talk about food processing, distribution and yes, because I am me, we talk about how the food chain would break down in the event of an apocalypse so knowing how to grow your own food and recognize edibles in the wild is important. (What, doesn’t everyone talk about this with their kids?)

I think I am also self conscious about how we talk about food and use food in our programming because I have had (and probably still have) an eating disorder. And I had Hyperemesis Gravidarum. I have a complicated relationship with food. I want to teach teens about good eating choices but not overly emphasize food, eating, diets, or body size. Coming from my background, it can be difficult for me to know if I am doing this well or not. I don’t want to imprint my food issues on the next generation of teens, but I’m not sure that never talking about food is a good way of addressing that problem either.


But at the end of the day, teens want and need food. Just as they need in everything else, they need good eating opportunities, education and mentors. Because yes, they learn eating habits from the people around them. I didn’t develop anorexia on my own, I developed it in a world where adults reminded me time and time again that being super thin was the ideal, that being fat was to be feared and loathed, and that anything less than perfection meant that I was a personal failure unworthy of love, respect and value. As teen librarians, we can do little things to help break these cycles and to help teens question these messages.

And to be honest, I’m still trying to figure out how to acknowledge that being and eating healthy is important while still learning to love myself in the body that I am currently in while working towards a healthier way of life. It’s a delicate message to balance: love yourself but always work towards being healthy. I was unhealthy when I was anorexic. And I’m unhealthy now that I am over weight. Somewhere in the middle of it all I was healthier and I felt at my best and that is what I am working towards and want to teach my teens to work towards. Not am image, but a feeling of health, and yes that comes in all different shapes and sizes. But I think the feeling is the goal, that feeling of having enough energy to engage in and enjoy the various activities that you love and to be able to engage with the people around you.

Tomorrow I will share with you one of two fun food based program ideas that I have recently found. Wednesday I will share another. And then on Thursday as part of our #MHYALit discussion we will talk about the book BELIEVARAXIC, a book about teens with eating disorders. And this too is part of our discussion of food in the life of teens. It’s an ongoing discussion. It’s a complicated discussion. At least it is for me.

Body Image and Eating Disorders

Hunger and Poverty

Food Based TPiB

Sunday Reflections: My NaNoWriMo Month

sundayreflections1It’s official: I just validated my word count and am now a 2015 NaNoWriMo winner.

And you know what? It was hard. Especially this time of year, when the holidays are ramping up and my kids were getting sick and my work schedule got all wonky. But I did it. And after validating my novel, I realized that one of the teens in our library’s shared NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program classroom had validated hers earlier today, and a second is only about 1,500 words away from being done too.


So now I’m wiped out and I’ve got a list of projects to start and catch up on that’s about as long as my arm, but I’m proud of setting the goal and sticking to it all month long. I got in the habit of writing, of carving out that time–tired though I might have been–to work for a little while each day on it. I’m hoping to carry this over into other projects I have too: other craft projects, home improvement projects, spending time with friends, or just sitting alone in my room reading a book. It sometimes felt selfish, or frustrating, or fruitless to be spending so much time working on a largely self-serving project, but you know what? Everyone survived. The house isn’t any messier than it was on October 31st (well, maybe it is a little), the kids are no less engaged, and I found that taking the time (not finding the time; you have to take it) to work on my own project is an ok thing to do.It’s ok to take that kind of time for ourselves. More than that, it’s worthwhile, even if it never goes anywhere.

There’s more to say about NaNoWriMo, but I’ll be honest, folks: I’m done writing for the day. It’s time to take a break and celebrate (and let’s be honest: do laundry and play catch up on that stuff that I set aside and need to get back to now).

Good luck to all you WriMos burning the midnight oil to get your count in (the @NaNoWordSprints feed helped me immensely!) and to anyone who didn’t do it this year, or thought about it but postponed, or who started it but didn’t continue, I hope next year is your year!

Friday Finds – November 27, 2016

fridayfindsThis Week at TLT

Sunday Reflections: Behold the Power of Books

Book Review: Other Broken Things by Christa Desir

Middle School Monday – Manners & Mutiny by Gail Carriger

On Writing Interracial Relationships in YA, a guest post by Kate McGovern

Book Review: Rules for 50/50 Chances by Kate McGovern

TLT is Thankful for YOU: A Merit Press Giveaway

Around the Web

When the ignorant are arrogant and insulting, it upsets people? Who knew.

A $5 computer.

Will Illuminae make it to the big screen?

Authors give thanks for their favorite books.


TLT is Thankful for YOU: A Merit Press Giveaway

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving so I thought I would tell you how thankful I am for YOU – our readers. We could still do this if no one was reading, and I honestly probably would because I love it, but it sure is nice to have people reading and talking with us. So thank you! As an expression of our thanks, we’re giving away 5 titles generously donated by Merit Press. Just leave a comment down below to be entered to win, being sure we have a way to get in contact with you if your name is chosen out of the hat (like a Twitter handle). We’ll be accepting entries until the end of November at Midnight. And because this is a giveaway to say thanks to our readers, it’s open to every one.

Here are the Books

merit1Unlovely by Celeste Conway

If he falls for a beautiful dancer, does he risk his heart? Or his life?

• Unlovely is narrated in dark mystery wrapped around a world teens love, that of dancers and dancing.

• Bewitching writing, an eerie story, and a here-and-now thriller, combine for a captivating read of love, loyalty, and dark revenge

• Celeste Conway’s book The Melting Season was featured by the New York Public Library as among 2006’s best teen reads. She also has written two middle-grade novels and teaches writing at Berkley College

“A perfect combination of romance and horror with (dare I say this?) some culture thrown in.” –Lois Duncan, author of Stranger with My Face and Locked in Time

Accidents happen. But they happen more often when the beautiful ballet dancers return each summer to the island. When he hears the ruthless way that the loveliest dancer talks about boys getting what they deserve when they break girls’ hearts, Harley, home for the summer after his first year of college, wonders if he’s losing his mind. He knows for sure that he’s losing his heart to this girl…But then, strange incidents start happening all over the island and Harley is caught between desire and fear: could he also be in danger of losing his life?

merit2Perdita by Faith Gardner

Granted, Arielle has a vast, excitable imagination. But she’s not imagining how strange and out of control her life becomes after the death by drowning of her older sister’s best friend, Perdita. Not only does this death echo the death of Arielle’s own older brother, ten years before, it leads to dreams and visions in which Perdita seems to be reaching out to Arielle, asking for her help. The only other explanation—that Arielle’s high-strung emotions have finally caused her to break with reality—is even more terrifying. A story that builds to greater and greater heights of suspicion and fear, Perdita is also a multi-layered literary achievement that leaves no emotion untouched.

merit3The Yearbook by Carol Masciola

Misfit teen Lola Lundy falls asleep in a storage room in her high school library and wakes up to find herself 80 years in the past. The Fall Frolic dance is going full blast in the gym, and there she makes an instant connection with the brainy and provocative Peter Hemmings, class of ’24. His face is familiar, and she realizes she’s seen his senior portrait in a ragged old yearbook in the storage room. By the end of the dance, Lola begins to see a way out of her disastrous Twenty First Century life: She’ll make a new future for herself in the past. But major mental illness lies in Lola’s family background. Has she slipped through a crack in time, or into an elaborate, romantic hallucination based on the contents of an old yearbook?

Infinite Number BGcvr.inddAn Infinite Number of Parallel Universes by Randy Ribay

As their senior year approaches, four diverse friends joined by their weekly Dungeons & Dragons game struggle to figure out real life. Archie’s trying to cope with the lingering effects of his parents’ divorce, Mari’s considering an opportunity to contact her biological mother, Dante’s working up the courage to come out to his friends, and Sam’s clinging to a failing relationship. The four eventually embark on a cross-country road trip in an attempt to solve–or to avoid–their problems.

Told in the narrative style of Akira Kurosawa’s RASHOMAN, AN INFINITE NUMBER OF PARALLEL UNIVERSES is at turns geeky, funny, and lyrical as it tells a story about that time in life when friends need each other to become more than just people that hang out.

merit5Half in Love with Death by Emily Ross

It’s the era of peace and love in the 1960s, but nothing is peaceful in Caroline’s life. Since her beautiful older sister disappeared, fifteen-year-old Caroline might as well have disappeared too. She’s invisible to her parents, who can’t stop blaming each other. The police keep following up on leads even Caroline knows are foolish. The only one who seems to care about her is Tony, her sister’s older boyfriend, who soothes Caroline’s desperate heart every time he turns his magical blue eyes on her.

Tony is convinced that the answer to Jess’s disappearance is in California, the land of endless summer, among the runaways and flower children. Come with me, Tony says to Caroline, and we’ll find her together. Tony is so loving, and all he cares about is bringing Jess home. And so Caroline follows, and closes a door behind her that may never open again.

Inspired by the disturbing case of Charles Schmid, ‘the Pied Piper of Tucson’, Half in Love with Death is a heartfelt thriller that never lets up.

All book descriptions are the publisher’s descriptions. And a heartfelt thank you to Merit Press for these books to give away.

Book Review: Rules for 50/50 Chances by Kate McGovern

RULESPublisher’s description:

Seventeen-year-old Rose Levenson has a decision to make: Does she want to know how she’s going to die? Because when Rose turns eighteen, she can take the test that tells her if she carries the genetic mutation for Huntington’s disease, the degenerative condition that is slowly killing her mother.

With a fifty-fifty shot at inheriting her family’s genetic curse, Rose is skeptical about pursuing anything that presumes she’ll live to be a healthy adult-including her dream career in ballet and the possibility of falling in love. But when she meets a boy from a similarly flawed genetic pool and gets an audition for a dance scholarship across the country, Rose begins to question her carefully laid rules.


Amanda’s thoughts:

Rose’s mother was diagnosed with Huntington’s disease when Rose was 12. She’s now about to turn 18 and finds it hard to make any decisions or see any hope for her future when there’s a 50/50 chance that she, too, will develop the disease. To call her “skeptical” is too light of a term. She’s incredibly pessimistic and scared to pursue things she loves because of the potential loss and disappointment that could come should she carry the gene. She thinks of her life in terms of maybe only having x amount of healthy years left, a thought process that has been paralyzing her for a long time, but finally jars loose other ways of thinking and living…. eventually.


Set in and around Boston, Rose meets Caleb at a fundraiser for rare genes diseases and research. Caleb’s mother and two younger sisters have sickle cell, something Rose thinks of as “a walk in the park compared to Huntington’s. It doesn’t even kill you anymore.” They start to hang out at an incredibly unstable time in Rose’s life. She’s debating getting tested when she turns 18 so she can find out if she’ll develop Huntington’s. She’s looking at colleges both near home and all the way across the country—though how can she leave home and leave her father and grandmother to care for her mother alone? Suddenly everything is converging at once. Rose’s mother seems to be getting worse just as Rose, a dancer, gets the opportunity to audition for her dream school, where she could potentially earn a full-ride scholarship. But she can’t stop thinking of what the results of the genetic testing might be. It’s a lot to try to figure out, so you can’t exactly blame Rose for sometimes being insufferably self-centered, secretive, and not exactly forthcoming.


Prior to this, the only things I really knew about Huntington’s were from reading various things about Woody Guthrie’s life. Through Rose’s mother, we really get to see how truly devastating and unpredictable the degenative disease can be. It is not easy to watch her mother stutter, lash out, break things, fall, and seem to be slipping away.


McGovern’s story also deals in many small ways with race (as her guest post from today touches on). Lena, Rose’s best friend, is Chinese. Caleb is African-American. Rose talks about being half Jewish. The characters have many smallish conversations about race. Rose tells Caleb she doesn’t even think of him as black. Caleb laughs at this and says to her, “If you don’t see me as black, maybe you’re not seeing me as me. Because I am black.” Conversations like this crop up again and again.


There are a lot of smaller threads to this story that round out who Rose is and what her life is like. We see a lot of her life as a dancer, little of her life in school, and how narrow her life has become at home. It seems she’s always dealing with something with her mother or waiting for something to happen or worrying about it. It’s a wonky time in her life and everything is viewed through the lens of this disease. Eventually, Rose has to decide if it’s better to know your future or to just wait and see what happens. She has to decide if the risk of eventual loss is worth the risk of being happy right now. And she has to decide if what she thinks she wants is the same thing as what she actually wants. Rose seems to not yet have put together that life is always uncertain and we’re not guaranteed anything, disease or no disease. She has to learn that everything is always a risk. 


McGovern’s debut is a solid read. The unique details of the plot make it stand out from other books about teens dealing with various diseases. Caleb is far more patient with Rose than could reasonably be expected of him, but readers will cut the often frustrating Rose a break as they watch her deal with the current circumstance of her life. Strong families for both characters are a bonus. This should appeal widely to fans of contemporary YA who don’t want their romances too mushy or their sad books too dark. A smart and affecting look at the things we can and can’t control. 


Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780374301583

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Publication date: 11/24/2015

On Writing Interracial Relationships in YA, a guest post by Kate McGovern



I get this question a lot about Rules for 50/50 Chances: Why include “race stuff” in an already heavy book?


I understand the intention behind the question. In Rules, Rose, the main character, is dealing with her mother’s deteriorating health and the looming possibility that she might have inherited the same devastating illness. That’s a lot of ground to cover already. Why also throw in sometimes fraught conversations about race between Rose, who is white, and her boyfriend Caleb, who’s black?


But even if it’s unintentional, I worry about the implication that a book that isn’t, at its core, “about race” can’t feature racially diverse characters whose racial identities affect their perspectives—and who sometimes talk about race.


RULESThat Rose and Caleb are a mixed-race couple isn’t an accident. It’s a choice I made for a few reasons. First, it’s what I know. My partner is Indian American. My ex was Jamaican British. Over the years, I’ve dated white guys, black guys, Asian guys, mixed guys—okay, let’s not delve too much into my dating history, but long story short: in the cities where I’ve lived (New York, London, Boston), dating across racial lines is nothing unusual.


That’s true for more and more teens all over the country, too. But while we’re starting to see these relationships reflected in YA literature more routinely—one of my favorite debuts this fall, Nicola Yoon’s Everything, Everything, features a relationship between an African-American/Japanese girl and a white guy—I still don’t think we’re seeing them often enough.


And often when we do see them, they’re the central issue at play. I loved Una LaMarche’s Like No Other, in which an Orthodox Jewish girl and an African-American boy fall in love. Jacqueline Woodson’s If You Come Softly breaks my heart every time I re-read it. But I wanted to write a different kind of book—one that featured an interracial relationship in a context where it’s totally NBD that the two main characters aren’t the same race.


At the same time, I didn’t want to write a book where race never comes up. Mixed relationships come in all stripes, just like non-mixed relationships, and I’m sure there are some mixed couples who never mention race or talk about their differences. (I don’t think I know any of those couples, but hey, they’re probably out there.) I wanted race to be present in Rose and Caleb’s relationship—to be the catalyst for and the subject of some complicated, sometimes uncomfortable conversations between them. I wanted their racial identities to be what they are for most of us: pieces of who they are that do indeed affect their experiences of the world. But I didn’t want race to be the central problem of the story.


For me, that felt true. It’s been my truth, certainly—and a truth I don’t see reflected often enough on the page.


The publisher is offering a finished book giveaway to one of our readers (US only please). We’re using the hashtag #Rulesfor5050Chances if you’d like to share via social. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Want to read more? Check out the other stops on the blog tour:

11/16: Dear Teen Me

11/17: Stories & Sweeties

11/18: Love is Not a Triangle

11/19: Book Addict’s Guide

11/20: Once Upon a Twilight

11/23: Fiction Fare

11/24: Teen Librarian Toolbox


Meet Kate McGovern

Kate McGovern_credit Liz VidyarthiKate McGovern has written both fiction and nonfiction for the educational market, and has taught theatre, literacy, and creative writing to kids in Boston, New York, and London. She received her bachelor’s in American Studies from Yale. She currently lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Visit her online at or follow her on Twitter at @mskatemcg.

Middle School Monday – Manners & Mutiny by Gail Carriger

MSMI will not leave you in suspense, dear reader, I am entirely thrilled with this, the fourth and last installment of Ms. Carriger’s Finishing School series. It is a delight. In fact, I am hard pressed to discover what details I can expose without spoiling your own experience of its pleasures.

The Picklemen are up to no good, again. Monique de Pelouse and Soap (as well as many other previously loved and/or hated minor characters) pop back up to add to the story and the carefully orchestrated denoument of the series. And Sophronia and her band of friends (sadly minus Sidheag) save the day, of course.

My favorite part, however, is that we as readers discover along with Sophronia, that many of the people in her life are much more than they seem in some of the most delightfully devious ways. But I will have to leave it to you to discover whom.

I could not be happier with the outcome of this series, along with its ties to her other books. Ms. Carriger is firmly down as one of my favorite authors. I strongly recommend this title, as well as every other one in the Finishing School series to any collection serving students in grades 6 and up.


Book Review: Other Broken Things by Christa Desir

otherbrokenthingsPublisher’s Book Description:

Nat’s not an alcoholic. She doesn’t have a problem. Everybody parties, everybody does stupid things, like get in their car when they can barely see. Still, with six months of court-ordered AA meetings required, her days of vodka-filled water bottles are over.

Unfortunately her old friends want the party girl or nothing. Even her up-for-anything ex seems more interested in rehashing the past than actually helping Nat.

But then a recovering alcoholic named Joe inserts himself into Nat’s life and things start looking up. Joe is funny, smart, and calls her out in a way no one ever has.

He’s also older. A lot older.

Nat’s connection to Joe is overwhelming but so are her attempts to fit back into her old world, all while battling the constant urge to crack a bottle and blur that one thing she’s been desperate to forget.

Now in order to make a different kind of life, Natalie must pull together her broken parts and learn to fight for herself.

5 Things I Loved About OTHER BROKEN THINGS:

1. Nat’s Voice

From the very first line – “I would cut a bitch for a cigarette” – I found Nat’s voice to be authentic and engaging. She rough around the edges in every way, but as you find out more about who she is and why you can’t help being drawn into her story.

2. Characters Engaged in Unconventional Activities

Nat is a boxer, a female boxer. I really enjoy reading stories that highlight teens being engaged in activities that we don’t often read about. And in this story, you feel Nat’s passion for her sport, a passion that she is being denied by people who care more about what other people think than honoring the autonomy and spirit of the person standing before you. Nat was being asked to deny who she was and so many teens can relate to that story.

3. Women Standing Up for Themselves

I can’t go too much into detail about this because it comes near the end of the book and it is an important part of Nat’s journey. However, Nat comes from a very patriarchal home and she is not the only one who is being squashed by the demands of others. An important turning point happens when an important figure in Nat’s life stands up not only for Nat, but for herself.

4. The Depiction of Addiction and the Age of Consent

At the end of the day, Other Broken Things is about brokenness and addiction. I have worked with author Christa Desir for a couple of years now on the #SVYALit Project so I am familiar with her training as a rape victim advocate and her opinion of rape and consent. Nat is a 17-year-old girl struggling with addiction. She is court mandated to go to AA meetings, where she meets a much older man that she connects with. Eventually, that relationship because more than a sponsor relationship. It is fundamentally important that there are several people in this story who tell Nat that she is just replacing one unhealthy addiction – alcohol – with another – a codependent relationship. And there are several people in the story who point out that the age difference is not only a problem, but possibly illegal. I have read a lot of YA literature that has romanticized the teenage girl/older guy relationship and appreciated that this book does not. Desir is the queen of dysfunctional relationships and she excels at making sure that young readers who are now just navigating the relationship waters at least has some counter viewpoints in the story that suggest that this, dear readers, is not a healthy relationship to be idealized and romanticized.

At the same time, Desir gives a strong look into the world of addiction, emphasizing that the addictive personality that underlays addiction can express that addiction in many, many ways. Nat’s addiction is not just alcohol, it’s just that her addiction to alcohol is what got her caught and into the therapy that she desperately needs.

5. Pregnancy Loss

There is a subplot in this story that I really appreciated involving pregnancy loss from both the female and male point of view. Desir gives a male character a strong voice in expressing the loss that he feels regarding a pregnancy loss. As someone who has written multiple times about the lack of miscarriage and pregnancy loss in YA literature, because it does happen and it does have emotional consequences, I appreciated how Desir handled this topic.

Final Thoughts

I thought this was a strong, powerful story that was engaging and moving. The characters had depth, authentic voices, and I know that many of my teens would find them completely authentic and relateable. Highly recommended.

Comes out in January 2016 from Simon Pulse.



Sunday Reflections: Behold the Power of Books

selection2“No, No, No,” I heard The Teen scream from the living room, so I went running to see what was happening. She was sitting in the chair that we all call “the reading chair” yelling at her book. I have done this. This I understand.

Suddenly, she started crying. Not the silent tears streaming down your face crying but the wild, air gulping sobs of someone who has just watched their puppy get kicked. This one brought The Mr. running from the other room to see what was happening. It was distressing to see her so upset.

The book? Book 2 in the Selection series by Kiera Cass, The Elite. Her favorite character, she explained, was being brutally beaten and it was awful to read. “It’s just a book,” her father said in an effort to comfort her. “But this really happens to people,” she reminded him, “people get beaten and abused.”

She continued reading and crying and it was clearly making her dad uncomfortable. “Why don’t you stop reading for a while,” he said, “so you’ll stop crying, we have to go to karate in a few minutes and you don’t want to look like you have been crying.”

“I don’t care about that!,” she yelled. And she kept reading. And she kept crying.

It lasted for a good solid twenty minutes, this crying and reading, reading and crying.

As she got into the car with me to go to karate she proclaimed, “I’m so glad I’m going to karate, I need to punch something. I feel so emotional.” She was really focused in karate that night, not gonna lie.selection1

The next day I drove by her bus stop taking her little sister to school. As the other teens stood around talking she was sitting on the corner reading the book. I’m not gonna lie, I was a little bit proud.

That evening she told me about how some of the characters were calling another character a whore, so we talked about slut shaming. It turns out that even though I talk a lot about slut shaming in my work with teens, I had never talked to my daughter about it. So we did, we had a talk where I reminded her that I hoped she would make the decision to wait much later in life to have sex, partly because of our religious beliefs but also because I want her to choose education and find herself on solid ground before she potentially finds herself in sexual relationships. But I also told her that even though we made those choices for ourselves, that we respected other people’s rights to make other choices for themselves and that we shouldn’t shame or judge them for them. Not for the way they choose to dress. Not for how and when they may choose to be sexually active. Shame and judgment, I reminded her, can be harmful. And I reminded her that in our Bible, our God clearly tells us that we are not to judge others because we ourselves are in no way perfect.

It was a good conversation, one of many good conversations I have had with my daughter. Another example of a conversation that I hadn’t really thought to have with her but was prompted to do so by a book. Books are good spring boards for conversations. They help us ask questions we never thought to ask.

selection3The next day she walked through the door after school and went to her room to finish reading. She was so close to being done and she was ravenous to know what happened. And since I was doing some Cybils reading of my own, I laid down in bed next to her reading my own book. There we were, the two of us reading our own books when she suddenly sat up and leaned on her elbow, turning to me. “This man,” she said, “is willing to destroy his own country because he is so hungry for power. This caste system is horrible. Those people in the lower caste have horrible lives.” Again, this led to a great discussion about power and politics. This time, I mostly listened as she was processing what she was reading and sharing her thoughts with me. I was struck by how smart she was, how compassionate, how thoughtful.

In a little over a week and a half she read the first three books in the series. She raged. She cried. She thought. She talked. We bonded. We grew. And I feel like she is just a little bit better to live in this world.

And that is the power of books.