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Book Review: Every Body Looking by Candice Iloh

Every Body Looking

Publisher’s description

“Candice Iloh’s beautifully crafted narrative about family, belonging, sexuality, and telling our deepest truths in order to be whole is at once immensely readable and ultimately healing.”—Jacqueline Woodson, New York TimesBestselling Author of Brown Girl Dreaming

“An essential—and emotionally gripping and masterfully written and compulsively readable—addition to the coming-of-age canon.”—Nic Stone, New York Times Bestselling Author of Dear Martin

“This is a story about the sometimes toxic and heavy expectations set onthe backs of first-generation children, the pressures woven into the familydynamic, culturally and socially. About childhood secrets with sharp teeth. And ultimately, about a liberation that taunts every young person.” —Jason Reynolds, New York Times Bestselling Author of Long Way Down

Candice Iloh weaves the key moments of Ada’s young life—her mother’s descent into addiction, her father’s attempts to create a home for his American daughter more like the one he knew in Nigeria, her first year at a historically black college—into a luminous and inspiring verse novel.

Amanda’s thoughts

Here’s a thing that I say probably way too many times on this blog: I’m a character-driven reader who doesn’t need much more plot beyond “a person tries to figure out how to be a person in the world.” To me, there is no bigger, deeper, more compelling plot than that. And this book is such a wonderful exploration of how to be yourself. I read it in one sitting, which is a statement that probably makes authors die a little, given how long it takes to write a book.

While the current timeline of the story is during Ada’s first few weeks at a HBCU, we also see important moments from her life as a young child and again in middle school. Ada has always felt different and alone. Readers learn about her estrangement from her addict mother, her strict and religious Nigerian father, and the pressures Ada has always felt. College will finally allow her some freedom to find out who she really is, away from her family, but of course the idea of “finding yourself” sounds easier than it actually is.

Iloh writes, “when you start growing/further away from/what used to be home/you go looking for somewhere/that lets you be/what’s inside your head.”

I’m not sure I’ve read any better lines in any book this year. There is nothing Ada wants more than to be the person inside her head. She’s always been drawn to dance, but her practical father never saw the point in pursuing it. A chance encounter with Kendra, another dancer, provides connection and the encouragement to follow her desire.

It is both painful and joyful to watch Ada change, grow, learn, and become. At college, she has the freedom to explore her own mind, to find something that is hers, and to be seen. Ada discovers the power of seeing herself reflected, she learns what she wants and will tolerate in relationships, and she seeks to make her own path, uncertain how to do that and making mistakes along the way.

A hopeful, beautifully written, deeply affecting story of what we endure and overcome in the journey to become ourselves.

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780525556206
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 09/22/2020
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years

Post-It Note Reviews: Quick looks at new YA and MG graphic novels, fiction, and nonfiction

All descriptions from the publishers. Transcriptions of the Post-It notes follow the description.

The Dark Matter of Mona Starr by Laura Lee Gulledge (ISBN-13: 9781419742002 Publisher: Amulet Paperbacks Publication date: 04/07/2020, Ages 13-18)

A bold and original YA graphic novel about one teen’s battle to understand her mental illness—and find her creative genius

Sometimes, the world is too much for Mona Starr. She’s sweet, geeky, and creative, but it’s hard for her to make friends and connect with other people, and her depression seems to take on a vivid, concrete form. She calls it her Matter.

The Matter seems to be everywhere, telling Mona she’s not good enough and that everyone around her wishes she’d go away. But with therapy, art, writing, and the persistence of a few good friends, Mona starts to understand her Matter and how she can turn her fears into strengths.

Heartfelt, emotionally vulnerable, and visually stunning, The Dark Matter of Mona Starris a story about battling your inner doubts and fears—and finding your creative genius.

(POST-IT SAYS: Really nice addition to the field of YA books about mental health. Emphasis on self-care, connection, therapy, art, and hope. Really gets at how depression and anxiety can feel. A quiet, introspective story many will relate to.)

Parachutes by Kelly Yang (ISBN-13: 9780062941084 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 05/26/2020, Ages 14-17)

Speak enters the world of Gossip Girl in this modern immigrant story from New York Times bestselling author Kelly Yang about two girls navigating wealth, power, friendship, and trauma.

They’re called parachutes: teenagers dropped off to live in private homes and study in the United States while their wealthy parents remain in Asia. Claire Wang never thought she’d be one of them, until her parents pluck her from her privileged life in Shanghai and enroll her at a high school in California.

Suddenly she finds herself living in a stranger’s house, with no one to tell her what to do for the first time in her life. She soon embraces her newfound freedom, especially when the hottest and most eligible parachute, Jay, asks her out.

Dani De La Cruz, Claire’s new host sister, couldn’t be less thrilled that her mom rented out a room to Claire. An academic and debate team star, Dani is determined to earn her way into Yale, even if it means competing with privileged kids who are buying their way to the top. But Dani’s game plan veers unexpectedly off course when her debate coach starts working with her privately.

As they steer their own distinct paths, Dani and Claire keep crashing into one another, setting a course that will change their lives forever. 

(POST-IT SAYS: A devastating read about privilege, identity, sexual assault, socioeconomics, and speaking up. An important look at rape culture and a smart, intersectional addition to #metoo books based on the author’s own experience.)

Never Look Back by Lilliam Rivera (ISBN-13: 9781547603732 Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Publication date: 09/15/2020, Ages 13-17)

Acclaimed author Lilliam Rivera blends a touch of magical realism into a timely story about cultural identity, overcoming trauma, and the power of first love.

Eury comes to the Bronx as a girl haunted. Haunted by losing everything in Hurricane Maria—and by an evil spirit, Ato. She fully expects the tragedy that befell her and her family in Puerto Rico to catch up with her in New York. Yet, for a time, she can almost set this fear aside, because there’s this boy . . .

Pheus is a golden-voiced, bachata-singing charmer, ready to spend the summer on the beach with his friends, serenading his on-again, off-again flame. That changes when he meets Eury. All he wants is to put a smile on her face and fight off her demons. But some dangers are too powerful for even the strongest love, and as the world threatens to tear them apart, Eury and Pheus must fight for each other and their lives.

Featuring contemporary Afro-Latinx characters, this retelling of the Greek myth Orpheus and Eurydice is perfect for fans of Ibi Zoboi’s Pride and Daniel José Older’s Shadowshaper.

(POST-IT SAYS: I don’t mind instalove, so this Latinx reenvisioning of the Greek myth worked for me. Great imagery and writing, but the uneven pacing and rushed ending detract from the overall success of the book. Still, a satisfying read about love, mental health, and culture.)

Like Spilled Water by Jennie Liu (ISBN-13: 9781541572904 Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group Publication date: 09/01/2020, Ages 13-18)

Nineteen-year-old Na has always lived in the shadow of her younger brother, Bao-bao, her parents’ cherished son. Years ago, Na’s parents left her in the countryside and went to work in the city, bringing Bao-bao along and committing everything to his education.

But when Bao-bao dies suddenly, Na realizes how little she knew him. Did he really kill himself because of a low score on China’s all-important college entrance exam? Na learns that Bao-bao had many secrets and that his death may not be what it seems. Na’s parents expect her to quit her vocational school and go to work, forcing Na to confront traditional expectations for and pressures on young women.

(POST-IT SAYS: A quick but powerful read. Unique setting of community college in China and compelling explorations of expectations, culture, and education. A poignant look at pressures and disappointments and identity.)

She Represents: 44 Women Who Are Changing Politics . . . and the World by Caitlin Donohue (ISBN-13: 9781541579019 Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group Publication date: 09/01/2020, Ages 13-18)

In a complicated political era when the United States feels divided, this book celebrates feminism and female contributions to politics, activism, and communities. Each of the forty-four women profiled in this illustrated book has demonstrated her capabilities and strengths in political and community leadership and activism, both in the United States and around the world. Written in an approachable, journalistic tone and rounded out by beautiful color portraits, history, key political processes, terminology, and thought-provoking quotes, this book will inspire and encourage women everywhere to enact change in their own communities and to pursue opportunities in public affairs.

(POST-IT SAYS: A well-rounded collection that includes women of all political backgrounds and will introduce readers to many names they may not encounter in other such collections. Visually appealing, easy to browse, and packed with information.)

How to Do It Now Because It’s Not Going Away: An Expert Guide to Getting Stuff Done by Leslie Josel (ISBN-13: 9781541581616 Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group Publication date: 10/06/2020, Ages 13-18)

With distance learning, teens are having to manage their time and attention now more than ever.

Procrastination is especially tough for young adults. Getting started is overwhelming, it’s hard to get motivated, not knowing how long things take messes up planning, and distractions are everywhere. We are all wired to put things off, but we can learn tools and techniques to kick this habit. This book is a user-friendly guide to help teens get their tasks done. Simple, straightforward, and with a touch of humor, it’s packed with practical solutions and easily digestible tips to stay on top of homework, develop a sense of time, manage digital distractions, create easy-to-follow routines, and get unstuck. In her breezy, witty style, internationally recognized academic and parenting coach Leslie Josel opens the door to a student’s view of procrastination, dives deep into what that really looks like, and offers up her Triple Ts—tips, tools and techniques—to teach students how to get stuff done…now.

(POST-IT SAYS: Sharing this because it’s good to know about as a potential resource. Charts, time charts/worksheets, personal stories, and lists help break up intimidatingly thorough looks at various areas of procrastination. My own teenager could use this… but he’d never read it.)

Undecided, 2nd Edition: Navigating Life and Learning after High School
by Genevieve Morgan
(ISBN-13: 9781541597792 Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group Publication date: 10/06/2020, Ages 14-18)

For high school students all over the country, deciding what to do after graduation can be overwhelming. How do you know if college is your best choice? If it is, how do you plan for student loans? If it’s not, what are your other options?

That’s where Undecided comes in! This updated and revised edition provides a comprehensive overview of the choices available after high school, from traditional four-year colleges and trade schools to military service and gap years. Teens can choose a career path and get advice on how to succeed. Checklists, anecdotes, brainstorming activities, and journal exercises lead to well-informed decisions. Find a future that works for you!

(POST-IT SAYS: Really nice because it gives equal time and value to the many post-high school paths. Asks readers to put a lot of thought into their options, desires, and decisions. The information and aspects to consider may help make the future less overwhelming. Good for students and caregivers.)

Even If We Break by Marieke Nijkamp (ISBN-13: 9781492636113 Publisher: Sourcebooks Publication date: 09/15/2020, Ages 14-18)

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Marieke Nijkamp comes a shocking new thriller about a group of friends tied together by a game and the deadly weekend that tears them apart.

FIVE friends go to a cabin.

FOUR of them are hiding secrets.
THREE years of history bind them.
TWO are doomed from the start.
ONE person wants to end this.
NO ONE IS SAFE.

Are you ready to play?

(POST-IT SAYS: A thriller-ish story populated by a great diversity of characters (trans, autistic, disabled) who use the game as a backdrop to explore their own issues, feelings, and the mystery of what’s happening at the cabin.)

Shirley and Jamila Save Their Summer by Gillian Goerz (ISBN-13: 9780525552864 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 07/14/2020, Ages 8-12)

This middle-grade graphic novel for fans of Roller Girl and Smile introduces Jamila and Shirley, two unlikely friends who save each other’s summers while solving their neighborhood’s biggest mysteries.

Jamila Waheed is staring down a lonely summer in a new neighborhood—until she meets Shirley Bones. Sure, Shirley’s a little strange, but both girls need a new plan for the summer, and they might as well become friends.

Then this kid Oliver shows up begging for Shirley’s help. His pet gecko has disappeared, and he’s sure it was stolen! That’s when Jamila discovers Shirley’s secret: She’s the neighborhood’s best kid detective, and she’s on the case. When Jamila discovers she’s got some detective skills of her own, a crime-solving partnership is born.

The mystery of the missing gecko turns Shirley and Jamila’s summer upside down. And when their partnership hits a rough patch, they have to work together to solve the greatest mystery of all: What it means to be a friend.

(POST-IT SAYS: Graphic novels need zero help to move off the shelves, but this is a good one to know about because of the diverse characters and the fast-paced detective element. A great, fun look at independence and friendship.)

Darius the Great Deserves Better by Adib Khorram (ISBN-13: 9780593108239 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 08/25/2020, Ages 13-17)

In this companion to the award-winning Darius the Great Is Not Okay, Darius suddenly has it all: a boyfriend, an internship, a spot on the soccer team. It’s everything he’s ever wanted—but what if he deserves better?

Darius Kellner is having a bit of a year. Since his trip to Iran, a lot has changed. He’s getting along with his dad, and his best friend Sohrab is only a Skype call away. Between his first boyfriend, Landon, varsity soccer practices, and an internship at his favorite tea shop, things are falling into place.

Then, of course, everything changes. Darius’s grandmothers are in town for a long visit, and Darius can’t tell whether they even like him. The internship is not going according to plan, Sohrab isn’t answering Darius’s calls, and Dad is far away on business. And Darius is sure he really likes Landon . . . but he’s also been hanging out with Chip Cusumano, former bully and current soccer teammate—and well, maybe he’s not so sure about anything after all.

Darius was just starting to feel okay, like he finally knew what it meant to be Darius Kellner. But maybe okay isn’t good enough. Maybe Darius deserves better.

(Link to my review of the first book, Darius the Great is Not Okay)

(POST-IT SAYS: Really lovely, perfect sequel. Looks at dating, consent, depression, family, and daily life. A very character-driven and beautifully written story. Shows that just when you think you’ve got a handle on things, everything changes. I love Darius!)

The Bridge by Bill Konigsberg (ISBN-13: 9781338325034 Publisher: Scholastic, Inc. Publication date: 09/01/2020 Ages 14-18)

Two teenagers, strangers to each other, have decided to jump from the same bridge at the same time. But what results is far from straightforward in this absorbing, honest lifesaver from acclaimed author Bill Konigsberg.

Aaron and Tillie don’t know each other, but they are both feeling suicidal, and arrive at the George Washington Bridge at the same time, intending to jump. Aaron is a gay misfit struggling with depression and loneliness. Tillie isn’t sure what her problem is — only that she will never be good enough.

On the bridge, there are four things that could happen:

Aaron jumps and Tillie doesn’t.

Tillie jumps and Aaron doesn’t.

They both jump.

Neither of them jumps.

Or maybe all four things happen, in this astonishing and insightful novel from Bill Konigsberg.

(POST-IT SAYS: The unique format of following all the possible paths will grab readers’ attention. Konigsberg’s excellent writing and compassionate telling of a story that he intimately relates to make for a moving and realistic look at mental health and hope.)

Cindy Crushes Programming: Virtual Programs You Can Do Right Now, Part 4, by teen librarian Cindy Shutts

Teen programming looks a little different for public libraries right now because getting together in groups just isn’t safe so everyone has turned to virtual programming. You can see our previous discussions on virtual programming hereherehere, here and here. Today we have even more virtual programming ideas for you.

Virtual Pet Show

This is a program we are going to do next week. We are excited about this because teen librarians can show off their pets and talk about what makes them special. Patrons do not even need a pet, they can talk about their favorite type of animal if they don’t.

Virtual Price is Right

Earlier this year, I wrote a social distancing version of the Price is Right. We made it a virtual program with a few tweaks and it worked out well. We even were able to use a virtual plinko game my co-worker Faith found. This was one of our more popular programs that we have done.

Virtual Field Trips

This is something I have started to see libraries partner with museums. This helps get more people interested in the museum. This is something I want to try.

Virtual Test Prep

Naperville Public library has been doing virtual ACT and SAT prep. They have hired a local college prep company. This had been one of their more popular in person programs.

An Example from Geneva Public Library District: http://gpld.org/event/4395067

YouTube Tutorials

A lot of librarians are showing off their skills on YouTube from cooking to O’Neal Public Library who are doing a weekly series of Ukulele Tutorials. These videos are super fun to watch.

Cindy Shutts, MLIS

Cindy is passionate about teen services. She loves dogs, pro-wrestling, Fairy tales, mythology, and of course reading. Her favorite books are The Hate U Give, Catching FIre, The Royals, and everything by Cindy Pon. She loves spending times with her dog Harry Winston and her niece and nephew. Cindy Shutts is the Teen Services Librarian at the White Oak Library District in IL and she’ll be joining us to talk about teen programming. You can follow her on Twitter at @cindysku.

Morgan’s Mumbles: My Favorite Plays Part 2, by teen contributor Morgan Randall

Today as part of our ongoing series where we give teens a platform to share themselves with us teen contributor Morgan Randall shares more of her favorite plays. You can read part 1 here.

And People All Around by George Skylar

This story talks directly on racism and the white supremacy within the United States in the 1960s (and ultimately calls the audience to no longer stay complacent in the racism that is happening in the modern-day). It follows the story of Don Tindall in the small town of Leucadia, in the south. The Redeemers (a nod to the KKK) is a group that is very alive within this town, and that a majority of the authorities who run the town are apart of it. Don, is not, and he becomes really conflicted as a COFO Center is established in their town. He is outraged by the bigotry and hate but is unsure what to do for fear of his own life and comfort. It follows him as he grows close to the people that are at the COFO Center and begins to experience life with them. This story is based on real events, known as the Mississippi Burning and while not all the characters are the same as they were in real life there are a lot of parallels.

The Trojan Women by Euripides

This is a Greek Tragedy, that is well known it follows the women of Troy after the Trojan War. It talks about the challenges they face as they exist in their once homeland with the Greeks now occupying their home. Their husbands have been killed in the war and they are all being taken as slaves or to be forced, brides. It mainly follows the Queen and Princess as they try to cope with losing their family and nation, but also with the grief as they try to support and provide light to the other women.

Never The Sinner by John Logan

Never The Sinner is based on Leopold and Loeb, two men who kidnapped and killed a teenager named Bobby Franks in May of 1942. This story was all over the headlines as the two men were apprehended and tried for their crimes, and their sexual relationship was exposed to newspapers. This story depicts not only these two men living in a world where sexuality isn’t accepted but also deals with the concept of manipulation and how the two men’s ideas and thought impacted each others actions. 

Macbeth by William Shakespeare

Macbeth is one of the most well-known plays by William Shakespeare, it follows the story of a Scottish general who is told his destiny by three witches. His destiny tells of his future glory, and how he will become the King of Scotland. It shows how ambition blinds and consumes him, and greed and glory can completely change who a person is. The show follows Macbeth and how his actions impact his family, friends, and all of Scottland.

Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Another one of Shakespeare’s most well-known shows is Hamlet, a story that follows a prince whose Father recently passed away. His Mother re-married very quickly after, to his Uncle, and it is all having a very heavy toll on Hamlet’s psyche as he admired his Father very much. At the start of the show the King’s ghost is appearing, almost as if haunting Scottland, however it is revealed that he has come back to ask Hamlet for a favor. He needs Hamlet to avenge his death, so blinded by rage and revenge Hamlet begins his quest to kill his Uncle inorder to avenge his Father.

Digging for the Truth, a guest post by Lilliam Rivera

Photo credit: Isabelle Santiago

If you’re like me, I try my best to avoid consuming the news all day. This is not an easy feat considering the world we’re currently experiencing. The reality is that to get to the truth about things takes more than just a quick glance at a headline. Our most “trusted” news outlets continue to fail us. How can we prepare ourselves when the established media institutions bend the truth? There is fake news and then there is also this idea of sugarcoating the truth. Why not use the words “white supremacy” or “racist” when you can use “racially tinged” and “racially motivated?”

However, this essay is not about linguistics or the history of how words are used to perpetuate the racial structure that so many benefit from. This essay is about High School history class. When I was attending High School in New York, I attended a public school specializing in secretarial studies and computer sciences. The goal was to prep students to enter the work force as assistants. I learned how to type and spent most summers temping in various offices around the city. The funny thing was that I loved history. I devoured books exploring the period between the late 1950s to the late 1970s. During that period, the world felt as if it was at a crossroads. Students and young people all across the United States were rising up to make their voices heard against a tyrannical government. I wanted so desperately to read about the Young Lords, the Puerto Rican youth movement who joined the Black Panthers to help aid their community. I wanted to read about the Chicano Movement, La Raza, and more.

Sadly, this wouldn’t be the case. The history books I was forced to read didn’t mention these Brown and Black social movements. And if I ever wanted to search anything tied to Puerto Rico, well, I was out of luck. Instead I cobbled together what I could, creating a mix match selection from the library which included memoir, fiction, and poetry. I read Piri Thomas’ Down These Mean Streets right alongside Alex Healey and Malcom X’s The Autobiography of Malcolm X.  I read Bobby Seale’s Power to the People with Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. It wasn’t enough. I couldn’t find works on Latin America’s liberation theology or the Young Lords work in Chicago and the Bronx. It would be later in college when I would be able to connect with those periods. Perhaps this is the reason why I decided to find ways to incorporate history in my young adult novels. I’m not writing historical fiction but allowing these characters to explore their cities through a historical lens.

The Education of Margot Sanchez

In my first novel The Education of Margot Sanchez, I introduced gentrification and its effects on Brown and Black families. But my latest young adult novel goes further with this idea. In Never Look Back, I flip the Orpheus and Eurydice myth and set it in mostly in the Bronx, New York with two Afro Latino protagonists. Pheus is a wannabe bachata singer who meets and falls in love with Eury, a Puerto Rican displaced by Hurricane Maria and haunted by an angry spirit. The novel is a love story but it is also a story of how trauma infects each generation. Pheus is a fairly typical high schooler, one with the gift of musical talent. He is also a great history buff. Through Pheus, we are able to get insight, however short, into the colonization of Puerto Rico, the Young Lords occupation of Lincoln Hospital in the 1970s to help their community, and the traumatic effects of the military on young people. Pheus doesn’t just see a building, he sees the blood and tears imprinted on the walls.

Never Look Back

I love this idea of the school curriculums moving between fiction and history. High School English and US history are great places to have a robust conversation. In recent years, there have been wonderful works being produced in children’s book spaces. Why not pair Sonia Manzano’s The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano with The Young Lords: A Reader by Iris Morales? What about Esmeralda Santiago’s When I was Puerto Rican with The Taste of Sugar: A Novel by Marisel Vera? A school guide has already been created for the award-winning New York Times’  1619 Project. What if the project was paired with Kekla Magoon’s Fire in the Streets or Renée Watson’s Some Places More Than Others

If a young reader is not into historical fiction, there are still a lot of innovative ways to introduce overlooked historical moments through young adult and middle grade novels. The excitement is not only discovering the pages can be mirrors but can also bring much needed light to a period times overlooked by our history books. Let young readers question the very text books being handed to them. Let them raise their eyebrows at what is left off the page and nudge them to present their doubts through the use of fictional characters who are also on a similar journey. The goal is to expand what is presented in approved texts and have them find the missing voices in between the lines because no one story book or newspaper holds the full truth.

Meet Lilliam Rivera

Photo credit: Vanessa Acosta

Lilliam Rivera is an award-winning writer and the author of children’s books Goldie Vance: The Hotel Whodunit, Dealing in DreamsThe Education of Margot Sanchez, and the forthcoming young adult novel Never Look Back (September 15, 2020) by Bloomsbury. Her work has appeared in The Washington PostNew York Times, and Elle, to name a few. A Bronx, New York native, Lilliam currently lives in Los Angeles. 

About NEVER LOOK BACK

Never Look Back

Expertly blends reality and fantasy to explore what’s behind love and loss, what it takes to heal.” – Randy Ribay, author of National Book Award finalist Patron Saints of Nothing

Acclaimed author Lilliam Rivera blends a touch of magical realism into a timely story about cultural identity, overcoming trauma, and the power of first love.

Eury comes to the Bronx as a girl haunted. Haunted by losing everything in Hurricane Maria—and by an evil spirit, Ato. She fully expects the tragedy that befell her and her family in Puerto Rico to catch up with her in New York. Yet, for a time, she can almost set this fear aside, because there’s this boy . . .

Pheus is a golden-voiced, bachata-singing charmer, ready to spend the summer on the beach with his friends, serenading his on-again, off-again flame. That changes when he meets Eury. All he wants is to put a smile on her face and fight off her demons. But some dangers are too powerful for even the strongest love, and as the world threatens to tear them apart, Eury and Pheus must fight for each other and their lives.

Featuring contemporary Afro-Latinx characters, this retelling of the Greek myth Orpheus and Eurydice is perfect for fans of Ibi Zoboi’s Pride and Daniel José Older’s Shadowshaper.

ISBN-13: 9781547603732
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: 09/15/2020
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years

Psst–Wanna Hear a Secret? Keeping Things Private in My Life in the Fish Tank, a guest post by Barbara Dee

This may sound funny to admit, but I’ve only recently realized that all my recent books are about secrecy.

I didn’t write these books with a recurring theme in mind.  My latest Middle Grade (or, to be precise, Upper Middle Grade) books explore a variety of  “tough topics”–sexual orientation (Star-Crossed),  pediatric cancer (Halfway Normal), eating disorders (Everything I Know About You), sexual harassment (Maybe He Just Likes You).  My next book, My Life in the Fish Tank (Aladdin/S&S, Sept 15, 2020) is about a family of four kids unsettled by the oldest son’s diagnosis of bipolar disorder.

Looking over my shoulder, though, I see that what these very different stories have in common  is a protagonist struggling under the burden of a secret.  In Star-Crossed and Maybe He Just Likes You, it’s a secret that shouldn’t be a secret at all. In Halfway Normal, the secret is a form of self-protection. In Everything I Know About You and My Life in the Fish Tank, the secret is intended to protect others. But in all these stories, whatever motivates the desire to hide information, the secret is a source of anxiety, responsible for tensions with the protagonist’s friends and family.

My Life in the Fish Tank

In My Life in the Fish Tank, Zinny doesn’t want to keep her brother Gabriel’s mental illness secret–it’s her parents who insist on it. And actually, her parents never use the word secret–they simply ask that the kids in the family keep it private.  “For Gabriel’s sake,” they explain. 

But Zinny immediately sees through their language.

“You mean secret?” I asked.

“Not secret, private,” Dad said. He flashed mom a look.

“Okay,” I said.

But if there was a difference between those two words–“secret” and “private”–I didn’t know what it was. 

It’s not that Zinny wants to talk about her brother’s bipolar disorder (“The whole thing hurt my heart in a way I couldn’t describe…I couldn’t explain to anyone how it felt to wonder if he’d be okay.”) She’s also (rightfully) wary of friends like Maisie who pry, expecting gossipy details on demand.

But what Zinny comes to realize is that not talking to people about Gabriel  has a cost. If you don’t share vital information about yourself, if you hide your true feelings, you push people away. As the hospital social worker tells Nora in Halfway Normal, there’s no requirement that she “entertain anyone with (her) cancer story…Although not sharing can be tricky too…Maybe you want to consider how other people would feel about that.” 

I think one reason I write about secrecy so much is that in middle school, intimacy–sharing secrets–is the currency of friendship, especially among girls. So in Maybe He Just Likes You, when Mila doesn’t tell Zara about the boys’ s sexual harassment game, it seals the fate of their already rocky relationship. In Star-Crossed, Mattie’s instinct not to tell loyal but loudmouthed Tessa about her crush on Gemma almost wrecks their friendship too. In Halfway Normal Nora’s desire to keep her “cancer story” to herself is understandable–but it threatens her bonds with Harper and Griffin. Withholding secrets from your best friends can be  dangerous, a source of conflict–even when it’s for a good reason.

Sometimes I hear from adult readers, “I just wished the character had told an adult.” This comment always surprises me.  For upper elementary and middle school kids, one of the worst things you can be is a tattletale, which is why Tally resists sharing  Ava’s secret in Everything I Know About You. And when the secret is your own, you also don’t rush off to tell a grownup. You usually do one of two things: either you share it with your friends (if it’s the sort of secret that’s shareable) or you turn inward–closing yourself off, obsessing in potentially unhealthy ways.

Because as a bright, observant twelve-year-old, Zinny is starting to see that adults aren’t perfect and can’t solve all your problems. She watches her parents with sharp eyes: the way after her brother’s diagnosis her dad withdraws from the rest of the family but adopts a “bright, cheery voice” when they visit Gabriel at the residential treatment center  (“I couldn’t help thinking that he’d kept it from us, hidden away. Almost like he thought we didn’t deserve it or something.”) And even though Mom insists that she wants to keep Gabriel’s condition “private” out of respect for Gabriel, Zinny notes how Mom lies to her neighbor Mrs. Halloran, telling her that Gabriel is “back at school and working hard.”   Horrified, Zinny wonders: “Why would Mom lie about Gabriel? Was she ashamed that her own kid was crazy? Because I couldn’t think of any other reason.”

Eventually  Zinny is brave enough to confront her parents. She doesn’t call them out for stigmatizing mental illness;  she’s a kid, so she’s more focused on the way their insistence on secrecy has affected both the family and her own social life.  At the same time, Zinny has been identifying people she can confide in: kids like Kailani and the others in the Lunch Club. Adults like Mr. Patrick, the excellent guidance counselor who allows Zinny to proceed at her own pace, gradually feeling comfortable enough to share her secret. In all my stories about kids with secrets, there are good friends and less-good ones, adults who demand information (like Ms. Castro in Halfway Normal) and adults who offer support in unobtrusive ways that earn the protagonist’s trust  (like Mr. Torres in Star-Crossed and both Ms. Molina and Mr. Patrick  in Fish Tank).

If you ask me what Middle Grade books are about, I’d say they’re about this: learning to analyze behavior.  Evaluating friendships in ever-changing light. Seeing adults not as all-powerful, all-knowing paragons, but as complicated, flawed (if often benevolent) human beings.

And then figuring out your relationship with all these people–whom you can trust, especially with your precious secrets.  

Meet Barbara Dee

Barbara Dee is the author of several middle grade novels including Maybe He Just Likes You, Everything I Know About You, Halfway Normal, and Star-Crossed. Her books have received several starred reviews and been included on many best-of lists, including the ALA Rainbow List Top Ten, the Chicago Public Library Best of the Best, and the NCSS-CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People. Star-Crossed was also a Goodreads Choice Awards finalist. Barbara is one of the founders of the Chappaqua Children’s Book Festival. She lives with her family, including a naughty cat named Luna and a sweet rescue hound dog named Ripley, in Westchester County, New York.

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My wonderful local indie is Scattered Books.  They ship everywhere. I’m doing a signing there on Sat, Sept 26 from 2-4 pm. It will be outside, in front of the bookstore—COVID safe!

About My Life in the Fish Tank

My Life in the Fish Tank

From acclaimed author of Maybe He Just Likes You and Halfway Normal comes a powerful and moving story of learning how to grow, change, and survive.

When twelve-year-old Zinnia Manning’s older brother Gabriel is diagnosed with a mental illness, the family’s world is turned upside down. Mom and Dad want Zinny, her sixteen-year-old sister, Scarlett, and her eight-year-old brother, Aiden, to keep Gabriel’s condition “private”—and to Zinny that sounds the same as “secret.” Which means she can’t talk about it to her two best friends, who don’t understand why Zinny keeps pushing them away, turning everything into a joke.

It also means she can’t talk about it during Lunch Club, a group run by the school guidance counselor. How did Zinny get stuck in this weird club, anyway? She certainly doesn’t have anything in common with these kids—and even if she did, she’d never betray her family’s secret.

The only good thing about school is science class, where cool teacher Ms. Molina has them doing experiments on crayfish. And when Zinny has the chance to attend a dream marine biology camp for the summer, she doesn’t know what to do. How can Zinny move forward when Gabriel—and, really, her whole family—still needs her help?

ISBN-13: 9781534432338
Publisher: Aladdin
Publication date: 09/15/2020
Age Range: 9 – 13 Years

Book Review: The Art of Saving the World by Corinne Duyvis

Publisher’s Book Description:

One girl and her doppelgangers try to stop the end of the world in this YA sci-fi adventure

When Hazel Stanczak was born, an interdimensional rift tore open near her family’s home, which prompted immediate government attention. They soon learned that if Hazel strayed too far, the rift would become volatile and fling things from other dimensions onto their front lawn—or it could swallow up their whole town. As a result, Hazel has never left her small Pennsylvania town, and the government agents garrisoned on her lawn make sure it stays that way. On her sixteenth birthday, though, the rift spins completely out of control. Hazel comes face-to-face with a surprise: a second Hazel. Then another. And another. Three other Hazels from three different dimensions! Now, for the first time, Hazel has to step into the world to learn about her connection to the rift—and how to close it. But is Hazel—even more than one of her—really capable of saving the world? 

Karen’s Thoughts:

This was a fun read with touches of interesting real world insight. Hazel lives with a bizarre rift in her home that she is somehow attached to, and it seems like the government is keeping a ton of secrets. On her 16th birthday the rift breaks open and she finds herself face to face with several different dimensional versions of herself and a task to save the world. It’s a wild ride, without a doubt. And such a unique concept.

Corinne Duyvis is the creator of the #OwnVoices hashtag as well as a participant in the Disability in Kidlit website and she takes an opportunity to enrich this story with lots of depth, including introducing a character who identifies as asexaul, talking realistically about mental health, and providing the first character that I am aware of in YA lit that struggles with endometriosis and painful periods.

Also, there is a dragon. I feel like everyone should know there is a dragon. And the dragon is really cool.

This was a unique concept with strong characters and some insightful discussion. It’s interesting to see how different Hazel and her life is in different dimensions and yet how alike it is in many ways. Like most teens Hazel is trying to figure out who she is and what her place is in this world, she just has to do it with several different versions of herself while literally trying to save the world from a dimensional rift that somehow seems tied to her. It’s a wild ride that I really recommend.

This book releases on September 15 from Amulet books.

The Classroom Isn’t Meant To Be Political, By Teen Contributor Riley Jensen

There is a time and place for political discussion, but the classroom is not one of those place. Maybe when it’s in a government class or a debate class, but Calculus is not the place for it.

A few days in my AP calculus my class had finished our lesson for the day. There had been political discussions in this class before, but I make a point of staying out of them because I am the only democrat in a room full of republicans. I have no problem listening to people talk about their beliefs because I don’t need to get involved in that in a place where I’m trying to figure out derivatives. But, this day the students somehow found a way to drag me into their political talk.

I was sitting in my class, just working on solving some practice problems as the conversation around me was getting into politics. I wasn’t really listening until someone decided to ask, “are there any libt***s in here?” I looked up, but I wasn’t about to say that I was a democrat in this room full of people who clearly would think me to be stupid for my beliefs. Apparently, it didn’t matter what I wanted because as soon as I looked up another person responded, “yea, Riley is.”

At this point, everyone is looking at me, the odd one out. Thankfully, the teacher decided that she was going to start trying to control the environment. So, she says, “let’s not use that word.” The political talk kind of dies down and everyone is back to minding their own business, but then the class is nearing an end.

Now, it gets worse. I’m just sitting their trying not to get angry because obviously I’m insulted, so the teacher decides to talk to me. In front of the whole entire class. She says, “Riley, I’m sorry if that upset you. I don’t want you to feel singled out, so if anything we says offends you please tell me. I will put a stop to the political talk immediately.”

Clearly, there is a lot of things wrong with the situation. First, she is very much so singling me out at that moment. Second, I don’t know how she expects me to tell her that I’m offended in front of all the people who just offended me. Third, I’m not sure why she didn’t stop the political when one of her students was obviously uncomfortable. And, finally, this should have been a private conversation.

I was saved by the bell at last, or at least I thought I was. As I’m sitting in my next class I get a text from the person who decided to tell everyone that I was a democrat. He goes on in this long paragraph about how the class had been “unprofessional” and I was “always welcome despite differences” and that I shouldn’t let this “stunt my talent.” Such a lovely text that quite literally made my blood boil. It was even more funny when I remembered that I had him in my next period. You know, where he could have apologized to my face like a decent person would have done so.

But no, he didn’t apologize to my face in that next period. Instead he acted as though nothing had happened. I guess he thought that maybe he was forgiven because I didn’t respond to his infuriating text. In reality though I didn’t respond to his text because I probably would have said some very rude things that he definitely deserved to hear.

Then, in the next period I do respond just to make sure that he knows that we will have problems if he does something like that again. Naturally his response is that he didn’t mean it, but “it just happened.” This was very similar to the email my teacher sent me in reply to me telling her that the way she handled the situation was not super great.

In the email I sent my teacher I essentially told her everything that had made things worse. I believe the word I used was unprofessional. I feel like that was a fitting description of what happened, but I doubt she liked that very much. In her reply she said that she knew as she was addressing me in class that it was the wrong thing to do, but she just couldn’t stop herself. I know that sometimes people make mistakes, but it’s hard to be sympathetic when the problem should never have even been a problem.

This whole situation could been avoided if calculus class had stayed calculus class. I was there to learn derivatives and get my grade. I was not there to have my political views criticized. So, now I think calculus is going to stay calculus. The way it should have been in the first place.

Book Review: My Life in the Fish Tank by Barbara Dee

My Life in the Fish Tank

Publisher’s description

From acclaimed author of Maybe He Just Likes You and Halfway Normal comes a powerful and moving story of learning how to grow, change, and survive.

When twelve-year-old Zinnia Manning’s older brother Gabriel is diagnosed with a mental illness, the family’s world is turned upside down. Mom and Dad want Zinny, her sixteen-year-old sister, Scarlett, and her eight-year-old brother, Aiden, to keep Gabriel’s condition “private”—and to Zinny that sounds the same as “secret.” Which means she can’t talk about it to her two best friends, who don’t understand why Zinny keeps pushing them away, turning everything into a joke.

It also means she can’t talk about it during Lunch Club, a group run by the school guidance counselor. How did Zinny get stuck in this weird club, anyway? She certainly doesn’t have anything in common with these kids—and even if she did, she’d never betray her family’s secret.

The only good thing about school is science class, where cool teacher Ms. Molina has them doing experiments on crayfish. And when Zinny has the chance to attend a dream marine biology camp for the summer, she doesn’t know what to do. How can Zinny move forward when Gabriel—and, really, her whole family—still needs her help?

Amanda’s thoughts

The summary up there is pretty thorough and hits most of the main plot points of the story. What you need to know, what you can’t really learn from the summary, is how nuanced and emotional this story is. Many families choose to keep something like a mental illness private/secret/a family matter. I’m not here to judge people doing that (though, we all know I’m super open about our mental health issues here and think being open helps eliminate stigma and leads to more help for everyone) because mental illness is hard, family can be hard, choices are hard, and so on. But certainly for Zinny, being told to keep it private that her older brother is bipolar and in a treatment facility really destroys her.

Zinny’s parents become distant and shut down as the family tries to get through this hard time without really talking to one another about it or being open. Her mother shows signs of depression and takes a leave from her job as a teacher. Her father is always at work. No one makes dinner or takes care of things, leaving Zinny to feel like she should cook, get groceries, and so on. Her secrecy drives a wedge between her and her best friends, leaving her feeling even more isolated and alone. Her older sister is dealing with their brother’s diagnosis and absence differently than Zinny is, so she also feels a loss of kinship with her sister. She’s confused, ashamed, upset, and still not entirely clear what’s happening. Her feels even worse when she hears her mom straight up lie about her brother (he’s back at college and doing great!).

While all of that is really hard, surprising good things happen. Dee doesn’t leave Zinny alone and despairing. She gives her a great science teacher, Ms. Molina, who lets Zinny come help in her classroom during lunch, who supports her without overtly making it about what’s happening at home, and who encourages Zinny to be making connections and continuing to live her life. Dee also gives Zinny a group of new friends, a lunch bunch of other middle school kids dealing with rough issues. While Zinny isn’t thrilled to be in this group at first, she gets a lot out of those connections and finds not just kids who are also experiencing difficult times, but kids who want to be her friend, who include her, and who show her it’s okay to be dealing with family issues. Her family is struggling, but Zinny is surrounded by support and true caring. And while her parents definitely make missteps along the way (as a parent, I can safely say we all do, even if we’re certain we’re trying to do our best), they all work together to figure out how to get through this time.

Flashbacks to both happier times and moments with Gabriel that illuminate how long his mental illness went undiagnosed create a bigger and better picture of Zinny’s family. Given how many children are most certainly dealing with mental illness at home or with someone close to them, this is a much needed book that shows how hard and scary it can be, but also how much help there is and how much hope there is. Zinny’s story moves from feeling like they’re all just barely surviving this upheaval to seeing how everyone learns to function more honestly and healthily in this new reality. It’s hardly news to say that mental illness affects the entire family, but it’s so important that we see the ways this can happen and understand that it’s okay to be affected and to need to figure out a way forward. An important read and highly recommended.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781534432338
Publisher: Aladdin
Publication date: 09/15/2020
Age Range: 9 – 13 Years

Puppets! They’re Not Just for Storytime: Creative Digital Media Fun, with a Shark Puppet

I am a huge fan of teaching teens how to engage with digital media and I am also super into instant photography, which I have posted a lot about here. I’m even in a instant photography group, which is where this idea comes from. A member of that group posted a picture they had taken with a shark puppet, making it look like they were being attacked by a shark, and I thought: THIS IS GENIUS AND FUN! So I ordered a shark puppet (It was $10 off of Amazon). And then the fun began and my programming brain started spinning into full gear.

Thing 2 is shocked to see a shark nearby

So here’s what I’m thinking.

As a library we can buy a variety of hand puppets to circulate. There aren’t just sharks, there are dinosaurs and unicorns and so many more. OR, we can make grab and go/make and take kits with the materials to make your own hand puppet. Either option would work.

Make your own puppets grab and go kits would be a great way to clean out those supply cabinets and inspire creativity in our tweens and teens. You would need to include something like felt pieces to make a higher quality hand puppet. Then a bunch of random things like googly eyes, pipe cleaners, yarn, etc. Pretty much anything you can think of to make a hand puppet. This could also be a good tutorial for teaching basic handsewing (which you will need to provide the supplies for as well because I believe we should never assume that someone has what they need at home to supplement a make and take kit.) Here’s a great tutorial on DIY hand sewn puppets: http://www.oneacrevintagehome.com/felt-hand-puppets/

Then you challenge tweens and teens to take fun photos of their hand puppets and share them online. You see a lot of these types of photo challenges everywhere, especially on Instagram. All you really need is an idea and a hashtag. I know that I’ve seen some libraries doing photo challenges during the pandemic, how fun would it be to add a prop?

You could make it open ended or do a daily challenge model. Here’s an example of a daily challenge outline that I found doing a quick Google search:

I would definitely avoid any challenges that asks kids to reveal personal information or space, like the where you sleep challenge in the example above.

One of the things that I did with my shark puppet is I wanted to learn how to make it look like it was wet and in the water while it was no where near the water, and there’s an app for that.

Then I decided I wanted to try and make it look scarier and like it was in a black and white movie. At one point I even added red filters to try and make it look bloody. But it was fun to use an app to explore digital media, photo manipulation and my creativity. A lot of tweens and teens are already using Insta and Snap, so they have ready access to a variety of filters. There are also a variety of fun and free apps that they may be using. And don’t forget, a shark puppet would be so cool in a Tik Tok.

There are some problems and limitations with this idea, of course, because it means that our tweens and teens have to have access to a device to take and share their pictures. A lot of them do, but there are always exceptions which we need to keep in mind. And one day when our library doors fully reopen and our makerspaces are safe, it would be a fun MakerSpace digital media station and challenge.

Puppets, they’re not just for storytime!

Though I love and use a wide variety of photo apps, all the pictures in this post were made using PhotoShop Express on an iPhone.