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Book Review: Brave Face: A Memoir by Shaun David Hutchinson

Publisher’s description

Critically acclaimed author of We Are the Ants—described as having “hints of Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five (School Library Journal)—opens up about what led to an attempted suicide in his teens, and his path back from the experience.

“I wasn’t depressed because I was gay. I was depressed and gay.”

Shaun David Hutchinson was nineteen. Confused. Struggling to find the vocabulary to understand and accept who he was and how he fit into a community in which he couldn’t see himself. The voice of depression told him that he would never be loved or wanted, while powerful and hurtful messages from society told him that being gay meant love and happiness weren’t for him.

A million moments large and small over the years all came together to convince Shaun that he couldn’t keep going, that he had no future. And so he followed through on trying to make that a reality.

Thankfully Shaun survived, and over time, came to embrace how grateful he is and how to find self-acceptance. In this courageous and deeply honest memoir, Shaun takes readers through the journey of what brought him to the edge, and what has helped him truly believe that it does get better.

Amanda’s thoughts

I’m a big fan of memoirs. While most of my reading is of children’s and YA books, when I do grab an adult book from the library, it is frequently a memoir. I like the deep dive into someone’s life. I like seeing them raw and unpacking their challenges and successes. So when a memoir comes out by one of my favorite YA authors, you can bet I will devour it.

For me, this had an added element of interest. I’m the same age as Hutchinson—we both graduated high school in 1996. We were both depressed and anxious teens, kept journals (and hung onto them all this time—I have a whole bin of my journals from elementary school through college), listened to a lot of the same music, wrote for the school paper, and so on. For me, as an adult reader, I really felt myself right there with Hutchinson because I really *saw* him. I would’ve been friends with him. My computer-programming, D&D-playing, fantasy-novel-reading husband would’ve been friends with him.

I spent the whole memoir really wanted two things for Hutchinson: for him to find his people and for him to get the mental health help he needed. And that’s really want this whole memoir is about. We follow Hutchinson through high school and a few years of college. We watch him go from an excited ninth grader positive about his future to a severely depressed and self-loathing older teen who can’t see anything good in his present or his future, feels like a failure, and grows increasingly reckless. We watch him participate in drama and debate, work various jobs, hang out with his close girl friend, play D&D, and half-heartedly date and make out with some girls. Meanwhile he’s feeling increasingly irritated, having meltdowns, lashing out while alone, and writing in his journal about his misery and his suicidal ideation.

We also see Hutchinson really struggle with being gay. He writes a lot about how his negative and limited idea of what it would mean to be gay came from the culture and stories around him at this time in the 90s. He wasn’t able to see beyond horrible stereotypes and miserable endings. He simply didn’t have any other examples. And he certainly didn’t have any kind of community to help him work through these thoughts. Even as he came to understand that he was gay, he still lacked examples of love or romance or happiness. His view of his life, already complicated by his untreated depression, grew darker.

Eventually, Hutchinson attempts suicide and ends up in a psychiatric treatment facility. There is a content warning for this part of the book to allow readers to skip over the details included here. He then summarizes life after this time—the ups and downs of both relationships and various treatments. He leaves readers with the important message that it can indeed get better, though it can take a while to get there. And, most importantly, it’s okay to ask for help—that struggling alone and putting on a brave face isn’t required.

This is a powerful and painfully honest look at surviving while finding your place, your people, and self-acceptance.

Review copy (e-ARC) courtesy of Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781534431515
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication date: 05/21/2019

Book Review: Keep This to Yourself by Tom Ryan

Publisher’s Book Description:

It’s been a year since the Catalog Killer terrorized the sleepy seaside town of Camera Cove, killing four people before disappearing without a trace.

Like everyone else in town, eighteen-year-old Mac Bell is trying to put that horrible summer behind him—easier said than done since Mac’s best friend Connor was the murderer’s final victim. But when he finds a cryptic message from Connor, he’s drawn back into the search for the killer—who might not have been a random drifter after all. Now nobody—friends, neighbors, or even the sexy stranger with his own connection to the case—is beyond suspicion. Sensing that someone is following his every move, Mac struggles to come to terms with his true feelings towards Connor while scrambling to uncover the truth.

Karen’s Thoughts

As I’ve mentioned recently, I’ve been really into reading YA mysteries and thrillers, and this one did not disappoint.

Perfect for this time of year, we first meet our weary group of friends as they are graduating from high school and contemplating what comes next. They have met on this day to open up a time capsule as they promised one another they would do when they were all closer, but one of them is missing. Their friend, you see, was killed by the serial killer known as The Catalog Killer. And nothing has been the same since.

No one knows who The Catalog Killer was and the town has never been the same. Which means, of course, that Mac must work to solve the mystery on his own before he leaves town to start the next part of his life. And Mac’s investigation will leave him with answers he probably doesn’t want as he learns that a lot of the people that he loves and trusts in his idyllic little town have secrets better left uncovered.

This was a great mystery. Each new clue is revealed and the picture expands and I was left in awe of the character development and storytelling. The twists and turns were plenty and completely unexpected. It comes to a very satisfying conclusion. It’s just an entertaining and satisfying novel that will keep you guessing and hanging onto the edge of your seat. There is also LGBTQ representation, quality friendships, and a realistic look at small town life. The police do a few things that you know wouldn’t happen in real life, but it’s fiction so just roll with it.

Highly recommended.

This book was published Tuesday, May 21st

Cindy Crushes Programming: Find a Good Book with Miss Cindy

Today librarian Cindy Shutts is sharing with us how she turned reader’s advisory into a simple yet fun and effective program.

I love Reader’s Advisory! It is one of my favorite things to do. I try to read as many books as I can.  Every year I like to do a Reader’s Advisory based program called Find a Book with Miss Cindy. To make the program more fun and appealing, I provide snacks. Teens love food!

This is a pretty simple program. I give everyone a Reader’s Advisory survey and have them fill them out (see the end of this post). I let them enjoy the juice and snacks as they fill out the surveys. One question I receive is “Do I have to check out books to attend?” I let them know that they do not have to check out materials. I will have materials available to check out if they wish, but it is certainly not a requirement. I know not everyone is able to check out materials for a variety of reasons and I don’t want them to feel unwelcome. I want to be able to give them recommendations even if it does not help circulation. I often look at thrift stores for books for teens to make sure they have access to books. If they can’t check a book out, maybe they can still take one home.

I set up tables with some of my favorite books on them. Often books are checked out and I have to use older titles that are in and available at the time of this program.

An important note: Please include many own voices books. This is so important. My teens often look for own voices books and really need them. When putting together any time of display or RA you should always make sure that you have a diverse and inclusive variety of books available so that every teen who walks through your door is represented.

After teens fill out the survey, I then work with them individually to help them find a book that I think best matches their interests and past reading experience. I go to the table of books and start to pick them out for the teens based on the results of their survey. I often bring them to the table with me, particularly if I know they have read a lot of the books. This helps me know what they have already read. My goal is simple: to try and connect them with some new books that they might enjoy reading based on their survey.

Find a Good Book with Miss Cindy

Book Survey

  • Name your favorite authors?
  • Name your favorite books?
  • What genres do you like?
  • What movies and TV shows do you watch?
  • What video games do you enjoy?
  • Do you have any hobbies?


Final thoughts: This is one of my favorite programs to do. It is cheap and fun. Everyone usually leaves happy. One reader had read pretty much everything, but a copy of On The Come Up by Angie Thomas has just come and I could give that to them. It’s a pretty rewarding experience. This program is great for prolific readers or readers who are new to young adult books.

Writing Myself a New Story, a guest post by Jasmine Warga

I first met my uncle Abdalla when I was four-years-old. Up until the moment he got off the plane, walked straight toward me and picked me up off the ground with a twirl, whispering in rapid-fire Arabic to me, my uncle had only existed in stories that my father told me.

I didn’t understand most of what my uncle was saying when he greeted me—I was only familiar with a couple of Arabic phrases—but I also felt like I understood every word. That’s how it always was with Abdalla. I understood, and if I didn’t, he made sure that I did.

My parents had asked him to come to America to take care of me during the birth of my baby brother and the subsequent hectic weeks that would follow. I think their hope was that I’d be too distracted by my new uncle to resent the fact that I was no longer the baby of the family. It worked. My uncle and I spent the weeks leading up to my brother’s birth trading stories. He would tell me about Jordan—my great-aunt with a temper like a snake, my grandmother who believed deeply in otherworldly things, and a whole city made of a rose rock that he would show me when I visited. My uncle is the one who first taught me the true power of storytelling. He rendered Jordan so gorgeously and evocatively that I was desperate to visit.

I finally got the chance to visit when I was eight-years-old. My uncle greeted us at the airport, pulling me into a hug, and telling me, “Welcome home” in both Arabic and English. At first, Jordan didn’t feel at all like home. Jordan was people eyeing me with curiosity, confused that my name was Yasmine Nazek, but I didn’t speak smooth and confident Arabic. Jordan was hilly roads that made me slightly nauseous as we drove up and down them. Jordan was open windows at all times, and the sound of the call to prayer at dawn. It was pomegranates that exploded in my mouth. It was big family dinners of mansaf and crowded rooms filled with people I’d never met but who loved me and I loved them. It was playing soccer with local neighborhood children in an empty lot that would soon be filled with luxury condos.

One of the last nights of the trip, I sat with my uncle outside on his patio, and told him through tears that I was going to miss Jordan so much when I went home. That I didn’t want to go home because this was home, could be home. My uncle took my face in his hands, and told me that I could come visit whenever I wanted because, “Jordan belonged to me.”

Jordan belonged to me.

The thing about diaspora kids like me is that it is hard to believe that any place belongs to us.

Not our homes in America where we are othered, sidelined, and marginalized. And not the countries of our ethnic origin because how can you muster the audacity to lay to claim to a country—a culture—that still feels foreign to you, no matter how much you want it to be familiar.

I was always told how lucky I was to have two homes—and I know I am—but it’s also deeply lonely to feel like a stranger in both worlds.

When I got back from that first trip to Jordan, I did a presentation for my third-grade class about it. My dad came in to help. We served the class hummus. This was before everyone in America knew what hummus was. Most of my classmates were excited to try the strange dip in front of them, but you can probably imagine the look on some of their faces—a puckering of the lips, declarations of “weird!” and “ew!”

I remember going from a feeling of surging pride—having just shared an incredible photo of Petra—to deep shame. This is one of my first childhood memories of really feeling different from my classmates and wanting not to be. I’m sure I’d had those moments before—I’d must have—but none stand out to me as clearly as this one. Sweating in my hand-embroidered thobe that moments ago I’d been so delighted to wear. Running to the school bathroom to pull it off; and making excuses about why I needed to change that instant.

I was eight years old then. I never talked about Jordan at school again until I was seventeen.

As more and more people begin to read Other Words for Home, I’m being asked if Jude is a stand-in for me when I was twelve. I always pause at this question. The differences are obvious to me. They are almost as wide and daunting as the ocean that Jude crosses in the book. The most glaring of which is, while we are both Arab, Jude is Syrian-born, and I am American-born.

It is not lost on me that the character in the story who I most identify with is the novel’s main antagonist—Jude’s American-born cousin, Sarah. Sarah is hurting on the inside—feeling lost and lonely in a way that she doesn’t even have a vocabulary for—and so she lashes out at others.

I believe so much in positive representation. I used to parrot this idea that our job as writers was to write the world exactly as it is, exactly as we experience it—an academic idea I’d stolen from older white male authors who I’d seen talk about their books. I thought that repeating it would prove that I, too, was hip, educated, and literary. That I deserved my seat at the proverbial table.

But the older I get, the more I believe that books give birth to the world we live in. Media representation shapes actual perceptions, and so instead of writing sad, lonely brown girls, I decided to write a girl like Jude. A girl who has pride in her family, her culture. A girl who, of course, makes mistakes, but is sure of her heart. Growing up, I never saw a character like Jude. If I encountered a self-assured heroine, she was always white, and beautiful in a way that every media outlet had led me to believe was the only way to be beautiful—fair skin, light hair, a nose completely unlike mine.

Jude does not exist to help Sarah to grow. I want to make that very clear. She has her own story and agency. But one of my very favorite things about the book is the way in which Jude’s confidence in her identity begins to influence the way Sarah sees herself. We can all learn from one another, and the way Sarah learns from Jude, and in turn, the way Jude learns from Sarah, are particularly meaningful to me.

When I was sixteen, and visiting my uncle in Jordan for the summer, I remember whining to him that I didn’t want to be Arab or Muslim anymore. That everyone in the world hated Arabs and Muslims. When I told Abdalla this, memories from my childhood came flooding back to me—desperately wishing to look like my white American girl doll in fourth grade, lying and saying I was Italian instead of Arab in ninth grade, staying silent even though it turned my insides to acid when I heard ignorant things said about Islam. I also thought of the deep shame I felt about not posting a single picture from my visit on Facebook that showed one of my hijab-wearing relatives. Instead posting a series of photographs of the westernized cafes that had recently opened up in Amman.

My uncle didn’t get upset or angry at my declaration. He simply smiled at me in a knowing way. He told me that I only thought that because of the story the American media was telling me. “But Yasmine habibti, you’re a writer, yes? Write another story.”

My uncle Abdalla died before I finished the first draft of Other Words for Home. He never got to read it. But I still like to imagine that somewhere he’s smiling, knowing that I did write myself another story.

Meet Jasmine Warga

Photo credit: Braxton Black

Jasmine Warga is the author of the middle grade novel Other Words for Home (Balzer + Bray; May 28, 2019), as well as several teen books: Here We Are Now, and My Heart and Other Black Holes, which has been translated into over twenty languages. She lives and writes in Chicago, IL. You can visit Jasmine online at www.jasminewarga.com.

About Other Words for Home

A gorgeously written, hopeful middle grade novel in verse about a young girl who must leave Syria to move to the United States, perfect for fans of Jason Reynolds and Aisha Saeed.

Jude never thought she’d be leaving her beloved older brother and father behind, all the way across the ocean in Syria. But when things in her hometown start becoming volatile, Jude and her mother are sent to live in Cincinnati with relatives.

At first, everything in America seems too fast and too loud. The American movies that Jude has always loved haven’t quite prepared her for starting school in the US—and her new label of “Middle Eastern,” an identity she’s never known before.

But this life also brings unexpected surprises—there are new friends, a whole new family, and a school musical that Jude might just try out for. Maybe America, too, is a place where Jude can be seen as she really is.

This lyrical, life-affirming story is about losing and finding home and, most importantly, finding yourself.

ISBN-13: 9780062747808
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 05/28/2019

Teen Services 101: Serving Teens, Challenges and Rewards

So here we are in the midst of our Teen Services 101 series. We’ve talked a bit about who teens are and what they want from public libraries. Today, we’re going to talk specifically about the challenges and rewards for serving teens in our libraries.

The Challenges


In my house, this is the last day of school and we are just counting down the days because The Teen needs a break like no one has ever needed a break before. I spent all day Saturday up at the school watching my teenage daughter be involved in 2 out of 8 plays. The next day, she returned to school for a six hour musical rehearsal. She comes home every night after 8:00 PM, having spent more than 12 hours at school, and then does another 3 hours of homework. She, like many teenagers, does not have a lot of free time to spare.

Teens go to school for 8 hours a day and then there is homework, extra curricular activities, part-time jobs, religious commitments and taking care of younger siblings. Teens don’t have a lot of free time. Then tend to have less free time than most of the full-time working adults that I know. So trying to find a time to get teens to come to a program can be a challenge, which is one of the reason why I suggest programming include self-directed programming in addition to more traditional programs that occur on a specific date at a specific time.


Recent surveys reveal that teens are experiencing increasing and dangerous levels of stress and anxiety. Teen suicide rates are rising. I know that when The Teen comes home after a long day at school and settles in for that 3 hours of homework, it’s not unusual for her to cry and lament that she doesn’t know how she’s supposed to get all of this stuff done. Our teens today are stressed and one of the greatest things we can do right now for them is to give them space and time to decompress and relax.


1 in 5. That’s the number of youth that walk into our building facing food insecurity. That means they don’t know when or where there next meal is coming. Have you ever been hangry? Some of the kids and teens that walk into our building are hangry all the time. They’re malnourished, lack focus, and their tank is running low.


I have often noticed that as kids become teens and that individuation occurs – and this is a key development at this stage – transportation becomes a growing issue. They don’t always have a way to get to and from the library. Parents may go back to work full-time now that teens can be left home alone, for example. Though younger teens are still not driving themselves. So getting to and from the library can be a challenge, especially if you live in a location that doesn’t have good public transportation and you do not live within walking distance of your library branch.


It’s easy for us to think well everything we have and do is free and we’re non-profit so there really isn’t any competition, but that is not true. We face competition for the time and attention of our community teens daily. Streaming services mean you don’t necessarily need to go to the library to check out the newest movie or video game or music cd. A lot of teens do have access to the Internet on a fairly consistent basis. Many families now order the books they need and have them delivered right to their door within 48 hours. This doesn’t mean our services are no longer valuable, it just means we have to work harder at connecting with the public and making sure they understand who we are, what we do, and how that can positively impact their lives.

The conversation about competition can, of course, differ widely because there is a lot of privilege and class tied up in this. The digital divide is real and growing. Our job is to help bridge that divide and meet a wide variety of needs for a wide variety of patrons at a wide variety of stages of their life. It’s a big mission that takes an informed and dedicated staff with a solid foundation of resources at their disposal, something a lot of libraries are struggling with.

The Rewards

So we’ve talked about just a few of the biggest challenges to serving our teens, but what are the rewards? And trust me, there are rewards.

Asset Building

We talked in the Foundations: Understanding Teens Today segment about the 40 Developmental Assets. We know that teens need as many of these assets as possible to help them be happy and healthy individuals and libraries are in the business of asset building. Even if you don’t know you are doing it, you are in the business of asset building, both formally and informally.

One of the assets, for example, is engaging in reading for pleasure a minimum of 3 hours a week. In order for that to happen our teens need access to books. Just by opening our doors and building collections we’re providing the tools teens need to check this asset off of their list.

Many of the other assets deal with things like being engaged in learning and crafts, having a safe space, and feeling like your community values you. All of these assets are helped by having a public library that actively chooses to serve teens in meaningful ways and communicates to teens that they are valued by the adults in their community. Providing quality teen services helps teens gain assets and this is important.

Healthy Teens, Healthy Communities

Public libraries are in the business of serving the local community, which by definition includes teens. And the healthier we can help those teens become, the healthier our overall communities are. When one part of the community is sick, the entire community is sick because it has ripple effects. Public library services to teens is one part of the whole when it comes to building healthy teens and healthy communities.

Current Users = Future Users

The idea of providing dedicated, specialized, quality library services to teens really started to gain momentum back in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In the early 1990s there was a huge push to hire dedicated YA librarians. I was one of those hires. We spent the next 2 almost 3 decades serving teens believing that if we continued the work that our children’s librarians began, we would maintain library users in the teen years and that they would grow to become dedicated library users and supporters as adults. We argued that if we lost teens as users in the teen years, it would be harder to convince them to come back in the adult years. This appears to have been solid reasoning. Recent PEW studies about millenial library users indicate that they use libraries more than previous generations despite having access to things like the Internet and smart phones and Amazon.

It’s true that millennials are facing more economic hardship than previous generations and that plays a part in their increased library use, but I believe part of the reason that they knew they could have their needs met at the library was because we demonstrated that to them consistently as teens. When they needed some place to go for access, they knew they could come to the library because we didn’t lose them as teenagers.

We begin serving patrons at birth with things like storytimes and books and programs and a focus on every child ready to read and it only makes sense for us to continue that service into the teen years. It’s hard to get someone to come back once you lose them, so consistent service at all ages and stages helps us maintain library users and supporters.

Teens Have Parents Too!

When we talk about serving children, we talk a lot about lofty goals like every child ready to read and supporting education, etc. But the truth is, when we’re being honest, we’ll also say things like kids have parents and those parents vote and we want to keep them happy. Spoiler alert: Teens have parents too and those parents vote and we should still want to keep them happy. Parents of teens are often looking for things that don’t cost a fortune to keep their teens engaged and this is an opportunity we should not let go to waste. When we’re serving teens we are also serving their parents.

Raising Readers

Have you ever seen all the benefits of reading? It’s amazing when you think about it. Scholastic put out this chart which helps us get just a glimpse of the benefits of reading.

Do you see there where it says that reading can lower stress by 68%? We’ve just talked up above about how stressed out our teens are and here’s a way we can help. Reading improves mood, memory, language, and overall health. We want to make it as easy as possible for our teens to be reading. You know who helps teens be readers? That’s right – public libraries!

So now that I have hopefully convinced that even with the challenges we should definitely be serving teens, next installment we’re going to be talking more specifically how to do that.

Teen Services 101

I’m just getting started, what do I need to be successful?

Foundations: Understanding Teens Today

What Do Teens Want from Libraries Today?

Friday Finds: May 17, 2019

This Week at TLT

Book Review: I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver

Book Review: The Missing Season by Gillian French

Teen Services 101: What Do Teens Want from Public Libraries?

Book Review: Road Tripped by Pete Hautman

Teen Services 101: Foundations – Understanding Teens Today

Around the Web

A Decade of LGBTQ YA Since Ash

‘The (Other) F Word’ Is A Vibrant Anthology That Celebrates The Fat & Fierce

SAT To Score Students’ ‘Disadvantages’ To Try To Even The Playing Field

Book Review: I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver

Publisher’s description

It’s just three words: I am nonbinary. But that’s all it takes to change everything.

When Ben De Backer comes out to their parents as nonbinary, they’re thrown out of their house and forced to move in with their estranged older sister, Hannah, and her husband, Thomas, whom Ben has never even met. Struggling with an anxiety disorder compounded by their parents’ rejection, they come out only to Hannah, Thomas, and their therapist and try to keep a low profile in a new school.

But Ben’s attempts to survive the last half of senior year unnoticed are thwarted when Nathan Allan, a funny and charismatic student, decides to take Ben under his wing. As Ben and Nathan’s friendship grows, their feelings for each other begin to change, and what started as a disastrous turn of events looks like it might just be a chance to start a happier new life.

At turns heartbreaking and joyous, I Wish You All the Best is both a celebration of life, friendship, and love, and a shining example of hope in the face of adversity.

Amanda’s thoughts

Go order this book now. Request it from your library, buy it from your local bookstore, order it FOR your library, email your media specialist to make sure they know about it, just go. I’ll wait.

Did you do it? I really hope you did, because this is an Important Book. There are not a ton of nonbinary teens yet in YA books. This fact alone makes this book noteworthy. But it’s the fact that Ben’s story is so complex and emotional and that the writing is SO GOOD that really makes this book one that you need.

This is not always an easy book to read, but just know that it gets easier and has a happy ending. And that’s not a spoiler—I think it’s important to know that this book about a nonbinary teen kicked out of their home isn’t a story just full of misery and betrayal. That’s certainly part of the story, and not an unimportant part, but Ben’s story is so much deeper than that. And, thankfully, it’s so much more joy-filled than just that.

Ben’s parents kick them out when they come out as nonbinary. Ben (they/them) feels like they are living a lie and that their parents don’t actually know them. Their parents’ reaction is, obviously, not positive. Ben’s mother says this isn’t what God wants and Ben’s father is totally unwilling to even entertain this as an idea that exists. Thankfully, Ben’s sister, Hannah, takes them in, but it’s been a decade since Ben saw her and, while so grateful to her and her husband, Thomas, Ben still has complicated feelings about how she left the family. Hannah and Thomas are great. They get Ben set up with school, new clothes, a supportive and affirming home, and do their best to use the right pronouns. They are learning, but they are working hard to do so. Hannah also gets Ben set up with a therapist, so they can talk about what went on at home. It is during these sessions that Ben also is able to address and start to understand their depression and anxiety with panic attacks. This system of support that is being built around Ben is SO important.

Ben also finds unexpected support through new friends at school, including Nathan. Ben isn’t out as nonbinary at school and is worried what Nathan may think, especially as they grow closer. (Readers probably won’t worry what Nathan will think—he’s such a wonderful, sweet, charming character and it was nice to not feel like this is just someone else who will judge or hurt Ben.) Ben begins to thrive in their new life, painting, slowly making friends, feeling safer, and starting to think about the future. Used to being a loner and seen as “that weird kid,” Ben still has trouble trusting people and feeling secure, but they are surrounded by people who show them that this is okay.

Another wonderful source of support for Ben is Miriam, who is nonbinary and has a popular YouTube channel. From Bahrain, Miriam is Shi’a Muslim and immigrated to the US. Now in California (Ben is in North Carolina), the two connected online and have a strong bond. Miriam says they are Ben’s “enby mama” and helps to guide Ben through this time in their life. Miriam’s role as a mentor, friend, confidant, and example of a nonbinary person happy and successful is so important for Ben.

Could I use the word “important” more in this review? I’ll try.

The not easy to read parts include Ben constantly being misgendered. Remember, they are not out to anyone beyond their family, Miriam, and their therapist. An unknowing Nathan refers to Ben as he/him, boy, Mr, prince, and dude. These all hurt Ben, but they are not yet ready to come out. Ben’s parents are really just so awful, even when they allegedly try to make some amends. As a parent of an almost-teen myself, they are what most infuriated me and ate away at me while I read. I cannot imagine not accepting anything to do with my child’s identity. Of course, I know plenty of young people who have been exactly where Ben is—they come out and are kicked out. Thank goodness for Hannah and Thomas. Thank goodness for all the love, support, and kindness that surrounds Ben. This is such a shining example of the family that can form around you and hold you up when the people who SHOULD always be there for you refuse to. Shall I tell you that it’s an IMPORTANT message? Because it is.

This heartfelt story will empower readers. Ben’s journey is not always easy, but it is full of love, affirmation, and eventual happiness. And have I mentioned that all of this is so important? I can’t say that word enough (though you may argue otherwise at this point). This story, this representation, this example is so needed. Get this on your shelves and into readers’ hands.

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781338306125
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.

Publication date: 05/14/2019

Book Review: The Missing Season by Gillian French

Publisher’s Book Description:
Whenever another kid goes missing in October, the Pender kids know what is really behind it: a horrific monster out in the marshes they have named the Mumbler.

That’s what Clara’s new crew tells her when she moves to town: Bree and Sage, who take her under their wing; spirited Trace, who has taken the lead on this year’s Halloween prank war; and magnetic Kincaid, whose devil-may-care attitude and air of mystery are impossible for Clara to resist.

Clara doesn’t actually believe in the Mumbler. But as Halloween gets closer and tensions build in the town, it’s hard to shake the feeling that there really is something dark and dangerous in Pender, lurking in the shadows, waiting to bring the stories to life.

Karen’s Thoughts:

As a kid who moved a lot in my life – military brat! – I was immediately drawn to Clara’s plight as she moved to yet another new town. And I do love a good, creepy town with spooky urban legends – at least on the page. From the moment that Clara sees the poem about the Mumbler under the bridge readers will be sucked in. Is the Mumbler real? Are they in danger? Is it supernatural, a drifter . . . or someone they know and trust?

While the urban legend is slowly being revealed and developed, Clara makes friends, goes on a prank spree, and finds her new friendships challenged by her hookup with the resident hot guy.

There is a lot to love here. Unfortunately, the pay off kind of unravels due to a very rushed third act. Right as the truth is being revealed it’s all kind of . . . just over. Teens will still want to read this, but I wish the back half had been better developed and maintained the creepiness and the tension of the beginning. It’s a satisfying and creepy read, but falls just short of being highly recommended.

Coming May 21st from HarperTeen. I downloaded a digital ARC on Edelweiss for this review.

Teen Services 101: What Do Teens Want from Public Libraries?

So we’re still diving deep into our look at Teen Services 101. I’ll put a complete listing of all the posts today at the bottom of this post today. So far we’ve outlined what the components of a comprehensive teen services plan should include and on Monday we looked at understanding some basics of teens through things like statistics, brain development and the 40 Developmental Assets. Today we’re going to ask ourselves a very important question as we think about serving teens: what is it that teens want from a public library?


The Teen and The Bestie

It’s a Monday afternoon and a teen has just walked into your library, but what is it they’re looking for? Most teens just want a space to hang out with friends (remember, teens tend to be socially oriented) and to decompress. They want a space without a lot of rules and oversight, in large part because they’ve just come from an 8-hour school day in which they’ve been very regimented and many of them will be going home to more rules and demands on their time. There is a short period of time in a teen’s day where they can have a moment to relax, catch their breath, and have more control over their time and it is in these moments that teens walk into our public libraries. So in this space our teens are looking for a space to have more independence and autonomy.

The Teen MakerSpace at The Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County in Ohio

How Public Libraries Offer Teens Space to be Themselves

Creating Spaces Where Teens Can Thrive

What should this space look like? There is a lot of great information out there. Many libraries don’t have large budgets for fancy decorations like neon signs and a wall of video games (which I agree can be nice), so I would argue that location and feel is more important than glitz and glamour. I’ve spent enough time with teens to know that they like to talk openly so location especially is important. You don’t want them too near children or adults because we don’t want to overly police teen conversations and we want to give them space to talk about the things they want – and need – to talk about without worrying about a parent complaining because their child just overheard the F word.

At the end of the day I would argue that a teen space should be inviting, should be removed enough to allow teens the space to authentically be themselves but not so far removed that there is no line of sight or an adult working a desk nearby, and that it should communicate to our teens that we value them and this unique stage of life that they are in.


Libraries are in the business of providing access, and that is definitely something that teens want and need from public libraries. They want and need access to books, information, a variety of resources and technology. Just like any other patron, each teen is unique and what they want and are looking for may vary, so we need to make sure that we have a wide variety of resources available specifically for teens. If you have a teen area, try to have access to the Internet in that space, for example.

This teen is using technology she doesn’t have access to at home to learn how to make stop motion movies.

Think about the various tools and resources that your teens are talking about and see if providing access to those in your teen space fit within your mission, space and budget. Think about things like basic school and craft supplies to help those unprepared teens finish up last minute projects. Board and video games can be very expensive, which means that providing access can help close some gaps. We can’t provide access to everything, we do have a very specific mission and limited space and budgets, but what we do provide access to can go beyond books and computers if we think creatively and with an attitude of service.


I touched on this above, but most teens just want a moment of freedom to be themselves and take control over their time. I have found, for example, that my most successful programs have been those programs where teens have choices in what they do as opposed to having an adult tell them what they are going to do. So instead of saying come to the library on Monday at 6:00 PM where we will do this one specific craft activity, I try and offer say five craft activities so that the teen has more freedom to choose what they are going to do. That freedom to engage in self-directed behaviors has made all of the difference I have found. Teens just want a space where they get to decide what they are going to do and how they are going to spend their time. In as many ways as possible, organize your teen services around the idea of freedom and choice.


Although it may seem that the idea of providing guidance may contradict the need for freedom I just talked about above, I have found that teens value and crave some basic guidance. The caveat is that it must be consistently applied to all patrons at all times. Teens are still trying to figure out how to navigate life situations and a little bit of guidance can really help. There is nothing more stressful than going into a space and having no idea how to navigate that space. Signage, acceptable behavior policies and a friendly face can make all the difference.

Challenge cards can help teens be inspired to create

In addition, I have found that on occasion teens like very specific guidelines on things like how to do a craft or an activity. They like examples and instructions and clearly stated end goals. I used to just put out Legos, for example, and tell teens to build things. I learned that some teens need more guidance then that and will ask, what should I build? So I started using things like challenge cards or a daily Lego challenge that gave teens a specific goal to work towards.

When we talk about guidance we can’t over look the idea that teens do want and need meaningful adults in their lives and within appropriate professional boundaries library staff can be those adults in the lives of our teens. We can be mentors and advocates and help guide teens in the process of learning how to be library users and supporters. Guidance doesn’t always have to be rules and signs, sometimes it’s a listening ear that values and respects you.


At the end of the day the one thing that all people want is to walk through this world and be respected. This is true of our teen patrons. For me, one of the most frustrating parts of working with teens in our public libraries is realizing how many staff members – how many adults – in our world have outright animosity for teens. It’s always fascinating to me because over the course of 26 years my most difficult, my most terrifying, and my most negative patron interactions have always been with adults. But we live in a society that holds tremendous prejudice against teenagers and against normal adolescent development. I believe part of our job is to help confront that bias in our staff and to make sure that all of our patrons are receiving amazing customer service.

The single most important thing that must occur in our libraries is that our patrons, including our teen patrons, must walk out of our buildings having had a positive experience. If we want them to come back we must do everything in our power to make sure that they have a positive experience. Creating a culture of respect for teenagers is one of the most important things we can do in our libraries if we want to retain them as library users.

Teen Services 101

I’m just getting started, what do I need to be successful?

Foundations: Understanding Teens Today

Book Review: Road Tripped by Pete Hautman

Publisher’s description

In this captivating story about loss, love, and changing your ways, National Book Award­–winning author Pete Hautman imbues the classic road trip novel with clever wit and heartfelt musings about life and death.

Steven Gerald Gabel—a.k.a. Stiggy—needs to get out of Minnesota. His father recently look his own life, his mother is a shell of the person she used to be, and his sort-of-girlfriend ghosted him and skipped town. What does he have left to stick around for? Armed with his mom’s credit card and a tourist map of Great River Road, Stiggy sets off in his dad’s car.

The only problem is, life on his own isn’t exactly what he expected and, soon enough, he finds himself at a crossroads: keep running from his demons, or let them hitch a ride back home with him.

Amanda’s thoughts

I’m a huge fan of Hautman’s work. I’m also a huge fan of character-driven stories where the plot isn’t really grand or intricate. I’ve said it a million times, but just throw some interesting characters together and let them yammer at each other and ruminate on life and I’m good. That’s plenty for me. Because meeting people, interacting, learning, growing, thinking, rethinking, processing… that’s actually a lot of plot. The plot of “how do I do this whole being a person thing and what on earth am I supposed to think or do or say” is huge and one we can all relate to.

I always like a good road trip book. Stiggy sets off on his own, but spends the majority of his trip meeting people who both literally and metaphorically make him change course. He leaves Minnesota because everything is just really crummy and seems to have no point. His father recently died by suicide, his girlfriend totally ghosted him, and he pissed off his only real friend. Sick of everything and the king of negativity and bad attitudes, Stiggy takes off with a vague destination in mind, some cash, his mom’s stolen credit card, and his dad’s iPod full of old music. Along the way he meets colorful characters who force him to think about things he’d rather not address, like: What are you mad about? Do you know who you are? These people make him think about connections, about the nature of friendship, and other philosophical stuff.

Interspersed with the chapters about his road trip are chapters from his past that inform readers about his relationship with Gaia, a quick-to-anger, emotionally confusing Goth girl a year younger than he is. Their relationship is pretty low-key—they hang out a lot, just sort of aimlessly driving and listening to music. They talk, but there’s a lot they don’t know and don’t understand about each other. When Gaia up and decides to move to Wisconsin to live with a friend, Stiggy is totally thrown for a loop. Gaia offers him nothing, then leaves. He hopes to reconnect with her on his road trip, but it’s clear that he has a lot of work to do on himself before he could ever be ready to have any kind of meaningful relationship. That’s clear to us, the readers, but also seems to become clear to Stiggy as his trip goes on.

Stiggy undertakes his road trip partially because he doesn’t want to think about a lot of things. But, of course, his road trip becomes all about thinking about stuff, no matter how hard he avoids it. What else is there to do while driving through the Midwest but think? Readers who like reluctantly introspective characters who are ultimately good dudes just making lots of mistakes (otherwise known as “growing up”) will be rooting for Stiggy to find a way to ditch his nihilistic attitude and avoid the path in life his father took. And while he learns and grows and changes, he does so in ways that may not even be obvious to him (but are to readers). He doesn’t have particularly profound revelations or come back to Minnesota a new man. But, forced to confront the junk he’d been swerving away from, he now has the potential to change and maybe even the impetus. Hand this to readers who like stories with strong (and sometimes not necessarily super likable) characters.

(The content warning for this book: Stiggy’s father dies by suicide. It is mentioned multiple times, including multiple references to how he died. Readers may want to skip a chapter entitled “Groundhog Day,” which includes a graphic description of his death. )

Review copy courtesy of the author

ISBN-13: 9781534405905
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
Publication date: 05/14/2019