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Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Sunday Reflections: Greater words than ours

sundayreflections1

This week, TLT is taking a break from its usual Sunday Reflections. Instead of reading our words, please spend a moment reading or listening to words from The Honorable John Lewis’s long career.

Here is his  “Speech at the March on Washington” from August 28, 1963 when he was 23 years old.

You can view the speech below.

We invite our readership to share favorite words from or thoughts on John Lewis in the comments.

You may also like:

Book Review: March Against Fear

Making a Social Justice Book Display that Engages Teens

Screening Ava DuVernay’s The 13th

Thinking About Ferguson

Friday Finds: January 13, 2017

fridayfindsThis Week at TLT

Sunday Reflections: This is what happened when they showed a picture of the “Real Jesus” in church today? A discussion on why Representation Matters.

Middle School Monday: Lovely TBR Lists. Piles. Dreams.

Book Review: Factory Girl by Josanne La Valley

Book Review: The March Against Fear: The Last Great Walk of the Civil Rights Movement and the Emergence of Black Power by Ann Bausum

MakerSpace: Here There Be Stations, an overview of activities offered in the Teen MakerSpace at The Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County

Around the Web

In which statistics are interesting

Teen Vogue getting it right, yet again

Marlon James announces Dark Star fantasy trilogy

2017 Sydney Taylor Book Awards announced

21 Female-Founded Startups To Watch

Big Worries About Betsy DeVos

Librarians vs. Fake News

 

Book Review: Under Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall

Publisher’s description

underNorah has agoraphobia and OCD. When groceries are left on the porch, she can’t step out to get them. Struggling to snag the bags with a stick, she meets Luke. He’s sweet and funny, and he just caught her fishing for groceries. Because of course he did.
Norah can’t leave the house, but can she let someone in? As their friendship grows deeper, Norah realizes Luke deserves a normal girl. One who can lie on the front lawn and look up at the stars. One who isn’t so screwed up.
Readers themselves will fall in love with Norah in this poignant, humorous, and deeply engaging portrait of a teen struggling to find the strength to face her demons.

 

 

Amanda’s thoughts

This book was really a mixed bag for me.

 

We really get to see Norah’s various mental illnesses and how they affect her and her life. We get great, intense descriptions of panic attacks and the urge to harm herself and what it can feel like to have agoraphobia. We see how small her world has become—she has hardly left the house in four years. We see her have multiple therapy sessions in various places. We are right there with Norah in her panic and fear and distress. Gornall’s writing, for the most part, is great. The writing is also funny. Though Norah’s a wreck who is often really caught up in fighting against her own brain, she’s also really self-aware and clever. She’s funny and gives good banter.

 

Norah’s mental illnesses are BAD. They are in no way under control. Yes, she’s in therapy, but often it has to be at her house or in her mom’s car because she can’t get as far as the clinic. Just stepping one toe past her front door is terrifying. She’s unmedicated. She’s hoping to keep depression at bay and often gives in to the urge to harm herself. All of this, and her mother leaves her alone while she travels for work. Really? Yes, she’s 17, but she’s NOT OKAY. She should not be alone. And her mom’s two day trip turns into a week or more when she gets in some mysterious car accident that requires multiple days in the hospital and feels completely unrealistic/never satisfactorily explained. All of this is to say, as a person who both battles mental illness and parents another human with mental illness, I wanted her to be taken better care of. Yelling at her mom for leaving her alone took me out of the book. But, seeing her alone is what makes us really understand how bad her panic attacks and agoraphobia are.

 

Then there’s Luke, the new neighbor boy. At first all Norah can really do is spy on him from the windows. Then they start talking through the door (closed and open). It’s pretty much insta-like. Norah is consumed with thinking about him, considering her appearance (after lots of time not really worrying about it). She forgets therapy appointments because her head is so in the clouds. She feels something small and awake inside of her thanks to him. He adorably slips notes through her front door when she can’t handle talking. She describes him as “10 percent human, 90 percent charisma” and she’s right. He feels too good to be true. It’s not that I don’t think there isn’t a chance that a charming and super understanding boy could fall for a girl who can hardly interact with other humans, but Luke just doesn’t feel real. He’s too good. And, while he doesn’t magically or instantly cure her, it very much does feel like Luke, and love, do save her and speed up her progress in ways that other things can’t. The hopeful ending is necessary, but also feels rather unbelievable.

 

So. Like I said, mixed bag. Here’s the thing: minus the “love will fix you” story line and the worrisome fact that I think Norah needs way more care than she’s getting, this is a good book. It’s well-written. It’s amusing. The clever banter between Norah and Luke and Norah and her mother is good. But I am a hard one to please when it comes to mental health plots. I want to see good work being done in multiple ways. And it IS being done here, but I really felt the story needed more. Norah is VERY UNWELL. You can tell, even without reading Gornall’s author’s note about her own mental health experiences, that she knows what she’s writing about. I really wanted to feel like there was more to Norah than just her mental illness. And, most importantly, I want her to get better because of what she’s doing and for her own sake, not because of a boy. I don’t know that any of these issues were a flaw in the story or writing, necessarily, so much as my own desire for more out of Norah, for more concern over her mental health.

 

All of that said, I hope this book finds an audience because of its vivid and powerful descriptions of what living with mental illness can be like. And while I wanted more out of this book than I got, I really did enjoy the writing and look forward to future books from Gornall. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780544736511

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Publication date: 01/03/2017

MakerSpace: Here There Be Stations, an overview of activities offered in the Teen MakerSpace at The Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County

makerspace

Because it is the beginning of the new year – and the end of our first full year of our Teen MakerSpace – we are in the midst of evaluating what we’ve done and what we want to do going forward. One of the things that has become abundantly clear is that we aren’t necessarily using all of our stations to their full potential. So we have set for ourselves five goals for this year, and one of them is to rotate our stations in and out more efficiently. The specific goal is to rotate 2 tech related stations/activities and 2 traditional craft stations in and out each week. In order to do that, we did an inventory of what stations/activities we currently have. This will also help us as we look to develop more stations and activities for this year; now we have a better idea of areas that we may want to focus on.

So for today, I am sharing with you a quick list of the various activities and stations that we offer at the Teen MakerSpace at The Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County. I am pleased to see that there are 45 different options and that there are a pretty good balance between traditional arts and crafts and technology. If we have done a post on that activity here at TLT, I have linked to it as well for additional information.

Teen MakerSpace: Activity Stations Overview
Station/Activity Focus (Education Goals)
Chalk Art (see also this) Arts and Crafts
Sharpie Art Arts and Crafts
Fingerprint Art Arts and Crafts
Teen Coloring Arts and Crafts
Post it Note Art Arts and Crafts
Lettering Arts and Crafts
Paper Crafts Arts and Crafts
Stamp Crafts Arts and Crafts
Tape Crafts (Duct &  Washi) Arts and Crafts
Map Art Arts and Crafts
Book Making Arts and Crafts
Bottle Cap Crafts Arts and Crafts
Fiber Crafts Arts and Crafts, Design
Jewelry Making Arts and Crafts, Design
Ornament Hack Arts and Crafts, Design
Rainbow Loom Arts and Crafts, Math
Nature Crafts Arts and Crafts, Upcycling, Eco Friendly
Coding Apps Coding, Tech
Makey Makey Go Coding, Tech, Programming
String Art Design, Math, Fiber Arts
Squishy Circuits Electronics, Circuits
Little Bits Electronics, Circuits
Paper Circuits Electronics, Circuits
Make: Electronics Kit Electronics, Circuits, Design
Strawbees Engineering, Math
Felties Fiber Crafts
Knitting/Crochet Fiber Crafts, Arts and Crafts
Origami Paper Crafts, Design, Math
Ozobots Robotics, Coding
Brushbots Robotics, Electronics
Dot & Dash Robotics, Coding
Ollie Robotics, Coding
Mechano Robotics, Coding
Tech Take Apart Tech
Shrinky Dinks Tech, Arts and Crafts
Osmo Tech, Coding, Math
Button Making Tech, Creativity, can combine w/digital media
Stop Animation Station Tech, Creativity, Film
3D Pens Tech, Design
Rube Goldberg  Machines Tech, Design, Cause & Effect
Green Screen Photo Booth (see also this) (photo booth prop making) Tech, Digital Media, Photography
Music Making: Digital Media Tech, Music
Digital Media/Photo Manipulation Tech, Photography
Legos Various
Typewriter Word crafts (can combine w/book making)
Playing with the Green Screen Studio in the MakerSpace

Playing with the Green Screen Studio in the MakerSpace

makerspace8

Legos in the Teen MakerSpace

makerspace6

Stop Motion Animation in the Teen MakerSpace

makerspacerose

Duct Tape Crafts in the Teen MakerSpace

Book Review: The March Against Fear: The Last Great Walk of the Civil Rights Movement and the Emergence of Black Power by Ann Bausum

Publisher’s description

march-againstJames Meredith’s 1966 march in Mississippi began as one man’s peaceful protest for voter registration and became one of the South’s most important demonstrations of the civil rights movement. It brought together leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Stokely Carmichael, who formed an unlikely alliance that resulted in the Black Power movement, which ushered in a new era in the fight for equality.

The retelling of Meredith’s story opens on the day of his assassination attempt and goes back in time to recount the moments leading up to that event and its aftermath. Readers learn about the powerful figures and emerging leaders who joined the over 200-mile walk that became known as the “March Against Fear.”

Thoughtfully presented by award-winning author Ann Bausum, this book helps readers understand the complex issues of fear, injustice, and the challenges of change. It is a history lesson that’s as important and relevant today as it was 50 years ago.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

This powerful book examines one of the greatest civil rights protests and the last great march of that era—a march that is often forgotten, was fraught with complexity, and led to divisions in the civil rights groups and leaders of the time.

 

Bausum begins with the shooting of James Meredith, who was the first African American to earn a degree at Ole Miss, among the first to integrate the Air Force, and felt he had a “divine responsibility” to be a leader for his race. Meredith’s walk across Mississippi was for a simple reason: he was tired of being afraid of white people and he wanted black people to stop being afraid. He felt that if he could walk through his state like this, he might inspire people to be less afraid and get them out to vote. His plan was cut short when he was shot. However, his walk was then taken up by Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights activists and groups. Their focus was on voter registration and civil rights bills. They created a document calling on President Johnson to enforce legal rights of African Americans, provide increased economic opportunities, improve voting access, and have great representation by black people on juries and police forces. Meredith’s Walk Against Fear morphs into the March Against Fear, an undertaking that lasts most of June 1966 and eventually involves thousands of people bringing attention to segregation and the legacy of slavery. It is at this march that Willie Ricks and Stokely Carmichael first use and encourage the phrase “black power,” changing the call and response from “What do you want?” “Freedom!” to “What do you want?” “Black power!” for many in the march. Bausum’s book looks at the role of the news media and of the governments and police forces of the areas during the march as well as the unity and divisions of the civil rights groups during the march and effects after.

 

With plenty of source material, including many pictures from the march, this book is both well-written and well-researched. A large appendix details Bausum’s source material, including personal conversations with Meredith. Civil rights and social justice will always be relevant topics, and contemporary readers will be struck by just how little has been done to really move our country forward and how the topics important to the leaders during the march remain just as significant today. An important look at racism, protest, and the slow move toward progress. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781426326653

Publisher: National Geographic Society

Publication date: 01/03/2017

Book Review: Factory Girl by Josanne La Valley

Publisher’s description

factoryIn order to save her family’s farm, Roshen, sixteen, must leave her rural home to work in a factory in the south of China. There she finds arduous and degrading conditions and contempt for her minority (Uyghur) background. Sustained by her bond with other Uyghur girls, Roshen is resolved to endure all to help her family and ultimately her people. A workplace survival story, this gritty, poignant account focuses on a courageous teen and illuminates the value—and cost—of freedom.

 

 

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Sixteen-year-old Roshen intends to continue her schooling to become a teacher. Her plans are changed for her when she is sent away to work in a factory in southern China. Roshen is devastated to have to leave her Muslim Uyghur family, who live near the Taklamakan Desert in northwest China. In addition to leaving behind her plans for school and her family, she leaves Ahmat, the boy she shares a special connection with and who it seems likely she will soon be engaged to. Roshen’s family isn’t told exactly where she will be taken, only that she will be gone for a year and is not allowed any devices or contact with her family. She and Ahmat set up a secret email address for her and devise a code, hoping she will be able to find internet stations and at least get a little information back to him. They expect that Roshen will be mistreated at the factory and discuss how she shouldn’t fight back. There may be spies and traitors among the girls, too.

 

Roshen and eleven other Uyghur girls are taken on the long journey to their factory. They’re led by Ushi, who is not only mean, but unfortunately also one of their bosses. They arrive to learn they will cut, sew, and finish work wear. It’s grueling work that’s hard on their bodies. The girls work very long hours, are hit with a rod if appearing unsatisfactory, are forced to speak Mandarin only (and penalized  if they speak Uyghur), aren’t allowed to wear their headscarves, and are often served meals with pork in them. They’re served tea with a drug in it to keep them awake so they can work longer hours. Many of the Chinese girls use clothespins to keep their eyes open. Additionally, the girls don’t even make money for many months as they are forced to pay for their trip from home to the factory, their meals, their uniforms, and the many unfair penalties they are assessed.

 

The twelve Uyghur girls are isolated from the rest of the workers and though they don’t all get along, and Roshen can’t stop wondering is someone is a spy, they bond together to help and protect one another. Roshen becomes a leader and learns how to work the system and avoid punishment as best she can. Roshen’s closest friend, Mikray, is defiant and determined to escape. Young Zuwida is in very poor health and only getting worse. Proud and haughty Hawa is selected to help the bosses by looking beautiful and being available to help placate clients. Eventually, Roshen, who speaks English in addition to Mandarin and Uyghur, is forced to go out with the boss and some clients. She is horrified by what is expected of her and receives some very unexpected (and heartbreaking) help. After returning to the factory, she is determined to allow herself to become gaunt, unwashed, and unappealing to avoid further assignments like this. Her decision has unintended consequences that leave her feeling incredibly guilty but also move her to further action.

 

Throughout all of her time at the factory, Roshen tries to remember the power of words. She clings to the songs and poems she has been taught and formulates her own. Her experience as a factory girl changes her forever. Roshen knows now that she will write, that she will tell the story of the factory girls. Generally well-written, the story’s one real downfall is the lack of development of many of the Uyghur girls, who don’t feel necessary beyond showing they are part of the block of girls isolated and most abused. At the same time, it’s the development of the girls who do carry pieces of the story, and their friendships and support, that make this story especially interesting and powerful. My ARC didn’t include the afterword, which apparently provides more context for the story and how La Valley came to tell it.  This harrowing story of exploitation, abuse, and forced labor is a compelling (and horrifying) look at a story (and a setting) not often seen in YA. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780544699472

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Publication date: 01/10/2017

Middle School Monday: Lovely TBR Lists. Piles. Dreams.

If you’re coming back to work after a winter break, welcome! I hope it was restful. Oddly (and wonderfully), I did very little work over break. Except reading, if you count that as work. Which I don’t. Obviously. But, isn’t it dreamy that READING is technically considered part of our work? [Which is probably why many of us are librarians!]

Are you good at keeping your GoodReads account updated? I’m horrible. When a fellow librarian was hoping to check out recommendations via that account, I might have gasped. Then, apologized profusely. I’m a GoodReads slacker.

In addition to working to update my account, I also thought of the top five books on my TBR (To Be Read) list right now. I’m sharing mine with you…in the hopes that you share yours with me!

six-tbr-books

Ghetto Cowboy (2011) by G. Neri, The Sun Is Also a Star (2016) by Nicola Yoon, The Creeping Shadow (2016) by Jonathan Stroud (Number Four in the Lockwood & Co. series), The Last True Love Story (2016) by Brendan Kiely, Flying Lessons (2017) edited by Ellen Oh, and Labyrinth Lost (2016) by Zoraida Córdova. You may notice that there are six above, which means I clearly lied about the top five part. I’m going to say a bit about my outlier—Flying Lessons—because it’s not even a TBR book. It’s more like an ACRAS [Am Currently Reading and Savoring] book.

Flying Lessons has been on my TBR pile for longer than any other book, because I am SAVORING it. I’ve never understood when someone told me they were drawing a book out on purpose. I don’t do that. Can’t do that. I like to finish a book soon after I start it [to the detriment of my sleeping habits and state of my home]. But Flying Lessons? It begs to be drawn out. When I finish one powerful short story, there is no way I can jump into the next. I need to reflect on what I’ve just read. Looking forward to talking about this one more in the future on MSM!

I’m Julie Stivers at @BespokeLib and I can’t wait to read/finish all six. What’s on YOUR TBR list?

Have a great week!

Sunday Reflections: This is what happened when they showed a picture of the “Real Jesus” in church today? A discussion on why Representation Matters.

Today has been a weird day for me. Yesterday, I took the girls to see Hidden Figures. We waited for months to see what turned out to be one of the best movies I have seen in a long time. We were excitedly not only because I want to signal boost girls in science to my girls, but because it highlights the struggles that women of color face in our world. It is part of my commitment as a parent of young women and as a conscious consumer to invest in both women and POC in all forms of media. We’re voting with our dollars. That’s not the weird part of my day.sundayreflections1

As a parent, and as a citizen of the world who wants to actively practice love, acceptance and basic humanity, I work hard to practice conscientious consumption and parenting. We talk about gender norms, religious and ethnic stereotypes, and more. My teenage daughter will watch a movie and exclaim, “Of course the one black character dies first.” These are kids that have been taught to think about what is happening in the media they consume and what it means about how both they and our culture think and feel about a wide variety of topics, including how we view other human beings.

For example, after we watched Hidden Figures, we had conversations about how it was hard for these women not just because they were women who wanted a career in science, but because they were black women who wanted to pursue careers. When The Teen wanted to talk about the challenges women faced in that day and age, I reminded her that these particular women had additional challenges because not only were they women, but they were women of color. I think it is important for my children, and for us as a culture, to understand that although yes there is a lot of discrimination against women, there is even more so against women of color.

In my family, we actively parent in ways where we try to break down gender roles, stereotypes and more.

Which is why what happened today in church surprised me.

Our pastor was preaching and he showed a picture of what he explained was an accurate representation of Jesus according to forensic scientists. It looked like this:

realjesus

My 8-year-old turned to me and said, “he looks like a criminal.”

I tried to ask her why she thought this and her response was, “I don’t really know.”

It’s interesting to note that when I shared this story on my personal FB page and expressed concerns that my child saw a man of color as a criminal, many of my friends said that no, it looks like a mug shot. I even posted several other examples of painted portraits to demonstrate that this was, in fact, a typical painting portrait style. (And for the record, I find his eyes to be expressive and inviting.)

So what does this mean? Does it look like a mugshot because of something stylistically? Or does it look like a mugshot because we have internalized racism and our first response when we see a picture of a brown skin man is to think mug shot?

The truth is, of course, is that Jesus was – in fact – a criminal. He was a radically compassionate refugee who challenged the current political and religious institutions of his day. He asked his followers to feed the hungry, heal the sick, forgive their enemies, and serve one another. He called the religious leaders of His day Pharisees, and it wasn’t a compliment. He said to pray in private, turn away from greed, and to not store up for yourself treasures on Earth. He ate with sinners, washed the feet of his disciples, and proclaimed that the first would be last. He was so radical, they killed him. They killed him in very public ways to make an example of him. When we consider criminals, Jesus was public enemy number one during his lifetime.

But when we look at this picture and see a mugshot, is that the reason why? Or is there something else at work here, like internalized and institutional racism? Do we see a standard portrait painting of a man with brown skin and automatically think criminal because of something in us, something we have been taught to do through cultural indoctrination?

So in the interest of research, I googled “Portrait Paintings” and did an image search. Here’s a screen gab of what comes up.

portraitpainting

I then did a Google image search for “Portrait Paintings Jesus” and this is what came up.

portraitpaintingjesus

As I said, the picture of the “real Jesus” shared in church today is, to me, a pretty standard depiction of a portrait painting. I don’t see mug shot. (Although what the heck is up with that picture of smiling/laughing Jesus on the third from the bottom right? That’s just terrifying to me.)

What it means to me is this: as a parent and a librarian, I have to continue to do the work of challenging and breaking down stereotypes. There is a very real possibility that my child, despite all the hard work that I have tried to do, looked at this picture and thought criminal because in all honesty, we tend to depict people who look like the real Jesus as criminals and terrorists. I will continue to seek out positive representation for all people groups. I will continue to talk with my kids about the images they see, the tv and movies they consume, and the books that they read. I will continue to ask them questions and make them think about what they are taking in and how they are processing it.

In contrast, look at this amazing story that Diego Luna shared earlier this week about Star Wars Rogue One:

Representation Matters.

Friday Finds – January 6, 2017

Hello TLTers. Today Friday Finds is being brought to you by me, Karen, because Robin Willis is at a training session on food insecurity and some other youth related issues. I’m sure she’ll be sharing what she learned soon in an upcoming post. So here are this weeks Friday Finds.

fridayfinds

TLT this Week

What’s In Your Teen MakerSpace Manual? : Forms Edition

Book Review: The Truth of Right Now by Kara Lee Corthron

Book Review: Because of the Sun by Jenny Torres Sanchez

Book Review: Love and First Sight by Josh Sundquist

Sunday Reflections: The Cybils are Here!

Also, don’t forget the first #SJYALit (Social Justice in YA Lit) Book Club/Twitter Discussion is coming up soon.

Around the Internet

The Next Generation Of Farmers Is Being Trained In New York City High Schools

On a personal note, I’m really upset about this news. GIRLS MEETS WORLD was a strong, empowering show for young women and a personal favorite in my household. I’m hoping it gets picked up by Netflix.

Here’s some important, and quite distressing, news about teen pregnancy and mothers. Keep in mind, this is a horrific abuse of power imbalance and is legally rape.

Here is Some Other Book Info We Shared This Week:

15 of the Best YA Books for January 2017 : Bustle

60 Diverse Books To Look Forward To In 2017 – Bookishness and Tea

22 of Our Most Anticipated Contemporary YAs of 2017 : The B&N Teen Blog

26 of Our Most Anticipated YA Fantasy Novels of 2017 : The B&N Teen Blog

17 2017 YA Books To Have On Your Radar : Amanda MacGregor (Teen Librarian Toolbox)

And finally, last year TLT was so impressed with Teen Vogue we got 26 teens and libraries subscriptions to the mag. We also got The Teen and The Bestie a subscription. Their first issue came and they immediately started reading it. So excited to be able to do good things for teens through TLT. Happy New Year Everyone!

teenvogue1

 

Book Review: Love and First Sight by Josh Sundquist

Publisher’s description

love-and-firstIn his debut novel, YouTube personality and author of We Should Hang Out Sometime Josh Sundquist explores the nature of love, trust, and romantic attraction.

On his first day at a new school, blind sixteen-year-old Will Porter accidentally groped a girl on the stairs, sat on another student in the cafeteria, and somehow drove a classmate to tears. High school can only go up from here, right?

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

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

 

Amanda’s thoughts

First things first: I really would like to see some reviews of this book from people who are blind. Because I don’t know just how “right” Sundquist gets the many feelings about and experiences of being blind. That is not to say that that there is any one universal way to feel or one universal experience, obviously. Or that I think Sundquist is getting it “wrong.” After I read/review a book, I look for other reviews, especially when the subject matter is far out of my realm of experience and I’d really like to see reviews by people who share an identity with the main characters in the book. So, own voices reviews. After I wrote up my thoughts on this book, I poked around online and didn’t see any reviews yet that are from people who are fully or partially blind. Hoping once the book officially is out and the ebook and audiobook are out, that will change.

 

Will, 16, has started at a traditional school (or been “mainstreamed”) for the first time in his life, after spending all of his years in school being surrounded by other blind and visually-impaired people. He doesn’t want an aide (nor does he need one); he just wants to be as independent as possible. He doesn’t want people to feel sorry for him or feel that his life is any less full because he is blind. He encounters various attitudes, from his overly “helpful” principal who clearly has no clue how to interact with him and makes sure to point out that he’s “special” and “different,” to his great English and journalism teacher who makes it clear that she will hold him to all of the same expectations as the rest of the class. After a few initial embarrassing moments, Will gets into the swing of things and adjusts well to the change. He makes friends quickly—Nick, Ion, Whitford, and Cecily, all members of the quiz team. He grows particularly close with Cecily, whom he has journalism class with and ends up auditioning for the schools news with. They work on assignments together and hang out and Will is pretty sure he’s falling for Cecily. We get little hints that something may be up with her. We find out she’s been bullied most of her life. What we don’t find out, until later, is that Cecily has a rather large birthmark covering the top half of her face—a purple kind of “mask” that leads her classmates to have called her “Batgirl” for years. No one tells Will about this, though.

 

Will undergoes an experimental operation (retinal stem cell transplant) in the hopes of gaining full eyesight. The surgery is very risky, and not just for the reasons you might think. If successful, Will will have eyesight for the first time in his life. The visual cortex of his brain has developed differently than that of someone with eyesight and the learning curve (and adjustment to the flood of new information) will be steep. Fewer than 20 people have gone from total blindness to sight (an actual statistic, which we see in the author’s extensive note on his research). Will’s dad, a doctor, warns Will against the surgery, worried what it will do to him, mentally, if he can suddenly see. But he goes ahead with the surgery, which is successful. Before long, Will can see that Cecily has a birthmark, but he doesn’t think anything of it, really, other than noting her face looks different from other faces he’s seeing. For Will, who has never seen anything before, he just kind of catalogs her face as unlike others, but doesn’t judge her. He still feels she’s beautiful, which was his impression of her before he could see her. He certainly doesn’t see it as a “disfigurement,” which is his mother’s word. He calls it her beauty mark. But, even though he doesn’t suddenly want nothing to do with Cecily because of how she looks, he does feel completely lied to by Cecily and all of their friends. He feels he can’t trust them now. As he notes, everyone is always anxious to describe every single detail of everything to him. So why did they leave out Cecily’s birthmark?

 

Here’s the obvious discussion about this part of the book: Does the author make it feel like Will the only one who can find Cecily beautiful because he can’t see her (or doesn’t see her until quite late in their relationship)? Or that Will is the only one who can like her because he doesn’t know to think of her birthmark as offputting? Or that Will is the only one who can like her because he can “see beyond” her birthmark? Etc etc. I think Sundquist does a pretty good job of not making this storyline feel cliched, but there’s definitely room for discussion. I did spend a fair amount of time feeling sad that Cecily has such low self-esteem and obviously sees very little value in herself (she doesn’t think she’ll ever have a relationship, she doesn’t like pictures of herself, she worries she’ll hold Will back from winning as news anchor because no one will want her on the TV screen). I also spent a fair amount of time being SUPER irritated at Will’s cheerfully (and naively) optimistic mother, who seems to have ZERO clue about the process of going from being blind to having eyesight. You would think she would have educated herself more (especially given he’s been blind his whole life–she seems to have a fundamental misunderstanding of how his brain works and what his frames of reference may or may not include) or listened for two seconds to her doctor-husband who understands, and explains, the very complicated process Will’s brain is now undergoing.

 

Though the writing can be a little heavy-handed at times, overall this is an engaging story that seemed to avoid the pitfalls I worried about just based on reading the flap copy. It’s not often a YA book features a blind main character, and Will’s unique story of going from being blind to having eyesight may make readers consider this idea from a new perspective (if they think, as many do, that a blind person would of course want to be able to see). A humorous and thought-provoking read. 

 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780316305358

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Publication date: 01/03/2017