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Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

INTERVIEW+GIVEAWAY from YA Author Trisha Leaver (interview by Cuyler Creech)

Trisha Leaver is a seasoned guitar player, but not the kind you’re thinking of. This author plays emotional ballads, not with guitar strings, but with heartstrings. And she rocks them hard.

This author, rightly referred to by some as the ‘Queen of the Reveal’, is so good at building tension, both exciting and terrifying, it is a feat just prying your eyes from the page. With her upcoming YA contemporary, THE SECRETS WE KEEP, the Queen definitely keeps her title.

This is a story about sisters, twins cut from different cloths, whose lives change drastically: one by death and another with lies and deceit. Ella, an artistic wallflower, wakes up in the hospital after a horrific car accident with her loved ones calling her by another name: Maddy, her ever-popular sister who now lies dead in the morgue with “Ella” on the corpse’s name tag. Overcome with grief and confusion, Ella takes a dark and twisted plunge and assumes the life of her dead sister, donning Maddy’s life to keep her name alive while everyone Ella knows thinks she’s the one who’s six feet below ground.

THE SECRETS WE KEEP is a book who truly earns the title “gripping,” and refused to be put down until the very last page.

Here’s what are people saying about THE SECRETS WE KEEP:

 “Trisha Leaver crafts a powerful and haunting novel that will keep you up long after you read the last page. Full of twists and turns and FEELS, this book questions how far a person will go for her family . . . even if it means losing herself.” – Lynne Matson, author of NIL.

Haunting and beautiful, THE SECRETS WE KEEP, is a gripping, evocative examination of siblings’ complex relationships. It compels us to question what we know, or think we know, about our loved ones and–most of all–ourselves. ~Karen Rock, Award-winning YA author and co-writer of the bestselling CAMP BOYFRIEND series.

“The love and loss of a twin sister leads to a powerfully complex and heart-wrenching journey of self-discovery. The depth and complexity of Ella grows on each page, and I soon found myself immersed in her personal struggle. She is so fully developed that her seemingly unbelievable choice is not only believable, but completely understandable.” —Scott Blagden, author of Dear Life, You Suck.

Want to hear from the Queen of the Reveal herself? Check out this interview with Trisha Leaver and the TLT team:

At what point did you want to become a writer?

I’ve never considered myself a writer, more of a chronic daydreamer. When I was in elementary school, I used to dream up alternate endings to my favorite books or reimagine how the story would play-out if my “real-life” friends were in those situations. I still do that today. I can’t walk into an airport or a crowded coffee shop without wondering about the lives of the strangers surrounding me. Are they in love? Did they just have an argument with their girlfriend? Did they make the baseball team? Are they happier on stage or in the tech crew? No matter where I am or what I am doing, I can’t seem to turn that creative side of my brain off.

As for when I actively made the decision to become a writer, well technically, I owe that one to my seventh grade English teacher, Sister Yvonne.  She was constantly redirecting me, pulling me out of my daydreams and back to whatever grammar lesson she was teaching that day. (Hmm… it was probably about cumulative commas, which may explain why I still, to this day, have a problem with them LOL) Anyhow, she got tired of me constantly zoning out and called me out in the middle of class, told me I had two options: I could take a detention for not paying attention or I could write down “whatever had my brain so occupied.” I took door number two and have been sketching out stories ever since.

What is your favorite genre to read? Write?

My favorite genre to write, hands down, is YA Contemporary. It’s not that I don’t enjoy a good fanged monster, and I am in awe of those crazy talented writers who can create fantastically magical words, but for me, it is all about the here and now.

When it comes to reading, however, you more often than not will find me curled up with a good historical fiction.  I think because I spend so much time in the contemporary world, that being transported to a different era is like a mind-vacation for me. My current fascination is with the Tudor dynasty, and I am constantly scouring the library and bookstores for historical fiction from that time period.

Who are your literary influences?

On the horror side, I guess I would say I am a huge fan of Robert McCammon. I’ve pretty much read everything Kurt Vonnegut has ever written, although SLAUGHTER HOUSE FIVE still ranks as my favorite. And Edward Gorey…wow he is just an artistic genius. I think reading so much of their work while I was a teenager may be why my writing tends to lean towards the darker side, favoring characters who make all the wrong decisions for all the right reasons.

What is your writing process like? (outlining, schedule, etc.)

Outline!?! What’s an outline?  No, seriously, I would probably fork over half my life savings to anyone who could teach me how to effectively outline.  I have tried. I’ve taken writer’s workshops on it, downloaded sample story maps, even tried reverse-outlining my existing manuscripts in the hope of leaning the process. And still… I can’t do it. I find the whole process suffocating. I don’t like to be boxed into a specific path, and my writing seems to suffer when I try to do that. But that doesn’t mean I am a complete panster either. When I start a book, I have a solid feel of the mc’s plight, her strengths and weakness, and how the setting will work against her. I also have a vague idea of where I want the book to end, both emotionally and physically. What’s creatively open is everything in the middle. Those chapters are built off the previous day’s writing with the characters literally driving the plot.

What I am locked into, however, is a writing schedule. I thrive on deadlines. Toss me down a hard and fast commitment date, and I will flourish. On average, I spend about 6-7 hours a day doing something writing related.  I may be editing, making copy-edits, or creating new content, but I try to get a solid six hours of writing in a day.

What is your must-have writing fuel?

Chocolate covered expresso beans.  They are tiny, crunchy bits of caffeine smothered in chocolate.  I eat them like Tic Tacs – a handful at a time!

Where do most of your ideas come from?

Dreams.  Every single one of my manuscripts stemmed from one of my dreams…or more accurately, nightmares. I only dream in black and white, (I know, odd but…) and even though my dreams lack color, they are insanely vivid. I can wake at two in the morning and describe the smells of the factory my subconscious had tossed me in to, the texture of the concrete walls, and the feel of the cold, damp floorboards beneath my feet. It is all right there as if I dragged those details into the waking world with me.

Do you write full-time? If no, what do you also do, and if yes, what did you do before you became a full-time writer?

I have three kids, so I write full time when they are in school. Summers and school vacations can get a bit hairy, but luckily my kids are older so they spend more time with their friends, playing sports, or working on the school play then they do at home. It is a balance, a delicate balance that is in a constant state of flux.

Before I was a writer (or a mom) I was a social worker in the juvenile justice system.  It was a heart-wrenching job, and although I got to see some of the darker shades of life, I also got to witness some of the most amazing displays of courage, strength and recovery.

Being a writer involves a lot of creativity. Any other creative hobbies?

I inadvertently gave up a lot of my hobbies when I started writing full time. I vowed to change that in 2015. I love to play the piano.  It’s been over three years since I actually sat down and played, but my son has recently showed an interest in learning and his enthusiasm has transferred to me.

I have an herb garden that I’m religious about. It seems kind of ridiculous since I am a horrible cook. (You want a Crème Brule or a chocolate pecan pie and I am your girl. Ask me to cook you a meatloaf, and I fail every time) I dry the herbs and give them out as gifts each year to my friends. I like grow them, they like to cook with them so in the end, it all works out.

Any advice to young/aspiring creators of any kind out there?

We are our own worst enemies. Self-doubt and fear will wiggle its way into your mind and stall you if given the chance. Trust your instincts, be bold, and challenge the norm. Create bravely!

And now for the Giveaway!

We have a signed ARC that we are giving away generously donated by Trish. To be entered to win please leave a comment below and include a Twitter handle or email address so we can get a hold of you if you win, or do the Rafflecopter thingy. Hint: There’s 1 Free Entry just for doing the Rafflecopter thingy. The giveaway is open to U.S. residents until Saturday, January 31st at Midnight.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday Finds – January 23, 2015

This Week at TLT

Sunday Reflections: Impoverished Youth: Over half of public school children now live in low income homes

Bearing Witness to Violence, a guest post by author Eric Devine

Middle Grade Monday – Publishing and Diversity

Book review: Alex as Well by Alyssa Brugman

In the most recent issue of SLJ

Serving Full T.I.L.T.: Sarcasm, Spice and Everything Awesome: The Developing Teen by Rebecca Denham

Early Word YA Galley Chat

Book review: The Prey by Tom Isbell

STEM/STEAM Programming for Teens (an Infopeople webinar) (TPiB)

YA Librarians Ally Watkins and Karen Jensen talk the spiritual lives of teens in YA lit, part 1

Around the Web

Lone Star author P.J. Hoover offers her thoughts about a Texas school library without a librarian.

We Need Diverse Books is holding a short story contest.

Meet Lee & Low Books’ 2014 New Voices Award Winner!

The Multiracial Population Is Growing, But Kid Lit Isn’t Keeping Up

This week, in very sad news.

A focus on test scores has led policymakers to overlook other important trends that affect U.S. public education.

 

YA Librarians Ally Watkins and Karen Jensen talk the spiritual lives of teens in YA lit, part 1

Karen Jensen:

A long time ago (sometime in December) in a galaxy far, far away (erm, not so much), two librarians met on Twitter asking a simple question: Why isn’t there more discussion about the spiritual lives of teens in YA literature? You see, Ally Watkins (more about her in a moment) and I couldn’t help but notice that although a great many of our teens (recent stats indicate 6 out of 10 teens are engaged in some type of weekly spiritual activity) go to some type of religious service or event, this is not the case in YA literature. There are, of course, exceptions. For example, in FAKING NORMAL by Courtney C. Stevens the teens discuss their faith and even go to church. In the upcoming EVERY LAST PROMISE by Kristin Halbrook the teens discuss their faith, with one teen even mentioning that another person goes to church but isn’t sure what they believe, which is a pretty accurate representation especially for this age group. In BURNING NATION by Trent Reedy, groups of people stop and pray in the midst of some difficult situations. These books are not about faith, but they integrate the faith of their main characters into the text in the same ways that many teens integrate their faith or faith quest into their daily living.

But by and large, there isn’t a lot of discussion of faith, especially if you move outside the realm of the evangelical Protestant faith. How, for example, we wondered is the Muslim faith represented in YA literature? What about Buddhism? Hinduism? Mormonism? Judaism? But these questions are bigger than Ally and I, in part because we don’t feel able to discuss faith representations outside of our own in any meaningful way. But have no fear, we have been in contact with some cool people who are joining the conversation. We’ll be hearing from them soon and throughout the year.

In this big push for diversity in YA lit, a good and necessary push, we would love to see a push for a better representation of the spiritual lives of teens in YA lit. I understand the hesitation, faith, religion and spirituality is deeply personal and varied. The topic of faith can be controversial, the basic premise of some faiths are the belief that they are right which makes everyone else wrong, which is a hard place to start from when trying to promote love and acceptance. But I remember being a youth ministry major at my conservative Christian college and thinking how much we would all benefit from understanding some of the basic tenets of faiths different than our own. And I wondered, for example, as I read last year’s LIKE NO OTHER by Una LaMarche if it was an accurate representation of that faith that I could/should add to my collection or if it was somehow flawed in it’s understanding of the Judaic faith which would be problematic. I don’t want materials in my collection that misrepresent or stereotype people of any faith anymore than I want materials that misrepresent or stereotype people of color or people on the spectrum or people with some type of disability. I want books with rich, fully developed characters and spiritual lives that expands my world view, but I don’t always know what to look for when making those evaluations any more than I know if the representation of epilepsy in 100 SIDWAYS MILES by Andrew Smith is accurate or harmful. That’s why we need to have conversations. Dialogue is good.

One of the things I really liked about LIKE NO OTHER was the way the main female character, Devorah, struggled with her religion and her family’s seeming view on women (they did not support college education for women) and how she tried to hold on to the basic tenants of her faith while also trying to assert her worth as a woman and her desire to get an education. As a feminist and a Christian, which depending on your denomination doesn’t always go together well, I completely understood this wrestling of dueling belief sets. I have sat through sermons where I have been told that I am worth so much less than a man and felt the heartache of rejection as I realized that some of the foundational beliefs of my faith were openly hostile towards me. But as I grew I learned that there were other churches that more openly embraced the idea that all people were created equal by a loving God who wanted the best for His children. I learned that the church you grow up in, the church of your parents, doesn’t necessarily have to be your church. Just as Devorah learns that there are nuances to her faith, I learned that there are nuances to mine. Don’t get me wrong, I still wondered about the accuracy of the faith as presented in LIKE NO OTHER, and it’s possible that someone is going to discuss that with us as part of this series because apparently it is not, but I completely identified with the faith struggle that Devorah goes through even though we are talking about different faiths. That is the beauty of story, it shows how we can be alike even when we may seem so different, it opens doors of understanding and weaves us together in our journeys.

Teens have spiritual lives. They ask big questions. They seek out answers and are trying to find out who they are and what they believe. Some teens go to church or synagogue or temple with their families and are strong adherents of that faith, some are questioning their faith, some will abandon it all together. Your faith, or choosing no faith, can inform who you are and what decisions you make. It seems like we are doing a disservice to teen readers by neglecting this part of their lives all together in the literature we write for them (or collect for them). This series will, we hope, help us discuss these issues more so that we can make sure that when we are buying books to put on our shelves, we’re also making sure that we have some good, authentic religious diversity on those shelves as well.

Ally Watkins:

Hi.

I’m a person of faith. It’s an integral part of me.

When I was a teenager, I was a person of faith. I was just learning how to be. And I was passionate about it. It was a way for me to explore who I was and who I was becoming, and it was and continues to be a way for me to grapple with the world around me.

One of Karen’s recent posts said that a study shows that 6 out of 10 teenagers claim some sort of faith or spirituality. When you’re a teenager, you’re figuring out who you are. You’re figuring out your identity, your sexuality, your preferences, your personality, and you’re figuring out what your religious life is going to look like or not look like.

That’s why I think it’s so important to look at what at faith and spirituality look like in the books that teens are reading. Are they seeing themselves reflected? Is it positive? Negative? Is it there at all?

I serve teens in the Deep South. Religion is a big part of life here. There are many kids that use my library who are in church or temple or synagogue or mosque three or four times a week.  And a lot of times, they’re not seeing that lifestyle reflected in what they’re reading. Like any other group of teens, religious teens deserve to be represented. The good, the bad, and the ugly. We’re hoping this series helps to shine a light on what that looks like across a wide swath of YA. We want this to be a discussion. We want you to tell us what you think, and what your teens think. We want to know why this is important to you. So let us know what you’re thinking, and if there are books you think we should read and talk about, be sure to tell us that, too.

Watch this space for reviews and discussion. We hope you’re as excited as we are.

Meet Ally Watkins, MLIS

I’m a youth services librarian in the metro Jackson, Mississippi area. I supervise a staff of 2 and the three of us provide services to kids from birth-18 at a midsized suburban library. On a typical day, I might be doing toddler storytimes, ordering materials for middle graders, or facilitating teen book club! I’ve worked in libraries for 5 and a half year. My reading habits are voracious, but I can stop anytime I want, really. (Guarantee: any time you’re reading this, I’ll have at least 2 books on my person.)  My favorite author is Melina Marchetta, and if she called me and asked me to be her friend, I would quit my job and move to Australia tomorrow. You can follow Ally on Twitter.
Previous posts on Faith and Spirituality and Teens:
Cause You Gotta Have Faith, part 2 (includes a book list)
And no, I really couldn’t think of a better title for this post. Sometimes titles are hard. :)

STEM/STEAM Programming for Teens (an Infopeople webinar) (TPiB)

Yesterday I had the honor of doing my first webinar for Infopeople. The subject was STEM and STEAM programming for teens. Infopeople webinars are free and it looks like you can access the webinar in the archive by filling out a little form.

STEM and STEAM Programming for Teens at Infopeople

In this webinar I talk a little bit about STEM programming and the benefits for both libraries and teens, but a bulk of the discussion is on STEAM programming. I admit, as the wife of an art major I am a huge believer in the benefits of the arts. My goal was to share a variety of ways that art can be combined with technology to create a multi-discipline approach to teen programming that not only allow teens to develop tech skills but allows them to engage in creative exploration and self expression. I break it down into visual arts, motion picture arts, and the musical arts. I then share a variety of ways that you can use tech to provide some additional types of book discussions. The best part of being a part of webinars like this as that other participants can share their own experiences and program ideas.

Infopeople has a large archive of additional webinars you can access on a wide variety of topics. And here’s a link to their training and webinar calendar for upcoming training events. You can find out more about Infopeople here.

Book review: The Prey by Tom Isbell

At a recent YA book club meeting, we talked about some of the things that we dislike as readers, things that we’re so over. The list was of the long, varied, and ranty variety. It seems like every meeting we discuss our dysptopia-fatigue, so that made the list. If we’re going to read a dystopia, somehow show us something different. In Tom Isbell’s The Prey, twin girls are experimented on by the government and boys (all boys, not just twins) who are categorized as “less thans” are kept in captivity and then hunted for sport. This premise, while still pretty familiar-feeling for a dystopia, at least seemed interesting enough to check it out.

 

Set 20 years after the Omega (the nuclear incident that obliterated much of the planet), Book lives in Camp Liberty (and narrates half of the story, in first person), raised to think that being called an “LT” means he and the other boys will go on to be lieutenants. In reality, they are “less thans” because of things like handicaps, skin color, weight, sexuality, religion, and their parents’ politics. After new boy Cat opens Book’s eyes to what their camp really is used for, Book, Cat, and 6 other boys set out to escape the Republic of the True America, Western Federation Territory. They aren’t entirely sure where they will escape to or what they will encounter, but the risk seems worth it. They team up with a group of 20 girls (lead by Hope, who narrates half of the story, in third person) who have escaped from the girls’ camp, Camp Freedom. Together they will set off on a journey across treacherous terrain, through punishing conditions, always barely one step ahead of hunters and the government. Their goal: whatever is waiting for them in The Heartland.

 

The overlarge cast of characters  is necessary for the group to stand a chance against the foes they encounter, but there were too many characters–many of them nameless and only a few well-developed. I kept getting pulled out of the story thinking of the logistical nightmare of coordinating that large of a group trying to flee without a lot of options for hiding. Then there’s the fact that the girls have suffered atrocious experiments (many are weak and frail), and many of the boys have physical handicaps. Yet they move relatively quickly in spite of little food, water, or rest. Parts of their escape were riveting–disgusting and gruesome and suspenseful in all of the best ways. Other parts plodded along.

 

The story really begins to pick up momentum when they encounter Frank, an old guy living in a remote area. If it wasn’t in your mind before, their encounter with him begs the question: just what does this world look like? How is it that he gets to live out there alone? Do others? Does everyone live in some kind of camp? Where are the kids who are not twin girls or “less than” boys? Where are the adults? The people older than 17? This is the problem with first books in trilogies often–not enough world building is offered because you know (or hope) it will be revealed in the rest of the series. I wanted more–I wanted to full understand this post-Omega world. And just when I think we might start to get some answers, just when the group reaches a new territory, the story comes screeching to a halt–not just a halt, but a completely puzzling “wait a minute, you’re going to do WHAT?” kind of halt.

 

The concept is great, but I wanted to take out a pen and start editing. Cut out some characters, get rid of the totally unnecessary love triangle idea/instalove idea (two more hits on our “things we don’t love” list), and give me more world building. I wanted more characters to die (that sounds awful, but seriously, their escape is very physically demanding. They encounter (or could encounter) many different ways to die. Give me more risk–kill off a few of those nameless characters), I wanted them to somehow learn more about the rest of the world, to talk about the experiments done to the girls, what life in the camps was like, what they remember from life before the camps. There is so much potential here, and I hope the next books in the series live up to it. Readers who still gravitate to dystopias will likely pick this up (the cover and flap copy are attention-grabbing), but may find themselves skimming the slow parts (and all of the obligatory romance parts). No matter how you get to the end–close attention or skimming–you’re still going to be left thinking, REALLY?!

REVIEW COPY COURTESY OF EDELWEISS

ISBN-13: 9780062216014
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date
: 1/20/2015

Early Word YA Galley Chat

Every month Early Word hosts a Twitter chat for YA librarians and readers to gather together and discuss upcoming titles. You can follow the hashtag #ewyagc to see yesterday’s discussion. Or you can check out the handy Storified version of the conversation.

What is Early Word? It’s an online tool for collection development and reader’s advisory. They have both an adult and a YA galley chat:

Join us each month for GalleyChat, to talk with fellow librarians about your favorite (and not-so-favorite) recent galleys, in two versions:

Adult Titles — held the first Tuesday of each month from 4 to 5 p.m, Eastern, the next one is Feb. 3. You’re welcome to join us at 3:30 for a “pre-Chat” —  virtual cocktails will be served. Hash tag, #ewgc.

Young Adult Titles — the third Tuesday of each month from 5 to 6 p.m., Eastern, (also with a pre-Chat session at 4:30, with virgin cocktails, of course). Hash tag, #ewyagc.

We use Twitter for GalleyChat, so if you’re new to Twitter, now’s the time to set up an account and begin honing your 140-character skills. Source and More Information: http://www.earlyword.com/galleychat/

Serving Full T.I.L.T.: Sarcasm, Spice and Everything Awesome: The Developing Teen by Rebecca Denham

Teenhood is a confusing time for teens and the adults in their lives.  Adolescents who never before questioned authority are suddenly abusing sarcasm, questioning every authority figure in sight and dependent on their friends rather than parental figures for emotional support.  There are biological changes impacting teens physiologically and social development factors that influence the chaotic cocktail of teen emotions.  Let’s face it, teenhood is hard. So today as part of our Serving Full T.I.L.T. series we’re going to be discussing basic teen development.

They Travel in Packs

It can be overwhelming for a group of teens to descend on a library, but this herd-like behavior is perfectly natural from a developmental standpoint.  Teens, especially younger adolescents, use social groups to define themselves, their values and their behavior.  This desire to be part of a group may seem at odds with the inherent adolescent desire for independence, but it is actually quite reasonable when viewed from the teen perspective.  Teens use their relationships to explore the world outside their family unit and to identify both similarities and differences between themselves and their parents.  The teenage years are when adolescents try on a variety of roles in the exploration of identity.

Children learn a great deal by role play, also known as pretending or imaginary play.  Extrapolate the importance of pretending to adolescence.  Adolescence is all about becoming an individual which means that a teen needs to be something more than just their parents’ child; more than who they have been so far.  However, teens also know that they are not quite ready for adulthood and therefore use their social groups to explore different roles they may take as adults.  It is through relationships with their peers that teens test and ultimately finalize their morals and values.

While the desire to be part of a group is critical for young teens, many older teens replace their social group of early adolescence with more intimate friendships or romantic relationships.  I’ve noticed that, in general, the older the teen is the more likely they are to travel in pairs than packs.  However, some studies have shown that teens from minority groups face greater pressure to rely on peer groups throughout adolescence for a sense of belonging.  One of the great balancing acts of library services for teens is to make sure that both groups of teens and individual teens are welcome in the library.  Successful library services for teens serve individuals as well as social groups by offering a variety of programs, services and materials.  YALSA, YART, and many blogs run by youth services librarians have literally hundreds of ideas, guidelines and tools for serving teens in libraries.

Teens, Romance and Drama

Adolescent romance is often viewed with benign indulgence or dismissal by the adults in a teenager’s life but these relationships hold an amazing amount of influence over teenagers’ mental and emotional health as well as their adolescent development.  Romantic relationships, positive or negative, account for some of the strongest emotions teens experience during the adolescent years.  Romantic relationships of the teenage years also lay the foundation for adult romantic relationships.  The nature of romantic relationships in adolescents is heavily influenced by culture, gender, and the individual but, generally speaking, romantic relationships for younger adolescents are characterized by higher stress and lower emotional support than those of older teens.  Similar to the prior attachment to peer group, as older teens transition to adulthood the individual’s primary attachment figure shifts from parent to romantic partner.

Romance in the teenage years serves another purpose beyond the rush of hormones, these relationships allow teens to expand and practice communication and interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence and intimacy skills that are necessary for a well-adjusted adulthood.  However, adolescent romance, as with any relationship, can have a dark side.  According to a 2007 study, 61% of teens involved in romantic relationships reported being made to feel bad or embarrassed about themselves.  A recent survey by the CDC found that 10% of high school students reported physical victimization at the hands of their romantic partner.  One study found that 29% of the young women surveyed who had ever been in a relationship said they had been pressured to have sex or to engage in sexual activity they did not want.  A 2013 study found that LGBTQ teens experience significantly high rates of all types of dating violence compared with heterosexual youth.  Some of the statistics about adolescent romance are disturbing which is why it is important that we have conversations with our teens about healthy and unhealthy relationships.  These conversations must be done in a supportive, non-judgemental way if you want your library teens to stick around.  You should also have resources available for teens so that they don’t have to talk directly to you if they don’t want to – often the questions that teens most need to ask are the ones they are embarrassed to air.

Self-Esteem is Kind of a Group Effort

Peer groups are one of the most powerful influencing factors when it comes to a teenager’s self-esteem.  The peers who are so crucial to adolescent social development and development of personal identity are also integral in influencing a teen’s self worth.  As a librarian, you cannot control how teens treat each other outside of the library but you can influence their behavior by treating every teen with compassion and respect and setting a standard of behavior for any teens in the library or attending library programs.  Make your library a No Bullying Zone, form a GSA, get to know the teens in your library and let them know that you care about their well being.

Being a teenager is complicated and difficult but if you try to see their perspective and make them feel welcome you will truly begin to understand the near-alchemical mysteries of the developing teen.

Next week, as part of our Serving Full T.I.L.T. series, Heather Booth talks with us about the teenage brain.

Footnotes:

[1] Developing Adolescents: A Reference for Professionals by the American Psychological Association – http://www.apa.org/pubs/info/brochures/develop.aspx

[2]A Child’s Work: The Importance of Fantasy Play by Vivian Gussin Paley

[3]Challenges in studying minority youth. Spencer, Margaret Beale; Dornbusch, Sanford M. Feldman, S. Shirley (Ed); Elliott, Glen R. (Ed), (1990). At the threshold: The developing adolescent. , (pp. 123-146). Cambridge, MA, US: Harvard University Press, x, 642 pp.

[4] http://www.ala.org/yalsa/

[5] http://www.txla.org/groups/yart

[6] Teen Librarian Toolbox, Lunanshee’s Lunacy, YA Books and More, The Green Bean Teen Queen – there are TONS of online resources for Youth Services Librarians

[7] Larson RW, et al. (1999). The emotions of romantic relationships: Do they wreak havoc on adolescents? In: Furman W, Brown BB, Feiring C, editors. The development of romantic relationships in adolescence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; p. 19-49.

[8] http://www.headspace.org.au/media/326676/romanticrelationships_adolescent_romantic_relationships_why_are_they_important_headspace_evsum.pdf

[9] Furman W, Wehner EA. (1997). Adolescent romantic relationships: A developmental perspective. In: Shulman S, Collins A, editors. Romantic relationships in adolescence: New directions for child development. San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass; p. 21-36.

[10] http://www.actforyouth.net/resources/rf/rf_romantic_0707.pdf

[11] http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/intimatepartnerviolence/teen_dating_violence.html

[12] Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice and Statistics, Intimate Partner Violence and Age of Victim, 1993-1999 (2001). American Bar Association Juvenile Justice Center.

[13] Dank M, Lachman P, Zweig JM, Yahner J. Dating Violence Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth. Journal of Youth and Adolescence. 2013. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10964-013-9975-8.

Meet Our Guest Blogger:

Rebecca Denham is a Young Adult Librarian at heart who masquerades as an Assistant Branch Manager by day at a very busy library somewhere in the metropolitan wilds of Texas.  When not distracted by management duties Rebecca is reading, reviewing YA literature and coming up with fun, innovative programming with diverse teen appeal. When not writing and reviewing for her blog Rebecca volunteers her time for the following committees: Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers (YALSA), 2015-2016, Best Fiction for Young Adults (YALSA), 2013-2014, 2014-2015,Youth Engagement (YALSA), 2013-2014,Spirit of Texas Reading Program HS (YART), 2011-2015, Teen Book Con Planning Committee, 2011 to present, Book Reviewer for VOYA, December 2011 to present,A4YA Reviewer for SLJ, Febraury 2014 to present. You can follow her on Twitter.

Resources for Adults Working with Teens:

www.advocatesforyouth.org

www.cdc.gov

www.findyouthinfo.gov

www.glsen.org

www.loveisrespect.org

Resources for Teens

www.bornthiswayfoundation.org

www.dosomething.org

www.lovegoodbadugly.com

www.loveislouder.com

www.loveisrespect.org

www.teenshealth.org

Serving Full T.I.L.T. series:

January 14 By the Numbers, making the case for teen services using basic demographic information (Karen Jensen)

January 21 Sarcasm, Spice and Everything Awesome: The Developing Teen (Rebecca Denham)

January 28 Brain Science 101 (Heather Booth)

February 4 Asset Building 101, How using the 40 Developmental Assets can help us plan and evaluate teen programming (Karen Jensen)

February 11 Diverse teens, diverse needs (Eden Grey)

February 18 Sharing stories, how knowing and sharing the stories of our teens can help make the case (Heather Booth)

February 25 Empathy, remembering what it means to be a teen and how it makes us better teen services librarians (Heather Booth)

March 4 A Teen Services 101 Infographic (Rebecca Denham and Karen Jensen)

March 11 Talking Up Teens: Discussing Teen Services with Library Administration (Eden Grey)

In the most recent issue of SLJ

When I’m reviewing books for professional publications, I stay quiet about them on social media. I’m always really excited once a review comes out to be able to talk about the book, finally! Here’s one of my most recent reviews, which originally appeared in the January 2015 issue of School Library Journal.

Gr 9 Up—Fig is six years old and spends a lot of time worrying about her mother, Annie. Her mother talks of fairy land, feral dogs lurking in the woods, and the importance of rituals. It is only after her mother attempts suicide that Fig learns the truth: her mother is schizophrenic. The story unfolds over the next 11 years, detailing the many ways Annie’s schizophrenia changes her and affects her family. Through it all, Fig remains determined to save her mother. She begins sacrificing trinkets, thinking this will somehow make her mother get well. She also sacrifices her own needs and creates a Calendar of Ordeals, dictating what she must refrain from each day. The teen exhibits many troubling behaviors and is eventually diagnosed with OCD, but her health is overlooked as the focus remains on her increasingly unwell mother. Fig is often left in the care of her icy grandmother and has no support system. When her uncle catches her cutting herself, she is relieved that someone finally sees her and will hold her accountable, but Fig never stops thinking she can save her mother. This beautifully written story is a painful look at mental illness. An element of fantasy weaves throughout the narrative, with Annie’s tenuous grip on reality and Fig’s magical thinking, and references to fairy tales, The Wizard of Oz, and Alice in Wonderland abound. This dense, literary tale starts slowly, but builds to become an incredibly haunting story about mental illness and family bonds.

Book review: Alex as Well by Alyssa Brugman

“Alex is with me. The other Alex. I am Alex as well. We are the two Alexes. I guess that’s confusing for a lot of people. Sometimes it’s confusing for me too.”

 

When we first meet Alex we know a few things. Alex has stopped taking some medicine recently. Alex is getting a makeover. Alex’s dad left last night, which Alex says was “100 percent because of me.” And Alex is actually two Alexes.

 

Born intersex and raised as a boy (I was going to say “assigned male at birth” but that’s complicated and I’ll address that later), Alex now understands that she’s a girl. The Alex who narrates the story is this Alex, the girl, but we also meet Alex the boy, who’s always lurking around, ready to make a sarcastic remark or blurt something out. The dual voices within the same person took a little getting used to, but each Alex has a very distinct persona, so before long it was easier to distinguish them. (For the sake of confusion, let’s just assume that if I say Alex, I’m talking about the girl who is narrating unless I indicate otherwise, okay? And Alex often says “us” and “we” when referring to both parts of herself, so there’s that, too.)

 

Alex enrolls in a new school, filling out her form: Alexandra, age 14, female. She hopes a new school will give her a chance to start over. She doesn’t tell her parents about this move. Both Alexes indicate that their mother is unstable. Boy Alex calls her a “nutbag.” Alex says she’s “mental.” Prone to fits of yelling, rolling on the floor, and blaming Alex, she is pretty much a clueless nightmare. No wonder Alex doesn’t look to any parental support or advice when she decides to change schools. But there’s just one problem: Alex needs a birth certificate to complete her enrollment. Because that certificate says she’s a boy, and she’s enrolling as a girl, it presents a problem.

 

Alex seeks legal advice on her own, going to a lawyer called Crockett to find out how to get a new birth certificate. In him, she finds an unlikely ally, one who goes on to play a larger role in the story as he tries to help her get the new certificate as well as some other significant choices Alex makes. That’s the gist of the story: Alex would like to have her gender legally reassigned so she can start living her life as a girl. A lot of stuff happens long the way. The plot is not enormous, but the things said to her, by her, and about her make the story very, very loaded.

 

Alex’s thoughts about herself and her past are complicated. Boy Alex refers to her dressing as a girl as a fetish. Alex refers to herself as a “transgender freak.” She thinks of herself as “beautiful/ugly,” says people look at her with fascination and loathing. She uses the word “deformed” when thinking about herself. She is not kind to herself in her thoughts, almost unrelentingly saying things along these lines. Alex thinks she will never be happy, no matter what. She thinks in very simplistic and stereotyped terms about what boys do versus what girls do (like blurting something out in class is a “boy thing,” and now that she’s a girl it’s okay to be incompetent with tools).

 

But nothing Alex says or does can be as horrible as what her mother puts her through. Her mother, Heather, is horrible. She tells Alex, “You’re killing me, you little pervert.” She posts on a web forum about motherhood, revealing that Alex was born “sexually ambiguous.” Born with a small penis, no testes, and ovaries, Alex was on hormones from young up to help her be male. And—oh lord—Alex had a birth certificate that said she was female until she was 6 months old, at which point her parents got it changed. Alex’s parents took to her lots of doctor’s appointments, kept a log of her behaviors and preferences, and tried to ignore anything that indicated maybe they hadn’t made the right choice. To his credit, her father wanted to stop the appointments and explain to Alex how she was born and what was going on. Heather shares in these posts that she doesn’t think she loves Alex, who she refers to 95% of the time as “him.” She’s angry and feels Alex suddenly just decided to become a girl—it’s just a phase, he’s just confused, she says. And remember, all of this is being posted on website.

 

We’ve all read comments online, right? Imagine the most frustratingly clueless, offensive, ridiculous comments you can think of. With the exception of two frequent commenters, Heather’s posts are given support and encouragement in completely not helpful ways. Things like, “If you’d made him a girl she would have wanted to be a boy. He’s a teenager. This is what they do,” or, “The home is not a democracy. The adults have to make the decisions.” The smallest part of me thought, okay, she’s struggling to understand what’s happening. Yes, she’s known all along that Alex is intersex, and none of this can be a total surprise to her. That doesn’t forgive the hateful, disgusting things she says or writes. And that teeny tiny bit of trying to be forgiving goes right out the door for good when she reveals that she’s found ways to still make Alex, unbeknownst to her, get her hormone supplements.

 

Alex’s dad is not as actively unsupportive—in fact, I think he’s well on his well to understanding and being able to offer the love and support Alex needs. After all, he’s the one who has been advocating for honesty and transparency all along. But he’s not given much time to show up in the novel. And even though he seems like her most likely ally, even he refers to her as a “weirdo.” Ouch.

 

Alex doesn’t have any friends from her old school and has a few very superficial friendships with people at her new school. The most supportive person in her life is Crockett, a relative stranger who is trying to help Alex, though I’m not always sure it’s in her best interests.

 

All of these things combine to send some troubling messages about life as an intersex teen. No real parental love or  support (and active hate from Heather), no real friends, no real positive feelings about herself… I spent a lot of the book shaking my head and cringing at the messages all of these things are sending.

 

And then there’s the fairly unrealistic side plot about Alex instantly becoming a sought-after model. It seemed too speedy and coincidental to be believable. In fact, a lot of the book just didn’t ring true, from Alex so easily enrolling and getting to stay at a school despite not having the proper paperwork to Crockett’s utter willingness to help her for free, to the extreme twists with her family situation and the abrupt ending.

 

In the end, I didn’t really enjoy this book. I found the overall tone off-putting. I didn’t like Alex, but I don’t even care about that. I don’t need to like a character for me to like a book or find it interesting/smart/compelling. The power of the many voices of hatred and disgust, including Alex’s own, weren’t tempered by other more positive support or thoughts. The odd choice for Alex to be split into two parts—a distinctive boy part and a girl part—reinforces binary ideas, as does the gender role stereotyping that Alex embraces. There are many smaller problems too—Alex’s description of her new friends (particularly Amina, who’s Somali and Muslim) as “exotic,” the predatory attitude that boy Alex has (and that Alex herself embraces at certain points), the treatment of possible mental health issues… I have pages of notes of places where I just felt like, NO. This isn’t working.

 

I really wanted to like this for a lot of reasons. It’s Australian, and to be honest I think this is the first Aussie YA book I have ever read that I haven’t loved. Alex as an intersex character is filling an important gap in YA. But she’s presented is in such a negative light that I feel like if I gave this book to someone to read, I’d also want to give them every other book about intersex characters I could find. I finished the book feeling it somehow felt dated, despite being new, and wonder about the research that went into it, and the motivations behind painting such a harshly negative picture of what life as an intersex teen might mean. It’s not that I expect books to be filled with supportive and loving characters, or that I feel books are obligated to present any kind of message, period, much less one of hopefulness or positivity. But I just find so much about this title troubling.

 

I’ll be curious to start hearing feedback about it as its release date is today. I’d love to hear your thoughts if you’ve read it already or read it soon. Find me on Twitter @CiteSomething.

 

For other intersex experiences see:

Double Exposure by Bridget Birdsall

Pantomime by Laura Lam

Shadowplay by Laura Lam

Golden Boy by Abigail Tarttelin

Forthcoming title: None of the Above by I.W. Gregorio (April 7, 2015)

 

REVIEW COPY COURTESY OF NETGALLEY
ISBN-13: 9781627790147
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Publication date: 1/20/2015

Middle Grade Monday – Publishing and Diversity

Thanks to a tweet from Anne Ursu, I was made aware of this list of all of the middle grade and YA fiction by African American authors published in the US in 2014. It’s a wonderful resource – you should have a look at it. I’ll warn you, though, before you click on it, that it only contains 40 items. 40 books. Only 40 titles by African American authors were published in the US last year for the MG and YA markets. Combined. What even. And, not knowing for sure, I’d feel safe in placing a bet that the number has gradually increased over the past few years.

On this day when we take time to remember and celebrate one of our great American heroes of the Civil Rights movement, I’d like for us to think seriously about how far we’ve come. For me, looking at the events of this past year and how they have revealed and highlighted the systemic and institutionalized racism that still permeates every level of our society, I become overwhelmed. It’s too much. Trying to address all of it, even thinking about how we can address all of it, can leave me paralyzed. Taking a step back, I default to a technique that has worked well for me in the past. What can I do? What can we, as librarians and professionals who serve middle grade readers, do?

Firstly, we can support everyone who is trying to make a change. We can add our voices to all of those calling for change. More specifically, we can choose highlight and support those movements in areas where our voices will carry some weight. To that end, I strongly recommend that you follow the We Need Diverse Books movement. They have a wonderful Tumblr, which is currently running a short story contest. For regular updates, you can follow their Twitter feed here.

Secondly, I’d like to challenge all of you reading this who have book buying budgets. Look through Zetta Elliott’s list linked above. See which of the titles are appropriate for your collection and purchase as many of them as you can manage with your budget. And when I say appropriate for your collection, I mean age wise. So, if you serve a population that is overwhelmingly white, still purchase these titles. Your patrons need to see these books; they need to be familiar with cultures that seem foreign to their own. They need to develop empathy for people who don’t look like them. They need to see that there is as much diversity within other racial groups as there is within their own. They need to learn that stereotypes are dangerous and damaging. How will they do that without access to these titles?

Thirdly, consider how you are marketing your collection. Do you only highlight titles by and about African Americans during February? Certainly, that is an appropriate time to feature these titles. In fact, I’d like to point your attention to an event my library participates in every year – NCTE’s African American Read-In. We use it as an opportunity to highlight African American authors and illustrators, but there are really very few limitations to how you can use this event. But back to marketing your collection – instead of picking a theme for a display and then pulling books to meet that idea, have you considered pulling a title either by or about a minority and then building your theme around that?  So, pull Christopher Paul Curtis’s Bud, Not Buddy and build a display of titles that highlight the events of The Great Depression. Pull Rita Williams Garcia’s One Crazy Summer and P.S. Be Eleven and use it to market your books about sisters or mother/daughter relationships. Pull all of your titles about the Tuskeegee Airmen and use that as a basis for a display of World War II titles.

In sum: be thoughtful, be proactive, choose to be a part of change. If all of our voices join together on this, we can change the way books get published. Ideally, I’d love to have a list of titles written by African American authors so long and diverse that I have to choose which titles to add to my collection, rather than purchasing all that are available and wishing for more.