Search on ....
Subscribe to SLJ
Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Middle Grade Monday – the DNF Debate

As you may have read here, next week we are doing a Second Chance Challenge – we are challenging you to pick up a book that you didn’t finish and try again. Thus the DNF (did not finish) debate. For those of us who are school librarians, it can be a challenge to help some students find a book they can engage with and finish. When it’s for a class assignment, though, it can be crucial. Many of their teachers may be stuck in the ‘completist’ mode, thinking that a student should finish every book they start. I find this to be one of the surest roads to killing a student’s love of reading.

When I do book talks, I try to work in this idea – for my teachers’ benefit as well as my students’. Some books are ‘almost everybody’ books (Harry Potter) and some books may have a much narrower interest base. It’s important that you find books with which you can engage and sustain your interest throughout. One way we try to foster this is by doing interest inventories with the students so they are aware of what topics they do and don’t find interesting. I know it sounds like a simple thing, but I’ve found that there are a good number of students this age who’ve never been asked to self-evaluate in this way. Another method we use to enhance student engagement with their chosen books is equally simple – we give them an extended amount of time to read once they’ve chosen a book during their class library time. They know if they get several pages into it and it hasn’t grabbed them, that it is okay to look for another.

I have a rather long list of DNFs, mostly due to certain topic sensitivities that seem to pop up regularly in Middle Grade and YA fiction. They include kidnapping, underground settings, and any book where an adult uses their power to manipulate or harm a child. I know…what can I read? That last one has to be integral to the plot. It’s why I’ve never bothered to start The Hunger Games. I watched the trailer for the first movie with my students and almost threw up. So…yeah. My other issues tend to be more stylistic. I rarely engage with books that have footnotes. They tend to draw me out of the story. There are certain exceptions, but I will, for the most part, only make it through if I ignore the footnotes (Colin Fischer is a good example.) I also have issues with books that focus too strongly on plot and don’t develop their characters well. It’s one of my rules of thumb to DNF any title I get half way through if I don’t care about the main character.

On the other hand, knowing what your topic sensitivities are can give you the ability to power through a book that includes them if it’s good enough. In my case, that book was Nancy Farmer’s The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm. It took me 4 tries to get past the point where the children are kidnapped. The first couple of times I didn’t even get that far – I could see what was coming. At that point as a reader, though, I wasn’t self aware enough to see that it was the kidnapping that was the issue. Once I worked through that, I was able to really engage with the book (it’s amazing.) Most of your students won’t have these same sensitivities (although some have been through fairly traumatic episodes and may need to avoid certain topics.) I’ve found that the things that bother me as an adult who is specifically tasked with caring for the welfare of children are seldom issues that bother students. They didn’t bother me at that age either.

So, TL;DR – let your students DNF if they need to. Help them find a book with which they can really engage. Don’t be a completist.

Also, for the record, the book I’m going to try is one I almost finished, put down, and never opened again – Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. I know.

Book Review: Making Pretty by Corey Ann Haydu

Use this mascara for longer, fuller lashes. Use this cream to reduce wrinkles and fine lines. Use this cream to fade your dark spots. Use this hair dye to cover your gray. Use this lipstick for fuller. more kissable lips. Wear this type of dress/shirt/pants/skirt/top to look slimmer/bustier/more appealing to men. And here are the things women do that men hate . . . These are just a few of the constant messages that women start receiving at an incredibly young age, messages that tell us that we have to look a certain way to be confident and attract the opposite sex. Messages that tell us we have to do more, be more, and suffer more in order to be “desirable”. This is a huge part of what MAKING PRETTY by Corey Ann Haydu is about – how we teach girls from a very young age to hate the way they look, thus hating themselves.

Sometimes a book so moves me that I feel like I have to write a letter to the author. Sometimes I have done that publicly, but MAKING PRETTY led me to write a very private one to Corey Ann Hyadu. You see, I have never been comfortable in my own skin. I have never felt good enough or pretty enough, and in some ways I know the reasons for that. Part of it is culture and part of it is the things that have been said and done to me and around me in my home and in my personal life. I related all too well with the girls we meet in MAKING PRETTY. I have been these girls. I am these girls. And I have worked with these girls for 20 years now. Corey Ann Haydu captures so much of these girls in pitch perfect ways I was moved to compassion for myself and every girl like me that has to weather the storm that is being a girl in contemporary society. It’s so hard to love yourself in a world that constantly tells you that you have no reason to.

Cultural messaging can be a harmful beast.  The institutionalized and internalized image issues that get handed down to us in subtle and often unconscious ways can really mess with your head. It’s the photoshopped images in magazines. The way we talk about girls weight to them and in front of them in ways that we don’t with men. It’s the way we sit around and watch award shows just to pick apart the way the women look in ways that we often don’t with men. It’s the constant barrage of ads aimed at women about make-up and fine lines and wrinkles and beauty creams and hair dye. We are constantly being told if we buy this and do that then it might make us more worthy, more loveable. There is an entire industry that is bankrolled on the backs of women’s insecurities, people grow rich telling us the lie that if we just did x, y or z then we might finally be worthy of love and acceptance.

The stories I could tell you. That I want to. The girls I have seen hurting. And before anyone leaves me a comment saying but what about the men, I will readily admit that men can and do struggle with body image issues, we have even written about that here at TLT. But it also feels like they aren’t targeted as much as women. For every male baldness or Bowflex ad I see it seems like I see 10 ads for women’s beauty products. Entire industries are built on making women hate themselves.

In addition to the way Haydu perfectly captures the brokenness that we often inflict upon our girls with our unreasonable beauty standards and messaging, MAKING PRETTY is also just amazingly well written; it’s a good, well written story. There are so many perfectly written and emotive sentences that I am going to go back and write in my quote journal. There are so many girls and parents I want to hand this to and say here, read this. To the girls I want to say you are enough. And to the parents and our culture I want to say stop making our girls feel like they aren’t enough. This book is a great tool to help do that. It’s a good story with poignant insight. We’re so busy trying worrying about “making pretty” we forget to worry about “making whole”.

Everyone – every man, woman, and teen – should read this book. I highly recommend it.

I love this book. Thank you for writing it.

Publisher’s Book Description:

Montana and her sister, Arizona, are named after the mountainous states their mother left them for. But Montana is a New York City girl through and through, and as the city heats up, she’s stepping into the most intense summer of her life.

With Arizona wrapped up in her college world and their father distracted by yet another divorce, Montana’s been immersing herself in an intoxicating new friendship with a girl from her acting class. Karissa is bold, imperfectly beautiful, and unafraid of being vulnerable. She’s everything Montana would like to become. But the friendship with Karissa is driving a wedge between Montana and her sister, and the more of her own secrets Karissa reveals, the more Montana has to wonder if Karissa’s someone she can really trust.

In the midst of her uncertainty, Montana finds a heady distraction in Bernardo. He’s serious and spontaneous, and he looks at Montana in the way she wants to be seen. For the first time, Montana understands how you can become both lost and found in somebody else. But when that love becomes everything, where does it leave the rest of her imperfect life?

Coming May 12th, 2015 from Katherine Tegen Books. ISBN: 9780062294081

Ally Watkins sent me a copy of her ARC to read.

Body Image and Eating Disorders

Sunday Reflections: I’m Holding Out for a Hero, a Female Superhero

I have such conflicted feelings about this year’s superhero themed Summer Reading Club.

As a big superhero fan myself, I was at first incredibly excited. But the truth is, for those of us raising daughters or working with the female gender – which coincidentally makes up half of the population – it’s a bit of a double edged sword when you start to realize how little female representation there is in the world of superheroes. And the representation we do get is often incredibly sexualized and often in service of the male characters.

And then there is the merchandising.

Sure, in Big Hero 6 there are two female superheroes out of the six. A full 1/3. But you’ll be hard pressed to find them on any of the merchandising, particularly if you go looking for fabric to make your own clothing.

The Marvel Universe, also a Disney house now, isn’t much better. If you go looking for Guardians of the Galaxy or The Avengers merchandise you will be lucky to find any including Gamora or Black Widow. As The Mary Sue points out, you can only find a hand full of Black Widow on the new merchandising efforts for The Avengers 2: Age of Ultron.

And if you go looking at Star Wars merchandise, you won’t find a lot of women there either. As Carrie Fisher recently pointed out, our primary image of Princess Leia from the Star Wars universe is the one where she is being held captive and sexualized in the gold bikini. Interestingly enough, at a recent Star Wars panel author Anthony Breznican (BRUTAL YOUTH) asked about female representation in the Star Wars universe and they seemed to at least acknolwedge there was a problem and they were working on it. Skip to the 5:30 timestamp in this Force Awakens panel to see the discussion.

I noticed this myself when we took our Girl Scout troop to a Build a Bear for a reward party for selling far and above the amount of cookies we thought they could sell. They worked hard and were incredibly successful. But if they wanted to build a superhero themed bear their choices were Thor, Hulk, Captain America and Iron Man.

And during Easter season I snapped this picture of Superhero dolls you can purchase to fill baskets. Not surprisingly, there was not a female one in the offering even though they were both DC and Marvel based heroes, which means they could have at the very least included Wonder Woman.

The results weren’t much better when I went looking for superhero Legos for my Lego based Makerspace. The problem, of course, is that there are far less female superheroes to choose from. So when I found a pack of 24 superhero Legos for only $24.00 on Ebay – a fantastic price – it was not surprising when they came in and only 4 of them were female. My tweens and teens like to make stop motion Lego movies and we’ll be making our own superhero themed ones, but it looks like our representation won’t be much better than the big screen given how few options we will have.

There was a glimmer of hope when the recent Ms Marvel comics were released – and they are good. Bonus points because we get a female superhero and a woman of color to boot, done well. But the male superheroes still far outnumber the female. And there isn’t a female superhero movie in sight for 2015 or 2016. A Wonder Woman movie has been tabled for years, currently slated for 2017. However, the pressure for a female led superhero movie to be successful is so stressful that the current director recently jumped ship according to MTV news. There is now a new director attached to the picture, Patty Jenkins, but if this movie fails many in the industry will see it as a sign that no one wants female superhero movies, which is nowhere near the truth.

My 6 year old daughter’s favorite movie is The Avengers (and sometimes Sharknado). She watches it again and again and again. I am mesmerized as she watches the scene where Black Widow busts out of a chair that she is tied into, surrounded by men who think they have the upper hand. I see how she feels empowered and is taking in a simple message: even in the most seemingly dire of situations you can be powerful, you can be strong, you can save yourself. In a world where a majority of the images our girls will see involve them being rescued by, objectified by and in service of men, it’s such a powerful message. But then when we can’t find any superhero merchandise in the stores, that message is undermined.

To make matters worse, some of the Avengers themselves were on a press tour this past week when they reminded us all that powerful women who embrace their sexuality are “sluts” and “whores”. In a recent interview with Renner (Hawkeye) and Evans (Captain America), when asked about Black Widow maybe having a relationship with Hulk, the two men joked about Black Widow being a slut. To add injury to insult, they went on to suggest that because her character has a prosthetic leg (which I hear makes no sense because it is not true) and she was “leading everyone on”, which is troubling ableist language. And they pointed out that “she’ll always be a sidekick anyway”, a seemingly direct slap in the face to every fan asking for a Black Widow movie.

Just this week WB and DC announced a new line of superhero stuffs – JUST FOR GIRLS. Which you would think would make me feel less conflicted, but it only addresses the female half of my concerns. Yes, I want my girls to see girl superheroes. But I also want boys growing up being told by marketers and authors and society at large that girls are not other, that they are in fact worthy of their time and attention. I want boys to be just as comfortable wearing an Avengers shirt with Black Widow as my girls are expected to be wearing a shirt with Thor, Captain America, Iron Man, and Hulk. As Chuck Wendig points out in his discussion of the WB/DC announcement: “Society will get better when boys have to learn about girls the same way girls learn about boys.” It’s not just about wanting superheroes for girls, is about wanting our boys to grow up in a world where they embrace the value of girls. But that’s what gendering does, especially since it is catered to the males among us, it others females in such a way that our boys grow up being told that girls are not worth their time and attention, unless it is as a sex object.

I dropped my daughters off at school today. I kissed them goodbye and told them I love them. I sent them out once again into the breech, this world that continues to tell them that in subtle and not so subtle ways that they are less than their male counterparts. I think they deserve better. I think they deserve to see female superheroes who remind them that they can be fierce, they can be brave, they can be honorable – that they can be their own heroes. And I think they deserve to grow up in a world where boys are learning that girls and the things that girls like, produce and consume have value. And this can be done to some extent when they have their own superheroes to look up to, but even more is accomplished when we create a superhero universe for all fans – male and female – that represents a wide variety of genders, ethnicities, abilities and more. Representation matters.

#FSYALit: Doubt and the Teenage Religious Experience, thoughts on EDEN WEST (Pete Hautman), a #FSYALit post by Ally Watkins

Something Karen tweeted as we were discussing this project a while back really stuck with me. She said that discussing religion is difficult because everyone assumes they’re coming from correct place.

Man, is that ever true.

And it rings even truer in EDEN WEST, Pete Hautman’s latest about a 17-year-old boy named Jacob who has spent the majority of his life living within the walls of a fenced-in cult commune.

Jacob has had very little contact with the outside world since his parents joined the cult when he was a kid. He is sure that his belief system is correct, that Father Grace’s words are true, that the Archangel Zerachiel is going to descend from heaven and spare everyone in his church from the Apocalypse.

He believes. And he believes in a way that is really genuine. I think sometimes we as adults forget that teens can experience this depth of faith and emotion–not blind belief, but legitimate, deep conviction.

When Jacob meets Lynna, a girl who lives on the other side of the fence (very literally), he is at first horrified. He punishes himself to atone for his sin of talking to her–actual self-flagellation that is upsetting and difficult to read–and tries to forget her.  Then a new boy, Tobias, comes to the cult with his family. Tobias is belligerent, angry, and totally not buying Father Grace’s message.  Though he thinks that they are wolves that have come to lead him astray, he continues to develop relationships with Lynna and Tobias. Jacob is deeply affected by his interactions with both of these people, and he begins to doubt.

“Jacob, do you think everyone else is wrong? Everybody except a few dozen people in Montana?”

Doubt is a part of life in a faith experience, and it’s something that’s not talked about a lot. Hautman has constructed this fictional cult to highlight Jacob’s crisis of faith: In this setting, the crisis is really heightened for dramatic effect and it works very well. But I think it’s important to remember that doubt is a part of every faith experience, especially as a teenager.

Being a person of faith is hard.  Doubt is normal. Doubt is normal even if you’re not considering leaving your religion. Doubt does not mean that you’ve lost your faith (unless you want it to mean that!). I remember going through a devastating period of doubt when I was about 17. I struggled mostly in silence because I was terrified that my doubt meant I was a bad Christian or that I was losing my faith. I was scared that my faith leaders would be angry with me (they weren’t) and that this meant I wasn’t strong enough in my faith (it didn’t). It was agonizing. Teenagers are going through a lot, y’all. They’re worried about school and grades and college and faith and boys and girls and how to be people and friendships and hormones and everything. We as the adults in their lives really need to work to provide them with a safe space to ask questions about their faith and spirituality decisions. We need to let them know that these questions are ok, even healthy. Working out your own faith is a really personal process, and teens (and adults!) need to know that asking questions and exploring doubts isn’t cause to beat yourself up. Literally or figuratively.


Candlewick included this Q&A with Hautman inside of the ARC:

It lines up in some ways with our purposes here at #FSYALit so I wanted to make sure to include it.

An excerpt:

Eden West dips into the themes of religion, spirituality, and beliefs, similar to some of the themes you explored in your National Book Award winner, Godless. What keeps you returning to these ideas?

I am interested in faith, and how it serves us, and how it can destroy us. I think faith and religion are hugely important elements of what it is to be human. They infuse our every thought, and they drive life-and-death decisions every single day. So why do so few young-adult books touch upon issues of faith and religion? Most YA novels never mention religion at all. What sort of church does Bella Swan go to? Does Katniss Everdeen believe in God? What about Bilbo Baggins, or Harry Potter? I’m not suggesting that YA books should all contain a religious component—in fact, most of my own books do not—but I do think there’s a lot of avoidance on the part of authors who don’t want to offend anyone or cost themselves sales. People can get very prickly about religion, so it’s a bit of a minefield. I guess I’m attracted to that.

For more on Faith and Spirituality in YA Lit, check out the #FSYALit Hub

Today’s post is written by Ally Watkins, co-coordinator of the #FSYALit Project. For more about Ally please check out the About TLT page.

Publisher’s Book Description:

A world within a world…

Twelve square miles of paradise, surrounded by an eight-foot-high chain-link fence: this is Nodd, the land of the Grace. It is all Jacob knows. Beyond the fence lies the World, a wicked, terrible place, doomed to destruction. Only the Grace will be spared.

But something is rotten in paradise. A wolf invades Nodd, slaughtering the Grace’s sheep. A new boy arrives from outside, and his scorn and disdain threaten to tarnish Jacob’s contentment. Then, while patrolling the borders of Nodd, Jacob meets Lynna, a girl who tempts him to sample forbidden Worldly pleasures.

Jacob’s faith, his devotion, and his grip on reality are tested as his feelings for Lynna blossom into something greater and the End Days grow ever closer.

Eden West is the story of two worlds, two hearts, the power of faith, and the resilience of the human spirit.

Published April 2015 by Candlewick Press

Friday Finds – April 24, 2015

This Week at TLT

Sunday Reflections: She is Safe? A Personal Reflection for Sexual Assualt Awareness Month

#FSYALit: Orthodox Representation in YA Lit

Middle Grade Monday – The Power of Doorstops

What’s New in LGBTQIA+ This Spring

The Trouble with Telling, author Kristin Halbrook discusses her new release EVERY LAST PROMISE for #SVYALit

March Arc Party: What the tweens/teens thought of some upcoming titles

#tearyya: the books that made us cry (and a sneak peek at VIOLENT ENDS)

Book Review: Things We Know by Heart by Jessi Kirby

Boom, Crash, The Sound of the Economy – featuring THE TRUTH ABOUT US by Janet Gurtler, THE HIT by Delilah S.Dawson and THE BULLIES OF WALL ST. by Sheila Bair

April Post TLA #ARCParty


Around the Web

The kids are all right.

Maybe they can fix our justice system.

Zombie Apocalypse or Irate Library Patron?

We should play to our strengths.

The history of the YA designation, from NYPL.

MIT study of children’s brains looks at links between academic achievement, family income, and brain structures.


One Friday night Mary Hinson (@knoxdiver), The Tween and I were at Half Price Books, as we do, when we realized that Mary had not read The Raven Boys. She started it, but didn’t finish. And to The Tween, those were fighting words.

So we began talking on Twitter about the books we DNFed for various reasons and the idea of a #SecondChanceChallenge came about.

It reminded me of my experience reading Jane Eyre in my early 20s. I was going through my pretentious “read all the classics” phase and started with Jane Eyre, which I DNFed. I set it half read in a drawer where it collected dust for a little over a year. Then one day I tried reading it again and had a totally different experience with the book, really loving it this time. I gave it a second chance and had a very different experience with it that second time.

This is what we’re going to do and we hope you’ll join us.

During the week of April 27th through May 1st, write a post or Tweet us using the hashtag #SecondChanceChallenge about a book you DNFed that you are willing to give a second try reading.

Anytime between May 1st through the 9th try reading it again. You can tweet updates using the tag #SecondChanceChallenge. It’s okay if you DNF it again, we just want to try giving books a second read. It’s an experiment.

Keep us updated the week of May 1st through the 9th and tell us how your #SecondChanceChallenge is going. Did you like it better this time? Did you DNF it again? You can tell us in a blog post or on Twitter/Tumblr, just use the hashtag so everyone can read about your experience.

It’s a grand experiment and we’ll hope you’ll join us.

April Post TLA #ARCParty

I spent last week gloriously submersed in the Texas Librarian Association conference. I met some great authors, had some great dinners, hung out with some great librarians, and learned things. I’ll share more of those things that I learned soon. But the first thing we did when we got back was try and organize the books that I brought back with me. I like to keep them organized by release month. But I also had picked up some goodies to send to Heather, Robin and Amanda. So last night The Tween, The Bestie and I had another #ARCParty and here’s what we had to say about all the goodies we brought home from TLA 2015.

Boom, Crash, The Sound of the Economy – featuring THE TRUTH ABOUT US by Janet Gurtler, THE HIT by Delilah S.Dawson and THE BULLIES OF WALL ST. by Sheila Bair

In 2008 the world changed as the economy went tumbling. They say we are in recovery now, though for the shrinking middle class it probably doesn’t feel that way. Reports indicate that poverty and hunger are rapidly growing concerns in the U.S., with 1 in 5 children now facing food insecurity and hunger. Although Robin and I have been talking about this issue for some time now along with some more progressive publications like Mother Jones and NPR, it’s finally starting to really hit the mainstream in more obvious ways as even corporations like Wal-Mart are highlighting the issue in recent advertising (see example ad below). You could argue that they are also trying to capitalize and profit off the issues in ways that to me sometimes feel opportunistic, especially since one of the main criticisms leveraged against this and other big box chains is that they fail to pay a livable wage to their employees, but there is something to be said about seeing a commercial on prime time television that honestly highlights this very real issue that many of our kids are facing. . This recent article about the Millvale community in Cincinnati highlights the extreme poverty many kids are facing and how dramatically it can impact their education success, which affects us all: “Cincinnati has a child poverty rate of 53.1 percent, second only to Detroit’s 59 percent child poverty rate, according to the 2012 American Community Survey. That means that, without help, every other child in this city doesn’t have enough to eat, clothes to wear or a place to live” (Sharon Coolidge and Liz Dafour). As mentioned in the article, lots of school and libraries, both public and school, are trying to find creative and alternative ways to meet their patrons most basic needs before trying to find out how to create first class makerspaces because they know that hungry kids don’t have the energy and the focus needed to successfully engage with a makerspace.

For some time now I have been reading YA lit and making a mental note of those titles that at least mention that for many of our tweens and teens economics is a very real issue. For me, it’s personal, affecting both my family and far too many of the families that I see coming into the public library day after day. Here are a few new titles that I recommend that deal with the issues in subtle and sometimes not so subtle ways.

In The Truth About Us by Janet Gurtler, we see the budding romance of two teens who come from very different worlds. Jess is rich, spoiled and privileged in ways she doesn’t recognize. But when she is caught in a scandalous situation, her father decides that she will spend her summer volunteering at a local shelter to open her eyes to just how easy she has it. Here she meets Flynn, a guy who quite literally lives on the wrong side of the tracks and often does work around the shelter so he feels like he is earning the free meals his family gets to help supplement his single mother’s barely there income. As Jess spends time at the shelter getting to know the people, you do begin to see some changes in her. But that’s not my favorite part.

My favorite part is the way the people at the shelter view Flynn. It’s no surprise that Jess and everyone in her life thinks she’s too good for Flynn, but I love that Flynn’s friends and family all think that he is too good for Jess. Because they know that being too good for someone is not about what side of the tracks you come from or how much money you have in the bank, but about whether or not you are a good, loyal, and trustworthy person. In their eyes, Flynn is one of the best people they know working hard, overcoming obstacles, and making personal sacrifices to help out his mother and little brother. Flynn is far too good for the initially spoiled and selfish Jess and I love how protective this shelter family is of him.

The Truth About Us will appeal to contemporary romance readers, but it also does a really good job of highlighting the truth about the various economic realities of the people we know but don’t always know well, the people we see every day but never really learn their stories. I also love that it doesn’t vilify or demonize any of the people in the shelter and it highlights the truth of many people like Flynn’s family who just need a little bit of extra help to make ends meet as they bust their butts in jobs that barely pay a livable wage. For every story you hear about someone milking the system, the truth is that most of the people needing some additional help are working hard in a system that seems designed to make sure they fail. The Truth About Us helps give those stories a voice.

The Hit by Delilah S. Dawson takes a fun house mirror to some of our current economic discussions and highlights what could happen in the most absurd ways if we don’t start to really question corporate influence on our political and economic systems. That is, after all, what a good dystopian novel does and this one is a fun ride with a twinge of truth that hits a little too painfully close to home.

Nobody read the fine print which is how Patsy is given a horrifying choice: Kill 10 people on a list supplied to her by Valor National Bank or die right then and there knowing that her mother is slowly and painfully dying of cancer because they can’t afford to get her the medical care they need. You see, the US is finally out of debt, but the cost is that the country has been bought and paid for by Valor National Bank. They are now collecting all our personal debt in the most extreme way imaginable: you can pay up immediately, become an assassin for the bank, or die. So Patsy sets out on a timed mission offering others the same deal she got.

During her first kill, she meets the son of the man she has killed and the two of them end up helping each other out. It’s a complicated relationship because she knows that the last person on her list is his brother, so trust is obviously an issue. But they also at times seem wildly attracted to each other. And each name on the list seems to have some type of personal connection to Patsy, because evil corporations are evil and it’s not enough that they have to make her a killer, but they have to make her kill people with names and faces that somehow relate back to her.

Underneath the thrilling layers of The Hit there is a lot of meaty discussion to be had about corporate influence over politics. There are also some good discussions about privilege and the various differences in socioeconomic classes. The various places Patsy goes to cross off a name on her list leads to some interesting discussions about various types of neighborhoods, the struggles of the people that live there, etc. It makes you seriously uncomfortable to read, sometimes hitting a little too close to home, but you can’t put it down. And Patsy fends off packs of would be rapists – twice – as she goes into areas where she faces desperate people trying to maintain any semblance of control over their lives that they can. Like I said, it’s an uncomfortable read at times, because it’s easy to see how given our current trajectory we could come to a bizarro world scenario like we find in The Hit and we are forced to ask ourselves what we would do to survive.

The Hit takes a few turns and there is going to be another book, which I am anxiously awaiting. Because the question is, will we just do what the corporations tell us or will we at some point take back control and insist that our government be once again by the people, for the people?

The Bullies of Wall Street is a nonfiction book on the financial crisis written by former FDIC chariman Sheila Bair. Seeing real life socioeconomic issues play out in YA literature is important and illuminating, but sometimes it is helpful to read some straight talk about important issues that are affecting us. The tagline really illuminates the Bair’s take on the situation: “This is how greedy adults messed up our economy.”  The Bullies of Wall St. pulls no punches and gives lots of statistical information to highlight the problems that we are still facing.  There is some specific discussion about the housing market and bank crisis and bail out. It ends with Bair discussing the growing national debt and how it will affect future generations. She then raises this challenge to us today: Be a good business person, be a good consumer, be a good parent, and be a good citizen.

Economics is a big, weighty subject with a lot of different opinions and theories. Bair’s The Bullies of Wall St. tries to apply those specifically to the economic crisis of 2008 and on in ways that make it easy for teen readers to understand. Bair does this in part by sharing stories of various teens. We meet Matt, who is forced to re-home his beloved dog Attila because they have to move into a smaller rental home and they can’t find one that will let them keep the dog. I related a lot to this story as we also lost a home and moved for a job. It was so hard leaving all my girls’ childhood memories behind, including the door jams where we had measured their growth in pencil marks. We also meet Anna, who has moved three times in three years. We meet Jorge whose father loses his job and they end up with over $12,00 worth of medical bills because his family lost their insurance when his dad lost his job. Each of these stories, and there are more, are used to highlight specific issues that happened in the “recession” of 2008 and explain a variety of economic theories, including supply and demand and the housing bubble. The way the stories are used to explain the concepts helps make it more readable and less dry, as I remember my high school economics class being.

The economic recovery is not over, despite what you may sometimes hear on the news. It’s important that we keep talking about it and I believe these books, and others like them, help us to do that.

More on Teens, Hunger and Poverty in our Teen Issues series:

See also Stacked: Socioeconomic Class in Contemporary YA Lit: Where Are The Poor Teens? Guest Post by Librarian Faythe Arrendondo and Kate Brauning: Writing Poverty in YA


Book Review: Things We Know by Heart by Jessi Kirby

When we meet Quinn, in Jessi Kirby’s Things We Know by Heart,  it has been 400 days since her boyfriend Trent was killed in an accident. In those 400 days, Quinn has been wallowing in her grief and wallowing HARD (and who can blame her?). She’s basically stopped doing everything she once enjoyed and doesn’t interact with anyone beyond her family. She keeps track of each day since Trent was killed as some kind of vigil, a testament to their love and to his memory. As she says at one point, she’s essentially an 18-year-old widow.


The only good thing to come out of Trent’s death was the fact that five people became recipients of his organs. Working through the right avenues, Trent’s family (including Quinn) can reach out to the recipients and vice versa. Quinn has heard back from and met four of the people, but the fifth one, the one who received his heart, is elusive. But it’s 2015 and no one can remain elusive long thanks to the internet. Quinn does some savvy researching and discovers that recipient #5 is a boy named Colton. Though she knows she shouldn’t, she goes off in search of him, not sure what she’ll do if she finds him. She meets him in a convoluted way—they are in the same coffee shop and Quinn panics and flees, leaving her purse behind, which he returns, and then gets into a minor car accident that he witnesses. Instead of revealing who she is and what she’s doing looking for him, she just gets to know him while keeping everything a secret—a plan that is sure to cause some waves.


It is, of course, predictable that Quinn and Colton will fall for each other. You can also guess that this is confusing for Quinn—is it because Colton has Trent’s heart? Does this somehow affect how Colton feels toward her? You can also guess that when the truth of their connection is finally revealed to Colton, he doesn’t love that she has been keeping all of this from him. BUT what moves this beyond simply being a predictable story about love, loss, and lies are the very real feelings Quinn goes through as she processes everything from the past 400 days and everything that is happening to her now. She is happy with Colton. He’s good for her, and she’s good for him. They really just kind of do the same things over and over and that’s all it takes for them to feel content and enjoy each other. They don’t have a particularly deep connection, mainly because of the amount of things both parties are holding back, but their attachment to each other grows in a realistic way, especially once the truth comes out.


Each chapter starts with a quote about hearts or transplants—some scientific, some poetic. The scientific ones help inform the readers about organ donation and how hearts function in the body. Readers might be tempted to skip over these precursors to the chapter but would be remiss in doing so. Though the story follows a completely predictable trajectory, the tension that comes from Quinn having this big secret is really what carries the story. This will be an easy one to move off the shelves–a romance that is as much about loss as it is about love. A moving look at how our lives go on even in the face of almost unthinkable tragedies and obstacles. 


ISBN-13: 9780062299437
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 4/21/2015

#tearyya: the books that made us cry (and a sneak peek at VIOLENT ENDS)

Yesterday I read an ARC of VIOLENT ENDS, and it made me cry. In a couple of places actually. That doesn’t happen as often as you would think it would. So that got me thinking, what books have made you actually cry? Several people shared their Teary YA Reads on Twitter with the hashtag #tearyya and I compiled them all here. You can add yours if you don’t see it listed in the comments.

About Violent Ends:

A novel with 17 authors, edited by Shaun David Hutchinson. The story centers on a 16-year-old school shooter, with each chapter set at a time around the shooting and told by characters who knew him, trying to answer one question: Why?

Coming in September from Simon Pulse. Definitely put this on your TBR list and add it to your library collections.

Some other books that deal with the topic of school shootings:

Hate List by Jennifer Brown

19 Minutes by Jodi Picoult

Give a Boy a Gun by Todd Strasser

Shooter by Walter Dean Myers

A Goodreads List