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5 Second Reviews by The Teen

The Teen keeps stealing ARCs from my TBR pile so I told her she had to review them, which works really well because I like knowing what actual teen readers have to say about teen books. However, this is the “review” she left me.

So obviously we have to work on writing better reviews. Though someone said on Twitter that post-it note reviews might be a cool thing, which I think The Teen would totally buy into. She said the book was well written but kind of scary and horror is not her thing. So if horror is your thing, she says you will probably like this.

About HOTEL RUBY by Suzanne Young

When Audrey Casella arrives for an unplanned stay at the grand Hotel Ruby, she’s grateful for the detour. Just months after their mother’s death, Audrey and her brother, Daniel, are on their way to live with their grandmother, dumped on the doorstep of a DNA-matched stranger because their father is drowning in his grief.

Audrey and her family only plan to stay the night, but life in the Ruby can be intoxicating, extending their stay as it provides endless distractions—including handsome guest Elias Lange, who sends Audrey’s pulse racing. However, the hotel proves to be as strange as it is beautiful. Nightly fancy affairs in the ballroom are invitation only, and Audrey seems to be the one guest who doesn’t have an invite. Instead, she joins the hotel staff on the rooftop, catching whispers about the hotel’s dark past.

The more Audrey learns about the new people she’s met, the more her curiosity grows. She’s torn in different directions—the pull of her past with its overwhelming loss, the promise of a future that holds little joy, and an in-between life in a place that is so much more than it seems…

Welcome to the Ruby.

Coming November 3rd from Simon Pulse. ISBN: 9781481423007

The Teen just finished reading this book and a boy that sits with her a lunch is now reading it because he said it sounded good and The Teen highly recommends it. If you read our earlier review of EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING than you know that her saying that this book even comes close is high praise indeed.

About THE ANATOMICAL SHAPE OF THE HEART by Jenn Bennett

Artist Beatrix Adams knows exactly how she’s spending the summer before her senior year. Determined to follow in Leonardo da Vinci’s footsteps, she’s ready to tackle the one thing that will give her an advantage in a museum-sponsored scholarship contest: drawing actual cadavers. But when she tries to sneak her way into the hospital’s Willed Body program and misses the last metro train home, she meets a boy who turns her summer plans upside down.

Jack is charming, wildly attractive . . . and possibly one of San Francisco’s most notorious graffiti artists. On midnight buses and city rooftops, Beatrix begins to see who Jack really is—and tries to uncover what he’s hiding that leaves him so wounded. But will these secrets come back to haunt him? Or will the skeletons in Beatrix’s own family’s closet tear them apart?

Coming November 3rd 2015 from Feiwel and Friends. ISBN: 9781250066459

These reviews are reviews of ARCs provided by the publisher

Book Review: Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez

out of darknessPublisher’s description:

“This is East Texas, and there’s lines. Lines you cross, lines you don’t cross. That clear?”

New London, Texas. 1937. Naomi Smith and Wash Fullerton know about the lines in East Texas as well as anyone. They know the signs that mark them. They know the people who enforce them. But there are some forces even the most determined color lines cannot resist. And sometimes all it takes is an explosion.

Ashley Hope Pérez takes the facts of the 1937 New London school explosion—the worst school disaster in American history—as a backdrop for a riveting novel about segregation, love, family, and the forces that destroy people.

 

Amanda’s thoughts:

Look, I know we’re all busy people. We read a ton of books. Our TBR lists are infinite scrolls and we’ll never even touch half of what we hope to read. But you need to figure out a way to find time to read this book as soon as possible. Don’t write it down on a list and then forget about it. Don’t bookmark this review as some reminder. Go RIGHT NOW and order this book from your library or favorite bookstore. Whatever else you’re reading can wait a day or two for you to read this instead. It’s that good. IT’S THAT GOOD, PEOPLE. 

 

The novel begins in media res (you know—in the middle of things). It’s March 18, 1937. Did you need some time to adjust to how completely emotionally obliterating this book will be? Too bad—welcome to page one, where we are faced with the rubble of a recently exploded school littered with bodies. No, check that—it manages to be worse than that: riddled with bits of bodies. Let’s make it worse: bits of children’s bodies. Sufficiently upset? Perez is just getting started.

 

We leave this heart-wrenching and gruesome scene to jump back to September 1936. Naomi and her twin siblings Beto and Cari are new to town, having recently been relocated from their San Antonio barrio to an oil-mining town by the twins’ father (and Naomi’s stepfather), Henry (their mother is dead). Naomi, who is Mexican, and her biracial siblings are instructed by Henry not to speak Spanish. The children seem to pass as white, but Naomi faces the town’s ugly racism. African-American Wash, the siblings’ one friend, is no stranger to racism either. The foursome quickly become friends, but keep their friendship secret, mainly getting together in wooded areas removed from the judging and gossiping of others. Wash is the one saving grace in Naomi’s fairly unhappy life. Her classmates are constantly whispering about her. The girls hate her because she’s pretty and the boys just want to get in her pants. She does make one girl friend, and a few of the neighbors are friendly, but even if she had a thousand friends, it wouldn’t erase what is happening at home. 

 

What’s happening at home, you ask? Some pretty horrific stuff. Naomi is essentially raising her siblings. She does all of the cleaning, cooking, and shopping (not easy when the stores don’t want to let in Negros, Mexicans, or dogs–the wording on the sign at the grocery store) while also attending high school. Naomi dislikes Henry (to put it mildly), that much we know, but the reasons why she hates him are slowly revealed. You might be able to guess what’s happening even with no context, but I’m not explicitly going to give you spoilers. Let’s just say it’s as bad as think…. multiplied by 100 more bads. Oh, and wait until you reach the end. Then it’s an infinite amount of bad. 

 

Wash and Naomi grow closer, after some initial misunderstandings, and eventually Naomi trusts him enough to start confiding in him. Wash makes a plan for them to run away, with the twins, to Mexico, where it seems at least a tiny bit possible that a Mexican girl and an African-American boy could start a life together. What they have now is one very passionate and intense relationship that can only take place in secret. But with so much against them, could they possibly pull off a future together? 

 

That question becomes simultaneously less and more important when the school explosion happens. Based on an actual event in history, the explosion leaves nearly 300 dead. Chaos and despair permeate the town, and the angry, grieving townspeople are desperate to find someone to blame. When Wash, who was present at the scene of the disaster, falls under suspicion, every single ugly thing that has been simmering in the novel gets turned up to 11. If this were a movie, I would have been watching it with my eyes mostly covered. Since it’s a book, I just settled for sobbing and repeatedly putting it down. As you’re reading this book, go ahead and keep this question in the back of your mind: “What is the worst possible way all of this could end?” Then make it worse. And then make it so much worse you kind of feel sick that your brain could come up with such scenes. Now you’re almost there. IT’S THAT BAD, PEOPLE. 

 

Have I convinced you yet to read it?

 

Perez’s story is nothing short of brilliant. The writing is tight, the tension manages to constantly increase, and the characters are exceptionally well-rendered. Was this book hard to read? Yes. Should that scare you away? No. Recommend this one widely to teens who like doomed love stories, historical fiction, diversity, or books where terrible things happen to people. Profoundly moving and richly imagined, this is a story that you won’t soon forget. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781467742023

Publisher: Carolrhoda Lab/Lerner Publishing Group

Publication date: 09/01/2015

Middle Grade Monday: There’s always next year: Things I’ve learned coordinating middle school volunteers (a guest post)

Tween-Volunteer-Page-1024x768Our library has two different volunteer programs that I have run for two years now. One is offered for two hours a week, five week sessions, four times during the school year; four weeks of work, the last week is an appreciation party. Registration is maxed at ten. They gather as a group, and act as our middle school advisory board. Then they splinter off to complete assigned tasks. The summer volunteer program is a different animal. In previous years the library has limited to the first ten kids to sign up. I tripled the registration limit to accommodate the needs of our community. Both years had close to 30 middle schoolers interested helping out in the library. I tweaked it to fit the needs of the community as well as myself. It’s been a crazy evolving experience, with still more to edit. If you are thinking of incorporating middle school volunteers at your library, you might learn from my two years of progress.

Orientation:

I had this brilliant idea where I would get all (most) of the prospective volunteers for a group training. The first year included a tour around to find out where everything was and where to use it. I had to do multiple “make up orientations”. This summer, I made a really cool and detailed PowerPoint. I had one make up orientation. Both years included me having to give personal one-on-one reminder sessions with nearly every volunteer – at least once.

Next year: Giving up on the orientation altogether. It takes time to coordinate just for them to forget everything I told them.

Scheduling:

My first summer of volunteers, I had kids come in whenever they could, and trying to reach a minimum amount of time over the summer. Unfortunately, what happened was we had 15 kids coming at the same time each day for the first week, and virtually no one at the end of the summer. While the distribution of summer prep is more in demand in the beginning, we had no way of organizing volunteer duties for the rush, and needed more help wrapping up. The following summer, this summer, I had a new plan. I had created a document asking for volunteer availability. That way, I could not only control the flow of volunteers, but know exactly when the next one was coming. This worked to an extent, but I still scheduled more volunteers than we had work for.

Next year: I will be scheduling each volunteer for one hour shifts rather than two, once a week, and only one month for each volunteer.

Coordinating:

Volunteer duties were a little sloppy the first year. The volunteers had a list next to their sign-in sheet with duties that they needed to check every day when they came in, but with so many kids coming in at once, the list wasn’t really effective. I also naively assumed that staff members would be eager for extra help and come up with duties on the fly. It did not work out very well. The second year, I made a Google Sheet accessible to all youth staff members. Staff members were asked to list duties for volunteers to complete for them as well as an explanation of the job, where the necessary supplies would be found, and when the job needed to be completed. Volunteers were coordinated by me. On days that I was not there (vacation), there was an assigned person in charge. Things went more smoothly, but after hearing feedback from fellow staff members, I know it still needs work.

Next year: I’m still on the fence about it, but I’m debating if I shouldn’t schedule volunteers on days that I know I won’t be in the library.

Rewards:

When I first inherited the volunteer program, the kids got to graze on candy while in the advisory board portion of the meeting. There were only asked to come in for 4 weeks. There was no appreciation party. There has always been an appreciation party for summer volunteers, but had smaller attendance due to the registration cap. In the summer of 2014, because volunteers were able to make their own schedule, I added a volunteering minimum to attend the party. Very few kids made the minimum of ten hours in two months. This minimum was removed this summer. Anyone who volunteered at all this summer was invited to the appreciation party. We had a higher attendance of kids throughout the summer and at the party.

Next year: I’m not changing much about the party aspect next summer. I think anyone who helps is welcome to come to the party.

It is important to acknowledge the fluidity of the middle school volunteer program. As time passes, the needs of this age group and the community may change slightly, and you will need to meet their needs. Don’t get too attached to any idea, or you may not notice when it stops working.

While sometimes it can be trying, seeing the friendships build between kids that need this social outlet is uplifting and beyond worth it.

Meet Our Guest Blogger:

christineChristina Keasler is the Middle School Librarian at Glen Ellyn Public Library. When she’s not making edible R2D2s with middle schoolers at the library, she’s out picnicking with her husband and toddler, eluding her cats with a laser pointer, or at the drive in seeing some cool movie probably about dinosaurs.

The #MHYALit Discussion Hub – Mental Health in Young Adult Literature

MHYALitlogoofficfialAfter our first year of the #SVYALit Project, we decided that we at TLT liked the way the format worked and wanted to use it to discuss other topics of relevance to the life of teens. One of the ideas we discussed was using the format to discuss mental health issues in the life of teens and in YA literature, but I was not yet quite ready to delve more deeply into that topic because I was not yet ready to admit my own personal struggles with depression and anxiety. Earlier this year I did in fact share my personal story, which seemed to be the last stumbling point in TLT embracing the #SVYALit format to move forward in discussing mental health. So today we are excited to announce that in addition to #SVYALit and #FSYALit, in 2016 we will be using this same format to more fully discuss both poverty and mental health in the life of teens. Thus, we are excited to put out a call for guest posters for the #MHYALit Discussion (Mental Health in YA Literature).

1 in 5 teens will be diagnosed with some type of mental health issue. In addition, many other teens will be affected by mental health issues in the family as their parents, siblings, and friends struggle with mental health issues. During 2016 TLT would like to really use YA literature to discuss mental health issues in the life of teens. And we need your help. If you would like to write a guest post or share a book list, please contact me at kjensenmls at yahoo dot com. We will be talking throughout 2016, but we would really like to have a good array of posts to launch in early 2016. Amanda MacGregor and Ally Watkins will be helping to organize and coordinate this discussion.

There are lots of important conversations happening right now in many ways about mental health issues. Lots of people are being brave and sharing their personal struggles. Lots of great teen advocates, librarians, authors, and other professionals are engaging in these important conversations and we recommend reading and engaging in as many of them as possible. It’s a huge issue in the life of teens. We are not qualified experts in this discussion, though many of us at TLT have struggled with mental health issues in a variety of ways. And we have of course worked with many teens who have shared their personal stories and struggles with us; this has impacted our understanding of the issues and made us more cognizant to how important this topic is. We hope you’ll join us in reading and writing about this topic.

Project Goals:

  • To facilitate a discussion about the ways various mental health issues are presented and discussed in YA literature.
  • To examine specific titles and create lists of titles that those wanting to look for titles with diverse representations of various mental health issues can add to their collections or buy for the teens in their lives.
  • To include a wide variety of voices on the topic of mental health issues in the life of teens.

Some Basic Information

According to the NCCP, approximately 20% of adolescents have a diagnosed mental health issue. Most mental health disorders begin to present in the adolescent years. Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death among adolescents. According to NAMI, 50% of children who present with a mental illness will drop out of school.

In addition, a variety of teens are living in houses where they are being raised by a parent who suffers from some type of mental health issue. Approximately 1 in 4 adults in the U.S. suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder. These are the parents, grandparents, and love ones of many of our teens.

Mental health issues are an important issue for teens. Reading stories about characters with mental health disorders can help teens understand their parents, their friends, or their selves. It can give them hope. It can affirm and validate their experiences. Below are links to several lists of YA titles that deal with mental health issues in some way.

Posts:

A Variety of YA Lit Book Lists

  • Stephanie Khuen: YA Highway
    Kuehn presents a very comprehensive reading list of YA lit titles broken down by various subjects and issues including anxiety disorders, eating disorders, bipolar disorders, thought disorders and impulse control. The list isn’t annotated, but it does link back to the Goodreads page for a description and publisher information.
  • Adventures of Lit Girl
    This page presents a list of mostly YA titles, there are a few adult titles, broken down by various issues. Only covers are presented, you have to click through to the Goodreads page to get the book description and publisher information.
  • We’re All Mad Here: Mental Illness in YA Fiction
    Bitch Magazine discusses some of the issues in titles in a brief article.
  • Can Teen Fiction Explain Mental Illness to My Daughter?
    The Guardian presents a good article about teens navigating personal and family mental illness and discusses how YA fiction can help teens in these situations.
  • Reach Out Reads
    In 2011, Inspire USA released a short list of titles called Reach Out Reads. These titles deal with a variety of mental health topics including bullying in schizophrenia. There is only one title for each topic.

For Statistics, Facts and Resources, Check Out These Resources

We need your help building our resource guide! Have a book list or blog post you want to see included? Please email us a link at kjensenmls at yahoo dot com. Although we will be taking guest posts all throughout 2016, if you know you would like to participate in the launch in early 2016, please email me by the end of September. We will be continuing our discussions on #SVYALit, #FSYALit, #Poverty and #MHYALit throughout all of 2016. Thank you for your help in discussing this important issues in the life of teens.

“Librarians are how libraries speak.” ~ The Bloggess

sundayreflectionsI’ve had a deep, abiding love for the writing of Jenny Lawson, aka The Bloggess, ever since she introduced the world to Beyonce, the giant metal chicken, and now it turns out she loves me too. And you. And you.  (It’s a few weeks old, but read it now if you haven’t yet.)

Makes your heart swell up, doesn’t it? See how my heart is so swollen up that it’s leaking out of my eyes? Yep.

We cheer the articles lauding the importance of libraries, and we scoff at those marveling at the discovery that librarians don’t all wear buns, and some prefer coding to card catalogs. But to read one like Jenny’s, where it becomes clear that it wasn’t just the library, but the librarians inside it, that made a difference, and to know that we’re still doing the work that makes that quietly dramatic change for our young patrons? Well, I take a different kind of joy in sharing that with my Facebook friends. It’s a sigh of relief that all of this that we do day after day? This matters.

As writing is the craft of the author, reader’s advisory is the craft of the librarian. Authors send their books out into the void, we catch them in and bring them back, and point them home.  The Bloggess is right:

 Librarians are how libraries speak.

We are not just the collectors and caretakers of our materials. We are the voice of the books we have on our shelves, speaking to potential readers when the books themselves can’t. When the books are quiet, or by first time authors, or just different enough that they’re not fitting tidily into the easily marketable genres, we are the voice of those books.

But librarians are the voice of more than what is on our shelves. As R. David Lankes says in this emotional call to action, (which I highly recommend everyone spend 20 minutes on this morning) The Community is Your Collection,

We have the amazing vocation of improving the societies that we are a part of. We are the stewards of our community’s aspirations and goals.”

The people we serve are the most important piece of our collection. How can we be their voice? We are the ears, the heart, the muscle, and the voice of our services, our space and our resources. We are these things not for the sake of what’s inside the building itself, but for the transformative power that they hold when connected correctly with the right people at the right time in the right way with the right support. We are the conduits and the catalysts. A library changed Jenny Lawson’s life when a librarian put those books in her hand, but not because the books were there. It was because the librarian was there, was listening, was able to make that connection, and do it in such a way that made a difference.

Where else in our community can we be?

What other magical connections can we make?

Whose voice will you be?

Friday Finds – August 28, 2015

fridayfindsThis Week at TLT

Sunday Reflections: Today, I am Pooh Bear (reflections on depression in the life of tweens and teens part 2)

Middle Grade Monday Book Review – School for Sidekicks by Kelly McCullough

Book Review: Bright Lights, Dark Nights by Stephen Emond

August #ARCParty

All the Dragons in the World – The Depiction of Sexual Abuse Exposure and Escape in YA Literature (a guest post by author Ash Parsons)

Review from This Month’s School Library Journal: Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans by Don Brown

Reflections of Reality: Foster Teens and Orphans in Young Adult Science Fiction, a guest post by Kerry Sutherland

Around the Web

Sigh…at least it’s just a vocal minority.

Teen angst icon becomes Countess.

15 Facts about Lego, from Mental Floss.

Library Takeover!

A breakdown of this year’s Hugo Awards kerfuffle.

 

Book Review: Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

everythingeverythingI loved this book, it is indeed everything, everything! But even more telling is The Teen’s reaction to this book. She finished reading it yesterday and then immediately started reading it again. She left for school today carrying the book in her hand. She used words like “perfect”, “amazing”, and “beautiful” to describe Everything, Everything, in a really loud and enthusiastically high pitched voice. When I suggested that she loan the ARC to The Bestie to read she said, and I quote, “But I want to keep just reading it over and over again. When the book comes out I’m going to buy all the copies and carry it with me everywhere.” So, obviously, we are giving it a rave review.

Publisher’s Book Description:

This innovative, heartfelt debut novel tells the story of a girl who’s literally allergic to the outside world. When a new family moves in next door, she begins a complicated romance that challenges everything she’s ever known. The narrative unfolds via vignettes, diary entries, texts, charts, lists, illustrations, and more.

My disease is as rare as it is famous. Basically, I’m allergic to the world. I don’t leave my house, have not left my house in seventeen years. The only people I ever see are my mom and my nurse, Carla.

But then one day, a moving truck arrives next door. I look out my window, and I see him. He’s tall, lean and wearing all black—black T-shirt, black jeans, black sneakers, and a black knit cap that covers his hair completely. He catches me looking and stares at me. I stare right back. His name is Olly.

Maybe we can’t predict the future, but we can predict some things. For example, I am certainly going to fall in love with Olly. It’s almost certainly going to be a disaster.

Karen’s Thoughts:

This is a beautiful and beautifully written love story. This is also one of the few books that took a dramatic turn that I did not suspect and was stunned by. It was, quite simply, perfection. The characterizations were spot on and compelling, even Maddy who has this rare disease that most of us could in no way relate is in fact completely relateable and has a compelling teen voice. She has all the normal yearnings and desires and self doubt that a typical teenager has. She is trapped inside the seemingly perfect microcosm and yet even she can not escape the trials and tribulation of life, reminding us all that no matter how perfect we try to make our world and how much we try and control our lives and environment, there is a chaos that comes crashing in irregardless; life is, without a doubt, something beyond our control, practically imperfect and yet glorious all the same.

And then there is Olly. Olly is dark, mysterious and tormented. He is broken, yet kind and loving. If there is any flaw, it may be that Olly is an idealized romantic hero, the perfect boyfriend that so many of us want. Though he is, of course, in no way perfect.

The scenes between Maddy and Olly both sizzle and swoon. Many of them take place through email or over instant messages, but they perfectly capture those first few does he like me the way I like him doubts and insecurities that happen in the beginning stages of a relationship. They are gloriously awkward and tantalizingly full of promise.

Maddy also has a long-term care nurse who is devoted to her care and full of wisdom. She plays a crucial part near the end of the story.

I can’t tell you about the twists and turns that this story takes and how what appears to be a simple yet beautiful love story because something more moving and profound, I will just beg you to read it and take this emotionally compelling journey of love and self discovery with me. It is glorious and profound and moving.

EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING by Nicola Yoon comes out September 1st from Delacorte Books for Young Readers. ISBN: 9780553496642

I picked up an ARC at TLA earlier this year which is the source for this review.

Reflections of Reality: Foster Teens and Orphans in Young Adult Science Fiction, a guest post by Kerry Sutherland

In 2013, there were 510,000 American children in foster care. 40% of foster children are between the ages of 13 and 21 years old. 9% of foster care teens will age out of the foster care system and are more likely to experience homelessness. You can find more Foster Care Statitics and follow a link to find your state statistics here. See also the Child Welfare Information Gateway. I have often felt that foster teens were very under-represented in YA literature. If you expand the definition to include teens who are being raised by relatives or family friends, like grandparents for example, than what I see happening in my local communities is not being reflected in YA literature at all. Today guest poster and librarian Kerry Sutherland discusses foster care in YA science fiction.

As a science fiction fan, I don’t usually seek out realistic fiction for pleasure reading. As a School Library Journal reviewer, I often receive realistic fiction to review, and my work on the In the Margins Book Award and Selection Committee revolves almost entirely on realistic stories that would appeal to young people in marginalized situations, so most of what I read that is contemporary and true-to-life comes from these two sources. A big part of adolescent development revolves around learning that the world doesn’t revolve around “me,” and that the “others” around us need our attention, concern, and empathy, so as I have been reading the many disturbing stories (some nonfiction) for my In the Margins work over the past year and a half, I began to wonder how young adult readers with my reading preferences might connect to these “others” if the situations in the stories they read are fantastic and outrageous. This question lurked in the back of my mind during my recreational reading, and I noticed that authors of some recent young adult science fiction not only include orphaned or foster teen characters but they integrate those characters’ vulnerability into the plot itself, so readers can’t help but make the connection between the characters’ orphaned or foster care status and the difficulties they face, even though the storylines themselves are spectacularly and entertainingly unrealistic. A line from the title story in one of my favorite short story collections of the past year, Jean Thompson’s The Witch, jumped out at me as I was thinking on this: “There is no greater powerlessness than being a child.” These three books absolutely enforce that sad reality, and in doing so, show many teen readers an alternate reality they might not otherwise understand or even care about: a reality where young people are without supervision, without care, and as such, vulnerable to exploitation for adult gain.

tabularasaUsing vulnerable children is the focus of medical researchers in Kristen Lippert-Martin’s Tabula Rasa, where inmates of juvenile detention centers, most of whom are wards of the state and without an adult who has an emotional interest in them, are targets for experiments that involve erasing their memories. Not surprisingly, most of these kids “jumped at the chance” to participate in these experiments, knowing that the opportunity might be their only hope to have a future as an adult without their painful pasts as emotional baggage. How many of these children, like so many in reality, are in custody for no other reason than their status as orphans or foster children who have acted out their frustration, depression, and confusion in attempts to take control over their lives? A nurse at the research facility tells Sarah, the main character, that she is “a girl with a violent past, a bad attitude, and no future. Just like the rest of them.” What little she knows of Sarah, who has, at this point, difficulty with her memory, is what the authorities have told her, and her last statement is very telling of her general judgment of all her teenage patients who have been culled from detention. No future – so the present treatment of these neglected children is of no consequence, as they have no value except as experimental material. Hopeless and expendable, and as Sarah discovers of the woman who killed her mother and now targets Sarah: “I am a thing to her. Nothing more.”

vaultofdreamersThe disturbing experimentation in Caragh O’Brien’s The Vault of Dreamers involves indigent children as well, who are mined of their dreams which are then sold to the rich for their entertainment. Students at a high school for the arts promoted as a reality television show are monitored, without their knowledge or consent, for seeds of dreams that expand in the brains of a group of comatose children who belong to no one and are kept locked away, alive in a dream state, cared for physically by those who only do so in order to use them. How different is this than the fate of the main character Ruby’s love interest, Linus, who donates blood on a monthly basis to pay his rent? Linus chooses to donate in an effort to save his friend Otis’s partner, Parker, who has Alzheimer’s Disease, but the doctor at the school infirmary insists that Linus doesn’t “have to let them tap you. I can’t see that it’s making any difference for him. I’ve told Otis that many times.” Linus is seventeen now, and nearly an adult who can make such a decision on his own, but his donations started when he was thirteen, just after running away from foster care, when “nobody looked too hard for me when I cut out on my own.” An orphan, he had nowhere to go, and fell prey first to a photographer looking for a swimsuit model and then to Otis, who may mean well and treat Linus kindly, but by the time Ruby meets Linus, the balance of power is becoming more level and the vampiric nature of the relationship is coming to light. As an orphan and then a forgotten foster child, Linus was an easy target for Otis, who finds nothing wrong with trading parental concern for blood, and a young Linus was willing to take a chance, because really, how many choices did he have at the time?

bzrkTaking chances is what Billy the Kid in one of my favorite series, Michael Grant’s BZRK, is all about. Billy the Kid, as he calls himself, enjoys the freedom that his disinterested foster parent allows, as he comes and goes as he pleases and spends enough time gaming online that his scores, posted in a forum, draw the attention of the insane and anonymous leader of the guerrilla group BZRK. Billy uses this opportunity to throw himself into the exciting and adventurous life BZRK offers. At thirteen years old, he takes ridiculous chances with his life with the encouragement of his compatriots (which include other teens) who do the same, and ultimately, this “scrawny mixed-race kid” ends up nearly decapitated in the name of the cause, his life a sacrifice in the harsh reality of battle. Ignored and then used, Billy, who refers to himself online as “unconnected, sick of where he was, looking for . . . well, looking” finds a home and a purpose, losing his life in his quest to fit into a group led by someone who looks at the participants, including this thirteen year old child, as expendable weapons in her fight. Does he make friends? Does he feel accepted? Absolutely. He is mourned and missed by his partners, but this, of course, doesn’t compensate for a young life lost. Without parents who care for him, he makes choices that lead to his death, choices no thirteen year old should be expected to make. Throwing one’s self into the line of fire for any reason is clearly a decision meant for an adult mind, but Billy chooses the purpose and excitement this real-life game offers, along with the companionship of others who are misfits for a variety of reasons, brought together for a cause that is greater than their leader’s – acceptance.

The teen characters in these three science fiction thrillers may be sad mirrors of the ugly truth that foster care is a broken system, but their stories also offer hope in the form of teen and adult allies who help the teens take control of their lives and insist on respect from their peers and adults, as well as assert their right to personal dignity, regardless of the outcome. For readers in custodial situations, the concept is empowering; for readers fortunate enough to appreciate a family of their own, these characters shed light on the emotional lives of peers who otherwise may go unnoticed. Empathy for fictional characters may lead to connections to real children in need of a friend who is open to understanding, an advocate who will not judge them or their situation, a teen like themselves who will accept them as an individual regardless of their home (or lack thereof) situation. Sometimes it just takes one person to reach out and make a difference in someone’s life, and I am hopeful that with the influence of young adult fiction that honestly represents the emotional difficulties and vulnerabilities of orphaned and foster children, the young adult reader of even the most unrealistic of fiction may be the someone who makes that difference.

Meet Our Guest Blogger, Kerry Sutherland

I am the teen librarian at the Ellet Branch of the Akron-Summit County Public Library in Akron, Ohio, and have a PhD in American literature from Kent State University, along with a MLIS from the same. I am a book reviewer for School Library Journal and RT Book Reviews magazine, as well as a published author of fiction, poetry, professional and academic work. I love cats, Henry James, NASCAR, and anime. I read everything, because you only live once.

About the Books

Publisher’s Description for TABULA RASA

The Bourne Identity meets Divergent in this heart-pounding debut.

Sixteen-year-old Sarah has a rare chance at a new life. Or so the doctors tell her. She’s been undergoing a cutting-edge procedure that will render her a tabula rasa—a blank slate. Memory by memory her troubled past is being taken away.

But when her final surgery is interrupted and a team of elite soldiers invades the isolated hospital under cover of a massive blizzard, her fresh start could be her end.

Navigating familiar halls that have become a dangerous maze with the help of a teen computer hacker who’s trying to bring the hospital down for his own reasons, Sarah starts to piece together who she is and why someone would want her erased. And she won’t be silenced again.

A high-stakes thriller featuring a non-stop race for survival and a smart heroine who will risk everything, Tabula Rasa is, in short, unforgettable. (Egmont)

Publisher’s Description for THE VAULT OF DREAMERS:

From the author of the Birthmarked trilogy comes a fast-paced, psychologically thrilling novel about what happens when your dreams are not your own.

The Forge School is the most prestigious arts school in the country. The secret to its success:  every moment of the students’ lives is televised as part of the insanely popular Forge Show, and the students’ schedule includes twelve hours of induced sleep meant to enhance creativity. But when first year student Rosie Sinclair skips her sleeping pill, she discovers there is something off about Forge. In fact, she suspects that there are sinister things going on deep below the reaches of the cameras in the school. What’s worse is, she starts to notice that the edges of her consciousness do not feel quite right. And soon, she unearths the ghastly secret that the Forge School is hiding—and what it truly means to dream there. (Roaring Brook Press)

Publisher’s Description for BZRK:

Love The Hunger Games?  Action-adventure thrillers with a dystopian twist? BZRK (Berserk) by Michael Grant, New York Times best-selling author of the GONE series, ramps up the action and suspense to a whole new level of excitement.

Set in the near future, BZRK is the story of a war for control of the human mind.  Charles and Benjamin Armstrong, conjoined twins and owners of the Armstrong Fancy Gifts Corporation, have a goal:  to turn the world into their vision of utopia.  No wars, no conflict, no hunger.  And no free will.  Opposing them is a guerrilla group of teens, code name BZRK, who are fighting to protect the right to be messed up, to be human.  This is no ordinary war, though.  Weapons are deployed on the nano-level. The battleground is the human brain.  And there are no stalemates here:  It’s victory . . . or madness.

BZRK unfolds with hurricane force around core themes of conspiracy and mystery, insanity and changing realities, engagement and empowerment, and the larger impact of personal choice. Which side would you choose?  How far would you go to win? (Egmont)

 

Review from This Month’s School Library Journal: Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans by Don Brown

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 August 2015 issue of School Library Journal.

 

drowned cityBROWN, Don. Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans. illus. by Don Brown. 96p. bibliog. ebook available. notes. HMH. Aug. 2015. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780544157774.
Gr 7 Up–A murky watercolor storm spreads across pages, darkening and becoming more ominous as it builds in Brown’s deeply affecting look at Hurricane Katrina. Dynamic sketches capture shocking scenes, such as residents fleeing down claustrophobic highways as the 400-mile-wide storm looms in a nearly completely dark spread. Brown depicts broken levees, flooded homes, and inhabitants scrabbling to not drown in their attics. A stunningly powerful spread shows water everywhere and two lone people trapped on a roof. The images demonstrate the utter devastation and despair while the at times spare text powerfully reveals the voices of the victims. The many failures of President Bush, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Mayor Ray Nagin, and others are repeatedly noted, as is the heroism of various organizations and ordinary people. Brown walks readers through the ghastly conditions at the Superdome, the horrors of hospitals with no electricity, and the nightmarish reality of dead bodies everywhere. The story becomes grimmer at every turn: ineffectual police and rescue efforts, looting, the lack of housing for rescued victims, and 5,000 missing children. The muted watercolors effectively capture the squalid and treacherous conditions of every inch of New Orleans. The final pages show the rebuilding efforts but note the lasting effects of vastly decreased populations.

VERDICT This astonishingly powerful look at one of America’s worst disasters is a masterful blend of story and art and a required purchase for all libraries.–Amanda MacGregor, Great River Regional Library, St. Cloud, MN

 

All the Dragons in the World – The Depiction of Sexual Abuse Exposure and Escape in YA Literature (a guest post by author Ash Parsons)

Today as part of the #SVYALit Project (Sexual Violence in Young Adult Literature), we are honored to host author Ash Parsons. You can find all the #SVYALit Project posts here.

stillwatersThere are many beloved, necessary novels in YA literature which deal with characters experiencing and exposing or otherwise escaping abuse (sexual and other). These books are valuable. These books are beloved for a reason. My issue is not with these books, but with the sense that they are often perceived as depicting the proper “way” which survivors of abuse should act to “save themselves.” The exposure-and-escape narrative is so prevalent that it can sometimes feel like other stories about abuse, stories which depict the consequences of action or inaction, or the manifold ways which abuse is experienced or endured, are somehow less valid or are “wrong.” This is a subtle, poisonous pressure which the heroic narrative (and by extension, our society) places on survivors. Our culture’s emphasis on competition, on winners and losers, on victory, places every encounter in a win/lose, triumph-over-adversity binary. In other words, if you don’t fight, you can’t win. Or worse, if you don’t fight, you somehow are to blame.

It’s understandable that readers and writers often want and need to tell stories of escape and triumph over abusers, but there are many other stories that need to be told. When you study national statistics and spend even a little time with survivors of abuse, hidden stories emerge over and over. While it is impossible to tell with absolute certainty, statistics indicate that far more abuse remains hidden than ever gets exposed.*

When I wrote Still Waters I wanted to show that exposure is sometimes the wrong course of action. Or at least I wanted to show how a character could perceive that speaking out could be the wrong course. I wanted to write characters that felt trapped not because they lacked courage, insight, or resources, but because – actually – they had made an informed decision using the knowledge at hand and had determined their best course was to outlast the abuse, instead of speaking out about it.

I hate the implication, even the language, which we use to speak of abuse – “fight” “speak out” “take action” “come forward” – the language itself is oppressive to survivors who through whatever circumstance or choice– do not speak out. In the hero’s narrative, we like to think in oppositional terms – the hero faces the dragon, and the dragon is slain.

But the dragon can devour. Or there might be more than one dragon, all breathing fire. Or the hero may spend a season in the dragon’s grasp and then escape. There are countless different narratives which may happen, all different stories beyond slaying the dragon.

In no way do I mean to imply that fighting isn’t a good thing, just that there is a skewed emphasis on fighting in our stories. That it is cast as the “right” action because of cathartic release -we want our characters to fight and to win.

But that’s not always the way it works out in life. One of the reasons I wrote this book is because I wanted to have both the physical abuse of Jason and sexual abuse of Cyndra to be part of the tapestry of another story. A different story- what I mean is, the story isn’t “how I escaped abuse.” While their home situation absolutely helps form the pixelated picture of where they are and why they are there, it’s not the primary focus of the plot.

I used to teach in a rural 7th-12th grade school. After that, I became a foster parent. Through both of these experiences I was reminded how much young people can hide, and how frequently they are highly motivated to do so. Often young people’s decisions to hide awful injustices is due to a clear-eyed understanding of “what would happen next.”

In foster parent classes we learned that the number one reason for case referrals was parental abandonment. The second was neglect. Sexual abuse was near the bottom of the list because it is so often hidden successfully by the abused. Not in collusion with their abuser, but in desperation – because the devil you know is better than the fire of the unknown, or worse, all the horrible stories that you also know. Normalization of abuse is both a misapprehension and a coping mechanism. Survivors often do not realize the true extent of their abuse (in other words, that it isn’t “normal”). This is because telling themselves that it “isn’t that bad” is a coping mechanism as well as a lesson which may have been ingrained through their family culture or their community at large.

I wanted to write a story where a character, Cyndra, experienced sexual abuse and didn’t “do anything” about it. I didn’t want to make it the purpose of the story for either character (Cyndra or Jason) to “triumph” over their abuser, or for them to even try. I wanted to write Cyndra not to accept, but to endure, and to triumph (if we simply must bow to the heroic language) through her resilience. Through writing this character, I also wanted to reflect the reality for all too many young people. Statistical analysis indicates that sexual violence and abuse go unreported the vast majority of the time, often because the survivor has compelling reasons to keep the abuse hidden. This is a truth lived daily by many adolescents, which I wanted to reflect in my work.

Sometimes dragons are endured.

*Hidden Fires -Looking at Statistics on Incident Reporting:

The Children’s Bureau (an Office of Administration for Children and Families – which is part of the larger US Department of Health and Human Services) – puts out an annual report, Child Maltreatment: National Data About Child Abuse and Neglect Known to CPS Agencies. 2013 is the most recent published year. According to this report, child protective service referrals nationally are statistically divided as follows:

“Four-fifths (79.5%) of victims were neglected, 18.0 percent were physically abused, and 9.0 percent were sexually abused. In addition, 10.0 percent of victims experienced such “other” types of maltreatment as “threatened abuse,” “parent’s drug/alcohol abuse,” or “safe relinquishment of a newborn.” States may code any maltreatment as “other” if it does not fit in one of the NCANDS categories.”     (http://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/cb/cm2013.pdf#page=20 )

The aggregated national data largely reflects what I learned in foster parent classes – abandonment/neglect is the number one reason for CPS referral, by a staggeringly large margin. Sexual abuse is way, way down the list, actually below “other” as a category of referral.

Now let’s take that knowledge, that data, and hold it in mind next to some other data. According to statistics reported by RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) “Sexual assault is one of the most under reported crimes, with 68% still being left unreported.1”   (https://www.rainn.org/get-information/statistics/reporting-rates )

And according to the FBI, “child sex abuse is at epidemic levels where tens of thousands of children are believed to be sexually exploited in the country each year. “The level of paedophilia is unprecedented right now,” Joseph Campbell of the FBI told the BBC.” (Time Magazine – linkhttp://time.com/3978236/american-children-sold-sex/)

Last but not least, the findings of a study published in the British Medical Journal Lancet, “Children in highly developed countries suffer abuse and neglect much more often than is reported by official child-protective agencies, according to the findings of the first in a comprehensive series of reports on child maltreatment”

“The official statistics agencies produce are conservative estimates of probably the lowest level of child maltreatment,” says Dr. Cathy Spatz Widom, a psychology professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, who specializes in the long-term effects of child abuse and is a lead author on one of the Lancet studies.”     (– Time Magazine -http://content.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1863650,00.html)

You can see what I’m getting at here. The first statistic, the percentage of cases which are referred to DHR, coupled with the last one, shows you the hidden story. By and large, sexual abuse is not reported, neither by the survivor, nor by anyone who may come into contact with the survivor.

Furthermore, as regards sexual abuse, “a 2000 study found that family members account for 34 percent of people who abuse juveniles, and acquaintances account for another 59 percent. Only 7 percent were strangers.” ( http://www.newsweek.com/2015/07/03/hunt-child-sex-abusers-happening-wrong-places-345926.html )

There is sadly ample reason to believe that the sexual abuse of children and youth is hidden epidemic. As much as we like to hear the heroic narrative of exposure and escape, it is simply not the case for the majority of survivors.

About STILL WATERS by Ash Parsons

A gritty, powerful debut that evokes The Outsiders. You won’t be able to look away.

High school senior Jason knows how to take a punch. Living with an abusive father will teach a kid that. But he’s also learned how to hit back, earning a reputation at school that ensures no one will mess with him. Even so, all Jason truly wants is to survive his father long enough to turn eighteen, take his younger sister, Janie, and run away.

Then one day, the leader of the in crowd at school, Michael, offers to pay Jason to hang out with him. Jason figures Michael simply wants to be seen with someone with a tough rep and that the money will add up fast, making Jason’s escape plan a reality. Plus, there’s Michael’s girl, Cyndra, who looks at Jason as if she sees something behind his false smile. As Jason gets drawn deeper into Michael’s game, the money keeps flowing, but the stakes grow ever more dangerous. Soon, even Jason’s fists and his ability to think on his feet aren’t enough to keep his head above water.

Still Waters is an intense, gritty thriller that pulls no punches—yet leaves you rooting for the tough guy. A powerful, dynamic debut. (Publisher’s Book Description)

Published April 2015 by Philomel Book. ISBN: 9780399168475

ashparsonsMeet Ash Parsons

Ash Parsons has been involved in Child and Youth Advocacy since college. Recently she taught English to middle- and high-school students in rural Alabama. Watching some of her students face seemingly impossible problems helped inspire her first novel, Still Waters. Additionally she has taught creative writing for Troy University’s ACCESS program and media studies at Auburn University. Ash lives in Alabama with her family.