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#SVYALit: Survivor Stories and the Decision to Go Public, a guest post by Christa Desir

Earlier this week, author Laura Ruby wrote a post about survivor stories inspired by her new release Bone Gap. The conversation came in part by this simple question: What do the survivors of sexual violence owe us when they share their stories? The answer of course is nothing, they owe us nothing. Talking about sexual violence helps raise awareness, but it’s also okay to decide that you can’t talk about it. Those who choose to share their stories should be respected and those who choose differently should also be respected. Today Christa Desir, author of Fault Line and Bleed Like Me, is talking about making the decision to share survivor stories.

There was a time about ten years ago, when the Voices & Faces Project first came to be, when I needed to make a decision. A decision about how much my story was going to define me to the greater world. I had long gotten past the shame of being a sexual violence survivor, but not being ashamed and actually acknowledging this thing that happened to me in front of strangers are two very different things.

I believe in the mission of the project: to give a voice and face to sexual violence survivors so we aren’t kept in the shadows, brushed under the rug, made to feel guilty about something that wasn’t our fault. We come forward and tell our stories in order to dispel cultural myths about what rape victims are and are not. We come forward for those who cannot, so they might know they are not alone. And yet, when it came to actually being an “out” survivor, I couldn’t help but pause and wonder what this would mean for my future, what it would mean for my kids’ future, what it would mean for my career.

Because being a survivor and an activist may give me a certain amount of credibility on the topic, but it also gives a lot of people a reason to dismiss what I have to say. I am “emotional” or “still traumatized” or “broken” or “damaged.” I cannot discuss the issue thoughtfully and academically because this thing happened to me. Add to that the very real fact that I’m not an “ideal rape victim.” There are reasons to dismiss me: I didn’t tell anyone what happened for ten years, I got in the car of a stranger when I knew better, I was promiscuous in high school and didn’t care who I hooked up with or what they did to/with me.

So when I made the decision to be out, not to hide, to tell my story when people asked, I also made the decision to accept that people would tell me all the things I did wrong, all the reasons why they would have been smarter than me, all the reasons why I was lucky because “it could have been worse.” Indeed. It could have been worse. This is not a thing to tell a rape survivor, FYI.

Right around the time it first started as a nonprofit, the Voices & Faces team had an opportunity to discuss the project on the Chicago local news. It was a short segment, maybe less than three minutes all together. I was featured with a few other survivors. A week later my parents called from Florida incredibly upset. A friend of theirs had called them and told them about the segment. This is not what they wanted for me, this is not what they wanted for them.

The decision to tell your story does not only impact you. Sometimes your parents or spouse or kids are affected by it, and while it’s not their story, they are forced to deal with this uncomfortable thing because of you. How easy and tempting it is to want to protect them from that. For me, I’m used to the hurt, the shame, the guilt, but there is a part of me that doesn’t want that for my family.

A decade ago I made a decision. Lots of amazing and wonderful things have come out of that, lots of terrible and painful things have also come from that. I don’t yet know the long-term effects my decision to be “out” will have on my kids. I want to think they’ll be proud of me for being honest, for telling the truth, for not hiding in shame over something that wasn’t my fault. And yet, will any of that matter when a friend of theirs googles me in high school and that comes up? Will it be okay? Will they be able to answer the questions or respond to accusations about how I could’ve prevented what happened to me? Is it fair that they’ll have to?

I have told my story in front of audiences of a thousand people and in front of rooms of ten. My voice still wavers when I tell it. My oldest daughter is the only one of my kids who knows some of what happened. It was the best and the hardest conversation I’ve ever had. I hope that conversation with my boys goes as well.

When it comes down to it, I don’t really believe we owe anyone our stories if we don’t want to share them. And even now, when I’ve made the choice to be an “out” survivor, I still have to steel myself against all that that can mean. I don’t regret it, but I do sometimes wonder what my life would look like if I had made a different decision.

About Christa Desir: I live outside of Chicago with my awesome husband, Julio, and our three children. When I’m not writing, I am an editor of romance novels. I am also a feminist, former rape victim advocate, lover of coffee and chocolate, and head of the PTA.

Christa Desir is the author of Fault Line and Bleed Like Me

For more of The #SVYALit Project, please see the project index

#LastListEgmont: Once Upon an Interview: Sarah Cross and Sarah McGuire Talk Fairy Tales

As the two authors with fairy-tale retellings on Egmont USA’s Spring 2015 list, Sarah Cross (Tear You Apart) and Sarah McGuire (Valiant) thought it might be fun to interview each other about fairy tales, happy endings, and how they approach their own retellings. The conversation took place in the library of an enchanted castle, over tea and cake served by magical household objects. The transcript has been edited to remove occasional interruptions by a Beast wearing a blanket cape.

CROSS: Valiant is a retelling of “The Brave Little Tailor,” so I have to ask: how did you first encounter that fairy tale? And did it involve Mickey Mouse? I was not the kid with the stack of Grimm’s fairy tale books; I had like, these big Disney fairy-tale anthologies that were sold at the grocery store. So my first exposure to “The Brave Little Tailor” was through the 1938 Disney short. The Grimms came later.

MCGUIRE: I think it was Grimm’s–or some variant. (Though I do remember Mickey as the tailor!) I also remember that I didn’t like the Grimm’s version very much. I felt like the tailor was taking advantage of the dumb giants. But later, I was telling the story to two girls that I nannied, and one especially loved the tailor’s cleverness–a trait I admire as well. So I suppose Valiant was my attempt to keep a clever protagonist, but not have her win because she tricks stupid creatures.

The first fairy tale books I truly remember were Andrew Lang’s Fairy Tale books and Trina Schart Hyman’s gorgeously illustrated tales. If the library in Warrenton is still there, I think I could still walk to that part of the library and find that specific shelf.

CROSS: Trina Schart Hyman’s art is so beautiful.

MCGUIRE: I know! So how did YOU go from the Disney anthologies to Beau Rivage? That is the question!

CROSS: In college, one of my professors started the semester off by talking about fairy tales, and how different the old tales are from the adaptations most people are familiar with. Learning that there were darker versions of the fairy tales I’d grown up with was eye-opening and intriguing to me, and I started reading all the nonfiction fairy tale books in the library (Jack Zipes, Marina Warner, Maria Tatar, Betsy Hearne), the complete tales of Hans Christian Andersen, Afanasev’s Russian fairy tale collection, Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, and anthologies like Spells of Enchantment. I like dark, twisted stories and I also like sparkles and princesses; put those things together and I guess you have the blood-and-glitter aesthetic of Beau Rivage.

The setting–the city of Beau Rivage, where people are cursed to live out fairy tales–was one of the first things I envisioned when I was building my mash-up Kill Me Softly. I knew I wanted a place where I could play with a bunch of different fairy tales and put a modern spin on them, without losing any of the darkness or weirdness of the past. How did you approach retelling “The Brave Little Tailor”? What did you need to hammer out first on the way to making the story your own?

MCGUIRE: I knew pretty much from the beginning that the tailor in my retelling would be a girl. I think the biggest issue I needed to work out was the giants. I knew I didn’t want them to be dumb . . . or monsters. So I wanted to find something wonderful, even exceptional, about them. Then I had to figure out why they could be tricked so easily at first. In doing so, I discovered a culture and a history I hadn’t expected. (Not that I had it figured out entirely at first. It definitely deepened as I wrote.)

CROSS: Do you have an “I wish someone would retell this” list? Personally I would love to see Madame d’Aulnoy’s fairy tales as YA novels. Her tales are wildly imaginative, and she’s really good at torturing her protagonists. Holly Black did a stellar job with her reimagining White Cat, but there’s endless potential there.

MCGUIRE: Ooh! Madame d’Aulnoy! Those would be fun! I always had a sense that she relished the tales she spun–they’re extravagant and long and . . . wonderful.

I’d love to see Russian fairy tales retold. There’s a specificity to them. It’s not a witch, it’s Baba Yaga. It’s not a wizard, it’s Koschei the Deathless. Some of the Russian tales are so dark.

Speaking of dark, I think you do an excellent job of bringing that out in your Beau Rivage stories, Tear You Apart, specifically. In one interview, you made the point that there’s no way you can make Snow White’s story sweet or argue that it has a truly happy ending. (We’re dealing with a prince who likes dead girls.) Me, I like happy endings–the eucatastrophe Tolkien found in fairy stories: “. . . Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.” Are there any fairy tales that you think have that kind of happy ending?

CROSS: I think a lot of the literary French fairy tales written by the so-called précieuses have truly happy endings. These were women who, like Snow White in the fairy tale, had very little say over their own “happy endings” (marriages), and so they took this form of literature that was sort of looked down upon and used it to convey their ideals about love, loyalty, justice and independence. They wrote what they wanted to see, as a way of drawing attention to what was lacking in society in reality.

MCGUIRE: What’s your favorite Disney fairy-tale movie? Why? (Mine is Beauty and the Beast–he gives her a library. Also the scene where he changes to a man still makes me catch my breath.)

CROSS: Sleeping Beauty forever. Beauty and the Beast is probably the superior movie, but I love the art style in Sleeping Beauty, the Middle-Ages-meets-1950s fashion, the meet-cute in the forest between Prince Phillip and Aurora . . . and Maleficent is my favorite Disney villain by far. (Unabashedly evil Maleficent, that is; not the more humanized Angelina Jolie Maleficent.)

MCGUIRE: I have such a soft spot for Sleeping Beauty! I had a record (yes, a record) of songs from Disney movies when I was little, and I adored Sleeping Beauty’s “Once Upon a Dream.” I so wanted to see the movie, but that was just before VHS (and Beta!) tapes emerged. So even though I’d heard the songs and read Disney picture books, I’d never actually seen Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty. I still remember running through the house shouting when Sleeping Beauty was released!

Also, I completely agree about Maleficent.

So one final question: Why fairy tales? Of all the stories that could be told, what keeps you coming back to these stories?

CROSS: Fairy tales contain so many of my favorite elements: magic and secrets, ball gowns and poison, happily ever afters and gruesome ends. There’s something so powerful about these stories, so memorable . . . and I think that’s because you do have the darkness and the horror right alongside the fancy dresses and the romance. I mean, “Cinderella” is the classic wish-fulfillment fairy tale, but at her wedding to the prince, doves peck out her stepsisters’ eyes. On Snow White’s wedding day, her stepmother is forced to dance to death in red-hot iron shoes. And this doesn’t happen in a dungeon; it’s part of the festivities! I can’t forget a story like that; it’s burned into my brain. I want to pick up all the pieces and play with them.

As a writer, I’m kind of like the doves in Grimm’s “Cinderella”: the prince is riding away with one of Cinderella’s stepsisters on his horse, thinking he’s found the mysterious girl from the ball (just like some people believe fairy tales are all sweetness and light), and meanwhile blood is filling the slipper because the stepsister had to chop off her big toe to make it fit, and I’m yelling, “HEY! Prince! There’s blood in the shoe! Didn’t you look? Don’t you know what’s going on here?” I’m totally into the sparkles and magic, but I want you to see the blood in that shoe, too. Because I can’t stop looking at it.

MCGUIRE: I am so glad the shoe bothered you, too! I remember reading that and wondering about the prince. How could he not notice?!? Twice, actually. He didn’t notice twice!! Not a brainiac, our Prince Charming.

But . . . that’s not what drew me to fairy tales.

When I was a girl, I’d watch storms with my Dad outside our home in Texas. I remember watching them roll towards us with this mixture of fascination and fear. There’s this moment when the lip of the storm slides over you, and the wind’s pulling at you, and you can hear the growl of thunder and smell the coming rain. It’s amazing.

Fairy tales felt the same way to me–bigger and grander than normal life, glorious and terrifying all at once. Fairy tales were a return to awe, I think, and that’s something I try to capture in my retellings.

Meet Our Guest Bloggers

SARAH CROSS:
Sarah Cross is the author of the fairy tale novels Kill Me Softly and Tear You Apart, the superhero novel Dull Boy, and the Wolverine comic “The Adamantium Diaries.”

website: http://www.sarahcross.comtwitter: http://twitter.com/thesarahcrossfairy tale blog: http://fairytalemood.tumblr.com/

SARAH MCGUIRE:
Sarah McGuire loves fairy tales and considers them the best way to step outside of everyday life. They’re the easiest way, at least: her attempt at seven to reach Narnia through her parents’ closet failed. She lives within sight of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, where she teaches high school creative writing and math classes with very interesting word problems. Valiant is her first novel.

Publisher’s Book Descriptions

Tear You Apart
If you want to live happily ever after, first you have to stay alive.Viv knows there’s no escaping her fairy-tale curse. One day her beautiful stepmother will feed her a poison apple or convince her on-again-off-again boyfriend, Henley, to hunt her down and cut out her heart before she breaks his. In the city of Beau Rivage, some princesses are destined to be prey.But then Viv receives an invitation to the exclusive club where the Twelve Dancing Princesses twirl away their nights. There she meets Jasper, an underworld prince who seems to have everything—but what he really wants is her. He vows to save her from her dark fate if she’ll join him and be his queen.

All Viv has to do is tear herself away from the huntsman boy who still holds her heart. Then she might live to see if happily ever after is a promise the prince can keep. But is life as an underworld queen worth sacrificing the true love that might kill her?

Valiant
A debut fairy tale retelling featuring a strong female character and a daring quest just right for fans of Shannon Hale, Jessica Day George, and Gail Carson Levine.Saville despises the bolts of velvet and silk that her father loves- he’s always prized them more than he’s ever loved her. Yet when he’s struck ill, she’ll do anything to survive, even donning boys’ clothes and begging a commission to sew for the king.Piecing together a fine coat is far simpler than unknotting court gossip about an army of giants led by a man who cannot be defeated. And they’re marching toward Reggen to seize the throne. But Saville knows giants are just stories, and no man is immortal.

Then she meets them, two scouts as tall as trees. She tricks them into leaving, but tales of the daring tailor’s triumph quickly spin into impossible feats of giant-slaying. And mere stories won’t deter the Duke and his larger-than-life army.

Now only a courageous and clever tailor girl can see beyond the rumors to save the kingdom again.

Valiant richly reimagines “The Brave Little Tailor,” transforming it into a story of understanding, identity, and fighting to protect those you love most.

Serving Full T.I.L.T. : A Teen Services 101 Infographic

As part of the Serving Full T.I.L.T. series, we wanted to put together an infographic that would put all the information we had gathered into one place that would be easy to use and reference. This is that infographic. The sources for the information are cited below.

Sources:

YALSA Issue Paper 2011:

In their 2007 study, the Public Library Association found that only 51 percent of public libraries have a full-time young adults services librarian. Sixty-two percent of these libraries have at least one staff person whose job it is specifically to serve teens. This is an improvement over figures from 1994, which indicated that only 11 percent of public libraries had a staff person whose job it was to serve teens.

Serving Full T.I.L.T. : By the Numbers

Teen Pregnancy Statistics

PEW: Teen Internet Use Statistics see also Pew Research on Teens and Libraries

Washington Post: Digital Natives Prefer Reading in Print

Serving Full T.I.L.T. (Teens in Libraries Today) series:

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

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

January 28 Teen Brain Science 101 (Heather Booth)

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

February 11 Diverse teens, diverse needs (Eden Grey)

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

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

March 4 A Teen Services 101 Infographic (Karen Jensen)

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

#LastListEgmont: Authors Ilsa J. Bick and Kristi Helvig Discuss Sci Fi

Today as part of our look at EgmontUSA’s Last List (#LastListEgmont), author’s Ilsa J. Bick and Kristi Helvig interview each other about writing sci fi.

Ilsa:  You know, Kristi, in thinking about what I wanted to ask, I realized that we have a lot in common, including that we’ve both done sci-fi.  So let’s talk genre for a second.  What is it about science fiction that appeals to you?  Did you read the genre when you were a kid?  Do you read it now?  Is this the first sci-fi you’ve written?  Did you set out to write a sci-fi story, or did the story tell you somewhere along the way?

Kristi: Wow, that’s a lot of questions in one question! I’ve always loved science fiction because I think that there are so many real-life possibilities within the pretext of “fiction.” So many things that I’ve read or seen in sci-fi books or movies (from holograms to artificial intelligence) have come to pass in my lifetime. My favorite sci-fi book as a child was A WRINKLE IN TIME by Madeleine L’Engle–and it’s still one of my faves.

Ilsa: Oh, me, too.  I talk about that book all the time, especially when I’m presenting to librarians or teachers about the differences and similarities between latency and adolescent narratives, and I know that book had a big impact on me.  I still remember the one story I wrote—this is when I was in high school, and it’s the only one I remember writing—was a direct steal.  There was this evil principal brain (aka, IT from WRINKLE) that had taken over the school and made zombies out of all the students except me.  So, of course, I saved the day by killing the thing with a knife.  Atrocious story.  What’s more amazing is that I bothered saving all those kids who wouldn’t give me, this geeky nerd, the time of day.  Maybe that’s why it’s called fiction.  But, yeah, definitely a fave: Whenever I talk about it, get all choked up when I describe that last scene in the garden and Meg’s terrific line about how someone has to be glad to see Calvin, too.  That book is all about reconstituting family.

So, what else?  Other books, films?  TV?

Kristi:  Currently, I’m reading THE MARTIAN by Andy Weir for my book club and I’m loving it, and I watch all things sci-fi. My favorite sci-fi shows are Firefly and the new Battlestar Galactica. My first sci-fi show ever was watching Dr. Who with my dad in childhood.

Ilsa: Gotta say that new Battlestar was totally kick-ass, although I kind of think it fizzled a bit.  All right, I’ll be honest.  The end was an absolute cop-out (and it so reminded me of Lost in its execution, too); it just felt as if the writers had run out of ideas because, oh yeah, it’s so believable that these guys scatter with a couple backpacks apiece and actually survive.

Never watched FireflyI know, heresy—but I love Serenity, which didn’t require that you know the series at all.

Actually, my favorite sf show is still the original Star Trek, though—honestly—it’s all about Kirk’s chest. My God, that man was beefcake in my day.  I’m also probably one of the only people in the universe who actually liked Voyager, at least until the fifth season.  Seven of Nine was such an interesting character, I ended writing about her twice in my work-for-hire days. I’d have happily done more.

So, what about your book, Kristi?  Did you know it would be sf?  Me, I knew that both WHITE SPACE and THE DICKENS MIRROR (and I’m thinking the ASHES trilogy as well) would have some sf elements, but I wanted the narrative firmly rooted in the present day (or, in DICKENS case, an alternative Victorian London), with no aliens per se, rockets, that kind of thing.  Although I’ve certainly written about rockets and space travel and other worlds, these days, I guess I’m more about applying and manipulating science to the narrative, more than I’m about going on a spaceship to some other planet.  (But, you watch: I’ve got this nifty outline for a true, hardcore sf novel that I’ll probably do next right after the book I’m working on now.)

Like I said, I’ve certainly done my share of sf (short stories and all my work-for-hire).  But I find myself staying on present-day Earth.  Maybe I’m just not imaginative enough, I don’t know.  Or maybe I like putting something on Earth and then weirding it up a bit.  Like, you wouldn’t call Dean Koontz or Stephen King science fiction writers per se, even though they both incorporate weird elements that sometimes have a basis in science.  (For King, I’m thinking something like CELL or DUMA KEY, for example.)

So, anyway, what about you?  How’d you get the idea, anyway?

Kristi: I grew up on Stephen King and Dean Koontz, and love how they incorporate strange elements into a contemporary setting. Insomnia is one of my favorite Stephen King books! As for my book, yeah, it was definitely sci-fi from the beginning. It was based on a vivid dream I had after watching a science documentary on television late one night. My dream involved our sun burning out way ahead of schedule and the entire cast of characters played out like a movie in my dream that night. It was pretty cool, actually, and I woke up scribbling in my journal like mad and finished the first draft in 6 weeks.

Ilsa: Okay, that is pretty cool.  I have a writer-friend who frequently takes naps when he gets stuck on some plot point ;-) .  Interesting that your process was so . . . visual, know what I mean?  I’m that way; I really have to see what’s going on, which is probably why I work so hard to incorporate as many sensory elements into a description as possible. One of the big gripes I have in terms of fiction is that, sometimes, writers use placeholder descriptions; I can’t really see what they’re talking about, you know?  I’ve once gone through an entire book and still not had one bloody clue what the protag looked like.  (It’s a holdover from all my work on film, too, I’m sure.)

Kristi: I loved the description for your new series that compared it to “Memento meets Inception,” as I’m obsessed with both those movies.

Ilsa: Oh, completely love those films.  In fact, when I was sitting through Inception, I kept thinking, how would you write this?  How could you translate what they’re doing to a book?  Not that either movie gave me the idea per se, but I’ve always been interesting in the truly mind-bending.

Kristi: Well, following on that, the blurb for WHITE SPACE is so intriguing that I have to ask how you came up with such a cool idea? Is the idea of parallel, or alternate universes something you’ve explored before?

Ilsa: You know, I’ll be honest: the idea for my Dark Passages series actually came from my youngest daughter.  See, I have this habit of killing her off in my stories in the most horrible ways. Honestly, you’d think the kid would catch a clue.

Anyway, she made some offhand remark about a book I was working on, like was I going to kill her this time or not.  (I wasn’t; I was busy killing her cousins.)  But we did talk about it, because it turns out she was both kind of flattered but also upset that I kept offing her even though it really wasnt her. Like she had to remind herself that, even I happened to use her name or a recognizable detail—her teddy bear or bicycle, for example—none of what I’d written had happened to her. Still, every time, her brain kind of tripped over those things, and she would feel uncomfortable.

Which was just so interesting and got me to thinking about perception and reality, something in which, as a shrink, you do anyway.  (Really, as a therapist, you are attempting to shift a patient’s perception of reality, but is that the same thing as truth?  No, it’s your truth; it’s what you perceive as being more normative.  Sort of a slippery slope, if you take my meaning.)

We take it for granted that when we open our eyes, that what surrounds us is real.  But how do you know for sure?  You don’t.  For that matter, you have no clue that what you see in the mirror is how you truly appear to others.  By extension, what others say about you influences your perceptions about yourself and, by extension, your reality.  So . . . can anyone be sure that you’re the author of your own story?  What if you’re really a character in someone else’s drama and don’t know it?

Then I started thinking about energy and quantum realities and twinning and what you might able to do if you were able to actually capture a quantum twin and place it someplace where you might not be able to collapse probabilities . . . well, that’s how The Dark Passages got its start.  I’ll about trying something new because it keeps me interested as a writer.  Funny, though, that you should ask about whether I’ve done something like this before because the sf book I thinking of doing after my current work-in-progress is very much about parallel timelines.

Following up on using science in fiction, I guess I like to try and use real science to weird up a narrative as much as possible, just as I did in the ASHES trilogy where, with the exception of what might happen to a person exposed to a massive wave of EMPs, most of the science there is real.  I think my insistence on real science is related to me being a shrink and knowing medicine.  What about you?  You’re a PhD, right?  Does what you do in your day job influence how you approach your characters?

Kristi: Oh, we have so much in common—I’m obsessed with quantum physics and love the theories regarding parallel lives and universes! And yes, I have my Ph.D. in clinical psychology and have always been fascinated by what makes people tick and why they make the choices they make. I’m also a research nerd which is why the science part of sci-fi is so fun for me. At this point, I’ve worked with thousands of clients from children through adults on an inpatient and outpatient basis, so I’ve seen and heard a ton of interesting things. Being a psychologist definitely helps me shape the psychology of my characters in stories, and I get a lot of compliments about my characterization so maybe it helps a bit with that aspect of things.

Ilsa: Me, too.  In fact, I was doing this signing in a bookstore just the other day, and this dad, who had finished the ASHES trilogy and was currently reading THE SIN-EATER’S CONFESSION, which is all about the murder of a kid, who may or may not have been in gay—anyway, he said that what he really liked in my books was how I didn’t shy away from showing how awful real life could be or how terrible people are to one another.

I guess that’s because, as a shrink, you crawl through a lot of private sewers.  I’ve worked with kids in family bound together by hate, those who treat the people they say they love so badly, and, of course, the outright abusive.  I’ve also worked in a women’s prison with people you really don’t want to meet in a dark alley; honestly, orange is the new black this ain’t.  Coupled with having grown up around military folks and my own service during the First Gulf War working with soldiers in the run-up and after their deployments as well as more personal history (my dad’s a Holocaust survivor, for example, and I’ve had my own run-ins with prejudice, even now) . . . I know that people behave very badly all the time.  There’s no way I can write sweetness and light because they are tough to find.  I’m not necessarily a pessimist, but I do think that people can be counted on to live down to your lowest expectations, especially when things go south.  Yes, of course, there are people who surprise you, but they’re in the minority.

What about your characters, though?  I mean, I don’t know about you, but I’ve had fans write in and wonder if I’ve based my characters on real people I’ve treated, that kind of thing.  The answer to that is a big no—that would be both unethical and against the law—but, of course, since I’m taking stuff from my head and memories, so . . . yes, I’ve treated people who had cancer; I’ve known some very troubled folks.  You?

Kristi: Ha-ha; I get that a question a lot. That and when people find out that I’m a psychologist, they’ll ask me if I’m diagnosing them in my head (truth: sometimes I am). No, I’ve never based a character on anyone I know in real life, whether it be a family member, client, etc. However, sometimes a character trait will stick out to me or I’ll overhear a snippet of conversation in a store and wonder about what that person’s life must be like. I’ve always had an active imagination and can run with small things. I worked for awhile as the manager of an inpatient adolescent girls unit, where a lot of the girls were committed through youth corrections, so I think my main character Tora has some qualities of many of the girls I met there…that mental toughness due to enduring so much life trauma.

Ilsa: Are you going to stick with your practice?  Or is it your dream to quit and be a full-time writer?

Kristi: As far as the career thing, I feel like I’m ever-evolving in that area. I feel lucky in that I only work part-time (6-8 hours a week) in a private practice right now, and after I burned out on traditional therapy, I got additional certification in life coaching so I work mainly with people who are motivated to change careers, lose weight, write a novel, etc. I also became a Reiki Master as I’m fascinated with energy and how it impacts the body. When the kids are in school, I have a lot of time to write, so I feel very lucky with the balance I have going on right now because I’m not someone who could get up at 4am to write before heading out to a full-time job! That said, I hardly get anything done in the summers because I love hanging out with my kiddos while they’re still young…so I’m okay with it, because I know I’ll blink and they’ll be in college.

What about you?  At what point in your practice did you decide to write novels? Do you still practice?

Ilsa: Well, that’s kind of a long story.  In a nutshell, I get bored really easily, and so when I was doing my child fellowship, I went back to school at night and got a degree in film and literature studies.  Then, since I was also a psychoanalytic candidate, I started writing a lot of nonfiction articles applying psychoanalysis to film and television (and some lit; my first published paper was on Ray Bradbury): not putting films and TV on the couch so much as looking at how the structure of a film and its imagery mirrored its psychological and developmental concerns.  I wrote and presented tons, including a pretty big paper on Star Trek that has been reprinted and is still taught in some film courses and which I presented way back at the Smithsonian’s Air and Space for their retrospective on the series.  I’ll still get the occasional email every couple of months where someone asks for a reprint or me to clarify a point (or contribute a chapter in a book!).

But I quickly got bored again, and that’s when the husband essentially dared me to write stories because that’s what he thought I was really about.  I thought he was nuts, but he said that I was more worried that I would fail if I tried.  Honestly?  He was right.  But I also don’t back down from dares, so I started writing.  I was full-time private practice at the time and had been for, gosh, six, seven years and the day was pretty patient-packed.  So I got really, really early and wrote for a couple hours and then stayed up really, really late to squeak in some more words.  The husband would take the kids to museums or an outing on Saturdays, so I could get more writing in.  Eventually, when we moved to Wisconsin, I dropped the private practice but then worked as a consultant to a managed care company and a women’s prison for quite a few years until I finally stopped seeing patients roundabout seven years ago.  By then, I’d published a lot of stories and gone on into work-for-hire—you know, writing novels and stories set in the Star Trek, Battletech, Shadowrun, and Mechwarrior Dark Age universes—but was still struggling to figure out what I wanted to write that would be uniquely my own.

Kristi:  Well, you have another very popular series, the ASHES trilogy and your novels with Carolrhoda Lab, so I’m impressed by how prolific you are. I’m such a newbie compared to you, being that BURN OUT is my first series. Do you have a set writing routine that you follow?

Ilsa: I’m pretty disciplined, although that might be just a synonym for being incredibly boring and that all might be related to having been in medical school and then the military—you don’t get through either if you can’t set up and stick to a routine.  I mean, I look at writing as a job, and if you want to get paid, you have to show up to work.  Which means that I’m up by 6-6:30, have my coffee, pull out my iPad, and type out the basic bullet points and plot elements of whatever chapter or section I’m on that day (although I’ve frequently have done that the day before or on these little scraps of paper that I leave all over the house); and then I screw my butt in the chair and write until I reach my goal, which is normally a set number of pages I must do every day.  Sometimes that means I’m done by 2 or so; at others, it means I knock off long enough to exercise, come back, do the dinner thing, and then go back to work until I’m done.

Kristi: This is one of those areas that I’m trying to improve. I’d love to say I write from 9a-2p every day, but the truth is, I write when I can. Some days that’s hours, and other days it’s not at all. I do have this spot on the couch where I write (in fact, I’m sitting there now!), and I go into this zone as soon as I sit down. When I’m in first draft mode, I’m crazy intense (as in forgetting to eat and shower) because I just want to get it down but then I’ll go in fits and spurts when I’m revising.

What about process?  Would you call yourself a plotter or panster by nature?

Ilsa: Plotter.  Remember, I started out in work-for-hire and there, you’ve got to submit an outline for approval.  They want to make sure you don’t violate the universe rules or kill off Captain Kirk and not bring him back, that kind of thing.  So I’m pretty methodical.  I also used to write these HUMONGOUS outlines (like, 250 pages’ worth).  An editor once joked that all I had to do was put in adjectives, and I was done.  But this way, I thought through the whole story.

As time has gone on, though, I’ve found that a) my outlines are shorter; b) I get more impatient to get started already and not write the life out of the story; and c) once I’ve written an outline, I oftentimes don’t ever refer to it again.  It’s as if I’ve told the story to myself once, but then I have to see how it really plays out on paper.  Frequently, I find that what looked good in outline sucks in execution and so things change.  They usually do anyway as the characters find their voices and decide which way they want to go.  You just let them.  They know what they’re doing.

Let’s shift gears a sec and talk YA.  A lot of people worry about there being too much realism in YA fiction; that it’s too dark.  Conversely, at least one author has recently said that YA isn’t all that morally complex.  Which do you think is right?  Is there a middle ground?  Does a book need to be morally complex in order to be good?

Kristi: Well, I definitely disagree that YA isn’t all that morally complex…as the genre implies, the books involve young adults, which is like saying teens aren’t complex. That’s absurd. I love the grey area between black and white, and how some good people do bad things and vice versa. I take it as a compliment that so many people have told me they can’t figure out if James in BURN OUT is a good guy or a bad guy. I think people are complex by nature and we try too often to put people in boxes to make it easier to organize our world. Some YA is dark, but I also don’t understand how it could be considered “too realistic.” When a teen connects with something on a personal level and feels that it helped them get through a dark time in their life, that’s a good thing in my opinion—I’m thinking of books like SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson and SCARS by Cheryl Rainfield. I know authors who write realistic fiction have gotten letters or emails from readers saying that their book saved their lives. Like it or not, some crappy real-life stuff happens to teens, and they need books to validate their experiences too. I’ve done countless individual therapy sessions with many of those teens, but books can reach so many people at once.

Ilsa: Earlier, you talked about trauma, and we’ve both had quite the traumatic time of it recently, what with Egmont’s closing and all.  What have been some of your darker moments, and if you’ve had them, how have you gotten yourself out?

Kristi: My first editor left Egmont even before BURN OUT was published, so I was used to things changing unexpectedly. Then more recently, I had a conversation with my editor, Alison Weiss, that Egmont was up for sale, so I was expecting news of a sale at some point. Alison and I had this marathon phone call where we went over final edits for STRANGE SKIES and it went to the printer on the Friday before everything changed. She called me a few days later to tell me about Egmont closing and seemed as shocked as I was. So I was in this weird place of being excited that I was finally finished with everything for my sequel at the same time that I found out my publisher was closing. I felt horrible for authors I knew whose books were cancelled due to the news, and horrible for the amazingly talented staff at Egmont, while also feeling incredibly lucky that they bumped up my publishing date so that the book would still come out. I already knew that one of the constants in publishing is change, but it was still a shock.

Ilsa: Boy, I know what you mean.  I think that because I’ve been with Egmont longer, I thought something bad might be in the works.  I mean, first, a marketing person leaves and then the guy who was the liaison with the parent company and then the publisher and then your original editor and, three seconds later, another marketing person . . . it felt like a slow-motion train wreck, but I tried not to think too hard about it.  Although there are only so many times you can look at caller ID, see it’s your editor who has no earthly reason to call you just to shoot the breeze, and think, Uh-oh, this can’t be good.

I know it affected me, though, all this change.  I’ve started three or four books and been unable to finish them, and I do think that part of that was this simmering uncertainty.  Not all of it; I had other stuff going on and a surgery to recover from . . . but, still.

In a way, as awful as the closing is, at least there’s not that uncertainty anymore. Was I upset?  Oh sure, you bet.  I didn’t cry, but I did get this terrible sinking sensation in the pit of my gut.  I mean, for heaven’s sake, EgmontUSA launched the ASHES trilogy and the editor with whom I’d worked then understood what I was trying to do with The Dark Passages series right away.  There was this great marketing team out there that loved and promoted my work. So, after I absorbed the news, the first things that popped into my head were a) what happens to the books that are already out and b) what about THE DICKENS MIRROR?

In my case, I’ve been lucky.  The parent company, Egmont UK, has picked up all my books and they’ll continue to be available through all the usual venues for the foreseeable future.  The distributor will change after June, going from Random House to Trafalgar, but that won’t affect my books’ availability.  So that’s good.

And, honestly?  I think that the finality’s been good.  After the shock wore off, I dusted off a book I’d been working on that I really liked—I’d been writing it when I had to knock off and do Dickens Mirror—and tore it up and started all over.  Since then, the writing’s been going great, and I’m already looking ahead to the next book when I’m done with this one.

What about you and your trilogy?

Kristi: There’s this quote I love by the Roman philosopher, Seneca: “Every new beginning comes from some other’s beginnings end.” I think a pop song used that quote too, because I started humming it while typing the quote.  Anyway, I think the quote is so true, and I’ve always adapted well to change, so I trust that whatever happens next will be great. I’ll definitely write the 3rd book of the trilogy—and since I get my rights back right away, I’ll probably self-publish it as a new publisher doesn’t often pick up a series at the end. My new YA is a fantasy that will be on its way to my fabulous agent shortly, and as luck would have it, I had an amazing dream this week that will by the basis of my new YA thriller. I’ve always known I’ve wanted to be a hybrid author (ask all my critique partners!), so this is a great opportunity for me to pursue that.

Ilsa: Well, that’s great.  Sounds as if we’re both moving on then.  Me, I’ll be eager to hear more about what it’s like to go the self-pub route.  In fact, it’s a pretty interesting topic in general because if you think about it, we Egmont Last Listers are being forced into straddling the line between traditional and independent publishing.  Maybe a Twitter chat about this would be the way to go because I’ll bet there are tons of writers out there to whom something like this has happened, or they’ve had a series cancelled, that kind of thing.

Anyway, thanks so much for hanging out with me, Kristi. It’s been fun.

Kristi: It’s been a blast getting to know you better—thanks so much for doing this interview, Ilsa! :)

Publisher’s Book Descriptions

The Dickens Mirror (Dark Passages #2)

Critically acclaimed author of The Ashes Trilogy, Ilsa J. Bick takes her new Dark Passages series to an alternative Victorian London where Emma Lindsay continues to wade through blurred realities now that she has lost everything: her way, her reality, her friends. In this London, Emma will find alternative versions of her friends from the White Space and even Arthur Conan Doyle.

Emma Lindsay finds herself with nowhere to go, no place to call home. Her friends are dead. Eric, the perfect boy she wrote into being, and his brother, Casey, are lost to the Dark Passages. With no way of knowing where she belongs, she commands the cynosure, a beacon and lens that allows for safe passage between the Many Worlds, to put her where she might find her friends—find Eric—again. What she never anticipated was waking up in the body of Little Lizzie, all grown up—or that, in this alternative London, Elizabeth McDermott is mad.

In this London, Tony and Rima are “rats,” teens who gather the dead to be used for fuel. Their friend, Bode, is an attendant at Bedlam, where Elizabeth has been committed after being rescued by Arthur Conan Doyle, a drug-addicted constable.

Tormented by the voices of all the many characters based on her, all Elizabeth wants is to get rid of the pieces under her skin once and for all. While professing to treat Elizabeth, her physician, Dr. Kramer, has actually drugged her to allow Emma—who’s blinked to this London before—to emerge as the dominant personality…because Kramer has plans. Elizabeth is the key to finding and accessing the Dickens Mirror.

But Elizabeth is dying, and if Emma can’t find a way out, everyone as they exist in this London, as well as the twelve-year-old version of herself and the shadows—what remains of Eric, Casey, and Rima that she pulled with her from the Dark Passages—will die with her.

Strange Skies (Burnout #2)

Action, adventure, and romance are heating up in this sequel to the futuristic science fiction thriller Burn Out. Perfect for fans of Across the Universe and The Memory of After.

Caelia is the new Earth. That’s what the Consulate told everyone and, against all odds, Tora finally has made it there. She can’t see the ocean from her cell in the Consulate’s containment center, and she doesn’t know what happened to the weapons her father died for and she’s risked her life to save.

But as she plans her escape, she runs into the last person she ever expected to see-her dad. The Consulate has kept held him prisoner in a complicated plot designed to lure Tora out of hiding. Now Tora has a new purpose: break free, get the guns, and save her father.

But first she’ll have to navigate a strange new planet, track down James (whose loyalties still remain questionable), and find Kale…before he finds her first.

Story Locale: Caelia, a planet colonized after Earth becomes unhabitable

Series Overview: In a future where the sun has turned into a red giant, making Earth unhabitable, a teen girl fights for survival while trying to protect the special weapons her father invented from falling into government control

Meet Our Guest Bloggers

Kristi Helvig is a Ph.D. clinical psychologist turned sci-fi/fantasy author. Her first novel, BURN OUT, (4/14 from Egmont USA) follows 17-year-old Tora Reynolds, one of Earths last survivors, when our sun burns out early. In the sequel, STRANGE SKIES, coming 4/28/2015, Tora makes it to a new planet only to discover a whole new host of problemsand the same people who still want her dead. Order Kristis books through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or your favorite local retailer.

Kristi muses about Star Trek, space monkeys, and other assorted topics on her blog at www.kristihelvig.com and Twitter (@KristiHelvig). You can also find her on Facebook. Kristi resides in sunny Colorado with her hubby, two kiddos, and behaviorally-challenged dogs.

Ilsa J. Bick is a child psychiatrist, film scholar, surgeon wannabe, former Air Force major, and now an award-winning author of dozens of short stories and novels, including her critically acclaimed ASHES Trilogy, Draw the DarkDrowning Instinct, and The Sin-Eater’s Confession. WHITE SPACE, the first volume of her Dark Passages horror/fantasy duology, is currently long-listed for the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a YA Novel.  The sequel, THE DICKENS MIRROR, will hit shelves on March 10, 2015.

Ilsa lives with her long-suffering husband and other furry creatures near a Hebrew cemetery in rural Wisconsin. One thing she loves about the neighbors: they’re very quiet and only come around for sugar once in a blue moon.

Drop by her website, www.ilsajbick.com, for her Sundays’ cake and Friday’s cocktail recipes as well as other assorted maunderings; or find her on Facebook, Goodreads, Twitter (@ilsajbick), or Instagram (@ilsajbick).

Celebrate Eisner Week With Diverse Graphic Novels

March 1-7 is Will Eisner Week. This week is held to “celebrate graphic novels, sequential art, free speech, and the amazing legacy of Will Eisner, one of the most innovative figures in the history of comics and graphic novels.” Check out the website for more information about how to celebrate the week, as well information about Eisner’s work and the Eisner Awards.

 

Eisner Week seems like a great time to feature some excellent graphic novels and comics. Building diverse collections and focusing on diverse displays in your library? Don’t forget graphic novels! These titles feature characters, authors, and illustrators from many places, with varied backgrounds, identities, and abilities.

 

Here are a few picks, both old and new, to get your display started. Summaries via the publisher or WorldCat. Have more titles to add? Leave us a comment or tweet us at @TLT16 or @CiteSomething

 

The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang, illustrated by Sonny Liew (2014)

In the comics boom of the 1940s, a legend was born: the Green Turtle. He solved crimes and fought injustice just like the other comics characters. But this mysterious masked crusader was hiding something more than your run-of-the-mill secret identity: the Green Turtle was the first Asian American super hero. The comic had a short run before lapsing into obscurity, but Gene Luen Yang has revived this character in Shadow Hero, a new graphic novel that creates an origin story for the Green Turtle.

 

War Brothers: The Graphic Novel by Sharon McKay and Daniel Lafrance (2013)

Jacob is a 14-year-old Ugandan who is sent away to a boys’ school. Once there, he assures his friend Tony that they need not be afraid — they will be safe. But not long after, in the shadow of the night, the boys are abducted. Marched into the jungle, they are brought to an encampment of the feared rebel soldiers. They are told they must kill or be killed, and their world turns into a terrifying struggle to endure and survive

 

Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks (2012)

Maggie McKay hardly knows what to do with herself. After an idyllic childhood of homeschooling with her mother and rough-housing with her older brothers, it’s time for Maggie to face the outside world, all on her own. But that means facing high school first. And it also means solving the mystery of the melancholy ghost who has silently followed Maggie throughout her entire life. Maybe it even means making a new friend—one who isn’t one of her brothers.

 

Part-Time Princesses by Monica Gallagher (March 11, 2015)

Beautiful, popular, and adored by all, Courtney, Amber, Tiffany, and Michelle can’t wait to graduate and take their place among the world’s elite. But when all their future plans are ruined, the girls have only one back-up plan – working as costumed princesses at the local amusement park. Unfortunately, increased gang activity has driven away all but the most loyal of customers. With the park on the verge of closing, the girls resolve to fight back, bring back their adoring customers, save the amusement park they never wanted to work at, and maybe learn something about themselves along the way.

 

A Game for Swallows: To Die, to Leave, to Return by Zeina Abirached (2012)

When Zeina was born, the civil war in Lebanon had been going on for six years, so it’s just a normal part of life for her and her parents and little brother. The city of Beirut is cut in two, separated by bricks and sandbags and threatened by snipers and shelling. East Beirut is for Christians, and West Beirut is for Muslims. When Zeina’s parents don’t return one afternoon from a visit to the other half of the city and the bombing grows ever closer, the neighbors in her apartment house create a world indoors for Zeina and her brother where it’s comfy and safe, where they can share cooking lessons and games and gossip. Together they try to make it through a dramatic day in the one place they hoped they would always be safe—home.

 

I Remember Beirut by Zeina Abirached (2014)

Abirached was born in Lebanon in 1981. She grew up in Beirut as fighting between Christians and Muslims divided the city streets. Follow her past cars riddled with bullet holes, into taxi cabs that travel where buses refuse to go, and on outings to collect shrapnel from the sidewalk. With striking black-and-white artwork, Abirached recalls the details of ordinary life inside a war zone.

 

Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir by Liz Prince (2014)

Growing up, Liz Prince wasn’t a girly girl, dressing in pink tutus or playing Pretty Pretty princess like the other girls in her neighborhood. But she wasn’t exactly one of the guys either, as she quickly learned when her Little League baseball coach exiled her to the outfield instead of letting her take the pitcher’s mound. Liz was somewhere in the middle, and Tomboy is the story of her struggle to find the place where she belonged.

Tomboy is a graphic novel about refusing gender boundaries, yet unwittingly embracing gender stereotypes at the same time, and realizing later in life that you can be just as much of a girl in jeans and a T-shirt as you can in a pink tutu. A memoir told anecdotally, Tomboy follows author and zine artist Liz Prince through her early childhood into adulthood and explores her ever-evolving struggles and wishes regarding what it means to “be a girl.”

 

 

Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol (2011)

Anya, embarrassed by her Russian immigrant family and self-conscious about her body, has given up on fitting in at school but falling down a well and making friends with the ghost there just may be worse.

 

The Eternal Smile by Gene Luen Yang, illustrated by Derek Kirk Kim (2009)

Presents three short stories in graphic novel format involving the blurred line between fantasy and reality, including an office assistant who falls for an e-mail scam, and a young knight whose life is not what it seems.

 

 

March by  John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell (artist) (2013)

This graphic novel is a first-hand account of Congressman John Lewis’ lifelong struggle for civil and human rights, meditating in the modern age on the distance traveled since the days of Jim Crow and segregation. Rooted in Lewis’ personal story, it also reflects on the highs and lows of the broader civil rights movement. Book one spans Lewis’ youth in rural Alabama, his life-changing meeting with Martin Luther King, Jr., the birth of the Nashville Student Movement, and their battle to tear down segregation through nonviolent lunch counter sit-ins, building to a stunning climax on the steps of City Hall. HIs commitment to justice and nonviolence has taken him from an Alabama sharecropper’s farm to the halls of Congress, from a segregated schoolroom to the 1963 March on Washington D.C., and from receiving beatings from state troopers, to receiving the Medal of Freedom awarded to him by Barack Obama, the first African-American president.

 

 

The Zabime Sisters by Aristophane and Matt Madden (Translator) (2010)

On the first day of summer vacation, teenaged sisters M’Rose, Elle, and Célina step out into the tropical heat of their island home and continue their headlong tumble toward adulthood. Boys, schoolyard fights, petty thievery, and even illicit alcohol make for a heady mix, as The Zabime Sisters indulge in a little summertime freedom. The dramatic backdrop of a Caribbean island provides a study of contrasts—a world that is both lush and wild, yet strangely small and intimate—which echoes the contrasts of the sisters themselves, who are at once worldly and wonderfully naïve.

 

The Sons of Liberty by Alexander Lagos, Joseph Lagos, Steve Walker (Illustrator), Oren Kramek (Illustrator)

Visual and visceral, fusing historical fiction and superhero action, this is a tale with broad appeal-for younger readers who enjoy an exciting war story, for teenagers asking hard questions about American history, for adult fans of comic books, for anyone seeking stories of African American interest, and for reluctant readers young and old.

In Colonial America, Graham and Brody are slaves on the run-until they gain extraordinary powers. At first they keep a low profile. But their mentor has another idea-one that involves the African martial art dambe . . . and masks.

With its vile villains, electrifying action, and riveting suspense, The Sons of Liberty casts new light on the faces and events of pre-Revolution America, including Ben Franklin and the French and Indian War. American history has rarely been this compelling-and it’s never looked this good.

 

 

Pretty in Ink: North American Women Cartoonists 1896-2013 by Trina Robbins (2013)

A revised, updated and rewritten history of women cartoonists, with more color illustrations than ever before, and with some startling new discoveries (such as a Native American woman cartoonist from the 1940s who was also a Corporal in the women’s army, and the revelation that a cartoonist included in all of Robbins’s previous histories was a man!)  Although the comics profession was dominated by men, there were far more women working in the profession throughout the 20th century than other histories indicate, and they have flourished in the 21st. Robbins not only documents the increasing relevance of women throughout the 20th century, with mainstream creators such as Ramona Fradon and Dale Messick and alternative cartoonists such as Lynda Barry, Carol Tyler, and Phoebe Gloeckner, but the latest generation of women cartoonists—Megan Kelso, Cathy Malkasian, Linda Medley, and Lilli Carré, among many others.

 

 

 Strong Female Protagonist Book One by Molly Ostertag (Artist) and Brennan Lee Mulligan (2014)

With superstrength and invulnerability, Alison Green used to be one of the most powerful superheroes around. Fighting crime with other teenagers under the alter ego Mega Girl was fun – until an encounter with Menace, her mind-reading arch enemy, showed her evidence of a sinister conspiracy, and suddenly battling giant robots didn’t seem so important. Now Alison is going to college and trying to find ways to help the world while still getting to class on time. It’s impossible to escape the past, however, and everyone has their own idea of what it means to be a hero.

 

 

The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (2007)

Persepolis is the story of Satrapi’s unforgettable childhood and coming of age within a large and loving family in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution; of the contradictions between private life and public life in a country plagued by political upheaval; of her high school years in Vienna facing the trials of adolescence far from her family; of her homecoming—both sweet and terrible; and, finally, of her self-imposed exile from her beloved homeland. It is the chronicle of a girlhood and adolescence at once outrageous and familiar, a young life entwined with the history of her country yet filled with the universal trials and joys of growing up.

 

 

Drama by Raina Telgemeier (2012)

Callie loves theater. And while she would totally try out for her middle school’s production of Moon Over Mississippi, she’s a terrible singer. Instead she’s the set designer for the stage crew, and this year she’s determined to create a set worthy of Broadway on a middle-school budget. But how can she, when she doesn’t know much about carpentry, ticket sales are down, and the crew members are having trouble working together? Not to mention the onstage AND offstage drama that occurs once the actors are chosen, and when two cute brothers enter the picture, things get even crazier! Following the success of SMILE, Raina Telgemeier brings us another graphic novel featuring a diverse set of characters that humorously explores friendship, crushes, and all-around drama!

 

 

Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona (Illustrator) (2014)

Marvel Comics presents the all-new Ms. Marvel, the groundbreaking heroine that has become an international sensation! Kamala Khan is an ordinary girl from Jersey City – until she is suddenly empowered with extraordinary gifts. But who truly is the all-new Ms. Marvel? Teenager? Muslim? Inhuman? Find out as she takes the Marvel Universe by storm! As Kamala discovers the dangers of her newfound powers, she unlocks a secret behind them as well. Is Kamala ready to wield these immense new gifts? Or will the weight of the legacy before her be too much to handle? Kamala has no idea either. But she’s comin’ for you, New York!

 

 

Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch (2010)

Spunky, strong-willed eleven-year-old Mirka Herschberg isn’t interested in knitting lessons from her stepmother, or how-to-find-a-husband advice from her sister, or you-better-not warnings from her brother. There’s only one thing shedoes want: to fight dragons!

Granted, no dragons have been breathing fire around Hereville, the Orthodox Jewish community where Mirka lives, but that doesn’t stop the plucky girl from honing her skills. She fearlessly stands up to local bullies. She battles a very large, very menacing pig. And she boldly accepts a challenge from a mysterious witch, a challenge that could bring Mirka her heart’s desire: a dragon-slaying sword! All she has to do is find—and outwit—the giant troll who’s got it!

 

 

Marble Season by Gilbert Hernandez (2013)

Middle child Huey stages Captain America plays and treasures his older brother’s comic book collection almost as much as his approval. Marble Season subtly and deftly details how the innocent, joyfully creative play that children engage in (shooting marbles, backyard performances, and organizing treasure hunts) changes as they grow older and encounter name-calling naysayers, abusive bullies, and the value judgments of other kids. An all-ages story, Marble Season masterfully explores the redemptive and timeless power of storytelling and role play in childhood, making it a coming-of-age story that is as resonant with the children of today as with the children of the sixties.

 

Kampung Boy by Lat (2006)

Kampung Boy is a favorite of millions of readers in Southeast Asia. With masterful economy worthy of Charles Schultz, Lat recounts the life of Mat, a Muslim boy growing up in rural Malaysia in the 1950s: his adventures and mischief-making, fishing trips, religious study, and work on his family’s rubber plantation. Meanwhile, the traditional way of life in his village (or kampung) is steadily disappearing, with tin mines and factory jobs gradually replacing family farms and rubber small-holders. When Mat himself leaves for boarding school, he can only hope that his familiar kampung will still be there when he returns. Kampung Boy is hilarious and affectionate, with brilliant, super-expressive artwork that opens a window into a world that has now nearly vanished.

 

Deogratias: A Tale of Rwanda by Stassen, Jean-Philippe Stassen (Illustrator), Alexis Siegel (Translator) (2006)

The 2000 winner of the Goscinny Prize for outstanding graphic novel script, this is the harrowing tale of the Tutsi genocide in Rwanda, as seen through the eyes of a boy named Deogratias. He is an ordinary teenager, in love with a girl named Bénigne, but Deogratias is a Hutu and Bénigne is a Tutsi who dies in the genocide, and Deogratias himself plays a part in her death. As the story circles around but never depicts the terror and brutality of an entire country descending into violence, we watch Deogratias in his pursuit of Bénigne, and we see his grief and descent into madness following her death, as he comes to believe he is a dog.

Told with great artistry and intelligence, this book offers a window into a dark chapter of recent human history and exposes the West’s role in the tragedy. Stassen’s interweaving of the aftermath of the genocide and the events leading up to it heightens the impact of the horror, giving powerful expression to the unspeakable, indescribable experience of ordinary Hutus caught up in the violence. Difficult, beautiful, honest, and heartbreaking, this is a major work by a masterful artist.

 

Aya: Life in Yop City by Marguerite Abouet, Clement Oubrerie, Helge Dascher (Translator) (2012)

Ivory Coast, 1978. It’s a golden time, and the nation, too—an oasis of affluence and stability in West Africa—seems fueled by something wondrous. Aya is loosely based upon Marguerite Abouet’s youth in Yop City. It is the story of the studious and clear-sighted nineteen-year-old Aya, her easygoing friends Adjoua and Bintou, and their meddling relatives and neighbors. It’s a wryly funny, breezy account of the simple pleasures and private troubles of everyday life in Yop City.

 

Foiled by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Mike Cavallaro (2010)

Aliera Carstairs just doesn’t fit in. She’s always front and center at the fencing studio, but at school she’s invisible. And she’s fine with that . . . until Avery Castle walks into her first period biology class. Avery may seem perfect now, but will he end up becoming her Prince Charming or just a toad?

 

A + E 4ever by Ilike Merey (2011)

Asher Machnik is a teenage boy cursed with a beautiful androgynous face. Guys punch him, girls slag him and by high school he’s developed an intense fear of being touched. Art remains his only escape from an otherwise emotionally empty life. Eulalie Mason is the lonely, tough-talking dyke from school who befriends Ash. The only one to see and accept all of his sides as a loner, a fellow artist and a best friend, she’s starting to wonder if ash is ever going to see all of her…. a + e 4EVER is a graphic novel set in that ambiguous crossroads where love and friendship, boy and girl, straight and gay meet. It goes where few books have ventured, into genderqueer life, where affections aren’t black and white.

 

If you would like to recommend additional titles on this topic, please leave us a comment. We always look forward to hearing what books others value and recommend.

#SVYALit Project: Bone Gap and Survivor Stories, a guest post by author Laura Ruby

One of the best books I have read in 2015 is the upcoming Bone Gap by Laura Ruby. It is a stunning and haunting look at a world where you can easily fall between the gaps. If hard pressed to come up with a if you like, I would say that this is reminiscent of the very best of Ray Bradbury, think Dandelion Wine and Something Wicked This Way Comes. Today I am honored to have Laura Ruby here guest posting for The #SVYALit Project about Survivor Stories.

I had numerous beta readers for my YA novel BONE GAP—some for their expertise on horses and farms, some for their expertise on myth and language, others simply because they know a good story when they read one and they’d tell me where mine needed work. Out of the dozen-plus people who read this book pre-pub, only one person asked a question that I still can’t get out of my head. Clearly my character Roza is a victim of some sort of sexual violence, he said, but the details are somewhat mysterious. What exactly happened to her?

Well, I told him, Roza didn’t exactly share the specifics with me.

Yeah, okay, maybe this is snotty answer to a perfectly reasonable question from a thoughtful person. And maybe my answer is also a little bit bananas; I wrote Roza’s story, how could she—a figment of my imagination!—choose to keep the gory details of something so terrible entirely to herself?  And wouldn’t it be better for readers to get the whole story in all its humiliating, awful detail?  Don’t we need it to understand her?

What exactly happened?

What exactly?

The idea we are somehow owed the stories of victims of sexual violence is pervasive, and to my mind, rather astonishing, considering our burning hostility toward such victims, our collective tendency toward creepy voyeurism. In one of the more bizarre book reviews I’ve ever read, a reviewer claimed she threw Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist across the room because Gay summed up her own gang rape at the age of twelve like this:

“They kept me there for hours. It was as bad as you might expect.”

The reviewer argues that the details of Gay’s rape are necessary, “Not because I think we need another graphic, sensational account of violence, we need a graphic, realistic account of violence that proves it needs to be taken seriously and stopped.”

And yet, graphic, realistic accounts of sexual violence are everywhere and we still don’t take them seriously. Even photographs and videos don’t stand as proof; we use the evidence to pick apart the stories, to explain away the violence, to discount and dismiss. To blame the victim who got in the car went to the dorm room went to the frat house went to the party went on the date went to the woods with someone she loved.

Even love is used against victims. Even that.

Underneath the belief that we’re owed victims’ stories is the more insidious belief that what the victim really owes us is her/his/their pain. That because you’ve been violated, you must put words to that violation, and through the telling suffer again and again for some greater societal good, or simply to satisfy our morbid curiosity — “OMG, did you hear about…?!”

After the Bad Feminist review appeared, Ms. Gay was moved to write her story in the graphic detail the reviewer had demanded.

I read the whole account with my hand over my mouth.

It was exactly as bad as I expected.

I support rape victims who come forward and bravely recount their stories, as Gay did.  And I support rape victims who choose not to. I’m not a cop or a lawyer, I will not be investigating or prosecuting any cases. I am not owed this kind of confidence. And we, as a culture, haven’t earned this kind of trust. Too often we prove ourselves entirely unworthy of it.

Gay says: “We don’t know how to hear stories about any kind of violence, because it is hard to accept that these things are complicated, that you can love someone who hurts you, that you can stay with someone who hurts you, that you can be hurt by someone who loves you, that you can be hurt by a complete stranger, that you can be hurt.”

In BONE GAP, I didn’t write about the specifics of Roza’s sexual violation because I was more interested in the toll that violation took on her: the all-encompassing shame that sapped her strength and her will, the horror at the string of sociopaths who somehow sensed the nature of her wound and reveled in it, the sheer terror she felt when she finally stumbled into a person she might be able to trust.  Mostly, though, I wanted to write about her refusal to be defined by what was done to her.

If it’s remotely appropriate to ask victims of sexual violence anything, let’s instead ask how the violence affected them, how they have coped since, how we can help.

What exactly happened is that they survived.

Meet our Guest Blogger

Raised in the wilds of suburban New Jersey, Laura Ruby now lives in Chicago with her family. Ruby is also the author of the Edgar-nominated children’s mystery LILY’S GHOSTS (8/03), the children’s fantasy THE WALL AND THE WING (3/06) and a sequel, THE CHAOS KING (5/07) all from Harpercollins. She writes for older teens as well, and her debut young adult novel, GOOD GIRLS (9/06), also from Harpercollins, was a Book Sense Pick for fall 2006 and an ALA Quick Pick for 2007.

Publisher’s Book Description

Everyone knows Bone Gap is full of gaps—gaps to trip you up, gaps to slide through so you can disappear forever. So when young, beautiful Roza went missing, the people of Bone Gap weren’t surprised. After all, it wasn’t the first time that someone had slipped away and left Finn and Sean O’Sullivan on their own. Just a few years before, their mother had high-tailed it to Oregon for a brand new guy, a brand new life. That’s just how things go, the people said. Who are you going to blame?

Finn knows that’s not what happened with Roza. He knows she was kidnapped, ripped from the cornfields by a dangerous man whose face he cannot remember. But the searches turned up nothing, and no one believes him anymore. Not even Sean, who has more reason to find Roza than anyone, and every reason to blame Finn for letting her go.

As we follow the stories of Finn, Roza, and the people of Bone Gap—their melancholy pasts, their terrifying presents, their uncertain futures—acclaimed author Laura Ruby weaves a heartbreaking tale of love and loss, magic and mystery, regret and forgiveness—a story about how the face the world sees is never the sum of who we are.

Publishes March 3rd, 2015 from Balzer & Bray/HarperTeen. ISBN: 9780062317605

Middle Grade Monday: Funny Cats and Crooks, Mary Amato and Patrick Jennings (#LastListEgmont)

Mary Amato and Patrick Jennings are each celebrating the release of new, humorous chapter books. Jennings’ Hissy Fitz is out now; Amato’s Good Crooks Book 3: Sniff a Skunk will be out on April 28, 2015. The authors, who have never met, finally get the chance to chat here.

AMATO: Patrick, I “get into character” in order to write. As you were writing Hissy Fitz, did you ever find yourself coughing up hairballs or eating cat food?

JENNINGS: I did quite a bit of hissing. The temperament of my narrator often affects mine, sometimes overly. I was a testier guy while writing the book. I also ate a lot of salmon. 

AMATO: Writers are really fun people to be around! I am haunted by characters until I finally give in and write his or her story. Were you haunted for a while by a cat before deciding to write Hissy Fitz?

JENNINGS: Yes, I was haunted by a cat like Hissy. Terrified, really. Her name was Dorothea, we called her Loobs, and she was intensely nasty to me and the other three cats that lived with us at the time. She chased one of them away into the jaws of, I assume, a coyote. I suppose it could have been the jaws of a Jeep. That ghost-white hellcat, who passed into the netherworld eight years ago, makes regular cameos in my nightmares. 

 Where did you come up with the idea of crooked parents for the Good Crooks books? Were your parents thieves and scofflaws? If not, did you wish they were?

 AMATO: I had wonderful parents, but I had an active imagination. Throughout childhood, I was quite certain several times a week that my real parents had been kidnapped and replaced by look-alikes. My father had a small dark spot on his hand, and I would frequently check to make sure the spot was there. You talk about cat nightmares…hmmn…I wonder if most writers have a lot of wild daydreams and nightmares.

JENNINGS: Mary, this back-and-forth reminds me of your book, Please Write in This Book, where a teacher leaves a journal out with the title’s instructions written on its cover. The students in her class fill it with their words and drawings. There are so many voices in the book, and they are each so distinctive. Are you schizophrenic? If not, how did you manage this?

AMATO: I do hear voices. I bet you do, too. The difference between schizophrenics and writers is that writers want to hear voices. I’m delighted that so many people inhabit my head. I find myself extremely boring.

Speaking of voices. Kids’ voices are the best. My favorite comment from a reader was: “I’m so glad you’re not dead. Dr. Seuss is dead, but you’re not!” What has been one of your favorite comments?

JENNINGS: I remember one reader telling me that I was “a testament to my profession.” I think he was eleven. I had that letter on the fridge for a long time. I often get asked which of my books is my favorite, but one reader—a boy named Cortez—asked me, “Do you like your own books?” Then there was the kid who said that he’d “always thought reading was boring and stupid, but now I love it thanks to you.” Aw shucks.

You can find out more about their books as well as more Spring 2015 releases on: http://egmontslastlist.tumblr.com/

Find out more about Mary Amato at www.maryamato.com and @maryamato; check out www.patrickjennings.com and @TheHissyFitz.

About our Guest Bloggers

Mary Amato is an award-winning children’s book author, poet, playwright, and songwriter. Her MANY books have been translated into foreign languages, optioned for television, produced onstage, and have won the children’s choice awards in several states.

Patrick Jennings’s books for young readers have received honors from Publishers Weekly, The Horn Book, Smithsonian Magazine, the PEN Center USA, the Woman’s National Book Association, and the Chicago and New York Public Libraries. The Seattle Public Library awarded his book, Guinea Dog, the Washington State Book Award of 2011. His book, Faith and the Electric Dogs, is currently being adapted for the screen. His new book, Hissy Fitz, was published in January 2015. He currently writes full time in his home in Port Townsend, Washington.

Email: patrickpending@mac.com
Website: patrickjennings.com
Blog: PatrickJenningsEsquire.blogspot.com
Facebook Author Page: facebook.com/pages/Patrick-Jennings/430215403671950

Twitter: @PJenningsWrites

Publisher’s Book Descriptions

Good Crooks Book 3: Sniff a Skunk

A funny, silly series perfect for fans of Dav Pilkey, Tony Abbott, and Nancy Krulik. Mary Amato is a star of state master and children’s choice lists and returns to the age category of her popular Riot Brothers chapter book series with this new venture.

Good Crooks Book Three: Sniff a Skunk! brings back our favorite pair of do-gooder crooks in a hilarious adventure about an odiferous encounter with a skunk.

ISBN: 9781606845981

Hissy Fitz

A popular middle-grade writer moves to chapter books with this humorous tale about a cat that makes Grumpy Cat seem cheerful. Perfect for fans of Geronimo Stilton and Dog Diaries.

Hissy Fitz lives with some two-legged creatures who are destined to serve him in every possible way and understand his every whim. Sadly, these creatures are sorely lacking in their skills. For one thing–they touch him when they want to touch him. Don’t they know that the two-legged are there for him to touch when he wants to–meaning when he wants food? Petting wakes him up! They speak to him–don’t they know the two-legged should be seen–so Hissy knows where to order food–and not heard?! It’s becoming intolerable. What is this irascible cat to do?

Published January 2015. ISBN: 9781606845967

 

Sunday Reflections: Saying Goodbye to an Old Friend, Egmont’s Last List

A little over 3 years ago when I began TLT, I had no idea what I was doing. Sure you could argue that I still don’t know what I’m doing, but then I really didn’t know what I was doing. I began blogging as sort of a hail mary pass in a moment when my life was in extreme flux due to job issues – The Mr.’s – and I just knew that being a YA librarian was really and truly the heart of who I was. And one of the very first publishers to work with me was EgmontUSA.

Shortly after I began TLT, I somehow became connected with EgmontUSA. And I became friends with Alison Weiss, one of my main contacts there. Over the years I have done a variety of projects with EgmontUSA, including hosting an annual Egmont Week. In addition, EgmontUSA was one of the sponsors for the annual It Came From a Book Teen Art Contest that we jointly host with The Library as Incubator Project.

One of my favorite EgmontUSA moments came when they invited me to a small, intimate dinner at ALA in San Diego. Stephanie Wilkes was blogging with me at the time and we were invited to eat dinner with Lex Thomas (who are really two people) and Michael Grant. There are two things I remember most about this dinner. For one, I got to eat the most amazing steak. This was a really big deal because as the mother of a child with chronic health issues working part-time at a library, there is not a lot of steak on our dinner menu. The other is that I got to spend time talking with Michael Grant, the author of a wide variety of popular book series including the Gone series and, of course, Animorphs. And yes, I’ve been a librarian long enough to remember a time when you couldn’t own enough copies of the Animorphs series.

Karen having dinner with Michael Grant

I feel like I can honestly say that TLT wouldn’t be what it is today without the help of EgmontUSA. They were the first publisher to actively send me books to review, helping me have content for my blog. When I saw them again at other events they always seemed to remember who I was and showed me incredible kindness. As someone who works in public service and often gets yelled at because a patron walks in and realizes that they may have to wait a few minutes for a computer or because I have to explain once again that no I’m sorry we’re not getting any tax instruction books, it was so edifying to get to have those moments where someone remembered you, treated you with kindness and respect, and could talk enthusiastically about the books you love with you.

EgmontUSA also holds a place in my heart because they published some of my favorite titles, including The Hourglass series by Myra McEntire, the Ashes trilogy by Ilsa. J. Bick, Human.4 and The Future We Left Behind by Michael Lancaster, and Guitar Notes by Mary Amato.

I was incredibly sad when it was announced that EgmontUSA would be closing its doors. I wondered what it would mean for those authors who had or would soon be publishing titles under their house. There was a bit of a silver lining this past week when it was announced that Lerner is going to be acquiring those authors and titles, but in many ways it still feels like the end of an era for me personally.

This next week we are honored to be hosting Egmont’s Last List. Every day we will be featuring posts from some of EgmontUSAs authors who will be publishing their final titles with the Egmont logo on the spine. It’s a bittersweet honor, getting to work with EgmontUSA this one last time.

This Sunday, I can’t help but reflect on what Egmont has meant to me personally: as a librarian, as a reader, and as a blogger who is just looking for a way to learn and grow and be a YA librarian even in the midst of job changes and kids with health issues. Thank you so much to everyone who worked at Egmont for allowing me to continue to do what I love. Thank you to the authors for writing some of the books that I have loved and been deeply moved or entertained by. I wish you all great success in the future.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go snuggle up with my Egmont books.

Friday Finds – February 27, 2015

This Week at TLT

Sunday Reflections: The Skin I’m Not Comfortable In, looking back and looking forward at a life with an eating disorder

Book Review: Elena Vanishing: A Memoir by Elena and Clare B. Dunkle

Medication, Depression, and I Was Here

Middle Grade Monday – Shannon Hale

What’s new in LGBTQIA+ this (late) winter

An updated pop up mobile makerspace, what I know now and how I’m adding more technology

Serving Full T.I.L.T. : Empathy, remembering what it’s like to be a teen and how it helps us be better teen services librarians

Evaluating Potential Technology for a Makerspace: Cubelets, Little Bits, MaKey MaKey, Raspberry Pi, Sphero

Lists, Letters, and More: YA Books with Characters Who Write

FSYALit: Catholicism in YA, a guest post by Katie Behrens

Around the Web

At Huffington Post – ‘Survival Sex’ And The LGBTQ Youth Who Are Turning To It

Six lessons on young adults’ literature from a 13-year-old

This week in authors being smart on the internet:

At the Washington Post – Why digital natives prefer reading in print. Yes, you read that right.

A thoughtful response to the $7.25 per hour wage for a library director in Kentucky, from dollymegan.com.

New Line options the movie rights to Gayle Forman’s newest novel.

From Latin@s in Kid Lit - Depression in YA and the Latin@ Community

Learner Publishing acquired Egmont’s USA list

FSYALit: Catholicism in YA, a guest post by Katie Behrens

Today as part of our Faith and Spirituality in YA Lit Project, guest Katie Behrens is discussing Catholicism in YA literature.

When I was confirmed in the Catholic Church at the age of 16, I really meant it. I knew there was a lot about the faith that I didn’t know and maybe some stuff I didn’t understand, but I knew the Church was important to me. I was your typical, book-loving public school kid, but I also felt a great longing for life to be bigger than it seemed. The Catholic Church, filled with beauty and mystery and 2,000 years of theology, was where I found myself.

Unless you know Catholics who take their faith seriously, you could easily assume that it’s a dying religion of a bygone era. That’s the stereotype I get from the media, at least. Fictional Catholic characters usually “go through the motions” of religious practice out of obligation, rather than personal conviction. My experience is the opposite. In college, I met hundreds of people my age who were full of life and joy because of their Catholic faith. They might be a minority, but believe me, Catholic teens definitely exist.

For a religion that unites an estimated 1.2 billion people worldwide, Catholicism can be very misunderstood. Catholics ARE Christians. We do read the Bible, but we also look to tradition and the great writings of the past for guidance. However, many baptized-and-confirmed Catholics don’t know what the Church really teaches or why. In the U.S. at least, the past several generations have received poor instruction about the Church’s teachings and mission. We all acknowledge it – if you attended CCD between 1970 and 2000, you probably didn’t get the full picture.  Even worse is the painful and horrible reality of the priest abuse scandals brought to light in the past 20 years. It caused great hurt within the Church, and cast doubt on the clergy.

All of these factors contribute to a pretty pitiful representation in YA lit. Priests and religious (monks and nuns) are all too often used as a stand-in for ultimate and crushing authority in the lives of teens. Catholicism is seen only in its “rules” and not as a diverse and complex body of believers. It’s especially obvious in stories set in a Catholic school, like The Chocolate War. The primary Church representative, Brother Leon, manipulates the schoolboys against each other for his own gain. A power-hungry, corrupt priest is a stereotype, no question. Is there corruption in the priesthood? Unfortunately yes – they’re humans just like us. But that seems to be the only role they play in stories (I’m looking at you, Dan Brown), and it’s become a tired trope.

Catholicism for teen protagonists isn’t so much a stereotype as it is a flat, empty character trait. Maybe they say their family is Catholic, and then a sentence or two dismisses its importance to the story. Is that the fault of the author? Not necessarily. The world is filled with devout Catholics and cultural Catholics and “cafeteria” Catholics (so-called because they pick and choose what they believe). A character who says she’s Catholic can fall anywhere on that spectrum. We all want characters that present faith in a positive light, no matter what we believe, but the reality is that lived faith is messy.

I want to focus on three books that positively resonated with my experience as a Catholic. The first is Gene Luen Yang’s graphic novel Boxers & Saints. The corresponding stories of Little Bao and Vibiana are centered on the Boxer Revolution in China at the turn of the 20th century. Faith is shown to be real, something for which people choose to die. In Saints, Vibiana sort of falls into Christianity and eventually embraces it in the face of death. St. Joan of Arc appears to her and inspires her, even when it would be easier to renounce it all. We also see characters who bully in the name of Christ, a priest who makes difficult decisions in serving his congregation, and the stark reality of martyrdom. Yang, a Chinese American Catholic, beautifully weaves these stories of faith and identity together with humor and grace.

My second recommendation is The Last Summer of the Death Warriors by Francisco X. Stork. There’s so much wonderful and deeply honest discussion of faith between different characters, but I think there’s a particularly Catholic flavor to it. Daniel Quentin (D.Q.) is dying when he meets Pancho Sanchez, but he’s resolved to suck the marrow out of what remains of his life. The priest in charge of the orphanage, Father Concha, is a non-sentimental man who greatly cares for the children (not a stereotype!). Pancho was raised Catholic, and when pushed on the topic, he says, “Faith’s what makes you pray. It’s why people say the Rosary and light candles to Jesus and Mary and all those saints. It’s what you go to church for. It’s why you’re good when you want to be bad. It’s what you think is gonna happen to you after you die.” He doesn’t have to say much more about what he thinks of religion, because his actions through the rest of the novel make it clear what Pancho believes. There’s a great exchange between D.Q. and Pancho later in the story that goes like this:

Pancho: “You gotta believe.”

D.Q.: “I believe. Help my unbelief.”

Pancho: “What’s that?”

D.Q.: “Nothing. Something I remembered.”

That “something” is from the Gospel of Mark, chapter 9, where a father asks Jesus to heal his epileptic son. It’s an emotional moment where humanity meets divinity. The fact that Stork can sneak scripture into character conversation definitely earns my respect.

My third pick is a recent read for me: The Opposite of Hallelujah by Anna Jarzab. For most of Caro’s life, her older sister Hannah has been gone at a convent, but Hannah returns one day and won’t explain why. Caro has to get used to Hannah in her life again, all the while balancing friends, school, boys, and whatever she does or doesn’t believe about religion. Jarzab does an amazing job showing the complexities of faith, especially what happens when it’s used to shut the world out. The priest with whom Caro forms a friendship speaks eloquently and accurately about Catholicism – and he loves science (that’s right! We do!). Caro herself wrestles with the big questions and comes to a place of peace amidst her confusion. It’s not a perfect novel – sometimes scenes are forced, and I highly doubt that Hannah’s religious order would have allowed her to stay as long as she did when she was obviously unhappy. It’s still one of the best representations of real Catholic faith I’ve seen in realistic YA fiction.

Other great Catholic characters and themes can be found in more classic works. For the teen that likes reading older stuff, you only have to point them to Flannery O’Connor, G.K. Chesterton (especially The Ball and the Cross and The Man Who Was Thursday), C.S. Lewis’ work for grown-ups (The Great Divorce, The Screwtape Letters, and his Space Trilogy), Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, and J.R.R. Tolkien. Tolkien, a devout Catholic, famously said that “The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision.”

Did you notice the racial diversity in the three selections?  It was unplanned on my part, but it speaks to the inherent diversity within the Catholic Church. All across the globe, people are united by the same beliefs and love for God (the word ‘catholic’ means ‘universal’). As we call for greater ethnic diversity in YA lit, we should also expect more stories of authentic faith.

Meet Our Guest Blogger

Katie Behrens is a 2013 graduate from UW-Madison’s School of Library and Information Studies. She’s currently obsessed with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Thrilling Adventure Hour podcast, and her first reread of The Lord of the Rings. Katie is a project manager for The Library as Incubator Project and occasionally blogs at thirstydaughter.wordpress.com.

About the Books Discussed:

Boxers and Saints by Gene Yuen Lang

One of the greatest comics storytellers alive brings all his formidable talents to bear in this astonishing new work.

In two volumes, Boxers & Saints tells two parallel stories. The first is of Little Bao, a Chinese peasant boy whose village is abused and plundered by Westerners claiming the role of missionaries. Little Bao, inspired by visions of the Chinese gods, joins a violent uprising against the Western interlopers. Against all odds, their grass-roots rebellion is successful.

But in the second volume, Yang lays out the opposite side of the conflict. A girl whose village has no place for her is taken in by Christian missionaries and finds, for the first time, a home with them. As the Boxer Rebellion gains momentum, Vibiana must decide whether to abandon her Christian friends or to commit herself fully to Christianity.

Boxers & Saints is one of the most ambitious graphic novels First Second has ever published. It offers a penetrating insight into not only one of the most controversial episodes of modern Chinese history, but into the very core of our human nature. Gene Luen Yang is rightly called a master of the comics form, and this book will cement that reputation.

The Last Summer of the Death Warriors by Francisco X. Stork

Two young men — one dying of cancer, one planning a murder — explore the true meanings of death and life in the tense and passionate new novel from the author of MARCELO IN THE REAL WORLD.

When Pancho arrives at St. Anthony’s Home, he knows his time there will be short: If his plans succeed, he’ll soon be arrested for the murder of his sister’s killer. But then he’s assigned to help D.Q., whose brain cancer has slowed neither his spirit nor his mouth. D.Q. tells Pancho all about his “Death Warrior’s Manifesto,” which will help him to live out his last days fully–ideally, he says, with the love of the beautiful Marisol. As Pancho tracks down his sister’s murderer, he finds himself falling under the influence of D.Q. and Marisol, who is everything D.Q. said she would be.

The Opposite of Hallelujah by Anna Jarzab

Caro Mitchell considers herself an only child—and she likes it that way. After all, her much older sister, Hannah, left home eight years ago, and Caro barely remembers her. So when Caro’s parents drop the bombshell news that Hannah is returning to live with them, Caro feels as if an interloper is crashing her family. To her, Hannah’s a total stranger, someone who haunts their home with her meek and withdrawn presence, and who refuses to talk about her life and why she went away. Caro can’t understand why her parents cut her sister so much slack, and why they’re not pushing for answers.

Unable to understand Hannah, Caro resorts to telling lies about her mysterious reappearance. But when those lies alienate Caro’s new boyfriend and put her on the outs with her friends and her parents, she seeks solace from an unexpected source. And when she unearths a clue about Hannah’s past—one that could save Hannah from the dark secret that possesses her. Caro begins to see her sister in a whole new light.

  Additional #FSYALit Posts: