Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

The Faux Fauxtography (Teen fiction and photography)

Margot Wood is a lover of YA lit and calls herself the Real Fauxtographer.  She has a blog where she takes pictures inspired by her favorite YA fiction.  If you haven’t checked it out yet, you really should because she does some amazing photography.  If you are fan of this blog you know that a lot of my teen programming ideas involve having teens create their own teen fic inspired art projects.  From illustrating their favorite quotes from books to recreating book covers with a picture of themselves on the front, there are a lot of ways that teens can cross art with fiction.  The two are wonderful dance partners, to say the least.  Because I am a huge fan of the Real Fauxtographer, I thought I would share some of the pictures that I have shared here in the last year inspired by my favorite teen fiction.  They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so I hope that Margot is flattered.

Miss Pereregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children


I had just finished reading this book when I took a shot of my then 2-year-old and accidentally cut off her head.  To me, it evoked the pictures in the book and inspired the Teen Program in a Box outline for Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs.  I still love this book and the TLT Teen Reviewer Cuyler recently shared how much he loved it too.

The Hunger Games

While going camping one weekend with 40 plus Girl Scouts (why yes, yes it was torture thank you) it rained a lot. And I do mean a lot.  But that weekend my daughter did some archery and inspired a post called Be Your Own Katniss.  And every time I looked out the window I was sure I was living my own dystopian nightmare in a ruined world full of 40 shut in preteen girls.

While walking home from school one day I was taking pictures of my pre-teen and she got sick of it and shied away from the camera.  To me, when I saw this photo, it evokes Hannah Baker.  Every time I look at it all I can think is this is what Hannah must have felt.
You may have heard, but I love love love the book Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver.  It is a superbly written book that speaks to a topic I feel passionate about.  And it is beautifully written.  While taking a walk one day I came across this tree with a heart carved in it and the initials turned out to be relevant so I snapped this pic.
In contrast I took this picture of a bench in the park and it reminded me of how they felt in the Delirium society that if they removed love they would have more control but as we all know, you can’t really control nature – or human nature.
I am a huge fan of zombie novels and post apocalyptic fiction, for reasons that I have explained. One of the more recent ones to hit the shelves involves a strong, independent young woman named Alex who is saved by the very fact that she is going to die from a tumor in her brain.  That book is Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick.  I took this picture of one of my very favorite teens, Val, and it evoked the feeling of Ashes for me.

If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson is the tragically beautiful love story of star crossed lover.  The language of this story has always stayed with me and emphasizes the idea that sometimes two people are meant, are destined, to come together in life.  One day as I sat watching my two daughters snuggle together, I thought about this book and how in their own way they two were meant to come together.  This picture also inspired my TPIB idea The Book Quotation Celebration.
This is the only picture that I purposely took because I was doing a publicity piece for The Downside of Being Charlie and the upcoming contest with Jenny Torres Sanchez for The 2012 Project.  In her debut book, a young man named Charlie uses photography to help express himself.  This is a heartbreaking and inspiring contemporary novel.  You should check it out.

Variant by Robison Wells is another wicked cool dystopian with some phenomenal twists.  This picture isn’t so much inspired by the book as it is an actual depiction of someone reading the book – but up in a tree.  It was just too fun not to include.  People should read more books up in trees.
 It is this picture, however, that better evokes something from the novel itself.
So here’s a tip: If you do a google image search with the name of a book that you love, you can often find some amazing art inspired by it.  Or you can always create your own.  Share your favorite teen fic inspired art by linking to it in the comments and let me know what you think of mine.
Check the TPIB TOC (Teen Programs in a Box Table of Contents) for a lot of great activities that you can use with your teens to create their own teen fic inspired art.  Be sure to check out the Embrace by Jessica Shirvington inspired 3D art project where your teens become the cover models for their own angel paranormal fiction.
Other art resources from TLT:
and More

13 Reasons Why I Love 13 Reasons Why

A couple of weeks ago 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher hit a milestone: it has been on the bestseller list for 2 years straight.  And it deserves it.  Here are 13 reasons why I love 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher and think that all teens, and teen librarians, should read it.

“You can’t stop the future
You can’t rewind the past
The only way to learn the secret
…is to press play.” (Jay Asher, 13 Reasons Why)

1. The Storytelling Device

13 Reasons Why is the story of Hannah Baker, who has just committed suicide.  At the beginning of the book Clay Jensen receives a set of audio tapes with the instructions that he must listen to the tapes and then pass them on to the next person on the list.  If he fails to do so, the contents of the tapes will be made public.  Here Hannah tells her story as she sends her listeners on a sort of scavenger hunt to places where important, and often devastating, events in her life took place.  It is a unique and compelling story telling devise.  At one point Clay steals a Walkman from a friend to go on this hunt as not many people have cassette players these days.  But like Clay, once you start listening (or in this case reading), you can’t stop.  As Clay sits in a coffee shop late one night listening to the tapes and hearing Hannah tell what happened there, you are eerily haunted by her voice, her story, her memories.  Her body lays in the grave, and yet her words are whispering a tale in your ears that at times seems so horrific in emotion it overwhelms.  You want to close the book and walks away, but you simply can not.  Hannah has a tale to tell and if you shut the book you do a disservice to her memory.  So Clay trudges along on this heartbreaking scavenger hunt through a town that is haunted by Hannah’s suicide and as he learns what part he had to play in her death we do, too.

“I hope you’re ready, because I’m about to tell you the story of my life. More specifically, why my life ended. And if you’re listening to these tapes, you’re one of the reasons why.” (Jay Asher, 13 Reasons Why)


2.  Clay Jensen

Clay is not really a villain in this story.  He is simply your typical teenage boy who has a crush from afar and doesn’t really know what to do about it.  Clay’s part in this story reminds is that it is not always what we do that matters, but sometimes it is what we fail to do.  Sometimes, by failing to act or by doing too little, we can cause tremendous consequences.  By making Clay a likable, and relateable, character, the journey is both softer and more powerful.  As the book says, “A lot of you cared, just not enough.”

3.  Hannah Baker

Any one of us could be Hannah Baker.  And the things that happen to her happen, sadly, far too often.  There are far too many Hannah Baker’s in this world.  Even I have at times been Hannah Baker, which I talk about here.  It is hard not to relate to and sympathize with Hannah Baker, unless you are one of those who torment – and I hope that reading her story will change the minds of those who do.  To all the Hannah Bakers in the world we say you have worth, there is hope, please get help.

4.  The Topic of Bullying

Sadly, bullying is far too common of an occurrence.  We hear about it in the news so often.  Every time I hear that another teen has taken their life because of bullying I die a little more inside.  The only way we can help stem the tide is to help teens understand what it means to walk in another person’s shoes.  13 Reasons Why does that.  As you walk in the shoes of Hannah Baker you understand what it is like to watch your reputation slip away from you, to walk through a crowded hallway and feel more alone then ever.  Literature has the power to open our minds and hearts and help us to examine self and the world we live in.  This is one of those books that every teen needs to read and discuss and understand.  As many of us say frequently in our discussion of YA literature, YA Saves.

5.  Actions Have Consequences

At the heart of this story a simple truth is revealed: actions have consequences.  It is not necessarily one moment in time that causes Hannah to take her own life.  No, each little incident leads to another until her life spirals out of control.  Each incident somehow leads to the next and a domino effect is created in the life of Hannah; at the end of the domino chain Hannah is left with the all too familiar hopeless feeling that things can never get better.  There is no light at the end of her tunnel, the actions of those in her life have snuffed it out:  “No one knows for certain how much impact they have on the lives of other people. Oftentimes, we have no clue. Yet we push it just the same.” (Jay Asher, 13 Reasons Why)

6.  It’s a Mystery

Although in many ways 13 Reasons Why is a stunning contemporary novel, it also is a novel filled with mystery and suspense.  The reveal of why, exactly, Hannah ended up taking her own life is a slow, steady build that keeps you turning every heartbreaking page.  You want to shut the book, but in the end you keep moving forward because you must. know. why.  Sherman Alexie says it best in his cover blurb: “Thirteen Reasons Why is a mystery, eulogy, and ceremony. Twenty or thirty times, I snapped the book shut when a sentence, an image, or line of dialogue was too beautiful and painful. But I, afraid and curious, would always return to this amazing book. I know, in the years to come, I will often return to this book.”

7.  Coming Soon to a Theater Near You

So much great YA literature is being adapted to the movie screen right now and this is one of the ones I am looking forward to.  I know I am totally dating myself, but I see this as having the power to move like the works of John Hughes did in the 80s.  Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club . . . I see 13 Reasons Why as having the opportunity to capture the moment and truly move and inspire.

8. Award Winning Book

13 Reasons has won multiple awards, and rightfully so.  Some of the awards it has won includes:

California Book Award Winner

Best Books for Young Adults (YALSA)
Quick Picks for Reluctant YA Readers (YALSA)
Selected Audiobooks for Young Adults (YALSA)
Borders Original Voices finalist
Barnes & Noble – Top 10 Best for Teens
International Reading Assoc. – Young Adults’ Choices
Kirkus Reviews Editor’s Choice
Book Sense Pick – Winter
Chicago Public Library Best Books
Association of Booksellers for Children – Best Books
State Awards – Winner (voted on by students): Florida, Kansas, Kentucky

9. Trans Media

If you visit the 13 Reasons Why website, there are YouTube clips where you can hear the tapes of Hannah Baker being read aloud.  This takes the story to the next level and makes it more intimate.  There is also a blog that discusses Hannah’s Reasons for you to check out.  Plus, transmedia is all the rage right now and this is an example of it being used in a way that makes sense.  Here the transmedia is effective and enhances the story.  It is not just a marketing device but a content enhancer.  Hearing Hannah’s eerie voice stuns.  The realization that you are listening to a dead girl tale her tell sends chills down your spine.

10.  The Title

Some may consider it shallow, but I love the title of this book.  It definitely makes you want to pick it up and find out more.  13 Reasons Why what?  I have read many a book based on the book title alone (Even a Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, etc).  Like covers, titles can lure you in.  They tease you.  And I just think this title is effective both as a title, and as a title for THIS story.

11. The 13RW Project

The 13RW Project is a place for teens to share their thoughts and feelings about the book online.  Here teens share their powerful responses to the book.  All to often they share their own feelings of depression, thoughts of suicide and their experiences with bullying.  They are heartbreaking stories, but they are often stories of hope as well.

12. Quotability Factor

As I read, I keep a notebook handy and write down my favorite quotes; those words that move me, that stir my soul, that make me think.  One of the ways in which I judge a book is whether or not it has a high quotability factor for me.  13 Reasons Why is moving and speaks tremendous truth about the human condition.  Some of my favorite quotes from 13 Reasons Why include:

“But you can’t get away from yourself. You can’t decide not to see yourself anymore. You can’t decide to turn off the noise in your head.”

“You don’t know what goes on in anyone’s life but your own. And when you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re not messing with just that part. Unfortunately, you can’t be that precise and selective. When you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re messing with their entire life. Everything. . . affects everything.”

“A flood of emotions rushes into me. Pain and anger. Sadness and pity. But most surprising of all, hope.”

13. Discussion Guide

This is an important book on a timely topic and a definite must read for the classroom and in book clubs.  To make it easier for you to use, a handy little discussion guide is provided.

A few weeks after I finished reading 13 Reasons Why, I was still caught up in my head with the power and the glory of this book when I saw a teen of my post a status on his Facebook page: “Cody, why man?”  My worst fears turned out to be true; a teen who had come to my teen programming for years has committed suicide.  I walked into work that day and broke down crying.  As tears streamed down my face I thought of this book and how hard it is to truly know what is going on in the lives of those around us.  I thought of how many Hannah Bakers there are in this world.  In that moment I made a decision and decided that I was going to donate copies of 13 Reasons Why to several libraries in Cody’s memory.  It was the little thing I could do to honor him and help spread the message that every life has meaning, every life has a value, and we all need to honor one another because we just don’t need anymore Hannah Bakers in this world.  If you are not one of the people who have kept this book on the bestseller list for the last 2 years, then I hope you will go out and read it.  And then share it with everyone you know.

“In the end….everything matters.” (Jay Asher, 13 Reasons Why)

Please share in the comments how bullying or suicide has touched your life in any way.  Also, please share the reasons why you love 13 Reasons Why.  And above all if you need help, please tell someone in your life.

Previous TLT Posts About Bullying:
A Letter to Teens About Bullying
Quotable RA: Stop Bullying. Period.

Want to Serve Teens? You Have to Know What They Think

In January I went to ALA and was astounded when I ran into two teenage girls.  We all stood there and stared at the Pandemonium ARC.  I believe there were longing caresses of the ARC itself involved but it had a huge DISPLAY ONLY sticker on the cover so we just sat there and dreamed.  We struck up a conversation and I was super impressed to learn that they had paid their own way to ALA and they submitted for a The 2012 Project pic.  Then a couple of months later I ran into Marissa, one of the two, again when I went to meet Lauren Oliver.  It turns out that these two fabby fab teens are book bloggers and they have a blog entitled Beneath the Moon and Stars.  I have met some more teenage book bloggers via Twitter.  Honestly, I love reading what teens have to say about the books they read.  We can read and review all that we want as adults, but if we are going to serve teens we need to spend time getting to know, understand, and respect teens.  So today, I introduce you to Marissa and Jasmine.  These are two teens that you should follow to keep your pulse on what teens are reading, and what they think about it.
Hi this is Marissa and Jasmine. We started our YA book blog Beneath the Moon and Stars back in November. We wanted to make a blog because we saw tons of other bloggers getting awesome books for review. Also we’re best friends who both love to read and we got tired of talking to just each other about these amazing books so we figured why not make a blog and tell everyone else about them? Since starting our blog we have talked to tons of amazing bloggers and authors and went to a lot of events where we were actually recognized which was really cool.


Back in January we heard about ALA which is a national book conference and this year the Midwinter one was in Dallas so we decided to go. We are so glad that we did. It was such an amazing experience and we got tons of book and we met a lot of great people including Karen who runs this awesome blog. People were really surprised that we were teens who not only read all the time but blogged about it too because most of the people who read and blog about YA aren’t actually teens. That’s understandable but if you’re a teen and you love to read and are interested in blogging about it you should go for it. As long as you put the right amount of time and effort into it it’s really not that hard.
Okay so now to recommend books. It’s really hard for us to recommend only 5 so we decided to split up our favorites for different genres. Hopefully sometime soon you can go on a book shopping spree. Now get ready to take notes:



Please be sure to go visit their blog and leave them encouraging comments.  They are doing what we all work so hard to get teens doing: reading! Do you follow any other teen book bloggers? Let us know who in the comments.  Also, what are your recommendations for amazing series, dystopian, paranormal romance, and contemporary fiction?  What book isn’t very popular that you love?  Share in the comments.

Don’t Underestimate the Value of Twitter

I am fairly new to the Twitterverse, and fairly addicted. It’s mostly Maureen Johnson’s fault (that woman is split your sides funny, you should definitely follow her).  An avid Facebook user for years, I had no idea how rich the book culture was on Twitter.  Here are 10 reasons why you should be on Twitter.

10.  Fast and Furious News

A wide variety of news outlets, including Publisher’s Weekly, Yalsa and VOYA, tweet links and various relevant facts that keep you quickly and easily updated.  All you have to do is open the link and read the news source.  As a reader, the most amazing moment in my life occurred when someone tweeted that author Lauren Oliver was going to be coming to a bookstore that it turns out was just 45 minutes from my house.  I learned of it the day before and made the trek to meet Lauren Oliver (read about Lauren Oliver day here) and outside of getting married and having my babies, it was truly one of the more amazing moments in my life.  If it wasn’t for Twitter, it never would have happened.  I learn what is going to be on the bestseller list, what upcoming teen author festivals are in my area, and more.  During conferences like ALA or PLA you can follow the discussion even when you can’t make it there.  By choosing who you follow you create for yourself a news aggregator tailored to your wants and needs.

9.  Book, Books and More Books

Book bloggers, librarians, readers, and more – this is a great way to learn what’s being talked about right now.  And there are so many people who share books on their TBR (to be read) list that your own TBR list will grow long – quickly.  (Seriously, my TBR would scan the globe a million times at this particular moment). In addition, authors, publishers and fans are always tweeting new book trailers, cover reveals, and reviews that are easy for you to share with your teens and help provide content for your Web and social media pages.  I also found The Apocalypsies on Twitter.  The Apocalypsies is a blog devoted to YA authors with books debuting in 2012.  The lovely Jenny Torres Sanchez (@jetchez) is a part of this group.  There is a deep and rich book world teeming under the surface of Twitter.

8.  Authors

There are a lot of amazing YA authors on Twitter and they talk not only about their books, but about themselves.  Sarah Dessen just announced that she will be releasing her 11th book next year, which will be titled Best After Ever.  The other day I had an actual conversation with the lovely Ilsa J. Bick about her book Ashes and the upcoming sequel, Shadows (due out 9/25/2012).  Some authors have left comments on my books reviews or responded via tweet and you know, it is encouraging as a librarian but it also helps you build a good reputation with your library teens and they see you as a legitimate resource in their lives.  Many of the authors will talk about their writing processes, inspiration, and more.  It would be a fun classroom or library project to have teens pick an author and really follow them as they go through the process of writing a book, getting it published and going on the marketing tour.  Speaking of the marketing tour, I have learned a lot about what all goes into marketing a book via Twitter and this is an interesting insight for aspiring writers.

7.  Maureen Johnson

Speaking of authors, there is probably none more entertaining and hilarious then the lovely Maureen Johnson (@maureenjohnson).  Her Twitter description reads as follows:

“There’s a fine line between good eye contact and the piercing stare of a psychopath.  Maureen is on the wrong side of it.” – a fan

That about covers it.  You’ll want to follow her for the sheer entertainment value of it.  Be warned, she is obsessed with monkeys and possibly unstable.  But, you know – wicked fun.

6.  Connecting Teens to Authors

The other day a teen I had never seen before walked into my library with a Vlad Tod t-shirt (Vladimir Tod is the main character in the High School Bites series by the lovely Heather Brewer, if you haven’t read it I highly recommend it).  So, this teen is standing there with a group and I walk up and say, “Awesome, you are a Vlad Tod fan.”  She is immediately impressed that I get what her t-shirt is all about.  We then proceed to talk about the books.  Then I snap a quick pic and send it to Heather Brewer via Twitter and – gasp, shudder – Heather Brewer responded and said Hi to my teen, one of her “minions” (that’s what she calls her fans).  Heather Brewer totally made this fans day and made me look like a rock star with my teen.  The next day this teen emailed me at work and now I have a library/reading advocate in my pocket who will go tell all of her friends how cool the teen librarian is at the local library.  I also sent a picture to Cassandra Clare of a young man who said The Mortal Instruments was hands down the best series ever, and she replied.  Some authors have not replied, and honestly there is a lot of luck and timing involved because they just happened to be online when I tweeted them; but in the moments when you do get lucky, you get to be someone’s hero and help them connect with authors in unique ways.  As a teen, it is always nice to know the adults you admire and look up to actually care, so thank you Heather Brewer and Cassandra Clare.  As I tweeted just last night: “Authors on Twitter and reaching out to fans help librarians do their jobs well. So thanks.”

5.  Publishers

When thinking of who to follow on Twitter, you don’t want to forget your publishers.  They too are a rich source of information, providing news about upcoming titles, letting you know what is selling well, and often having fun contests to share with your teens.  Seeing what titles the authors are really pushing also helps you get an idea of what is likely to be popular.  As with authors, I have had some great conversations with people from Egmont USA, Harper Teen, Sourcebooks Fire, Harlequin Teen and more.  Random House has a fun feed called Random Buzzers for its website which is a fun place for teens.  There is a different feel to the publishers on Twitter then just visiting their web pages and browsing through their catalogs.  Of course their goal is still to market their product, but you can build relationships with them and, again, you get inside news at a quick pace so that you can predict trends, build collections, and better meet your library teens needs.

4. Book Bloggers

I did not know what a deep and rich culture of book bloggers there were online until I joined Twitter.  I follow a ton of amazing book bloggers and it is great to read reviews, talk about books and get a wide variety of opinions about what is hot and what is not.  Many of the bloggers will also do contests which can help you get some free ARCs to give away as prizes to teens.  There are also a variety of teen book bloggers and it is always helpful to hear what teens are really thinking and what they really like.  Some of my favorite teen book bloggers include Julie (@JulieHeartBooks), Aneeqah (@AneeqahNSRL), and Marissa (@MissyRissy_rox).  If you already follow a blog they probably have an easy “Follow Me on Twitter” button that you can use to follow them.  For the record, you can follow TLT on Twitter @tlt16.

3.  Tweet Chats

Every Wednesday night there is a chat called #yalitchat where writers (and bloggers and librarians and fans) hang out and talk about books.  A lot of the times there are specific topics, other times it is a free for all.  On Thursdays Figment hosts a discussion called #figlitchat; again, it is usually guided by topic.  And there is a monthly chat about ya galleys hosted by Early Word.  This is a great opportunity to talk about upcoming titles, what people are reading and what they are saying.

Early Word YA Galley Chat: the third Tuesday of each month from 4 to 5 p.m., ET (also with a 3:30 pre-Chat session). The next one is April 17. Hash tag, #ewyagc

Figlitchat: Thursdays at 9:00 PM ET, they have recaps on the Figment webpage. Follow the hashtag #figlitchat

#yalitchat: Wednesdays at 9:00 pm ET

2.  Other Teen Librarians

Want to hear about the lives of other teen librarians?  Hop on Twitter.  Here librarians tweet about Ref questions they get at the desk, interactions with teens, that awesome program they just had and more.  You may find your next great program idea to steal – erm, I mean, borrow. Struggling to get good attendance at your book club, it’s nice to know that you aren’t alone.

1.  The 2012 Project, of course!

If you are new here (by the way, welcome) you should know that some time last year I got a whim and decided I would do a monumental teen library advocacy project which is The 2012 Project (#the2012project on Twitter).  My goal: to collect 2,012 pictures of teens reading and using their library (attending programs, hanging out, reading, browsing collections, using computers, etc.) to SHOW the world (and our administrators and communities) that libraries are still relevant, that teens do read, and that we need good staffing and funding to meet their needs.  Not only are we trying to meet their needs, but we are trying to cultivate life long learners and library supporters.  Libraries change lives, they help give books their voices by matching them with readers, and they are cornerstones of communities.  So if you want to be a teen library advocate, you can tweet your program and random libraries pics with the hashtag #the2012project to @tlt16.

And a Bonus Reason to Use Twitter: the Library as Incubator Project (@IArtLibraries)

The Library as Incubator Project is focused on highlighting the connection between art and libraries.  By following their Twitter feed you can see what types of programming, art projects and art exhibits other libraries are doing.  You’ll definitely want to check them out.

Speaking of art and libraries, if you haven’t yet you definitely need to check out The Real Fauxtographer.  Here, Margot Wood, a YA reader and photographer, joins her two interests by creating photographs based on the YA books that she reads.  So far she has covered titles such as The Giver and The Forest of Hands and Teeth.  This is a fun project to follow and a great idea to share with your teens.  And I found out about it on Twitter.  Behold the power of Twitter!

So tell me people, how do you use Twitter?  Who do you follow, and why?

Some popular @tlt16 Tweets:

“A book can change a life, but not until someone opens it.  Librarians put those books into the hands that may one day change the world.”

“It takes a while for a person to find the book that moves them, & money will often stop most people from finding it.  So visit your library.”

“A book is still silent if it doesn’t have a reader. Libraries give books their voices by connecting them to readers.”

Blog Tour: Whispering Hills by Taryn Browning

Has it been a while since you read a good ghost story?
Open the pages of Whispering Hills by Taryn Browning and prepare to be haunted.

For as long as she can remember, seventeen-year-old Alexis Forbes can hear the thoughts of others. Most recently, she is disturbed by the dark, unfamiliar voice of a frightening killer: callous, cunning, charismatic…and dead. She hears his every sinister thought. But she can’t tell anyone. No one would believe her.            

Alexis is suddenly being haunted by a terrifying past she doesn’t remember, and a ghost with a serious score to settle. Even Chance, the gorgeous new guy she’s falling for, has his own ghostly secret. He’s definitely not like any guy she’s ever met. Alexis soon discovers she has a connection to the dead and it runs much deeper than she could ever imagine.

And if the sociopathic entity has his way, she’ll finally be sentenced to the fate she escaped thirteen years ago.

It has been a while since I have read a good ghost story and there were some unique twists and turns in this paranormal.  There was also just enough romance – hello Chance – to keep the story simmering.  Just when you think you have figured out what is happening, the story takes an interesting twist.  Alexis is an interesting teen struggling to live with some obvious challenges and a huge secret; it’s hard for her to know who to trust and let people in.  Chance has some secrets of his own and a long love for Alexis.  Alexis also befriends an outsider named Summer who has secrets of her own and a witty, gothic personality.  Fans of paranormals won’t be disappointed and will look forward to reading the next book in the series as Whispering Hills sets up some intriguing questions.

It is important to give new (and newer) authors a try and although paranormal is popular right now, they tend to be more angel, demon, vampire, werewolf focused as opposed to ghosts so Whispering Hills is a great way to fill your paranormal needs with a twist.

Taryn Browning writes young adult paranormal romance and urban fantasy novels. Her debut novel, DARK SEEKER, is available on Amazon and B&N. The sequel, DARK RETURN, comes out in late, 2012.  Taryn  graduated with a BS in Education from Towson University and went on to earn a MS in Reading from Hood College. She lives in Virginia with her husband, two young sons and their dog. When she’s not writing, she enjoys reading, spending time with friends and family, music, movies, and the beach. Visit her at www.tarynbrowning.com, on twitter and facebook. 

If You Give a Geek a Computer (Book Review: Variant by Robison Wells)

So last night I was thumbing through a journal and there was a one sheet ad from Harper Teen with all their starred books including Variant by Robison Wells.  As the ad said Variant has received a starred review from VOYA magazine (and a lot of other places) and I thought to myself, “Hey, I did that!”

Then I got online and Tweeted what I just mentioned above and I follow Robison Wells (you should totally follow him too) and he responded!  The actual “conversation” went like this:

TLT: I am loving seeing ads for Variant by @robisonwells where it says it got a starred review from @voyamagazine. I did that! #totally deserved.

Robison Wells: I love seeing those ads too! THANKS!

True or False, when he responded I was a giddy little fangirl?

Then I remembered that he had tweeted that he had received a box of ARCs for the upcoming sequel to Variant, Feedback.

So I went and looked at his web page and there were pictures of him holding the ARCs right there on the front page.  After a brief moment of gooey green envy (Where’s my ARC the green monster said?!), I remembered that I had visited his page before and he had shared about having a panic disorder. So I decided to read any updates because I think it is brave and noble and an act of kindness when people with any type of health issues share their story, especially when they share stories about things that teens can identify with and know that they are not alone. (Please note: possibly the longest run on sentence ever, but I am going with it.)

Robison Wells taunts us with ARCs of Feedback.  Read all about it at www.robisonwells.com

So I was reading along and he shared that he was having a new issue, a compulsion towards self harm in a post entitled My Stupid Brain.  And again, he bravely shared his story and I was moved by it and thought, you know, this is something that teens really need to hear about. In my career as a teen librarian I have come across way too many stories of teens who have a tendency to harm self as a way to relieve their pain and it breaks my heart.  So Mr. Wells, thank you for sharing.

Then I totally geeked out and wondered exactly what I had said about Variant and I googled it; to my amazement my entire review was right there on Robison Wells page.  I am not going to lie, I squeeed a little bit.  Okay, maybe a lot.  This is what I said last summer, and it is still true today:

“Benson Foster will try anything to escape the foster care system, but when he enrolls in Maxfield Academy, he finds that he is escaping one type of hell only to be trapped in another, truly deadly, one. There are no adults at the academy; the students do everything from teaching to preparing meals and security. There are four main rules: no sex, no violent fighting, no refusing punishments, and no trying to escape. Students who break the rules are sent to detention, and they never come back. Benson is trying to find a way to escape, and along the way he finds some devastating secrets: some of the students are not who they seem to be.

Variant is an exciting, edge-of-your-seat read that combines psychological themes from works like Lord of the Flies, The Hunger Games and Ender’s Game in a truly unique way. There are a couple of twists that are truly surprising and up the emotional ante of the story. From the moment Benson enters the academy until the very end, readers are caught in a tight, tense thriller. What is the academy and why are the students there? Wells does a good job of both universe building and character development, as the rules unfold and character roles become clearer. There is a slow unfolding of academy secrets that proves to be just the right pacing. In the end, Benson may escape the walls of the school but he stumbles upon an even bigger mystery. Variant should join the ranks of today’s must-read science fiction and fantasy series . This is a highly recommended addition to any collection for teens.” (Originally published in VOYA, also found at Two Awesome Variant Reviews)

Then I thought, I have to remind everyone to go read Variant because the sequel, Feedback, is coming out in October 2012 and you don’t want to miss it.  You definitely want to be caught up to speed here people.  Variant is one of those books that I put down and was sad because I wanted more.  I wasn’t ready for it to be over.  Then I had my mom read it, and my husband, and my co-workers, and my teens.  9 out of 10 people agree with me, Variant is an amazing read and they can’t wait to read what happens next.  That 1 out of 10, they are just plain wrong.  Actually, with that 1 out of 10 the consensus seems to be that they like the book, they just aren’t sure what to make of the twist.  And as far as twists go, you will never expect this one.  So go, go now and read Variant.

So here’s our take away for today:

Go read Variant because it is an awesome read and you’ll want to be caught up before the sequel comes out.

Visit Robison Wells webpage and share it with your teens because he is unflinchingly honest about some personal mental health issues and teens need to hear that they are not alone and that they will be okay.  Be sure to tell him that he is a modern day superhero, both brave and strong.

Follow Robison Wells on Twitter (@robisonwells) so he can taunt us all about ARCs for Feedback.

PS – Robison Wells gets millions of bonus points from this X-files fan because the cover of Variant says “Trust No One”.  Sadly my Trust No One poster was ruined last year when our town, and thus my house, flooded, but I still have the memories and looking at this cover makes me warm and fuzzy inside.  And it makes sense in the context of the story.

Are you a fan of Variant, or do you agree with the 1 out of 10? Leave a comment and let me know what you think and why you can’t wait for Feedback.

This post obviously owes thanks to HarperTeen, Robison Wells, VOYA Magazine and children’s author Laura Numeroff.

MG Moment: Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt

Please join me me in welcoming school librarian Amianne Bailey to the TLT team.  She will be joining us periodically to review middle grade fiction and provide us with a Middle Grade Moment (MG Moment).  Today she reviews Okay for Now by Gary d. Schmidt.

A Story of Baseball, Birds, and Bullies

Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt resembles the story of so many of our kids. On the surface, these “smart alecks” appear to not care about school or their grades. On the surface, these “slackers” appear to not be very smart because they refuse to play the game. That’s why it is dangerous, especially as an educator, to look at kids (or anyone for that matter) from a surface perspective—to confine them to a certain stereotype and not give them the chance to surprise you.

I thought I had Doug Swieteck all figured out as the typical jaded protagonist. He comes from an extremely dysfunctional family that moves to upstate New York in the summer of 1968. Doug’s oldest brother is returning from Vietnam; his father is a “chump;” he calls his new home “the Dump.” Doug has every reason to be mad at the world. But when he stumbles into the local public library and discovers the plates of Birds of America by John James Audobon, the power of art begins to chip away Doug’s protective armor to reveal a sensitive, deeply perceptive, and talented young man.


This shift happens with several characters in the book. I admit that I first looked at each of them from a surface perspective, thinking I had them all figured out, and then Schmidt surprised me with a change—an authentic, believable change that tied to the universal theme of this powerful book: there are reasons behind our actions and reactions, and when we understand these motives, then we better understand the person, and we can help him/her heal and become whole again. Even though their horrible actions qualify these characters as “villains,” (Doug’s father and gym teacher each made me want to scream several times in the book), Schmidt slowly exposes the reasons behind their actions, and Doug begins to see them from a different perspective (and so did I). 

Doug’s voice reminds me of so many that I have heard over the years as a high school English teacher. I could not help but laugh out loud when I read the following paragraph:           

            “You know, there are good reasons to learn how to read. Poetry isn’t one of them.

            I mean, so what if two roads go two ways in a wood? So what? Who cares if it

made all that big of a difference? What difference? And why should I have to

guess what the difference is? Isn’t that what he’s supposed  to say? 

Why can’t poets just say what they want to say and then shut up?” (Schmidt 235)

 For me, the sign of a great book is that the characters stay in my head after I close the pages and nag at me to return to their story. Doug and his family kept calling me back to the book. As an adult reader, I loved Okay for Now. But I am not sure this will appeal to average middle-grade readers because of the context that needs to be established and explained in order to truly understand the power of this book. The late 1960s setting and references to the Vietnam War, New York baseball, and Audobon’s work might not interest some kids due to a lack of background knowledge. But in the hands of a skilled teacher who could establish the context, this could be a powerful read-aloud for middle grades.


Overall, kids can relate to Doug’s struggle and will root for him to overcome it. With the help of caring adults and strong friendships, Doug realizes that he will be okay for now. It is an important message to share with our kids, especially those, like Doug, who try to fool us into thinking that they do not care.

This MG Moment brought to you by the letter A and the number awesome. You know, if Awesome were a number.  Amianne Bailey is in her third year as the librarian at Shaw Elementary in Mesquite, Texas. Before she found her “dream job” in the library, she worked in the trenches as a high school English teacher for eleven years. She loves to read (obviously), spend time with her family, and watch sports.  You can visit her blog at http://mywesternsky.blogspot.com/.

Why We Hunger for the Hunger Games

A little over 10 years ago planes crashed into the World Trade Center changing the landscape of the world we live in.  There was a before and there is an after.  In the after, we live with the constant drum beats of war.  In the after, we live with the encroaching footsteps that trample our civil liberties.  In the after, we live with the omnipresent fear of “them” and “terrorists”.  In the after, we live with color codes that tell us how afraid we should be.

Today’s teens will not remember living in a world without these things.  They won’t remember a time without fear, without war, without the desperation that hangs heavy in our air.  And they will barely remember living in a time when we weren’t on the brink of economic collapse.  We are thisclose to walking of the edge and plunging into the abyss of being like District 12 it often seems.  And the people in the Captiol, well – they are living large.

Teens today will also not remember a time when you could walk into an airport and sit and wait with your loved one until boarding time.  They will never remember what life was like before The Patriot Act.  They will barely understand what it means to have to get a warrant or that we don’t kill Americans just because we think maybe kinda sorta there is a possibility that they are a terrorist.  They won’t remember that we have safeguards against unlawful searches and seizures and that you have a right to request a fair trial in the presence of your peers.

And young girls who are flipping the pages reading about Katniss Everdeen, they won’t see the benefits off how hard their foremothers fought to bring about equality to women.  No, instead, they will hear the rhetoric of men standing and making laws saying that women should stay in abusive marriages and not have the right to make decisions for themselves regarding their bodies and their medical care.  They won’t see the benefit of women marching through the streets demanding the right to vote and own property and demanding equal pay for the same type of work because we are making baby steps to beat women back and put them back in their perceived place.

This – This is why I cheer for the powerful message of The Hunger Games and other dystopian fiction titles that are making their way onto the shelves and into the hands of teens and adults.  It reminds us that if we are silent, if we are still – then we lose.  We lose our rights to be heard, to be free, and to control our destiny.  It is hard to imagine that a government would ever rise up and demand that our children enter into a televised game and kill one another to remind everyone to be complacent – and yet . . .

That is the glory of The Hunger Games: It takes what seems like a truly absurd situation and makes us examine the truth of our world today.  You can hear the lock step shuffle and the drum beats of war right now in the midst of our culture and know that if we keep heading in the direction that we are going, we may make it there.  More and more people are falling into poverty and without work, they are desperate.  Will members of our Capitol bathe in splendor while our people starve? 

It is easy to think that could never happen, and yet we know that many people sat fearfully by and said nothing while millions of Jewish people were exterminated in death camps right next door.  When Peeta says that he wants to die still being him, that he doesn’t want them to own him – I want every teen to stand up and cheer and make that their personal mantra.  There comes a moment when we must all, as people and as citizens, stand up and say this is not right.  When we fail to do so, we find ourselves living in a world like The Hunger Games, a world where we have lost the power and influence that we should have as citizens.

President Snow says that a little bit of hope is a good thing but too much hope . . . today, we still have hope.  We have the hope that our country can turn around and together we can avoid a dystopian future.  We hunger for political and social change that will take us in the right direction.  We hunger for leaders who remember that they are public servants elected by the people, for the good of the people.  We hunger for the opportunity to rise up to the challenges that face our nation and to speak up, be heard, and make a difference.  We hunger to push back those drumbeats and create a different soundtrack to our lives.  And we hunger for books and movies like The Hunger Games because they remind us of who we can become and give us the hope to stop it before it is too late.

I, for one, am glad that our teens are reading The Hunger Games and other dystopian tales.  I watched the movie last night and loved it.  Not because it is a feel good movie, but because it captured the spirit and the message of the books so incredibly well.  It reinforced the message.  It inspired.  I hope that every teen that reads The Hunger Games will be inspired to change their world before the world changes them.

And I think there is another important message of The Hunger Games.  When we are starving, it is easy for it to become every man for himself.  And yet, the truth is that we work better when we work together, when we remember that every person has value and a place in this world.  There doesn’t have to be just one victor – we can all be victorious together.

For more on the Hunger Games:
The Hunger Games and Revolution
Penn Badgley: The Hunger Games is Occupy Wall Street
Occupy the Capitol
Be Your Own Katniss
My Letter to Lauren Oliver (author of the dystopian series Delirium)
Top 10 Dystopians from a teen point of view

May the Odds Be Ever in Your Favor

Last night was the midnight premiere for The Hunger Games movie, which I was not able to attend (insert frowny face here).  But it was also the night for #figlitchat hosted by Figment and the topic was oh so appropriately The Hunger Games books.  Fans of the series joined together to discuss the works and world of Suzanne Collins and it was interesting to hear what people had to say.  It goes without saying, if you haven’t read the books I wouldn’t read on if I was you.

The Love Triangle

The topic of love triangles comes up a lot these days in teen fiction because they are omnipresent.  As many chat participants pointed out, the love triangle did in fact exist before Twilight.  Not everything is about Twilight people.  For me, the love triangle basically worked in THG.  Gale was a childhood friend who genuinely knew and had spent a lot of time with Katniss before the games.  And after the games, Peeta is now the only person who really understands Katniss, what she has been through and what it has done to her.  As far as triangles go, this one makes sense.  Katniss has a before and an after and you would want to be able to come back to the life you led in the before, but you can’t because the games change you; war changes you.

Katniss

The moderators asked if Katniss was a likable character, and most people said no.  I had never really thought about whether or not she was likable but as someone in the chat pointed out, once she steps in and volunteers to save her sister she has a nobility that is hard not to root for.  Plus, in a story about Katniss versus the Capitol readers are going to choose Katniss.  I feel that the question of likability is a moot point; these are a group of people who are barely surviving, they are not concerned with friendship and character – they are concerned with not dying, trying to find enough food to get through the day.  Most people felt that Katniss was flawed and realistic and that THIS is what made her a great character.

World Building

Without a doubt, one of the areas where Collins succeeds is in the building of the life in Panem and the Capitol.  Life in the districts, the contrast between the districts and the Capitol – these all become a character of its own in the novels.

Plot

Since Figment is an online writing community, the question was raised as to whether or not Collins did a good job of creating a tight, sustainable plot throughout the three books in the series and the answer was almost unanimously no.  Most people felt like the story unravelled over the course of the three books and for reasons that I have never understood, most people continue to loathe Mockingjay.  I, however, did not and felt that Katniss’s time in a drugged stupor was a reasonable response to being a teen and having killed others and faced death not once but twice.  I think it is important to remember that Katniss is in fact a reluctant hero; she didn’t sign up for a revolution, she was simply trying to save her sister.  At points, in fact, you could even say Katniss is being used and manipulated by those trying to overthrow the Capitol.

What Makes The Hunger Games YA?

Now this was an excellent question and the most excellent response was this: the characters are disenfranchised and feel a complete lack of control over their lives.  This is also, I think, what makes The Hunger Games such a powerful novel for our times.  In today’s world we live in a constant fear that the economy if failing, more wars are coming (because 3 in the last 10 years isn’t enough), the terrorists are coming, and we continue to lose civil liberties left and right in the name of safety.  Never before in my lifetime has there ever been such an assault on women and their bodily integrity.  And the media is used by those in positions of power to control the populace by controlling access to information.  Now more than ever we need to be a people who stands up and says that we are all a part of this nation in this together and that we will not be controlled.  And I think it is important that in The Hunger Games, it is a woman who eventually does it.  Girls need strong role models (as do men).  There are enough Bella’s in our world, we need more woman to be like Katniss who will ultimately decide to take a stand for what is right and true in this world.  That is our only hope for the future.

Share your thoughts about the #figlitchat in the comments.

For more information, check out the following:
The Hunger Games and Revolution at Galley Cat
Be Your Own Katniss
Occupy the Capitol: Engaging Teens in Politics

Figment is an online community for teens and young adults that focuses on writing.  Here you can share your work and have it critiqued by others.  Figment also provides daily writing prompts.  You will want to visit and be involved because it is a very cool community. There is a #figlitchat on a new topic each Thursday evening at 9/8 Central.  It is a fun and informative chat to be involved in.  They will have a more complete recap of the chat on their website soon so check it out.

Give Me Some Love

Last night on the #yalitchat (yes, there is a #yalitchat on Twitter and you should join them) we discussed love, romance and sex in teen fiction. So here are some of the highlights and my thoughts on the topics discussed.

The Love Triangle

Without a doubt, love triangles are popular in teen fiction.  It is hard to think of a ya novel that doesn’t have a love triangle.  I feel like I am completely done with them as a reader, to be honest.  It’s like they have become a crutch.  Instead of coming up with a good plot we’ll just throw another love interest in there.  To be fair, teen emotions run high and we are often attracted to more than one
person, especially in the teen years.  And it is probably every person’s fantasy to have more than one person fighting over them.  The consensus last night seemed to be that the love triangle was overused and coming close to played out as a storytelling device.

My verdict: If it is true to the story and is done well, then go for it.  Remember, there is nothing wrong with a slow simmering love story that just focuses on two people falling richly and authentically in love.  That in itself can be messy enough.

Instalove

Two characters meet and – voila – they are instantly in love with a hot passionate love that means they just can’t live without each other.  To me, this rings the most false in all lit.  The truth is, you can be attracted to someone but we tend to call that lust.  To be fair, you can also be attracted to a characteristic in someone that you perceive at first meeting, but the true character of a person is revealed over time and in real life situations.  True love is organic and tried in the course of daily living.  Lust, even initial attraction, can be a strong and powerful thing but it is not sustainable unless two people share things in common and build a relationship over time.

My verdict: I think (I remember) that teens can in fact feel like they are falling in love from across the room.  I think that can be a fair initial response.  What I would like to see are more stories that play out the way real life would where the teens then try to have a relationship and realize they just aren’t right for each other.

Unhealthy Relationships

Teens love deeply and every break up feels like the end of the world.  At that first glance your heart flutters and you want to spend every. single. moment together.  You can’t kiss each other enough, touch each other enough.  These are normal emotions for teens.  What I don’t like are those relationships that are very obviously unhealthy and it goes without mention in the text.  I am looking at you Twilight.  Countless essays have been written about how Edward portrays many characteristics of an abuser; he isolates Bella from her family, damages her truck so she can’t go visit Jacob, etc.  In the end she chooses to become something other than human in order to be with him.

In Embrace by Jessica Shirvington (SPOILERS DON’T READ IF YOU HAVEN”T READ EMBRACE), one of the main characters (in a love triangle) has the power to put his emotions on the main character – he is an empath.  This ability makes for a very unhealthy relationship.  Violet can never know when she is with Phoenix if what she is thinking and feeling is coming from herself.  BUT, what makes Embrace rise above the Bella trap is that Violet recognizes this and chooses self.  I applaud that decision.

My verdict: Unhealthy relationships are, unfortunately, a part of life.  What I want to see happen, and think young still developing teen girls need to see happen, is for someone in the main character’s life to say this is not healthy, walk away.  My fear is that these unhealthy relationships are presented without any discussion and teen girls will walk away thinking this is normal and right when, in fact, it is not.  Teens are new to relationships and I feel that part of our responsibility (as adults) is to help teens develop healthy and realistic ideals about relationships

Sex

There is perhaps no topic that adults fear more than teens having sex, and yet we know that some teens do.  In fact, I know one 14 year old girl with a 5 week old baby and another that had an abortion.  Whatever our personal feelings about teenage sex, we can’t pretend that it doesn’t happen if we want to write realistic love stories for teens.  Certainly how it is presented makes all the difference in the world.  Many people in the yalitchat said they didn’t feel it was appropriate to depict teens younger than 16 having sex.  The general consensus was that, like all character traits, it needed to be more well roundly represented – yes, some teens have sex, but not all of them do.  There needs to be more balance in the stories we tell so that all teens are represented.

My verdict: If it is authentic to the story and the character, then yes sex should be included in teen fiction.  It doesn’t have to be graphic or an instructional manual (although who doesn’t remember passing around Forever by Judy Blume in middle school with all the good parts dog eared so your friends knew what they were supposed to be reading).  At the end of the day it is up to the writer to write an authentic, well written tale and it is up to the reader to decide what is right for them.

In the discussion someone mentioned that what really made a quality romance was the yearning.  This is brilliant.  The discussion focused on how it is the slow steady build up to the wedding that enthralls, not the daily life of marriage.  Speaking of marriage, many people piped up and said they were kind of sick of teens getting married in teen lit.  Someone else mentioned they wanted to read more stories about childhood friends slowly coming to the realization that they loved one another, to which I say yes!  I would love to see more stories that show the slow boil of a budding romance, the other side is certainly being adequately represented.

For me, one of the best romances out there right now is The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.  I think he captures the spirit of love well; it develops organically between Hazel and Augustus, he captures that slow burn, and the messy complications that come from being in love with someone who knows that they are going to die:

“I wanted to know that he would be okay if I died. I wanted to not be a grenade, to not be a malevolent force in the lives of people I loved.”
John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

Now it is your turn: What do you think about the various topics in last night’s chat?  What are your favorite teen romances and why?

For more good love stories I recommend reading If I Stay by Gayle Forman, Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson and the lovely Miss Sarah Dessen.