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Take 5: Teenage Assasins in YA Lit

One of the big trends in teen lit for 2013 is without a doubt teenage assassins.  In addition to Boy Nobody by Allen Zadoff, here is a look at 5 titles that incorporate this trend, presented to you in alphabetical order by author’s last name – because I’m a librarian.

Nobody by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

“Do you know what I thought when you tried to kill me? The first time? I thought, How can somebody want me dead when no one knows I’m alive?” 

There are people in this world who are Nobody.  Nobody can see them.  And they make the perfect assassins. Seriously cool concept.

Dualed by Elsie Chapman

“Be the one.  Be worthy”

In the city of Kersh, everyone must eliminate their genetically alternate twin by the time they are twenty.  West becomes a striker, a type of assassin for hire that does this for others.  But can she look herself in the face and kill her twin?  Is she worthy to be the one?  This is what I said about Dualed earlier.

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers (His Fair Assassin series, book 1)

“Why be the sheep when you can be the wolf?” 

I feel like all I need to say about this series is this: Nuns as Assassins. Seriously, do you need more?  I think not.  Also, great series.  Go read it.

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

“My name is Celaena Sardothien. But it makes no difference if my name’s Celaena or Lillian or Bitch, because I’d still beat you, no matter what you call me.” 

Technically released in 2012, Caleana agrees to act as the Princes champion in a competition to find the new royal assassin in exchange for her early release from the salt mines.  Soon, other contestants begin turning up dead and she must try and discover who the killer is before she becomes the next victim.

Mind Games by Kiersten White

“She’s a monster.” Ms. Robertson
Clarice, small laugh: “But she’s our monster.” 

Fia is born with flawfless instincts.  She is trapped in a “school” that uses the powerful weapons of Fia and her sister, Annie, for sinister purposes.  If they refuse to obey, they risk each other’s life.  These two sisters are determined to protect each other, no matter the cost.  And the cost is high.

Have some titles to add to the list?  Leave the title and author in the comments with your mini review.

Book Review: Boy Nobody by Allen Zadoff

I walk past the revolving lights of the ambulance.

Past the security vehicles, the police officers, the chatter of voices over shortwave radios.
“Do you need a ride?” the gate guard says.

“I’m good,” I say.

“Tough day,” he says.

“Terrible,” I say.

“It happened on my watch,” he says, shaking his head. “But they can’t blame me, right? I’m not God. I don’t get to decide when and where.”

Not true. You don’t have to be God to decide when and where. You only have to take action and be willing to deal with the consequences.

“Take care of yourself,” he says.

“I always do,” I say.

He opens the gate for me, and I’m out.

I walk down the street slowly, like someone who is traumatized. But I’m not traumatized. I’m already thinking about what comes next. I’m reviewing my exit strategy.

And maybe, just for a moment, I’m thinking about Jack.

He was my best friend for four weeks.

But not anymore.

He might not like it much that I killed his father. Not that he’ll know. The drug leaves no trace. Jack’s dad had a heart attack. That’s what the autopsy will show, if there is an autopsy. Strings will be pulled. Or the modern equivalent- computer keys pressed.
If an autopsy is done, it will show nothing at all.

Natural causes.

That’s my specialty. People die around me, but it never seems like my fault. It seems like bad luck following good.

Good luck: You meet a great new friend at school.

Bad luck: A tragedy befalls your family.

The two don’t ever seem connected, but they are.

Jack didn’t know that when we became best friends a month ago. I slipped into his life easily, and now I’m slipping out just as easily.

I’ve broken another guy’s heart, changed the course of his life. Lucky for me, I can do it and not feel it.

I don’t feel anything.

Not true.

I feel cold, I feel hungry, I feel the fabric of a new shirt rubbing against my skin, and I feel gravel beneath my feet.

But those are sensations, not feelings.

I had feelings once, too. I think I did. But that was a long time ago.

That was before.


Boy Nobody is the perfect assassin:  blending in to the school to befriend the target’s teenage kid, getting into the house of the target and making the kill, and getting out again under the cover of a tragedy of his own ‘parents’ before anyone is any wise. Always moving from target to target, he’s too busy and buried in his own missions to wonder about his past and what really happened to his parents, or to question the motives of his superiors.

Until now. His newest assignment takes him to New York, where in 5 days he’s to befriend Sam, the daughter of the mayor of New York, and take out her father. When Sam gets under his skin, and her father starts reminding him of his own family, everything that Boy Nobody has depended on starts to turn upside down, and his ever-present Watchers from The Program add to the pressure. Can Boy Nobody figure out who he wants to be and break his programming?

A true anti-hero book, boy nobody will remind modern readers of both James Bond and Jason Bourne with the mission completions and the pressure from both sides. Falling for Sam is the least of his worries when tests and pressure from The Program come into play, especially when Boy Nobody starts to suspect that the mission he is on is the wrong one. His examination of himself and his morality, as well as the speed and direction of the plot, keeps readers guessing, and the twists and turns will keep you on your seat. Recommended for reluctant readers for the short chapters, shorter paragraphs, and high action. There are scenes that are extremely violent, and some stereotyping (which is discussed below). Definitely pair with I am the Cheese (for the antihero) or Proxy (for suspense). 3.5 stars out of 5. As of July 21, 2013, Goodreads has Boy Nobody has rated as 3.96 stars

Enter to win an ARC of Boy Nobody… What is your favorite spy/assassin YA book in the past few years?  Tell us in the comments to be entered to win.  Be sure and leave a Twitter @ or email so we can contact you if you win.  Enter by Friday, August 2nd at Midnight.

MASSIVE SPOILERS REVEALED
I was *SOOOOO* excited to get this book. I love action/adventure, and have seen every Bond movie (including On Her Majesty’s Secret Service which is the one NO ONE will claim to have seen). I’ve seen Jason Bourne, and watched the new Bourne movie, and was really hyped about a book embracing this theme and culture- something that I could get into the hands of my teens who love these same movies but keep telling me “MISS, READING IS BORING!!!”

And I really loved the book! I loved the premise, and I loved the backstory, and was flying through the book. And I think professionally it deserves the rating I gave it above.

However, I have personal issues with it.

I didn’t have a problem with the violence. Or the fact that we’re attacking New York. Or that Boy Nobody’s father may have been involved in The Program and gotten out, or that he may still be alive somewhere after all.

I got to the last quarter of Boy Nobody where it is revealed that Sam, the daughter, is plotting to kill her father with her boyfriend from Israel. 

The American father is being plotted against by his half American half Israeli daughter with her full Israeli boyfriend.

Really?

REALLY!?!?!?!??!

We need this stereotypical characterization in the world right now?!?!?!?!??!?!?!?!

I get the angst- she’s pissed because he let her mother die. And I get that the boyfriend played on her grief and emotions. But did we really need a book that made a POC (person of color), in fact a female POC who was intelligent and witty and funny, be out for revenge and blood debt? It wouldn’t have been better had it been a POC SON out for revenge, either. It just feels like extending, inflaming, and perpetuating the hatred that is still in this country from the attacks of 9/11. There had to have been another way to get the same situation and the same tension without making Sam’s heritage a nationality that already has a lot of hatred going against it in America.

Reel Thoughts: The Wolverine (movie review by Christie G.)

I am a comic book geek, and I am addicted to movie adaptations (for good or ill) of comic book series. I have seen the good (X-Men: First Class, Marvel’s Adventures) and the bad (Green Lantern, X-Men Origins: Wolverine), and even though I was a little nervous about taking my teens to go see The Wolverine, I figured that if it was as bad as the previous one, at least we could mock it…
 


To my great surprise it was actually really good. It’s placed timeline-wise after X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) when Logan (Wovervine) has destroyed Jean/ Phoenix, and is struggling with both her death and what his life has become. He is found in the Canadian outback by Yukio, an assistant to a Japanese soldier Logan saved from a nuclear blast during World War II.  Now the soldier wants to return the favor:  to save Logan’s life by taking his immortality.

Anyone who’s watched the Wolverine animated series on G4 (soon to be the Esquire channel), or read the 1982 limited comic series written by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller, will be familiar with the story line and how most of the movie goes. The violence is similar to other X-Men movies, but to me didn’t seem nearly as realistic or jarring as the terrorism scenes in Iron Man 3. 

My teens and I really enjoyed it.  It’s definitely one that I will add to our library collection and would love to show at the library, if Disney ever gets the rights back from Fox for the X-Men properties.

For weird/awesome things that can possibly spoil the movie, follow the break!


STAY THROUGH THE CREDITS

DC hasn’t done this for some of their movies, and sometimes Fox hasn’t done it for their comic creations either, but this time they are taking a page from the rest of their Marvel brethren and adding in a teaser for where the franchise is going. On the bright side, it’s only one, not the three different endings that came out during the end of X-Men Origins: Wolverine; but on the semi-negative side where it’s placed depends on what *type* of movie you see. We saw it in 3-D so it was pretty close after the listing of the cast (at the transition from the 3-D credits to the 2-D credits), but I’ve seen online that if you see the movie in 2-D that it’s shown after *all* of the credits.

It’s not any surprise to anyone who has paid attention to the news that came out from Comic Con, but it’s fun to see anyway, and gets you excited for what’s coming next. I’m interested to see how they’re going to mesh everything together in X-Men: Days of Future Past with the “old” and “new” cast, and I am super excited about the Sentinels


EDITING FLAWS

There were some flaws in editing that we noticed that shouldn’t have happened in a film this size- it’s like getting a misprinted book. If you haven’t seen it yet and are interested, go take a look and see if you catch it.

Taking things off twice


There’s a scene with Viper/the doctor in which she’s taking off her gloves, and they cut it weirdly- she ends up taking her gloves off twice…

Chopsticks


There’s a scene with Logan and Mariko (the granddaughter) where they are eating and discussing important plot points. (Here’s where action people are all like, NOOOOOOOOOOOO, discussion?!?!  Need more fighting!!!!) Near the beginning of the scene she takes his upright chopsticks out of his food and sets them to the side; at the end of the scene she again takes the upright chopsticks out of the food and sets them to the side. Now, Logan might have put them back in the food as a rebellion move, but you (the viewer) never see him to it…

CHARACTER ISSUES

I really like to know *where* characters come from, and their back story. I want it in my books, and I want it in my movies. Marvel has won me over with what they’ve been doing with the Avengers and the whole series surrounding all of it because of how they’re building that world. The newest Batman movies build that world and sold me, too. I’m not so sure about some of the characters in The Wolverine; my teens were fine during the movie with the characters just appearing out of nowhere, but as we were driving back were asking me or using their phones to search for more information.

Viper- The good doctor really doesn’t follow any of the established storylines. Depending on which one you follow, she’s either part of Hydra, or a master assassin, or something else entirely. The problem is, she’s not really established in the movie. The immunity to poisons is cool, and the biotech smarts is awesome (yea girls with science) but the shedding skin thing at the end just didn’t work quite right.  What’s with the blonde hair then going bald but with perfect makeup?  That’s totally inconsistent with all the variations.

Silver Samurai– They have this huge, awesome silver samurai suit, and this huge, wonderful backstory. The movie publicists build up an epic battle with Wolverine and Silver Samurai- and there is, because this is what everything has been building up to (even though two of my teens guessed who was in the suit) and the whole point of the movie. Yet, it’s really like the Batwing from the original Batman with Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson:  tons of money, and a one-off.

Still Really Good

None of this detracts from this being a really good movie. It definitely made my inner comic geek happy, and it gave my teens a really good buzz. I adored the soundtrack music, and they fact that they really kept it in the Japanese flavors. I would love to do a marathon before the release of Days of Future Past but as of right now none of the movies are covered by our public performance license. I shall have to geek out at my house beforehand.

Book Review: A Really Awesome Mess by Trish Cook and Brendan Halpin

Just when you thought Egmont Week was over….. one more review from their fall catalog!

The writing pair behind Notes from the Blender, a great bit of realistic fiction about the complications and joys of becoming, through no effort of your own, part of a blended family during high school, is back for another novel with a shared narration.  Emmy and Justin alternate chapters, detailing the daily grind of life at Heartland Academy, a school and treatment facility for teens who are… well, a really awesome mess.

I really enjoyed Notes from the Blender and the interplay between Cook and Halpin’s voices and perspectives.  The same technique is used here, and though the book is definitely enjoyable, I didn’t feel the same “zing” as in their previous collaboration, perhaps because there’s less humor in the subject matter, and perhaps because both characters need to focus inward so much more because of their situations.

Emmy, adopted as a baby from China by a Caucasian American family (who had a biological child just a few months after the adoption was final) struggles with an eating disorder and her feelings of abandonment and otherness, in addition to her anger over an incident of cyberbullying and sexual harassment at her previous school.  Justin claims he wasn’t really trying to kill himself when he took a bunch of Tylenol, but in combination with some inappropriate sexual behavior, the cry for help was heard loud and clear and he lands in Heartland too.

As Emmy and Justin learn the ins and outs of institutional life and get to know their roommates and groupmates, they begin to let down their guard enough to accept help and friendship when it is offered them.  Each finally admits that they have some issues that they need to work on, and begins to see their life before Heartland in a different way.

The cast of supporting characters is certainly interesting, and as you might expect from a book whose peer group of focus is a therapy group, each has a backstory and complexity that is slowly revealed.  There’s a sideplot regarding a pig, which seemed a little contrived and stretched the walls of believability, but certainly broke this book away from the realm of predictable and lightened the mood significantly, buoying it on toward the happy conclusion.

The promise of hope and healing is strong here.  Put this on your list of books for teens with “issues”, recommend it to those who might like other books about teens struggling with mental health issues but might want something a little lighter.  This book is more about the process of understanding that a problem exists than delving deeply into the complexity of one specific disorder as is done in Wintergirls or Cut.  Keep in mind that though there’s lots of talk of sex, there isn’t actually much physical contact at all between the main characters, whose relationship builds slowly after many fits and starts, and progresses in a really mature way with self-awareness and good sense.

Booklist (July 1, 2013) says, “The bawdy, witty, and sarcastic style balances out the intense therapy discourse and the pensive self-reflection found elsewhere in this irreverent take on mental health, recovery, and wellness.” – Jones, Courtney.

A Really Awesome Mess by Tish Cook and Brendan Halpin.  Published July 23 by Egmont USA.  ISBN: 9781606843642.

More on Body Image and Eating Disorders in YA Lit at TLT
Body Image and Eating Disorders
Top 10 teen titles dealing with body image and eating disorders
The Girl in the Fiberglass Corset; a story about scoliosis and eating disorders
Sex Sells, but what are we selling?
Let’s Hear it for the Boys 
Pop Culture and Body Image Issues for Gay Teens, a guest post 
National Eating Disorders Awareness Week: True confessions from a recovering anorexic

Teen Obesity and Body Image:
Every Day by David Levithan, a book review
Butter by Erin Jade Lange, a book review
The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, a book review
Skinny by Donna Conner, a review
A Second Opinion: Every Day by David Levithan
10 Titles that deal with Obesity and Body Image (with links to some good articles)
Today is Love Your Body Day
The Effects of Pop Culture on the Body Image of GLBT Teens
Body Image and Weight Loss 
Sex Sells, but what are we selling? Pop culture and body image issues in tweens and teens 
Take a Second Look: Books that encourage teens to look beyond body image 
Abercrombie and Fitch, Brave and Body Image: Part 1 and Part 2   

Careening with our youth culture: the daring nature of Dare Me (a guest post by Eric Devine and GIVEAWAY)

I spent a lot of time as a teenager risking my life. And not in some symbolic sense. I put myself in harm’s way on so many occasions that when I tell stories of my youth, someone always says, “I cannot believe you’re still alive.”

Neither can I. And I blame the Internet.
Really, the lack of it. When I was a senior in high school (’96) our library got its first computer with Internet. At home, the same happened. But in its infancy, PCs with Internet connection weren’t that alluring, so I had to find entertainment elsewhere.
The problems my friends and I faced were classic: boundless energy, lack of supervision, devil-may-care attitudes and “stupid creativity”. I use that term because had we channeled our energy into anything positive, who knows what we could have achieved? Instead, we were all fortunate to simply maintain our lives, but not without scars and not without stories.
Like the one time we jumped off the ledges at this local abandoned quarry:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nYDhnOnA_s8 (this is not us, but the location).
My friend jumped, but for some reason believed in cartoon physics–that if she just stepped back she’d defy gravity. Instead, she belly flopped from that height, came up, gasped for air, and went right back under.
I was a lifeguard, so I swam under and rescued her, dragging her to the ledge where she vomited a gallon of water.
We kept jumping.

And that is one of the tamest events on my resume.
These times provided me–to a degree–the psychological backdrop for my characters within Dare Me. I was once young and invincible, but I also wanted to push the limit, to eradicate the fear every teenager has. I failed and I succeeded. Fear is intrepid like that.
Today, my students have these same stories, but they also have the Internet. For them the same problems as my friends apply, but now they have guidance on their stupidly creative endeavors. It comes in the form of Jackass (and all the offshoots like it), as well as Tosh.O (and all the impersonators) and viral videos of teenagers doing what we’ve come to accept as “teenage” things.
Except they’re not. I was fueled by death-defying stupidity and a lot of these kids are as well, but in addition is a desire for fame or infamy, whichever brings in the most money. I believe that is a trickle-down effect of youth chasing the goals of adults.
However, if I possessed a smartphone and YouTube then, the chances of you having seen me injured, or worse, are pretty high. Because when money is a real potential, your audience is vast and they chime in looking for more–albeit from the comfort of the keyboard–something in the teen brain screams, “All right, let’s do this!” I would have been no exception.
This is why Dare Me moves away form being solely a story about “teens doing stupid dares, which they post online” to a commentary about how our youth have become pawns in this culture that seeks entertainment at whatever the cost.
When I first envisioned Dare Me, the bulk was about the dares. Which ones should I choose? Would they be intense enough? Would someone copy them?
I then moved into wondering about the implications of such a story. What message was I going to send? Certainly I wasn’t intending to offer a pass for such behavior, but how to express that without preaching, without being a hypocrite? That became the real challenge.
It’s one I believe I have executed. As a reader wrote to me, “This story is analogous to a fireworks display that builds to a grand finale, but leaves you in suspense as to the aftermath.” It is in that aftermath, as is so often the case when dares go wrong, that the lesson is learned. No one needs to come onstage and say anything, the consequences are so evident.
That is the purpose of Dare Me, to provide a safe, voyeuristic look into the lives of teens who are willing to risk it all, not only to watch them do so, but to examine why, and at what cost. Because there is always a cost, and often it far outweighs the sought after gain. Which is why the dedication for my novel is as follows:
For those with the will to dare and the courage to accept the consequences
I’ve accepted what I have done and respect whatever force has kept me here, if only so I can continue to exist with the frame of mind: that could be me, and to then tell the story, so the brutality of firsthand knowledge isn’t a requirement of learning.
P.S. This is the bridge high above the waters within the quarry. A glance at my cover should be enough to connect the dots, but reading the second dare within Dare Me will solidify it.
Eric Devine is a teacher and author of the new young adult novel Tap Out, published by Running Press Kids.  You can read more about it at his webpage or at Goodreads. Tap Out by Eric Devine is in stores now.  Dare Me will be released in October of 2013, also by Running Press Teens.  Eric Devine is also the author of one of my favorite guest posts where he discusses boys and reading
Dare Me on Goodreads: “When Ben Candido and his friends, Ricky and John, decide to post a YouTube video of themselves surfing on top of a car, they finally feel like the somebodies they are meant to be instead of the social nobodies that they are. Overnight, the video becomes the talk of the school, and the boys are sure that their self-appointed senior year of dares will live in infamy. Every dare brings an increased risk of bodily harm, but Ben cannot deny the thrill and sense of swagger that come with it. The stakes become even more complex when a mysterious donor bankrolls their dares in exchange for a cut in the online revenue the videos generate. But at what point do the risk and the reward come at too high of a price? What does it take to stay true to one’s self in the face of relentless pressure.”

From a Librarian in the Trenches: Thoughts on Themes (a guest post by Jennifer Wills)

I came into this Teen Librarian position all “Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose” about pretty much everything.  I was revved up by library school classes that stressed the importance of Programming For Teens and introduced me to the high holy days:  Teen Read Week, Teen Tech Week, and the Summer Reading Program.  Teen Read Week?  Awesome!  “Books with Beat?”  Um . . . Sure!  Let’s do this!  I will take a poster in every size and as many bookmarks as you can spare, thanks.  I threw myself into displays and contests and school visits and everything short of a stage show.  

But as that first year progressed through Teen Tech Week (Learn Create Share @ Your Library) to the summer reading program (Make Waves @ Your Library) I began to notice that any time I invoked one of the provided themes for these special weeks, there was a definite shift in the conversation I was having with the teens.  They would be right with me as we talked about summer reading and prizes and such, but the second I mentioned the theme there was a subtle (or sometimes not-so-subtle) cringe, or smirk, or glaze of the eyes as if to say, “I see you are trying to market to me, Adult Person.  And you are doing it wrong.”  The focus of the conversation immediately changed from the library and how we are relevant to their lives to an explanation of how the theme was relevant to the event.  
Flash forward three years.  I’m a bit more settled in my job and I’ve discovered the secret that many of you know but no one mentioned in any of my grad school classes on programming for teens or advocating for teens or teen literature, and it is this:  getting to know and genuinely connecting with teens is the BEST PART OF THE JOB and absolutely essential for getting teens excited about libraries.  Knowing that means now I’m the one who cringes as each new theme is announced.  For instance, take this recent exchange:
Awesome Teen: {picks up Summer Reading Program entry form} What’s this?
Me:  That’s the entry form for our Teen Summer Reading Program.
AT:  Why does it say “Beneath the Surface?”
Me:  That’s just the theme this year.  But see, it says “Teen Summer Reading Program” there at the top.  {Proceed to tell him all about the program.}
AT:  But . . .
Me:  Yeah?
AT:  If the theme is Beneath the Surface, why does it have a Pegasus on it?
I feel like I’ve had this conversation at least ten times a day since summer reading outreach began in May.  There’s about five seconds of connection about how great summer reading is and five minutes of “What does this mean?”
I promise that I’m not here to bash YALSA or CSLP for their choice of themes.  I know there are exceptional librarians out there who take the themes and run with them in amazing ways every year (I’m looking at you, Karen!) I also know that for those libraries that don’t have a Teen Services department or dedicated teen librarian, the special interest weeks and themes offer a chance to focus on and connect with teens.  And I absolutely know that none of us are legally obligated to use these themes and that many of you have developed amazing stand-alone programs without them.   That said, I really think that by diving in to themes we lose a lot of what’s most important about our jobs.
I’ve been lucky enough to assemble a robust and opinionated Teen Advisory Board over the past few years and each special interest week or SRP leads to a lengthy discussion of the theme.  They tolerated “You are Here” for an SRP theme a couple of years ago and “Geek Out @ Your Library” for Teen Tech Week was met with stoic skepticism, but things came to a head last summer when I thought “Own the Night” might just be the end of them (“That’s a prom, not a reading program,” was probably my favorite reaction.)  And then “Beneath the Surface” arrived.  There was literally a two-hour meeting where the poster was deconstructed in a way that I’m pretty sure could be counted as their thesis project for grad school:  “Jen, there’s a creepy face in the shrub.  What is the purpose of this?” (It’s true, by the way, take a look.) “Jen, there is absolutely no correlation between this theme and reading books to win prizes.”   
About an hour into the meeting, as my teens talked about taking to the streets to ask random people what they thought the “Beneath the Surface” poster was advertising, I found myself looking around the table and thinking that this will definitely be the last year I use stock themes for anything.  From now on I’ll celebrate Reading for the Fun of It for Teen Read Week and Connecting @ Your Library for Teen Tech Week.   Those are the kind of general themes that say exactly what we’re trying to accomplish.  And I’ll use my TAB’s awesome passion for coming up with a better slogan for our SRP that we can use for several years.

My eyes are still clear, my heart is still full, and I know I can’t lose if I continue to just be my goofy self in a genuine way with these guys, learning what they love and telling them about the awesome ways our library can fit into their lives.

Jen Scott Wills, MLS
I’ve served as the Teen Services Librarian for Boise Public Library’s Main Library for the past three years, though I’ve been addicted to libraries since I lived across the street from one as a kid. My teens always ask me if I actually get paid to do what I do (usually when we’re in the middle of some water balloon war or heated Mario Kart race) and I tell them yes and that I can’t believe it either. I’m obsessed with YA lit and read a little bit of everything, though David Levithan and Rainbow Rowell are definitely my spirit animals. You can find me at jen1nsw.tumblr.com or as jen1n on Twitter or in my office that the teens call my TARDIS. Because it’s bigger on the inside.

Sunday Reflctions: Poverty doesn’t always look the way you think it does

Several years ago, the world fell apart and many of us who didn’t know what suffering was except in the pages of a book learned.  I watched as my friend and co-worker for almost 10 years lost her job.  I watched her pack up her home, give things away, and move in with a family member as she tried to survive.  And every time someone stood in front of a microphone and talked about those lazy people who just didn’t want to work and were waiting for a free government hand out, I stood up for her and all the others out there.  The people who had worked hard, gotten educations, and then had the carpet ripped out so ungraciously from beneath them.  My friend, she is an older lady, holds a master’s degree, is white, and even while she was unemployed and her unemployment ran out, she volunteered at her church food pantry.  She had no income, just the love of a sibling who wouldn’t let her be homeless.

For 3 years my friend was out of work.  She applied.  Sometimes they even called and asked her to interview.  But there were often more than 100 people applying for one job.  Then finally, like me, she got a part time library job (we had to move for my husband’s job which was affected by the economy, it has not been an easy experience).  And like me she wasn’t making enough money to survive, she wasn’t putting into retirement, she wasn’t buying new clothes or going out to eat.  And like me, she was hoping that one event that could break us all wouldn’t happen, whatever it turned out to be.

This week, I celebrate with that friend because for her, the universe have finally righted itself.  She is back in the library world that she loves and able to touch lives with her passion.  She is one of the lucky ones.

Last week, it was revealed that there were glass shards found in salsa bought from Dollar Tree.  Some on Twitter then got into a conversation about how you should never buy food from Dollar Tree, ever.  The truth is, for many living in poverty they don’t have the transportation or money to go somewhere else.  If you live in walking distance of a Dollar Tree and can scrape up enough change, a meal from Dollar Tree could be the only one you get.

I do not live in poverty.  I am lucky because I have a spouse who makes a decent enough wage that we do okay, we make above what they declare the poverty line to be.  In fact, the poverty level for a family of 4 in 2013 is $23, 550.  I am the mother of a family of 4 and I assure you, that is not enough to house, feed, clothe and educate a family of four.  And although I do not live in poverty, and I am blessed and thankful, I am one of the many educated, hard working members of the middle class who has seen their life inch closer to falling apart.  And I know many like me.  And in my libraries I have worked with far too many.  So while the universe has finally gotten it right for my friend, and I celebrate with her, I want us to keep working to make it right for all the families, all the children, all the men and women out there who still are trying to find a way to make ends meet.  There are many of us that are one heartbeat away from losing it all, many that have already seen that happen.

Earlier this week, we shared a booklist of books that talk about poverty.  Today I am giving away 3 to help raise awareness and compassion.  Please leave a comment to enter (we will need a Twitter followback or email to contact you if you win) and RT this booklist to help raise awareness.  Every person, every family, that is brought out of poverty is a win for us all.  For poverty doesn’t just affect a person, it affects us all.

Poverty isn’t just the homeless person on the street with a sign.  Poverty is the family next door that has to choose between buying food or paying the mortgage.  It is the family down the street that gets food from the local pantry to feed their children because as food and gas prices go up, pay doesn’t.  It is the family in low income housing that doesn’t know how they will buy the huge list of back to school supplies that are being mailed out right now.  It is the family with children left home alone late into the night while parents work two and three part-time jobs and miss parent teacher conferences because taking off work is not an option.  It is the family eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the third night in a row while they wait for payday to come.  It is the family that is one medical crisis, one pink slip, one injury, one moment away from losing it all.

Poverty is no respecter of the color of your skin, the amount of education you have received, the number of years you have worked.  If we have learned anything since 2008 it is this: You can lose it all in the blink of an eye and it can happen to anyone.

More on Poverty at TLT:
Can We All Just Stop Saying the Internet Is Free Now Please? 
Rich Teen, Poor Teen: Books that depict teens living in poverty 
Working with youth who live in poverty 
Sunday Reflections: This is what losing everything looks like
Sunday Reflections: Going to bed hungry
Sunday Reflections: A tale of two libraries 

Giveaway Guidelines:
We are giving away ARCs fo Ashes on the Waves by Mary Lindsey, Hooked by Liza Fichera, Safekeeping by Karen Hesse.  To enter, please simply leave a comment by Wednesday, July 31st at midnight.  One winner will be selected from the U.S. (sorry, but international mailing costs are high).

Friday Finds – July 26, 2013

This week at TLT:

This week’s Sunday Reflections discusses the presence of violence in YA and why it’s important.

We have book reviews of:

Heather and Karen took a group of teens to the Simon Teen Tastemakers Event at ALA and offer ideas for reproducing the event for a teen program at your library.
Karen asked us to talk about the casual perpetuation of street harassment culture.
Karen discusses how YA literature addresses the issue of abortion. And Christie adds some important thoughts on the issue. We also have a list of 5 YA titles that address the topic to some degree, with additional suggestions in the comments.
Robin posted about her experience working with youth who live in poverty. Karen added a list of fantastic titles that depict teens living in poverty.

Commiserate with Heather in the comments section of her post on Program Fails.

Previously on TLT:
We reviewed Timepiece by Myra McEntire and Flesh & Bone by Jonathan Maberry.
Karen wrote about one of the daily realities for teens who live in poverty – going to bed hungry.
Around the web:
There is an important article by Jen Schradie over at The Society Pages on The 7 Myths of the Digital Divide.

You can read an excerpt of The Fall of Five, the next in the I Am Four series by Pittacus Lore at EW. 

There is also a cover reveal and excerpt of Enders, the sequel to Starters by Lissa Price over at EW.

YPULSE has an interesting look at why the show Catfish on MTV matters

What are you guys talking about this week?  Share with us in the comments.

VOYA Magazine released their Teen Pop-Culture Quiz #40.  How well do you know teen pop culture?  Take the quiz.

Program FAILS: Another thing I didn’t learn about in library school.

It was a Friday afternoon – my day off – and I was in a panic.  I had to set up for my big summer program, an open mic night, and things were falling apart, starting with the fact that I had no key with which to let myself in to the library for this after hours event.  I made a few calls to coworkers who live nearby, but no one answered.  I thought fast.  An outdoor open mic wouldn’t be so bad, right?

Actually, on a nice summer night it could be perfect.  I dug around in the basement and found some folding chairs, a rug for the amp and mic stand, and a whole lot of extension cords.  I packed this, along with a crate full of old sheets and blankets for seating, the amp, mic stand, mic, music stand… and my two kids (gosh, I thought my husband would be home by now!) into my hatchback and headed to work.   On the way, I got a call from my boss who was a)home and b)willing to lend me his key.  Yay!  I doubled back (oh shoot, now I’ve got a sleeping kid in the backseat), grabbed the key and made it to the library with plenty of time to freak the heck out of the janitor, who didn’t know I was coming, and set up.

It was all coming together.  My kids found a few dinosaur books and did the mic check for me, I put signs on the doors, my husband arrived to take the kids home, and I waited.  And waited.  And waited… 
And then I admitted defeat, gave up, took down the mic, mic stand, music stand, amp, pushed the chairs back into their normal spots, loaded up my car, changed the sign on the door, turned off the lights, and closed up shop.  Not a single soul had showed.
It was pretty disappointing. 
But not as disappointing as the time I hosted Exam Cram, only to find that the group that had taken up residence in the room with the snacks and the nice big table — the Board room — had decided to have a food fight to rival Animal House while I checked on other groups and was getting more snacks and sodas to refill.  I’ve never been so angry at teens in my library.  The blatant disrespect, the mess I was left to clean up, the waste… Well, you can imagine, right?
It’s not all sunshine and roses.  
But even when it all goes south, there can be positive take-aways.  My exam cram experience showed me that dancing on the right side of the line between trust and supervision is important, and that it wasn’t right to let one group monopolize a resource.  I’ve changed the structure and organization of my twice yearly exam cram now and haven’t had a single comparable incident since.

My open mic night – at the peak of summer on a beautiful night – didn’t hold a candle to the ballgames, ice cream shops, and outdoor movies that had drawn my teens away from the library and into summertime activities.  My marketing for the event also left something to be desired, and I realized that while the newsletter is great for promoting events to parents who will sign their younger teens up for activities, it’s dismal at promoting to more autonomous older teens – the kind that would take the initiative to come to an open mic.  I’m persevering and will try again with some different strategies in place.

We can learn from what worked, but also from what didn’t work.  
So, spill.

Out your worst program fails and let’s all groan at them together, then let’s troubleshoot ways to fix these flops and do better next time.  

This is What Consent Looks Like, a book review of Infinity Glass by Myra McEntire

I am a huge fan of the Hourglass series by Myra McEntire.  It is one of my go to recs at my library.  Book 2, Timepiece, is one of my favorite books.  It is dynamic and I found the main character, Kaleb, to be engaging, complex and well written, so I was excited about book 3, Infinity Glass.

Fast forward to the 3rd and final book in the trilogy, Infinity GlassInfinity Glass tells the final part of this story from yet another character’s point of view, in this case Dune and a young woman named Hallie.  Hallie is the overprotected daughter of a criminal who works for a competing agency called Chronos.  If you aren’t familiar with the Hourglass series, you can read reviews of book 1, Hourglass, and book 2, Timepiece, to catch up.  Books 1 and 2 basically established that various people had different time related abilities and they were competing people looking for something called the Infinity Glass.  The person who holds the Infinity Glass would hold a tremendous weapon in their hand and you don’t want it falling into the wrong hands.  There are a couple of cool twists and reveals, the worst mother of the year, and a couple of tense situations that keep you on the edge of your seat while reading.

I enjoyed the final book in the series, though not as much as I liked Timepiece, but probably because there was scant amount of Kaleb, Lily, Em or Michael.  One issue, for me, was that the characters from book 1 and 2 don’t play that big of a part until the end of this book.  In fact, in many ways, Infinity Glass almost seems like an entirely new book, except for the fact that it really does wrap up the time travel mystery introduced in books 1 and 2.  I also felt that the final 3rd of the book was a little rushed in its resolution.  But it’s a perfectly fun read.  I love the power, strength and confidence McEntire gives these teens while still allowing them to be real and vulnerable.  And I love the way we mess with time.

But that is not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about the swoon.

No, I want to talk about the relationship between Dune and Hallie.  One thing that the Hourglass series has going for it in spades are the various romantic relationships.  For teen readers looking for smolder and swoon, the Hourglass titles do not disappoint.  In fact, Infinity Glass has one of my favorite relationships of 2013 in it (second only to maybe Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell).

Dune is definitely hot in the way he is both described and the way he interacts with Hallie and teen readers will swoon.  But more importantly, Dune is intelligent, sophisticated, respectful, thoughtful (as in thinking, not just kind) and more.  He takes the time to examine – and discuss – his feelings to make sure they are coming from a good place.  And as Hallie and Dune open themselves up emotionally to one another, their physical intimacy reflects the growing emotional intimacy in interesting and healthy ways. 

Then, my absolute favorite moment happens.  Wanting to pursue some physical contact with Hallie, Dune looks at her and asks, “So I have a green light then?”  He respects her, asks for permission, and makes sure he clearly gets it before proceeding.  In a post Stuebenville world where we are debating in the public what consent looks like, McEntire takes a moment to show us.

I have railed a lot recently against unhealthy relationships in YA lit.  And the truth is, unhealthy relationships happen and they should happen in YA lit.  But the question I keep asking is, where is the other side of the coin?  Interestingly enough, McEntire really flips some typical (perhaps stereotypical) gender roles in this story.  Hallie is the character pushing sexual boundaries here.  Hallie is the flirty girl pushing, teasing, using sex as a weapon against Dune.  In fact, I didn’t like her at first.  But as she comes to see who Dune is and experience his faith and trust in her, his respect for her, she changes her mind about many things.  That’s right people – there is growth!

Another great thing about Infinity Glass is that the physical intimacy does not always, does not often, mean sex.  Sometimes it genuinely means holding and comforting someone in the aftermath of a truly difficult day or experience.  There is a wide range of both emotional and physical intimacy demonstrated.  And where a lot of teen books seem to skip the part where teens talk about their relationship and just go right to the kissing, that doesn’t happen here.  Dune and Hallie actually talk about what they are thinking and feeling.  So cool.

So as book 3 in the Hourglass series, I give Infinity Glass 4 out of 5 stars.  But as a romantic read, I give it 5 out of 5 stars.  The series is good, and popular, so if you don’t have it you should definitely add it or read it. It’s a fun crossover title for Doctor Who and X-Men fans, combining all that wibbly wobbly timey-whimey stuff with cool teens that have various time related quirky powers.  Also, best cover ever.

Infinity Glass by Myra McEntire.  Book 3 in the Hourglass trilogy.  Published August 6, 2013 by Egmont USA.  ISBN: 9781606844410.