Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Friday Finds – October 30, 2015

fridayfindsThis Week at TLT

Sunday Reflections: John Hughes, John Green, The Teen and Me

Book Review: Illuminae (The Illuminae Files #1) by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff (Reviewed by Teen Reviewer Lexi)

Middle School Monday – This year’s ‘Book for All Readers’

Book Review: What We Left Behind by Robin Talley

Book Review: Stand Off by Andrew Smith (Reviewed by Teen Reviewer Lexi)

Video Games Weekly: Rock Band (part 1)

Taking a Historical Look at Mental Health with Mindy McGinnis and A MADNESS SO DISCREET

#FSYALit: Mormon Representation in YA Lit, a guest post by Sam Taylor

Around the Web

Editorial: We’re Not Rainbow Sprinkles – The Horn Book

YA novel ‘Simon Vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda’ acquired by Fox 2000

How stories release us from the prisons of ourselves, from NerdCon.

If the public picked the Newbery…


#FSYALit: Mormon Representation in YA Lit, a guest post by Sam Taylor

fsyalitToday, as part are of our ongoing discussion of Faith and Spirituality in YA Literature, we are honored to host Sam Taylor as she discusses Mormon representation in YA literature. You can read all of the #FSYALit Posts here. And if you would like to contribute a post to the discussion, please contact me at kjensenmls at yahoo dot com.

Growing up, I never came across mainstream books that featured Mormon characters. When we were mentioned (and it was just a mention), the representation was almost always negative, often some reference to the long-abandoned practice of polygamy. Now, there were and still are books written by Mormons, for Mormons, published by Mormon niche presses, and sold in Mormon bookstores. But such stores are rare outside Utah. Furthermore, most of these Mormon-published books focused upon either conversion to the Mormon faith or teens strengthening their testimonies of the Mormon faith. These stories appealed less to me because they weren’t the crux of my life. I wanted to find non-preachy books about characters who were Mormon, going to school, and living life with their friends. I wanted books I could find in the school library, that I could share and discuss with friends who didn’t practice my religion.

One thing I should point out: Today there is no shortage of Mormon authors publishing young adult books for mainstream audiences. Some of these are best-selling authors and well-known names: Shannon Hale. Kiersten White. James Dashner. Allie Condie. Brandon Sanderson. Jessica Day George. Stephanie Meyer. The list goes on. But what’s the pattern here? The majority of Mormon authors publishing with national presses (not the niche-Mormon ones) write fantasy or science fiction stories which do not feature Mormonism. Understand, I’m not trying to knock these authors. It’s encouraging to see so many Mormon writers well-received by the public—proof that there is truly a place for us in mainstream publishing.

But on the other hand, the lack of Mormon characters in any of these stories, even by big name authors, seems to perpetuate the idea that Mormon characters do not belong in mainstream fiction. That our experiences and stories have no place outside of Mormon audiences. Or, as I encountered in my university creative writing classes, that Mormon representation is best accepted if the writer is questioning the Mormon faith, tearing it down outright, or using our faith as the butt of a joke. (Yes, I’m looking at you, Book of Mormon musical.)

The good news: There are a handful of young adult books published by mainstream presses that feature Mormon protagonists. Most of these titles aren’t widely talked about. You have to put forth some effort to find them. But for Mormon teens who wish to see characters like themselves on the page—or for any readers interested in novels featuring Mormon protagonists—here are some options.

mormon1Young adult author Emily Wing Smith has published two novels featuring a Mormon cast. The Way He Lived opens after the funeral of sixteen-year-old Joel Espen, who died of dehydration during a Boy Scout hike gone disastrous. Did he die as he lived, giving so much to others—including the last of his water, when the scouts were lost in the canyon—that there was nothing left for himself? Or is there more behind his death? The novel, told in six points of view, explores the responses of the teens closest to Joel, including his sisters, his best friend, and his almost-girlfriend, and how they try to make sense of his death and their lives without him. In this novel there are some issues brought up regarding Joel that didn’t feel fully resolved to me, but nevertheless I appreciated this book for the diversity of characters Wing depicts—all Mormon, but from different class and ethnic backgrounds, as Mormons are! Some of these characters are more devoted to their faith than others. Some have more questions than others. All of them provide strong, distinct voices and a glance at the ways modern-day Mormon teens live.mormon2

Back When You Were Easier to Love, Wing’s second novel, follows seventeen-year-old Joy as she tries to track down her old boyfriend Zan, who left her and their friends with little explanation and no closure. Her search takes her on a road-trip to California with Zan’s annoying ex-best friend Noah in his old classic car. While this book was a little heavy at times on the co-dependent romance, it’s a fun and humorous read, and I appreciate its depictions of a well-rounded Mormon young woman who loves her faith even as she strives to separate herself from stereotypes.

Hannah Ziebarth, the protagonist of Louise Plummer’s novel A Dance for Three, is just fifteen years old when she discovers she is pregnant. She envisions a happy life with the baby’s father, her boyfriend Milo, but when he rejects her and the child, Hannah is faced with hard questions about herself, her family, and her expectations for the future. In this story, Hannah isn’t actively practicing her Mormon religion, although best friend Trilby, a point of view character in the story, does. Trilby and her mother, along with Hannah’s bishop, become key figures of support for Hannah as she decides the best plan for her baby. This book, I think, might be great to read and discuss alongside Ellen Hopkins’s novel Burned, which I’ll address later in this post.


I really enjoyed the spirited, opinionated voice of Charlotte Edwards in A.E. Cannon’s novel Charlotte’s Rose—a personality that defies the stereotype of Mormon women being meek and subservient to fathers or husbands. This novel, historical fiction set in 1856, follows a group of Welsh converts to the Mormon faith as they leave their home country and travel to Salt Lake City, Utah. When a woman dies along the way giving birth to her baby, and the child’s grieving father refuses to care for the infant, Charlotte takes charge of the child for the rest of the journey. Her decision quickly becomes more than she bargained for, but she finds help along the way from some unexpected friends. (Disclaimer: While Charlotte is thirteen for most of this book, this novel feels more young adult to me than middle grade, with its questions of dealing with first love and what makes one a young woman.)

The last book I’ll address is Burned by Ellen Hopkins. Ms. Hopkins is not Mormon herself, but has written a duology (sequel Smoked) featuring a Mormon protagonist. As Ms. Hopkins is the most widely-known author in this list of books featuring Mormon protagonists, and Burned itself was a New York Times Bestseller, I feel it’s important to include this book in my discussion.

Burned, a novel in verse, tells the story of seventeen-year-old Pattyn Von Stratten, the oldest child in a large Mormon family led by an alcoholic and abusive father. Pattyn’s life is limited to caring for her numerous siblings and dodging the wrath (and fists) of her father. Her future seems restricted to the life dictated by her father and her bishop: becoming subservient to a Mormon husband and bearing him as many children as she physically can. When Pattyn is caught dating a fellow schoolmate who is not Mormon, her family sends her to live with her aunt in rural Nevada.

In an online interview, Ms. Hopkins said this story was inspired by a friend of her daughter’s. She said for research, she conducted interviews with individuals who’ve experienced events similar to those in this novel. I would be lying if I claimed that no abuse of power or families ever occurred among Mormons. We are not immune to these behaviors, as is no other demographic. But the situations depicted in this book are extreme, and many of the claimed Mormon beliefs and practices presented in this novel do not, in fact, reflect Mormonism. I don’t know if these discrepancies are due to research issues or if they are unique to the situation that inspired this story (i.e. Pattyn’s father and church leaders forging their own brand of Mormonism to maintain their absolute power). Please note, I am not saying, “Don’t read this book.” The experiences of the girl who inspired this story should be shared, and her voice is important. And Ms. Hopkins masterfully writes the verse that tells the story. I admired her skill in writing even as I struggled with the depictions on her pages.

Some of the discrepancies within this book are minor but present Mormons as restrictive and small-minded, such as claims that Tolkien’s and Rowling’s writings are “places no upstanding Mormon should go.” Really, my Mormon friends and I grew up with Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter—and we weren’t smuggling those books into our homes. Many Mormons love fantasy. Look again at my list of well-known Mormon authors and what they write. Another small discrepancy: “Good Mormon / girls kept their clothes on” while swimming. Nope, we wear bathing suits. Promise.

Other discrepancies regarding the Mormon faith in this book were disturbingly large: Domestic abuse is in no way sanctioned, for any reason. Women and children are not doormats for, or the property of, their husbands, fathers, or ecclesiastical leaders. And I don’t know a single Mormon parent who would agree with the following: “A true Mormon / would rather bury a child / than see her lose her chastity.” What?

What bothers me most about the representation in this book is that the situations depicted were never presented as, “this is a case of horrendous abuse perpetrated by people who claim to be Mormon,” but rather, “this is how Mormons—true Mormons—think and behave.” Every Mormon character in this story, with the exception of Pattyn’s younger sister Jackie (a secondary character), is a horrible person. The characters who do offer Pattyn strength and safety were pointedly not Mormon or had left the Mormon religion. Ultimately, Pattyn leaves her religion, too, as the only way to take charge of her life. Burned might be the foremost young adult novel, mainstream published, that features a Mormon protagonist. And it’s not one I can give to teens who yearn to see themselves—their Mormon selves—in a story.

My Mormon faith is not the sum total of who I am, but it’s an essential part of how I identify myself. That was true when I was a teenager, and it’s true for many of the teens I see today in my church. As the call for diverse books continues, I look forward to seeing more young adult books that depict aspects of many religious faiths. I hope that among these are books that feature teenage Mormon protagonists: flawed, complex, well-rounded, but whose faith is more than something to be endured or escaped. I hope for books that show the great diversity within the Mormon church, of ethnicities, of interests, of political beliefs, and how all of these people unite under a shared faith. I hope for books that honestly explore struggles Mormons teens face, with their faith, with their families, with being a teenager in today’s world. I hope for books where Mormon teens draw strength from their faith, and not just shame and struggle.

Most of all, I hope for books that show teens they can be, at once, Mormons and the heroes of their own stories.

Meet Our Guest Poster

Sam TaylorSam Taylor developed a voracious appetite for YA lit when her teen sisters introduced her to their favorite books. She went on to study young adult literature for her graduate work at Purdue University and even wrote her master’s thesis on personal journeys in YA fantasy. She now writes her own YA fantasy, when she’s not devouring others’ books or playing the violin. She serves as the New Releases Coordinator for the Adventures in YA Publishing blog. Find her on Twitter at @jsamtaylor.

Taking a Historical Look at Mental Health with Mindy McGinnis and A MADNESS SO DISCREET

 thingAlthough #MHYALit doesn’t officially kick off until January 2016, I recently read (and really loved) A MADNESS SO DISCREET by Mindy McGinnis which is a historical mystery/thriller that reminds us of how mental illness used to be viewed. It’s true, today there is still a lot of negative stereotypes and stigmas that are associated with mental health and mental illness. But it is also true that we have in many ways made tremendous progress in how we talk about mental health, how we treat many who struggle with mental health issues, and how much more readily those with mental health issues were abused. We still have a lot of progress to make, the stigma is real, the stereotypes are harmful, and abuse is still rampant. But one of the many things I valued in reading A MADNESS SO DISCREET was that glimpse into the history of mental health and mental health treatment. I have seen author Mindy McGinnis talk about this book, which was released recently, and know that she did some extensive research for this book. Today she is sharing a few words with us about mental health and her book, A MADNESS SO DISCREET.

Mindy’s Thoughts:

Mental illness used to be something to be spoken of in hushed tones, or not at all. While we are edging away from that, I sometimes see that movement being done in leaps and bounds, where everyone is an armchair psychiatrist who reels off a DSM diagnosis simply because they have the vocabulary.

Bi-polar and OCD are the obvious go-to’s, with people characterizing simple mood changes and a penchant for cleanliness as an opportunity to trot out their ten-cent words, not realizing the damage done by flippant assignment of truly horrifying illnesses.

Knowing the terminology does not signify knowledge any more than being able to identify an ocean on the globe makes someone a deep-sea diver. Mental illnesses are vast, varied and complicated. A supposed familiarity with such a large topic can do real harm, leading to self-diagnosis, self-medication, or just plain old bad advice.

If you suffer from a mental illness, seek help from a professional. If you know someone who suffers, encourage them to do the same. Much like the diagnosis, the treatments for mental illnesses are legion, and different approaches will work better for different people.

Let a professional decide what’s best – not your friend who watched every episode of HOUSE.

About A MADNESS SO DISCREET – Publisher’s Description:

Grace Mae knows madness.She keeps it locked away, along with her voice, trapped deep inside a brilliant mind that cannot forget horrific family secrets. Those secrets, along with the bulge in her belly, land her in a Boston insane asylum.

When her voice returns in a burst of violence, Grace is banished to the dark cellars, where her mind is discovered by a visiting doctor who dabbles in the new study of criminal psychology. With her keen eyes and sharp memory, Grace will make the perfect assistant at crime scenes. Escaping from Boston to the safety of an ethical Ohio asylum, Grace finds friendship and hope, hints of a life she should have had. But gruesome nights bring Grace and the doctor into the circle of a killer who stalks young women. Grace, continuing to operate under the cloak of madness, must hunt a murderer while she confronts the demons in her own past.

In this beautifully twisted historical thriller, Mindy McGinnis, acclaimed author of Not a Drop to Drink and In a Handful of Dust, explores the fine line between sanity and insanity, good and evil—and the madness that exists in all of us.

Published October 6, 2015 by Katherine Tegen Books. ISBN: 9780062320865

Karen’s Thoughts:

I highly recommend A MADNESS SO DISCREET and describe it as a Feminist Sherlock Holmes.

Video Games Weekly: Rock Band (part 1)

videogamesweeklyA few months ago, our library’s Rock Band instrument set was…a hot mess. Our drum kit was held together with duct tape and a prayer, while our guitars would randomly pause during a song. The main problem was we couldn’t purchase a new Rock Band instrument set because the company doesn’t manufacture them for our Xbox 360 anymore. So, our Teen Department decided to write up a proposal for an Xbox One and a new Rock Band 4 instrument set. Our library director approved it (Thanks, Deb!), and we started spreading the word over the summer. This week, my library unboxed our fancy new Rock Band 4 set for our Teen Game Night program!

Quick Synopsis: In case you are unfamiliar with Rock Band, it is a game where up to four players use plastic instruments to play/sing popular rock songs together. It was popular when it came out back in 2007, and it has stood the test of time thus far.

Platform: PS4 and Xbox One only

Rated: T for “Teen” because of the song lyrics. Example: it can get real awkward real fast when you belt out “MY LIBIDO!” during Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. You have been warned!

Single or Multiplayer: Both. One to four players can play at the same time.

Collection Development: I don’t recommend purchasing it for a circulating collection. The reason why is because players are required to purchase Rock Band instruments separately, and most of the time players will buy new instruments and the game as a bundle. Even if a patron owns older versions of Rock Band, the instruments will not work with Rock Band 4 unless you buy an adapter ($25.00 on Amazon). Even then, only Xbox 360 instruments can use the adapter for Xbox One, NOT Playstation instruments.

Sadly, Rock Band 4 is just one of those games where unless you are keeping the instruments in the library, it’s something that patrons will have to buy on their own. The good news is, Rock Band 4 is an awesome way to draw teens (and adults) to Game Night Programs!

Ordering a bundle: At first, I ordered my bundle from Access Ingram, but their “street” date is weirdly set to November, even though Rock Band 4 was released early in October. I called Access Ingram to ask if we could get our bundle shipped in October because that is when the game is officially released, and they said no. I told them I was going to go with Amazon instead and cancelled my order *shakes angry fist* Our library purchased a “Band-in-a-Box”, and it was delivered a week later.


Assembling the instruments: My parents warned me that if I ever decide to have children, always assemble complicated toys before birthdays because it is a nightmare. The same can be true for Rock Band 4. First, be sure to put the disc into your console the day before your program so the game can properly download. The days of popping in a disc and immediately playing the game are gone, so plan ahead in order to avoid restless teens!

Next, I had to wrangle the box. I made a fancy time lapse video for our Teen Instagram, which is just of me figuring out how to open the box:

Video here: https://instagram.com/p/9GkTKpqwc5/

I am the type of person that needs written out instructions, so I was dismayed to discover the instruction booklet only has DIAGRAMS. NOOOO! So, I’m going to do my best to write out instructions for all you people out there like me!

Guitar: Once I got all of the instrument pieces out, I tackled the guitar first. The guitar was relatively easy to assemble. First, you have to attach the top piece to the guitar base. Be sure it clicks in, and you may have to use some muscles. Second, you have to attach the strap. There are two pegs, and you have the option of switching the peg if you happen to be left-handed. Finally, you have to put in the AA batteries, kindly provided with the bundle.

pic: http://dri1.img.digitalrivercontent.net/Storefront/Company/msintl/images/English/en-INTL-XboxOne-Rock-Band-4-Guitar-Bundle-FKF-01321/en-INTL-L-XboxOne-Rock-Band-4-Guitar-Bundle-FKF-01321-RM1-mnco.jpg

Drum Kit: The drum kit was the bane of my existence. I was questioning my life choices, my sanity, and my Master’s degree. It was terrible. So, I took a picture for you!


The top picture is what the pole looks like in the box. What you have to do is push the smaller pole THROUGH the bigger one, so that the black stopper on the end of the small pole is INSIDE the bigger pole. You will have to wiggle it around in order to get it through the hole! I hope this helps, because this took me a half an hour to figure out. After the pole is ready, you place the bigger pole into the feet of the drum kit. You attach the two feet of the drum kit with two pieces, which are there to add stability and hold the foot pedal. Finally, place the drums on top of the poles and add the batteries! By the way, cymbals do not come with this new kit. You can attach cymbals from the previous Rock Band set, but we tossed ours out because they didn’t work. Eventually, Rock Band 4 will release cymbals but for now it is only drum heads.

Microphone: The mic simply plugs into the USB port located on the left-hand side of the Xbox One.

Syncing the instruments: Okay, so now the instruments are assembled, but you’re not done yet! You have to sync the instruments to the console because unlike previous versions, THEY’RE ALL WIRELESS. This is a huge improvement because it means there will not be tripping hazards except for the microphone, nor will the cords get tangled when the drum kit is stored in a closet.

To sync each instrument to the Xbox One, you first have to hold the sync button on the instrument for a few seconds. Make sure the light is blinking rapidly, otherwise it will not work. Once the light is blinking rapidly, then you have to hit the sync button on the Xbox One, which is located on the left-hand side of the console. Test to make sure your instruments are working! Once you have synced the instruments, you will not have to do so again.

Congratulations! You are now ready to ROCK! Next week, I’ll go over gameplay, what’s different about Rock Band 4, and why it’s great for Game Night programs.

Any questions? Comment below or tweet me!

By: Alanna Graves
Twitter: @LannaLibrarian

Book Review: Stand Off by Andrew Smith (Reviewed by Teen Reviewer Lexi)

standoffStand Off

by Andrew Smith

448 pages


It’s his last year at Pine Mountain, and Ryan Dean should be focused on his future, but instead, he’s haunted by his past. His rugby coach expects him to fill the roles once played by his lost friend, Joey, as the rugby team’s stand-off and new captain. And somehow he’s stuck rooming with twelve-year-old freshman Sam Abernathy, a cooking whiz with extreme claustrophobia and a serious crush on Annie Altman—aka Ryan Dean’s girlfriend, for now, anyway.

Equally distressing, Ryan Dean’s doodles and drawings don’t offer the relief they used to. He’s convinced N.A.T.E. (the Next Accidental Terrible Experience) is lurking around every corner—and then he runs into Joey’s younger brother Nico, who makes Ryan Dean feel paranoid that he’s avoiding him. Will Ryan Dean ever regain his sanity?


I am supposed to be Joey today.”

For a sequel to a beautiful novel I did not expect it to be as equally beautifully written as the first.  But this book is solid proof that Andrew Smith has managed once again to capture my heart and squeeze it until nothing was left.

The way Andrew Smith writes is so perfect. He makes me jealous that the arrangement of my own words aren’t as whimsical as his. His description in this book draws you in and makes the whole book seem like a movie playing out right before your eyes. Objectively, his writing style is perfect for the age group he is writing for. Also, the subjects he indirectly writes about is refreshing and appropriate in today’s society.

There is not single bad thing i have to say about this book. I loved it all. Especially his continuous use of lgbt characters. Unlike in some novels i have read, the lgbt character isn’t seen as disgusting or as a focus for ridicule and jokes. Spotted John is rather a source of strength and confidence. Andrew Smith writes Spotted John’s character as normal as any other straight teenage athletic boy, except that he is not straight. His flirtations with Ryan Dean proves that even if he isn’t straight, he is just like every other teenage boy. His pressuring also is something that struck me as refreshing. His constant pressure on Ryan Dean brings to light the concept of Consent, which is a main theme in the whole book. This pressure on Ryan Dean highlights how girls feel when pressured into similar situations. Consent, i feel, is a big thing amongst teens and the fact that Smith addresses this concept proves his understanding of teens and of the main issues in today’s society.

Andrew Smith’s whole book is excellent and heart wrenching. I would legit read anything he wrote. Stand Off is 5 out of 5 books-to-definitely-read on the Lexi’s-list-of-books-that-will-make-you-toss-and-scream-on-an-emotional-roller-coaster.

Published September 8, 2015 from Simon and Schuster. ISBN: 9781481418294

Book Review: What We Left Behind by Robin Talley

what wePublisher’s description:

From the critically acclaimed author of Lies We Tell Ourselves comes an emotional, empowering story of what happens when love may not be enough to conquer all

Toni and Gretchen are the couple everyone envied in high school. They’ve been together forever. They never fight. They’re deeply, hopelessly in love. When they separate for their first year at college—Toni to Harvard and Gretchen to NYU—they’re sure they’ll be fine. Where other long-distance relationships have fallen apart, theirs is bound to stay rock-solid.

The reality of being apart, though, is very different than they expected. Toni, who identifies as genderqueer, meets a group of transgender upperclassmen and immediately finds a sense of belonging that has always been missing, but Gretchen struggles to remember who she is outside their relationship.

While Toni worries that Gretchen won’t understand Toni’s new world, Gretchen begins to wonder where she fits in this puzzle. As distance and Toni’s shifting gender identity begin to wear on their relationship, the couple must decide—have they grown apart for good, or is love enough to keep them together?


Amanda’s thoughts:

Here is my first and probably most important thought: Next month, Gay YA’s book club pick is What We Left Behind. Have you participated in their book club discussions? If not, you’re missing out. They hold an hour-long Twitter chat to discuss the month’s title. You can find out more information here. That said, my thought is this: I can’t wait to hear the discussion of this book. There is a LOT going on in Talley’s new book. I am super interested in hearing thoughts on this book from people who are genderqueer, transgender, nonbinary, etc.


For the purpose of this review, I’m only going to refer to the main character as T. T has a lot to say about pronouns, labels, names, and identities. T’s thoughts change on these topics—and they change frequently.


T and Gretchen got together in high school. Their relationship has been pretty rosy; they don’t fight, they’re infatuated with each other, and they know they won’t be one of those couples who breaks up in college. They’re all set to be going to Boston together—T will be at Harvard and Gretchen will be at Boston University. That plan implodes when Gretchen reveals a secret: she’s been taken off the wait list at NYU. Despite being certain that distance won’t put a strain on their relationship, it of course does, and for many reasons.


The story is mainly T’s. We follow T through the first few months at Harvard, where T makes a lot of new friends, many of whom are transgender. T’s identity changes often during the novel. For a long time, T identifies as genderqueer. Then T isn’t really sure if that’s accurate. Maybe the label T is looking for is nonbinary. Or maybe it’s genderfluid, or heteroflexible, gender nonconforming, gender variant, or queer. Maybe the label that suits T is transgender. These are all identities T considers during that first year at Harvard. T also stops using pronouns all together, then tries “they” as the only pronoun, then “ze” and “hir” etc. If it feels confusing and complicated to you, it is. It’s a whirlwind of T seeking the right label. Some of T’s new friends assume T is transitioning and refer to T using male pronouns. At a certain point, this feels right to T, who starts to use chest binders and even spends some time presenting as male while on a trip to London.


Throughout all of this, T and Gretchen’s relationship suffers, partially from the distance and partially from T going through so many changes and leaving Gretchen in the dark for a lot of them. This part was done very well. I loved Gretchen. Seeing how they dealt with these changes and new revelations was great. Gretchen makes it clear that she loves T regardless of T’s identity, but that doesn’t mean it’s not still incredibly confusing and stressful to Gretchen to be dating T while T is working so hard to find out who T really is.


So, those are the facts. I have many thoughts on T’s confusion and ever-changing labels, but as a straight, cisgender woman I’d rather sit back and hear the thoughts from those who are the identities T talks about. A lot of what T is constantly feeling is just a general confusion over what the right label is. Even when T tells family or friends the identity that feels most true, T pretty much instantly freaks out and backtracks, wondering if that’s really the right label, if it has to be the label now forever, and if being confused about it still makes it invalid. I love Talley’s writing, and I loved the story being set in their first year of college. Gretchen’s part of the story is smaller, but I enjoyed seeing her try to figure out who she is separate from T (though I did not enjoy her irritating and slur-using new best friend at college, Carroll), a question that many people ponder no matter how their partner changes or what identity they have.


Is this kind of a non-review review? Maybe. But I think listening to the voices from others will be more useful than any thoughts I may have. So, I’ll say this: read this book. There’s a lot to think about and talk about. Then keep your eyes open for the date of Gay YA’s book club chat about this title. I guarantee that the discussion will be lively, passionate, and educational. 



Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780373211753

Publisher: Harlequin

Publication date: 10/27/2015

Middle School Monday – This year’s ‘Book for All Readers’

MSMWe just recently completed voting for our ‘Book for All Readers’ campaign for this school year. If you’d like to read more about the program, here is an explanatory post. Each year the students in my middle school nominate books for our schoolwide read. My Readers Club members help me narrow the voting pool down to 4 choices, which we then put on ballots. This year’s choices were Cinder by Marissa Meyer, Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan, The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis, and Sisters by Raina Telgemeier.

sistersIt was no surprise to me that Sisters won the vote, although it was a surprise that it wasn’t more of a landslide. I even had one grade level where it wasn’t the winner. Since we don’t put books on the ballot unless we are willing to purchase 20 copies of them for the school library, I’m always pleased with the outcome. I’m hopeful that this title winning might break down some barriers that are usually in place when it comes to students reading graphic novels. I know I have some stakeholders who don’t really believe that graphic novels qualify as reading.

Each year I do a display with a breakdown of the votes by grade and title.100_1437 I’ve already placed an order for the copies, as well as some of Telgemeier’s other graphic novels. Now we just have to wait.

Next I will be making a pinterest board for my Readers Club to pin ideas for our celebration – any thoughts?

Book Review: Illuminae (The Illuminae Files #1) by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff (Reviewed by Teen Reviewer Lexi)


Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

608 pages

‘Miracles are statistical improbabilities. And fate is an illusion humanity uses to comfort itself in the dark. There are no absolutes in life, save death.’

*Warning: spoiler alert*


This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do.

This afternoon, her planet was invaded.

The year is 2575, and two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than an ice-covered speck at the edge of the universe. Too bad nobody thought to warn the people living on it. With enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra—who are barely even talking to each other—are forced to fight their way onto one of the evacuating fleet, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit.

But their problems are just getting started. A deadly plague has broken out and is mutating, with terrifying results; the fleet’s AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be their enemy; and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady hacks into a tangled web of data to find the truth, it’s clear only one person can help her bring it all to light: the ex-boyfriend she swore she’d never speak to again!

Told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents—including emails, schematics, military files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more—Illuminae is the first book in a heart-stopping, high-octane trilogy about lives interrupted, the price of truth, and the courage of everyday heroes.


What do you do when your planet is attacked and everyone you know and love is being killed for your planets illegal refinery? What do you do when the only person you have left in the universe is your ex that is on a whole other ship and the only way to stay in contact is by illegal ship to ship communication? What do you do when the ones who are suppose to keep you safe are the ones who lie to you and cause thousands of deaths? What are you suppose to do when the ship that saves you tries to kill you?

You can A) devise a plan to hack into the system and see what is really going on, B) admit to your ex that you still love them and need them, C) respond to your so called commanders with sassy remarks that could get you court martialed , or D) do you freak stuff up.

The answer to these questions is E) all of the above.

This book is so crazily written that I stepped in not knowing what to expect. But as I jumped upon the ship to a world of endless action, I fell in love with it. I have never, in my whole short life of existence, read such a book formatted as this one.

The humor utilized by the characters is probably one of my favorite things about this whole fantastic mess. It underlines how different people deal with stressful and intimidating situations. Characters like Ezra Mason use humor as a defense mechanism to deal with such situations. I liked this the most because I connected to these characters. I deal with similar situations the same way and it’s nice to see read a book with characters I can relate to.

Now to end my review I must admit to something: I have never been into sci-fy books. Like, ever. However, the authors did such an exquisite execution that I could read this book over and over and still love it every time. So I recommend that everyone place this on their TBR list. My advice: ignore the number of pages. Don’t let its size intimidate you and discourage you from embarking on this amazeballs adventure.

Published October 20, 2015 by Knopf Books for Young Readers. ISBN: 9780553499117

Sunday Reflections: John Hughes, John Green, The Teen and Me

papertownsMy adolescent years were lived to the soundtrack of John Hughes movies. To this day I still defiantly throw my fist in the air when Don’t You Forget About Me by Simple Minds comes on the radio. At the same time, the closing letter begins to recite itself in my brain:

We accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was that we did wrong. What we did was wrong. But we think you’re crazy to make us write this essay telling you who we think we are. What do you care? You see us as you want to see us… in the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions. You see us as a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal. Correct? That’s how we saw each other at seven o’clock this morning. We were brainwashed.

I wanted to be Andie Walsh, the resourceful teenage girl from the wrong side of the tracks who makes her own glorious prom dress as she gets to choose between all the various guys in her life that seemed to desire her. She chose wrong, Duckie was obviously the right choice, but we can argue about that some other day.

John Hughes spoke to the heart of my teenage self, seeming to perfectly capture all the hidden fears and desires that I held inside my heart and didn’t quite have the vocabulary to give voice to. I wanted to belong, I wanted to be confident, and I needed to know that somehow we would all make it out of this alive. I wanted to know that at the end of it all I would, in fact, be not only able but willing to defiantly throw my fist up into the air. John Hughes offered me a sort of hope that the adults in my life couldn’t seem to muster.

This year, my own daughter became a teenager an entered into middle school. I dropped her off on her first day with a hopeful prayer that it would go much differently then it went for me. I loathed being a teenager and still bear some of the inner scars that came with those years.

During the summer I took her and her friends to see the Paper Towns movie, based on the book by John Green. For me, it was an okay movie – until I had a moment of revelation. I looked over at The Teen and saw tears silently creeping down her cheeks as the main character delivers one of his closing lines about Margo Roth Speigelman:

What a treacherous thing it is to believe that a person is more than a person.
Read more at http://quotesberry.com/post/101087067167/25-paper-towns-quotes-by-john-green#6h1WyRcrKAZGxCdT.99
This, I thought to myself, is her John Hughes moment. In these words she sees something reflected from herself, her life, her struggles. I saw her connect with the screen and in doing so I saw myself, all those years ago, making those same connections.
We talk a lot about how the world likes to denigrate the things that teenage girls love and the ways in which they love them. I remember exactly where and when I was when I first saw Duran Duran in concert. I was in the 10th grade. It was at Six Flags on a school night. A Thursday. And yes, I hyperventilated for a brief moment after it was over. For me, this was a moment in which I had a brush with greatness. My ordinary life had become, if even ever so briefly, something much bigger than it was. I felt cool. I felt empowered. I felt like maybe life could be more than fat checks in the mirror as you bustled out the door for another day of school then homework then Thursday nights in front of the TV. That night held the promise of something bigger and better than whatever my reality currently was.
In that moment, watching her watch Paper Towns, I didn’t care what the critics of the movie had to say. I didn’t care what the critics of John Green and his role in the world of YA had to say. The only thing I cared about was that she was having her John Hughes moment and that I could understand. She’ll probably have other John Hughes moments in her lifetime. There will be more movies, more books, more songs that become the soundtrack of her life. And years later, after she survives adolescence, those moments will bubble once again to the surface and she’ll remember who she was in those moments.
“But then again, if you don’t imagine, nothing ever happens at all.” – Paper Towns

Friday Finds – October 23, 2015

fridayfindsThis Week at TLT

Sunday Reflections: My Year of Unconventional Living


Middle School Monday – Keep Your Eyes Peeled

What’s New in LGBTQIA+ YA October, November, and December 2015

Fierce Reads Tour Author Interview

Video Games Weekly: Video Games 101 – Beta Games

MakerSpace: Unconventional Printing

Guest Post: A New Author’s Take on a New Con

Around the Web

Dear Teenage Boy at the Skate Park

Books for Teens 2016: WE [heart] Flatiron Books YA! | Macmillan Library

On hating what teen girls love

The Evidence that White Children Benefit from Integrated Schools

AirBNB Apologizes Quickly