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Middle School Monday – Me and Miranda Mullaly by Jake Gerhardt – Guest Post and Review


Me & Miranda Mullaly by Jake Gerhardt goes on sale tomorrow, January 26th. Today, Jake joins us to provide a little insight into his own middle school experience.

The Dance

            When I was in middle school my friends and I went to a lot of dances. Our school, Elkins Park, held a handful of dances. They were great fun, and like the Penn Valley depicted in Me and Miranda Mullaly, the dances were held in the gym. It’s also true that one half of the gym had a pretty good basketball game going.

My friends and I really loved to dance, so we hit the dance floor almost the entire time. Duran Duran was really popular then, and when one of their songs was played all the girls danced together, singing the lyrics to each other. This was very awkward for us boys, and I loathed when I had to dance alone. I was extremely self-conscious when this happened, and could feel everyone’s eyes on me. This was a situation I tried to avoid at all costs. Fortunately when the Duran Duran song was over things would return to normal and I was right back into it, happily jumping up and down to non-Duran Duran songs.

The trouble was, and always would be, when the slow songs played. If you didn’t have someone to dance with, you had to walk off the dance floor. And I rarely had someone to dance with during the slow songs because that meant you were “going out.” So when I heard the beginning to Phil Collins’s “Against All Odds” or Journey’s “Faithfully” I strolled off the dance floor the way the president walks from Marine One into the White House. I didn’t want to look like I was rushing, but I wanted everyone to think I was off to do something important. I waved and smiled just like the president does.

I had much better luck at the Knights of Columbus dances. These were held once a month at the Knights of Columbus (surprise!) social hall for the students who went to the area Catholic school. My best pal and I never missed one of these.

There were a few reasons why the Knights of Columbus dances were better. For one thing, there was nowhere to go once you were in the hall besides the bathroom. There was a side room where they had some hot dogs (not hot enough to hide the congealed fat they were floating in) and sodas. But the room was a little creepy because the old guys who were supposed to be watching us were sipping cold beer, in their own little worlds, probably listening to Harry James in their heads.

Another plus was that the girls we went with were from St. James, a small school which had only twenty kids in the eighth grade class, eleven girls and nine boys. The St. James boys were all checking out the girls from Seven Dolores and St. Luke’s and Immaculate Conception, so my friend and I were, at least in the eyes of the girls, different, which translated to mysterious and cool. Even my clothes (and I basically wore the same clothes every day) were chic in the eyes of the girls who had to wear uniforms to school and saw me only once a month.

As soon as we got there we danced and we danced and we danced.

Before I knew it I had a girl to dance with. She had blonde hair and appeared to be pretty. (I never did see her in the full light of the sun.) The best thing was that she danced with me during the slow songs and when they played the final song, which for some reason was always “Stairway to Heaven” and everyone seemed to know it intimately besides me. (My father was a Barry Manilow man.)

It was pure bliss to have a girl to dance with during the love songs. After about five minutes of dancing I was covered with sweat, which tended to be similar to the slime one usually finds on an amphibian. But my blonde girl didn’t seem to mind as we danced to the greatest love songs ever produced. Has there ever been a song with more passion than Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart”? And then there was “Endless Love,” that wonderful duet by Lionel Richie and Diana Ross. My goodness, it’s a wonder we didn’t run off and elope after that passionate masterpiece of pure bliss.

But we didn’t. In fact, although I lived in the same area as the blonde, I don’t think our paths ever crossed again.

When you read this novel, you’ll see why the above story provides so much insight into the background behind the novel, as will the information that Jake played football and basketball, ran track, performed in the school musical, and was a member of the student council when he was in middle school. Continue reading below for my take on it.

Miranda Mullaly must lead a charmed life to have not one or two, but three boys fall in love with her at the same time. Or she 25894020must be irresistibly charming. In fact, neither is actually the case. The reality of this story is that it hinges on one crucial truth – your first crush is often an incomprehensible mystery, especially when it happens in middle school.

The three boys in question are vastly different types with one thing in common, they all fall for Miranda at the same time. As Sam, the class clown, Duke, the class brainiac, and Chollie (think Charlie without the ‘r’,) the class athlete, each seek to gain the interest and attention of Miranda Mullaly, hijinks ensue. Following the advice of different people in their lives, the boys join activities Miranda shows interest in, such as the school play and student leadership roles. Chollie is excited when he and Miranda are assigned as science group partners, and all three engage in a fight over who is going to shovel Miranda’s family’s front walk when it snows.

I’m of two minds about this story, to be honest. I was somewhat bothered by how unlikable many of the characters (but most notably Duke and Miranda) are. The school librarian in me was appalled by the frankly derogatory way most of the characters viewed the teachers and administrators at their school. The lack of empathy displayed by many of the characters was disturbing. But I think most of that has to do with me viewing the story through the eyes of an adult who works with children this age.

My other opinion is that my students who read this novel will probably recognize themselves, their friends, and their peers within its pages. It is engagingly well written with enough humor to sustain the interest of even the pickiest of readers. I think it will do very well with the crowd of students who enjoy the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series.

Sunday Reflections: Thinking About Flint

sundayreflections110 is the magic number.

When you reach the number 10, that’s when the county health department sends you a letter letting you know that your child has high levels of lead in their blood.

At least, that’s what happens when you live in a county that is not trying to cover up for a government that is willing to throw it’s children under the bus in order to save about a hundred dollars a week.

My letter came in 2005. The Teen was then 3 years old. I had no idea at the time that they regularly tested infants and toddlers for lead. I had no idea that it was something for me to be concerned about.

At the time we lived in an Ohio County which was declared the highest poverty county in all of Ohio. Out of 88 counties, we had the distinguished honor of having the most poverty. There are a lot of horrible things that coincide with poverty: failing schools, higher crime and drug use, and a failing infrastructure that puts the health and safety of everyone at risk. There are immediate and long term consequences to poverty.

That’s another thing you should know about lead poisoning: it’s more prevalent in areas with higher poverty. Areas like Flint, Michigan.

As I was reading this week about Flint, I was introduced to a new term: Environmental Racism. Many articles I read this week referred to the Flint crisis as an example of environmental racism. The New York Times said this:

Coined in the 1980s, the term refers to the disproportionate exposure of blacks to polluted air, water and soil. It is considered the result of poverty and segregation that has relegated many blacks and other racial minorities to some of the most industrialized or dilapidated environments.

Although I am very familiar with the many discussions of racism that we are having in our country, I am ashamed to admit that the concept of environmental racism was new to me.

I have been thinking and reading about Flint a lot this past week. Because here’s what happens when you find out that your child has high levels of lead . . . First, you panic. You have to find the cause. Then you have to address the cause, which is usually very expensive and, in the case of Flint, far outside an individual’s reach. Then you worry. Not normal every day worry, but tremendous amounts of daily stress because your baby, this child that you love and pray for every day, now has a toxic substance coursing through their veins that can change the very course of their life. It can cause life long neurological, behavioral and cognitive issues. It is, in fact, a big freaking deal.

For us, there was the involvement of the local county health department. There were investigations into the source. There were discussions of how to properly address the source. There was a change of diet to help the body naturally chelate the lead. And there were a lot of follow up tests to check that her lead level was going down and that it didn’t have a negative impact on her health. Taking care of her high lead issue was costly in terms of both time and money, something we were only able to navigate because we had a lot of help from family and friends.

The people of Flint may not have gotten any of that because their government was trying to cover the whole thing up. The people of Flint have been denied every thing they need in order to have life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. They were lied to by their government, a government I understand that may have illegally been put in place under the guise of emergency management.

For years, we watched our child closely to see if we could see any health effects. We worried incessantly. We prayed fervently. The next year she had another health crisis – Kawasaki Disease – that also can present with long term health effects. For the record, she seems to have none, thankfully. But I can not stress enough the anguish we felt as parents as we navigated this crisis. The fear, the anxiety, and yes, the guilt. The sleepless nights, the tears, and the just raw begging we put out into the universe asking please let our baby be safe and healthy. There was a desperation that I can not even begin to describe that gripped my maternal heart the day that letter came from the health department.

This week when I have been reading about the crisis in Flint all I can do is remember how I felt as a parent when I found out my own child had lead, just the tremendous worry and concern I had for my child’s immediate and long term health. And I am so angry for those parents in Flint. Their government, the people who are supposed to serve them and their best interests, put their children’s health and entire future at risk. Many of those children will now have a different life path because the people in government lied and covered up their actions.

This has got to be a tipping point where we as a nation say ENOUGH! Our children, our people, are not acceptable collateral damage to your power plays and selfish ways. Sadly, I fear that it isn’t. An entire city is dying, a generation of children have been poisoned, and I fear that we have not yet reached the point where we demand better of each other. But if this isn’t that point, then what is? I fear I don’t want to know the answer to that question.

The children of Flint deserve better.

Friday Finds – January 22, 2015

fridayfindsThis Week at TLT

Sunday Reflections: The Worst Week Ever

Anxiety, Me and Fangirl, a guest post by Danielle Masterson

Middle School Monday – The Night Parade by Kathryn Tanquary

The Story is Enough: Writing the Books I Needed to Read, a guest post by Jackie Lea Sommers

January #ARCParty – A Look at January, February and March 2016 YA Lit Releases

Major Depressive Dropout, a guest post by Bryson McCrone

Video Games Weekly: Just Dance 2016

Author Ann Jacobus Talks About Suicide

Around the Web

Author Ally Carter being smart on the internet.

“Bold predictions” (that were made 14 years ago by M.T. Anderson.)

Scholastic stops publication of A Birthday Cake for George Washington

Goodreads has a list of 2016 titles with POC leads.

175+ YA Books Hitting Shelves January – March 2016

HarperTeen’s Publication Plans for 2016: INFOGRAPHIC

#MHYALit: Pretending to be Normal: A Story About My Anxiety by Jessica Sankiewicz

Today we are excited to have Jessica joining us to discuss anxiety.

You can read all the #MHYALit posts here.


Near the end of last summer, I had it brought to my attention that I might have anxiety. This is something I never thought possible for me. I suppose part of the blame rests on television and movies for giving me an exaggerated impression of anxiety. I always thought of it as some huge thing–severe panic attacks, never wanting to leave the house, unable to be around people, etc. But that’s not always the case. Sometimes it’s not as easily noticed by others, and especially by yourself.

I didn’t see it. I thought it was just me–that I was “shy” or that I got “nervous” around people I didn’t know well. Looking back, however, I can see it all. The moments where I panicked. Where I freaked out. Where my heart was racing. Where I played it off as “no big deal” because I thought my reaction to a situation was normal.

Normal. Ha. Isn’t that pretty much the bottom line? We all want to be normal, or at least pass as normal. And that’s pretty much what it was for me: it was normal to avoid people and events, to only go to parties if I have a friend to hang on to all night.

There was a point in my teen years when I broke out of my shell. I was sixteen and starting to talk to more people. It was difficult, but I continued because I wanted to fit in–you know, be normal. For years, I managed to do just that. Then about six years ago everything changed. I faced several difficult situations (a rough break up, my parent’s divorce, the deaths of two people I loved) and my life started to feel completely out of control. Being around people was hard. Very hard.

A friend of mine graduated from high school that summer and she was having a celebratory dinner. On the way there, I started to freak out. I was on a busy highway and wasn’t positive about which road to turn on, so I ended up missing the road entirely. I almost did a U-turn to go back when it hit me that I couldn’t handle this dinner. I drove home. I spent an hour on the road, only to go back home.

At the time, I made excuses. “My family is going through a difficult time right now” seemed to be the response of the moment when it came to doing things with friends. While it was true, it was still an excuse. I let it slide, though, because I was having trouble coping with everything. I figured it would get better after a little more time. That’s all you need, right? Just a little bit of time.

But it didn’t get better. It stayed the same. Sure, I managed to push through certain barriers. I remained close to a few friends, even bonding tighter with them. Having them around made me feel like everything must be okay.

When it came to people outside my tight knit group, that was another story. The second I heard about something that was coming up, this strange feeling would overcome me. I’d try to be excited, and even though sometimes I was excited, I was already coming up with excuses not to go. Eventually, people stopped inviting me places. They spoke to me less and less until they stopped speaking to me at all. It seemed I could never fully explain myself to them, and they didn’t try to understand.

As the years rolled by, I remained motionless. I rarely went out; I was just drifting through life, through the day to day. When I did get out to socialize, I became easily frustrated and then either very irritable or very quiet. I don’t think anyone knew how to handle me. They probably thought I was just a jerk. Trust me, I felt like a jerk. I felt guilty constantly after my reactions. But I was still making excuses for them.

In the last year, however, everything came to a head. It reached the point where my roommate had no idea how to deal with me anymore. She and I have been friends for several years–good friends–so it was really throwing her with my mood swings.

I talked to some people and started looking up information on anxiety. When I learned more about it, it felt like a weight had been lifted off my chest. Finally… finally things were starting to make sense. All my life I was under one impression only to discover that I didn’t even truly understand myself at all.

I went to my doctor to talk about it and she was, to put it simply, amazing. She told me that she struggles with anxiety and depression herself. She said to me, “I’m not only talking to you as a doctor, I’m also talking to you as a fellow sufferer.” She was kind. She understood. She told me that so many people are afraid to admit to having anxiety or depression. They still see the stigma and don’t want to believe it’s a real thing when it is.

It’s real. Anxiety is real.

She prescribed a medication that is already helping me. I still have a long way to go, but I feel like I took a step in the right direction when I acknowledged the possibility and had the determination to see it through.

If I had known when I was a teenager what I know now, things might have been a little bit different. I would have had the chance to do something, to make things a little easier to handle. I do realize, however, that finding this out now at the age of thirty isn’t the worst thing. I’m thankful I recognized it when I did and got the help I needed.

While knowing years ago would have been nice, at least my experience can be told for others who are like me, pretending to be normal. They can take that first step, scary as it is, and improve their lives. Don’t be afraid of the stigma like some people are and know that you are not alone. There are other people out there who are just like you, facing those same fears. I faced them. I stand up to them every day. And so can you.

Meet Our Guest Blogger

Jessica Sankiewicz is the author of the New Adult novella series, This Night. You can often find her either reading or marathon watching TV on DVD, her favorites being Castle and Veronica Mars. She frequently mismatches her clothes and giggles uncontrollably. She knows almost every Billy Joel song by heart. She collects books and toys, and she has an intense love of cats and lemurs. Jessica decided when she turned 27 that she would remain 27 forever. Currently in the midst of her quarter-life-crisis, she is still takin’ names and getting very close to reaching an epiphany.

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Book Review: The Great American Whatever by Tim Federle

When I’m reviewing books for professional publications, I stay quiet about them on social media. I’m always really excited once a review comes out to be able to talk about the book, finally! Here’s one of my most recent reviews, which originally appeared in the January 2016 issue of School Library Journal.

redstarFEDERLE, Tim. The Great American Whatever. 288p. ebook available. S. & S. Mar. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481404099.The Great American Whatever by Tim Federle

Gr 10 Up –In the six months since his sister was killed in a car accident, Quinn has hardly left his bedroom. He hasn’t gone to school or talked to his best friend and has barely interacted with his heartbroken mother. He hasn’t turned on his phone, either, knowing the last text his sister sent before running a red light was to him. Urged on by his best friend, Geoff, Quinn reluctantly emerges from his isolation just in time to meet a cute boy, turn 17, rediscover his passion for writing screenplays, and uncover some big secrets about the people he thought he knew best. He also gets some advice from a former idol, a neighbor turned Hollywood screenwriter: forget the rules of what’s expected in a script and just write the truth. For Quinn, who seeks solace in his daydreamy scripts with imagined conversations and outcomes that he can control, this is a hard pill to swallow, especially as he’s learning some truths he’s not really sure he likes. Even under the weight of grief, Quinn’s conversational and charming narrative voice effervesces, mixing humor and vulnerability in typical Federle style. Quinn’s story is at turns sad, funny, awkward, and endearing as he figures out friendship, romance, coming out, and moving on. VERDICT Federle’s YA debut about life’s unscripted moments has wide appeal and is an essential purchase for all collections. Readers will be instant fans of the funny and honest Quinn.–Amanda MacGregor, Great River Regional Library, St. Cloud, MN

Book Review: The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork

Publisher’s description

memory of lightWhen Vicky Cruz wakes up in the Lakeview Hospital Mental Disorders ward, she knows one thing: After her suicide attempt, she shouldn’t be alive. But then she meets Mona, the live wire; Gabriel, the saint; E.M., always angry; and Dr. Desai, a quiet force. With stories and honesty, kindness and hard work, they push her to reconsider her life before Lakeview, and offer her an acceptance she’s never had.

But Vicky’s newfound peace is as fragile as the roses that grow around the hospital. And when a crisis forces the group to split up, sending Vick back to the life that drove her to suicide, she must try to find her own courage  and strength. She may not have them. She doesn’t know.

Inspired in part by the author’s own experience with depression, The Memory of Light is the rare young adult novel that focuses not on the events leading up to a suicide attempt, but the recovery from one — about living when life doesn’t seem worth it, and how we go on anyway.


Amanda’s thoughts

I have had a lucky streak at the beginning of this year with not just reading books that are great in general, but that are specifically great in the way they deal with mental health issues. Because I read in order of publication date (the only way I can mange my towering pile of books), I didn’t even arrange for it to work out this way, to read all of these books at the start of our #MHYALit project. I have enjoyed Stork’s other two books—Marcelo in the Real World and The Last Summer of the Death Warriors—so I was expecting to like this one, too. “Like” is an understatement. This blew me away.


Vicky wakes up in the hospital after attempting suicide. Dr. Desai informs her she’s had her stomach pumped and that Juanita, her nanny, found her. Vicky doesn’t know how to explain what she did. She isn’t sure how to reconcile loving someone, as she does with her nanny, and still wanting to be dead. She just knows she hurts inside and she’s tired of pretending. Dr. Desai recommends Vicky stay for a few weeks for group therapy, individual therapy, to help out around the hospital, and to give them time to start to think about what medications may be useful. Vicky feels like none of that matters because she will inevitably go back to wanting to kill herself. Her chatty and affable roommate (with wrists full of scars), Mona, acts as a guide for Vicky, helping her get to know the other kids in the group. She learns that E.M. is there for anger and violence issues and Gabriel is there for, well, she’s not sure. He is slow to explain what’s going on in his life. Vicky is surprised by the “gentle but blunt sincerity” of the conversations about life in the hospital, mental illness, and more. She’s not used to people talking about these things.


Vicky’s dad and stepmom are high-achieving success stories, and so is Vicky’s sister. Her dad is more concerned with the school she’s missing and the fact that she’s in a public hospital (unacceptable to him) than he is with her actual state of mental health. With the support of her doctor and the group, Vicky is able to stand up for herself and stay for the treatment so she desperately needs. Though she’s promised Dr. Desai that she won’t try to kill herself while at the hospital, the thought is never far from her. She’s miserable. Vicky hates herself; she’s disgusted with herself. She is deeply, deeply sad and no one at home has recognized that. Though Vicky starts to make some inroads into feeling a little less depressed, she’s worried that going home will immediately bring everything back to feeling as desperate as it did before.


While the writing is outstanding and the characters well-drawn, it’s the real talk about mental illness that makes this novel stand out to me. Vicky often talks about the debilitating fog of depression, of the lies that depression makes a person believe. We learn that Mona is bipolar and see how that affects her, especially once she decides to give herself a little break from her medicine. Gabriel is possibly schizophrenic—he hears the voice of God telling him to give away his possessions and that he must die. The teens all talk about these very real illnesses and support each other when they each fall prey to believing in the lies, to feeling like they are to blame for their illnesses. At one point, Vicky says:

“It’s hard to accept that depression is an illness, that moping around from day to day with no will for so many years is not my fault. It feels like it’s my fault. Isn’t it your fault when you have all you want and need and much more than ninety-nine percent of the world has, and you still feel miserable?” (pg 102)


They struggle to accept their illnesses but are constantly reminded, by each other and their doctor, that what they have IS an illness and is real. The teens all come from different backgrounds and have varying levels of support or familial involvement in their treatment. They begin to really bond with each other, as the story goes on, and Vicky feels like in the hospital it’s five against one–her group and doctor against her depression. Each time we see her parents, we see so clearly how they just DO NOT get what is going on. Whether it’s ignorance—willful or otherwise–or denial, they don’t understand Vicky’s illness and make ridiculous demands on her once she leaves the hospital—get right back to school, get your grades back up, focus on getting into an Ivy League school (she’s a high school sophomore), get a job, BE FINE. Be better. Vicky, who is of course still struggling greatly with her depression, works hard to not be ashamed of what has happened and to be open with people about her needs right now. It is only after some very scary events go on with the friends in her treatment group that she can begin to make her family understand what mental illness really means and what they can do to support her. 


This important book is an honest and candid look at mental illness, treatment, and recovery. The focus on therapy, medication, and support shows readers the many different ways to get help. The mental illnesses are handled sensitively, and the teens’ conversations go a long way toward encouraging open dialogues about mental health, acceptance, and the removal of stigma. Expect this profoundly moving book to fly off shelves. 


Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780545474320

Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.

Publication date:01/26/2016

#MHYALit: Author Ann Jacobus Talks About Suicide

Trigger Warning: Suicide and Suicidal Ideation are Discussed

On January 1st of this year, one of my best friend’s from high school ended his life. I had no idea he was even struggling and am still likely to break out into tears throughout the course of the day. Because of recent events, I have had to explain suicide to my 13-year-old daughter, The Teen. Today, as part of #MHYALit, we are honored to have author Ann Jacobus here discussing the topic of suicide and her YA novel, Romancing the Dark in the City of Light.

You can read all the #MHYALit posts here.

annjacobusHow are you feeling today?

I volunteer at a national suicide crisis line. Every week I talk to or text with dozens of people who are feeling depressed and overwhelmed; are dealing with mental illness and need someone to help; are worried about a loved one who is feeling suicidal; or are feeling suicidal themselves.

Why? you may ask. For the same reason most of us volunteer there—personal experience with and understanding of how difficult suicide is for all concerned.

I was an artsy kid. As a teen, I suffered from undiagnosed and untreated depression, off and on for a number of years. We moved a lot and my family went through a divorce upheaval. At age fifteen, my mom, three younger siblings and I moved once again in the middle of my sophomore year of high school to a new state. The shift from thinking life sucked, to thinking it wasn’t worth living, to actively wanting to take my own was gradual, but suicide came to seem like a sensible option. It felt like the only thing that I could control, and that would for certain alleviate what felt unendurable.

Fortunately, I stalled.

This is what we do on the crisis line–help get you through the next 24 hours, with emotional support and a plan for coping and self-care.

While stalling, I did research on death and dying, ate a lot of mac and cheese, and Baskin Robbins ice cream, partook of marathon sleeps, and escaped into novels and stories whenever possible. I finally made a friend or two, and took a mime class (no joke). As a more-or-less responsible oldest child, I did realize that the consequences of such a choice would devastate my already struggling family.

I figured I could probably hang on for one more day.

Thankfully, as a stay-at-home-nerd, my access to alcohol and drugs was limited. Being drunk or high on a bad day would have impaired my already questionable judgment and removed any remaining inhibitions, possibly resulting in an attempt.

Eventually things got a little better. Dying was still on my mind.

It got way better finally, but that took awhile.

Untreated mental illness or depression is the number one cause of suicide. And alcohol or substance abuse correlates significantly with attempts and completions.

Suicidality (the term for feeling suicidal) is a possible symptom of a number of mental illnesses but goes along most often with depression, and mood or personality disorders. In a massive 2013 CDC study of US high school students, nearly 1 out of 3 struggled with some depression in the previous year. 17% or about 1 out of 6 actually had thoughts of suicide.

Those feeling suicidal almost always show signs. These include anti-sociable traits such as being moody, angry and/or withdrawn. And abusing drugs or alcohol.

I told no one for decades that I had wanted to take my own life. It was hard to admit. I felt like a freak. Plus it would upset everyone, and they would look at me differently and think less of me (pride, much?). But like the cyanide capsule one carries inside a molar to swallow if captured by the enemy, the option was there if the world became inescapably unbearable.

Almost anyone can end up suffering a run-in with mental illness. Genetic factors are obviously important, but so are biological, social, and environmental factors. If enough things are piled on a person, they will break. Every one of us will have loss, grief, and unfortunately sometimes violence, in our lives—and when we feel alone and disconnected, we have much greater difficulty coping.

Even with no genetic predisposition to mental illness, you are at higher risk of going into crisis or having a mental health break:

If your family is rejecting and non-supportive of you (because of your sexuality or gender identity, for example)

If peers are rejecting and non-supportive of you (bullying)

If you failed to form strong primary attachments as a baby/young child

If you live now or in the past with the stress of poverty, abuse or violence

If you experienced trauma as a child, or recently (PTSD)

If you have recently been incarcerated

If you don’t sleep well (rest and dreaming help us process life’s ups and downs)

If you abuse alcohol or drugs (actually a chicken or egg thing…)

If you are more sensitive and creative

Many mental health issues such as anxiety disorders, OCD, self-harm, and substance abuse are the way our minds and bodies try to COPE with stress and anguish that is overwhelming.

During one of life’s many transition periods, and this includes “positive” things such as moving, adding a new family member, adolescence, a new job, or even marriage, our coping skills are already taxed. Throw in a big loss or trauma—a break-up, a death, or a car accident—and, wham! We’re overwhelmed.

Normally we’ll get a little more support from family and friends, from our religion, from a crisis line, and ideally, self-care.

But sadly, if our mental health falters or fails, it’s like someone having pneumonia or brain cancer that everyone ignores. At best, someone says, “buck up, petunia.”

Medical attention and/or therapy and medication can help get us through it, no sweat, but we’re afraid to ask for the help we need.

That’s because of stigma.

Stigma leads to silence, prevents treatment, causes loss of life.

So, What Can You Do?

Ask for help. Almost all mental health disorders can be successfully treated.

Suicide is preventable.

Work on your coping skills: supportive relationships with loved ones, exercise, sleep, diet, spiritual life, meditation, daily structure.

Read others’ stories. There are so many great YA books out now that give the real low-down on all aspects of mental health. Here’s some on suicide. (Goodreads list of books that deal with suicide).

Share your story – this is the ultimate way to fight stigma. The more we talk about mental illness and suicide, the more we help us all.

And last but not least, ask someone you’re worried about how they’re feeling. Then listen.

Meet Author Ann Jacobus

Ann Jacobus earned a MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts, volunteers for San Francisco Suicide Prevention, and is the author of YA thriller Romancing the Dark in the City of Light (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Griffin).

18 year-old Summer Barnes just arrived at high school in Paris and is depressed, anxious, and thinks that changing her location or meeting someone will solve everything. Plus she’s got a drinking problem, not to mention sleeping, eating, focusing, and doing-her-work problems. She meets two guys who pull her in opposite directions. As suicide starts to look like a solution, one boy pulls her toward the light, and the other one pulls her toward darkness.




About Romancing the Dark in the City of Light

A troubled teen, living in Paris, is torn between two boys, one of whom encourages her to embrace life, while the other—dark, dangerous, and attractive—urges her to embrace her fatal flaws.Haunting and beautifully written, with a sharp and distinctive voice that could belong only to this character, Romancing the Dark in the City of Light is an unforgettable young adult novel.Summer Barnes just moved to Paris to repeat her senior year of high school. After being kicked out of four boarding schools, she has to get on track or she risks losing her hefty inheritance. Summer is convinced that meeting the right guy will solve everything. She meets two. Moony, a classmate, is recovering against all odds from a serious car accident, and he encourages Summer to embrace life despite how hard it can be to make it through even one day. But when Summer meets Kurt, a hot, mysterious older man who she just can’t shake, he leads her through the creepy underbelly of the city-and way out of her depth.

When Summer’s behavior manages to alienate everyone, even Moony, she’s forced to decide if a life so difficult is worth living. With an ending that’ll surprise even the most seasoned reader, Romancing the Dark in the City of Light is an unputdownable and utterly compelling novel.

Video Games Weekly: Just Dance 2016

videogamesweeklyI’m guessing most of you are familiar with the Just Dance series. The series released its first game Just Dance in 2009, and like Now That’s What I Call Music!, there is a new Just Dance game released every year. Just Dance 2016 is different from its predecessors, and I don’t mean it only has an updated the song list!


Platform: Wii, Wii U, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One. Notice how this is one of the very new titles released for older consoles! Also, I played this on my Wii U, which is a different version from other consoles.

JustDance2016_NAboxartRated: E10+

Single or Multiplayer: Both. I say it’s more fun to play on multiplayer.

Controls: Like the 2015 version, Just Dance 2016 heavily promotes the tagline “You can play Just Dance 2016 by using your smartphone to track and score your dance moves!” Yes, this is a neat feature for players who own smartphones, but there are still teens in the U.S. who still do not own a smartphone. Reading the tagline makes me cringe, because I have a few regular teens at my library who don’t own smartphones. I wouldn’t want to make those teens explain they need a Wiimote while everyone else uses the app because I think that could be very embarrassing for the teen. One way to combat this is to have every teen play with a Wiimote, no questions asked. I should also mention that players can only use their smartphones if they are playing on a Wii U, PS4, and Xbox One. If you’re playing on Wii, PS3, and Xbox 360, you’re stuck using the controllers regardless!


In order to play, players hold either a controller or their phone in one hand, and follow along with the dancer on screen during a song of their choice. There is a small diagram that appears at the bottom right hand corner that gives players a warning about what “moves” are coming up next, but I personally find them incredibly unhelpful and tend to ignore it.
Picture: http://i1.cdnds.net/15/25/618×347/gaming-just-dance-2016-screenshot-3.jpg

Players score points based on the accuracy of their dance moves. The more points you get, the more stars, which means you get bragging rights. You can’t really “fail” when playing Just Dance 2016, which is helpful to convince reluctant teens to play!

Party Master: Solely available on the Wii U GamePad, four players dance while one player uses the “Wii U GamePad” to be the “Party Master”. The “Party Master” is in charge of selecting which moves they want the other four to perform. It’s ridiculously funny, but I recommend having teens take turns being “Party Master” before they get corrupted from the power.

Just Dance Unlimited: Before I get into the different modes, I want to talk about the song availability. Just Dance 2016 is starting something new where players can subscribe to “over 150 songs” playlist. You can purchase a one month, three month, or one year pass. The game disc comes with 45 songs, which you can view here.

Dance Party: The game’s main mode is “Dance Party”. Players can opt to play single player where they can try to get a high score on a song or master the moves. Players can also play multiplayer in “Dance Party”. “Dance Party” is really fun to play in multiplayer because players can either play with their friends to get a combined high score, or they can literally have a dance battle. If you have teens who love Just Dance, you could easily have a “Dance Party” battle tournament program!

Dance Quest: Instead of battling against your friends, “Dance Quest” has players go up against an AI player tournament style over three songs. Whoever scores more points wins the tournament. This is a fun option for solo players who want to experience a little more competition in the game rather than trying to get five stars on a song.

Sweat: Sweat mode is not new to the Just Dance series. In “Sweat” mode, the goal is to burn more calories instead of points. I can personally vouch that this will indeed make you sweat, which may not be desirable while you’re at work! I’m not sure how accurate the “calories burned” calculator is, but there are people out there who have lost weight by playing video games along with other cardio exercises.

Online Modes on Wii U, PS4, and Xbox One: Just Dance 2016 added three new online modes, but they are only available for the newer generation consoles. The first mode, “Showtime”, records players to lip sync along and create your own routine. The Wii U Gamepad records your performance, so it has to be in front of the player at a decent height. Players can post their performance online (over my dead body am I posting my rendition to “Born This Way” for the internet to see!) on “JDTV”. Players can watch other players’ recordings on “JDTV” and “like” them if they wish. “JDTV” has gotten crazy, with people dressing up in costumes, doing professional dance routines, but sadly I can’t show you a video on YouTube because you can only see it on “JDTV”!. Finally, there’s “World Video Challenge” which in a nutshell lets you compete against other players on an international scale.

Verdict: A good purchase for core collections, but avoid purchasing any “gold editions”! Just Dance 2016: Gold Edition is more expensive because it comes with a three month subscription to “Just Dance Unlimited”, which can only be redeemed once.

Whether or not you want to play it at Teen Game Nights or a teen program depends on your teens’ interests. One thing to keep in mind is making sure you have fans and water available at a program, because the programming space will smell like teen spirit with all the dancing, sweating, and fun!

Questions? Comments? Tweet them at me!

By: Alanna Graves
Twitter: @LannaLibrarian


$29.99 on Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Just-Dance-2016-PlayStation-4/dp/B00ZE3619W/ref=sr_1_1?s=videogames&ie=UTF8&qid=1452904281&sr=1-1&keywords=just+dance+2016+playstation+4

#MHYALit: Major Depressive Dropout, a guest post by Bryson McCrone

As we noted in our intro post, the teenage years are a prime time for mental health issues to emerge. Today we share a guest post by Bryson McCrone. In it, he shares how his depression started in his teen years and how it affected him into college. You can read all the #MHYALit discussion posts here.



The Back Story

The beginning of my high school senior year, I fell and broke my leg in two places. It just sort of happened. I felt it coming on over the course of a few weeks, the pain growing from this tingling itch to an audible SNAP! When I woke up the morning it had finally taken me, my leg was twisted under me like a half-tied pretzel. At school, they called me hop-along. At home, no matter how many times they saw the jutting bone and dried blood, they kept saying just suck it up, Bryson.

It’d be crazy to tell you that I never went to the doctor; that instead of getting a cast and healing I dragged my leg around as it began to rot. But that’s what I did.

Crazy, right?

Maybe if my brain, the part of me that was actually broken, was my leg.

Struggling with mental illness has taught me a lot. It’s made me fear myself, and be more afraid of others than I should be. It took away everything important to me until I was alone. And then when I started to learn more about it, it taught me that my voice, no matter what it sounded like, meant something. Even if that ‘something’ didn’t necessarily mean anything to me at that time.

The Story

I was stupid-lazy on Xanax the night I decided to go away to college. The only school I applied to accepted me, now I just had to say yes.

My mom found me on the driveway, lying down and gazing up at the stars but not really seeing anything. I’d found myself there and couldn’t go back inside because I was basically a useless lump when I used a pill to stay alive. My limbs were flubber and even though I couldn’t feel anything, I felt love for my little blue pills.

“I gotta go,” I slurred. “I’m going to college.” Or something like that. I can’t really remember. All I know is that I thought it would be the best thing for me. The best thing that could have ever been.

I lasted less than four months.

The thing that’s so difficult to understand about mental illness, from the outside, is just how quickly you are no longer in control. It’s like someone jacked the keys to your car, only you’re on the interstate riding shotgun and you don’t even remember letting someone else take the wheel.

Xanax is usually a drug prescribed for those battling anxiety. I had been diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder nearly a year before. My meds weren’t working. This was around the time I began to recognize that my depression was episodic. Like a wave, it would come in and I’d want to die. Then it’d be gone. Together, my doctor and I decided to change my meds. She gave me Xanax to ease the switch. It was my padding.

For whatever reason, I ditched my antidepressants when I moved into my apartment. My Xanax was stashed with what little cash I had, and I found myself totally alone three hours away from home, which never really felt like a home.

So what was home now? Home was bottles of liquor that overflowed from the fridge, leaving no room for food. Home was two jock roomies who never seemed to wear shirts. Home was the jars of marijuana that covered the coffee table.

Home was the “Ass of the Day” picture that always changed on the fridge.

Home was my 10×10 room I never came out of. I’d roam the dark streets because I didn’t sleep. I’d find another bed to lie in but never found rest. I met strangers who never seemed to fill the void, and I made friends I didn’t care to lose.

And yeah– I was also spending my days in classrooms. Only none of the material stuck. None of it mattered. The physicality of my presence was somehow enough to get me by.

Two weeks before finals, I sent my advisor this email and moved home over Thanksgiving. My advisor told me to fill out a form. I did. He told me that was all I needed. He was wrong.

A process had to be started, which I found out. Seven. Months. Later. The beginning of it is recorded below:

Dear Bryson,

Thanks so much for calling today. I am emailing with some information about the process of petitioning for late withdrawal. Complete information about the late withdrawal petition process can be found on our website: ———————————— and you are also welcome to contact our office if you have any questions after reviewing the information below.

As you are putting together your petition, please keep the following in mind:

  • There is a two year limit on submitting a late withdrawal petition. Petitions typically include ALL courses taken during the semester in question, as petitions that list only selective courses less likely approved and are almost NEVER approved after the semester in question has ended. If you feel strongly that you have justification for selective withdrawal, then you will be asked to provide clear explanation and additional documentation to support that.
  • Regardless of the reason(s) or the timing, petitions are never guaranteed to be approved.

To complete your petition so it can be reviewed, your petition packet will need the ALL of the following items, all which can be turned in to our office by email, fax, mail, or in person (contact info at the bottom of this email):

  • Petition form with all appropriate signatures.  You will need to complete the top portion of the form; also, your professor(s) will need to provide a signature on the petition form or via email acknowledging they are aware you are seeking a late withdrawal from their course.  
  • Letter of explanation for your petition.  You must write a letter explaining the reason(s) why you are seeking to be withdrawn from your class(es).  Please also address why you were not able to withdraw from your courses by the withdrawal deadline.
  • Documentation supporting your petition.  Documentation to support your petition for late withdrawal must verify that your mitigating circumstances occurred in a timeframe appropriate to your petition. If you are planning to provide medical documentation, your provider can give this information in a letter, or s/he can complete the Medical Documentation Form

Once we have received all of these required late withdrawal petition materials, your petition will be forwarded to the Faculty Committee for consideration. It may take the Committee up to 3 weeks to meet and review a petition once it has been received.



This came nearly seven months after I’d dropped out. Only, the school didn’t have record of my dropping out and they were now harassing me for money for classes I never signed up for.

I was livid. Seven months is a long time, enough time for me to get my head somewhat sorted and now I was being thrown right back in. Me and my family continued to get emails and letters and calls from the Financial Office about fines and money. I was put on academic probation.

Nobody wanted to hear my voice and help. Nobody understood.

And a petition? A board was essentially going to determine if my mental health was legit enough to leave school. And all of this, piled on with the aggressiveness of the schools officials dealing with me, added to the letter you will read below—This. Should. Be. Illegal.

I fought for so long with the school that I grew tired and gave in. I wrote the letter required by the board.

To Whom It May Concern,

My struggle with Major Depressive Disorder has been an ongoing battle. It has no rhyme or reason, even when medication and therapy is involved. In the months prior to the fall semester at ——-, I was doing very well mentally. I knew I needed to go to college, better myself as a student and person. This, however, didn’t turn out like I hoped it would.

Mentally, I was doing very well the first few weeks of classes. I wasn’t overwhelmed, I wasn’t stressing. I was being a good student and getting by. But then my depression flared up again. Since the flare up, I’d had an okay time managing my episodes when I couldn’t get out of bed. My grades fell a bit, but I reached out to professors who were more than unhelpful with my issues. If they didn’t respond at all, they simply said that I needed to be in class and that was that. It brought me back to ‘no one understands what I’m going through.’

So, I forged on alone. My grades fell, my depression worsened. I was raped. I began to self-harm again. I was suicidal. Getting up each morning was impossible. Eating was a chore. Living, to me then, was just not worth it.

As my mental state worsened, I began to disregard school in any form. I couldn’t read or concentrate or focus, so what was the point of trying to do my work (which I did try) and just stress myself out because I couldn’t. I had no friends, despite my attempts to make them, and my support system outside of a medicine bottle was three hours away.

I felt that I had two choices: kill myself or go home. So, I emailed my advisor just a few weeks before finals. He told me how to withdraw and I did. (This, I found out later, was not the right way to do so.) I went home. I got better again.

And now I’m here explaining my case to you. Going back to this place where there’s so much pain. It eats at me. But I am stronger than I was in the fall. It was incredibly frustrating that the instructions my advisor gave me were incorrect before I moved back home. I thought I was done with this only to be thrown back in. But I hope this is reason enough for you to see, not only that I had to withdraw, but also why it came around when it did.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

I was completely not okay with the entire thing as a whole. Having to out myself as a victim, having to put myself back in the shoes I was in, and having to reach out to professors who were (for the large majority) totally unresponsive and unwilling to help to begin with, was completely wrong. At that point, I didn’t care anymore. I put everything into the letter as black and white as I could. I was done. I wanted everything to be done. I wanted to never think about that stupid school again.  I wanted them to feel bad for making me live through those experiences all over again.

I’d tried ODing on pills and went to classes the next day in immense abdominal pain.

I spent the entire night in the ER after sneaking out one night and still attended classes the next day.

To me, this felt like dedication. Nobody had a clue what I’d done or where I’d been the night before. And my school didn’t seem to have any dedication to me the way it should have: as a person first.

About a week after turning in my petition, I got a letter saying that my withdrawal had been approved. It was only then that the first hand was offered to help me: seven months after moving home and dealing with my trauma. I realized that, yes I was angry, but I had a chance to offer my struggles in hopes of bringing change. Despite what the school thought, they really didn’t know how to help or what steps to take. I reached back to them, scheduled a call with a woman who was over Student Life, and we talked. She said that she wanted to get me involved in a few things regarding the awareness of mental health on campus. But after our call, I never heard from her again.

The problem here is that nobody listens. Since the conception of #MHYAlit, there was a statistic posted on the project goals page mentioning basic facts. “According to NAMI, 50% of children who present with a mental illness will drop out of school.” I didn’t know that. And while I didn’t drop out of high school, I did drop out of college. The Internet, as they say, is forever. It doesn’t matter if nobody wants to listen to what I have to say because these words will now forever be a Google search away from those who truly need to hear it.

Meet Our Guest Blogger

Bryson lives in South Caroline with his cat and a plethora of books. His fiction is represented by Robert Guinsler of Sterling Lord Literistic.

January #ARCParty – A Look at January, February and March 2016 YA Lit Releases

January #ARCParty

Here’s The Teen, The Bestie, and new TAB member Cat taking a look at some of the most recent ARCs that we have received here at TLT Headquarters (aka, Casa Jensen). In case you are new to TLT, here’s what we do: The teens go through each book and look at the cover and read the description to let me know what they think and if they would be interested in reading the title or not based on that little bit of info. I always find it interesting to see what they think plus it helps me know what titles they might be interested in reading and reviewing.//

January #ARCParty

A look at #yalit coming out January through March 2016

  1. Gonna have an #ARCParty. We'll be looking mostly at Feb & March 2016 #yalit release https://t.co/meRdfqq5gP

    Gonna have an #ARCParty. We’ll be looking mostly at Feb & March 2016 #yalit release pic.twitter.com/meRdfqq5gP
  2. The Bestie has already read this one and says "one of the best books ever". Substance abuse, cousins https://t.co/1ecPeEeEkc

    The Bestie has already read this one and says “one of the best books ever”. Substance abuse, cousins pic.twitter.com/1ecPeEeEkc
  3. An over achieving perfectionist tries to live life more fully https://t.co/VqC2AjMRLP

    An over achieving perfectionist tries to live life more fully pic.twitter.com/VqC2AjMRLP
  4. Karen actually read this & it was good. WWII. Greatest maritime disaster. They say it sounds good. #ARCParty https://t.co/SOAO6h94Dt

    Karen actually read this & it was good. WWII. Greatest maritime disaster. They say it sounds good. #ARCParty pic.twitter.com/SOAO6h94Dt
  5. Teen w/strange new power; 4 horsemen of the apocalypse. Sounds interesting! #ARCParty https://t.co/QMmowNJ5wD

    Teen w/strange new power; 4 horsemen of the apocalypse. Sounds interesting! #ARCParty pic.twitter.com/QMmowNJ5wD
  6. Much giggling about title. Transfer student. He really is a pterodactyl apparently! They are intrigued. #ARCParty https://t.co/RowzMD07h4

    Much giggling about title. Transfer student. He really is a pterodactyl apparently! They are intrigued. #ARCParty pic.twitter.com/RowzMD07h4
  7. They like the cover. They say yes!  (This is a sequel) #ARCParty @lexusgailey will be reviewing. https://t.co/M0OcvENkwJ

    They like the cover. They say yes! (This is a sequel) #ARCParty @lexusgailey will be reviewing. pic.twitter.com/M0OcvENkwJ
  8. Arts academy; is our MC responsible for a string of deaths? fantasy. So intriguing. #ARCParty https://t.co/ScoS790u5G

    Arts academy; is our MC responsible for a string of deaths? fantasy. So intriguing. #ARCParty pic.twitter.com/ScoS790u5G
  9. Suicide attempt, friendship & family; self discovery, middle school. They say it sounds good. #ARCParty https://t.co/eoM2ln7Nri

    Suicide attempt, friendship & family; self discovery, middle school. They say it sounds good. #ARCParty pic.twitter.com/eoM2ln7Nri
  10. Cliff falls for girl, has to figure out life, about to graduate. They said it sounds good & intense #ARCParty https://t.co/e8OMjCkjql

    Cliff falls for girl, has to figure out life, about to graduate. They said it sounds good & intense #ARCParty pic.twitter.com/e8OMjCkjql
  11. LOL - they're all, no don't touch it! Don't get anything on it! #Arcparty https://t.co/bFteHdkM0k

    LOL – they’re all, no don’t touch it! Don’t get anything on it! #Arcparty pic.twitter.com/bFteHdkM0k
  12. Drug abuse/addiction; domestic violence; homelessness; trying to end cycle #ARCParty https://t.co/GbMtTHQrID

    Drug abuse/addiction; domestic violence; homelessness; trying to end cycle #ARCParty pic.twitter.com/GbMtTHQrID