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View from Behind the Lens: It’s a Wrap! a guest post by Lynette Pitrak

makerspaceMy previous post detailed the first half of View from Behind the Lens, an eight-week advanced photography workshop for middle school and high school students.  In the first few weeks of class, Downers Grove-based instructor Mike Taylor and I worked on teaching the students camera basics, various types of photography shoots, and working with both natural and artificial lighting.  We did some great walking tours through Downers Grove at all times of day, to capture full sunlight, dusk, and night scenes.

field tripMidway through the program, we took an amazing field trip to the Museum of Contemporary Photography to take a docent-led tour.  A graduate student in Columbia College’s photography program showed the View from Behind the Lens students a special collection of work, and facilitated a discussion about choices in shot framing, Photoshopping, and lighting.  Then, the students had half an hour to explore the rest of the museum on their own.  We finished the day with a fun stop to Chicago’s beautiful Millennium Park, so the students could see some amazing outdoor sculptures by artists like Jaume Plensa, Magdalena Abakanowicz, and of course, Anish Kapoor, who is the artist behind Cloud Gate (aka The Bean).

For the last class sessions, we focused on photography editing using Adobe Lightroom software.  The students had a great time playing with the filters, cropping, changing color photographs to black and white, and adjusting file sizes so that they were set to print most cleanly.  

Students then had the opportunity to take the cameras home for one month, in order to shoot on their own.  At any time, they were able to come to the library to access the Lightroom software to edit their photographs.  After this month-long period, each student submitted two photographs to be hung in Downers Grove Public Library’s art gallery.  The beautiful show hung for the entire month of February, and attracted a lot of attention from library visitors!!  The community was incredibly impressed by the professional and creative work done by these teens.

meet the artist receptionFinally, on the last day the show was displayed, we hosted a Meet the Artists event in the library’s gallery.  Around one hundred members of the community came to meet the teen photographers and talk to them about their work.  Over half of the photographs sold too, many being the students’ first sale ever!  It was a truly wonderful experience, and so exciting for Mike and I to see the students’ talent and passion come to life during the final show.

Thank you for giving Downers Grove Public Library the opportunity to share this program with other librarians and educators, and please feel free to get in touch with questions at any time.

Lynette Pitrak is the  Teen Services Coordinator at the Downers Grove Public Library in Downers Grove, Illinois. 

#FSYALit: There You’ll Find Me, a guest post by Dahlia Adler

Today for #FSYALit author Dahlia Adler discusses There You’ll Find Me by author Jenny B. Jones.
Confession: I had no idea that There You’ll Find Me by Jenny B. Jones was Christian Fiction. When it was initially recommended to me, I was just looking for more Hollywood-centric YA titles, and indeed, the love interest in this one is a teen actor. However, the Hollywood aspect is pretty background to this particular title. But in truth, for most of it, so is the Christianity.

It’s there, to be sure. Finley Sinclair, hotel heiress, is on a trip to study abroad in Ireland in large part to rediscover her faith after her brother is killed in a terrorist act. Her brother had done this very same trip years earlier, and the journal of his that Finley is following on her travels reveals that Ireland is where he felt closest to God. So to reclaim her closeness to both Will and Jesus, and to be able to finish the musical opus she intends to perform at an upcoming interview with a posh Manhattan music conservatory, Finley retraces his steps, right down to looking for a mysterious cross he’d sketched.

Another confession: had I known this was Christian fiction, it’s unlikely I would have picked it up. I live religion, and not Christianity; I’m an Orthodox Jew, which manifests itself in a billion ways every day and about whom approximately one mainstream YA has been written, ever. In much the same way I’m sure people of color are tired of reading about white people all the time, I feel pretty set on reading, hearing, and watching about people’s relationships with Jesus.

But now here’s the point: I liked this book, not despite what it was but because of it. Yes, the God of There You’ll Find Me is the Christian God. Yes, the in-person guiding spirit of Finley’s journey is a kindly and patient nun. Yes, there is no arguing that this is Christian fiction, not Jewish, not Muslim, not Hindu, not Buddhist. And yet, that fact is almost easy to ignore in this book. It feels, first and foremost, like a book about faith and a higher power, period. It does not feel centered in uniquely Christian ideas such as Jesus dying for our sins, but rather in connection, in patience, in love, in finding the ability to overcome, which are universally religious ideas. Which are, in fact, universal ideas, period. I dare say this book could be about having any sort of anchor, something that ties you to passion and confidence and knowledge and security. And that’s why I think it works so well. It doesn’t feel Christian or even religious in an exclusionary fashion. It manages to be relatable despite the unique circumstances, despite the characters being people in the public eye, despite it being set somewhere I’ve never been. What so many YAs can’t achieve in the most everyday settings with the most everyday characters, There You Find Me does.

What’s also tremendously notable about it is that it’s a faith book and a romance and a Hollywood love story, but it’s also a story about Finley’s personal growth and difficulties, and about family. It’s about things that aren’t constantly looping back into God and religion, but are just being. Finley’s a person independent of her relationship with God, and her relationship is independent as well. She has her own things at stake, her own ways she wants to grow, and her own ways she’s faltering, and never does the book fall into the trap of suggesting that if only she believed harder and let God take control of everything, all would be perfect. Bad things happen to goodd people, including Will, including Finley. And good things happen to them too. And that’s life, both in There You’ll Find Me, and in reality.

Meet Our Guest Blogger

Dahlia Adler is an Associate Editor of Mathematics by day, writes YA and NA by night, and blogs for B&N Teens at every spare moment in between. She is the author of the Daylight Falls duology, Just Visiting, and the Radleigh University series. She lives in New York City with her husband and their overstuffed bookshelves. You can talk to Dahlia on Twitter.

Video Games Weekly: Pikman 3

This week, I was going to review Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2, but then I learned on Twitter that Nintendo released their Nintendo Selects 2016 sale! This sale is especially sweet for libraries that have Wii games that don’t want to spend the full $60 on older titles, and I personally think every game on this list is a solid collection development purchase. I was particularly swayed to purchase Pikmin 3 because it’s been out of stock/unavailable to purchase for a long time. I once found a copy of this game on sale on Amazon for $80, which is outrageous!

Background: The very first Pikmin game came out in 2001 on the GameCube. In the first Pikmin, you play as Captain Olimar who is an astronaut that emergency crash lands on a foreign planet. Captain Olimar has 30 days to put his spaceship together, so players have to use prioritize tasks and use strategy skills in order to beat the clock. Luckily, this planet has many different kinds of Pikmin, who basically become your minions that help you find food, find your spaceship parts, and help you defeat enemies. Pikmin are incredibly adorable, and make cute noises when they walk around or are thrown.

Pikmin 2 came out in 2004, and was just as successful as the first one. It introduced new aspects to the game like the ability to have more than one captain, and different types of Pikmin. Unfortunately, Pikmin 3 took forever to come out, and it was finally released in 2013. What’s so weird is in the last year, I couldn’t find a copy that wasn’t highly priced, so I’m really pleased Nintendo decided to make this widely available again and for a reduced priced.

Platform: Wii U

Rated: E

Single or Multiplayer: Both. This is the first Pikmin game in the series that has a multiplayer portion, but the main storyline is still single player only.

Storyline: You play as three different astronauts who are from a planet suffering from famine called Koppai. The three astronauts set out to find food on other planets and hope to bring back nourishment to their home planet. They choose explore a planet called PNF-404, but the space ship breaks apart as it crash lands on the surface. They get separated from each other, so your job is to bring all of the captains together while searching for food to bring back to Koppai.

Once the astronauts find each other, they work to find as much fruit as possible to bring back as juice to save their home planet.

Gameplay: Pikmin has a reputation for being a difficult strategy game, and Pikmin 3 has lived up to that expectation. Don’t be fooled by how cute the game looks; I’m a grown woman and I think the game is INCREDIBLY HARD. The basic game play is each astronaut is equipped with a whistle, which is used to rally the Pikmin to follow you around. Players can then throw selected Pikmin around to overcome obstacles, carry fruit back to the spaceship, and fight enemies. Each color Pikmin has a different strength and weakness, so it’s up to players to figure out what Pikmin are best for completing a task, how many Pikmin they need, and what Pikmin can do it the quickest.

Image: http://monstervine.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/WiiU_Pikmin3_3_scrn15_E3-bmp-1024×576.jpg

The game is hard for a number of reasons. First, players are only allowed to have 100 Pikmin out at once, which seems like a high number, but trust me it adds difficulty later in the game when you have four different types of Pikmin. Another addition to the game’s complexity is tasks can only be completed during the day, because large predators come out at night and eat stranded Pikmin. This means there is a time limit, and if you and your Pikmin don’t make it back by sundown, your poor Pikmin get eaten [and then you feel really guilty about it]. Finally, each terrarian has its own set of obstacles which are incredibly difficult to figure out. Sometimes you have to spend one day just looking around a terrarian to figure out what the heck you’re even supposed to do, or how you get to one tiny section of the map! Don’t let the game’s difficulty scare you off though. The game is incredibly well balanced in the sense that it takes me a long time to solve puzzles, but when I finally do manage to solve a puzzle, I’m so invested and having fun while playing the game that I hadn’t noticed that I spent an hour trying to figure it out!

I will say that playing on the Wii U GamePad is even better than playing on the GameCube. Players use a stylus on the GamePad, which means players have an easier time pinpointing exactly where they want to direct Pikmin to go, whereas I remember it being awkward to play on a GameCube controller because you had to use a joystick.

Bingo Battle: Pikmin 3 has a multiplayer portion called “Bingo Battle”. Only two players can play locally (no online version is available), but the disadvantage is one player can use the GamePad but the other is stuck with a Wiimote and nunchuck. You can also use a pro controller, but it feels awkward because the buttons are all reversed and weird. That being said, if you can figure out the controls and get over the fact that the person with the GamePad as the advantage, it’s fun!

Each player is given a bingo card, and the goal is to collect five fruit in a row first. You can try to sabotage your opponent’s goals, or do your best to get five fruit in a row first. The battles do take a while though, like 20 minutes. I’m not sure if that’s feasible for a Teen Game Night Program, especially because my teens would rather play Super Smash Bros with eight friends instead.

Audience: This game is definitely for tweens, teens, and adults. Like I said, it’s a difficult strategy game, and I think it might be too frustrating for really young kids. This is a good game for gamers who enjoy strategy games and also who are fans of the previous games.

Verdict: Core purchase for library collections. I’m not sure how it’ll go at a Game Night because only two people can play at once, but you can give it a try if your teens are tired of Smash or you have a small group of teens around.

Questions? Comments? Tweet them at me!

By: Alanna Graves
Twitter: @LannaLibrarian


$30 on Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Nintendo-Selects-Pikmin-3-Wii-U/dp/B01AC3ZD2O/ref=sr_1_1?s=videogames&ie=UTF8&qid=1458355161&sr=1-1&keywords=pikmin+3

Book Review: Sea Change by Frank Viva

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 March 2016 issue of School Library Journal.


VIVA, Frank. Sea Change. 120p. TOON Graphics. May 2016. Tr $18.95. ISBN 9781935179924.

sea changeGr 5–8—Twelve-year-old Eliot could not be less excited about being shipped off to Point Aconi, in Nova Scotia, where he will spend the summer helping his great-uncle Earl on a fishing boat. Even though he is quickly embraced by a small group of neighborhood kids, led by the intriguing Mary Beth, life in Point Aconi is worse than he imagined—which is impressive, as a teacher formerly noted his “dark” imagination. Slowly, Eliot adjusts. He works hard, spends hours reading aloud from Earl’s extensive library, makes his uncle proud, and kisses Mary Beth. His summer is spent fishing, swimming, and exploring. Despite all the fun, Eliot realizes that life is far more complicated than he thought. He begins to understand the politics behind a strip-mining coal company looking to buy up the properties in Point Aconi. And when Mary Beth confides a secret to Eliot, one she begs him not to reveal, he has to make a hard choice. Though he loves his summer in Point Aconi and hopes to return, he begins to look forward to going back home, where he can just be a kid again. This is more of a highly illustrated novel than a typical graphic novel, and Viva’s bold, simple illustrations are whimsical and bring to life the story’s unique characters. Viva plays with text, too, sometimes placing it at a slant, piling it in a pyramid, or using it to create pictures. VERDICT The unconventional format of this funny, poignant coming-of-age story will appeal to fans of comics and graphic novels.—Amanda MacGregor, Great River Regional Library, Saint Cloud, MN

Book Review: The Way I Used To Be by Amber Smith

Publisher’s description

the way i usedIn the tradition of Speak, this extraordinary debut novel shares the unforgettable story of a young woman as she struggles to find strength in the aftermath of an assault.

Eden was always good at being good. Starting high school didn’t change who she was. But the night her brother’s best friend rapes her, Eden’s world capsizes.

What was once simple, is now complex. What Eden once loved—who she once loved—she now hates. What she thought she knew to be true, is now lies. Nothing makes sense anymore, and she knows she’s supposed to tell someone what happened but she can’t. So she buries it instead. And she buries the way she used to be.

Told in four parts—freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior year—this provocative debut reveals the deep cuts of trauma. But it also demonstrates one young woman’s strength as she navigates the disappointment and unbearable pains of adolescence, of first love and first heartbreak, of friendships broken and rebuilt, and while learning to embrace a power of survival she never knew she had hidden within her heart.


Amanda’s thoughts

This was a rough read. After Eden is raped by Kevin, her brother’s best friend, she falls apart. Covered in blood and bruises, she can’t believe it was real—it must’ve been a nightmare or a fever dream. Her mom shows up in her room hours after the assault and Eden thinks, “Now, I’ve seen enough TV movies to know you’re supposed to tell. You’re just supposed to fucking tell.”  But her mother misses the obvious signs—she thinks Eden unexpectedly got her period—and Eden can’t bring herself to say the words. How do you tell that you were raped by your brother’s best friend and college roommate, someone long considered a part of your own family? Someone you have to sit at the breakfast table with just hours after the rape? Eden spend the next few years trying to erase and ignore the agony that’s with her every second of every day.


For a while she kind of keeps her head down and finds solace in her friends Mara and Stephen, and in their newly formed lunchtime book club. When Mara decides she’s ready for a change—to go from being a picked on and ignored geek to someone more confident and interesting—Eden thinks that idea sounds pretty okay. She’d certainly like to become someone else, too. We follow Eden, who is raped in 9th grade, through to her senior year, sometimes skipping over huge chunks of time. There’s really not a minute that she isn’t thinking of what happened to her. She’s angry and hateful—at Kevin, at herself, at everyone—and just wants to act normal and be okay. In 10th grade, she hooks up with Josh, a popular senior jock, and wants to have sex with him just to get it over with—to maybe try to replace the Kevin memories. But of course, that’s not how things work. Josh, who is kind and sweet, really likes Eden, but she makes it clear that she won’t be his girlfriend. She’s mean and hurtful and eventually drives him away. After Josh, there’s a long string of mostly nameless boys she has sex with. By senior year, she’s slept with 15 guys. She drives away all of her friends and potential friends, just still hurting so much and still completely uncertain how the hell you continue to go on with her after something like this happens. She’s an absolute wreck, and although some people definitely notice the changes in her, no one calls her out. No one digs deeper. No one asks the right question. No one helps her. It isn’t until Kevin is accused of raping his ex-girlfriend that Eden begins to find a way toward saying what she’s been biting back for so many years.


Though at times the pacing can be weird (junior year flies by in just a few pages), I found this book hard to put down. I think it may be easy for readers to sit back and feel they know what Eden should or should not do, or how she should or should not act. But Eden’s story is a reminder that there is no right or wrong way to behave or move forward after being raped. Eden knowing what she should do (tell someone immediately etc) and understanding why she’s making increasingly crummy decisions doesn’t make it any easier for her to dig her way out of this. It’s really hard to watch her downward spiral and see her surrounded by people who are completely oblivious to what is going on with her. The Way I Used To Be is an intensely gripping and raw look at secrets, silence, speaking out, and survival in the aftermath of a sexual assault. A must-have for every collection that serves teens. 


Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781481449359

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books

Publication date: 03/22/2016

One Book, Two Radically Different Opinions: An experiment in reading

killtheboybandYesterday, I wrote a post about losing my confidence as a reviewer. But tucked in that post I also touched briefly about the difference in the way that teens read books versus adults, focusing on the title Kill the Boy Band.  I was intrigued by the difference when I stumbled upon Sarah Hollowell and I believe Angie Manfredi and perhaps a few others discussing the topic of fat shaming in this book. In fact, Sarah Hollowell and I had an interesting private discussion about the book and the way adults were reading the book vs. the way our TLT teen reviewer read the book. Ky, our teen reviewer, has raved to me many times about this book and wrote her brief review stating: Kill The Boy Band is a book filled with crazy twist and turns, betrayal, and murder!?!? Though you might think the title tells it all, you’ll be surprised to find out that the title is just the beginning of the story.  This book had my mind racing and i could hardly put it down.

So out of curiosity, I asked Lexi to also read and review this book for us. Lexi is an older teen, a frequent reviewer, and a very prolific reader. She is also an intelligent and thoughtful teen and reader. We’ve had great conversations about books. Here’s what she says:

Lexi’s Review

“Happiness isn’t always easy…but it’s a priority.”


No matter what this book tells you about how these girls aren’t as crazy, don’t believe a word because these four girls are crazier.

Kill The Boy Band is told in the perspective of teenage superfan who isn’t the most reliable narrator and has the reader questioning her sanity at points. But compared to her friends, whom are all residents of locoville, she can be said to be the most sane but in the loosest meaning of the word.

This girl, (which I don’t think we are given her real name so I will call her Sloan), tells her version of a rather scandalous and murderous series of events revolving around a group of a British teen boy band.  There are lies and secrets that hold friendships together and tear people apart. But it’s not without great consequence that Sloan and her ‘friends’ make it out Scott free.

Even with the absurd obsession of the boy band , the Rupert’s, this book also displays a lot of feminism. Being a social media based story, a lot of things that are widely discussed and argued about  feminism and slut shaming on the internet is seen in the book. This book, I feel, would help girls understand a little about what feminism is and to be the most bad ass girl they can be without the excessive apologizing to others for being who they are.

A major thing I admired about this book is the condemning of slut shaming. Boys can be as promiscuous as they want to be but if a girl simply goes out in revealing clothing they are criticized left and right. This book reminds girls that its okay to dress how we want, to not be ashamed of what we love, to have sex or don’t and to be who we are.

The thing I really love about this book is the diverse image of girls. You have Apple, who is a 267 pound Asian girl whose size is never seen as an issue. Fat shaming is a huge deal in our culture and by writing a character whose size doesn’t mean she is any less is something we need more of. Then we have Isabel, a Hispanic girl who can break a person with one look. She is not your stereotypical girl. She is tough and has a masculine edge to her that by no means makes her any less of a girl. These are girls who don’t fit what society says makes a girl feminine and yet here they are.

This book is about girl power. It’s about reteaching our girls on how to behave because society has told them that only feminine, slim, white girls who don’t question things that need to be questioned are who they need to be. If anything I hope this book teaches girls that it’s okay to who they are and to never apologize for the way they look because they are perfect when they are themselves.

Read it. It’ll blow your mind in the best way possible.

A Third Point of View

In comparison, at Women Write About Comics, Sarah Hollowell states, “This is spectacularly bad fat representation.” She gives very strong examples to support her argument that Kill the Boy Band perpetuates fat phobia, fat shaming, and problematic fat representation:

Two chapters in, and here’s what we know about the fat girl:

  • she stress-eats so compulsively she’ll chew on her hair without food around

  • even as a baby she ate so much she’d eat right out of the trash.

Hollowell goes on to state that she is disturbed by the positive reviews that she keeps seeing and how they don’t mention the awful fat representation. In addition, she notes “there are also issues of race, mental health, homophobia, and beyond . . . ”

And in a Twitter discussion yesterday Jenn H told me that she had several teens that DNFed this book because of both fat shaming and racism.

This fourth reader raises another good point about the way that members of a fandom are stereotyped. Even Lexi above basically says fangirls be crazy and uses the term “locoville”.

So here I have four different conversations with several radically different opinions of this book. It’s a reminder that every reader approaches the same book differently. It is especially interesting to me that Sarah sees this book as being fat shaming while Lexi sees this book as being fat accepting. Is the age of the reader the difference? Or are we not doing a good job of teaching teens about the topic of body and size acceptance? Or are other factors at play? As Sarah notes in her review, readers seem very divided on how this title approaches the story of Apple and her body size.

I, to date, have purposely chosen not to read Kill the Boy Band yet because I found this discussion to be an experiment of sorts and I wanted to be able to follow it without my own personal bias or opinion clouding my observation of the conversation. It raises for me a lot of questions about teens and reading and how they approach a book versus how adults approach a book. It also raises for me interesting questions about teens and the idea of fat shaming. Are we doing a good job of making our teens aware of this topic? We hear talk a lot in the media about the struggles teens face regarding self esteem and body issues, but are we doing a good job of teaching teens to examine and critique messages about body shapes and sizes in the media they consume? I fear the answer is no.

Middle School (Is a Battlefield) Monday: Guest post by Anna Staniszewski

Middle School is a Battlefield by Anna Staniszewski

Anna StaniszewskiPeople often ask me why I write about middle school, and it’s actually fairly simple. For me, middle school was like a battlefield. Every day I had to maneuver around the landmines of saying the wrong thing, doing the wrong thing, and even eating the wrong thing. One little misstep—“Ew, is that a cheese and pickle sandwich?”—could blow up in my face.

Sometimes when I tell my husband war stories about my middle school years, about my classmates making remarks about my “flat face” or my “hippie hair” or my “cat breath,” his mouth will sag open. “Wait, these people were supposed to be your friends?” he’ll ask. Yes, they were my friends. But they were also clawing through the trenches, trying to survive.

While those years weren’t necessarily fun to live through, they’ve been great fodder for my books.  When you’re a painfully shy, oddly dressed, naturally clumsy kid, as I was, embarrassment is always around the corner. As it turns out, embarrassment is a useful storytelling tool. It motivates characters to act in over-the-top ways and creates humor (at least for readers) when characters find themselves in mortifying situations.

But wait. Aren’t I pushing my characters toward the very landmines I tried to avoid? Isn’t that a little cruel? Perhaps. But it’s also what feels the most truthful. Fiction is “real life dramatized,” so it makes sense that I would take the types of obstacles I struggled with and crank them up a few notches for my characters. I have never been a tween Grim Reaper or Cupid (at least not that I can admit), but I know what it feels like to have a hopeless crush or to desperately want to be noticed. That’s why I think adding a little bit of magic into normal middle school life feels pretty natural. It’s yet another landmine that characters have to maneuver around. Plus it’s fun to imagine what middle school might be like if magic was part of the equation.

Finders Reapers coverUltimately, I think what appeals to me most about writing stories set in middle school is that I can give my characters a sense of power that I didn’t have. I was never really able to speak up for myself. If someone laughed at my cheese and pickle sandwich, I didn’t proudly parade it around the cafeteria. I quietly switched to PB&J instead. But once my characters detonate all the landmines I’ve set out for them and emerge from the rubble of magical mayhem, they’re stronger and smarter and happier. They no longer have to apologize for who they are because they’ve won the war. At least until they reach high school.

About the Book

Marcus is a Cupid. Lena is a Reaper. Opposites attract in book 2 of the adorkable Switched At First Kiss series by the acclaimed author of The Dirt Diary.

Lena’s not ready for any more supernatural surprises. Her new boyfriend, Marcus, is a cupid. She’s a soul collector (“reaper” just sound so harsh). And they just got their powers un-swapped. But things aren’t as back to “normal” as they seem…

On his next assignment, Marcus’s “love boost” is a little too powerful. (Baby talk is so annoying.) And Lena’s soul sort of…escapes. The cause? Lena and Marcus’s powers are still intertwined! Their emotions are affecting each other’s power. So, basically the fate of the world depends on them getting along in their brand new romance. (Okay, just love and death, but still.)

No pressure, right?

Sunday Reflections: That’s Me in the Corner, Losing My Confidence (as a Reviewer)

darkenergyI like Science Fiction. Like, a lot.

I especially like Science Fiction that has alien invasions. Remember the moment in Independence Day when Will Smith walks out of the house to get the paper and he looks to the left, then he looks to the right, and then he finally looks up and realizes that a giant spaceship is hanging right there over his head? I love that moment.

In the past few years, Science Fiction has been saturated with dystopian and post apocalyptic novels. Don’t get me wrong, I like those too. But I eat up every alien invasion I can get my hands on.

Which brings me to Dark Energy by Robison Wells. Which I really loved. I think.

It’s complicated.

Dark Energy takes place almost immediately after alien invasion has occurred. It’s what happens after Will Smith and the rest of the world looks up and realizes that yes, aliens exist and they are most definitely here. In this case we know this because they have just crash landed. They may be here, but they don’t seem to be very good drivers.

Alice’s father is the head of a special unit that is responsible for investigating what’s happening. So they pack up and move to the Midwest where Alice is stuck in a boarding school with strangers while the world tries to figure out who these visitors are and what they want.

As far as alien invasions go, this is a very entertaining one. Wells puts some very interesting twists on the story. Our original invaders may not be who we think they are. They may not be the only invaders. There are twists, turns, and action packed road trips that take your typical alien invasion story to the next level. Add that to a strong, interesting, and incredibly competent female main character who gets to be a type of hero in her own story and I’m sold.

But . . .

(Isn’t there always a but . . . ?)

Alice is part Native American. This is referenced often. In fact, at one point she flees for safety to a reservation where her grandmother lives. And this is where things get complicated for me as a reviewer.

You are probably aware that earlier this month, author J. K. Rowling began releasing a variety of information about the wizarding world in North America. You are probably also aware that some of this information involves stories about Native Americans. And you are also probably aware that this didn’t go well for her. There were strong reactions about cultural appropriation and misrepresentation, which you can read about here, which were followed in the online community by conversations about how we talk about book criticism/critiques online to the author and to one another.

For me, it was a very interesting discussion. You see, when I read Dark Energy by Robison Wells I then reached out to one of my fellow TLTers. “I really liked this book,” I said, “but I’m kind of scared to review it because I don’t know what to make of the Native American content. It feels like he is being very respectful, but what if I’m wrong?”

And it does. It feels like Robison Wells has been very respectful of Native Americans in this book. He references the history of Native Americans in ways that draw meaningful and appropriate parallels to what is happening in the book; it was, in my opinion, such a subtle but effective way to remind readers that the American people did horrible things to Native Americans under the guise of being the more knowledgeable and helpful people group. And he includes an afterwards where he discusses his own history, research and beta reading process. In fact, he mentions how those he consulted asked him to take out parts of a sacred ceremony that he includes, dialing it back until it was at a place that those readers were comfortable with. He obviously tries very hard to get it right.

But does he?

I don’t know. Because I have no point of reference to make that observation. I am not Native American. This is not my culture. These are not my stories to share and I have no right to say if he gets it right.

So what do I, as a white reviewer, do? This is a question I have been wrestling with. And I wrestled with even more when another fellow TLTer texted me the other day and said, “I read this book that has a mixed race mc with a disability and I think the author does a good job, but I’m kind of afraid to review it. What if I missed something?”

What if I missed something?

That’s the question I have been wrestling with as a reader and a reviewer.

When I review, I think about several things.

1.) Will my teens want to read this book? I’m spending other people’s money and I want to make sure that I am buying books that my teens want to read. Books that just sit on the shelf are of no value to me because if my circulation goes down, then so does my budget. I believe in serving teens, which requires money, so I work hard to build collections that circulate. I want teens to read so I tend to buy the books they want.

2.) Do my teens need to read this book? Not all books have to be world opening and have teachable moments, I buy plenty of fun, entertaining reads. But I also want to make sure my collection is peppered with books that stir the soul, make readers think, and can possibly change their world view. Sometimes you read a book and when you are done you think, everyone needs to read this book.

3.) Will reading this book harm my teens? This is something newer I have been thinking about. And I’m not talking here about sex, drugs and violence. I’m talking about representation. I’m talking, more specifically, about bad representation. I’m talking about fat shaming, slut shaming, harmful stereotypes, and blatant misrepresentation that reinforces cultural norms that make life difficult or dangerous for my teens. This is where a lot of the conversation lately has been online in the kid/ya lit world.

And as a librarian, this is where it gets tricky. You see, librarianship is in many ways supposed to be a neutral profession. I am not supposed to impose my personal views or opinions on others. But what does this mean when we come across fiction titles that have bad or even outright harmful representation? THIS is I think the question that many of us in youth librarianship are wrestling with. Because it puts two of our professional values in direct conflict with one another: serving teens, which I believe means valuing and advocating for them, and professional neutrality. It’s even more complicated by the fact that librarianship is still a predominately white, female profession. I, as a reader, a reviewer and a librarian, sometimes miss things.

killtheboybandAnd teens can miss even more. So now let’s discuss Kill the Boy Band, shall we? We shall.

Kill the Boy Band is a recent release in which a group of girls kidnap a boy that is the member of a popular boy band, think One Direction. It is billed as a fun, darkly humorous read. And one of my teen reviewers agreed very much with this billing. She loved the book. So I was surprised when I started hearing people online complain about fat shaming in this book. My teen reviewer, age 13, never mentioned this at all. And to be fair, 13 is young, she is not yet a sophisticated reader and she doesn’t have a lot of life experience or frame of reference to pick apart all the subtle nuances of a book. Heck, a lot of adult readers don’t.

But this very different reading of the same work got me thinking even more about reading, reviewing and representation. It got me thinking even more about teen readers. My teen reviewer read and loved this book and didn’t blink once at this content that many adults found to be not just problematic, but dangerous. And as a former (?) anorexic, I take body image representation very seriously. I live in fear of my daughters developing the same body image issues that I have struggled with my entire life. And I know that they take in subtle digs every day that help build this often subconscious idea that how you look – especially as a woman – matters more than anything. It really bothered me as someone who cares about teens that my teen reviewer didn’t seem to bat an eye at what others considered to be such problematic content. So much so that out of curiosity, I asked an older teen reviewer to review the book as well to see what she says and her review will go up tomorrow.

This is not a post where I come to you with answers. I have none. This is a post where I come to you discussing the many ways in which I am wrestling with what it means to be a teen librarian in a diverse world that is having important discussions about representation in YA literature and how it impacts readers. I don’t even have a good way to wrap this post up. This is stream of consciousness. It’s complicated. It’s messy. It’s real life.

I’m listening.

I’m wrestling.

I’m reading.

I’m thinking.

I’m talking.

And I hope at the end of the day, I am mostly getting it right. For my teens.

Because at the end of the day, to me, that’s what matters. The teens that I serve. And the ones I’m raising.

PS: Props to REM for the great post title inspiration. And a great song.

Friday Finds: March 18, 2016

fridayfindsThis Week at TLT

Sunday Reflections: Making it Unaffordable to Walk in Someone Else’s Shoes, what the death of the mass market paperback means to struggling teens

Guidebook to Middle School (Monday): Author Karen Rivers Guest Post

Take 5: Maker Dates

Book Review: Liars and Losers Like Us by Ami Allen-Vath

You Won’t Find Girl Interrupted’s Angelina Jolie But At Least You’ll Be Safe! Why Being Hospitalized for Mental Health Issues Isn’t a Bad Thing, a guest post by Ami Allen-Vath

Video Games Weekly: Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth

Creating Georgia, A Mentally Ill Character – a guest post by author Yvonne Prinz

Talking about mental health-related books and issues with teens

Around the Web

Check out the first trailer for the Miss Peregrine movie.

And read here for The Mary Sue’s take on character changes.

Patrick Warburton Will Play Lemony Snicket in A Series of Unfortunate Events

Sex Ed’s failure to serve queer and trans students

The Atlantic: How Libraries are Becoming Maker Spaces

#MHYALit: Talking about mental health-related books and issues with teens

MHYALitlogoofficfialFor the past nearly four years, I’ve run a monthly YA book club at the library. My crew has remained fairly strong over the years and is a very diverse mix of teens. Generally, we talk about whatever it is we’ve been reading. It’s very casual and there’s always lively discussion. To see some of our past conversations, check out this post about Marieke Nijkamp’s THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS and our discussion on sexual violence in YA lit (no, really—go check that one out right now). If any of you have used #MHYALit as a jumping off point for your book club, we’d love to hear about it. I’m @CiteSomething on Twitter. 


The discussion

Recently, we decided to read books that dealt with mental health issues and discuss not only the books, but the topic in general. I am very open with the teens about my own perpetual struggle with anxiety disorder and my son’s experiences with anxiety, too. Because my crew has stayed very consistent and is fairly close and open, our discussion was very relaxed and honest. Having a similar discussion with a larger group or a less close group may not get the same results as we were able to have. The book club members are all familiar with the #MHYALit project we’re doing here at TLT. Depiction of mental health issues and treatments has been an ongoing discussion for a few years now in our group, so they were well-versed in this subject already. Because of how well we’ve covered this ground, we talked more about larger mental health issues in the lives of teens.


I asked them what, if anything, is talked about in their schools regarding mental health. One girl said that at her school has a Wellness Center at school that is specifically for mental health help and resources. Because of recent suicides at her school, there is an increased attention to this subject. The school has had speakers in to talk to the student body. The Wellness Center has four doctors who come in to provide therapy. The school works with the students and their families to get them help during school hours at the school. They work with the teachers and rotate appointment times so kids don’t miss too much of any one class. Maybe because of this increased attention to mental health needs, this student felt that many teachers are more aware of mental health issues and seem like someone kids could turn to.


Some of the girls who attend another high school, the one I used to work at, felt that their school does nothing to address the needs of students struggling with mental health issues. They felt comfortable maybe approaching certain teachers about things, but didn’t think there was an overall understanding or desire to help students. One girl relayed a terrible story of going to the school guidance counselor and saying she was suicidal and the counselor flat out told her that’s not what that office was there for. “We don’t deal with that,” she told her. (Yes, I had a minor rage blackout over that story.) These girls said that outside of possibly telling a teacher they felt safe with, they wouldn’t know how to go about getting any help with mental health issues at school. They said that even if they went to a teacher, teachers aren’t trained in how to help them (or that’s their perception).


We discussed how mental health issues are talked about with their peers and their friend groups. They said these issues are slowly losing their stigma and that sometimes when one person shares about a struggle, it opens the doors for others to start sharing what they experience, too. They said they generally feel comfortable turning to their friends for help, knowing those friends will care and help you through something, but ultimately they’re just other kids, not trained professionals. This all led into an interesting talk about how there is no one way for depression or anxiety or OCD (etc) to look like, and that you never know what people have going on.


I asked if having more fictional characters facing mental health struggles helped actual teens. They all agreed that it normalizes these experiences and gives teens a peek at someone they might be able to relate to. They said that by seeing characters struggle in stories, they can see into other experiences, especially if they themselves don’t have this particular issue. They said that it helps them know how people suffer and it shows how they might be able to help or react. They said they often worry they’ll say the wrong thing to someone who is struggling and like to see examples of how to be supportive. “I like it when books teach me how to treat people,” one girl said. (Have I mentioned I heart my teens?)


Finally, I asked what they might like to see more or less of in YA regarding mental health issues. They want to see more experiences of teens in therapy or in treatment facilities. They want to see more teens actually liking their therapists and not being “dragged” to one or hating the experience. They want to see characters who see a therapist that’s not a great fit but then seek out someone who is more helpful. They’d like to see more treatment options in general.


My group had so many smart things to say and were so compassionate and open. We talked about the importance of schools and teachers being aware of mental health issues because in many cases, if teens can’t turn to their parents, school is maybe their best shot for someone noticing them struggling and potentially helping them. 


Handout 1: Questions about books

I prepared a handout with the following questions for readers to consider as they read books related to mental health issues. Feel free to use them with your own book club.


Questions to keep in mind as you read

  • What is the mental illness/what are the mental illnesses depicted?
  • What does their illness look like—symptoms, ways it affects them/others, how it might limit them, etc
  • How is the subject of mental illness approached or treated?
  • What help or treatment does the character seek? Who, if anyone, do they talk to about what’s going on? Who helps them?
  • Is there shame and stigma?
  • Is the treatment they receive helpful?
  • Is the issue of medication discussed? How is it approached? Do characters feel “drugged” like they can’t be themselves or like they will be numbed to feelings?
  • Does the author offer resources or notes at the end on the book on mental illness diagnosis, support, treatment, etc?


Handout 2: Additional discussion starters

  • Is mental health ever talked about at school, whether in health class or by counselors or addressed in any way?
  • What are your thoughts as teens on how mental health issues are addressed or stigmatized etc?
  • Does having more characters facing mental health struggles in YA books do anything to help actual teens?
  • What do you wish you’d see more/less of re: mental health in YA books?


Handout 3: Recommended reading

Feel free to use this list in your own library.


The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork (Depression, treatment facilities)

Truest by Jackie Lea Sommers (Solipsism syndrome)

We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson (Depression, grief)

Fig by Sarah Elizabeth Schantz (Schizophrenia)

Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman (Schizophrenia)

Underwater by Marisa Reichardt (Panic disorders, anxiety, PTSD)

Some of the Parts by Hannah Barnaby (Grief)

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness (OCD, Anorexia)

More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera (Depression)

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson (PTSD)

OCD Love Story by Corey Ann Haydu (OCD)

Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone (OCD)

Delicate Monsters by Stephanie Kuehn (Mental illness, psychopaths)

The Great American Whatever by Tim Federle (Grief, depression)

The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord (Grief)

The Way Back from Broken by Amber J. Keyser (Grief)

Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta (Depression)

When Reason Breaks by Cindy L. Rodriguez (Mental illness)

The Chance You Won’t Return by Annie Cardi (Mental illness, identity disorders)

Thicker Than Water by Kelly Fiore (Addiction)

Clean by Amy Reed (Addiction)

Scars by Cheryl Rainfield (Self-harm)

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson (Eating disorders)

Identical by Ellen Hopkins (Multiple personality disorder)

It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini (Depression, treatment facilities)

Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets by Evan Roskos (Depression)

The Museum of Intangible Things by Wendy Wunder (Bipolar disorder)