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Sunday Reflections: They Don’t Care About Your Test Scores, They Are Just Trying to Survive

Each time I sit in the Teen MakerSpace and talk with my teens, I learn something new. It’s a revelation to have them trust you enough to pull back the curtain on their lives and see the struggles they face. In an ideal world, every policy maker, every politician, every corporation would have to take some time to talk to kids and teens to find out who they really are and what their lives are really like. Maybe then we could change the course of dialogue happening in our country today, particularly the way we talk about poverty.



M leaned over the table trying to make a paper ninja star as she talked to us. For about the 1 billionth time she pushed her glasses back up against her face as they kept sliding down her face. One of the other teens asked if she needed to wear glasses, trying to suggest that maybe she could take them off. But no, she assured us, if she wanted to see then she needed to wear the glasses.

“Actually, you just need to get them adjusted,” I said, “I wear glasses and I can see that they don’t fit you properly on your nose, which is why the keep sliding down.”

It was then that she shared with us all that she got free glasses once a year from a local eye doctor who provided that service for the community and it wasn’t that time of year yet for her to get a replacement or adjustment. This is the reality of her life.


Three weeks ago I was in Ohio when The Mr. called me and told me that Thing 2 had been in a bicycle accident. Just the week before she had learned to ride her bike, a hand me do from an older neighbor kid, without her training wills. I was lucky, I got to be there that day to witness her triumph (I miss a lot because I work in another state). On this particular evening, she had crashed and smashed her nose first into the handlebars and then into the pavement.

“Is she okay?” I asked, full of anxiety, concern and guilt.

“I think she is, her nose is really bleeding and I’m kind of worried that it might cause her problems breathing in the middle of the night. I’m going to watch her closely,” he replied.

I begged and I pleaded and finally he agreed to take her to the emergency room. It was the concern about her ability to breathe that gave me pause. But the truth is, we always hesitate to take our kids to the emergency room because even with insurance we know that those bills are going to put us into a place of financial crisis.

He finally relented and it turned out that she had a minor concussion and a small fracture in her nose. They cleaned it out real well so that she could breathe and The Mr. was instructed to keep her home from school, limit her physical activity to prevent further damage to her nose, and to follow concussion protocol.

And last week – the bills started to come.


Several years ago I sat in a room with a group of thirteen teens who were a part of their local National Honor Society for a program. They began to talk cruelly about another student at the school who had “jacked up teeth” as they described it. “Has it ever occurred to you,” I asked, “that this kid might not have any money and insurance and doesn’t get to go to the dentist?” It was a question that, thankfully, gave them all pause. They thought long and hard about what they knew about this student, what they wore to school, and realized that yes, this kid probably was very much struggling financially. I was proud because in that moment this small group of teens seemed to be open to thinking about their privilege and I like to think it was a small discussion that opened their eyes.


The other day, a teacher friend of mine was lamenting on Facebook the lack of parental involvement in the life of their high school students. Academic success, they reminded us all, is tied in with parental involvement. But let me posit this: some parents – many parents – have less involvement because their lives are structured in a way that does not support parental involvement. Shift work, mandatory over time, multiple part-time jobs with no benefits or time off – these are all factors that make it challenging for families to be, well to be a family. As family values politicians encourage us all to hold the family dinner sacred, they also pass policies which make it impossible for families to have those very family dinners, and then they lambast parents for not being able to show up to a parent-teacher conference.


The way we talk about teens, parents, families and poverty is all wrong. The families I know that are living in poverty or low-income families are some of the hardest working families I know, but they can’t get ahead. They can’t find solid ground. They are losing hope, full of stress and despair, and doing everything they can to feed their kids and keep a roof over their heads. They struggle to balance schedules and panic whenever a curve ball is thrown their way. They are the bread and butter of our country and yet our country tramples them every time it passes a bill that benefits business over people.

And then their are the children. These are children born into areas facing incredible challenges and the tools they need to succeed simply aren’t there because we’re too busy focusing on stereotypes of lazy adults and not considering how our actions and policies affect children. It perpetuates a cycle, these kids and teens aren’t given access to the tools and resources they need to survive, let alone thrive. Schools are failing, not because of bad teachers but because of bad policies and a lack of funding. Their neighborhoods are crumbling around them as crime rates and drug use rise.

And then we poison their water, make their parents stay late to work extra hours in a business that doesn’t even pay a livable wage, and send them home alone to fend for themselves in barely furnished homes with empty cupboards. And then we ask why they aren’t doing better on test scores, as if test scores are all that matter. They don’t care about our tests because they are trying to survive.

Friday Finds: April 15, 2016

fridayfindsThis Week at TLT

Sunday Reflections: What if Best Friends Aren’t Forever?

Mental Health in YA Lit Chat for #ReadYALit

Middle School Monday: Curiosity House: The Screaming Statue by Lauren Oliver

#MHYALit: Nineteen Years of Living, a guest post by Shaun David Hutchinson

Book Review: ’89 Walls by Katie Pierson

Video Games Weekly: Street Fighter V

#MHYALit: Eating the Nuts, a guest post reflecting on depression by author Mackenzi Lee

Take 5: Ways to combat summer fatigue

#MHYALit: Teens, Mental Health and the Places it Takes Them, a guest post by Kerry Sutherland

Book Review: My Seventh-Grade Life in Tights by Brooks Benjamin

Around the Web

An interesting article from The Atlantic about the real cause of fewer Americans visiting libraries.

Mortality rate for homeless youth in San Francisco is 10 times higher than peers

Melanie Townsend Diggs receives the 2016 Lemony Snicket Prize for Noble Librarians Faced with Adversity

Kids clear key hurdle in their federal climate change lawsuit


Book Review: My Seventh-Grade Life in Tights by Brooks Benjamin

Publisher’s description

seventh gradeFootball hero. Ninja freestyler. It’s seventh grade. Anything is possible.

All Dillon wants is to be a real dancer. And if he wins a summer scholarship at Dance-Splosion, he’s on his way. The problem? His dad wants him to play football. And Dillon’s freestyle crew, the Dizzee Freekz, says that dance studios are for sellouts. His friends want Dillon to kill it at the audition—so he can turn around and tell the studio just how wrong their rules and creativity-strangling ways are.

At first, Dillon’s willing to go along with his crew’s plan, even convincing one of the snobbiest girls at school to work with him on his technique. But as Dillon’s dancing improves, he wonders: what if studios aren’t the enemy? And what if he actually has a shot at winning the scholarship?

Dillon’s life is about to get crazy . . . on and off the dance floor in this kid-friendly humorous debut by Brooks Benjamin.


Amanda’s thoughts

This book came out on Tuesday this week. If you haven’t read it yet, you’ve already waited too long. Open up a new window and order it from your favorite bookstore or your library. I’ll wait. I’ll just be here flipping through the book, revisiting all of my favorite parts.


You’re back? Okay, good. Without spoiling anything for you—because I know you’re going to read this book—I’ll say that I loved this book. I was hooked from the very first pages. Middle grade novel about a boy who just wants to dance? Yes, please. Dancers Dillon, Carson, and Kassie, along with their friend Austin, who films all of their dancing, have an oath: “The crew comes first.” That oath becomes harder to keep when Dillon auditions for a dance studio scholarship. Suddenly, he’s not seeing eye-to-eye with his friends and wondering how to make his own choices, knowing they will likely upset his friends. He’s getting dance lessons from Sarah, a brilliant dancer who happens to be Kassie’s nemesis. He isn’t sure if dance studios are the enemy. Kassie sees them as enforcing rules and killing creativity, but Dillon starts to see the benefit in leaning choreography and being taught technique.


It all becomes a muddled mess in his head—betray the crew and pursue his studio dreams or follow through with Kassie’s plan of winning just to throw things back in the studio’s face? To complicate things further, his dad doesn’t seem on board with his dream of dancing, preferring Dillon to keep playing football (though “playing” isn’t really accurate for this perpetual bench-warmer). He’s got Sarah on one side, telling him to copy her, and Kassie on the other, telling him to be himself (though her version of Dillon looks suspiciously like a carbon copy of herself). Before long, Dillon is lost in the mix, forgetting who his true self really is. His new friend DeMarcus cautions him to hurry up and figure out who he is before he gets stuck being someone he’s not. As Dillon dances his way toward the important Heartland competition, he’s going to have to decide if he should follow the steps laid out for him or put his own spin (or ninja-kick) on things.


The message to be yourself is a good reminder for middle school students who might be trying to figure out just exactly what that means. I loved the focus on friendships, both old and new, and seeing how those can change not just because of fighting or having hurt feelings but from starting to feel like maybe you like someone—you know, like like. Dillon is funny, kind, and determined. His friends are well-developed and all have their own things going on. Without spoiling things, I’ll just mention that this book also some LGBT characters and I loved the small storyline there, too. Excellent dialogue, fast pacing, and lots of humor—this book has all the right moves. 


Review copy courtesy of the author

ISBN-13: 9780553512502

Publisher: Random House Children’s Books

Publication date: 04/12/2016




#MHYALit: Teens, Mental Health and the Places it Takes Them, a guest post by Kerry Sutherland

Today Kerry Sutherland discusses some recent titles she has read that depict teens in marginalized situations as a result of mental health in their lives.

See all of the posts in our Mental Health in Young Adult Literature series here

Many of the books I have discovered during my time with the In the Margins book selection and award committee (whether they were or are ultimately chosen for our list or not), involve teens not only in marginalized situations (foster care, prison, homelessness, poverty, or a cycle of any or all of these conditions) but teens who find themselves in those situations because of mental illness. Many teens struggle with mental illness themselves or are affected by the illness of a family member or friend, but when that illness creates havoc with their daily lives by forcing them into homelessness, foster care, or dangerous situations, that illness takes on an authority and control that makes them even more vulnerable, limiting their chances of recovery and a healthy life.

mh1In Evan Jacobs’s Self.Destructed, a relatively short, larger print Gravel Road (Saddleback) publication that would appeal to teens with reading challenges, we meet Michael, who comes from a working class family where his father puts in overtime to provide and has little time for his children. Michael runs for the track team and has dreams of becoming a pediatrician, but his social awkwardness concerns him. He knows he has difficulty understanding social situations and handling conversations, but when he meets beautiful new student Ashley, he feels as if he can talk to her without fearing judgment. Ashley likes running, too, and she finds him interesting because he’s “different.” Rich and popular, Ashley seems tired of the in-crowd, and as she and Michael spend more time together, he feels as if he has broken some barrier within himself, where he “pushed people away because he couldn’t let things go.”  The pressure he feels from his parents to succeed in school, do well on the SAT, and go to college fades in the background when he’s with Ashley, and he becomes defensive about their relationship when his friends tease him. His very literal and concrete thinking get in the way, however, when he criticizes Ashley for having a Justin Bieber song on her iPod, because he believes that the music is “fake,” and he thought that Ashley wasn’t. She tries to explain that to her, the song is just something fun to listen to, but he overreacts, and she (understandably) begins to avoid him. His obsession with her grows worse when he discovers she is dating a football player who is rich and popular like she is, and he begins to stalk her. His father tells him to stop being a baby and get over her, but Michael decides he’s rather be dead than have to see her at school every day. He feels as if “everyone’s against me now” and thinks that if he brought a gun from his father’s locked gun case to school, Ashley might be impressed. When he pulls the gun on Ashley and her friend, however, he is arrested and taken to jail, in spite of his protests that he hadn’t planned to hurt anyone. He is sentenced to a detention facility, where he keeps to himself to stay out of trouble, focusing on schoolwork and continuing to obsess over what he views as the unfairness of the situation. “All I wanted was to be close to Ashley,” he insists, and wonders how he can be “a criminal” and “a bad guy . . . but I’m not.” The barriers in his thought process, aversion to loud people, and social awkwardness all point to the possibility of an undiagnosed autism spectrum disorder, which makes his obsessive tendencies more difficult to manage. As long as he continues to blame others for his incarceration, he can’t move forward, and his obsession with Ashley and when he will get to see her continues after his release into his grandmother’s care, where he is required to stay and attend an alternative school until he is 18. He makes more mistakes in service of his obsession, including stealing his cousin’s car and crashing his former school’s prom to see Ashley, before he admits that when he brought the gun to school he intended to kill himself in front of her. He begins to understand that he has been his own worst enemy, focusing on the past instead of the future, and is determined to work through whatever life throws at him, accepting the assistance of his alternative school’s principal and some new friends. His paranoid and self destructive thoughts will still be an issue, but he accepts them for what they are instead of refusing to acknowledge them, and in facing them, can begin to think positively about what the future holds.

mh2Ruby, the title character in P.D. Workman’s drama-packed novel, has just about every problem imaginable, but claims that she is just fine. She loves the freedom she has in foster care, as she bounces around between homes, ignores rules, hooks up with whichever boy feels right at the time, and cuts school as she pleases. Nothing is important to her except her sister Ronnie, who has ended up in foster care as well, but she isn’t supposed to be in contact with her because they were both victims of their father’s sexual abuse, a fact that Ruby refuses to admit. Ruby drowns her memories and feelings with alcohol and drugs, along with the physical attention of boys and disturbingly, her adult male social worker, who reveals that he has been having sex with her since she was nine.  “It was Ruby’s idea,” he insists, “and she kept it going” as if a nine year old, who is eleven when the social worker is busted for his crime, is to blame for his actions, because she is “manipulative” and “a flirt.” Ruby doesn’t think he did anything wrong, either, since she enjoyed the comfort he offered, and thinks it is all a big deal about nothing. As she seeks out more of the same, the inevitable happens and she gets pregnant at age 13. Not surprisingly, she denies her condition until she actually goes into labor, and afterwards refers to her baby as “it” and leaves her care to friends. The world feels “too complex” to her, but still, she doesn’t think she has a problem, and if anything had happened to her at home with her father, “wouldn’t I remember?” Foster parents abuse her, her social worker takes advantage of her, and ultimately, her acceptance of this mistreatment comes from her parents’ behavior, as it is revealed that her father would get her drunk and have sex with her, followed by her mother’s assistance in removing any evidence by bathing her immediately afterwards. When anything bad happens now, she just tries to forget about it, but the manner in which she does is clearly self-destructive. As the story continues, her reactions to situations reveal that she clearly has Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and depression, along with a reading disability and issues with empathy, and her efforts to cope with all of this result in another pregnancy, gang-related violence (including witnessing murder, although she considers the gang “protection”), drug rehab, and a stroke at the age of 15. While the ending offers Ruby some hope in the form of a police officer who falls in love with her and wants to help her overcome her past, Ruby’s struggle has deprived her of a normal childhood and adolescence that will make a healthy adult experience seem nearly impossible.  While the abuse is the cause of her PTSD and other mental health factors, it is her refusal to accept that she needs help and the failure of adults who should be protecting her to follow up on treatment that keeps her on the streets, as her search for attention and validation puts her in constant danger.

mh3Sixteen year old Arlie in Mandy Mikulencak’s Burn Girl has been a parent to her drug-addicted mother for as long as she can remember, but she is certain that her stepfather Lloyd is to blame for her mother’s problem. Lloyd is also responsible for the meth lab explosion that burned Arlie’s face six years before, landing her in the hospital and burn rehab, then foster care before her mother found her and the two of them ran away in fear of Lloyd. Arlie’s home has been a filthy motel room frequented by her mother’s druggie ‘friends,’ and while she tries to keep the room relatively clean for herself and her mother, she is haunted by her mother’s instructions that Arlie do the ultimate cleaning if and when her mother ODs: flush any drugs and make sure her mother is wearing clean panties. Arlie has tried to be invisible, both because she and her mother are in hiding but also because of her facial scar, which earns her the name “fire freak” at school, but when the worst happens and her mother is dead, the authorities pay attention. Her mother’s brother, unknown to Arlie until now, steps up to take custody, and the two of them make an attempt at a relationship. He reveals that her mother’s addiction began long before she met Lloyd, and Arlie admits that her mother’s mental illness has made her childhood a lonely and defensive one: “Mom had a way of making me feel lonely even when she was right by my side.”  She tells her uncle that she is willing to try to make things work with him, but she “doesn’t need rescuing.” Her efforts to move forward lead to focusing on the school choir and a romance with a blind boy who truly cares for her regardless of her past help her deal with mean girls and stumbling blocks in her relationship with her uncle, but nothing prepares her for the very real threat her murderous, drug-dealing stepfather poses when he shows up in town. Arlie, whose childhood has been stolen through her mother’s addiction, has the support she needs to deal with her feelings about her mother and their past, which has included foster care, homelessness, and poverty. Without that support, she may have followed her mother’s footsteps to manage the intensity of those emotions, like Ruby.

mh5Alice and Celia of Emiko Jean’s We’ll Never Be Apart is a particularly disturbing tale of twins at the mercy of the foster care system from a young age who spin out of control quickly, resulting in severe mental health problems that lead to arson and murder. When the story begins, Alice is in a mental health hospital, trying to deal with the fact that Celia set a fire that killed Alice’s boyfriend, Jason, who the two girls met in foster care and have been close to for years. Alice knows that Celia is in the same facility and is determined to find her and kill her, believing that she will never have a chance at happiness with Celia by her side. Alice begins to keep a journal and reveals the details of their childhood, which began to fall apart with the death of their grandfather, with whom they lived. The grandfather died on their sixth birthday, and they ate the cake as it grew stale over several days before a neighbor discovered the grandfather’s body, so Alice has violent flashbacks whenever she is offered cake. Alice and Celia’s troubles began with dangerous behaviors in foster care, including setting fires, which brings Celia a measure of peace. Alice knows she “will be better off without her” and blames Celia for the horror their lives have become, as Celia’s madness has only hurt Alice. The medical charts are “marked with an asterisk. A tiny star that said without words or writing that there was a darkness inside of us” Alice notes, and her battle with her twin, who is jealous of her romance with Jason, she believes, will be to the death. She pretends to take her meds, and without them, memories come flooding back, memories of abusive foster parents, a string of social workers, devastating fires, alcohol abuse, and ultimately, the revelation that Celia is not Alice’s twin, but a second personality, a “dark partner” or “twisted twin” Alice developed to absorb the negative feelings and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that came with the death of her grandfather and the experiences that followed. The “terrible love” Celia has for Alice is a way for Alice to protect herself from further pain, but leaves her institutionalized, first in foster care and then in a mental health facility. It is only after Alice accepts Celia for what she is and takes responsibility for her actions can she move forward towards a better life.

Michael, Ruby, Arlie, and Alice, teens with lives in chaos because of the mental illness that has taken control over their lives, are well-crafted characters that teen readers will be able to relate to, either as those with shared experiences and feelings or as readers interested in the difficulties other teens face. These characters and their stories would be helpful for adults working with teens to help understand behaviors that otherwise seem needlessly self-destructive and isolating, because teens dealing with marginalized situations because of mental illness may seem interested in becoming invisible, like Arlie, or hurting others and themselves, like Michael, Ruby, and Alice, when in reality, they need understanding, patience, and above all, a friend to trust when their experience with the world is anything but hopeful.

Meet Our Guest Blogger, Kerry Sutherland

I am the teen librarian at the Ellet Branch of the Akron-Summit County Public Library in Akron, Ohio, and have a PhD in American literature from Kent State University, along with a MLIS from the same. I am a book reviewer for School Library Journal and RT Book Reviews magazine, as well as a published author of fiction, poetry, professional and academic work. I love cats, Henry James, NASCAR, and anime. I read everything, because you only live once.

Take 5: Ways to combat summer fatigue

My summer newsletter items are due in a matter of days, and I’m already exhausted. Anyone else?

This year should be easier for me.

  • We finally have a part time position tasked with serving tweens, so the pressure to plan for grades 5-12 all together has been lifted and I can just focus on teenaged teens… who have drastically different wants and needs.
  • I’m restructuring my SRP to encourage interactivity… but that means I’m letting go of the online forms that I’d finally gotten teens accustomed to using and am mired in InDesign.
  • I have an active Teen Board full of great people who are eager to volunteer… and suggest their own programs that I need to take the time to support.
  • I’m planning fewer small programs… because we’re adding some big programs.


I stare at the calendar, then at the unfinished SRP flyers, then at those unanswered emails, and then I refill my coffee cup and hope someone interrupts me so I can focus on a task that I can actually accomplish.

It seems dire, and I sound super whiny, but! But! I have some solutions. Here are my strategies I’m using to anticipate summer fatigue so I can combat it before it hits.

1. Forget about “should” if it doesn’t work.

“I should do more contests.”
“I should decorate more.”
“I should look into that free lunch program.”
“I should offer more mid-day programs in the summer.”
“I should do an anime club.”

Should I? Really? Every community is different. Though there are lots of commonalities between us, one thing I know for sure is that part of the beauty of library service is that we get to tailor our program to the needs of the people around us. Let go of the parts of summer that you do because you should and focus on the parts that are used. This doesn’t mean never try new things. Try new things! But give up the old things that don’t work, and give a pass to the new things that aren’t good fits for your community.

2. Front load

You think you’re the only one who’s tired of summer by the time mid-July rolls around? Teens get summer fatigue too. What works at my library is front-loading the summer with lots of events to build excitement and engagement, then tapering off toward August, when most of the town takes a vacation. My June schedule currently brings me to tears, but I think I’ll be able to breathe in July, and I’m reminding myself that August will be quiet enough for me to weed. Caveat: Rule 1.

3. Stock your survival bunker

Cans of soup, protein bars, coffee card, good chocolate… You know you’re going to be too busy to take your full break now and then. You know packing your lunch is going to fall by the wayside at some point. If you get as hangry as I do, you owe it to yourself (and your coworkers) to stash a few pick-me-up items in your desk drawer that you can grab when the going gets crazy.

4. Ask for help; Offer help

Even if you’re the only teen librarian in your library, Summer Reading is a library-wide event. Turn to your library colleagues, coworkers, volunteers, and even members when you need a hand with something. Likewise, if you see someone who needs a hand and one of yours is free, lend it. Teamwork! Cooperation! Other good words! SRP is kind of like pulling an all-nighter in college. In hindsight, it totally messed up your schedule and was maybe not the most effective way to achieve your goals, but you remember it fondly because your roommates all did it with you.

5. Appreciate the fun, don’t put up with nonsense

Take a deep breath and get out in the sunshine. Life loosens up a bit in the summer, and we can too. Find ways to make exceptions to the rules that make you feel good and keep patron service at the forefront. Can you let those kids who were just riding their bikes around the neighborhood and then decided that they had to stop at the library check things out even if they don’t have their cards? Feel like loosening up the age requirement so someone can bring their out of town cousin to see how great their library is? Want to toss another raffle entry at that kid who tackled Chaucer for fun? Do it.

But the nonsense? No.

giphy (2)No, the eight-year-old can not participate in the Teen SRP just because she reads mostly YA. No, you will not send prizes to the person in California who keeps emailing librarians! No, you can not wear a bathing suit, bare feet, and a towel at today’s program. You can say no. You can do it. I’ve said no in all three of the above situations… multiple times. Saying no in a bad situation is saying yes to your core mission & beliefs. It holds the space you need to have held for teens, it preserves standards that keep everyone safe, and it reminds people (including yourself) that you have logic and reason for implementing programs the way you do.

So — go forth and SRP y’all! Before you know it, summer will be but a fading warm glow and we’ll be on to back-to-school shopping. Good luck!

#MHYALit: Eating the Nuts, a guest post reflecting on depression by author Mackenzi Lee



Today we are honored to host author Mackenzi Lee as part of the #MHYALit Discussion. See all of the posts in our Mental Health in Young Adult Literature series here

When I was eleven years old, I discovered I was allergic to nuts.

This might be a thing you did not know about me, even if we know each other well.

I don’t bring it up often, because, as far as allergies go, it’s a pretty mild one. When I tell people I have a nut allergy, the typical follow up question from friends is, “Ohmygosh what happens if you eat nuts!?” And it’s a bit embarrassing to say, “Nothing you would notice.” I don’t have to go to the hospital or get an adrenaline shot to the heart, Pulp Fiction style. I don’t swell up like Violet Beauregard. My throat gets a little fuzzy, and it gets hard to swallow, but over all, it’s not a big deal—just moderately uncomfortable for me.

So usually, I don’t say anything. I don’t ask for special meals or inform my server I have a food allergy at restaurants. I don’t ask planes not serve the peanuts. I’m so desperate not to make a fuss that sometimes I find myself accidentally eating nuts, a fate that could have easily been avoided if I had just been up front about my moderate allergy.

But I don’t say anything, because a small voice in my head reminds me, “Some people have it so much worse than you.”

I do not have the most severe allergy in my family, or of the people I know. So I often feel guilty asking for help. Instead, I just suffer in silence, occasionally moderately uncomfortable.

I am also not the most mentally ill person in my family. Certainly not the most mentally ill person I know.

So two years ago, when I found myself in the middle of a bout of what were I a Victorian lady would have been termed melancholy, I didn’t say anything or do anything about it. I kept pushing through my life, even as minor tasks began to feel like trying to walk through a wall when you’re not an X-Man, frustrated and baffled and completely silent about my lack of energy. The shroud of despair. The long parade of bad days that were bad for no reason. I cancelled social engagements en masse, offering explanations that made me seem normal instead of admitting that I just couldn’t rally enough to get out of bed.

Maybe you’re depressed, I thought around month two of this stretch, immediately followed by, You’re not depressed.

Mackenzi Lee's THIS MONSTROUS THING, a steampunk take on Frankenstein, was released in 2015

Mackenzi Lee’s THIS MONSTROUS THING, a steampunk take on Frankenstein, was released in 2015

I didn’t think I was depressed because I was still functional. I wasn’t thinking about killing myself. I wasn’t manic or self harming or needing hospitalization. I was eating. I was showering. I was not as bad off as a lot of people, so I didn’t feel I could ask for help.

Other people have real problems, I thought to myself. Don’t waste the time of a doctor or a therapist or your friends with your non-issues.

So I didn’t see a therapist. I didn’t get medication. I didn’t do anything to avoid or improve or try to be better. I just remained, for a long time, moderately uncomfortable.

I kept eating the nuts.

And then after six months of being moderately uncomfortable, I hit a tipping point. Anxiety was making it impossible for me to breathe right. Depression meant I couldn’t keep a conversation going. My attention span deteriorated until I couldn’t get anything done. I started feeling like I was standing outside my own body, watching myself talk and laugh and smile while I felt basically nothing. And still—still!—I had to really talk myself into feeling worthy of support.

Depression is a bully. It feeds you lies about not being worth help, whether that’s because you don’t feel sick enough or because you feel too far gone. I’ve learned now–after seeing a therapist, after getting on medication, after being better and now looking back and realizing how off kilter I was–that there is no bar. There is no “you must be this mentally ill to get help” sign post outside the doctor’s office. If I could go back in time and talk to past Mackenzi, I would tell her, “You are worth help. You deserve it. Your problems are not too small and you are not wasting anyone’s time in wanting to be better. Also, don’t forget to invent a time machine so I can come back and tell you this.”

2015 was an extraordinary year of extraordinary things that had all the joy strangled out of it by a toxic cocktail of untreated depression and anxiety because I didn’t think I deserved to be better. But I did, and I do. We all do. I wish I could say that to everyone who thinks they aren’t sick enough to get help. If your brain is getting in the way of your life–in any way, no matter how small–you deserve to be better, and oftentimes that involves asking for help. Everyone has different places they feel safe reaching out—friends, family, anonymous crisis hotlines. Find your safe space, and know that you deserve to be well, even if that wellness only means you’re no longer moderately uncomfortable.

A year after I started seeing a therapist and taking medication to manage my mental health, I told a friend about the struggles I’d had first admitting that my feelings–and my illness–were valid.

“I felt guilty,” I explained. “Because I wasn’t as depressed as other people.”

“That’s silly,” she replied. “Would you eat a bunch of nuts just because you’re not as allergic as other people?”

Meet Author Mackenzi Lee

Mackenzi Lee is a reader, writer, bookseller, unapologetic fangirl, and fast talker. She holds an MFA from Simmons College in writing for children and young adults, and is the author of This Monstrous Thing, a steampunk reimagining of Frankenstein, and the forthcoming The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, both from HarperCollins. She loves Diet Coke, sweater weather, and Star Wars. On a perfect day, she can be found enjoying all three. You can find her on Twitter @themackenzilee, where she curates a weekly storytime about badass ladies from history you probably didn’t know about but should.

Links: www.mackenzilee.com


When lifelong friends Monty and Percy embark on their Grand Tour of 18th century Europe, they stumble upon a magical artifact that leads them from Paris’ glittering finery to the haunted, sinking islands of Venice–along the way fighting pirates, highwaymen, and their feelings for each other. (2017 by Katherine Tegen Books)

Video Games Weekly: Street Fighter V

Last week, I reviewed a fighting game called Pokken Tournament. This week, I’m reviewing Street Fighter V, which if you can’t tell by the title, is another side-scroller fighting game.  It’s difficult to compare the games because Pokken Tournament is Pokemon’s first stab at a fighting game, whereas Street Fighter is one of the most popular/classic fighting games.  If you want one quote that accurately describes Street Fighter, it’s “The essence of the fist is the core of fighting.” *plays heavy metal music*

YouTube Trailer:


Background:  Street Fighter is a classic fighting game dating back to the 1980s.  It has often been credited to revolutionizing the fighting game genre, and is an all time fan favorite in the gaming community.  If you want to read more about the history of Street Fighter, IGN wrote an in-depth article.  There are also many tropes associated with Street Fighter, for example: overly dramatic plot lines, fireballs, and dramatic voice acting (minus accents).  I mean, even the Disney Channel cartoon Gravity Falls created an entire episode as a homage to Street Fighter.


Platform:  PS4 and PC

Rated: T.

Okay, yes it’s rated T, but there is some cursing AND subjective nudity. Half of the females’ costumes have thongs which expose bare butts and their breasts are bursting at the seam.  The cursing only happens in story mode, but bare butts is a full time thing. Granted, it’s way more obvious in story mode, but you can still see it in two-player battles.

Here are some links if you want to see what I’m talking about:

Cammy: http://static1.gamespot.com/uploads/screen_kubrick/1456/14565827/2885915-20150615182338.mp4.00_00_36_19.still002.jpg

Mika: http://www.esperino.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/R-Mika-Street-Fighter-V.png

See it in a battle: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3dFw61atk1k&nohtml5=False

TL;DR If you have policies about game “appropriateness” for a Teen Game Night program, this game definitely toes the line.  Try playing the game yourself or watching videos on YouTube before making a decision for your library!

Single or Multiplayer:  Both.

Storyline:  The storyline actually takes place between Street FIghter III and Street Fighter IV in the overall Street Fighter timeline.  Really though, players don’t have to be familiar with the storyline in order to enjoy the game since the essence of Street Fighter is to kick enemies’ butts. The main storyline is about a recurring villain, Shadaloo, comes back with an evil plan to destroy the universe.  Players can choose to play through different character sub-storylines.  This makes the game much more interesting because it fleshes the characters out.

Gameplay:  The controls are pretty standard for Street Fighter, but they added a new special power feature.  In Street Fighter V, each character has a different special power called the “V-Trigger” which can bring supermegaultra damage to your opponent.  Similar to Pokken Tournament players can try to mash buttons or strategically use a variety of button combos to wallop their opponent.  Button mashing will not take players nearly as far in Street Fighter V compared to Pokken Tournament, which isn’t surprising because Street Fighter V was fine-tuned to meet the gaming skills of experienced, older gamers who have been playing the series for decades.

There is such a thing as a Street Fighter V pro controller, but honestly, the regular controls are fine.

Single Player Mode: One thing that is strange is how single player cannot battle a CPU in a standard best 2 out of 3 match.  Instead, you can play through a weird “survival” mode or play through the storyline.  It’s cumbersome because some players may not have the patience of sitting through cut scenes in the storyline, and I think this is the first time Street Fighter has neglected to add any CPU matches.

Image: http://media.eventhubs.com/images/2015/11/04_sf5betatutorial08.jpg

Multiplayer: Players can host a local 2 player match against another human player, which is probably Street Fighter’s biggest appeal.  These matches are best 2 out of 3, and you can customize your character’s outfit with unlocked content.

You can play online matches, but you need PS4 Plus. PS4 Plus is a paid service that unlocks more game content, and some games require it in order to play online.

Audience:   Average teen and adult gamers who like fighting games should not be disappointed with Street Fighter V.  Players who are more competitive, more advanced, or who have been playing Street Fighter since the beginning may find some shortcomings, but the game is still worth the purchase.  

Verdict: Primary purchase for circulating collections. Street Fighter V is a classic fighting game, and will probably be in high demand.

I decided not to have Street Fighter V at our Teen Game Night program because we have teens that are more middle school aged than high school, and we already have Pokken Tournament and Injustice: Gods Among Us to satiate their fighting game cravings.

Questions? Comments? Tweet them at me!

By: Alanna Graves
Twitter: @LannaLibrarian


$60 on Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Street-Fighter-V-PlayStation-4-Standard/dp/B00QXJFE08/ref=sr_1_1?s=videogames&ie=UTF8&qid=1460128256&sr=1-1&keywords=street+fighter+5

Book Review: ’89 Walls by Katie Pierson

Publisher’s description

89 wallsCollege is not in the cards for Seth. He spends his minimum wage on groceries and fakes happiness to distract his mom from the MS they both know will kill her. It’s agony to carry around a frayed love note for a girl who’s both out of his league and beneath his dignity. Quinn’s finishing high school on top. But that cynical, liberal guy in her social studies class makes her doubt her old assumptions. Challenging the rules now, though, would a) squander her last summer at home, b) antagonize her conservative dad, and c) make her a hypocrite. Seth and Quinn’s passionate new romance takes them both by surprise. They keep it a secret; it’s too early to make plans and too late not to care. But it’s 1989. As politics suddenly get personal, they find themselves fighting bare fisted for their beliefs and each other—in the clear light of day.



Amanda’s thoughts

IMG_8145This past Saturday, Katie Pierson visited my book club at the library. She came as part of a series of Minnesota YA authors I’ve arranged for this spring. So far we’ve had visits from Jackie Lea Sommers, Kirstin Cronn-Mills, Katie, and in May will be joined by Carrie Mesrobian. Cool, right? Katie’s visit was a good time. She read to us from her book, talked about its path to publication, and answered all of the really smart questions the small group of teens had for her. I’m so grateful to all of these authors for their willingness to visit my library and hang out with these smart teens.


’89 Walls is set, unsurprisingly, in 1989. This book stands out to me for a lot of reasons. It’s extremely political. It’s not just that Quinn’s a Republican and Seth is a liberal. We see them in school in a class that is always having deep and detailed discussions on the political events happening in 1989. At home, Quinn is often talking politics with her dad. Seth is always wearing political tshirts. I can’t really think of any other YA book that is focused so heavily on real-life politics. The 1989 setting makes this historical fiction (possibly much to the dismay of those of us who well remember 1989). Many of the teens I know are obsessed with the 90s (I don’t think I’ve ever really left the 90s, so I get it) and one of the teens at Katie’s talk noted that this book was appealing specifically because of the time period it’s set in. Katie’s book also tackles abortion (and the politics around it), class, college opportunities and expectations, and sex. Seth’s mom has MS and her health is failing fast. Seth is her sole caretaker, as his father died in Vietnam. Quinn’s relatively cushy life is so far from Seth’s situation. We don’t often see characters like Seth in YA—teens who have to care for their parents—nor do we see a lot of parents with degenerative diseases. Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I know plenty of teens who are very interested in politics, so while Seth and Quinn’s conversations together and in class can be very fact-filled, I don’t think that will turn off young readers. In fact, Monday as I was leaving the library, one of the teens who was at Katie’s talk came in holding her copy of the book (as Katie was kind enough to give every kid a book) and said she was loving it. This well-written book is a unique look at an important time in our political history. Readers will root for Seth and Quinn, who have a very natural and easy connection despite coming from completely different backgrounds. Give this to teens who have a weird nostalgia for a time they didn’t live through, to teens who are politically aware, and to readers who want an against-the-odds love story. 


ISBN-13: 9781940014555

Publisher: Wise Ink Creative Publishing

Publication date: 06/19/2015

#MHYALit: Nineteen Years of Living, a guest post by Shaun David Hutchinson

Today author Shaun David Hutchinson joins us to share his story about depression, his suicide attempt, and the 19 years that have passed since then. See all of the posts in our Mental Health in Young Adult Literature series here


MHYALitlogoofficfialA few years ago, I went to the emergency room with pain in my stomach and back.  In less than a day, I was undergoing surgery to have my gallbladder removed.  After I’d recovered, when co-workers asked or I was trading war stories with people, and my surgery came up, no one ever said to me, “You probably could’ve gotten better if you’d just tried harder to not be in pain,” or “That’s not a real thing; you were just looking for sympathy, weren’t you?”


Yet people with mental illnesses hear these sorts of things all the time.  We’re judged and ridiculed and made to feel broken.  Which is why I’m so open about my own struggles with depression and my suicide attempt at 19.  I refuse to feel ashamed about it.  I was sick, I needed help, I got treatment.  I don’t feel ashamed about having my gallbladder removed, why should I feel shame about having depression?


But while I often discuss my depression as a teen and my attempted suicide, I don’t often talk about what came after.  Usually the story ends with, “I attempted to kill myself and I survived and I’m lucky and happy to be alive.”  But what does that mean?  We say, “It gets better,” but how?  I know my story is only one story, but I thought telling it, describing my life after my suicide attempt, might help others who are struggling to see what “it gets better” can look like.


The first thing about depression is that there’s no cure.  Depression (like many mental illnesses) is something you’ll have for the rest of your life.  But it is manageable.  You can live a full, happy, and healthy life with depression.  It won’t always be easy, but it is possible. 


After my suicide attempt, I was in the ICU for about a week, the regular hospital for a few days after that.  Then I was committed to a psychiatric hospital for a week.  At the time, I was content that I hadn’t died, but still severely depressed. I didn’t want to be in the psychiatric hospital, and I told the doctors what they wanted to hear so they’d release me.  Because I’d attempted to OD on Tylenol, I couldn’t be medicated at the time.  I was apparently convincing enough that my doctor let me go.  But I wasn’t “better.” 


Over the course of the next couple of years, I stumbled about.  I enrolled in and dropped out of college multiple times.  I spent a lot of time with my best friend, and tried to start dating.  I made a lot of terrible choices, including dating some extremely questionable guys.  But I made some amazing friends too.  I started going out to a club with a group of people, and we spent every Thursday night dancing to 80s goth music at a club in Downtown West Palm.


During that time, I began to feel happy again.  Some of my best memories from back then were working in the Sunglass Hut with my friends and dancing badly in the clubs.  But I wasn’t “cured.”  The depression was still hanging out just beyond my vision, waiting to rear its ugly head.


I ended up making the poor decision to move to Georgia for a short time because of a guy I’d met and spent one night with.  When I realized my mistake, I moved home and met another guy who turned out to be a cheater and a liar, and I started messing around with drugs.  Ecstasy, acid, pot.  I never did the hard drugs, but the drugs I did take, I took a lot of.  My life was a pretty big mess.  I’d dropped out of college for the fourth time, and was working as a waiter at a TGI Fridays.  Due to my bad choices, my parents and I weren’t talking, I didn’t speak to my brother for a few years, and I’d had a falling out with my best friend because I was an idiot.  Eventually, I moved with the guy I was dating to Rhode Island.


For a while I settled into a semi-stable kind of life.  I worked a series of shitty jobs.  I broke up with the guy, and dated a string of new guys.  Some were nice but I broke up with them because I didn’t feel like I deserved to be loved.  Others were terrible for me but I was too dumb to see it.  I’d go to clubs in Providence, full of hope at the start of the evening, and return home a dejected wreck, convinced I was worthless.


There were plenty of good times too.  Again, I made some amazing friends.  I fell in love with a guy I often joke is the one who got away (though if I’m being honest, he’s much better off with the man he eventually married).  I took a solo trip to Italy.  I spent Wednesday nights singing karaoke at this cool-but-no-longer-there gay club.  I drove to Boston on the weekends, and ran through the city like I owned it.


But I’d never really dealt with my depression.  I’d pushed it into the corner of my mind.  I’d willfully ignored it.  And doing so eventually bit me in the ass.


When I was 25, I moved back to Florida.  I had, for the most part, patched things up with my family.  I’d decided to return to college and try to make something of my life.  For over a year, I did well.  I was taking six and seven classes a semester, and getting As in all of them.  I took a job working at Starbucks (mostly because they offered health insurance to part-time workers).  I reconnected with my best friend.  Things were going well, and I felt happy.  Then I met a guy.  Matt #1. 


Over the course of the next two years, I became very, very lost.  I fought with my parents again, I hurt my best friend…again.  I dropped out of college with only one semester left.  #1 and I engaged in a self-destructive on-again off-again relationship that refused to allow me to ignore my depression anymore.  I was, for a very short time, homeless.  I would get drunk and pass out on my bedroom floor.  I started cutting myself again (something I hadn’t done since I was hospitalized) and put out lit cigarettes on my hands.  All of which culminated with me being fired from my job at Starbucks right as I was on track to be a store manager.


During that time, I began to realize I needed help with my depression.  I sought out psychiatrists who put me on various medications, but I was too self-destructive back then to understand what I needed to do.  When one doctor put me on Effexor, and I started to feel a little better, I kept upping my own dosage because I figured if a little made me feel better, a lot would make me feel great.  But it doesn’t work that way.  Medication provides immense benefits to people with mental illness, so I don’t ever want to discount the good it can do, but I couldn’t see that at the time.


Then came a turning point.  #1 and I had broken up for what felt like the hundredth time.  I was drunk, laying on the floor of my apartment, reading a battered copy of one of the Roswell High books to keep the room from spinning.  I woke up the next morning surrounded by broken glass.  I didn’t remember breaking the glass, and though I hadn’t cut myself, I knew I could have.


That was the lowest I’d been since I was 19.  I decided it was time for a change.  I isolated myself from my friends—not because they were bad people, but because I needed a fresh space to confront the choices I’d been making.  I moved back home, got a job in an office, and quit smoking.  I made the decision to stop dating.  I’d thought dating shitty, shady guys was the root of my problems, but the real cause was that since the day I got out of the psychiatric hospital when I was 19, I’d been running.  From myself, my problems, and my depression. 


I decided to figure out who I was and who I wanted to be, and I needed to do it on my own.  During that time, I became a certified EMT (though I never got a job doing it), went to firefighter school (but decided that, while I loved it, it wasn’t for me), and I went to Europe with my mother and brother (one of the best trips of my life).  I got my own apartment and focused on my job.  I took up writing again and went on to publish my first book.  I spent a lot of time getting to know myself, and I finally understood how to separate my depression from the bad things that happened in my life.  Bad breakups hadn’t caused my depression anymore than they’d caused my hernias or my migraines.  And in learning that distinction, I began to understand how to live with depression. 


I started treating my depression like the disease it is.  When the pendulum swung and I felt myself slipping, I took the time I needed to get well again.  When I had a shitty day at work or when something didn’t go my way, I learned to stop treating it as a symptom of my illness.  I learned that I can feel sad or angry when not depressed and sometimes happy when I am.  Because depression isn’t a punishment, it’s a disease and nothing more. 


I spent five years alone.  That’s how long it took for me to really and truly understand and love myself.  When I was ready to start dating again, I did so confident in who I was and certain I was worthy.  I met Matt #2 (though always #1 in my heart).  We began dating, moved in together a year later, and this November we’ll celebrate six years as a couple.  I’ve now published five books, with more on the way.  I’ve traveled and made amazing friends and reconnected with old ones.  I just spent the last year working from home and writing full time, and now I’m back at an office job I love.  I have a lot of plans for my future.  I want to travel the world.  I want to keep writing books.  I want to grow old with this weird guy I love. I want to watch my nieces and nephews become adults. I want Marvel to call me and let me write a YA gay Iceman book, and to see Doctor Who cast a woman to play The Doctor. 


It’s been 19 years since I was 19 and tried to kill myself.  There were plenty of really crappy times, and equally as many wonderful ones.  Over the next 19 years, I expect more of the same.  Like I said at the beginning:  there’s no cure for depression.  That’s something I keep at the front of my mind.  I will always suffer from it.  There are days when I can feel it coming, and I call out sick from work and take care of myself.  Then there are days when it pounces so fast I don’t even realize it until I’m in the thick of it.  And while it’s been quite a while since I’ve suffered a major depressive episode, I know that it’s not only possible, but likely, I’ll go through one again. But I keep moving on. Because for every night spent crying, there’s a night spent dancing.  For every fallout with family, there’s an awkward holiday dinner to laugh about later.  For every dream that falls through, there’s a dream that becomes reality.  For every Matt #1, there’s a Matt #2. 


Probably my favorite line from We Are the Ants comes from Jesse’s mother when Henry asks her whether she’d press the button and save the world.  She tells him she’d press it because, “Jesse believed life wasn’t worth living, and I refuse to prove him right.”  And when depression makes me feel like life isn’t worth living, I keep going because I refuse to prove it right. 


So when I talk about suicide and about how I’m happy I didn’t die, this is why.  These last 19 years of failures and successes and crappy nights and beautiful days.  When we say it gets better, we don’t mean it’s better all the time, but that there are better moments worth living for.  Trust me on this one.  I’ve got 19 years of living to back me up.


One last thing I want to say:  Suicide isn’t something you can ever take back.  I was lucky.  Luckier than I had a right to be.  After reading The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley, I had a teacher email me and ask if I felt it was irresponsible to show two different characters attempting to commit suicide and come through it unscathed.  While I disagreed that they were unscathed, her question made me think.  A lot.  And I want to make it clear that suicide isn’t a temporary solution. It’s final. And there’s nothing glamorous about it.  The lesson isn’t that I survived suicide and you can too.  It’s that suicide should never be the solution.  It’s that life is worth living, and suicide nearly robbed me of that.  So, please, if you’re even remotely considering taking your own life, seek help immediately.  Your life is worth living. 


Meet Shaun David Hutchinson

shaunShaun David Hutchinson is the author of numerous books for young adults, including The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley, which won the Florida Book Awards’ Gold Medal in the Young Adult category and was named to the ALA’s 2015 Rainbow Book List, the anthology Violent Ends, which received a starred review from VOYA, and We Are the Ants, which received 5 starred reviews and was named a best book of January 2016 by Amazon, Kobo, Publisher’s Weekly, and iBooks.  He lives in South Florida with his partner and adorably chubby dog, and enjoys Doctor Who, comic books, and yelling at the TV.  Visit him at shaundavidhutchinson.com.

Middle School Monday: Curiosity House: The Screaming Statue by Lauren Oliver

cover-the_screaming_statueSam, Max, Pippa, and Thomas are back for another mystery with Curiosity House: The Screaming Statue. Dumfrey’s Dime Museum of Freaks, Oddities, and Wonders is again in serious financial straights, but Mr. Dumfrey has an idea for an exhibit that will draw crowds – a lifelike display of the latest society scandal, the murder of Rachel Richstone by her jealous husband Manfred Richstone over her alleged affair with fortune hunter Edmund Snyder. As the crowning glory of this grisly new exhibit, Mr. Dumfrey engages sculptor and friend of the museum, Siegfried “Freckles” Eckleberger, to design the heads for the unfortunate trio. When Freckles turns up murdered after completing the assignment, the children know something is seriously wrong. Add to this the news that the evil Professor Rattigan has escaped from jail, and the arrival of a divisive new performer to the museum, and their entire world is thrown into chaos. Will the children discover the identity of their friend Freckles’ murderer? Will they escape the threat of Professor Rattigan? Will the museum fold under financial pressure?

Lauren Oliver has again created a twisty, complex, and engaging mystery for the middle grade set. Even the minor characters leap off the page with her description. Oliver is a gifted storyteller and has hit on real genius with these stories of four youngsters with unusual gifts. I heartily recommend this addition to the series for any collection serving 3rd through 6th graders.

From the jacket copy:

In this second book in the exceptional Curiosity House series by bestselling author Lauren Oliver and shadowy recluse H. C. Chester, four extraordinary children must avenge their friend’s death, try to save their home, and unravel the secrets of their past . . . before their past unravels them.

Pippa, Sam, Thomas, and Max are happy to be out of harm’s way now that the notorious villain Nicholas Rattigan is halfway across the country in Chicago. But unfortunately their home, Dumfreys’s Dime Museum of Freaks, Oddities, and Wonders, is in danger of closing its doors forever.

But their troubles only get worse. The four friends are shocked when their beloved friend, famous sculptor Siegfried Eckleberger, is murdered. As they investigate, they find clues that his death may be tied to the murder of a rich and powerful New York heiress, as well as to their own pasts.

This is the second book in the series and so boasts many wondrous and mysterious things inside, such as:

·       Howie, the “Human Owl,” whose head turns just about all the way around

·       A mean but important house cat

·       Some perfectly ghastly wax sculptures

·       A very thin boy named Chubby

·       An awful mechanical leg

It continues not to have:

·       A cautionary tale about running with scissors

·       A list of time-consuming chores

·       Nutritious and decidedly not delicious vegetables

·       A perfectly sweet bedtime story about a wayward bunny

·       Two wet kisses on the cheek from your aunt Mildred

Curiosity House: The Screaming Statue will be on sale May 3, 2016.