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#MHYALit Book Review: Meet Me Here by Bryan Bliss

Publisher’s description

meet me hereIn a single night—graduation night—Thomas has to decide: do what everyone has always expected of him, or forge an entirely new path? Bryan Bliss’s absorbing examination of one boy struggling with expectations and realities will appeal to readers of Sara Zarr and Chris Crutcher.

Thomas is supposed to leave for the Army in the morning. His father was Army. His brother, Jake, is Army—is a hero, even, with the medals to prove it. Everyone expects Thomas to follow in that fine tradition. But Jake came back from overseas a completely different person, and that has shaken Thomas’s certainty about his own future. And so when his long-estranged friend Mallory suggests one last night of adventure, Thomas takes her up on the distraction. Over the course of this single night, Thomas will lose, find, resolve, doubt, drive, explore, and leap off a bridge. He’ll also face the truth of his brother’s post-traumatic stress disorder and of his own courage. In Bryan Bliss’s deft hands, graduation night becomes a night to find yourself, to find each other, to find a path, and to know that you always have a place—and people—to come back to.


Amanda’s thoughts

This book checks so many of the boxes of things I love in a novel: takes place in 24 hours, is a smart look at mental health, features a boy-girl friendship, has a vivid setting, and shows characters going against expectations. If you’re like, dang, that’s a lot of really specific stuff you’re into, whatever–you know you have a list of things you really enjoy the heck out of in a book. Also, I really liked the previous book by this author, No Parking at the End Times, and sorta figured going in that I’d dig this. And did I ever.


Thomas and Mallory have barely spoken in years. They haven’t really been friends for 7 years. But when Mallory needs a ride home, after punching her boyfriend at a party, he’s there for her. Even though he’s not really sure what she needs or why she turned to him for help, he’s there. What could have been a simple ride home—drop her off and be done—turns into an all-night adventure. It’s hard to tell if the timing couldn’t be better or couldn’t be worse. Goodness knows they both need a distraction. Thomas is supposed to leave for the Army in the  morning, though he has no intention of actually going, a secret he reveals to Mallory and to a few others as the night wears on. And Mallory? She has her own reasons for freaking out and needing to focus on something else for a few hours. It’s graduation night. They should be elated. But both Thomas and Mallory are feeling the nearly unbearable weight of expectation and uncertainty as well as the desire to go away, do the unexpected, follow their own paths.


And then there’s Jake. Thomas can’t stop thinking about how broken his brother is, and how terrified he is that he might come back from his time in the Army just as broken. Injured in action, his brother comes home looking physically okay, but Thomas notes, “But he was messed up worse than any of us could have ever imagined. We just didn’t see it yet.” Thomas has been watching his brother, in the months since he’s been home, and knows that dying in combat isn’t necessarily the worst thing that could happen to a soldier. It’s enough to make him think that skipping his appointment at the recruiter’s and going as far away as his meager savings will take him has got to be a better choice than actually joining the Army.


Outside of trespassing in an old, allegedly haunted hotel at the start of their adventurous evening together, there’s not much about Thomas and Mallory’s night that’s lighthearted. When they dig up their time capsule and find their “Book of Adventures” notebook, I thought that maybe the story would turn into them checking off items on a bucket list or completing tasks that the childhood versions of themselves considered adventures. Instead they spend much of the evening pursuing and trying to figure out/help Jake. They go to parties, parking lots, a trailer park, and a field. They slowly reveal to each other some of what’s happening in their lives. They talk about why their friendship fell apart. They’re real and honest and nothing gets solved or fixed, but it seems like maybe, just maybe, Thomas and Mallory will get to be the masters of their own fate.


MEET ME HERE will inspire important conversations about post-traumatic stress disorder, expectations, friendship, and toxic masculinity. On the surface it could seem like Thomas and Mallory’s friendship just fizzled out, or like Jake just isn’t himself, or like our main characters are feeling an uncertainty about their futures that might come from it being graduation night— a time for endings, beginnings, and thoughts of the future. But Bliss infuses every one of those things with much deeper issues that get explored more thoroughly as the story goes on and as secrets are revealed. This well-written and affecting book is a must-have for every collection. Teen readers may not be in exactly the same situations as Thomas or Mallory but will recognize the feelings of uncertainty and the pressures of expectations as well as appreciate the quiet thread of hope woven throughout. 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062275387

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 05/31/2016

Middle School Monday: Welcome, Julie!

MSM11Let me ask you a question.  How muchon a scale of 1 to 10do you dread that question when the speaker / trainer / principal asks you to “say a few words about yourself” as a way of introduction?  For me, it hovers around 42.

Robin is that person in this story.  She asked me to introduce myself to you in this post which seems strange, as I have been a fan of Robin and Middle School Monday and it still hasn’t registered that she will not be writing theses posts anymore.  Gulp, I will.

Oh, no.  it’s time for my “few words about myself”right?  

Gah.  Those Few Words.

I could say something like this:  I’m finishing my first year at a new school and it’s been a heady whirlwind of diversifying and updating the collection, establishing a culture of collaboration, and building a community of readers.

I should probably tell you more about my amazing schoolit is a public, alternative school with over 80% male students and over 80% students of color.

I should definitely tell you that every decision I make in my library is geared towards inclusivity. I lied a few sentences ago.  [I won’t make a habit of itpromise.]  I told you that I diversified our collectionwhat I really did was MAKE IT REAL.  Diverse books are not extra…they ARE the collection.  Diversity is our wonderful reality and our collections need to reflect that reality.

Really, that’s enough about me.  Surely, my few words are up?  I’d always, always rather talk about my students.  Expect to see their words here a lotfrom anecdotes to guest blogs.  I’ll introduce you to Nia who mumbles pop-culture hilarity under her breath and thinks no one hears her.  I hear her.  There is Tae, who already had his 10 minutes of fame during our Matt de la Peña Writer-in-Residence this spring, but he’s game for more. (Which (hello!), I’ll definitely be telling you more about.  It’s MATT DE LA PEÑA and he’s the coolest guy on the planet.) You’ll meet Kevin who dropped his backpack on the library floor and said, “finally, I’m home.”

Student statementsespecially the unguarded ones like Kevin’sare the best kind of truth, aren’t they?  My library has been lucky enough to live through some amazing experiences this year.  Student feedback and testimony is always my go-to assessment, so when Zach gave his seal-of-approval on last week’s Family Book Night with a pithy comment, I knew we’d hit a homerun.

Family Book Night

To celebrate readingand champion reading over the summerwe held a night-time family event where everyone chose a new book to bring home and keep.  EVERYonestudents, parents, and other family members. How was this financially possible? I got most of my books by shopping the Scholastic Warehouse Sale where I bought over 400 books for $500.  I then set up the library to look like a typical book fairbut no money changed hands.  Everyone simply shopped and then selected a book.  And, brought it home.  

Before the event, as I was talking it up in classrooms, the 8th graders were the most enthusiastic [which you know is RARE]. Many told me that they had always loved and hated book fairs in previous schoolsloved seeing all those new books, but hated that they were never able to buy anything.  Zach made the statement of the year when he added:  “Seriously.  They were Book UNFairs.  You are having a real BookFAIR.”

And, a BookFAIR it was.  I did not just buy whatever books I could get. I bought books that were reflective of my students, their experiences and interests and made purchases in every age range to celebrate family reading.  To continue the party into the next day, all classes visited the library so that all students had a chance to bring a new book home (whether or not their family was able to make it to the nighttime event).

I’m Sitting Down Now.

I’m thrilled to be joining this conversation and am looking forward to connecting withand learning fromother middle school librarians.  Honestly, I’m thrilled that there even IS this blog. (Thank you, awesome Robin!) Middle school is AMAZING and we know it every time a person looks at us in horror when they find out what we do.  We get three yearsone, two, threeto take our students from elementary to high school and travel with them on this crazy, meaningful journey.  How lucky are we?  And that I can write that sentenceand mean itat the end of May when even my eyelashes are exhausted feels like a victory.  Who’s with me?  You?  I knew it!  Here we go…

Julie Stivers



Book Review: Drag Teen by Jeffery Self, reviewed by teen reviewer Lexi

dragteenPublisher’s Book Description

A fantastic, fabulous, funny YA debut from Jeffery Self, one of the gay icons of the YouTube generation, that follows one high school student on a drag race to his future.

Debut YA author Jeffery Self takes us on a road trip with an insecure high school senior who has one goal: to be the first in his family to leave Clearwater, Florida, and go to college. The problem is, he has zero means of paying for school — until his friends convince him to compete in a drag teen competition for a college scholarship.

Lexi’s Thoughts:

‘I guess that was the whole secret to being confident: the ability to blend.”

It’s to say that this book has made me stop and think about my own life and how I view myself as a person. Many a time have I closed this book and sat in deep thought about how I feel about my body and about being of the non-straight variety. And I come to the realization that I still have issues with who I am and that the only way towards true self love and acceptance is to face these issues face on and to stop being scared of humiliation and mistakes.

Much like JT, all of us have experienced some sort of displeasure with who we are and what we look like and who we like and what we like. We are told to be cookie cutter perfect. But we aren’t meant to be molded to fit what people want. We are meant to mold ourselves into a person we were meant to be all along and this is the lesson JT is struggling with in Drag Teen.

We are given an image of a dumpy gay boy with a stunning boyfriend who is too good for him and a bestfriend who is three times bigger than him and is stuck in the 2000’s. From the get go the insecurities are very known and present.

– His insecurities about being fat.

-His insecurities about being stuck in Clearwater, Florida for the rest of his life pumping gas at his family’s gas station.

-His insecurities that he will inevitably lose his boyfriend because he isn’t good enough.

But it isn’t just his insecurities that are shown but also his friends, Heathers who also struggles with her weight and compensates with sass and a mask of unrelenting will towards what she eats and how much.  Even his perfect boyfriend, Seth, has insecurities about who he is. Because if anything we all fear something or another.

The discovery of a drag teen competition for a full ride is what sets this whole adventure on the road towards New York but it is their struggles to find who they are and the ability to love who themselves. With each obstacle they face JT comes a step closer to being who he was really meant to be, The next Miss Drag Teen USA.

He was born to be glorious and fierce. And much like JT the readers connects in the way that we all struggle to love who we are. We all struggle to accept ourselves and to accept that we aren’t meant to blend: we are meant to stand out and be individuals.

And I am confident in saying that this is one of the most inspirational and funny, heartwarming books I have read. It’s not very often that I walk away from a book and take a life lesson with me but with this one i have and i encourage everyone else to also.

Recommended song: Beautiful by Christina Aguilera

Stay weird, readers

Sunday Reflections: Newsflash – Teenage Girls Have Periods, Let’s Not Make That Suck for Them


On Friday, The Teen’s school did not want them to bring backpacks.

I know this because they sent an email. They called and left a message. And they sent out text messages.

The messages said, you “do not need” to bring a backpack. Which is not the same as no really, don’t bring a backpack.

So as students walked into the school on Friday, if they had a bag, they were told to leave them in the office and they could come pick them up after school.

Newflash: a majority of middle school girls have gotten their period. This means that they need to carry some type of product with them. They usually like to do this discreetly. That usually involves carrying some type of bag.

But when one student mentioned that she needed her bag because she needed her product, she was told that she could just tell her teacher when it was time and she could go to the office and get her stuff and use the restroom.

This is not okay.

Look, I’m 43. I am no longer embarrassed by my period. I will walk into the store, grab a box of tampons and whip it onto that conveyor belt without flinching. I have years of experience with this at this point.

But 7th grade Karen . . . I remember once having to walk to the corner store to buy product and I also bought a magazine, some gum, a candy bar and whatever else I had money for because I didn’t want anyone to know that I needed this product right this very moment thank you. I can’t imagine the horrors of having to tell a teacher I needed to go get my bag that was confiscated and then telling the office people that I needed my bag. It seems like walking around with a neon flashing sign that says THIS GIRL IS ON HER PERIOD TODAY.

The halls of a middle school are treacherous enough water as it is, the sharks are already circling and sniffing for blood that indicates any type of weakness. And yes, that’s a horribly bad metaphor in this instance.

Look, girls have periods. For a lot of girls, this starts in the middle school years. And for some girls, it can take some getting used to. It’s this biological thing that happens. It’s not a big deal, but it does require some certain attending to. Let’s not create rules that make it harder for our teens to navigate their changing lives. We shouldn’t be part of the problem in the lives of teens if we claim to be about empowering teens.

Friday Finds: May 27, 2016

fridayfindsThis Week at TLT

Sunday Reflections: Saying Goodbye to My Book Club Minions

#MHYALit: OCD Tales – Reflections on an OCD Sufferer’s Sabbatical Study of YA Novels of Mental Illness

MakerSpace: Learning to Code in Scratch

#MHYALit: Why You Shouldn’t Ban Your Kid from the Internet, a guest post by Laura Tims

Book Review: Without Annette by Jane B. Mason

MakerSpace: Stop Motion Animation 101

Video Games Weekly: Star Fox Guard

Book Review: Beware That Girl by Teresa Toten

Around the Web

How to Stock Your Makerspace for 100 Bucks or Less

Bustle’s YA Summer Reading Guide

10 songs you didn’t know were inspired by literature

Paste’s list of best new YA

Kendall And Kylie Jenner’s Young Adult Novel Is Getting A Sequel

MakerSpace: Challenge Cards, getting teens to try new activities in the Teen MakerSpace

challengecards We are having tremendous success with our Teen MakerSpace at The Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County (OH) and are very excited to see the teens in our community using the space and learning new things. We have learned that certain items are more popular than others, with the button makers and 3D pens being hands down everyone’s favorites.

We have also seen that some of the elements are a little less self-directed then we imagined them to be. Sometimes, our teens want prompts to help get them started. And after a little bit of searching I learned about “Challenge Cards”. Challenge cards are a great way to help get teens engaging with some of our Teen MakerSpace elements. They basically work like a writing prompt, giving just that little push needed to get the creative juices flowing.

We currently have Challenge Cards for our stop motion animation station, the LittleBits, and Legos. Some of the Challenge Cards we found online, others we created ourselves. Our Lego Challenge Cards are a combination of those we found online and those we created with the help of teens sitting in the Teen MakerSpace.

In the future, we hope to develop (or find) some coding challenge cards. And because our iPad bank is perfect for learning photo manipulation and meme creation, I think we will also be developing some Photo Challenge Cards.

We laminated our cards and created signage, making them available right next to the station so teens can grab a card and go. We have found that it has prompted some of our teens to try new activities in the space and recommend them.

Here are links to some of the various Challenge Card examples we have found to date or created for ourselves. If you know of others you would like to share, please add them in the comments.

Book Review: Beware That Girl by Teresa Toten

bewareYou guys. I can’t even with this book. It is a psychological thriller on steroids – mesmerizingly creepy from first to very last page. It kept making me anxious enough to have to put it down, but it’s so fascinating I kept picking it back up. I think this one is going to be big. Really big. Colossal.

Kate O’Brien is a scholarship student at the prestigious Waverly School in New York City for her senior year of high school. She’s spent her entire childhood bouncing from one private school to another to avoid the foster care system (or worse). This new school, though isn’t a boarding school so she lies and tells them she’s living with her aunt. In reality she’s living in the storage room in the basement of a Chinese market. But Kate knows how to play the game, and these accommodations are only temporary. From day one, she is on the hunt for a best friend. She’s looking for a rich girl who is slightly broken who needs a new best friend. Someone who will become so dependent upon her that she will ask her to move in with her. She finds the perfect mark in Olivia Sumner.

Olivia is rich, exquisitely beautiful, and very troubled. As a bonus, she lives with her father and housekeeper in a penthouse only a few steps from school. Her father, who travels constantly, worries about Olivia. You see, Olivia is actually repeating her senior year after having had some kind of breakdown the previous year and spending much of it in a hospital. Having a bright scholarship student who is her new best friend move in seems to be a win-win proposition. Olivia has played right into Kate’s capable hands. Or has she?

Throw into this mix the devastatingly handsome Mark Redkin, Waverly’s new advancement director (fundraiser.) To everyone but Kate, Mark seems to be the consummate player. Charming in the extreme, he has every female on campus wrapped around his finger. Kate can see past that, though, and recognizes something much darker going on behind the facade he presents to the world. When he goes after Olivia, Kate loses her detachment from their relationship. Instead of just using her friendship with Olivia as a means to an end, she begins to care. Both girls have secrets that Redkin exploits to his own advantage.

Olivia and Kate are both strongly drawn characters with intricate personalities and personal demons to overcome. At first, it’s natural to believe the title refers to Kate…but then you begin to wonder as you follow the girls deeper into their relationship and their secrets are revealed. Even to the very end of the book, the question we’re left with is to whom the title refers, and who needs to beware.

*On a side note, I had the pleasure of meeting the author at a publisher’s dinner last week, and she is delightful. (I wrote the review before I met her.)

Beware That Girl will be available from Delacorte Press on May 31st, 2016.

Video Games Weekly: Star Fox Guard

Star Fox Guard is a little confusing, but I’m going to do my best to explain.  Our library got a disc copy of Star Fox Guard when we ordered Star Fox Zero (which I reviewed last week) because we pre-ordered it.  So, if you ordered a copy of Star Fox Zero before April 2016, you might have a disc copy of Star Fox Guard lying around. If you did not, the game is only available as a digital download on the Wii U eShop.

YouTube Trailer:

Platform:  Wii U

Rated: E10+

Single or Multiplayer: Single

Background: Star Fox Guard is not a prequel, sequel, nor in any relation to Star Fox Zero other than the fact that it has Slippy (the toad character).  In fact, the game is completely different from Star Fox Guard.  Star Fox Guard is a combination of action and tower defense. “Tower defense” means exactly that; you have a tower somewhere on a map, and you have to defend it using weapons.  These weapons usually take up a slot alongside the enemy’s path, and do something to kill enemies as they walk by.  These weapons are usually on autopilot, meaning if an enemy appears in their range the weapon will automatically shoot at it.  Typically, players have to defeat enemies to get more currency, which can then be used to buy more weapons, upgrade weapons, or use special items.  One of my favorite tower defense games that you can play on any web browser is Bloons.

Storyline:  Slippy has an uncle named Grippy Toad who owns a mining company.  Grippy Toad hires you to protect mining towers from evil robots who try to shut it down and steal precious metals. Your job is to use security cameras that are spread out all over the map to shoot down enemies.  Enemy robots will continue to get better and better an infiltrating your security camera system, and players will have to use special cameras/airstrikes to shoot down large waves of robots.  Simple right? Not so much.  Take a look at the map below, which is what players see on the Wii U GamePad

Image: http://www.nintendoworldreport.com/media/37698/1/17.jpg

Controls:  This is vastly different compared to pure tower defense games because the player can only control ONE camera at a time instead of having all of the weapons set to automatic. This is where the “action” combination comes in.  On the TV screen, players have a view of all cameras.

Image: http://nintendoenthusiast.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/project-guard.0.0.jpg

See the monitor in the middle? That is the camera that the player in controlling.  Players have to aim the camera and shoot down robots.  If players want to change cameras, they have to click on the camera number on the Wii U GamePad map.  Enemies will appear on the map as yellow dots once they enter the map, but NOT WHEN THEY SPAWN OUTSIDE OF THE MAP. *head explodes* This adds to the complexity of the game, but I found it incredibly annoying rather than fun.

In my opinion, the controls are a pain in the butt.  Unlike Star Fox Zero, players have to move the camera/gun using the joystick. It would be one thing if the GamePad could be physically moved around in real life in order to look around/shoot like in Star Fox Zero, but they chose to make it oldschool.  It’s really hard to enjoy Star Fox Guard’s controls after playing through Star Fox Zero, and I just wasn’t that impressed.

Audience: This game didn’t work well for me because I was playing by myself. There’s just too much going on between the screens, and I wasn’t having any fun playing it.  I will admit though, I am biased.  I love tower defense games, and I think it’s a poor choice to label this game  as only a tower defense game. It’s more like 75% action, 25% tower defense.

Now, I can imagine this game would be fun if you have multiple people in the room. IGN wrote a positive review for this game, and they mentioned it is a fun game when there are many people in the room yelling out camera numbers.  So, I would say this is more of a single-player party game for all ages.

Verdict: If you already have the game because you preordered Star Fox Zero, it’s not going to go to waste on your shelf. If you did not, don’t bother trying to hunt down a physical copy.

Questions? Comments? Tweet them at me!

By: Alanna Graves (with the help of her copilot, Andres)
Twitter: @LannaLibrarian


$50 on Amazon


MakerSpace: Stop Motion Animation 101

Later today I am presenting a webinar on Stop Motion Animation for Florida Library Webinars. Here are my slides. I have been doing stop motion animation with my teens for about 3 or 4 years now (and at two different library jobs). It has proven so popular that we included a stop motion animation station in the Teen MakerSpace that we created at The Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County (Ohio). I use a couple of movies created by our teens there as examples in this presentation. I am in awe of how creatively they think.

Some additional notes:

1. If you use an iPad or a smart phone, you’ll want a stabilizing agent as well. You can buy a tripod. For an iPad, you can use a wire book holder that you use for display.

2. We upload our videos/movies to a YouTube account. This makes it easy for us to share them and for the teens to find them so they can share them with their friends/family.

3. You can download the Stop Motion Animation challenge cards here: https://www.scribd.com/doc/313555018/Stop-Motion-Challenge-Cards

4. There are 16 Storyboard Templates to Download for Free here: http://www.sampletemplates.com/business-templates/free-storyboard-templates.html

5. The Scribd slideshow can show up kind of wonky depending on your screen dimensions. You can view and download it here: https://www.scribd.com/doc/313555719/Stop-Motion-Animation-101-Webinar

Book Review: Without Annette by Jane B. Mason

Publisher’s description

withoutJosie Little has been looking forward to moving halfway across the country to attend Brookwood Academy, a prestigious boarding school, with her girlfriend, Annette, for ages. But underneath Brookwood’s picture-perfect image lies a crippling sense of elitism that begins to tear the girls apart from the moment they arrive.

While Josie struggles to navigate her new life, Annette seems to fit in perfectly. Yet that acceptance comes with more than a few strings. And consequently, Annette insists on keeping their relationship a secret.

At first, Josie agrees. But as Annette pushes her further and further away, Josie grows closer to Penn, a boy whose friendship and romantic feelings for her tangle her already-unraveling relationship. When Annette’s need for approval sets her on a devastating course for self-destruction, Josie isn’t sure she can save her this time-or if Annette even wants her to try.


Amanda’s thoughts

15-year-old Josie seems to think that things will be great at boarding school. She and her girlfriend Annette are leaving behind tiny Virginia Falls, Minnesota—and Annette’s abusive, alcoholic mother—for the elite Brookwood Academy in Hartford, Connecticut. But things start to unravel from the very moment they get to school and realize they aren’t roommates. Josie and Annette have best friends since kindergarten and a couple since they were 12. For what appears to be the first time, they are making new friends and spending time apart. Annette pushes them to keep their relationship a secret. She wants people to get to know her first, separate from Josie/the label of Josie’s girlfriend, and wants to feel out how people may react. It seems pretty obvious that being closeted and Annette’s overt desire to be seen as her own person and gain some distance from their relationship will cause heartache. While Annette is immediately embraced by the Soleets (the social elites), Josie feels awkward, left out, and lonely. She finds surprising friendship with Roxanne, her arty and outspoken roommate, and Penn, a boy who includes her in his tight ring of mischief-making friends (and who harbors a crush on her). Though the outcome of the story is pretty predictable, Mason makes the characters compelling enough to make readers invested in finding out just how Josie will end up without Annette.


What I liked about this story is that it’s a very complex and nuanced look at a young lesbian couple. The girls have been together a long time and have a long history together. Taking them from their shared hometown and plopping them in the middle of a totally new environment forces their relationship to undergo challenges they maybe could have avoided or have been avoiding at home. Neither character is perfect and both make mistakes and bad choices both in general and in their relationship. They have a sexual relationship—and have for a long time—that also faces challenges both because of their choice to stay closeted and because of Annette appearing to now hold all of the control over what they do and when. Though they have been together a long time, they’re also very young, and they way the treat each other and the changes their relationship undergoes feel real. Flashbacks throughout the novel illuminate previous parts of their relationship and help the reader understand just how far they are from what they used to be. A complicated look at love, truth, authenticity, hanging on, and breaking free. 


Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780545819954

Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.

Publication date: 05/31/2016