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

MHYALitlogoofficfialWhen I was growing up, losing internet privileges was a common punishment in my family. It’s a common punishment in most families. Bad grades? No screen time for a week. Missed curfew? No internet.

 

It seems like a reasonable punishment. However, it may have unintended consequences.

 

Nowadays, twenty percent of adolescents have a diagnosed mental illness. That’s a huge number. But school counselors are typically understaffed and not equipped for longterm mental health care. When you’re under eighteen and you need mental health care, it pretty much has to go through your parents.

Imagine telling your parents that they need to pay for your therapy and medications, which even with insurance can be expensive, and drive you to appointments, which can be far away. This is assuming your family has insurance, a car, and the means to afford treatment. This is assuming that the guilt and self-blame, common with many mental illnesses, and the stigma of needing mental health care aren’t enough to keep you silent. This is assuming that you have a good enough relationship with your parents to come to them with this immense vulnerability. And even the most well-meaning parents don’t always understand what mental illness is – the fear that they’ll react with unintentional ignorance, dismissiveness, or self-blame themselves is enough to stop a lot of teenagers from speaking up.

 

It’s unsurprising that a lot of teens have little access to adequate mental health care. So they reach out wherever else they can – you see people trying to manage their own mental health and that of their friends’ at the same time, which, obviously, can be overwhelming. Oftentimes, they turn to the internet.

 

On December 28th, 2014, trans teen Leelah Alcorn died by suicide after posting a final note to her Tumblr. Among other things, she had been isolated by her parents and restricted from the internet for some time. Her death shone a light on what had already been going on – that plenty of teens share suicidal ideation on their social media accounts when they haven’t told anyone in real life.

 

Blocking access to the internet can cut someone off from the only venue where they might feel comfortable reaching out for help before they do something drastic. It creates an opportunity for someone to see the message and contact the authorities.

 

There’s also the fact that a lot of teenagers turn to the internet as their primary source of mental health resources. While it’s not a replacement for professional mental health care, there are tons and tons of blogs, videos, and forums online for DIY mental health care, which is sometimes all someone has access to.

 

Acting out is often a symptom of mental illness.  It can be the worst time to isolate a teenager from their best source of resources, or from their support group of friends. Even if you don’t think your teenager has a mental illness, it’s possible that they just don’t feel comfortable bringing it to you. There’s a stereotype of kids getting hysterical for no reason when losing access to their phones or laptops (often going along with the ‘millenials are too attached to their devices’ refrain) but if your teen reacts with seemingly unreasonable desperation or intensity to having their internet privileges taken away, it’s best to talk to them and see what it is they need instead of chalking it up to dramatics. You may be removing their only way to cope with a mental illness.

 

For a thorough list of online resources for mental illness and other issues, check out the resources page on my mental health blog

 

 

Meet Laura Tims

Laura Tims PhotoLaura Tims is a young adult author, a fan of humans, and a reasonably cute organism. Her debut novel, PLEASE DON’T TELL, will be out 5/24/2016, from Harperteen. Her second, THE BEST THING ABOUT PAIN, is coming 2017. She’s a Hufflepuff, an ENFP, a Cancer, and she likes pretty much everyone. Find her on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and her mental health blog.

 

 

About PLEASE DON’T TELL

Debut author Laura Tims writes an intense and utterly gripping contemporary YA tale perfect for fans of Pretty Little Liars. Joy has done everything to protect her twin sister…including murder.

Joy killed Adam Gordon for what he did to her sister, Grace. At least, that’s what she thinks happened. Now Adam can’t hurt anyone ever again, and her sister can be free from the boy who harmed her.

But someone else knows what Joy did, and they’re going to out her as a cold-blooded killer if she doesn’t expose the scandalous secrets bubbling just below the surface of her mundane town. As the demands escalate, and she finds herself falling for Adam’s half brother, Joy must figure out the blackmailer’s identity before everything spirals out of control.

ISBN-13: 9780062317322

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 05/24/2016

MakerSpace: Learning to Code in Scratch

We set out with several goals in mind when created the Teen MakerSpace at The Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County in Ohio. One of those goals was to engage our teens in learning how to code. We created a bank of iPad stations to help facilitate this goal and pre-loaded it with some coding apps. But if we are going to be honest, we are not reaching this goal. Part of the reason, I am sure, is because that the three of us, myself and two maker space assistants, don’t know the first thing about coding. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

A couple of weeks ago someone from DK reached out to me and asked if I wanted to take a look at a couple of the coding books that they offer and I enthusiastically said yes. I need all the help I can get in this area. They sent me two books: Coding Games in Scratch

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and Coding in Scratch: Games Workbook

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My first question was: what is Scratch? Scratch is a programming language that is designed to be easy to learn. It more teaches you the concepts and ideas of coding then an actual code language. Using Scratch, you code using pre-made blocks. These blocks are called scripts and you can add and rearrange your scripts to make your program do whatever it is you want it to do.

This is page 16 and 17 of the Workbook. Those blocks of code you see on the left are scripts.

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These two books focus on coding games as an entry into the world of coding. They give some specific challenges for you to try to help guide your learning process and then they tell you how to achieve this goal so that you can be successful.

In comparison, one of the coding apps we downloaded onto our iPad stations is an app called GameForger. It also is an app that allows you to code and design a game. I tried using this app and could never really even get started. I found some information on a Reddit subforum, but I still couldn’t successfully use the app. One of our security guards also tried using this app and although he had much more success than I did, he too found it difficult to figure out and use.

But Scratch I could use successfully. You do have to download the Scratch application to use the program, but it is free. As I mentioned, there are specific lessons that you can follow in the book to get you started. And along the way there is a ton of helpful information including definitions, expert tips, and extrapolations to the larger world of coding. For example, after you program an “or”, “and” and “not” chain, there is an insert that explains to you that these are called logical blocks and how they are used in the wider world of programming. I thought it was an easy to understand entry into the idea of coding.

I still feel way in over my head when it comes to coding. I mean, I’m pretty impressed with myself when I go in and add a line break code to the HTML for this website. But I do feel like we can do a better job at my library of trying to introduce our teens to coding by providing these materials and a time to just work through some of the game design projects. Recommended.

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

Today for the #MHYALit Discussion we are honored to host librarian Diane Scrofano

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I remember the day my symptoms began. It was during the spring of the eighth grade. It was 1991 in a suburb north of Los Angeles. I had woken up with a foreboding feeling. By the time school was over at 3:10p.m., I couldn’t stop thinking about the admittedly unlikely scenario that one of my schoolmates may have pricked me with a hypodermic needle as we passed one another in the crowded junior high school hallway. Being poked with a needle would certainly cause AIDS.

The symptoms waxed and waned over the years, as they often do. By high school, I opened doors with my sleeves, had peeling skin from over-washing, and avoided getting too close to people in the crowded hallways. Now my fear had morphed from needles to the idea that a strand of my long hair might brush a classmate’s acne-covered face and the bloody contact would result in, of course, AIDS. When I learned to drive, I would change lanes to avoid bicyclists even though they were clearly within the bike lane. I feared the morning commute; Westlake High began at 7:25 a.m. for everyone in those days, and I just knew that the angle of the sun was going to make me crash into something I couldn’t see or run a red light. I claimed “headaches” to get my mom or my aunt to drive me and my brother and cousin to school. It only occasionally worked, though, so I suppose you could say driving to school most mornings was my unwittingly imposed exposure therapy. By senior year, I was spending the first few minutes of first period putting Bandaids on almost all my cuticles because sometimes a little piece of skin pulled there, and so, if I touched anything, I might contract…yup, AIDS.

Luckily (or so I thought), nobody knew me in that first-period economics class in the twelfth grade because it wasn’t one of my usual Honors courses. If anyone noticed my Bandaid ritual, nobody said anything. Nobody said much of anything at any point; in fact, I remained undiagnosed until after college and part of graduate school.

This probably would’ve gone on for who-knows-how-long, if a family member who also suffered the disorder hadn’t finally been diagnosed. Where was it that I found out that persistent fears of having run someone over without realizing it was part of a treatable medical condition? A book, of course.

Several years later, in 2005, I went back to Westlake High School to work as a librarian. I was fresh out of library school and had been newly initiated into the joys of young adult literature. As a teen, I had never read any—Honors courses, you know. One day I noticed on the shelf a novel called Kissing Doorknobs, by Terry Spencer Hesser. While I wouldn’t read it until many years later, I remember reading the back and realizing that OCD (and mental illness in general) was now an acceptable problem to feature in problem novels.

This memory would stick with me over the years as people began to become more aware of mental illness in general. Soon, you could hear “You’re so bipolar!” or “That’s so OCD” called out in casual jest.

By 2010, I was married and wanted a baby. I was a happy, almost-tenured English professor at a community college near my hometown in Ventura County, California. I was a functioning adult. I could certainly manage this disorder better than my teenage self could, and it would certainly be better for my hypothetical baby if I stopped the SSRI that had been helping me for years. It had helped me so much that I didn’t even see a therapist regularly anymore. Despite tapering off the medication gradually, under the care of a psychiatrist, I experienced the notoriously nasty Paxil withdrawal for about six weeks. When the physical symptoms subsided, all my OCD symptoms came rushing back. They plagued me for eighteen miserable months. It felt worse than I remembered, so bad that I made sure not to get pregnant during that time.

A few years after Prozac and therapy had come to the rescue and I had gotten my life back, I realized that I was eligible for sabbatical at my college. Having seen mental illness affect numerous students over the years and still recovering from a recent bout with it myself, I knew almost immediately what the topic of my project would be: young adult fiction of mental illness.

So, in the spring of 2014, contentedly medicated, in therapy, and about six months pregnant, I finally read Kissing Doorknobs. So, I’d like to start my discussion of the OCD-related YA fiction there.

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Published in 1998, Kissing Doorknobs, by Terry Spencer Hesser was the earliest OCD novel I found, and it did have the feel of a problem novel in that problems caused by protagonist Tara’s OCD drove the plot and the right answer at the end of the story was to get help from a professional grown-up. There’s a resource guide at the end of the book so that the teen who recognizes him- or herself in Tara can get help, too.  Despite the didacticism, I enjoyed the novel because the descriptions of OCD symptoms and their consequences were detailed and realistic. For example, Tara becomes so dedicated to her compulsions that she would rather push her friends and family away than interrupt her rituals. Hesser shows how Tara rationalizes her behavior as “for their own good,” as I remember doing. I knew people got frustrated with me, but I convinced myself that performing a compulsion to prevent something bad happening to me or a loved one was more important than that person’s temporary inconvenience or annoyance.

Less relatable was Matt Blackstone’s A Scary Scene from a Scary Movie (2011). On the one hand, main character Rene demonstrates well the domino effect of catastrophic thinking and the inflated sense of responsibility for others that OCD sufferers can have. When you’re convinced that the slightest move can avert a huge crisis, you begin to overestimate the importance of your actions. You might worry that one missed compulsion, something you didn’t do or say will have serious consequences for someone else. My own therapist said that often people with anxiety or OCD are “guardian” personalities. Rene, for example, believes that it’s up to him to stop his English teacher from quitting his job. But while Rene’s thoughts seemed realistic, I thought it was strange that a fourteen-year-old boy would hide in his room wearing a superhero costume. While anxiety or OCD could keep you hiding in your house, I don’t think most sufferers would do so in costume. This seems more of a quirk of Rene in particular than a symptom of OCD.

A male character who I did relate to somewhat was spunky Devon, narrator of Not As Crazy As I Seem, by George Harrar (2003). As someone who is a fan of medication plus therapy as opposed to therapy alone, I loved it when Devon exclaimed, “I should use my mind to control my impulses, but I don’t see how that would work. If I’m not thinking right to begin with, how is thinking going to help me straighten myself out?” (Ch. 6). I have felt the frustration of redirecting my thinking like a good little CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) patient, only to have to use the same technique seconds later when the obsession strikes again. For me, the medication reduces the number of obsessions and reduces the panicked feeling of the obsessions that persist despite medication. In my experience, having fewer symptoms means that when I do get them it’s not so often that I’d be doing thought redirection techniques all day. Devon’s level of insight into his illness isn’t always as high as it might be, though, as he proclaims, “the things I do don’t bother me half as much as they bother other people” (Ch. 10). Devon just wants to be left alone to do his compulsions, a sentiment shared by one of my own loved ones who suffers from OCD. Other people with OCD, however, are very aware that something isn’t right and they yearn for help, like I did. In the end of the novel, we find out that Devon’s OCD was triggered by a trauma. This detail bothered me because often OCD is genetic and not the result of any one horrible incident. For example, OCD seems to run in my family, and my particular case seemed to be triggered by plain old puberty, although I suppose you could argue that puberty is pretty traumatic!

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Another novel that locates the cause of the characters’ OCD in trauma is Corey Ann Haydu’s OCD Love Story (2013). I suppose that for narrative purposes, it’s more interesting and satisfying if we have an answer, a reason why something dreadful has happened. In this novel, the main character’s symptoms start after she witnesses a violent crime. Her boyfriend works out compulsively because when he was younger he wasn’t strong enough to save his younger sister from drowning. But besides the problematic issue of trauma as the cause of the characters’ OCD, I really enjoyed this novel. In this recent novel, Haydu shows just how various the manifestations of OCD can be, and that makes this book notable compared to the others on OCD. Rather than giving OCD to only the protagonist, Haydu places protagonist Bea in an OCD therapy group with teens whose compulsions include washing, working out, picking at skin, and pulling hair. Main character Bea and her love interest, Beck, have different OCD compulsions that carry different levels of stigma, and that becomes an important factor in negotiating the relationship. Haydu depicts the disease and its treatment and the characters who have it as complex. At over three hundred pages, longer than many other YA books, this novel takes the time to explore the gruesome particulars of Bea’s OCD in depth, which makes them feel authentic and not stereotyped. Exposure and response prevention (ERP) and its ups and downs and the characters’ progress as well as setbacks play a significant role in the plot.

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While Haydu mentions the therapy technique of ERP and the medication Zoloft by name and her characters are both aware of their diagnoses and working on their symptoms, a sharply contrasting situation is presented to us by Matt de la Peña in Ball Don’t Lie (2007). Main character Sticky is the child of a prostitute who committed suicide. He then goes through a series of heartbreaking situations in foster care. As is a common problem for low-income people, Sticky’s obsessive-compulsive disorder is never treated. It is never even diagnosed, and because of that, the term OCD is never used in the book. As far as literary endeavors go, I suppose you can’t fall into the problem novel trap if you don’t even name the problem! Furthermore, this book stands out from other YA novels of mental illness in that the protagonist is the most socioeconomically disadvantaged. Also, though he is white, he is completely immersed in the African-American basketball community in urban Los Angeles. As such, he provides the nearest thing to a step toward cultural diversity in young adult novels of mental illness.

Of course, I’ve tried to keep abreast of new novels of OCD that come out. I recently read Tamara Ireland Stone’s Every Last Word (2015), but I won’t go into that since she’s covered quite well and you can hear from the author herself on the Teen Librarian Toolbox #MHYALit hub page. Another neat thing about the hub page is that, through it, I learned of Jackie Lea Sommers’ work and am eager to read Truest (2015), as I’ve never heard of Solipsism Syndrome, which Sommers said co-occurred with the OCD she herself suffered as a teen. I also look forward to the publication of her new novel, scheduled for 2017, about a character whose OCD is undiagnosed because its symptoms, as in the case of the author, didn’t fit the stereotypes of washing and counting. If you know of additional novels of OCD, I’d love to read them! Please recommend them in the Comments or e-mail me at dscrofano@vcccd.edu. For example, I haven’t come across (and so would like to know about) novels in which the person with OCD isn’t the protagonist; are any novels from the point of view of a child of a parent with OCD or the sibling of a person with OCD?

As a result of my research, I’ve determined some good issues to think about when evaluating (for collection development) or discussing novels of OCD with teens:

  • how the symptoms are portrayed (stereotypical and shallow or nuanced and complex),
  • how the cause is portrayed (nature or nurture or both),
  • to what extent does the story read as a problem novel (a thinly disguised self-help guide) versus an organic, well-developed work of literature,
  • what level of awareness, insight, and access to treatment the character has (does the novel follow a symptoms-crisis-treatment narrative arc or does it start or end with the character in an unusual place on their OCD journey),
  • whether that character wants help or not,
  • and how medication and therapy are presented (are chemical or behavioral solutions or both recommended).

Finally, if you haven’t had enough of my reflections and would like to read more, please see my article in the Winter 2015 issue of Young Adult Library Services at http://yalsdigital.ala.org/i/465799-vol-13-no-2-winter-2015/16. I’ve also put together a sortable-by-category Google Spreadsheet of all the mental illness novels I’ve read so that I can continue gathering and sharing the type of information that was covered by my June 2015 VOYA Booklist on the young adult literature of mental illness. The link to the Google spreadsheet is https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1s8lgGe1WreKapj47MZKooZqCpRlR-FOplr0UyrpNUzc/edit#gid=0.

Meet Our Guest Blogger

Diane Scrofano teaches English at Moorpark College in southern California. She holds an MA in English and an MLIS as well as teaching credentials in English and Library Media Services. Prior to her current position, she has worked as a high school English teacher and a high school librarian. This article is drawn from a recently completed sabbatical project on mental illness in young adult fiction and memoir.

Sunday Reflections: Saying Goodbye to My Book Club Minions

sundayreflections1I’m down to the last few days at the library. In a few weeks, we move 90 miles away to just outside of St. Paul. I’ve been ready to move for a long time. A looooong time. But as ready as I am to go, I’m not ready—not even a little bit—to leave behind my library minions.

 

 

APOLLOIn 2010, after a few years of being home with my son, Callum, I decided I was ready to go back to work. I’d been a children’s librarian before staying home, and really wanted to get back into a library. When a position opened up for a media para at the high school closest to my house, I applied. I was thrilled to find out, once I started working, that I got to do pretty much all of the librarian things. I got to order books, create displays, weed books, help teachers, do book talks and library tours, and check books in and out. I was pretty much left alone (my favorite way to work) and loved getting to be around teenagers all day. Before long, word got out that I actually read YA, knew how to recommend books, and that I respected teenagers. At first, it was just a few kids who hung around all the time (shout-out to Naimo, Nimo, D’Shawn, and Ryuda). But before long, my desk with thronged with teenagers hanging out all day. I ended up working at that library for three years. Most of my day was spent with teenagers hanging around and chatting with me, trading book recs, and listening to problems. I loved every minute of it.

 

Then my dad was killed in a car accident. And I spent 11 months as the executor of an incredibly messy, contentious estate. And I was in a constant state of verge-of-nervous-breakdown. I was so grateful for the teenagers distracting me all day long, but the endless work of settling the estate was so much. Too much. And, of course, there was the whole “holy crap, life is fleeting” thing that happens. And while I adored my library minions, that adoration was not enough to keep me at the school I was at. So I quit. I wanted to spend more time with my kid. I didn’t want him to go to daycare every day after school. I didn’t want to come home from work grumbling about the increasing irritations of my workplace. I had gone as long as I could saying to myself, “But I stay at this job for the kids. I’m needed here.” It wasn’t enough anymore.

 

bookclub3I wasn’t entirely abandoning my minions. My second year at the high school, I had worked with some of the public librarians to start a teen advisory board at the downtown library. For a very long time, that board consisted solely of kids from my high school. It grew to include teens and young adults from other area schools, and to include homeschooled kids, and unschooled kids. It was diverse, inspiring, and a great way for me to stay in touch with everyone. Also there was Facebook. And texting. And meeting up for coffee. It wasn’t the same, but it was something.

 

After two years at home, I got antsy to be in a library again. While I was home, I’d certainly kept busy. I wrote for VOYA, SLJ, and The Horn Book. I started working for Teen Librarian Toolbox. I did lots of random freelance stuff, the biggest project of which was writing supplemental curriculum material for a textbook company (sounds boring, but it totally was not). I wrote a novel. And revised it. And revised it again. And once more.

 

BOOKCLUBSo when a long-term sub job opened up at the public library, and that job also involved getting to do all the teen programming, I jumped on it. I liked the people who would be my supervisors, having worked with them on the teen advisory board. I liked the other staff. I loved the library. The added bonus of my job was getting to see so many familiar faces from the high school—kids who were never part of my clubs or boards but had been frequent visitors to me at the high school library. They’d hug me, update me on their lives, remember our little inside jokes. And those minions, my core group? Most were now in college, but they remained loyal TAB and book club members. The best few hours of my month were the ones I got to spend listening to their brilliance.

 

BOOKCLUB2Over the years, I have shared bits and pieces of my teens’ insights here on TLT and on Twitter. If you have missed these posts, I highly suggest checking them out. Those teens have lots of smart things to say. We had a fantastically deep and important discussion about sexual violence in YA literature. We talked about mental health in YA literature. We’ve talked about their likes and dislikes in YA. We talked about school violence. Both Abby and Rose have guest posted for TLT. These kids are all smart and unique and I can’t wait to see what wonderful things everyone goes on to do.

 

 

ANNABOOKCLUB4For 6 years it has been my absolute honor to watch these young adults grow, learn, and lead. I’ve written scholarship letters, college recommendations, served as job references, had them babysit Callum, gone out to endless meals with them, heard relationship woes, offered up advice, and been their friend—and they’ve been mine. We’ve shared laughs, tears, and incredibly deep and personal conversations. I feel so lucky that they’ve let me into their lives and kept me around all these years. Books have given me so many things. They’ve given me not only entertainment and enjoyment, but bigger things. They’ve given me my education, my career, and my husband (there are worse places to meet your partner than working together at a bookstore). Books also gave me these wonderful teenagers. 

 

IMG_8430They have treated me as their friend and confidant and have been more meaningful to me than any part of any job ever has. I’m so, so grateful for all of you, my library minions, and won’t ever forget the impact you’ve had on my life. Saido, Khadija, Amiro, Anna, Abby, Ashleigh, Ryuda, Emada, Ekran, Fadumo, Ashley, Asiya, Amina, Rose, Sequoia—you’ve made me a better person. Thank you for sharing your lives with me. I am immeasurably thankful to have gotten to know you. 

 

#MHYALit Interview with HIGHLY ILLOGICAL BEHAVIOR author John Corey Whaley

The Teen and author John Corey Whaley

The Teen and author John Corey Whaley

Last night The Teen and I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing author John Corey Whaley. His most recent release, Highly Illogical Behavior, is the story of a teenage boy, Solomon, with agoraphobia and the teenage girl, Lisa, who wants to “cure” him so she can write a stellar essay and get herself into a prestigious psychology program. This is hands down one of my favorite reads so far of 2016.

The story came in part from Whaley’s own struggles with anxiety. He is a firm believer in write what you know and in this case he wrote what he was experiencing, though to a much lesser degree, to help him process where he was at and what he was dealing with. Although not agoraphobic himself, Whaley found himself struggling with intense anxiety and some panic attacks and he was increasingly cancelling plans and wanting to “hide from the world”.

Years ago Whaley wanted to write a love story about an agoraphobic boy who fell in love with a girl who hated to be indoors, so this seemed like a good time to revisit parts of that story. Gone was the love story, but the true heart of the story is found within this moving tale of what it’s like to be a teenage boy struggling with mental illness.

The Teen and Mary Hinson with their copies of HIGHLY ILLOGICAL BEHAVIOR

The Teen and Mary Hinson with their copies of HIGHLY ILLOGICAL BEHAVIOR

Solomon is a pop culture enthusiast who lives at home with his mother and father who are trying to let Solomon process his mental health issues in his own way and at his own pace. They are caring parents who are struggling to raise a child dealing with issues that most people can not understand unless they have some real life experience of the issue themselves. As Whaley reminds us all, although the diagnosis may be the same, people’s experience of mental health issues are personal and unique. One person’s experience of anxiety or depression can be very different from another persons. And what helps one person may not help another.

“This is a very personal story of one person’s survival with mental illness. This is not my treatise of mental illness, this is my way of adding one small sentence in the many conversations we are having about mental illness.” – JCW

Although Whaley did do some research, and of course he has his own experiences to draw from, he chose not to delve too deeply into the clinical aspect of mental illness because he wanted this book to be about a person first. It’s an important reminder to us all that a person with a mental illness diagnosis is not their diagnosis, they are a human being that also has a diagnosis that they are trying to deal with.

Author Julie Murphy interviews author John Corey Whaley at the Irving Public Library

Author Julie Murphy interviews author John Corey Whaley at the Irving Public Library

“It ‘s about telling a story that is emotionally nuanced and grounded in reality.” – JCW

The character of Lisa is a truly fascinating character, inspired in part by Track Flick from the book and movie Election. This is Whaley’s first female protagonist and he wanted her to be an exploration of ambition and the nature of ambition, in which I think he fully and interestingly succeeds. Lisa wants desperately to make sure she has a way out of the town and life she is living, and she is able to convince herself that she is helping not only herself but Solomon in the process. Of course most readers will know from the get go that her idea that she can “cure” Solomon is destined for failure; she may be intelligent, driven, passionate and even sincerely motivated, but she is still a high school girl who lacks the knowledge and experience to really counsel and cure a peer struggling with a severe mental health issue. But it is her journey that is often the most interesting part of Highly Illogical Behavior as she begins to realize that she may in face be in way over her head and comes to gain a better understanding of what it is truly like to live with agoraphobia.

“I like the idea of a strong female character driven by ambition but also one that is multi-layered and you find out that her ambition is somewhat justified when you meet her mother. She has deluded herself into thinking it is okay to advantage of Solomon if it ends up helping him in the end. If the end result is him being better, then how can it be a bad thing for him to do?” – JCW

Perhaps the most interesting part of the interview was a discussion about Stark Trek The Next Generation, which plays a pivotal part in this tale. You see, Solomon is quite invested in the show and it becomes an important bonding factor between Lisa’s boyfriend, Clark, and Solomon. Pop culture, Whaley points out, is where many people now bond and find their people. And since Solomon hasn’t left his home in three years, Whaley needed to find things that he could be emotionally invested in.

“That show, the entire series, is about exploring deep space to find out more about humanity; it’s going out to look inward. That’s exactly what Solomon can’t make himself do.” – JCW

I also realized during the course of this interview that this was the first time The Teen had been in a conversation with an openly out adult. Whaley talked about his partner and his partner’s support in both the interview and the book event itself. Whaley also discussed how he wanted Solomon to be gay but for this not to be a coming out story. He wanted Solomon to be a human being who was gay, who struggled with mental illness, and these were just parts of who he is and how he identifies himself. People are just people, not their labels, and our humanity is the one thing we all have in common.

“It’s 2016, there’s no place for shame for being who you are. If being who you are is someone who lives with mental illness and the more people who can expose the personal side of mental illness then the more people who are going to try to understand mental illness on a personal level. And this can change the way more broadly that it is treated and thought about.” – JCW

The entire journey ends in one of the most profound statements I have ever read about mental illness. Lisa does write her admission essay for the psychology program, but it is a very different letter then she thought she was going to write at the beginning of the book. And for me, that letter is everything.

“People with mental illness have to be the one to lead the push in talking about mental illness because we are the only ones who understand it the right way . . . Because we all experience it individually. Look at how big the DSMV is, it speaks to the very case by case, personal nature of mental illness.” – JCW

I actually discussed Highly Illogical Behavior last Friday as I think it is a profoundly important part of the #MHYALit discussion. Although Solomon’s story is about agoraphobia, many of the things that are said about mental illness and how we approach those among us who struggle with mental health issues apply broadly and are quite important and profound.

highlyillogicalbehavior2

While I was there talking with Whaley, I got him to sign a copy of the book which I am going to be giving away today. The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only and will be open until Friday, May 27th. Do the Rafflecopter thingy to enter. Also, I live tweeted his discussion with Julie Murphy and you can read the Storified version of those tweets here.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday Finds: May 20, 2016

fridayfindsThis Week at TLT

Sunday Reflections: The Teen, Me, Genetics and HG (Hyperemesis Gravidarum World Awareness Day)

MakerSpace: Low Tech Tool – The Recycled Paper Bead Maker

Middle School Monday: Saying Goodbye to Middle School

#MHYALit: What You Want to Hear, a guest post by Shari Goldhagen

#MHYALit Book Review: 100 Days of Cake by Shari Goldhagen

Book Review: True Letters from a Fiction Life by Kenneth Logan

#MHYALit: It’s Okay Not to Be Okay, a guest post by author Claire Legrand

Book Review: Draw the Line by Laurent Linn

Enough: A #MHYALIT guest post by Katie H.

Around the Web

Three Cincinnati eighth-graders launch non-profit

What Does It Mean When We Call Women Girls?

An abridged Da Vinci Code implies teens need simple books – they don’t

Protests After Sheriff Calls Drowned Florida Teens ‘Criminal’

Suffolk libraries are pulling teens into engineering with fun challenges

 

 

Enough: A #MHYALIT guest post by Katie H.

TLT is honored to present the following personal essay submission to the #MHYALIT series by Katie, a guest contributor and senior in high school.

MHYALitlogoofficfialOn some days, when I feel inadequate, I write on my wrist in small letters, “enough,” reminding myself that I need not be any different than who I am in that exact moment. On other days, I get lost in the “to-do’s” and “should-be’s,” forgetting entirely that I am an imperfect being. I compare myself to others, trying to measure up to deeply ingrained societal expectations. In this thought, I dismiss the unconditional love and acceptance others have for me.

Upon examination, I realize that these thoughts are rooted in distortion–the distortion that I must meet certain benchmarks to prove my worthiness. Unconditional love is not based on inconsequential standards.

My sister, who scrambles out of the door to class in the morning, wearing her hair in a messy bun; who comes home late at night looking only for something to fill her exhausted body, bent between family and education, is enough.

My father, who works countless hours to provide a home for his family, ensuring that they have a quality of life that was better than his, is enough.

My mother, who raised two girls into adulthood, teaching lessons of compassion and self-expression rather than societal expectations; who traded the bottle for support groups after realizing that her disease had landed her in a place she did not want to be; who rode motorcycles for the thrill and studied flowers everyday; who felt that her mental illness disqualified her from being the mother, the wife, the friend who she was to others, was enough.

enoughI didn’t fully comprehend this concept until the day I rushed home to find my sister’s eyes flooded with tears, and a policeman telling me that my mother had taken her own life. In that moment, I only wanted to hug her and tell her how much she meant to me. When I look back, I realize that every single one of her efforts was enough. From waking up in the morning with heavy eyelids, to sitting silently through meals and celebrations, to lifting only one finger because she had not enough energy for two, she was enough.

Love connected her to a world without standards. The illusion that my mother’s efforts were inadequate stole her from my life. Now, I crave her simple presence. I crave the way that her motherly hugs engulfed me with love. I crave her patience in the way that she willingly listened to my troubles. Though depression took the first person I ever knew, I gained an appreciation for the value of all individuals, including myself. I understand that each and every person navigates the world to the best of their abilities, and I need not compare one life to another.

A book that my sister has read to me several times states, “When a rose and a lotus are held side by side, is one more beautiful than the other?” Each person possesses an individual and unique beauty that connects them to the surrounding universe. In this statement, I remember that there is no one to compare myself to. I have learned to accept struggles, pain and happiness as a part of life.

 

About the author: Katie H. is an 18-year-old from Illinois who has a passion for music and writing. She plans to expand her understanding of human interactions through the study of Neuroscience as a freshman in college in the fall of 2016. She accredits much of her wisdom and strength to her older sister, Sara’s, love and guidance.  

Book Review: Draw the Line by Laurent Linn

Publisher’s description

draw the lineAfter a hate crime occurs in his small Texas town, Adrian Piper must discover his own power, decide how to use it, and know where to draw the line in this stunning debut novel exquisitely illustrated by the author.

Adrian Piper is used to blending into the background. He may be a talented artist, a sci-fi geek, and gay, but at his Texas high school those traits would only bring him the worst kind of attention.

In fact, the only place he feels free to express himself is at his drawing table, crafting a secret world through his own Renaissance-art-inspired superhero, Graphite.

But in real life, when a shocking hate crime flips his world upside down, Adrian must decide what kind of person he wants to be. Maybe it’s time to not be so invisible after all—no matter how dangerous the risk.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

About 3/4 of the way through this book, Adrian says, “I’m not going to let people put me in some stupid category anymore, be a blank canvas for them to put on me whatever they think I am or want me to be. I’m going to show them who I really am.” (Am I the only one who immediately thinks of Cameron’s similar speech in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off? “I’m not going to sit on my ass as the events that affect me unfold to determine the course of my life. I’m going to take a stand. I’m going to defend it. Right or wrong, I’m going to defend it.”) And he does. Adrian spends a lot of the story working himself up to this point where he feels like he has to not only reveal his real self but start standing up for himself and for others.

 

When we first meet Adrian, he’s anonymously publishing an online comic about gay superhero Graphite. He’s gay but not out to anyone but his two best friends, Trent and Audrey. He tries to steer clear of the school bullies, Doug and Buddy, who are constantly spewing homophobic slurs. When he witnesses Doug assault Kobe Saito, the school’s only out gay kid, he’s forced to stop hiding and being anonymous. He isn’t sure what he can possibly do to help, though. Doug’s dad is the sheriff and the cops aren’t interested in what the truth is—clearly Doug was provoked, according to them, and it was self-defense. The administration at school is just as unhelpful. Audrey urges Adrian to speak out about this, make a big deal about what happened, seek out justice. Trent thinks Adrian should just lie low so he doesn’t end up getting beaten unconscious too. Adrian doesn’t know what he can really do—but he’s starting to realize he needs to do something. When he begins dating a classmate (who he never even guessed was gay, much less into him), Adrian starts to feel a little more comfortable in his skin and begins to take his stand. Through his artwork, he sends the message that it’s okay to stand up and speak out. To his surprise, Adrian learns that not everything is as cut and dry as Doug just being a horrible bully. He goes from thinking about revenge to thinking about how villains can turn into heroes, maybe. He continues to use his art to push his message and seek change. Why destroy when you can create?

 

Peppered with pages from Adrian’s comic, this is a powerful story about discovering who you are and standing up for what’s right. The heart of the story centers on a hate crime, but there’s also a lot more going on. There’s a really sweet romance, interesting friendship dynamics, and family issues. Through a local LGBT center and his new boyfriend, Adrian begins to find more of a community and make more friends at school. Well-written and engaging, this is an important addition to all collections. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss 

ISBN-13: 9781481452809

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books

Publication date: 05/17/2016

#MHYALit: It’s Okay Not to Be Okay, a guest post by author Claire Legrand

Some Kind of Happiness is one of those books that grabbed me from the first page and didn’t let go. I was a child with anxiety and Finley Hart is the first time I have ever seen an accurate representation of my mental state in childhood. We desperately need more middle grade stories that deal frankly with mental illness. Kids with anxiety and depression need to see themselves in stories so they can understand what they’re feeling and how to deal with it. Some Kind of Happiness is a special and important book, and it’s going to mean a lot to many, many kids and families. – Ally Watkins

somekindofhappiness

In fifth grade, I had my first anxiety attack.

I don’t remember what prompted me to ask my teacher if I could use the restroom, but I remember huddling in the stall, hunched over on the toilet, as nausea seized my tiny ten-year-old body. My skin broke out in sick chills. I scratched my arms and legs until they were covered in red marks.

My thoughts raced with fear; I could not quiet my brain. I tried going to the bathroom, I tried throwing up. Nothing helped. I simply sat there and endured it until I felt well enough to go back to class.

Part of me was terrified by what had just happened. But I rallied and got through the day, dismissing that scary moment in the bathroom as . . . something. I had no idea what to call it.

I decided I was fine. I was still breathing, still standing.

I was fine. (I wasn’t fine.)

In high school, I was busy. The depressive swings and anxiety attacks that had come and gone through middle school—that I had resolutely ignored—receded. Looking back, I honestly think my high school self sublimated my anxiety and depression into a ferocious, obsessive fixation on grades and achievement. If I couldn’t figure out my algebra homework, I sobbed and shook with panic, and stayed up late agonizing over my failure until I felt sick with exhaustion and self-loathing.

I remember sometimes pinching myself, hard—even slapping my own face—when I failed at a task. I remember feeling how completely my entire worth as a human being was tied up in achievement.

Because those things meant I was okay. That I was fine. That the sluggish middle school phase—those blue days, those spiraling thoughts—had passed. If I was an achiever, then I wasn’t sick or weird or broken.

I was fine. (I wasn’t.)

In college, depression hit me like a fist to the gut. The writing bug bit me and changed my life. I stopped studying music, leaving behind beloved friends and professors to forge a new path in life. I knew I wanted to write books, but beyond that I had no idea what the future held.

It became hard to get out of bed. I stopped taking care of myself. I stayed up all night, hardly slept, and even more rarely made it to class or work on time. I binged on salty, fatty foods one day and then barely ate the next. I got dressed in the dark and avoided mirrors so I wouldn’t have to look at my face or my body, both of which I despised.

Sometimes I would think about the effort required to get through another day and feel my whole self shrink and shrivel. I would retreat into my thoughts, curl up in a fetal position in bed, and not move for hours.

But I was fine. Honestly. (Or not.)

Despite the perpetual tardiness, I still got As in school. I wrote killer essays in my literature classes. I had an apartment, a job, friends. I figured out that I wanted to be a librarian. I got into graduate school.

There was nothing wrong with me. I thought: Doesn’t everyone have days when they can’t get out of bed because the thought of doing so makes their body clench up with fear? Doesn’t everyone low-level hate themselves pretty much all the time?

Sure, I thought. This is normal. This is fine.

(I was so far from fine.)

It took me years to put a name to what was wrong with me. It took me even longer to seek treatment—to see a therapist and finally, only a few months ago, start taking medication to help manage my mental health.

And it took me that long because I kept convincing myself that I was fine. Throughout everything—the panic attacks, the constant anxiety, the crushing depression—I wrote books, kept up with friends, started a serious romantic relationship. I worked out, cracked jokes, called my grandma on her birthday.

These are things, I thought, that normal people do. Therefore, I thought, I am normal.

(I am fine.)

It’s so easy, when someone asks you the question:

“How are you?” asks the sales clerk, the neighbor, the friend.

And you say, “I’m fine.” Society expects it of you. Nobody actually wants to hear what kind of messed-up emotional issues you’re struggling with (so we think). It’s not seemly to be seen on social media opening up about your depression, your anxiety, your self-loathing (so we are told).

And so you convince yourself you’re fine, even when you’re not: “I’m good! Busy, but can’t complain!” (I’ve been on the verge of tears all day.)

And so you craft lies: “My boyfriend’s car died, gotta go pick him up.” (I can’t get out of bed. The thought of doing so makes it hard to breathe.)

Because you can still function, after all. You can still smile and meet your deadlines, you still buy your groceries and make your bed (when you can get out of it). You’re not that sick. You’re not one of those people who really need help. I mean, sure, sometimes you let the dishes pile up because you feel so overwhelmed by literally every thought that runs through your head that all you can do to keep from totally losing it is curl up on the couch and try to hold yourself together.

But isn’t that how it is for everyone? (No. It’s not.)

Shouldn’t I be able to handle this without burdening others with the knowledge of my pain? (You don’t have to do that. You are not a burden to your friends. I promise you.)

In Some Kind of Happiness, Finley feels guilt and shame regarding her own anxiety and depression, which she has not yet named, or even fully acknowledged, because she doesn’t understand that it’s okay to reach out, to ask for help:

                I have no right to my sadness when there are dead families and burned houses.

                The memories of all the sadness I have ever experienced come rushing back to me in a stream. Days when I could nto smile, when I felt heavy and pushed down. nights when I could not sleep. Mornings when I could not wake up.

                These moments of sadness seem so small, now. They seem pathetic.

That was me. I was Finley. I thought that since I was (mostly) fine, then I didn’t have to—and shouldn’t—speak up about what I was feeling. That it was best dealt with on my own. That people would scorn me if I opened up to them, tell me I had no real reason to complain.

That was me, for so long. But no longer.

Lately I’ve been trying more and more to be honest with my friends about what I’m feeling—and not just my safe, core group of friends who understand anxiety and depression because they experience it themselves.

All my friends. My family, too. When I’m not fine, I try to tell them, even when it feels scary or embarrassing. I don’t always find the courage, but I always at least think about it. And when I do open up to them, I don’t couch what I’m feeling in “safe” terms. I want to tell it like it is:

My throat and chest are tight with panic. I’ve barely moved from this chair all day.

I’m moving under the weight of an ocean today. It’s hard to think, hard to focus. My mind is fuzzy and dim.

My thoughts are spiraling faster and faster. They’re all I can hear.

I want them to understand what it feels like, as much as they can without experiencing it themselves. I want them to hear me describe how ugly anxiety and depression feel. I want them to experience discomfort when they hear me speak so frankly—and then I want them to push through that discomfort and come out the other side with a greater understanding of what I and so many other people around them experience on a daily basis.

Honesty paves the way for discussion, and discussion breeds empathy. The more people speak frankly about mental illness, the faster it will become part of the everyday conversation.

When more and more people candidly describe what it feels like to endure a depressive swing, to experience the quiet agony of constant anxiety, social taboos regarding mental health and mental illness crumble and fade.

When someone suffering in silence sees another human being opening up about their own struggles, they feel a little less alone and, maybe, a little more hopeful.

I won’t always talk about my mental health on social media. It’s important to keep certain things between myself, my family, and my close friends.

But sometimes things need to be said and discussions need to happen. Sometimes standing up to speak is the most important thing you can do to make a difference in others’ lives, and I am going to try my best to do that—for myself, and for my readers, especially my kid and teen readers who, like Finley, may not yet understand what they’re feeling. And maybe if they see me speaking frankly about mental illness as part of my everyday experience—right alongside my tweets about unicorns and Tumblr gifs from my favorite TV shows—they’ll find the courage to do the same.

Because sometimes all a person in pain needs to hear is this:

I’m not fine. Not always. I’m afraid to say it, but I’m going to say it anyway: I’m not fine, and it’s okay to say so.

(And it’s okay for you to say so, too.)

About SOME KIND OF HAPPINESS by Claire Legrand

THINGS FINLEY HART DOESN’T WANT TO TALK ABOUT

• Her parents, who are having problems. (But they pretend like they’re not.)
• Being sent to her grandparents’ house for the summer.
• Never having met said grandparents.
• Her blue days—when life feels overwhelming, and it’s hard to keep her head up. (This happens a lot.)

Finley’s only retreat is the Everwood, a forest kingdom that exists in the pages of her notebook. Until she discovers the endless woods behind her grandparents’ house and realizes the Everwood is real–and holds more mysteries than she’d ever imagined, including a family of pirates that she isn’t allowed to talk to, trees covered in ash, and a strange old wizard living in a house made of bones.

With the help of her cousins, Finley sets out on a mission to save the dying Everwood and uncover its secrets. But as the mysteries pile up and the frightening sadness inside her grows, Finley realizes that if she wants to save the Everwood, she’ll first have to save herself.

Reality and fantasy collide in this powerful, heartfelt novel about family, depression, and the power of imagination. (Simon and Schuster, May 17, 2016)

Meet Claire Legrand

Claire Legrand is the author of books for children and teens, including The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, The Year of Shadows, Winterspell, Some Kind of Happiness, and Foxheart. She is also one of the four authors of The Cabinet of Curiosities. When not writing books, she can be found obsessing over DVD commentaries, going on long walks (or trying to go on long runs), and speaking with a poor English accent to random passersby. She thinks musicians and librarians are the loveliest of folks (having been each of those herself) and, while she loves living in central New Jersey, she dearly misses her big, brash, beautiful home state of Texas.

Book Review: True Letters from a Fictional Life by Kenneth Logan

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

 

true lettersGr 9 Up—Seventeen-year-old James reveals his true self only in letters he keeps locked away and never intends to send. As far as everyone knows, popular athlete James is happy with his sort-of girlfriend, Theresa. But James’s letters tell a different story: James is pretty sure he is gay. The only problem is that he is surrounded by people who seem like they might not react well to that news. His friends frequently use homophobic slurs, and his parents say things like they are glad he is “normal,” not like his gay classmate who had his skull cracked recently. James meets Topher, whom he secretly starts dating, and considers coming out to his friends and family. But before he can, someone steals some of his letters and starts the process for him. Logan shines at creating strong, nuanced characters who behave realistically and unpredictably. Despite their tendency to trash-talk and their reliance on horrible slurs, James and his friends have deep, meaningful, complex bonds. The protagonist’s story is about struggling to come to terms with his sexuality. While he knows who he really is, he is uncomfortable with facing this. In a letter to God, James asks him for “a cure for boys who like other boys.” Though readers may be turned off by the near-constant homophobia that permeates the story, Logan’s look at a boy reconciling his private and public selves is well written and affecting. VERDICT: A solid addition to the LGBTQIA+ field.

 

ISBN-13: 9780062380258

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 06/07/2016