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Have Even More Books, By Teen Contributor Riley Jensen

Love in English by Maria E. Andreu

A fresh, compulsively readable novel about finding your voice—and your heart—in any language.

Sixteen-year-old Ana has just moved to New Jersey from Argentina for her Junior year of high school. She’s a poet and a lover of language—except that now, she can barely understand what’s going on around her, let alone find the words to express how she feels in the language she’s expected to speak.

All Ana wants to do is go home—until she meets Harrison, the very cute, very American boy in her math class. And then there’s her new friend Neo, the Greek boy she’s partnered up with in ESL class, who she bonds with over the 80s teen movies they are assigned to watch for class (but later keep watching together for fun), and Altagracia, her artistic and Instagram-fabulous friend, who thankfully is fluent in Spanish and able to help her settle into American high school.

But is it possible that she’s becoming too American—as her father accuses—and what does it mean when her feelings for Harrison and Neo start to change? Ana will spend her year learning that the rules of English may be confounding, but there are no rules when it comes to love.

With playful and poetic breakouts exploring the idiosyncrasies of the English language, Love in English tells a story that is simultaneously charming and romantic, while articulating a deeper story about what it means to become “American.”

Down Comes the Night by Allison Saft

A gorgeously gothic, deeply romantic YA debut fantasy about two enemies trapped inside a crumbling mansion, with no escape from the monsters within.

Honor your oath, destroy your country.

Wren Southerland is the most talented healer in the Queen’s Guard, but her reckless actions have repeatedly put her on thin ice with her superiors. So when a letter arrives from a reclusive lord, asking Wren to come to his estate to cure his servant from a mysterious disease, she seizes the chance to prove herself.

When she arrives at Colwick Hall, Wren realizes that nothing is what it seems. Particularly when she discovers her patient is actually Hal Cavendish, the sworn enemy of her kingdom.

As the snowy mountains make it impossible to leave the estate, Wren and Hal grow closer as they uncover a sinister plot that could destroy everything they hold dear. But choosing love could doom both their kingdoms.

Allison Saft’s Down Comes the Night is a snow-drenched, gothic, romantic fantasy that keeps you racing through the pages long into the night

Yolk by Mary E.K. Choi

Jayne Baek is barely getting by. She shuffles through fashion school, saddled with a deadbeat boyfriend, clout-chasing friends, and a wretched eating disorder that she’s not fully ready to confront. But that’s New York City, right? At least she isn’t in Texas anymore, and is finally living in a city that feels right for her.

On the other hand, her sister June is dazzlingly rich with a high-flying finance job and a massive apartment. Unlike Jayne, June has never struggled a day in her life. Until she’s diagnosed with uterine cancer.

Suddenly, these estranged sisters who have nothing in common are living together. Because sisterly obligations are kind of important when one of you is dying.

When We Were Infinite by Kelly Loy Gilbert

A gorgeously gothic, deeply romantic YA debut fantasy about two enemies trapped inside a crumbling mansion, with no escape from the monsters within.

Honor your oath, destroy your country.

Wren Southerland is the most talented healer in the Queen’s Guard, but her reckless actions have repeatedly put her on thin ice with her superiors. So when a letter arrives from a reclusive lord, asking Wren to come to his estate to cure his servant from a mysterious disease, she seizes the chance to prove herself.

When she arrives at Colwick Hall, Wren realizes that nothing is what it seems. Particularly when she discovers her patient is actually Hal Cavendish, the sworn enemy of her kingdom.

As the snowy mountains make it impossible to leave the estate, Wren and Hal grow closer as they uncover a sinister plot that could destroy everything they hold dear. But choosing love could doom both their kingdoms.

Allison Saft’s Down Comes the Night is a snow-drenched, gothic, romantic fantasy that keeps you racing through the pages long into the night

Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley

Debut author Angeline Boulley crafts a groundbreaking YA thriller about a Native teen who must root out the corruption in her community, for readers of Angie Thomas and Tommy Orange.

As a biracial, unenrolled tribal member and the product of a scandal, eighteen-year-old Daunis Fontaine has never quite fit in, both in her hometown and on the nearby Ojibwe reservation. Daunis dreams of studying medicine, but when her family is struck by tragedy, she puts her future on hold to care for her fragile mother.

The only bright spot is meeting Jamie, the charming new recruit on her brother Levi’s hockey team. Yet even as Daunis falls for Jamie, certain details don’t add up and she senses the dashing hockey star is hiding something. Everything comes to light when Daunis witnesses a shocking murder, thrusting her into the heart of a criminal investigation.

Reluctantly, Daunis agrees to go undercover, but secretly pursues her own investigation, tracking down the criminals with her knowledge of chemistry and traditional medicine. But the deceptions—and deaths—keep piling up and soon the threat strikes too close to home.

Now, Daunis must learn what it means to be a strong Anishinaabe kwe (Ojibwe woman) and how far she’ll go to protect her community, even if it tears apart the only world she’s ever known.

All descriptions come from the publisher

Riley, Teen Reviewer

I am a senior in high school and an avid reader. I have been reviewing books on this blog since 2012. I love musical theatre and listen to show tunes a lot. I also love murder books (both fiction and nonfiction), and want to go to college to be a forensic scientist after high school. Reading is one of my favorite things to do, so I just put that hobby to good use for my mom.

The Death Penalty in YA Lit

I recently listened to the outstanding debut titled This is My America by Kim Johnson on audio. In this moving YA novel, a young girl writes to a local organization every week asking them to help her father who sits on death row knowing that he is innocent. It’s a moving testament to a daughter’s love in a racist system that convicts Black men at rates far more frequently and in ways far more severe then it does white men. It’s moving, timely, relevant and startling real. You will be moved as you read this compelling debut.

As I listened to this book it was announced that Attorney General Bill Barr had ordered the execution of three federal inmates in the coming days. It was a stark juxtaposition and reminder that real life issues often present themselves in timely ways in the literature our young people are reading. But it also got me thinking, what other YA books address the topic of the death penalty? Not just incarceration, but the death penalty.

Told in letters, Bryan Bliss tackled this topic in the 2018 YA book titled We’ll Fly Away. In this moving piece, an inmate on death row tells the story of how exactly it is he landed there. Bliss has a heart for teens and writes from a place of compassion.

In 2017, Lamar Giles tackled the topic in his Las Vegas set YA novel Overturned. In Overturned, teen Nicki Tate’s dad is suddenly freed from death row when new evidence comes to light, but the man who comes back to her is not the same man that went into the prison. What follows is a type of noir mystery that tackled the seedy underbelly of corruption in Las Vegas and explores the lengths that people will go through to keep their darkest secrets.

And I would be remiss to talk about this topic in YA lit without mentioning the masterpiece that is Monster by Walter Dean Myers. Here we meet Steve, an aspiring filmmaker, still a teen, who becomes the main suspect in a robbery gone bad that results in death. Because of the crime, capital punishment is on the table. In a court room drama presented as a movie script, we see the trial through Steve’s eyes as he comes to realize that the world seems him as a monster, and not the boy that he is. This book is being adapted to film and will soon be available on Netflix I believe.

And that’s about it. If you go beyond fiction, you’ll find some startling nonfiction on the topic. Among them is No Choirboy: Murder, Violence and Teenagers on Death Row by Susan Kuklin. I had no idea that just as recently as 2005 the United States was 1 of 8 countries that punished youth under the age of 18 to execution.

There are of course a wide variety of nonfiction titles on this topic for your teen nonfiction collection as it’s a topic covered in a lot of those current controversy series books that kids use for school reports. And it is still a very relevant and timely topic, as the news keeps reminding us. I recommend all of the fiction books recommended in this post to round out your collection and be thoughtful, moving, compassionate companions to those thinking about this topic.

Publisher’s Book Description for This is My America by Kim Johnson

ear Martin meets Just Mercy in this unflinching yet uplifting YA novel that explores the racist injustices in the American justice system.

Every week, seventeen-year-old Tracy Beaumont writes letters to Innocence X, asking the organization to help her father, an innocent Black man on death row. After seven years, Tracy is running out of time—her dad has only 267 days left. Then the unthinkable happens. The police arrive in the night, and Tracy’s older brother, Jamal, goes from being a bright, promising track star to a “thug” on the run, accused of killing a white girl. Determined to save her brother, Tracy investigates what really happened between Jamal and Angela down at the Pike. But will Tracy and her family survive the uncovering of the skeletons of their Texas town’s racist history that still haunt the present?

Fans of Nic Stone and Jason Reynolds won’t want to miss this provocative and gripping debut.

Publisher’s Description for We’ll Fly Away by Bryan Bliss

Uniquely told through letters from death row and third-person narrative, Bryan Bliss’s hard-hitting third novel expertly unravels the string of events that landed a teenager in jail. Luke feels like he’s been looking after Toby his entire life. He patches Toby up when Toby’s father, a drunk and a petty criminal, beats on him, he gives him a place to stay, and he diffuses the situation at school when wise-cracking Toby inevitably gets into fights. Someday, Luke and Toby will leave this small town, riding the tails of Luke’s wrestling scholarship, and never look back.

But during their senior year, they begin to drift apart. Luke is dealing with his unreliable mother and her new boyfriend. And Toby unwittingly begins to get drawn into his father’s world, and falls for an older woman. All their long-held dreams seem to be unraveling. Tense and emotional, this heartbreaking novel explores family, abuse, sex, love, friendship, and the lengths a person will go to protect the people they love. For fans of NPR’s Serial podcast, Jason Reynolds, and Matt de la Peña.

Overturned by Lamar Giles

Nikki Tate is infamous, even by Las Vegas standards. Her dad is sitting on death row, convicted of killing his best friend in a gambling dispute turned ugly. And for five years, he’s maintained his innocence. But Nikki wants no part of that. She’s been working on Operation Escape Vegas: playing in illegal card games so she can save up enough money to get out come graduation day.

Then her dad’s murder conviction is overturned. The new evidence seems to come out of nowhere and Nikki’s life becomes a mess when he’s released from prison. Because the dad who comes home is not the dad she remembers. And he’s desperately obsessed with finding out who framed him—and why.

As her dad digs into the seedy underbelly of Vegas, the past threatens everything and Nikki is drawn into his deadly hunt for the truth. But in the city of sin, some sinners will do anything to keep their secrets, and Nikki soon finds herself playing for the biggest gamble ever—her life.

Publisher’s Description of Monster by Walter Dean Myers

Sometimes I feel like I have walked into the middle of a movie. Maybe I can make my own movie. The film will be the story of my life. No, not my life, but of this experience. I’ll call it what the lady who is the prosecutor called me. Monster.

Fade In: Interior Court. A guard sits at a desk behind Steve. Kathy O’Brien, Steve’s lawyer, is all business as she talks to Steve.

O’Brien
Let me make sure you understand what’s going on. Both you and this king character are on trial for felony murder. Felony Murder is as serious as it gets. . . . When you’re in court, you sit there and pay attetion. You let the jury know that you think the case is a serious as they do. . . .

Steve
You think we’re going to win ?

O’Brien (seriously)
It probably depends on what you mean by “win.”


Sixteen-year-old Steve Harmon is on trial for murder. A Harlem drugstore owner was shot and killed in his store, and the word is that Steve served as the lookout.

Guilty or innocent, Steve becomes a pawn in the hands of “the system,” cluttered with cynical authority figures and unscrupulous inmates, who will turn in anyone to shorten their own sentences. For the first time, Steve is forced to think about who he is as he faces prison, where he may spend all the tomorrows of his life.

As a way of coping with the horrific events that entangle him, Steve, an amateur filmmaker, decides to transcribe his trial into a script, just like in the movies. He writes it all down, scene by scene, the story of how his whole life was turned around in an instant. But despite his efforts, reality is blurred and his vision obscured until he can no longer tell who he is or what is the truth. This compelling novel is Walter Dean Myers’s writing at its best.

Sunday Reflections: We Promised Them Democracy

It is now 19 days since the 2020 presidential election here in the United States of America. For many teens, this was their first chance to vote, and vote they did. By November 1st, more than 10 million youth in Gen Z and Millenials had already voted. And those youth voted overwhelmingly for Joe Biden (with a few exceptions among key demographic groups like white men and women).

And although there is a lot to be discussed about this data, it’s what happens next that I want to talk about. You see, I am a person who told teens everywhere that they should vote and that their vote was their voice and it mattered because we are a democracy and that is part of what makes America, well, America. But there are a lot of people working hard to discount their votes and make people like me into liars.

Here we are 19 days later and there have been 33 court cases attempting to throw out a lot of people’s votes. In particular, the incumbent president and his party seem to be attempting to throw out the vote in areas that voted specifically in high numbers for Joe Biden. He is trying to nullify the votes of over 10 million young voters because they weren’t for him.

But it’s not just our youth, our Black citizens are having their votes challenged and cast aside as well. In Michigan, the incumbent president is seeking to throw out the vote because of the city of Detroit, which has an overwhelmingly Black population. He is also challenging specifically two counties in Wisconsin and those counties are, as you probably can figure, overwhelmingly Black as well. Racism is alive and well in America, as we have seen in the rising rates of violent hate crimes in the United States over the last four years. Racism and white nationalism have gotten so bad that the American Medical Association has declared it a public health crisis.

It’s 19 days later and we’ve seen the incumbent president call up representatives in Michigan and invite them to the White House to discuss the Michigan vote. Pictures circulated online of these representatives downing expensive champagne at the Trump Hotel. Michigan is now requesting to delay certifying their vote by 2 weeks. It turns out that the will of the Michigan voters, especially the Black voters, may be thrown out and the Michigan GOP is willing to let democracy burn while they hold the match in one hand and a glass of champagne in the other.

Meanwhile over in Georgia the hard work of grassroots organizers like Stacey Abrahms meant that Georgia voted Blue for the first time in decades. Republican leaders in Georgia accused Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of trying to ask them to throw out votes. It’s important to note that these are Republicans, strongly in favor of Trump, who appear to be standing up for democracy. But as I write this protests are happening and a third recount has been asked for. This recount will come, once, again, at the expense of Georgia tax payers who like the rest of America are struggling financially in the midst of a deadly global pandemic. As I write this, more than 250,000 Americans have died and others will face life long health complications we are just starting to learn about.

In Pennsylvania, there is an attempt to throw out ballots and challenge them there as well. The case was dismissed by the judge as having no evidence. As I write this there is discussion that the incumbent president and his team will take this challenge all the way to the Supreme Court. So if this happens then the fate of democracy will be left in the hands of 9 people, 3 of whom were appointed by the incumbent president in the past 4 years. One of whom was appointed just weeks before the presidential election despite the fact that the Senate wouldn’t even consider a Supreme Court judge 8 months before the 2016 election because it was “improper”. So the fate of democracy rests in the hands of 9 people.

9 people may ultimately get to decide who will be the president of the united states moving forward in 2021. There are 331 million people living in the United States.

All of this is playing out very publicly. The incumbent president keeps tweeting about it. New media and social media platforms have risen up to share these claims of rampant voter fraud that have not been proved by any evidence whatsoever. And a generation of teens born and raised with devices in their hands can see it all happening in real time.

And our teens can see it all happening. And they are dismayed. They feel betrayed by people like you and I who told them that democracy mattered. And they are struggling mental health wise with the dual issues of living in a deadly global pandemic and being a part of one of the most contentious elections in my lifetime. They look at us and think, you sold me a bill of goods and it has broken me. And I’m not sure they are going to trust us, the adults in the room, for a very long time.

I’ve been carrying around my own anxiety about this election and what looks like the demise of democracy and an overthrow of the will of the people. But what really haunts me late at night is the look of betrayal and terror I see in the teens that I told to go out and vote because their vote was their voice and that their voice mattered. Whichever candidate those teens voted for, the adults in the room are making it hard for them to trust the process with the way they are handling the outcome. And if no one trusts the process, in which members of both parties and outside observers have called one of the most secure elections in our country’s history, then how does democracy continue.

I’m especially angry and heartbroken to see our country and those in charge of it sending yet another message to our teens of color, our Black teens in particular, that their voice doesn’t matter and their votes shouldn’t count. Racism is alive and well in America and it is indeed a public health crisis.

We promised each generation of kids a democracy, I hope we will honor our promise. I can’t imagine what will happen if we don’t to entire generations of our youngest and most vulnerable youth. We shouldn’t be willing to sacrifice our democracy or our youth so that a few key players can maintain wealth and power. In the end, nobody will win.

Cindy Crushes Programming: How to Make a Digital Escape Room, by Teen Librarian Cindy Shutts

At my library we have found one of the easiest ways to attract people to  programs is by creating a virtual escape room. They can be used any time of day and are fun to make. I like doing them with different fandoms. I have created two that are published so far one about Animal Crossing and one about Camp Half-Blood (Percy Jackson). My co-worker Faith Healy created two as well. She created an original haunted house one that has been used almost 200 times. She also just released a Mandorlian one in honor of the new season.

Start the Animal Crossing Escape Room

Start the Camp Half Blood Escape Room

Start the Haunted House Escape Room

Start the Mandalorian Escape Room

  1. Pick your theme and Do Research: Right now I am editing my Hunger Games escape room that is going to be released at the library next week. I rewatched the movies to prepare to write it. I also did research while writing it. I have different terrains. So I loved information about the terrains that could be useful. I learned about swamp gas and used it as a deadly way to kill the players.
  2. Write the Story: I used a Google document to write it out. I wrote the escape room essentially as a choose your own adventure story. Having the Google document makes it easier to break everything into sections which makes it easier to transfer the information onto a Google form on which the escape room is formatted and released on. Do not make too many choices in your questions. You might think  it will be fun to have lots of choices but really it makes everything more confusing. Faith and I found out you want to try to keep it under eighty sections in the end because it takes a long time to load if it is overloaded. My Animal Crossing one was 18 pages and now my Hunger Games one is 31. It was easier for the Animal Crossing one to load everything. I recommend you use your strengths writing if you are someone who likes outlines then use and outline. I am someone who finds the paths along the way when writing. I do not know what is going to happen when i write which is a surprise to me. I think escape rooms work well if you have experience writing fan-fiction.
  3. Edit the Story: You need to edit the story. I recommend waiting a couple days before editing so your eyes are fresh. Then have your co-workers help edit. I have one of the children’s librarians, Terri Purcell help me edit everything. She is always able to help me make projects better. I also have the other teen librarians help me.  I know not everyone has other teen librarians but I think children’s librarians are super awesome to help. Also the circulation staff can be a great help.
  4. Create the Google Form: I copy and paste everything in a Google form. I make sure all the questions are multiple choice and also go on  to the section based on the answer. Here is a very useful video on how to use the google form. Make sure that all the endings you have a submit button that way you can keep track of your numbers for statistics. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xLzbPGF4TzY
  5. Having Someone Test it: You will need your staff to help test the escape room. You have to make sure all the answers to the questions are connected to the right answers. This makes the game playable. I also check to see if after they have used it it submit and logs their choices properly.
  6. Release: We have release dates. We put them on all of our social media pages and I shared them to facebook groups and also the schools. 

Cindy Shutts, MLIS

Cindy is passionate about teen services. She loves dogs, pro-wrestling, Fairy tales, mythology, and of course reading. Her favorite books are The Hate U Give, Catching Fire, The Royals, and everything by Cindy Pon. She loves spending times with her dog Harry Winston and her niece and nephew. Cindy Shutts is the Teen Services Librarian at the White Oak Library District in IL and she’ll be joining us to talk about teen programming. You can follow her on Twitter at @cindysku.

Book Review: The Project by Courtney Summers

Publisher’s Book Description:

“The Unity Project saved my life.”

Lo Denham is used to being on her own. After her parents died, Lo’s sister, Bea, joined The Unity Project, leaving Lo in the care of their great aunt. Thanks to its extensive charitable work and community outreach, The Unity Project has won the hearts and minds of most in the Upstate New York region, but Lo knows there’s more to the group than meets the eye. She’s spent the last six years of her life trying–and failing–to prove it.

“The Unity Project murdered my son.”

When a man shows up at the magazine Lo works for claiming The Unity Project killed his son, Lo sees the perfect opportunity to expose the group and reunite with Bea once and for all. When her investigation puts her in the direct path of its charismatic and mysterious leader, Lev Warren, he proposes a deal: if she can prove the worst of her suspicions about The Unity Project, she may expose them. If she can’t, she must finally leave them alone.

But as Lo delves deeper into The Project, the lives of its members, and spends more time with Lev, it upends everything she thought she knew about her sister, herself, cults, and the world around her–to the point she can no longer tell what’s real or true. Lo never thought she could afford to believe in Lev Warren . . . but now she doesn’t know if she can afford not to.

Welcome to The Unity Project.

The next pulls-no-punches thriller from New York Times bestselling and Edgar Award-winning author Courtney Summers, about an aspiring young journalist determined to save her sister from a cult.

Karen’s Thoughts:

Let’s start with I love all things Courtney Summers and this book does not disappoint. Courtney Summers dives deep into the female psyche and explores the complex nature of growing up in a patriarchal society that puts young girls at risk in a variety of ways. She also does a great job of looking at the complex mental and emotional states of young people, which is why her books resonate with readers of all ages.

The Project does all of things and looks specifically at the idea of a cult, making it one of the timeliest books to come out in 2021. At the risk of alienating some readers I feel like this book really captures the zeitgeist of the current political landscape that we have just seen play out in the 2020 election where there has often been a very real dismissal of provable facts that has come at a great harm to a lot of people, including 250,000 Americans dead from a deadly global pandemic. So this deep dive into the psyche and what makes someone fall into a cult is perhaps the most necessary reading of our time.

Another thing Summers does well is to present us as readers with a complex female character that is realistic. What I mean is, she’s not always likable or perfect in any way, which is true of every one of us. Lo’s journey is complicated and she is a rich, rewarding character that takes a journey through a life many of us could never imagine. There is a tremendous burden placed on Lo because of other people’s external expectations and part of what motivates her is trying to fill shoes she never asked to have to wear. That, more than anything, will resonate with teens who are trying to figure out how to become more fully themselves while living with the expectations of others.

Perhaps the most unpopular I would share about this book is that I don’t think it should technically be classified as Young Adult (YA), as it fits more solidly into what should be the New Adult (NA) category had that ever taken off the way that it should have. None of the characters in this book are in high school, they are all at or over the age of 19, and they live independently, though not necessarily successfully. Having said that, I think that teens will in fact read it, just as teens have always read adult books. In the truest sense of the word this is a crossover novel as it will appeal to a wide age of readers.

This is a moving portrait of loss, self discovery, and sisters trying to find their way back to one another. It’s a passionate exploration of how the mind works and how others can manipulate it for their cause. It’s suspenseful, rich and illuminating.

The Project releases February 2021 from Wednesday Books and it is highly recommended.

Have Some Senior Year Stress, By Teen Contributor Riley Jensen

So, you know how everyone is always saying that your senior year is the “easy” year? They lied. I thought my junior year was bad for my mental health, but I was not prepared for whatever this year is.

First of all, why did nobody teach me how to apply for college? There’s no “what you need for college applications” class that’s offered. There’s like 17 different forms I have to fill out for each college application and I know how to fill out maybe 2 of them. I didn’t know this was going to be a game of “I wonder if they’ll think I’m committing fraud right now.”

Also, my teachers have definitely acknowledged that I’m filling out college applications, but they still give me more things to do over the weekend. So, I’m supposed to write a persuasive essay, annotate a book, take a test, and fill out a college application all in one weekend. That’s not stressful at all. I am so glad that I have all the time I need to put all of my effort into the applications that will determine the course of my life.

While we’re on the topic of college applications, I want to know who decided to make these college websites have 14 different links for the same application. First, you have to fill out the general information about yourself. Then you have to go to another tab to fill out your self-reported academic record. Then you have to go to another tab to submit your essay. Then you have to go to another tab to fill out the form for your actual major. Finally, you think you’re done, but you’re wrong. Once you get admitted you have to go to yet another tab to say that you’ll be attending that college. And there’s still more because you have to figure out housing, tuition, meal plans, and course information.

So, in conclusion, I have no time to fill out all of these forms that I really don’t even know where to find or how to fill out. At this point I’m just waiting for the email that says “sorry, but we will not be accepting you to this college because you forget to fill out the form telling us when your dog’s birthday is.”

Thankfully, I do have access to people who can help me with this whole process, but there are kids who don’t. They don’t have anyone giving them the information they need to write a good essay or telling them how to get a formal transcript. We need to help those who don’t have all of these resources, so when they’re ready to take the step towards college they’ll get in.

Riley, Teen Reviewer

I am a senior in high school and an avid reader. I have been reviewing books on this blog since 2012. I love musical theatre and listen to show tunes a lot. I also love murder books (both fiction and nonfiction), and want to go to college to be a forensic scientist after high school.

Sunday Reflections: On Watching TV as a Woman

Please note, this post will discuss sexual assault and violence. It will also share spoilers for The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix and The Maze Runner movie

** TRIGGER WARNINGS: SEXUAL ASSAULT**

This past few weeks, the girls and I were watching The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix. For those of you who may not know about this series, it’s based on a book and it is set in the 1950s and 1960s. It’s about a young orphan girl who turns out to be a chess prodigy. It’s a remarkably good series in a lot of ways. I recommend it. But that’s not what I want to talk about today.

Early in the series, the main character, Beth Harmon, is sent to live in an orphanage. At one point she is asked to go to a basement to clean the erasers – which those of us old enough to remember will recall means hitting them together to expel the chalk dust. In the basement there sits a man playing a game of chess.

I almost stopped watching the series in this moment because my anxiety went off the chart because I knew, this man was going to sexually assault this little girl. And in a lot of movies or tv shows, and sadly in a lot of real life, that is 100% what would have happened. Thankfully, that is not what happens here. In fact after several visits to the basement, in which this man never assaults her, he finally relents and teaches her to play chess. He soon realizes that she is gifted and he becomes her champion.

I’ve thought a lot in the last few weeks about the anxiety I felt while watching this show. It is not the first time I have felt it.

When I watched the movie The Maze Runner, based on the books by James Dashner (and I had not read the books before watching the movie), I had a similar experience. The Mr. and I went to watch this movie and I remember distinctly the moment the lone female character is introduced to an environment where there are nothing but boys and immediately wanting to leave. I looked at my husband and said, “we have to go, they’re going to rape her.” I was wrong, but we talked a lot after this movie about what it is like as a woman to watch a movie like this. Even my husband, an arguably great man, admitted that he sadly felt that wasn’t realistic because in that scenario with those numbers, someone would have eventually assaulted her.

I’ve thought a lot about what it means to be a woman engaging with various forms of media, because it’s complicated.

Sexual assault, sexual harassment and rape are often used too casually for a lot of media. It sometimes feels like a lot of mystery and crime shows center this type of crime. And a lot of books, tv and movies use this as a female back story. As if the only way you can give a girl a backstory is to have her have been traumatized sexually. And I’ll be honest, I often resent it.

The flip side is that the reality is that far too many of us have indeed been somehow been traumatized sexually. Depending on what statistics you use, that number can be as high as every 1 in 4 of us. That’s 25% of the female population. And that doesn’t take into account things like being non-traditionally gendered, non binary, or transgender. It also doesn’t take into account things like casual catcalling, sexual harassment at work, etc. When we really start talking to our friends I find that I am hard pressed to find a female friend who hasn’t experienced some type of unwanted sexual attention, harassment or violence.

It’s true, as I have shared here, that I am a survivor of sexual assault. So I am sure that this influences the way that I perceive these situations when I sit down to watch television or a movie. But it’s also true that there are a whole lot of us out there who have experienced the same. When someone recently asked me about The Queen’s Gambit one of the things that I mentioned was how many times I thought the main character was going to be assaulted and then she wasn’t, and several other women in the replies said that they had felt the same and were pleasantly surprised.

So that’s where we are at in 2020. You have entire generations of women who experience this type of anxiety while watching a television show and being pleasantly surprised because for once, the young girl who is the main character wasn’t sexually assaulted. That’s what generations of unchecked and unpunished sexual assault have done to us. And quite frankly, I feel like it’s a pretty sad commentary about the state of our world and our media.

The Book for Our Times: True or False: A CIA Analyst’s Guide to Spotting Fake News by Cindy L. Otis

On Monday, you saw that TLT announced that it’s 2021 focus project will be #FactsMatter, a deep dive into nonfiction and information literacy. Earlier this year, I bought this book which seems like the book of our times. We hear a lot about “Fake News”, so this book is timely and so very needed.

A CIA Analyst’s Guide to Spotting Fake News

by Cindy L. Otis

Publisher’s Book Description

“If I could pick one book to hand to every teen—and adult—on earth, this is the one. True or False is accessible, thorough, and searingly honest, and we desperately needed it.” —Becky Albertalli, author of Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

A former CIA analyst unveils the true history of fake news and gives readers tips on how to avoid falling victim to it in this highly designed informative YA nonfiction title.

“Fake news” is a term you’ve probably heard a lot in the last few years, but it’s not a new phenomenon. From the ancient Egyptians to the French Revolution to Jack the Ripper and the founding fathers, fake news has been around as long as human civilization. But that doesn’t mean that we should just give up on the idea of finding the truth.

In True or False, former CIA analyst Cindy Otis will take readers through the history and impact of misinformation over the centuries, sharing stories from the past and insights that readers today can gain from them. Then, she shares lessons learned in over a decade working for the CIA, including actionable tips on how to spot fake news, how to make sense of the information we receive each day, and, perhaps most importantly, how to understand and see past our own information biases, so that we can think critically about important issues and put events happening around us into context.

True or False includes a wealth of photo illustrations, informative inserts, and sidebars containing interesting facts and trivia sure to engage readers in critical thinking and analysis.

Brief Thoughts

This book received Starred Reviews from Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal and is highly recommended for all YA and High School collections. It was also recommended by several people on Twitter today when I asked about books to beef up a library collection on information and digital literacy. It’s tone, mixture of graphics and text and insight are all greatly valuable and readable.

Morgan’s Mumbles: Journal Prompts for Teens and the People who Serve Them, by Teen Contributor Morgan Randall

I know right now is really stressful for a lot of us, and I think journaling helps a lot. Below I have compiled 31 journal prompts (I know this is a little late for all of November but pick and choose a journal prompt for each day to complete your month with) I really like and I think are really helpful to reflect on:

  1. How can you make sure to fill your cup, before you begin to give yourself before others?
  2. List 20 things that make you smile.
  3. List three things you would do if you weren’t afraid.
  4. Write about something you forgive yourself for.
  5. What does your ideal look like?
  6. Pretend money isn’t an object, what would you do?
  7. What made you happy today?
  8. What is your favorite thing to do to treat yourself?
  9. What traits do you admire in someone? (What about yourself?)
  10. Where do you want to be in the next year? (five years? Ten years?)
  11. Who are the people you miss the most?
  12. What compliment do you want the most? (Give it to yourself, genuinely sometime soon!)
  13. What are three things you are grateful for today?
  14. What’s one thing you would like to do more of?
  15. What bothered you today? (Have a brain dump of everything that is irritating you, if you feel comfortable when you finish this rip out the page, tear it up, burn it, dissolve it in water, or find another way to destroy it)
  16. Write an encouraging letter to your younger self.
  17. Who is your biggest hero and why?
  18. What do you often dream about? (Develop on why you dream about this)
  19. Use 10 words to describe yourself.
  20. What does your self-care routine look like? (if you don’t have one make your ideal one!)
  21. Make a 15 song playlist that describes how you feel.
  22. What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
  23. What goals are you working towards right now?
  24. Write about a place where you feel safe.
  25. Describe the outfit you feel the most confident in.
  26. Write out ten positive affirmations. (Begin to use these every day when you wake up!)
  27. Write yourself a thank you letter.
  28. What do you see in others (or others’ lives) that you want? Why do you want it?
  29. Identify your negative self-talk. What are the doubts you plant in your own mind?
  30. If you could give everyone one piece of advice, what would it be?
  31. Am I showing up fully as myself without any masks? (If not, what masks are you wearing?)

Morgan RandallTeen Contributor

Morgan recently graduated high school and is currently enrolled to attend college in the fall getting her BA in Theatre and Dance with an emphasis on Design and Technology. She loves theatre, writing, reading, and learning. But something that has always been important to her is being a voice for those who feel like they don’t have one, and being a catalyst for change in any way possible.

Have Some 2021 Books, by Teen Contributor Riley Jensen

We are nearing the end of 2020, thank goodness. As we approach the end of this eventful year, I think we should look at what’s to come. So, obviously, this means we should look at books!

Love is a Revolution by Renee Watson

When Nala Robertson reluctantly agrees to attend an open mic night for her cousin-sister-friend Imani’s birthday, she finds herself falling in instant love with Tye Brown, the MC. He’s perfect, except . . . Tye is an activist and is spending the summer putting on events for the community when Nala would rather watch movies and try out the new seasonal flavors at the local creamery. In order to impress Tye, Nala tells a few tiny lies to have enough in common with him. As they spend more time together, sharing more of themselves, some of those lies get harder to keep up. As Nala falls deeper into keeping up her lies and into love, she’ll learn all the ways love is hard, and how self-love is revolutionary.

Coming February 2, 2021 from Bloomsbury

Every Single Lie by Rachel Vincent

Nobody in Beckett’s life seems to be telling the whole story. Her boyfriend Jake keeps hiding texts and might be cheating on her. Her father lied about losing his job before his shocking death. And everyone in school seems to be whispering about her and her family behind her back.

But none of that compares to the day Beckett finds the body of a newborn baby in a gym bag-Jake’s gym bag -on the floor of her high school locker room. As word leaks out, rumors that Beckett’s the mother take off like wildfire in a town all too ready to believe the worst of her. And as the police investigation unfolds, she discovers that everyone has a secret to hide and the truth could alter everything she thought she knew.

Coming January 12, 2021 from Bloomsbury

Game Changer by Neal Shusterman

All it takes is one hit on the football field, and suddenly Ash’s life doesn’t look quite the way he remembers it.

Impossible though it seems, he’s been hit into another dimension—and keeps on falling into universes that are almost-but-not-really his own, each one stranger than the last.

And if he isn’t careful, the world he’s learning to see more clearly could blink out of existence…

Coming February 2021 from Quill Tree Books

As Far as You’ll Take Me by Phil Stamper

Marty arrives in London with nothing but his oboe and some savings from his summer job, but he’s excited to start his new life–where he’s no longer the closeted, shy kid who slips under the radar and is free to explore his sexuality without his parents’ disapproval.

From the outside, Marty’s life looks like a perfect fantasy: in the span of a few weeks, he’s made new friends, he’s getting closer with his first ever boyfriend, and he’s even traveling around Europe. But Marty knows he can’t keep up the facade. He hasn’t spoken to his parents since he arrived, he’s tearing through his meager savings, his homesickness and anxiety are getting worse and worse, and he hasn’t even come close to landing the job of his dreams. Will Marty be able to find a place that feels like home?

Coming February 9, 2021 from Bloomsbury

Amelia Unabridged by Ashley Schumacher

Eighteen-year-old Amelia Griffin is obsessed with the famous Orman Chronicles, written by the young and reclusive prodigy N. E. Endsley. They’re the books that brought her and her best friend Jenna together after Amelia’s father left and her family imploded. So when Amelia and Jenna get the opportunity to attend a book festival with Endsley in attendance, Amelia is ecstatic. It’s the perfect way to start off their last summer before college.

In a heartbeat, everything goes horribly wrong. When Jenna gets a chance to meet the author and Amelia doesn’t, the two have a blowout fight like they’ve never experienced. And before Amelia has a chance to mend things, Jenna is killed in a freak car accident. Grief-stricken, and without her best friend to guide her, Amelia questions everything she had planned for the future.

When a mysterious, rare edition of the Orman Chronicles arrives, Amelia is convinced that it somehow came from Jenna. Tracking the book to an obscure but enchanting bookstore in Michigan, Amelia is shocked to find herself face-to-face with the enigmatic and handsome N. E. Endsley himself, the reason for Amelia’s and Jenna’s fight and perhaps the clue to what Jenna wanted to tell her all along.

Coming February 2021 from Wednesday Books

Riley, Teen Reviewer

I am a senior in high school and an avid reader. I have been reviewing books on this blog since 2012. I love musical theatre and listen to show tunes a lot. I also love murder books (both fiction and nonfiction), and want to go to college to be a forensic scientist after high school. Reading is one of my favorite things to do, so I just put that hobby to good use for my mom.