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Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Trickle Down Economics May Not Work, But Trickled Down Hate Surely Does

text2Today is the last day of school and two teenage girls are sitting in my living room waiting to go to Six Flags. We’re skipping school on the last day of what has arguably been the worst year of school in their lives. You see this year, their school has been plagued by incredibly high amounts of sexual harassment, sexual violence and good old fashioned violence. This was not the case last year. This year seems, somehow, different.

In January of this year, my daughter began texting me from school, “Mom, I don’t feel safe.” All in all, she’s told me a couple of times a month in the last 5 months that she no longer feels safe at school.

On Monday, a mom reported in an online FB group that WHILE IN CLASS two boys held her daughter down on the floor and touched her inappropriately. Another boy tried to video tape it. Apparently no one in that classroom, including, the teacher, tried to stop it.

Last week, in this same FB group, it was reported a “prison brawl” had broken out in the cafeteria. It apparently started because one boy told another boy that she should be a slave.

We are apparently up to about a fight a day. And girls are not safe in the school hallways and classroom. Boys taunt them, ask them to suck their dicks, send them pics, or they just reach out and touch them because they think that they can.

This is a small, conservative town. It’s one of those safe, middle class suburban bedroom communities that advertises in Pleasantville like billboards to attract new taxpaying homeowners. The highly rated school systems is one of its major appeals. Along with the green spaces and walking path and splash pad. It is, or at least it was, the American Dream personified.

This is the same school my daughter went to last year. The same kids. But new and worse problems. Something has changed. It’s true, one of those things that has changed this year has been the school principal, and I definitely think that is part of the problem. But I also think one of the things that has changed is our culture. Things that were once hidden are now more out in the open. Hate, racism, sexism . . . they have been on full display of late and I can’t help but look at what is happening at my daughter’s school and think it’s trickle down hatred.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that these things have always existed in our schools. I have worked with teens for 22 years and I have sat in many a room and talked with many a teen and heard about the latest fight or heard them talk about how “boys will be boys”. But somehow, this year has seemed different. Perhaps it’s because I have known these kids since the 3rd grade and have seen a sharp and dramatic change in such a short amount of time. Perhaps it’s because this is my kid, my daughter. But mostly it’s because last year she never told me once that she didn’t feel safe at school.

That’s a powerful statement. “I don’t feel safe at school.” As a mother, your alarm bells will ring and your mama bear claws will come out. As someone who has dedicated their life to working with teens, I see something new and different happening to and in my teens and I despair. I fear that we are poisoning our teens with our hate. It seeping into them and coming out in ways that has intensified everything. Yes, teens have always fought, but are they fighting more? Yes, sexual violence has always been a problem in our schools, but has it gotten worse? Anecdotally I can say that for my daughter in this school, the answer is yes. I wonder if it’s true nationwide, worldwide?

Racism is taught. Kids are not born racist, they are taught it by their parents, their peers, their culture.

Sexism is taught. Kids are not born sexist, they are taught it by their parents, their peers, their culture.

Hatred. Anger. Fear. Selfishness. Greed. Violence. Power. All these negative traits, the very worst of who we are, are rising to the surface in ways that need to be addressed culturally if we love and want to save our children.

This year is over for us now and I will breath a maternal sigh of release. For a few months, there won’t be anymore texts saying mom there is blood on the floor and I don’t feel safe, please come pick me up. For a few months, we get a reprieve. But what happens next year?

As a mom, as someone who loves and works with teens, I implore you. I implore us all. Maybe we should take a moment to reflect on what’s happening in the world around us and how it is affecting our kids. Because I’m scared at what I am seeing and hearing.

Maker Spaces and Books: It’s Not Either Or, It’s Both And


The other day a fellow librarian asked me if I had read a book yet and when I responded no, she replied, “oh that’s right, you’re all about making now, you don’t really do books anymore.” It has taken me a couple of days to process this information and to form a real response. The truth is, libraries have always been about more than books, and I as a teen services librarian have always been about more than books. It’s not an either or proposition, it’s both and.

I am about making.

I am about books.

These are not mutually exclusive statements.


Before I had a Teen MakerSpace, I regularly did library programming for tweens and teens. It was an expected part of my job. I still do that programming, I just do it differently. I do it on a more continual basis. I have assistants (that part is pretty glorious actually). But the truth of it is, it’s still just programming. Every moment I spend in the Teen MakerSpace is comparable to every moment I previously spent doing a teen program.

I have also worked really hard to make sure and emphasize books in our Teen MakerSpace. Every station that we have, every activity that we do, must have a couple of books in the Teen MakerSpace Collection that supports it. We try to remember to pull these books out and put them on display right there near the station or activity. We use them. We encourage our teens to use them. Our Teen MakerSpace Collection goes hand in hand with everything we do in our Teen MakerSpace.


But we don’t just promote nonfiction in our Teen MakerSpace, we promote our Teen Fiction collection as well. We put up displays, we promote our collection, we have “what staff are reading” walls, etc. We do RA, we talk about books with our teens, even while we are making. We have done displays on books that relate to making in any possible way, including Sci Fi, books about movies, books with teens who make films, books with teen hackers and coders, books with gamers, and more. There are a lot of ways you can pull books from your teen fiction collection into the space and cross promote both making and teen reading.


The truth is, libraries are always evolving. Books have and will continue to be the core of what librarians do, what I do. But it has and never will be the only thing that librarians do, what I do.

I am about making.

I am about books.

And they both work together for the good of teens in the public library.

5 Ways to Incorporate Books into a MakerSpace

1. Buy nonfiction that corresponds to every station or activity that you do in your MakerSpace

Have a 3D printer? There are books for that. Coding, electronics, robotics, Legos and more. We have books on every topic. If you can do it in our teen makerspace, you can read a book about it.

2. Promote “making” related teen fiction in your makerspace

There are good YA books that feature teens as coders, hackers, gamers, film makers, music makers and more. In addition, almost any sci fi or survival book features technology or survival skills that can be related back to making. Think creatively and cross promote.

3. Put up a “What’s New” display in your makerspace

We have two actually. One is a wall in the Teen MakerSpace that just features book covers that we have printed out and put up. The other has the physical books so that they can be easily grabbed.

4. Put up a what staff is reading display

We use the same printed book cover on the wall format to keep up a what staff is reading display. All three Teen Services staff members share what books they are currently reading with any teen that comes into the space.

5. Talk to teens while making about books

I love to talk about books. And the glorious thing about making is that it’s pretty easy to have a casual conversation with a teen while you are doing it. So ask your teens, hey what have you been reading? What’s your favorite book?

Resources: #MHYALit – Teens and Addiction Brochure


Earlier this month, I shared two brochures that I created for my library regarding sexual violence and suicide for teens. At that time I was researching and attending some local training about the current opioid epidemic. As promised, I created a brochure and am sharing it with you today. The contact information is local information and the titles are titles that I have in my collection, they are by no means comprehensive.

real talk addiction brochure 1

real talk addiction brochure 2

Maker Mondays: How do you make those cool graphics for social media?


Branding. It’s a thing we talk a lot about in all walks of life, including libraries. And branding is more important than ever with our prolific use of social media. When you share something on social media, you want an image to share with your post that is easily recognizable, immediately associated with your brand, and points directly back to you when it is shared by others on social media. Even better if you create regular content that is predictable, expected and communicates to your patrons who and what you are. So consider having regular features like New Title Tuesdays, for example, with well developed images to market that content. And consider adding your logo and website url onto each image.

Popular websites like Epic Reads are already doing this and doing it well. They have regular features that are comfortable and familiar to their readers, and that is a powerful tool.

But how do you create the images? Today I am going to share with you two separate tools that work well for this: Canva and Word Swag.


I have previously talked about Canva at length so I’m just going to touch on it here briefly. Canva is a free online tool that you can use to create all types of images, including social media images. You set up an account for free and you can upload your own pictures or use their library of free images. If you want to spring for the bonus features, there is additional content you can tap into for a free. I have, however, successfully used Canva for multiple projects and never had to pay any additional money. I sincerely recommend Canva, in under five minutes I might add. Previous posts on Canva:

Tech Review: Online Creation Tools Piktochart and Canva

MakerSpace: Postcard Party

These social media images were created using Canva:






Canva has both an online portal and a mobile app. At first I hated the mobile app version, but I am getting better at it. I still prefer the online portal.

Word Swag

Word Swag is an app that you can purchase and download to your mobile device to make quick images to share. Word Swag is a bit pricey for an app at $4.99, especially given what it does, but it is quick and easy to use with effective results. It is available for both iOS and Android. You can start with a provided image or access an image from your camera roll. You can then crop it, add text, and quickly save your photo. It’s fast and easy, but man do I hate the filters that it has.

ra1 ra2 ra3

These images were created using Word Swag.



Some thoughts about Word Swag:

I find Word Swag to be particularly good for making book quote art to share on social media

After you put in your text, you can select your font style and roll the dice to find the best fit and look for your background image. Seeing what the roll of the dice produces can be fun.

In addition to being able to insert your own text, it does have a feature where you can select a category and it offers a few choice quotes in that category for you to use. If you have a picture you have taken but not a great text, it can be fun to see what comes up.

You can only add one text block unless you save, reload your image, and start the process all over again. So if you want to have a heading text at top and your website url at the bottom, the process is much more complicated.

As I mentioned, the filters in this app are basically awful. This is, after all, an app that focuses on words more than images.

It’s easy to use, fast, and can all be done while on the go right there on your phone.

A Final Analysis

After buying Word Swag and using both tools to create square shaped social media images to share, I found that I kept using Canva more than Word Swag, mostly because Canva just offers a lot more options. I like the filters on Canva more (though Instagram is still my favorite quick app for filters and the blur feature). I like that you can add images to your image, like a silhouette. And I like that you can add multiple lines of text in multiple locations. So in terms of functionality, Canva definitely beats out Word Swag. But if you want quick, easy, and portable, either one works. And for the novice, Word Swag may be easier to use.

Word Swag gets the edge for quick and easy, Canva gets the edge for higher functionality.

A #FSYALit Take 5: A Faith That Bends and Stretches, but Does Not Break (Faith and Spirituality in YA Lit)

tltbutton2Inspired by my reading of The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord, I wanted to put together a Take 5 list of titles that showed teens having their faith challenged but not totally abandoned. So I brainstormed the following list with my fellow TLTers. These books feature teens who ultimately choose to hold on to and maintain their faith, but go through the hard work of questioning, challenging, resenting and, often, changing their faith; Not the core of their beliefs, but the daily details. If you have additional recommendations for this list, please leave us a note in the comments with the title, author, and your recommendation.

Bestest. Ramadan. Ever. by Medeia Sharif


No pizza. No boyfriend. (No life.) Okay, so during Ramadan, we’re not allowed to eat from sunrise to sunset. For one whole month. My family does this every year, even though I’ve been to a mosque exactly twice in my life. And it’s true, I could stand to lose a few pounds. (Sadly, my mom’s hotness skipped a generation.) But is starvation really an acceptable method? I think not. Even worse, my oppressive parents forbid me to date. This is just cruel and wrong. Especially since Peter, a cute and crushable artist, might be my soul mate. Figures my bestest friend Lisa likes him, too. To top it off, there’s a new Muslim girl in school who struts around in super-short skirts, commanding every boy’s attention–including Peter’s. How can I get him to notice me? And will I ever figure out how to be Muslim and American?

Karen’s Note: This title was recommended for this list by TLTer Heather Booth. Heather says, “I appreciated seeing how a teen navigated integrating her religious practice and expectations in her everyday high school life. She struggled with what fasting and Ramadan meant to her and came to her own conclusions about how she would practice her faith.”

How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr


Jill MacSweeney just wishes everything could go back to normal. But ever since her dad died, she’s been isolating herself from her boyfriend, her best friends—everyone who wants to support her. And when her mom decides to adopt a baby, it feels like she’s somehow trying to replace a lost family member with a new one.

Mandy Kalinowski understands what it’s like to grow up unwanted—to be raised by a mother who never intended to have a child. So when Mandy becomes pregnant, one thing she’s sure of is that she wants a better life for her baby. It’s harder to be sure of herself. Will she ever find someone to care for her, too?

As their worlds change around them, Jill and Mandy must learn to both let go and hold on, and that nothing is as easy—or as difficult—as it seems.

Karen’s Note: TLTer Amanda MacGregor immediately went to Sara Zarr for this list, which is a good call. Sara Zarr is a YA contemporary treasure who often touches on and integrates faith into her novels, much the same way that teens integrate faith into their lives.

Like No Other by Una LaMarche


Fate brought them together. Will life tear them apart? 

Devorah is a consummate good girl who has never challenged the ways of her strict Hasidic upbringing.

Jaxon is a fun-loving, book-smart nerd who has never been comfortable around girls (unless you count his four younger sisters).

They’ve spent their entire lives in Brooklyn, on opposite sides of the same street. Their paths never crossed . . . until one day, they did.

When a hurricane strikes the Northeast, the pair becomes stranded in an elevator together, where fate leaves them no choice but to make an otherwise risky connection.

Though their relation is strictly forbidden, Devorah and Jax arrange secret meetings and risk everything to be together. But how far can they go? Just how much are they willing to give up?

Karen’s Note: I am not Hasidic, nor am I very familiar with this religion, so I can’t attest to how accurate or faithful this depiction is. What I did like about this book, however, was how our MC embraced parts of feminism, which was a direct challenge to her faith, and how she found a way to walk away with some elements of both the religious and feminist parts of her, which were important to her, still in place. It can be hard to integrate feminism with a lot of traditional faith belief systems and this titled spoke to that challenge.

Devoted by Jen Mathieu


Rachel Walker is devoted to God.

She prays every day, attends Calvary Christian Church with her family, helps care for her five younger siblings, dresses modestly, and prepares herself to be a wife and mother who serves the Lord with joy.

But Rachel is curious about the world her family has turned away from, and increasingly finds that neither the church nor her homeschool education has the answers she craves. Rachel has always found solace in her beliefs, but now she can’t shake the feeling that her devotion might destroy her soul.

Karen’s Note: This book is personal to me. I come from a very conservative background and live and work in very conservative religious communities. However, when faced with the very real challenges of social justice around me, I have slowly moved to a more progressive faith and it is not an easy journey to take. Devoted really captures the judgment, the loss, the alienation, and the abandonment that can come with moving from a conservative to a progressive faith. And just as with Like No Other above, Mathieu highlights the challenges of integrating a more feminist worldview with a more traditional faith system, in this case the Quiverful movement.

The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord


Lucy Hansson was ready for a perfect summer with her boyfriend, working at her childhood Bible camp on the lake. But when her mom’s cancer reappears, Lucy falters—in faith, in love, and in her ability to cope. When her boyfriend “pauses” their relationship and her summer job switches to a different camp—one for troubled kids—Lucy isn’t sure how much more she can handle. Attempting to accept a new normal, Lucy slowly regains footing among her vibrant, diverse coworkers, Sundays with her mom, and a crush on a fellow counselor. But when long-hidden family secrets emerge, can Lucy set aside her problems and discover what grace really means?

Karen’s Note: Earlier this week I said, “Lucy’s rage at God and the questioning of everything she ever believed in is the most real expression of faith I have ever read in a YA novel.”

May 2017 #ARCParty

May 2017 #ARCParty// The Teen and Bestie were here last night and we looked through our stack of ARCs that release this month. Each teen took turns reading the back descriptions out loud and they divided them up to see who gets to read what.

They agreed they would share Songs About a Girl (which The Teen began reading last night). The Bestie walked out with The Names They Gave Us after The Teen gushed about it. She also walked out with Four Weeks, Five People and No Good Deed (she liked Kill the Boy Band by the same author). The Teen is all about fantasy so she has Dark Breaks the Dawn on deck next.

  1. Two best friends go on an epic adventure to try and fix their friendship #ARCParty

    Two best friends go on an epic adventure to try and fix their friendship #ARCParty

  2. Fantasy  A fight for a kingdom Shapeshifting #ARCParty

    A fight for a kingdom

  3. Mental Health, OCD, Eating Disorders Four weeks, five people #ARCParty

    Mental Health, OCD, Eating Disorders
    Four weeks, five people

  4. Historical fiction, Civil War, Slavery, True Love #ARCParty

    Historical fiction, Civil War, Slavery, True Love

  5. Bands, Photography Fame, Rivalry #ARCParty

    Bands, Photography
    Fame, Rivalry

  6. Drug trafficking, family, butterflies, immigration #ARCParty

    Drug trafficking, family, butterflies, immigration

  7. One minute and fifty-three seconds after the safety bar comes down, two girls lives are changed forever

    One minute and fifty-three seconds after the safety bar comes down, two girls lives are changed forever

  8. Teens attend a camp where they learn to do good deeds #ARCParty

    Teens attend a camp where they learn to do good deeds #ARCParty


#SJYALit: Author Victoria Scott Talks About Social Justice and YA Lit


Today author Victoria Scott joins us to talk about social justice and YA literature, sharing some of her favorite titles. Her newest YA book, Violet Grenade, was released out into the world yesterday.


Google defines social justice as “Justice in terms of the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society.” Social justice, or a lack thereof, is exactly what lands my main character, Domino, in a precarious situation. She comes from a broken home in the worst sense, and is forced to live on the streets in order to avoid further abuse. So when Madam Karina comes along, offering a shady opportunity, she is left with little choice but to accept.

In my last young adult novel, Titans, I explored class structure within a society, and with Violet Grenade, I’m delving into the dynamic of a dysfunctional home life, and how it affects a young mind. In order to write this story, I’ve pulled great inspiration from several books that tackle social justice beautifully. Among them, these are my favorites:


Tyrell by Coe Booth

Booth captures this raw, heartfelt story with an expert hand. One of the most phenomenal reads available to young adults (and the not-so-young adults)!


The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

I read this in middle school, and was extraordinarily impacted by the courage, humanity, and horror, found in this story.


The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

The most memorable, well-written nonfiction novel I’ve ever read. If there were a theme song for social justice in the form of a book, this would be it.


The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

I’m re-reading this one now! It’s such a powerful story surrounding sexism. They’ve made this into a show on Hulu, and I’m dying to start watching it as soon as I finish the book.


House of Purple Cedar by Tim Tingle

This is an incredible novel about the Choctaw people of pre-statehood Oklahoma. If you haven’t read any of Tim Tingle’s work, this is the place to start. I get chills just thinking about this book.

Meet Author Victoria Scott

Victoria Scott is the acclaimed author of eight books for young adults. Her novels are sold in fourteen different countries, and she loves receiving fan mail from across the world. Victoria loves high fashion, big cities, and pink cotton candy. You can find her online at



DOMINO: A runaway with blood on her hands.

CAIN: A silent boy about to explode.

MADAM KARINA: A woman who demands obedience.

WILSON: The one who will destroy them all.

When Madam Karina discovers Domino in an alleyway, she offers her a position inside her home for entertainers in secluded West Texas. Left with few alternatives and an agenda of her own, Domino accepts. It isn’t long before she is fighting her way up the ranks to gain the madam’s approval. But after suffering weeks of bullying and unearthing the madam’s secrets, Domino decides to leave. It’ll be harder than she thinks, though, because the madam doesn’t like to lose inventory. But then, Madam Karina doesn’t know about the person living inside Domino’s mind.

Madam Karina doesn’t know about Wilson. (Entangled Teen, May 2017)

Book Review: The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord


If you want to skip the lengthy review, let me just say this: I love this book and think everyone should read it.

Now for the real review.


Publisher’s Book Description:

Lucy Hansson was ready for a perfect summer with her boyfriend, working at her childhood Bible camp on the lake. But when her mom’s cancer reappears, Lucy falters—in faith, in love, and in her ability to cope. When her boyfriend “pauses” their relationship and her summer job switches to a different camp—one for troubled kids—Lucy isn’t sure how much more she can handle. Attempting to accept a new normal, Lucy slowly regains footing among her vibrant, diverse coworkers, Sundays with her mom, and a crush on a fellow counselor. But when long-hidden family secrets emerge, can Lucy set aside her problems and discover what grace really means?

Karen’s Thoughts

I love this book and think everyone should read it. Yep, that’s where I’m still at with this book.

Lucy begins our story as a devout somewhat conservative Christian with an equally devout and amazing boyfriend. And then the rug is pulled out from under her on prom night when she learns that her mother’s cancer has returned and it is more aggressive then ever. This makes Lucy angry. Angry at the universe, angry at her parents for keeping secrets, but mostly angry at God because she prayed for her mother to be healed and she thought she was and now she isn’t.

Lucy’s rage at God and the questioning of everything she ever believed in is the most real expression of faith I have ever read in a YA novel.

In a deal with her mother – who plays the cancer card – Lucy goes to a summer camp next to her family owned church camp. This camp is for “troubled youth.” She goes to be a camp counselor, but she ends up being helped just as much as the kids she ends up helping. Along the way she meets a pregnant teen, a male to female transgender teen, and a variety of kids struggling with broken homes and issues that our far outside the realm of what she knows. And although Lucy makes many missteps along the way, we see Lucy expressing the grace and compassion that underlines her faith to each and every one of them. In our current reality when people of the Christian faith are often seen yelling down those who are different and calling them monsters, it’s nice to have a Christian character on the page reminding us all what that is supposed to look like. It’s especially nice because we know and understand that she is in fact struggling with her personal faith, but it is still an important part of who she is.

Lucy also meets a new boy who seems capable of handling Lucy’s true expression of emotions, including the doubt and anger that comes with having a severely ill parent. This new boy, Jones, is possibly my favorite boy in YA literature ever. Every teen readers will swoon at Jones, and they should.

There are more family secrets revealed. There are tears. There are lessons to be learned. But they are learned in the most organic and authentic way possible, through rich storytelling, complex character development, and beautifully put together words on a page. At the end Lucy is changed, as is her expression of her faith, but she remains true to who she is every step of the way and it is a beautiful thing.

Faith is very important to both The Teen and I. And I can personally tell you that I have had intense periods of anger at God. It happened when I almost died in pregnancy and lost my baby. It happened when we had to leave our life and move to start over. And this book really spoke to the very core of me. After reading this book I immediately handed it to The Teen who read it that very day. It took her less than 24 hours and she too loved it. We talked about it. We gushed about it. We talked about our faith. We talked about being mother and daughter. We talked about family and boys and love and secrets. I love that this book exists in this world.

Some of my favorite things about this book:

  • A healthy, intact family
  • Good mother/daughter relationship
  • Good friendships
  • Authentic faith expression
  • Healthy communication about sex
  • Richly developed supporting characters, including characters who are not white or cisgender
  • Richly developed teens who talk about their feelings and mistakes

I love this book and think everyone should read it, in case you haven’t heard me say that yet.

WHEN DIMPLE MET RISHI and Sex Positive YA, a guest post by author Sandhya Menon and a GIVEAWAY

Today we are honored to host author Sandhya Menon as she discusses writing a sex positive YA story. We’re also giving away a hardback copy of this upcoming YA title, one of the most anticipated YA releases of 2017.


Growing up, my parents and I never discussed sex. It wasn’t even something that they considered discussing with me, I’m sure. In general South Asian parents don’t ever, ever talk about sex with their children. It was weird, in the South Asian community, if your parents were open about that kind of thing, and they were usually judged pretty harshly by the other parents; being that open was viewed as putting your kids on the path to promiscuity. I didn’t really figure out all of the ins and outs of sex—so to speak—until I was well into high school, and only then thanks to other overzealous, (non-South Asian, naturally) high school students who couldn’t wait to share their exploits.

So you can believe me when I say that putting in a sex scene into my debut YA, When Dimple Met Rishi, was something I agonized over. I knew South Asian people (and others who don’t typically discuss sex with their teenage children) would be reading this—strangers, acquaintances, friends, those in my family, etc. What would they think? Would they feel that the book would corrupt the youth of today? Would they glare at me for breaking the unspoken rule—no South Asian adult shall educate unmarried South Asian youth about sex until the night before their wedding, and only then in the vaguest terms? I spent many a sweaty day fretting.

In the end, with my editor’s blessing (she’s Cambodian American, and shared my concerns), I decided to put it in there. It’s not on the page, per se…I fade out once things get going. But I do also very plainly state what’s going to happen. Dimple and Rishi have a very frank and open conversation about sex and what it means to them, and even talk about using a condom to be safe. In some ways, I still can’t believe my family members in India might read this one day soon. (And that I’m not immediately begging Simon & Schuster to stop the presses.)

Why, then, given my anxieties about it, did I put the scene in and leave it there? Honestly, I feel like it’s time for adults in the South Asian community to begin having those conversations with our sons and daughters (especially our daughters, who’ve traditionally been kept in the dark the longest). Not talking about sex doesn’t prevent sexual activity. If anything, it only makes sex something carried out in shameful secret—which means more venereal diseases and unwanted pregnancies, more unneeded psychological pain and damage.

I certainly don’t think all teenagers need to have sex. Sex depends on the individual, and readiness will vary with emotional and physical maturity, among other factors. But I do think that talking about healthy sexual practices like consent, birth control, and readiness (and for South Asian teens, that may well mean considering their parents’ stance on premarital sex) should become more of a practice in our homes.

Most importantly, by writing the sex scene in When Dimple Met Rishi, I wanted to show that sex can be safe and positive, something that, when undertaken with care, is a normal part of a consensual, adult relationship even when the individuals in question aren’t married. I hope it opens the door for teens in households where sex isn’t a part of the conversation to approach it in a non-threatening, healthy manner.


A laugh-out-loud, heartfelt YA romantic comedy, told in alternating perspectives, about two Indian-American teens whose parents have arranged for them to be married.

Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family, from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” Ugh. Dimple knows they must respect her principles on some level, though. If they truly believed she needed a husband right now, they wouldn’t have paid for her to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers…right?

Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic. So when his parents tell him that his future wife will be attending the same summer program as him—wherein he’ll have to woo her—he’s totally on board. Because as silly as it sounds to most people in his life, Rishi wants to be arranged, believes in the power of tradition, stability, and being a part of something much bigger than himself.

The Shahs and Patels didn’t mean to start turning the wheels on this “suggested arrangement” so early in their children’s lives, but when they noticed them both gravitate toward the same summer program, they figured, Why not?

Dimple and Rishi may think they have each other figured out. But when opposites clash, love works hard to prove itself in the most unexpected ways. (Simon Pulse, May 30th)

Meet Author Sandhya Menon

Sandhya Menon author photo, credit Timothy Falls

Sandhya Menon is the author of WHEN DIMPLE MET RISHI (Simon Pulse/May 30, 2017) and a second YA contemporary coming in the summer of 2018. She was born and raised in India on a steady diet of Bollywood movies and street food, and pretty much blames this upbringing for her obsession with happily-ever-afters, bad dance moves, and pani puri.

Sandhya currently lives in Colorado, where she’s on a mission to (gently) coerce her family to watch all 3,221 Bollywood movies she claims as her favorite.

Visit her on the web at

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Sunday Reflections: It’s Hard to Get Out of a Town Like This

tltbutton5On the wall sits a small collection of test prep books. The ACT. The SAT. Nursing exams. Teaching exams. It occurred to me the other day that we should also pull out the financial aid and how to write your college application essay books and just call the section College Prep.

This shelf of books sit across from the Teen MakerSpace. So I turn my head and look through the window and today there is a group of teens working on whatever it is they are working on and I realize how many of my teens aren’t even thinking about college. College is not in the cards for them. So I look at my Assistant Director and I say to her, “it’s hard to get out of a town like this.”

And it is.


My senior year of high school I did not fill out one single college application. Not one. Because I knew that college wasn’t really in the cards for me. Nobody talked to me about college. We didn’t really have the money for it, though we were by no means poor. It’s just that college was truly expensive and unobtainable. I took the ACT once on a day in which I woke up with a fever and none of it mattered anyway because I wasn’t going to college, so I did what I could and turned it in and walked away and never looked back.

I was by not, however, a bad student. In fact, I ended up graduating in the top 10 percent of my class and got a free two years at the local community college. That is the only reason I ever started college. I then moved, moved again to attend college, started working at the local library to help pay for college, and then went to graduate school to be a YA librarian. I will finish paying off my college loans the year that The Teen high school herself. There were a lot of lean years in between a lot of that, and some good friends who helped me out, and a metric ton of college loans.

But even though college seemed out of reach for me, it seems even more so for many of the teens that I serve. There’s a huge difference between my life as a teenager and many of the teens that I currently serve, and those difference make all of the difference in the world.

I wasn’t hungry.

I wasn’t worried about whether or not a parent was going to go back to jail or start using again.

I lived in a big town with plenty of jobs and I worked.

We could afford to buy me a crappy car that I could drive the 20 minutes out of town each day to attend a class at a community college.

We could buy the text books I needed to take the class.

Even though my parents didn’t really talk to me about college, they asked me about my grades and demanded that I do well.

I could go to the doctor or a dentist when I got sick and didn’t have to suffer with a throbbing, rotting tooth or a long term low grade fever that should probably get checked out.

I had a lot of things in my favor that these teens don’t have. They can’t even imagine having.


The irony is that the town in which I work is the home to two private colleges. One of them is, in fact, the undergraduate school that I attended. But their tuition is astronomical and out of reach for most of my teens and most of the members of our community. And transportation is still an issue. And their families are still unstable. And climbing your way out of poverty is near impossible because you need money to do it. There are reasons we talk about the cycles of poverty.

And it’s not just college. It’s hard to move to a new town where jobs are if you don’t have transportation or the money for an apartment or a car to get you out of town. We’re a small, rural town and the closest cities with jobs are 45 minutes in any direction. All it takes is one breakdown in the middle of winter on a country highway to make you lose your job, if you’re lucky enough to get one. It takes money to make money.

Small rural towns aren’t bad, they have a lot of charm. There’s something to be said about running into your favorite aunt in the public library and having known your neighbors for generations. But small dying rural towns have a layer of dust and despair that covers those charms. The paint on the houses is peeling and the porches are crumbling to the ground, but no one can afford to fix that because they can barely afford food. Food insecurity is rampant in towns like mine.

Yesterday I read that the Minnesota house passed a bill that would lower the minimum wage, and I have heard a lot of talk about other places wanting to do the same. But in a town with nothing but medical or service industry jobs – think Walmart and Dollar General – minimum wage is the only thing that is keeping most of these families just barely surviving. We say that you need a college education to get a “good job” and don’t recognize the many barriers there are, really, to attending college. Even in a town with two of them. A minimum wage job won’t help you pay for college, especially if they lower the minimum wage.

So I walk back down to my Teen MakerSpace and talk to my kids. We talk about tv shows and popular culture. We talk about making. We talk about being moved to a different foster home or whether or not they are going to leave tonight to go to the local community dinner. We talk about their families and what it’s like to be poor. But we don’t talk about growing up and moving out of town. It’s hard to get out of a town like this.