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The Next #SVYALit Project Hangout: Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A. S. King

Special Guest A. S. King: Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, plus Bleed Like Me by Christa Desir and Perfectly Good White Boy by Carrie Mesrobian
Date: November 19th (Noon Eastern, 11 A.M. Central)

Confirmed Guests: A. S. King (forthcoming 2014 and 2015 title), Christa Desir, Carrie Mesrobian


Publisher’s Description:  

WOULD YOU TRY TO CHANGE THE WORLD
IF YOU THOUGHT YOU HAD NO FUTURE?

Graduating from high school is a time of limitless possibilities—but not for Glory, who has no plan for what’s next. Her mother committed suicide when Glory was only four years old, and she’s never stopped wondering if she will eventually go the same way…until a transformative night when she begins to experience an astonishing new power to see a person’s infinite past and future. From ancient ancestors to many generations forward, Glory is bombarded with visions—and what she sees ahead of her is terrifying.

A tyrannical new leader raises an army. Women’s rights disappear. A violent second civil war breaks out. And young girls vanish daily, sold off or interned in camps. Glory makes it her mission to record everything she sees, hoping her notes will somehow make a difference. She may not see a future for herself, but she’ll do everything in her power to make sure this one doesn’t come to pass.

In this masterpiece about freedom, feminism, and destiny, Printz Honor author A.S. King tells the epic story of a girl coping with devastating loss at long last—a girl who has no idea that the future needs her, and that the present needs her even more.

Karen’s Thoughts:

Well, I loved this book. It comes out on October 14th so please get a copy and read it. We’ll be talking with A. S. King – I promise I will try not to cry, I have cried every time I meet her because her writing speaks to my soul.

Also, we’ll be talking about Bleed Like Me (out 10/7) and Perfectly Good White Boy (out 10/1) as well. So read those! 

The #SVYALit Project: When Yes is Not Really Yes, Coercion is Not Consent (part 2)

The #SVYALit Project Index

The other night at karate, the sensei was passing out lanyards and the 5-year-old wanted one even though she wasn’t a student there. So she went and asked if she could please have one. His reply was this, “if you give me a hug, I will give you one.” I suddenly appeared from across the room, panicky. I realize he thought nothing of this simple statement, but it sets such a dangerous precedent. You see, he was withholding something she wanted and suggesting that the only way she could get it was to do something to him physically. He was, in fact, coercing a hug out of her. Sure, there’s nothing wrong with a hug – when it’s freely given. But coercion is not consent. In order for true consent to happen, it means both people have to have a choice in saying no and that they instead choose to say yes.

Coercion is defined as “the practice of persuading someone to do something by using force or threats” (Dictionary.com) Sexual coercion is “the act of being persuaded to have sex (or some other sexual activity) when you don’t want to.” (Sexual Coercion Resources, this is a really good resource that outlines sexual coercion) “Coercion is a tactic used by perpetrators to intimidate, trick, or force someone to have sex with them without physical force.” (from the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center discussion Coercion and Consent)

is the act of being persuaded to have sex (or engage in other sexual activities) when you don’t want to. – See more at: http://bandbacktogether.com/sexual-coercion-resources/#sthash.7IVMb3HE.dpuf
Sexual coercion is the act of being persuaded to have sex (or engage in other sexual activities) when you don’t want to. – See more at: http://bandbacktogether.com/sexual-coercion-resources/#sthash.7IVMb3HE.dpuf

When we talk about sexual violence, the current cultural discussion suggests moving away from the idea that no means no to that of enthusiast consent, the idea that yes means yes. But the truth is, sometimes yes isn’t always yes. Sometimes, that yes is born out of coercion and manipulation, sometimes it is born out of a threat. It may look like a yes to an outside observer, legally it may even hold up as a yes, but ethically it is not truly a yes. That’s why when we talk about consent, it is defined as someone who is willing and able saying yes out of their own free will. Free will, self-sovereignty, is an important component of true consent.

Which brings us to Bleed Like Me by Christa Desir

I read Bleed Like Me some time ago and have been waiting for months to talk about it. And that time is finally now. Bleed Like Me is a strong and powerful book because it plops us into the midst of one of the unhealthiest relationships ever and asks us to consider what that would look like and what it means – for both parties. And tucked inside there is a little nugget of truth about what many would consider the “gray areas” of consent.

Amelia Gannon, “Gannon”, is somewhat lost. Her parents adopted three younger boys from Guatamela and ever since then her life has not been the same. She’s been pushed to the outside as her parents deal with the myriad of issues that her brothers come with. She is lonely, her family is broken, and she seeks solace and comfort in the edge of a razor blade. Gannon is a cutter, she cuts to help deal with her emotions.

Michael Brooks seems to really see into the soul of Gannon. At first he seems to love her, but as the relationship develops he seems to have an almost obsessive need for her. It’s not so much love as it is a need to try and take Gannon and use her to fill up the broken places inside himself.

Neither one of these two teens should be in a relationship, and yet that is exactly where they find themselves. And there are moments where Michael manipulates Gannon into having sex with him. He doesn’t assault her, she is in fact saying yes – but she is not saying yes out of her own free will, she is saying yes because Michael insists that her saying no will somehow damage him further. He puts the burden of his emotional health and well being on her, and since she is so broken in her own ways it is so easy for him to do.

That sex that happens between Michael and Gannon is not, in any legal sense of the word, rape. She has in fact said yes. But as we see the process play out and see into Gannon’s point of view, it is also clear that this is not, in fact, what she really wants. She is not saying yes out of her own free will, but as an end result to the extremely destructive emotional coercion that Michael uses against her.

Emotional coercion occurs when one party tries to use guilt or other forms of manipulation to force the other party to consent to sex when they really don’t want to. Emotional coercion is a type of power play; it is not born out of both parties free will and it is therefore not true consent.

There are more extreme examples of coercion in both Plus One by Elizabeth Fama and The Program by Suzanne Young. In Plus One, a male police officer threatens to jail a female unless she does a sexual favor for him. In The Program the main character, Sloane, is in a treatment center for “therapy” that will remove her memories; a male attendant promises to give her pills to help her keep her memories if she will kiss him, promising that the next time it will cost her more than just a kiss. On the outside, these scenes looks like consent, but they are not true consent because the party saying “yes” is only doing so because the other party is holding something over them – whether it be emotional coercion (if you don’t have sex with me you will lose me or if you don’t have sex with me I will somehow be hurt) or some other threat (I will make sure bad things happen to you or I will permit this bad thing to happen to you).

It’s interesting to note that earlier this year I stumbled across a review of Plus One by Elizabeth Fama where the reviewer began slut shaming the young lady who was being coerced by the police officer, calling her a slut and a prostitute. The reviewer didn’t recognize that this was not truly consent but a form of sexual violence. After some discussion, she amended the review to reflect that it was not consensual and it changed her opinion of this character. But this moment demonstrated to me how deceptive sexual coercion can be, even when clearly outlined in the pages of a book many readers will still not recognize that sexual coercion is taking place and they will blame and judge the victim as opposed to the perpetrator.

Sometimes, it’s really hard to identify if you’ve been, or are being, sexually coerced. You ARE being sexually coerced if the following behaviors are noted:
  • You don’t feel you have a choice 
  • You’re being pressured constantly
  • You’re being pressured even after you’ve said “no.”
  • You face possible social consequences if you don’t engage in a certain type of sexual behavior.
  • Someone uses their authority or power to get you to engage in sexual behaviors.

– See more at: http://bandbacktogether.com/sexual-coercion-resources/#sthash.7IVMb3HE.dpuf

In contrast, there was some very interesting dialogue that happened on an episode of Glee involving the characters of Sam and Mercedes. Sam wanted to have sex, Mercedes was unsure. They have several conversations throughout the show about the topic, both of them having competing interests. Sam is experienced and he is ready for more. Mercedes is a virgin with a strong religious background and she is not sure that she is ready for sex. Although you can clearly see Sam’s frustrations at times, he does a pretty good job of respecting her and her right to wait until she is ready.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fcH8cwxS4C0]

Or, to use YA literature in our comparison, we can look at the scenes in This Side of Salvation by Jeri Smith-Ready. Here, it is the girl that is experienced and the boy who wants to wait. And wait they do, until the boy finally states that he is ready and both teens have a healthy, satisfying sexual encounter that harms neither of them physically or emotionally. We see a similar scene play out in the one healthy relationship that Anna has in Uses for Boys by Erica Lorraine Scheidt. There is healthy conversation, there is respect, there is true consent. The relationship in Uses for Boys is particularly interesting because there are so many other clearly unhealthy relationships in Anna’s life that have preceded this one for readers to contrast it with.

Think of how beautiful it is in If I Stay when Mia asks Adam to play her like a musical instrument, both of them at a place in their relationships where they feel safe and valued and choose to share their bodies with one another. Or in The Fault in Our Stars when Hazel Grace and Augusts decide that they are ready to have sex with one another.

It is the subtleties of consent that often get lost in our conversations about sexual violence because it requires that we talk about the dynamics of a healthy relationship, which many sexual education courses fail to do. But YA literature can help us do this. As we read, we can ask ourselves if this is a healthy relationship. And when sex occurs, we can ask ourselves if it was truly consensual sex. And yes, we can use these titles to discuss the issue with teens. We can ask our boys, “do you want to be the guy that has sex because you manipulated a girl into it?” And we can ask our girls, “do you want to be the girl who has sex just to get it over with or because you finally decided to give in?”

Sexual coercion is part of the reason why the culture is asking that we shift from “No Means No” to the ideas that “Yes Means Yes”. And then we have to have discussions about what a true yes means. It has to come from a place of free will, without guilt, manipulation, or any type of threat. Only then is a yes truly yes. Only then is it real consent. If you’re not willing to accept their no, then it isn’t really a yes.

Talking with Teens About Consent
Sexual Assault Awareness Month, talking to teens about consent and rape part 1 and part 2
This is What Consent Looks Like
The Curios Case of the Kissing Doctor and Consent 

Sex/Romance in Fiction (including a Ted talk on Making Sexing Normal) by Carrie Mesrobian
The Healthy Sex Talk: Teaching Kids Consent, Ages 1-21 (the Good Men Project)
Why Talking with Teens About the Age of Consent Matters
On Teachable Moments and Consent 
Sexual Violence, Drinking and Date Rape Drugs  
Voice Against Violence has a good list of some resources that discuss consent

The #SVYALit Project: Bleed Like Me and Emotional Coercion, a guest post by Christa Desir (part 1)

The other day a blogger asked me what I wanted people to walk away from BLEED LIKE ME thinking about. This is always a tricky question because it implies that authors have this big agenda when it comes to their fictional stories. We do not. We’re telling stories. And yet, at the same time, it is hard to interact with me in any way (personally or through my books) without knowing I have pretty strong opinions about feminism and being a girl/woman. The reality of BLM is that at its core, it asks the question of what we’re willing to suck up to be loved.


And I think this question is an important one, particularly for girls. Because from the very moment we start being able to interact with other humans, we learn that much of our value is determined by who we are to men. It’s tiny messages, things like “Now you put your finger through Mommy’s ring” in Pat the Bunny. Mommy is a wife, don’t you know? And it’s also big messages, the abundance of weddings at the end of Disney princess movies. The princesses being saved over and over again by dudes. Yes, there are outliers (Thank you, Paper Bag Princess), but these are written more as a point of contrast, an intentional paradigm shift, than as an example of diversity in the genre. And think about how prominent this message is in everything we see. Where are the guy cheerleaders on the sidelines for women’s basketball games? Where are the reality TV shows about househusbands? There is a reason the Bechdel test came about in the first place. We are a gender-biased culture.

So after being spoon-fed this diet of bias as a child, it is certainly no wonder that so much of a straight teen girl’s life is spent worrying about/craving/obsessing over, etc. boyfriends. Do guys want this too? Of course. But their status, who they are as people, does not seem to hinge on their relationship (or lack of relationship) in quite the same way as girls.

When it came to creating a story for Gannon, it wasn’t that difficult to conceive of a girl who desperately wanted to be loved. She was unprotected by her parents and took it out on herself through self-injury, so when a guy came in to presumably save her from her loneliness, readers are hopeful that he can fix her. That he can love her enough.

But of course, he can’t. First, because he’s deeply broken himself. And second, because we do not get fixed by someone loving us. We get fixed by loving ourselves. And not only is Brooks not able to fix her, but he takes her vulnerability and uses it to his own advantage. He takes her need to be loved and manipulates it into a balm for himself. Because he can. Because she’s been spoon-fed the pudding of validation through men and so has he. He will feel better if he takes care of her, and she will feel better if she lets him. But they’re both missing parts and it turns into a game of emotional manipulation and co-dependency where no one can win.

And so emotional coercion becomes another issue to explore in young adult literature. Whether in obvious ways (Sarah Dessen’s Dreamland) or in more nuanced ways (Brandy Colbert’s Pointe), we need to start questioning the messages our children have absorbed about our culture and how they form their own self-worth. And more importantly, how a lack of self-worth can be manipulated by others and damage teenagers in very serious ways. 

About BLEED LIKE ME:

From the author of Fault Line comes an edgy and heartbreaking novel about two self-destructive teens in a Sid and Nancy-like romance full of passion, chaos, and dyed hair.

Seventeen-year-old Amelia Gannon (just “Gannon” to her friends) is invisible to almost everyone in her life. To her parents, to her teachers-even her best friend, who is more interested in bumming cigarettes than bonding. Some days the only way Gannon knows she is real is by carving bloody lines into the flesh of her stomach.

Then she meets Michael Brooks, and for the first time, she feels like she is being seen to the core of her being. Obnoxious, controlling, damaged, and addictive, he inserts himself into her life until all her scars are exposed. Each moment together is a passionate, painful relief.

But as the relationship deepens, Gannon starts to feel as if she’s standing at the foot of a dam about to burst. She’s given up everything and everyone in her life for him, but somehow nothing is enough for Brooks-until he poses the ultimate test.

Bleed Like Me is a piercing, intimate portrayal of the danger of a love so obsessive it becomes its own biggest threat. (Goodreads description)

BLEED LIKE ME by Christa Desir will be released on October 7, 2014 by Simon Pulse. ISBN: 9781442498907  

Take 5: 5 Books Coming Soon That YOU MUST READ

So I read, a lot. Sometimes 3 to 5 books a week. These are some books that I have read recently that I think are so spectacularly good that everyone should read them. Yes, that means you. Some of these you have heard me mention frequently on Twitter. Others, I have been holding my bubbling excitement in with tremendous amount of effort. But I can hold it in no longer, because you definitely want to add these to your TBR piles.

Complicit by Stephanie Kuehn

Publisher’s Description: Two years ago, sixteen-year-old Jamie Henry breathed a sigh of relief when a judge sentenced his older sister to juvenile detention for burning down their neighbor’s fancy horse barn. The whole town did. Because Crazy Cate Henry used to be a nice girl. Until she did a lot of bad things. Like drinking. And stealing. And lying. Like playing weird mind games in the woods with other children. Like making sure she always got her way. Or else.

But today Cate got out. And now she’s coming back for Jamie.

Because more than anything, Cate Henry needs her little brother to know the truth about their past. A truth she’s kept hidden for years. A truth she’s not supposed to tell.

Trust nothing and no one as you race toward the explosive conclusion of this gripping psychological thriller from the William C. Morris Award-winning author of Charm & Strange.

Karen’s Thoughts:
This is a masterful psychological thriller. The ending floored me, in fact after I finally picked my jaw up off the floor I stood and applauded Kuehn for making some very bold storytelling choices. I can not stress enough what an engaging read this is. You know from the description that things are not what they seem, and to be honest I thought some very different things were happening then what was happening. There are some epic twists and turn here, and the tension is superb.  Kuehn won the 2014 Morris Award for Charm & Stranger for a reason, girl can write and Complicit does not let the reader down. Pair this with Scowler by Daniel Kraus for some great psychological thriller action.

Publishes June 2014 from St. Martin’s. ISBN: 9781250044594

Servants of the Storm by Delilah S. Dawson

 

Publisher’s Description: A year ago Hurricane Josephine swept through Savannah, Georgia, leaving behind nothing but death and destruction — and taking the life of Dovey’s best friend, Carly. Since that night, Dovey has been in a medicated haze, numb to everything around her.

But recently she’s started to believe she’s seeing things that can’t be real … including Carly at their favorite cafe. Determined to learn the truth, Dovey stops taking her pills. And the world that opens up to her is unlike anything she could have imagined.

As Dovey slips deeper into the shadowy corners of Savannah — where the dark and horrifying secrets lurk — she learns that the storm that destroyed her city and stole her friend was much more than a force of nature. And now the sinister beings truly responsible are out to finish what they started.

Dovey’s running out of time and torn between two paths. Will she trust her childhood friend Baker, who can’t see the threatening darkness but promises to never give up on Dovey and Carly? Or will she plot with the sexy stranger, Isaac, who offers all the answers — for a price? Soon Dovey realizes that the danger closing in has little to do with Carly … and everything to do with Dovey herself.
 
Karen’s Thoughts:
I actually read this book sometime last year for no other reason than it had the most amazing cover ever. Yep, I too judge a book by it’s cover. This is some seriously creepy – and I mean that in the most amazing way – southern Gothic horror. The beginning part, where we learn about the poverty of the area, meet our main characters, and experience the storm: that is some amazing writing. And then you start learning about the way that demons kind of undulate under every part of this town – wicked cool. So descriptive, so haunting, so mesmerizing. The way that the author uses the lore of demons to undergird this entire world, an epically cool twist. And the way that the humans interact with the demons, which involves seriously gross things, will blow readers minds. There is an entire scene at a “amusement park” which will keep you awake at night and make you seriously reconsider your summer plans to visit your local carnivals.
 
Publishes in August 2014 from Simon Pulse. ISBN: 9781442483781
 
Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty by Christine Heppermann
 

Publisher’s Description: Every little girl goes through her princess phase, whether she wants to be Snow White or Cinderella, Belle or Ariel. But then we grow up. And life is not a fairy tale.

Christine Heppermann’s collection of fifty poems puts the ideals of fairy tales right beside the life of the modern teenage girl. With piercing truths reminiscent of Laurie Halse Anderson and Ellen Hopkins, this is a powerful and provocative book for every young woman. E. Lockhart, author of We Were Liars, calls it “a bloody poetic attack on the beauty myth that’s caustic, funny, and heartbreaking.”

Cruelties come not just from wicked stepmothers, but also from ourselves. There are expectations, pressures, judgment, and criticism. Self-doubt and self-confidence. But there are also friends, and sisters, and a whole hell of a lot of power there for the taking. In fifty poems, Christine Heppermann confronts society head on. Using fairy tale characters and tropes, Poisoned Apples explores how girls are taught to think about themselves, their bodies, and their friends. The poems range from contemporary retellings to first-person accounts set within the original tales, and from deadly funny to deadly serious. Complemented throughout with black-and-white photographs from up-and-coming artists, this is a stunning and sophisticated book to be treasured, shared, and paged through again and again.
 
Karen’s Thoughts:
I read this book for one simple reason: A. S. King said this book was so good she blurbed it. That speaks volumes to me. These poems are so amazing and the perfectly capture a lot of what teens think and feel about things like body image, cultural messaging, and more. They kind of take the tone and conceit of fairy tales, make them into poems, and use these poems to discuss things like periods and anorexia . . . The poems are haunting with their incisive look at what it means to be a girl in today’s world. For example, a poem entitled “Sweet Nothings” ends with the line:
 
How stupid that all I have to do
is grow two squishy lumps and
  suddenly
I’m man’s best friend
 
All I can say is, these poems are amazing. Read them.
 
Publishes in September 2014 from Greenwillow Books. ISBN: 9780062289599

Bleed Like Me by Christa Desir

Publisher’s Description: From the author of Fault Line comes an edgy and heartbreaking novel about two self-destructive teens in a Sid and Nancy-like romance full of passion, chaos, and dyed hair.

Seventeen-year-old Amelia Gannon (just “Gannon” to her friends) is invisible to almost everyone in her life. To her parents, to her teachers-even her best friend, who is more interested in bumming cigarettes than bonding. Some days the only way Gannon knows she is real is by carving bloody lines into the flesh of her stomach.

Then she meets Michael Brooks, and for the first time, she feels like she is being seen to the core of her being. Obnoxious, controlling, damaged, and addictive, he inserts himself into her life until all her scars are exposed. Each moment together is a passionate, painful relief.

But as the relationship deepens, Gannon starts to feel as if she’s standing at the foot of a dam about to burst. She’s given up everything and everyone in her life for him, but somehow nothing is enough for Brooks-until he poses the ultimate test.

Bleed Like Me is a piercing, intimate portrayal of the danger of a love so obsessive it becomes its own biggest threat.

Karen’s Thoughts:
I know you are thinking to yourself, but Karen, you are biased because you are working with Christa on the #SVYALit Project. I have a personal rule that is very easy to follow: Because I want my site to be a reputable site, I have to be honest about my reviews. Here’s the deal, after finishing Bleed Like Me I emailed Christa and basically said, please don’t take this the wrong way but this book is soooo much better than Fault Line. And it is. Christa has created a well developed character study into the life of one girl and the very unhealthy relationship she gets involved in. This is a must read for Ellen Hopkins fans; all the gritty reality but in prose. It is very edgy and mature, make no mistake about that, but it is hands down a perfect look into the complexities of how and why people get into the most dysfunctional relationships. It is also a profound look at what are sometimes considered the murkier areas of sexual consent; namely, if a boy uses guilt and manipulation to get a girl to consent, how consensual is it really? This is also a very compelling look at family and identity and how changing family dynamics can impact how we see ourselves fitting into the universe.

Publishes in October 2014 from Simon Pulse. ISBN: 9781442498907

Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A. S. King

Publisher’s Description:
WOULD YOU TRY TO CHANGE THE WORLD
IF YOU THOUGHT YOU HAD NO FUTURE?

Graduating from high school is a time of limitless possibilities—but not for Glory, who has no plan for what’s next. Her mother committed suicide when Glory was only four years old, and she’s never stopped wondering if she will eventually go the same way…until a transformative night when she begins to experience an astonishing new power to see a person’s infinite past and future. From ancient ancestors to many generations forward, Glory is bombarded with visions—and what she sees ahead of her is terrifying.

A tyrannical new leader raises an army. Women’s rights disappear. A violent second civil war breaks out. And young girls vanish daily, sold off or interned in camps. Glory makes it her mission to record everything she sees, hoping her notes will somehow make a difference. She may not see a future for herself, but she’ll do everything in her power to make sure this one doesn’t come to pass.

In this masterpiece about freedom, feminism, and destiny, Printz Honor author A.S. King tells the epic story of a girl coping with devastating loss at long last—a girl who has no idea that the future needs her, and that the present needs her even more.

Karen’s Thoughts:
My love for A. S. King is so deep and profound at this point that I go into each new book with a mixture of both anticipation and anxiety. My fear is that one day I won’t like one of her books and then I won’t know how to order my universe. But today is not that day! I freaking loved this book. In many ways, Glory O’Brien is reminiscent to me of Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith. How you ask? It has an interesting “friendship” – in this case a female one – and it juxtaposes alternating contemporary fiction (King truly captures the teenage voice) with some very cool speculative fiction elements. Glory O’Brien is a fascinating character and she perfectly captures that moment of transition when teens are about to graduate high school and they think, holy crap what now? Her journey of self discovery is authentic, sincere, and resonates. This book was full of quotes that teens will latch onto as personal mantras. And I sincerely love that it is unabashedly feminist in the things O’Brien says to both herself and to the universe around her. This is a journey of self discovery and it was an enlightening joy to take it with this character. This may be my favorite King title yet.

Publishes in October 2014 from Little, Brown. ISBN: 9780316222723

I downloaded eArcs of all of these books on Edelweiss.