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Why I Teach Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward in My High School, a guest post by author Brendan Kiely

During our recent #SVYALit Project Hangout, author Brendan Kiely (The Gospel of Winter) mentioned that he taught the book Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward in his classroom. Today he is talking with us about teaching this book in his classroom, sharing the who, what, why and how his teens respond.

Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones is the story of Esch, a 15-year-old girl who has recently discovered that she is pregnant, and her family’s struggle to survive Hurricane Katrina as it hits the Mississippi Gulf Coast.  The novel takes place over the twelve days leading up to, during, and just after Katrina.  It is a shocking, heart wrenching, beautifully told story, and I use it in my 10thgrade English class because it is an expertly crafted novel that provides myriad possibilities of literary analysis and, even more importantly, inspires complicated discussions about important contemporary social issues that teenagers find meaningful, engaging, and personally relevant.

 
Esch’s family lives on the impoverished outskirts of the fictional town of Bois Sauvage, and although they know Katrina is on the way, they don’t have the means to leave and they have nowhere else to go.  Like most good stories, the characters are stuck in a seemingly impossible situation and have to find a way to look that danger in the eye, if not survive it.  For Esch’s family, while they scramble for food and try to prepare their home for the imminent disaster, it is the fierceness of their loyalty to each other that braces them for the storm.


The family is motherless, and so in the twelve days of the novel, Esch must also come to terms with the realities of becoming a mother on her own, in a life surrounded by boys and men. 


The novel is gripping, sometimes terrifying, and ultimately transcendent because lurking just below the surface of the gritty realism and gorgeous prose is the pulsing and haunting influence of the myth of Medea.


During our year together, I want to help students better understand how to read actively and write analytically, and I structure the practice of these skills with texts I think my students will find challenging and will also enjoy and which force us to confront, in a safe community of open-minded learners, conversations that examine contemporary social issues and conflicts. 

 
The teens I teach love Salvage the Bones because they connect with the way Esch articulates her emotional state—her complicated and very real conflicting desires—and they also love it because Esch and her family’s struggle becomes a springboard for conversations about difficult issues my students are eager to discuss, debate and learn more about because they find them immediately relevant to their own lives: teen pregnancy, consent in sexual relationships, the pressure of sex as a form of social acceptance, single parent homes, poverty, racism, dog fighting; and likewise more triumphant themes, too, such as family bonds, love, ingenuity, loyalty, and the influence of mythic stories and archetypes in our contemporary life.

 

I use Salvage the Bones to teach more about the broader, sociological discussion of income disparity in the United States and the powerful effects of systemic inequality in the lives of individual families.  Sometimes having conversations like these can all too quickly reduce real people to abstract statistics, and this is why I like to use a novel like Salvage the Bones to ground these conversations.  Ward’s characters are complex and fully human, and our conversations in class have to recognize their full humanity—their humor, love, strength, and fallibility—and they serve to remind us that the facts and figures we study in the broader conversations also reflect the lived experience of real people in our society. 

 
Because our school is also a highly privileged institution in New York City, we begin our study of the gulf coast, Katrina, and the novel with a critical examination of what it means to be an outsider looking into another community.  And before we get to the novel, we study Hurricane Katrina through news stories, personal essays, and the excellent movie, Trouble the Water.  None of my students experienced Hurricane Katrina—we all experienced Hurricane Sandy, however, and we use that personal experience to discuss to what degree we can sympathize or empathize with the characters in the novel—and the real people in communities affected by Katrina.

As Ron Charles remarked in his review of the book in the Washington Post, “Salvage the Bones has the aura of a classic about it.”  It does.  It has the scope and vision of “the great American novel” as it provides a rich foundation with which to discuss the important and complex socio-political issues of our day, and the important and complex emotional-psychological issues that teens face as they try to understand their place in the world and who they want to become tomorrow.  This is why I read, teach and write literature—I want to create a safe space in which young people and adults can discuss difficult questions.  Isn’t that why we turn to fiction in the first place?  It provides us an opportunity to look beyond ourselves, to engage in meaningful conversations about questions that are the hardest to discuss, but also the most important.
 

 
About Brendan Kiely:

Brendan Kiely is the author of the recently published novel, The Gospel of Winter. TGoW is “a fearless debut novel about the restorative power of truth and love after the trauma of abuse.” (Goodreads Page).  He teaches literature and writing at an independent high school in New York City. 

The Gospel of Winter has received starred reviews from Booklist, Kirkus, and Publisher’s Weekly – and me.  Publishes January 21, 2014 from Margaret K. McElderry Books.  ISBN:  9781442484894. 

 

The #SVYALit Virtual Panel #2 Recap

Yesterday we had our second Google Hangout on Air as part of the #SVYALit Project. Author Carrie Mesrobian (Sex and Violence) moderated our virtual panel which included authors Stephanie Kuehn (Charm & Strange), Rachele Alpine (Canary) and Brendan Kiely (The Gospel of Winter). Below the video is a recap of the conversation with minute indicators should you want to go view a specific part of the video.

This was a great discussion as we talked about how institutional culture – including the church and sports culture – can put the needs of the institution above individuals and the danger that lies in that. They also had some great discussion about the important of friends and allies in breaking the silence surrounding sexual abuse and what we expect of our main characters in terms of likability and decision making. And tucked in here is some great discussion about the gray areas of consent and how we fail to talk to our teens about this.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xzIriaUoQ5k?rel=0]


A Brief Introduction of Each of the Books by the Authors

 
The Gospel of Winter – 16-year-old boy who recognizes that the relationship he has with his priest is not love but abuse. Kiely is from the Boston area and he wanted to do a story about the betrayal and the real courage it took to stand up and say that they had been abused. Young people were the ones who really opened the floodgates of this revelation. GOW is about a culture of fear that prizes secrecy and uses that secrecy to create an atmosphere of abuse and it relates to the post 9/11 culture.

Charm and Strange – A book about a boy who literally thinks he is a monster and what has led him to believe that. He is afraid he will hurt others so he actively pushes them away and the past narrative reveals why he thinks this way about himself. It is about him trying to integrate his past in his present together to be a more complete person. Trying to convey that for someone who was struggling with his mental illness to be seen as someone strong and resilient and doing his best given the circumstances.

Canary – A young girl dealing with grief, Kate, is thrown into a new school environment that has a strong sports culture that idolizes the basketball team and its players. She slowly cedes parts of herself to this culture until she is sexually assaulted and has to decide whether or not to reveal the truth or to be silent. It is told in multiple formats flipping between a traditional narrative and using poetry to reveal Kate’s inner thoughts.

Discussing the Idea of Institutional/Hero Worship and How They Ask Victims to Remain Silent (11:35)

Brendan Kiely: When we attack institutions, the people involved in those institutions sometimes take it as an attack on themselves. For some, it is a belief that the institution/the community as a whole are more important than an individual member. They begin to protect itself over the people that they are supposed to be serving. It’s never okay to sacrifice young people to protect the institution.

While researching GOW, Kiely learned that many of the priests guilty of abuse were abused themselves, they were perpetuating the cycle of abuse. If you are going to promote people to be community leaders (including teachers) there needs to be good education on how to best serve.

It has a lot to do with the “adoring” a certain figure, letting that figure stand in.

18:00 – We have to have open conversations about sex so that we can have real conversations about both sex and sexual violence. That failure to talk about it allows these types of things to happen.

Rachele Alpine: (20:00) – We are taught from a young age to revere certain people through our media and experiences. The culture that is created that exalts and celebrates certain people over others, in this case athletes, and speaking out against this culture becomes a problem of me against them.

Carrie Mesrobian: Discusses the entitlement of this culture and how it takes over everyone’s time and priorities; how it becomes the culture instead of becoming PART of the culture. There is also a good portrayal of how the male character grounds down Kate’s voice to the point that she starts to really lose pieces of herself.

Stephanie Kuehn (24:00) – Here we see the institution of the family and how it too can became a breeding ground for dysfunction and abuse. Kuehn wanted to discuss Win’s challenge to separate himself and his family, the evil that is in his family and whether or not it is in him. In this family, you are either a victim or a victimizer and it is better to be the one with power, the victimizer. Why don’t people speak up? Because of family bonds and the idea of personal narratives and blame.

The Response and Importance of Friends (26:00)
How do friends help or hinder people speaking the truth?

Carrie Mesrobian: If we can learn anything from Harry Potter – and really, I think we can learn everything from Harry Potter – it’s the importance of friends.

Brendan Kiely (27:00) – People need to find the space where two people can be equal in a relationship in order to form more honest relationships with each other. Adolescence are beginning to understand this process, how to share vulnerability, how to become allies. The danger is when a person can begin to feel like an outcast; it can require such a leap to bring that person back into the fold. In GOW, the MC doesn’t want to see himself as a victim. That’s okay that he wants to try to maintain a normal life, but he has to find a way to integrate that part of his life – his victimhood – into his overall identity or he will remain fractured. But there is a character in the story that reaches out to him and says they will be there for him. These types of stories allow teens to have conversations about how to be a better friend and ally. Friends are more important than family when you are 16. Having books like these to talk about how to support each other to be better friends is so important, there isn’t a lot of that in our culture.

Stephanie Kuehn (31:00) – For Win, all of his relationships have been destructive. He believes it is inevitable that he will hurt the people around him. But Kuehn wanted to create some characters struggling with their own issues who didn’t understand Win but we’re willing to reach out to him and say they were there for him. These characters demonstrate empathy; empathy and having someone care about you even when you can’t care about yourself can be that spark that makes you reach for healing. Compassion is a powerful gift to give to someone else.

Rachele Alpine (34:00) – The important part of Kate’s story is that she eventually recognizes that these people who have said they are her friends really aren’t. Her brother is the voice of reason that she refuses to listen to. “When you do find the courage to speak out, it might not always be the first or second person who listens to you. Keep looking and keep searching for that person who will.” You deserve to be heard. This message is part of Kate’s journey, she needs to make sure she is being heard.

Talking About Sex Scenes and Consent (36:00)
How do you look at the consent?

Rachele Alpine (37:00) – Poetry is used to reveal Kate’s real voice. In it we see that even though she says yes to Jack when they have sex, we see here that she is more being pressured into by Jack and by her friends. Kate is questioning it and doesn’t really want to do it.  To Kate, it is something she feels she needs to do to stay with Jack (which reminds me that we need to write that post about guilt/manipulation and how it can muddy the consent discussion). The gray areas of consent: we don’t talk enough about what sexual assault can be and what consent is. Teenagers know that someone forces themselves on you, that’s rape, but they don’t understand the finer elements of consent.

Carrie Mesrobian: Most young people’s idea of consent that silence and letting things happen is the same thing as consent. They need to understand that saying yes – enthusiastic consent – matters. (42:00)

Talking About the Main Characters (43:00)

Carrie Mesrobian: The main characters in these stories are important because they aren’t the noble, sympathetic character who was raped by knife point in the bushes. They are unlikable characters who don’t always make the right choices and we are still supposed to feel compassion for them.

Stephanie Kuehn (44:00) – Why would Win be likable? He is arrogant, cold, protective. There is no perfect victim, the idea doesn’t even make sense. For any kid that is victimized, we should care about them no matter who they are or what they are like; we need to protect them at all costs. If we can’t, that says a lot more about us as adults then it does the kids.

Brendan Kiely (47:00) – Adain imagines this scene where he sees the community seeing him as a monster. Kiely was consciously trying to make connections between the novel Frankenstein. Aidan is created in some sense by the circumstances of his abuse because you can’t not be affected by that. Just like in the novel Frankenstein, Adain might be described as a monster, but just as in Frankenstein Aidan, the “monster”, is actually the most human. If we are going to honor the victims of sexual abuse it does an injustice to paint them into a rosy picture rather than allow them their full humanity. It seems like a worse injustice to not allow our characters to be as messed up as people who aren’t victim of sexual violence. If we don’t have a character who is making poor choices, then it is harder to invite readers to discuss how to make better choices going forward. Unless we have muddy scenes, how else do we have real conversations with teens?

Here Brendan Kiely recommends the book Salvage the Bones

Carrie Mesrobians: The friends have moments of grace.

Listen to what Carrie says around the 52:00 mark about how we don’t allow characters with a history of sexual violence to have more complex narratives.

Rachele Alpine (53:00) –  Important to show some redemption for some of the characters. The most comments that she has gotten about Kate is that she shouldn’t get involved in the this world, but she needed to be flawed and we needed to see what she had to lose by speaking up.

Carrie Mesrobian (56:00) – People who do this don’t always look like evil, there is a banality to it. They tell themselves this story about themselves when they get up in the morning – they have a story they have to tell themselves to live with who they are. Having that nuance where we can hear that secondary victimization is so powerful.

Brendan Kiely (58:00) – If we insist on cardboard people it’s like we have no faith in people. At the end of the day it is celebrating how we emerge from the muck.

Stephanie Kuehn (59:00) – It’s so easy to qualify our compassion, but life is not black and white. Here she discusses reading Inexcusable by Chris Lynch.

Talking About the Ending (1 hour mark)

Stephanie Kuehn – There are no easy answers, but I wanted to show that empathy and friendship matter; that believing in yourself is what ultimately matters and moves us forward.

Rachele Alpine – Wanted to end it with the fact that you do move forward. At the end of the book Kate is not letting people silence her anymore.

Brendan Kiely – Wanted to end on the note that we are not alone. As victims we are not alone because there are other victims but also we are not alone because we can find the right communities and those communities can rally around the victims. Together we can work to make a better world then the world we found.

Carrie Mesrobian: “I love all 3 of the endings of these books because while they don’t show that the road ahead for any of the characters is going to be smooth, they kind of show that this is the reality of what you contend with when you deal with trauma but that you can be honest about it.” Read Carrie’s thoughts about the hangout on her blog.

The Next #SVYALit Google Hangout/Virtual Panel Will Be:

Consent Positive YA Lit: Looking at positive depictions of healthy relationships and consent in YA literature
Date: May 21st
Moderator(s): Christa Desir, Carrie Mesrobian, Karen Jensen

Confirmed: Courtney Stevens (FAKING NORMAL), Brandy Colbert (POINTE) 

Honoring the Survivors, a guest post by author Brendan Kiely (#SVYALit Project)


Brendan Kiely is the debut author of the recently released book The Gospel of Winter, a story that takes place right as the revelations began coming to light of the widespread abuse of young men by Catholic priests. He is also a participant in the upcoming #SVYALit Google Hangout on Air, which will take place on Wednesday, March 26th at Noon Eastern. Today he is sharing his thoughts about his debut novel.
The heart of The Gospel of Winter is a boy’s struggle with whether or not to tell the world he has been abused by his priest.  It’s a story of betrayal: Aidan has been betrayed by the one person he has come to rely on the most as his family crumbles around him.  Father Greg promised love and compassion.  The Catholic Church promised love and compassion.  But instead of delivering what they promised, they wielded those concepts and words like weapons and harmed the very people they claimed to want to protect.  In The Gospel of Winter I wanted to write a novel that moved beyond the news stories and honored the young people who had to experience those broken promises firsthand. 
The Gospel of Winter is not a memoir, but when the Boston Globe broke the story of the vast scandal of cover up of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, many people close to me felt betrayed—and I felt betrayed, too.  As I continued to follow the story in the news, I felt it was important to add another voice—to write a novel that highlighted the struggle of the kids who were brave enough to speak up and tell friends and family that they had been abused by priests. I admired the strength of those young people and I wanted to write a novel that honored them and those still searching for the strength to find their own voice—they are all survivors.

As a high school teacher, I work with young people every day, and I know that they watch us adults closely.  They look up to us, and they also know when we aren’t being honest with them.  They’re smart, observant listeners and they take note when we adults contort uncomfortable truths or bury them beneath the weight of life’s more immediate expectations.  They ask complex and important questions, and they notice when we adults ignore the questions we don’t have answers to. 
Silence isn’t an answer.  Neglect isn’t an answer.  They are part of the problem.  How are young people to deal with a problem none of the adults in their world will acknowledge exists?  What are they to do?
See no evil; hear no evil; speak no evil—young people had to break that powerful silence, and those who had to bear that awful responsibility I find heroic.  They are the kids I wanted to write about.  I thought about how difficult it must have been to muster that courage and the novel evolved around that internal conflict for Aidan: should I say anything at all?
It is inspiring working with young people—every day I am in a building filled with so much hope—but as I wrote my book, I kept thinking back to my own childhood.  All those Roman collars.  What about the kids who’d been victimized, who’d been robbed of their hope?  These children’s narratives were nearly invisible in the news, so I wanted my novel to provide a voice for the person too frequently left out of these stories—the kid who finds himself in this situation.  Why does he find himself there, and how does he cope with the aftermath?
Understanding how to better love each other is important to me.  It’s fundamental to how my parents raised me and it lies at the heart of the Catholic education I received as a child.  I wanted to write The Gospel of Winter because despite my outrage at the institution of the Church, what mattered to me—and what continues to matter to me—was to tell a story that still prized the fundamental principles I had learned from my culturally Catholic upbringing: love and compassion. This is why I made the friendships between Aidan and his peers central to the book, because the heart of friendship is that very love and compassion I had grown up thinking were paramount.  Meaningful friendship is an act of extending ourselves beyond our own experiences and saying to another person, “I am here for you; I am here with you; I want to know what is true for you.”
As an educator, I want to empower young people to use their voices, to speak up and speak truth to power.  As I see it, however, this doesn’t have to be one individual, one David, always facing the Goliath.  This is why the friendships in the book are so important to me.  I want to inspire young people to be better friends to each other and for each other, so that when they need to muster the strength to do the right thing, they have the support they need to do it.
By writing a novel about a boy’s attempt to reconstruct his definition of love after he has been abused by an adult, I hope to create a safe space in which young people and adults can discuss these difficult questions.  And isn’t this why we turn to fiction?  It allows us to look beyond ourselves, to engage in meaningful conversations about the questions that are the hardest to discuss but also the most important. 
The Gospel of Winter has received multiple starred reviews and I highly recommend it. It is one of the few – and possibly only – book about this particular event in history. It is also a powerful look at the concepts of grooming, the age of consent, and the betrayal of trust that leaves victims shattered and confused in its wake.  

Sunday Reflections: Why Talking About the Age of Consent Matters

I didn’t have to even stop and think about it that day.  I was sitting on the Reference Desk when a woman came in and said she was concerned because she had seen what she thought was a pretty young girl kissing a grown man outside the library. I walked over and saw them walking away through the window, and I knew who they both were. The girl was no older than 14 and the man was most definitely a grown up. So I turned around, picked up the phone and called the police. I told them that a patron had said they were kissing and that the left together. The police came immediately and took our statements. It was determined that a crime was in progress and the police got the man’s name and tracked them down.  I called for one reason and one reason only, if I read in the paper the next day that that girl was found raped and murdered I knew 100% that I would have been in a position to stop it and I didn’t. So I did.  I didn’t know for sure what was happening, but I knew enough to be scared and called the police and let them deal with it.  They did come back and tell us that they were found together and the man was arrested. I know nothing beyond that.

But here’s the thing: She was 14-years old and he was an adult. Not kind of an adult, but a man in his 20s adult.

I remember being 14. I remember having feelings I didn’t quite know yet what to do with them. I remember thinking my Latin teacher was cute. I remember thinking that various movie and music stars were “hot”. I remember wondering and questioning and trying to figure out in my head what it all meant. But the difference was that there was not a grown up in my life using my confusion and naivete to his advantage. And that’s why the age of consent matters.

I just finished reading POINTE by Brandy Colbert and this book is an excellent example of what is known as grooming.  Grooming is “the process by which an offender draws a victim into a sexual relationship and maintains that relationship in secrecy. The shrouding of the relationship is an essential feature of grooming” (Source: http://www.oprah.com/oprahshow/Child-Sexual-Abuse-6-Stages-of-Grooming).

According to Dr. Michael Welner, there are 6 stages of grooming:

1. Targeting
2. Gaining trust
3. Filling a need
4. Isolating the child
5. Sexualizing the relationship
6. Maintaining control

These are expanded on here: http://www.oprah.com/oprahshow/Child-Sexual-Abuse-6-Stages-of-Grooming. But like sharks, these men (and yes, sometimes women) are predators looking for easy prey.

In Pointe, Theo is an amazing, dedicated ballet dancer. When we meet her, she is 17.  Her best friend Donovan has been missing for 4 years and then he suddenly returns. Except he’s not talking about what happened. But when Theo sees a picture of who he has been with the past 4 years, she’s not sure what to believe.  Soon she will be called to testified, and she is trying to figure out what the truth is and what she should say up there on the stand.

Grooming. It sounds so textbook . . . It’s hard for me to think of him as a perdator . . .” – Pointe, by Brandy Colbert (p. 127)

She is confused, and this is expertly depicted.  And in all of this, someone actually uses the word grooming. In fact, this book, in flashbacks, does a great job of helping readers understand what grooming is and the complex and conflicting emotions that it can cause. The Gospel of Winter by Brendan Kiely also does a great job of this. I highly recommend both of these titles. And I think it is important that we talk to teens about grooming in the same way that we need to talk to them about understanding commercials and how they are designed to sell a product. Information is power, and giving teens the information to see what may be happening is so very important to help stop it.

But what it also does is remind us all why the age of consent matters. It doesn’t matter if it looks on the outside if a child or young teen is consenting, because we have to understand that there are powerful dynamics at work here.  Dynamics that include an imbalance of power. Dynamics that include manipulation and isolation. Dynamics that play on the naivete and inexperience of these young people.

That is why we can’t have articles written that suggest that Chris Brown was quite the stud back when he was 8 and had sex with his babysitter. No, his babysitter raped him. This has been written about multiple times, include here. Part of the reason this narrative plays out is because we view male and female sexuality very differently. Teenage guys who get action are studs while the girls are sluts. But part of this is also because we still don’t acknowledge the extent of male rape, which does happen and it is just as horrific as when it happens to a female.

But part of it is also because we get all confused about the issue of underage consent. Consent isn’t just about age, it is also about the difference in age, which is why many state laws have the age of consent at 16 and there can not be a more than 3 year age difference. Because as that age gap widens, so does ones knowledge, experience and the power imbalance, making younger teens much easier to manipulate or deceive.  I remember being 16 and thinking I was so close to an adult, but 25 year old Karen realized in hindsight that 16 year old Karen really didn’t know squat.

When I was 15, I dated a boy who was “in a band”. Briefly. He was an adult, in college. And I mentioned that he was “in a band”, right? One night we went to go play miniature golf but he drove right past the course and took me to his an apartment.  He gave me this hand stitched pillow, which he said he made for me.  I knew there was no way he had made that pillow for me. None. So I asked him to take me home and I was lucky because he did. But a younger Karen would have been flattered, craving that attention. There are so many ways that day could have gone differently for me. And for many teens, it does.

Recently I was working with a teen volunteer who thought I was the “cool librarian”. So she told me she was grounded because she had been spending time with a 24-year-old man and her parents didn’t want him near her. She was 14. She assured me they were just friends and asked if she was my daughter would I let them be friends. This is what I said: “I can think of no good reason for a 24-year-old man to start up a friendship with a 14-year-old girl out of the blue. If this happened with my daughter, I would take away her phone, monitor her e-mail, and do everything I could to keep her safe. I can’t speak for your parents, but I think that any parent who saw this happening with their child would be rightfully suspicious and cautious.”

I could see it in her eyes, the way she was flattered by the attention of this older, cooler man. Because that too is the imbalance of power.  As Emily so eloquently states: “They were grooming me, but to that chubby, attention-starved teenage girl, their attentions felt a lot like love.” (Read the entire post The Myth of the Teenage Temptress, or Why a Young Girl Can Not Consent to Sex with an Adult Man)

Mama Bear has a good post for parents on protecting your children from pedophiles

Book Review: The Gospel of Winter by Brendan Kiely

In 2002, the media began reporting on various allegations that the Catholic church was involved in a large sexual abuse scandal.  Many young people, prominently boys, came forward and revealed that they had been sexually violated by priests in the church and the church had gone to great lengths to cover that abuse up.  According to some sources, the scandal may have involved around 3,000 priests and may go back 50 years or more.  It is one of the largest crimes against our children and teens in the contemporary era and that is the topic of The Gospel of Winter by Brendan Kiely.

In The Gospel of Winter, we meet Aidan Donovan.  Aidan is the son of a rich and powerful man who has just left the family for his career and mistress.  He lives in a world with high expectations and doesn’t fit in.  His only solace has been the volunteer work at the Catholic church and he family housekeeper/nanny. And then there is Father Greg, who wants to make sure that Aidan understands the power of God’s restorative love for him.

Soon Aidan is forming a friendship with 3 peers from school – two girls and a guy – and he is overwhelmed by self doubt and feelings of confusion and violation.  The guy, Mark, also goes to the local Catholic church, and he one day tries to talk to Aidan about the things that Father Greg has done to them.  But Aidan is trying to wear denial as his armor and her refuses to acknowledge anything.  This results in some serious repercussions for Mark.

Soon the story break nationwide and Aidan must decide whether or not he will come forward and speak about what happened to him.

The Gospel of Winter is an important book.  It is not an easy read, but it is a necessary one.  All of us, regardless of our age, need to understand what happened and see this glimpse into how it may have happened for some of these children.  Kiely does a profound job of showing the various and complex emotions involved.  Kiely also provides a realistic and deeply disturbing look at the ways that adults can manipulate the young people in their lives.  And the reaction of various adults is shocking, enlightening and heartbreaking.  Kiely manages to depict the intense nature of the abuse and the emotional consequences without being overly graphic on the actual details.  There is also a look at how teens will uses drugs and alcohol as a way to self-medicate their pain.

The Gospel of Winter is a light shining bright on a shamefully dark part of our psyche and history.  It is horrifically uncomfortable to read, emotionally draining and disconcerting, but it ends on a redemptive note as the teens involved make life changing decisions to help themselves and each other. Profound, revealing, and expertly told, The Gospel of Winter is a must read for all.

The Gospel of Winter has received starred reviews from Booklist, Kirkus, and Publisher’s Weekly – and me.  Publishes January 21, 2014 from Margaret K. McElderry Books.  ISBN:  9781442484894.  Please note, I received a copy of an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Sexual Violence in the Lives of Teens and YA Lit:
This year, we are dedicating TLT to focusing on several issues in the lives of teens, one of which is sexual abuse and violence. We’re going to Google Hangout and do a “virtual discussion panel” with authors Carrie Mesrobian (Sex & Violence), Christa Desir (Fault Line) and Trish Doller (Where the Stars Still Shine) on Wednesday, January 29th at Noon Eastern to discuss Sexual Violence in the lives of teens and YA lit.  You can join us for our virtual panel.  We will also be attempting to record it so you can view it later.  Some of the questions we will be discussing include how writers go about making realistic representations to raise awareness and give teen survivors a voice. These are all good books with some good discussion and I recommend reading them.  In fact, read them before January 29th and join us.

More About Sexual Violence in YA Lit on TLT:
What It’s Like for a Girl: How Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama made me think about the politics of sexuality in the life of girls
Sexual Assault Awareness Month, talking to teens about consent and rape part 1 and part 2
Should there be sex in YA books? 
Plan B: What Youth Advocates Need to Know 
Because No Always Mean No, a list of books dealing with sexual assault
Who Will Save You? Boundaries, Rescue and the Role of Adults in YA Lit.  A look at consent and respecting boundaries in relationships outside of just sex. 
Incest, the last taboo 
This is What Consent Looks Like
Street Harassment
That Time Matt Smith Perpetuated Street Harassment Culture at Comic Con
An Anonymous Letter to Those Who Would Ban Eleanor and Park
Take 5: Difficult books on an important topic (sexual violence)