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The Where of it All: Place and Story, a guest post by Kathi Appelt

underneathYears ago, when my novel The Underneath came out, one of the reviewers called it “Southern Gothic for the middle-grade set.” At first, I was a little on the crushed side, but the more I’ve thought about it, the more I realized that the reviewer actually got where I was coming from—they understood me as a person who dwelt on the beauty of extended syllables, who cools them down with iced tea from a jar, a person who was raised on William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams. It shouldn’t have come as a big surprise that my voice was a reflection of that. I decided to own it.

 

 

 

And now, a little over ten years since the publication of that first novel, I have this new novel, Angel Thieves, that is also deeply ingrained in the place of it. Houston. Fourth largest city in the country, also the most diverse.

 

I really believe that the most important three things in our lives all start with the letter P. They are: People. Places. Pets.  They’re the “whirled P’s,” as my friend Liz Garton Scanlon calls them.  Our deepest loves, our most profound fears are found there. And they’re intertwined, woven together—whirled–in all the ways that generate stories. Try telling a tale without one of those three P’s.

 

For me, as much as I groove on my People and my six gifted and talented cats, Place is almost always where I begin when it comes to a story. You could say it’s the where of it all.

 

I don’t have to think for very long when I conjure up Houston. I remember the house where my sisters and I scrawled our names on the interior garage wall, and our big dog Sam watched over a batch of kittens after their mother was hit by a car. (Fyi, Sam was my role model for Ranger). I remember sitting behind a large window and watching the shingles blow off of the house across the street as Hurricane Carla’s winds shook every square inch of the city. I remember the drive-in movie theater called The Thunderbird, where I can still see Doris Day singing “Que Sera, Sera” from the fifty-foot tall screen.

 

Big, expansive Houston. It’s all sprawled out. And yet, it’s knitted together by those slow-moving bayous that flow right through her heart. 

 

But how did all of the stuff about this particular place play into my work? For one, it made me want to write a tale that was itself expansive, that spanned time periods and crossed borders. Likewise, it made me want to explore the indigenous plants and critters, including the mosquitoes who once spread one episode after another of yellow fever, each time reducing the population by dozens, hundreds.

 

This central wildness invited me to incorporate wildness into the very middle of my story, and that brought me the ocelot.  Like so many other species, they’re no longer extant in Houston. In her own way, because she was once native, she bridges the time spans of this story, from past to now, from dream to real.

 

To me, place also offers up its unique voices, what some call a sonic landscape. Houston has its own homegrown music. It’s a music mixed up by generations of freed Creoles with their German polka-playing neighbors, making Houston the birthplace of Zydeco. The sounds of an accordion, with its breath being squeezed in and out, the notes pushing and pulling against each other is pure Houston. I love the syncopation of it, the big mixture of joy and sorrow, all forced into those breathy notes. I kept Zydeco in my ear as I wrote, I looked for ways to push and pull the different threads of time and purpose, to squeeze the chapters when called for, to find some moments of joy and urgency and a deep sigh at the end.

 

There’s so much about Houston that calls to me, even though I haven’t lived there for some time. It feels ripe for Story. Not only that, but I come from seven generations of Houstonians. My roots are deep. I knew Houston. And yet, it wasn’t until I began to write that I felt like I was seeing the city clearly enough to set a story there.

 

We are always told to “write what you know.” There is a good amount of wisdom in that. But I also want to say, “write because you want to find out.” Years ago, I happened across the paintings of Houston artist John Biggers. One of them stood out to me. I was so struck by it, that I found that I couldn’t step away from it. Maybe I stood there for ten minutes. Maybe it was only ten seconds, but I’ve never forgotten it.

 

It was a painting set in the Fifth Ward, called “Shotguns,” for the style of houses that stand there, nothing at all like the Fifth Ward I thought I knew, a place considered at the time to be crime-ridden, run-down, the absolute poorest neighborhood in Houston. In this beauty of a painting, suddenly, I saw the Fifth Ward in such a different way. It wasn’t that Mr. Biggers denied the abject poverty. He didn’t. It wasn’t that he was trying to cover something over. He wasn’t. It was that he showed how a place occurs in layers. There was layer upon layer of the Fifth Ward, like looking into a receding wall of mirrors, or the striations of a canyon wall. Before this, I had only seen the surface of the Fifth Ward, an ugly, falling-down place, with trash-strewn yards and boarded up shanties. That was only one layer. And there was the message.

 

So this is, I think, what Place offers to us in matters of story: multiple layers that only that particular place can hold. For me Houston is a layer of rich black dirt, washing down from the Great Plains and piling up so that the azaleas blaze every March. It’s a layer of fog that streams up from the Gulf of Mexico and hides the skyscrapers, closes the airports. It’s a layer of animals and plants that came and went and might come again if we have enough heart for them. It’s a layer of flood after flood, always bracing for the next flood. Water, layers of water. It’s also a layer of families, including those that settled there long before the Europeans, long before the Mexicans and Texans, long before me. It’s layers of gospel and field songs and blues and Jim Crow and desegregation and Barbara Jordan. It’s layers written in twists and turns, like the Buffalo Bayou herself. Mother River. It’s seven generations of my family, many buried right along that bayou in the old Washington Cemetery.

 

It’s that Place.

 

So, I have told my students, and I will tell you, start with Place. Pull back the layers. Stand in the old cemeteries and ask your people to tell you their stories. Ask their neighbors to lend their voices. Ask the trees and the streetlamps and the nighthawks.

 

Ask that bayou. And then, let it be the where of it all.

 

 

Meet Kathi Appelt

Photo credit: Ken Appelt

Photo credit: Ken Appelt

Kathi Appelt is the author of the Newbery Honoree, National Book Award finalist, PEN USA Literary Award–winning, and bestselling The Underneath as well as the National Book Award finalist The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man SwampMaybe a Fox (with Alison McGhee), Keeper, and many picture books including Counting Crows. She has two grown children and lives in College Station, Texas, with her husband. Visit her at KathiAppelt.com.

 

Connect with Kathi online:

Twitter:  @kappelt

 Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kathi.appelt.7

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/29011.Kathi_Appelt

Pinterest board: https://www.pinterest.com/kathi5cats/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kathiappelt/

About Angel Thieves

angel thievesAn ocelot. A slave. An angel thief. 
Multiple perspectives spanning across time are united through themes of freedom, hope, and faith in a most unusual and epic novel from Newbery Honor–winning author and National Book Award finalist Kathi Appelt.

Sixteen-year-old Cade Curtis is an angel thief. After his mother’s family rejected him for being born out of wedlock, he and his dad moved to the apartment above a local antique shop. The only payment the owner Mrs. Walker requests: marble angels, stolen from graveyards, for her to sell for thousands of dollars to collectors. But there’s one angel that would be the last they’d ever need to steal; an angel, carved by a slave, with one hand open and one hand closed. If only Cade could find it…

Zorra, a young ocelot, watches the bayou rush past her yearningly. The poacher who captured and caged her has long since lost her, and Zorra is getting hungrier and thirstier by the day. Trapped, she only has the sounds of the bayou for comfort—but it tells her help will come soon.

Before Zorra, Achsah, a slave, watched the very same bayou with her two young daughters. After the death of her master, Achsah is free, but she’ll be damned if her daughters aren’t freed with her. All they need to do is find the church with an angel with one hand open and one hand closed…

In a masterful feat, National Book Award Honoree Kathi Appelt weaves together stories across time, connected by the bayou, an angel, and the universal desire to be free.

ISBN-13: 9781442421097
Publisher: Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books
Publication date: 03/12/2019

Writing with a Trigger Warning, a guest post by Victoria Lee

“Write what you know.” We get that advice a lot, as authors. Writing from experience builds deeper, more authentic stories. Sometimes it’s as easy as writing a known setting—for example, my debut novel, The Fever King, is set in a speculative version of my own hometown. Who is gonna know how to write Durham better than me?

 

But other times, writing what you know means writing narratives that are important…but really personal and really, really difficult. In some ways, we want the people who have lived these experiences to write them. On the other hand, writing about trauma and discrimination and mental illness can be incredibly triggering for the author themselves.

The author as a teen.

The author as a teen.

In my books—both The Fever King and in books I’m writing now, or have written in the past—I’ve wrestled with the push and pull of wanting to tell the hard story and wanting simultaneously to hide from it. It’s a very personal choice, deciding whether or not you’re ready to tell certain stories. Not just because they’ll be hard to write, but because if they ever get published, you’ll be asked to explain how those experiences relate to your own (c.f. the ever-present interview question: What inspired you to write this book?).

 

I survived sexual abuse as a child, and subsequent to that I dealt with a lot of mental health and substance use issues. It’s not uncommon among survivors—you want to splint the parts of you that feel broken with whatever materials you can reach. I wrote about both of these issues in my most recent books, and while in a lot of ways writing so frankly about these experiences was cathartic, other times it got difficult. I found myself having to take breaks after certain scenes. Oddly enough, it was never the scenes themselves that triggered me—it was the little details: describing a certain expression on an abuser’s face, or the way it feels to tell someone the truth and wonder if they see you differently now.

image004

But I keep writing these stories. I feel like I have to—like I’m contributing one particular facet of this experience to the conversation about mental health and survivorship, and in a lot of ways, the story I’m telling is the story I wish I’d had when I was a teen.

 

A critique partner once asked me if I ever planned to write about characters who weren’t survivors of some kind of trauma. I told her no. I’m not done telling survivors’ stories. Honestly, I don’t know that I’ll ever be done. Because if just one reader tells me my books made them feel seen, it’ll all have been worth it.

Meet Victoria Lee

Victoria Lee author photo (no credit)Victoria Lee is the author of The Fever King, which Skyscape will publish on March 1, 2019. She grew up in Durham, North Carolina, where she spent twelve ascetic years as a vegetarian before discovering that spicy chicken wings are, in fact, a delicacy. She’s been a state finalist competitive pianist, a hitchhiker, a pizza connoisseur, an EMT, an expat in China and Sweden, and a science doctoral student. She’s also a bit of a snob about fancy whiskey. Lee writes early in the morning and then spends the rest of the day trying to impress her border collie puppy and make her experiments work. She currently lives in PA with her partner. www.victorialeewrites.com

 

Follow her on Twitter: @sosaidvictoria, Instagram: @sosaidvictoria, and Facebook: @victorialeewrites

 

About THE FEVER KING

 

fever kingIn the former United States, sixteen-year-old Noam Álvaro wakes up in a hospital bed, the sole survivor of the viral magic that killed his family and made him a technopath. His ability to control technology attracts the attention of the minister of defense and thrusts him into the magical elite of the nation of Carolinia.

The son of undocumented immigrants, Noam has spent his life fighting for the rights of refugees fleeing magical outbreaks—refugees Carolinia routinely deports with vicious efficiency. Sensing a way to make change, Noam accepts the minister’s offer to teach him the science behind his magic, secretly planning to use it against the government. But then he meets the minister’s son—cruel, dangerous, and achingly beautiful—and the way forward becomes less clear.

Caught between his purpose and his heart, Noam must decide who he can trust and how far he’s willing to go in pursuit of the greater good.

ISBN-13: 9781542040402
Publisher: Amazon Publishing
Publication date: 03/01/2019
Series: Feverwake Series #1

A Secret Corner, a guest post by Tehlor Kay Mejia

Tehlor Kay Mejia's debut novel.

Tehlor Kay Mejia’s debut novel.

It was before a girl treated my heart like a catch- and-release fish. Before newly-blue-haired courage sent me across a parking lot to compliment the patches she’d sewn on her jean jacket. It was before I felt like myself, the awkwardness of sixteen still sitting heavy on my skin, and the house was empty, and the library was open until nine.

 

Back then, the teen section was upstairs and in the back, away from the computer banks and the prying eyes of people my mom might know. I dropped my heavy backpack next to the chair in the corner every day while cooler kids got in cars to haunt the steps of pizza places and their parents’ business-trip-empty condos. I looked for books that looked like people might kiss in them.

 

I watched people more than I talked to them, the way their hair fell in these intentional looking waves, the way they seemed to know what to do with eyeliner. The way they just locked together, effortlessly, like there weren’t a million tiny miracles between not-holding-hands and holding hands. Not-kissing and kissing.

 

So far, none of those miracles had happened to me.

 

I was obsessed with kissing, because I’d never done it. Not unless you counted that awkward “see what this is all about” thing in the backyard with my best friend on my thirteenth birthday. But I didn’t. I was a lifetime from thirteen now, taller and weirder and quieter. I pined after boys I would never talk to from afar. I waited for my miracle.

 

In the library, I browsed the sparsely populated teen shelf looking for something I hadn’t already read on a hundred other nights like this one. But on this particular day, I found a book with a perfect cover. It was a sunshiney thing, the main image two hands with their fingers interlocked. It looked cheesy and summery and I wouldn’t have been caught dead reading it in front of my debate team friends – who were on an Ayn Rand kick – but in the secret corner of the library no one knew I was haunting, I let myself take it anyway.

 

That night, the librarian had to tap me on the shoulder to tell me they were closing. But by then I had read enough. Empress of the World was about a girl like me. Smart, awkward, a little thorny, so the world believed she was mostly friendless and unkissed by choice. I had read other books about girls like her, but those girls had kissed boys in the end and I had been fascinated but not always moved.

 

This time, the awkward girl did not grow closer to a popular boy who sees her beyond her glasses. This time, the awkward girl kissed a blonde, beautiful preacher’s daughter. A dancer who was a friend before she was more. I read it with my heart pounding, this sleepy summer camp book, and when I walked out into the world again, fluorescent lights turning off in my wake, the air felt different on my face.

 

It was a book I couldn’t have picked up at the bookstore. A book I wouldn’t have been brave enough to read on the bus, or the cafeteria, or the living room, or even my bedroom. It was a book I left behind, my library card unused in my wallet. But I came back to visit. I learned the code words in the cover copy like they were a secret language. I found other books like it, and in the safety of that secret library corner I read until the lines around me were a little darker, the colors inside them more filled in.

 

There was a long way to go before I’d cross that parking lot to tell a girl with a mohawk I liked her jean jacket. Before I’d stop feeling left out and unkissable and weird (let’s be honest, I still feel that way sometimes). There was a long way to go before I’d realize the things I was scribbling in my notebook margins were poetry, or that I’d collected enough of the secret code to write a book of my own.

 

But when I finally found I had enough, I went back to that corner. I sat in the chair where I’d discovered Nicola and Battle, and two hands intertwined on a cover that my friends would have teased me for reading. I thought about the holes I’d fallen into in those stories, the patchwork of myself I’d tried to make out of all their pieces. All the things that had been missing from them that I’d had to find myself out in the world.

 

There were so many people on my mind and in my heart when I wrote We Set the Dark on Fire, but first and foremost it will always be for that lonely, mixed up girl, looking for keywords in cover copy, jumping and hiding the book every time she heard feet on the library stairs.

 

The one who found a home in a library corner when the world wasn’t quite ready for her brand of magic.

 

The one who found her own words there.

 

 

Meet Tehlor Kay Mejia

tehlorTehlor Kay Mejia is an author and Oregon native in love with the alpine meadows and evergreen forests of her home state, where she lives with her daughter. We Set the Dark on Fire is her debut fantasy novel. She is active in the Latinx lit community, and passionate about representation for marginalized teens in media. Her short fiction appears in the All Out and Toil & Trouble anthologies from Inkyard Press, and her middle grade fantasy debut, Paola Santiago and the Drowned Palace, is forthcoming from Rick Riordan Presents/Disney Hyperion. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @tehlorkay.

 

 

 

About WE SET THE DARK ON FIRE

 

In this daring and romantic fantasy debut perfect for fans of The Handmaid’s Tale and Latinx authors Zoraida Córdova and Anna-Marie McLemore, society wife-in-training Dani has a great awakening after being recruited by rebel spies and falling for her biggest rival.

At the Medio School for Girls, distinguished young women are trained for one of two roles in their polarized society. Depending on her specialization, a graduate will one day run a husband’s household or raise his children. Both paths promise a life of comfort and luxury, far from the frequent political uprisings of the lower class.

Daniela Vargas is the school’s top student, but her pedigree is a lie. She must keep the truth hidden or be sent back to the fringes of society.

And school couldn’t prepare her for the difficult choices she must make after graduation, especially when she is asked to spy for a resistance group desperately fighting to bring equality to Medio.

Will Dani cling to the privilege her parents fought to win for her, or will she give up everything she’s strived for in pursuit of a free Medio—and a chance at a forbidden love?

(SEE AMANDA’S REVIEW HERE.)

 

ISBN-13: 9780062691316
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 02/26/2019

Written Across My Skin, a guest post by Lizzy Mason

(Content warning: self-harm and suicide/suicidal ideation)

 

Lizzy Mason's debut novel.

Lizzy Mason’s debut novel.

The first time I cut myself, I’d just watched a movie in which a girl tried to commit suicide with a disposable razor. I’d considered suicide before, but that night, I broke apart my own razor. Slicing the skin on my wrist with a thin, tiny blade hurt worse than I’d expected and it only left light red scratches. I put on long sleeves and went to bed. In the morning, little evidence of my suicide attempt remained.

 

The next time I was depressed, I cut myself again. And then again. I still thought about killing myself, but I liked the shallow cuts that hurt, but didn’t really bleed much. Every time I looked at them, I could see that the pain I was carrying inside was real. It was tangible. It was written across my skin.

 

Eventually, my parents took me to a psychiatrist. But he only sat with me for five minutes before diagnosing me with depressive disorder and giving me a prescription. This wasn’t my first psychiatrist or therapist—I’d been seeing psychiatrists, social workers, and therapists for years being tested, evaluated, even hypnotized—but this was the first time I’d been put on medication. I took it sporadically and without hope. And I still cut myself. I still wanted to cut myself.

 

I also started drinking and doing drugs. It was another way to self-harm. Because I didn’t know how else to show that I wasn’t happy, that I wanted desperately to be accepted. I felt so ashamed of who I was, so miserable in my own skin, and getting drunk and high was just another way to prove how worthless I was. Usually, I’d cut myself when I got home.

 

A few weeks into my junior year of high school, my parents were waiting for me when I came home from a party. They drug tested me and, shortly after, put me in rehab. It was outpatient, four days a week after school for three hours, and I was drug tested regularly.

 

One of the first things the counselors in rehab asked me to do was write my drug history. Despite only using for two years, when I handed it in, it was four single-spaced, typed pages. The counselors told me no one had ever written a narrative story for them the way I had. They usually received hand-written lists on torn notebook paper.

 

It was the first time I’d ever written about my depression, aside from really bad poetry, and it was a way to put everything that I’d been feeling into words. Instead of carving it into my skin.

 

Through four months of rehab and another five months group therapy, as well as Alcoholics Anonymous meetings almost every night, I was forced to confront why I cut and drank and got high. Why I wanted to hurt myself. And I was surrounded by other people who knew exactly how I felt. I had never felt so seen.

 

Just like using, cutting was an addiction that I had to stop. And I had relapses. But if I cut myself, I had to admit it. I had to talk about what made me do it, why I felt the way I had, and how I felt afterward. I had to examine why I felt like hurting myself.

 

It’s now been more than ten years since the last time I cut myself, but I still think about doing it. Sometimes once a year, sometimes every week.  But I haven’t. And that’s the important thing.

 

Medication has been life changing. It took me too long, but I finally accepted that I need to take antidepressants and I see my psychiatrist regularly. I pay attention when I start to feel panicked or depressed and try to work through it instead of letting it overwhelm me. And I know that sometimes I’m going to overreact anyway. Sometimes I just need to cry.
And I’m open about my mental illnesses, especially with teens. I wrote about addiction in The Art of Losing, and how easily the things we love can slip away as a result of the mistakes we make, because teens especially need to see that self-harm is never truly only harmful to just one person. Drug and alcohol abuse can affect more than just the person using them.

 

But the story is also about accepting change, and believing that a different future is possible. Sometimes I still need that reminder too.

 

Meet Lizzy Mason

Photo credit: Meredith Rich

Photo credit: Meredith Rich

Lizzy Mason is the author of the YA novel The Art of Losing. She lives in Queens, New York, with her husband and cat in an apartment full of books. Find her online at www.LizzyMasonBooks.com and on Twitter and Instagram at @lizzymason21.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About THE ART OF LOSING by Lizzy Mason

The Art of Losing is a compelling debut that explores issues of addiction, sisterhood, and loss.

On one terrible night, 17-year-old Harley Langston’s life changes forever. At a party she discovers her boyfriend, Mike, hooking up with her younger sister, Audrey. Furious, she abandons them both. When Mike drunkenly attempts to drive Audrey home, he crashes and Audrey ends up in a coma. Now Harley is left with guilt, grief, pain and the undeniable truth that her now ex-boyfriend has a drinking problem. So it’s a surprise that she finds herself reconnecting with Raf, a neighbor and childhood friend who’s recently out of rehab and still wrestling with his own demons. At first Harley doesn’t want to get too close to him. But as her sister slowly recovers, Harley begins to see a path forward with Raf’s help that she never would have believed possible—one guided by honesty, forgiveness, and redemption.

(SEE AMANDA’S REVIEW HERE.)

ISBN-13: 9781616959876
Publisher: Soho Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 02/19/2019

The Life Saving Slogan: You are Not Alone, a guest post by Shelley Sackier

Credit: Robin Gott

Credit: Robin Gott

The term “winter break” easily conjures the images of families rushing toward a round of winter skiing, a child-friendly cruise, or a palm-shaded beach. We see ourselves festooning the halls and holiday tables, and carefully honing those once a year meals. We picture a throng of college students dashing home toward the warm embrace of family, far removed from the windowless lecture halls they’ve occupied those first harrowing months of school.

But one year, winter break was anything but the above. For me, that is. And for my then freshman daughter too.

That year, I spent the time vigilant and restless. I spent it hoping to hear the words in someone else’s thoughts. I needed to measure her struggle, my daughter’s level of distress.

Her campus was in crisis mode, all parents on high alert. One lamentable word refused to be muted, would not release its steadfast grip.

Suicide.

Chronic stress is a disease college students are well-acquainted with. This unforgiving malady inflicts academic anxiety, depletes crucial sleep, and unleashes widespread social struggles, challenging our children to fit in somewhere new in someplace foreign.

A nerve-wracking fact among parents and educators, the leading cause of death among university students is suicide. We brace ourselves against the wretched news. One is horrifically tragic. A second is a spreading concern.

But five?

Five within one year? All on one campus?

It left me desperate to talk to my child … and to hear my child talk.

I wanted her home—where I could see her. But I forced a stay on that eager need, reminding myself she was attempting to build a new home. To redefine who she was. To discover where she will next belong.

We’d speak on the phone. I’d offer her words. But they were paltry, providing only an anemic balm. It’s impossible to obtain an accurate reading in such a situation, and a terrible tug of war is unleashed. The wanting to rush someplace and fix something. But that is not always the answer.

Your answer is not always their answer.

As YA authors, as librarians guiding our youth toward books that will speak to them, and as teachers in charge of creating and directing emotional curriculum as well as academic ones, we have a tremendous task we must address with urgency and gravity. We hunt for stories to explain what we personally cannot: who they are.

We try connecting children to others like them, to find solace, unity, and sureness. We introduce them to characters—whether fictional or real—who will communicate acceptance and normalcy. And the earlier we build this bridge for them, the more surefooted they can grow as they cross it, forging an identity with confidence.

If my daughter were asked to provide a profile form, defining herself, it’s likely she’d have said:

A scientist.

A musician.

An activist.

But also … imposter.

One does not see a checkbox for this identifier, but it rings true for many, and countless students feel unescorted claiming membership to this dismal club, having no idea just how many others have registered before them.

They feel they will be found out, singled out—that the mistake that brought them to this place they don’t belong, this class that is too hard, this group that is too prominent will raise a demoralizing red flag above them, and everyone will finally see what they suspected all along: that they are an outsider who accidentally slipped in.

As educators, if we miss the early crucial moments to illuminate thousands of voices within the digital or paper pages of books and do not unite our children with those who can elucidate their disorienting emotions, then we miss the fleeting opportunity to assure them that they can go on—despite their discomfort. We miss the chance to say that struggling and suffering does not mean one cannot make it through struggling and suffering.

As an author, my job is to create problems for my characters, to throw them into peril, and then to help them find clever ways out of that distress. As a parent, my wish is not for my children to experience catastrophe, but rather know what to do when trouble arises and where the path to safety is located.

Success may emerge with a book instead of a parental lecture. A wagging finger, foretelling danger, might not convey as effectively as an engaging narrative. Perched on my children’s beds, reassuring them that the questions they hold about themselves are typical of teens might not ring with enough resonance as reading about someone who they feel speaks their language, and who went through the thick of it, having made it through to the other side.

When my daughter was preparing to return to school, I helped her pack. Folding clothes on the floor, I glanced up, scanning the abundant bookshelves on either side of her bed.

She caught my wandering gaze. “Not everyone is given a happy ending, Mom.”

I looked at her firmly. “Maybe not,” I’d said. “But there’s nothing wrong with trying to insert as many chapters into one’s life as is possible. It’s my job. I show people a way through and a way out. My message is, you are not alone.”

As mentors, caregivers, and counselors, we face a daunting task. But we must seek every tool available to assist us with the process of grasping our teens and pulling them through to that “other side” where we stand. Losing our grip can mean losing a life.

 

Mental Health emergency links

SAMHSA Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration – Preventing Suicide: A Toolkit for High Schools

SPRC – After a Suicide: A toolkit for Schools

SPTS The Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-(TALK) 8255

Lifeline Social Media Toolkit (pdf resource and support for suicidal individuals on social and digital media)

SAVE – Suicide Awareness Voices of Education

 

Meet Shelley Sackier

Photo credit: Jinx

Photo credit: Jinx

Shelley Sackier is the author of The Freemason’s Daughter (HarperCollins 2017), Dear Opl (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky 2015), and the upcoming novel, The Antidote (HarperCollins 2019). She writes both middle grade and YA fiction. She visits schools to illuminate the merits of embracing failure just like NASA and to further her campaign to erect monuments to all librarians.

Bonus Content: The Antidote Playlist – Google Play or The Antidote Playlist – Spotify  (both just music) and The Antidote Playlist Details (with spoilers!—song descriptions for where they fall within the book).

Website: www.shelleysackier.com

Facebook page: @ShelleySackierBooks

Twitter: @ShelleySackier

Goodreads: Shelley Sackier

Instagram: @ShelleySackier

Pinterest: ShelleySackier

 

About The Antidote

antidoteThe Antidote by Shelley Sackier (ISBN-13: 9780062453471 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 02/05/2019)

 

From the author of The Freemason’s Daughter comes a lush romantic fantasy perfect for fans of Everless!

In the world of healers, there is no room for magic.

Fee knows this, just as certainly as she knows that her magic must be kept secret.

But the crown prince Xavi, Fee’s best friend and only source of comfort, is sick. So sick, that Fee can barely contain the magic lying dormant inside her. She could use it, just a little, to heal him. But magic comes at a deadly cost—and attracts those who would seek to snuff it out forever.

A wisp of a spell later, Fee finds herself caught in a whirl of secret motivations and dark pasts, where no one is who—or what—they appear to be. And saving her best friend means delving deeper into the tempting and treacherous world whose call she’s long resisted—uncovering a secret that will change everything.

Laini Taylor meets Sara Holland in this lavish fantasy from lauded historical romance author Shelley Sackier!

How History (and Librarians) Inspire Freedom of the Press, a guest post by Mary Cronk Farrell

standingWhen I got my first real job as a broadcast journalist at age 21, I believed my work would contribute to the common good. I believed the stories I reported, first as a radio journalist and later in television news, would help people understand events in our local community more clearly, feel more empathy and maybe open their minds or change their hearts.

 

Was I too idealistic? Was believing that the news media played a crucial role, not just in preserving democracy, but also as a force for good in our lives nothing but a fanciful notion of a naïve do-gooder?

 

It certainly seems so today.

 

But in researching the stories of black women who risked their lives to serve their county in a segregated army during World War II, I discovered evidence of how a free press pushed our nation to progress toward equality, how newspaper stories about injustice inspired people to empathy, and how the press rallied citizens to demand fairness.

Ranks of the all-black #6888th Postal Battalion of Women’s Army Corps, 1945. (National Archives)

Ranks of the all-black #6888th Postal Battalion of Women’s Army Corps, 1945. (National Archives)

In the spring of 1945, black members of the Women’s Army Corps stationed at Fort Devens, Massachusetts, had withstood all they could stand. Day after day they donned blue work uniforms and reported to Lowell Army hospital to wash dishes and scrub floors. White WACs at the same hospital wore white uniforms for jobs as lab technicians, nurse’s aides and assisting wounded soldiers write letters home.

Major Charity Adams inspects Women’s Army Corps ranks, February 1945. (National Archives)

Major Charity Adams inspects Women’s Army Corps ranks, February 1945. (National Archives)

Throughout World War II, complaints arose, and inspections verified that black WACs were too often assigned to menial jobs not prescribed for WACs. One inspection at Fort Breckinridge, Kentucky, found thirty black WACs working in the laundry, fifteen assigned to service jobs, including dishwashing at the base club, and five “well-educated negro women…administration school graduates…employed sweeping warehouse floors.”* At Fort Knox, Kentucky, black WACs worked in the kitchen, a white officer saying, “Most of these girls are much better off now than they were in civilian life.”*

 

At Fort Devens, the black women tried to work through the system, sending their complaints of discrimination up the chain of command to no avail. Alice E. Young, 23, had finished one year of nursing school while working as a student nurse in a Washington, D.C. hospital. She’d joined the army due to promises she’d be trained as a nurses’ aide and worked at Lovell awaiting a space in the training program.

 

But one day the commander of the hospital Colonel Walter M. Crandall toured her ward and saw Alice taking a white soldier’s temperature. “No colored WACs,” he announced, would take temperatures in his hospital. “They are here to scrub and wash floors, wash dishes and do all the dirty work.”**

 

Alice was demoted to hospital orderly, her hopes of going to med tech school dashed. She cleaned the hospital hallways and kitchen, washed dishes, cooked and served food and took out the garbage. Sixty percent of the black WACs at Lovell had similar duties.

Devens WACS Stage Sitdown, The Chicago Defender, March 24, 1945.

Devens WACS Stage Sitdown, The Chicago Defender, March 24, 1945.

They decided to strike. According to the New York Times, 96 black WACs initially refused orders to go to work due to discriminatory assignments. After several days, most eventually went back to work under threat of court martial for insubordination, a death penalty offense in wartime.

 

But Alice and three others who walked away from their posts at the hospital did not return and were court martialed. “These women made this gesture of protest in hope that someday their descendants might enjoy fully the rights and liberties promised to Americans,”** their attorney said.

 

Major news sources like the New York Times and Time Magazine covered the strike and the women’s trial, as well as small town newspapers like the Daily Sun in Lewiston, Maine, and African American newspapers across the country. When the army court convicted the four women and sentenced them to one year of hard labor with no pay and dishonorable discharge, the story received wide coverage.

Army Court Convicts 4 WACs of Disobeying Superior, The Washington Post, March 21, 1945.

Army Court Convicts 4 WACs of Disobeying Superior, The Washington Post, March 21, 1945.

Many Americans both white and black read about the unfairness the striking women had faced. They protested the harsh penalty by writing letters to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Secretary of War, Congress and editors of newspapers. Many called for punishment of Colonial Crandall, rather than the women.

 

The news stories and subsequent uproar by citizens made a difference. The War Department found a way to reverse the verdict on a technicality and reinstate Alice and the others to active duty. The Army did not investigate Colonel Crandall’s behavior, but he was relieved of his hospital command and pressured to retire. In addition, the army changed policies at Lovell Hospital prohibiting black WACs from being assigned to menial jobs not done by white WACs.

Headline, front page, The Afro American, Baltimore, MD, April 28, 1945.

Headline, front page, The Afro American, Baltimore, MD, April 28, 1945.

The pervasiveness of our news media today allows us to be even better informed than Americans during WWII, but it requires diligence and critical thinking due to the massive amounts of information at our fingertips, and the phenomenon of “fake news.”   Reporters Without Borders, an organization that tracks freedom of information, ranks the United States 45th out of 180 countries on the World Press Freedom Index. We fall below a host of European countries and others around the world including Ghana, South Korea, Uruguay and South Africa.

 

With the news media’s ever-increasing focus on the sensational and the obvious partisanship of news outlets, I’ve become more jaded and I don’t regret I’ve left the business. But librarians inspire me to keep faith with my ideals. They’re on the front lines championing freedom of information and teaching students critical skills to assess the news they see. They inspire us all to work within our own spheres of influence to defend our freedom of the press which is critical to democracy and a powerful force for truth and justice.

 

* When the Nation was in Need: Blacks in the Women’s Army Corps during World War II, by Martha S. Putney (Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2001)

**United States V. Morrison, Anna G, A., Green, Mary, E., Young Alice E., Murphy, Johnnie, A. (Proceedings of a General Court-Martial, Fort Devens, M.A., March 19, 1945)

 

Meet Mary Cronk Farrell

Mary Cronk Farrell 2015. (534x640)Mary Cronk Farrell, author of critically acclaimed and award-winning Pure Grit: How American World War II Nurses Survived Battle and Prison Camp in the Pacific, now releases the incredible story of how black women in the army helped change the course of World War II:  Standing Up Against Hate: How Black Women in the Army Helped Change the Course of WWII (Abrams, January 2019).

 

Connect with Mary online: 

Website: www.MaryCronkFarrell.com

Blog: http://www.marycronkfarrell.net/blog

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Author-Mary-Cronk-Farrell-180125525368386/

Twitter: @MaryCronkFarrel

Instagram:  MaryCronkFarrell

 

About  Standing Up Against Hate: How Black Women in the Army Helped Change the Course of WWII

standingStanding Up Against Hate tells the stories of the African American women who enlisted in the newly formed Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) in World War II. They quickly discovered that they faced as many obstacles in the armed forces as they did in everyday life. However, they refused to back down. They interrupted careers and left family, friends, and loved ones to venture into unknown and sometimes dangerous territory. They survived racial prejudice and discrimination with dignity, succeeded in jobs women had never worked before, and made crucial contributions to the military war effort. The book centers around Charity Adams, who commanded the only black WAAC battalion sent overseas and became the highest ranking African American woman in the military by the end of the war. Along with Adams’s story are those of other black women who played a crucial role in integrating the armed forces. Their tales are both inspiring and heart-wrenching. The book includes a timeline, bibliography, and index.

(ISBN-13: 9781419731600 Publisher: ABRAMS Publication date: 01/08/2019)

SEE AMANDA’S REVIEW HERE

 

WRITING YOUR OWN STORY (SORT OF), a guest post by Greg Howard

whispersLet me start by clearly stating that THE WHISPERS is first and foremost, a work of fiction. I’m reluctant to even call it semi-autobiographical. With that said, there’s no doubt that I left a lot of me on the page. Sort of.

 

When I first had the idea for this story, I thought a lot about my childhood—colorful family members, small towns in South Carolina where I grew up, the woods I explored with my buddies, those early school friends and bullies who leave a lifelong, indelible mark one’s psyche and memory. But I kept circling back a central missing puzzle piece of my youth—my mother.

 

 

My mother was a conspicuous and fundamental figure in my childhood even though she was absent for most of it. Why she wasn’t around isn’t as important as the fact that she was there in a monumental way in the beginning—when your attachments and developmental influences take root and form who you are as a person. She was a local beauty queen beloved by everyone, a steadfast pillar of the church community, a faithful wife and nurturing mother revered by other wives and mothers for her beauty inside and out. She was practically an angelic presence temporarily on loan from God to the good citizens of Georgetown, South Carolina. Or at least that’s how I remember it.

Greg's mother

Greg’s mother

 

As I grew older and wiser (sort of), the more I realized that my memories of my mother were a mix of the authentic and the imagined—some created from faded Polaroids, others from family lore, but only a scattering from actual events and real-life moments. That’s why I consider the mother in THE WHISPERS to be a tribute to my mother, but also a fully fictionalized character.

A young Greg and his sister

A young Greg and his sister

To my main character, Riley, his mother is virtually his entire world and when she goes missing, he’s not only completely lost without her, but obsessive about finding her and bringing her home. The world as Riley knows it simply doesn’t work without her. His dad grows isolated and distant, his brother retreats from the family, his grandparents are despondent, and as a mama’s boy who finds himself suddenly without a mama, Riley feels as alone and acutely isolated as I did at his age.

 

Growing up a self-aware queer kid the rural deep South only added to my seclusion. It was time when you didn’t talk about such things, neither at home or at school, and certainly not at church. Preachers told me I was going to hell without even realizing (I hope) the oppressive guilt and shame they were imposing on an already sensitive, fragile kid. Authority figures seemed to know without question or a second thought that I was not normal. I never found myself in television, movies, or books, but only ever saw a romantic construct of love represented between a man and a woman. Even at that young age, I felt erased from society and reality. Compound that with the absence of my mother and you have one deeply confused, broken and lonely little boy.

 

That was my story, but through writing THE WHISPERS, it became Riley’s.

 

Sprinkling the seasoning of my life into THE WHISPERS was deeply satisfying, incredibly cathartic, and at times particularly painful. From Grandma’s fruit salad recipe, to the Pentecostal corn choir, to missing family photo albums and boyhood crushes, to camping trips in the woods, childhood trauma, a country market, nightmares so vivid I remember them to this day, and even to the greatest dog in the history of dogs, Tucker—I lent it all to Riley. And it was interesting to see with those same story ingredients borrowed from my life, how drastically his path diverged from my own.

 

I used to think of THE WHISPERS as my own story. But the longer I’m away from it, the more I consider it Riley’s story. Those are now his adventures, hopes, pains, dreams, struggles and triumphs. But I’m delighted that my real-life memories served Riley well and found a safe and evergreen place to land. Riley’s was a more fantastical journey than mine, but imagination was important to us both. Imagination was the vehicle of our escape to an alternate world. One full of hope. And in that small yet significant way, Riley and I share this story.

 

When writing fiction, I don’t believe you can truly write your own story. At some point the characters hijack it and make it their own, and that’s okay. So, now I can say with definitive clarity that THE WHISPERS is my own story. Sort of.

 

Meet Greg Howard

Photo credit: Jamie Wright Images

Photo credit: Jamie Wright Images

Greg Howard grew up near the coast of South Carolina. His hometown of Georgetown is known as the “Ghost Capital of the South” (seriously…there’s a sign), and was always a great source of material for his overactive imagination. Raised in a staunchly religious home, Greg escaped into the arts: singing, playing piano, acting, writing songs, and making up stories. Currently, Greg resides in Nashville, Tennessee, with his husband, Steve, and their three rescued fur babies Molly, Toby, and Riley.

 

 

 

 Connect with Greg online:

Twitter: @greghowardbooks

Instagram: @greghowardbooks

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/greghowardbooks/

 

About THE WHISPERS

whispersA middle grade debut that’s a heartrending coming-of-age tale, perfect for fans of Bridge to Terabithia and Counting By 7s.

Eleven-year-old Riley believes in the whispers, magical fairies that will grant you wishes if you leave them tributes. Riley has a lot of wishes. He wishes bullies at school would stop picking on him. He wishes Dylan, his 8th grade crush, liked him, and Riley wishes he would stop wetting the bed. But most of all, Riley wishes for his mom to come back home. She disappeared a few months ago, and Riley is determined to crack the case. He even meets with a detective, Frank, to go over his witness statement time and time again.

Frustrated with the lack of progress in the investigation, Riley decides to take matters into his own hands. So he goes on a camping trip with his friend Gary to find the whispers and ask them to bring his mom back home. But Riley doesn’t realize the trip will shake the foundation of everything that he believes in forever.

(ISBN-13: 9780525517498 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 01/15/2019)

CHECK BACK ON 1/15/2019 FOR AMANDA’S REVIEW OF THE WHISPERS

Happy Arguing, a guest post by Arwen Elys Dayton

Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful is a novel in six parts that looks at the unlimited possibilities of biotech advances and the ethical quandaries they will provoke. Arwen Elys Dayton shows us a near and distant future in which we will eradicate disease, extend our lifespans, and reshape the human body. The results can be heavenly—saving the life of your dying child; and horrific—the ability to modify convicts into robot slaves. Deeply thoughtful, poignant, horrifying, and action-packed, this novel is groundbreaking in both form and substance. Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful examines how far we will go to remake ourselves into the perfect human specimen, and what it means to be human at all.

 

strongerThe librarian of my middle child’s high school got wind of my upcoming novel on the topic of human genetic modification and asked if I had a few ARCs she could use for a book group. And would I like to come talk to the students while they were reading it? I’ve done many school visits, often to huge schools where I speak to hundreds of kids. But I was excited all out of proportion by this particular invitation—possibly because I thought it would make me seem fascinating and popular to my middle child. (Side note: I think it might have worked!)

 

Here’s what I loved about discussing Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful with eight teenage girls: there was a lot to argue about. The book is full of debatable scenarios. Semi-identical twins, both dying. When one lapses into a vegetative state, the decision is made to harvest the healthy parts of her organs to give her brother a chance at life. A girl who is hiding the extent to which her body has been rebuilt, knowing that many of her friends, and in particular the boy she cares about, will not approve of the artificial parts that are now keeping her alive. A child who had been designed to have high intelligence, with disastrous results. And more.

 

The theme of Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful is this: What will it be like to grow up, to fall in and out of love, to figure out who you are, when the very essence of “you” may be changing? Before writing the book, I’d done lots of research about how scientists are using CRISPR to edit DNA, how they are attempting to grow human-compatible organs in livestock, how they are delaying old age, and how they are pursuing countless other near-miraculous advances. The point of the research was to fill me up to my eyeballs with the realities of bioengineering until I could dream of how it might play out into the future. But the actual writing of the book involved pushing those details into the background and letting the six main characters walk out onto stage and invite us into their stories.

 

On the days when I joined the book club, we talked about the science, sure. (I’d sent a list of recent articles on gene editing, and the students had read those alongside the book.) But we didn’t argue about the science. We argued instead about what the characters were doing with the science. We debated the book’s sticky decisions. Do parents have a right to manipulate their child’s brain? Should anyone be allowed to make a piece of a dead loved one live on…in a place they were never meant to be? Should a government be permitted to physically modify convicts if it makes them more “useful” to society? What makes us human? What keeps us human?

 

The students didn’t always agree with the choices my characters made—nor do I. And that is by design. As we become more and more able to alter the human species, we will often disagree. And yet we must all be a part of making those choices. It was invigorating to discuss why the characters made the decisions they made and to challenge eight outspoken, contentious, and thoughtful teenagers to explain what they would have done differently, and why. Soon the dispute was being carried on without me.

 

And that is what I hope people will take from Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful. Characters they understand, even if they can’t agree with them. Some appreciation of what lies ahead in genetic manipulation and human evolution. And, of course, arguments with friends. What would you do? What should we do?

 

The future of our species is already unfolding around us. Sometimes it’s easier to understand it in fiction. If we start telling ourselves stories now, maybe we can fashion that future into what we’d like it to be.

 

Meet Arwen Elys Dayton

ARWEN ELYS DAYTON’s new novel is Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful, out on December 4, 2018. She is the best-selling author of the Egyptian sci-fi thriller Resurrection and the near-future Seeker Series. She spends months doing research for her stories. Her explorations have taken her around the world to places like the Great Pyramid at Giza, Hong Kong, and the Baltic Sea, as well as down many scientific rabbit holes. Arwen lives with her husband and their three children on West Coast of the United States. You can visit her and learn more about her books at arwenelysdayton.com and follow @arwenelysdayton on Instagram and Facebook.

 

#ReadForChange: Courage in the face of a “Dystopian Reality” in Jennie Liu’s Girls on the Line

ReadForChange copyTeen Librarian Toolbox is excited to be partnering with Marie Marquardt for her #ReadForChange project. Hop on over to this post to learn more about the initiative. Today, she and Jennie Liu join us for a conversation about China’s One-Child Policy, political action, abortion, and Liu’s 2018 book, Girls on the Line

 

 

 

“The only effect I ardently long to produce by my writings, is that those who read them should be better able to imagine and to feel the pains and the joys of those who differ from them in everything but the broad fact of being struggling, erring human creatures.”

– George Eliot (the pen name of Mary Anne Evans)

 

Girls on the Line: A Beautifully-Crafted “Empathy Delivery System”

 

download-3Last spring, I had the pleasure of being on a panel with the wonderful Gayle Forman.  We were discussing the significance of fiction in this particular historical moment, and Gayle made a comment that I’ll never forget.  She described novels as compact and very effective “empathy delivery systems”. This, to my mind, is a perfect description of the power of great stories – they bring us into deep encounter with experiences that, without the novel, we almost certainly would never have. Great novels allow us to spend time, for a while, imagining what it might feel like to be a person whose experience may be enormously distant from our own in many ways. But these great stories also remind us how much we share much in common with the people whose lives and experiences may be profoundly different – the joy of lasting friendships, the anxiety of taking on a new job and moving to a new place, the heartbreak of falling in love with the wrong person.

 

This is precisely what I love about Jennie Liu’s debut novel, Girls on the Line. It’s the story of Luli and Yun, two orphans living in Gujiao, China in 2009. When they age out of the orphanage, both move into factory jobs, working alongside other young women “on the line”. Yun launches into her new life with gusto – loving the independence of earning her own money, living in a dormitory with other factory workers, buying the things she wants, and dating her exciting new boyfriend, Yong. Luli, more tentative and skeptical of this new life, grows anxious and overwhelmed when her friend Yun announces that she’s pregnant with Yong’s child, and she intends to keep it. When Yun disappears, it’s up to Luli to find her, and to find the courage that she never knew she had.

 

Set against the backdrop of China’s One Child Policy (which ended in 2015), and inside the expanding world of a Chinese factory labor system fueled by young women, Girls on the Line does more than bring readers on an exhilarating journey filled with twists-and-turns. It also offers an eye-opening introduction to those of us with little understanding of Chinese government policy, or of the circumstances for production of the Chinese-made products that North Americans buy every day. Most importantly, though, Luli and Yun’s story — as a beautifully-crafted “empathy delivery system” — reminds readers of all the things teenagers share in common, no matter where we live, what kind of work we do, or who we love.

 

“Engaged in the World”: An Interview with Jennie Liu

 

download-4MARIE: Girls on the Line is such a unique book – it tells a story unlike anything I’ve read in YA. What made you decide that this novel needed to be written, and that you should be the one to write it? 

 

JENNIE: I was fishing around for a novel idea and I remembered two girls who were adopted from China who lived in my neighborhood years ago. Their parents worked very hard to connect them with their birth culture. When I was growing up, I didn’t see any books or novels that featured Chinese girls. I thought, What are these girls going to read? Now I see that there are more and more novels about Asian-American experience and historical Chinese novels, but I wanted to write something about modern China, set completely in China. I kept wondering what happens to the girls who don’t get adopted, and that was the germ of my novel.

 

As I researched who doesn’t get adopted and began to understand the ins and outs of the One-Child Policy, and the unexpected implications and consequences, I knew this was my novel.  I was struck by how abortion is not controversial in China, even pushed or forced at times by the government, whereas here in the States, there are moves to block it. People have different individual views, and the idea of government taking away women’s reproductive choices just outrages me.

 

My editor, Amy Fitzgerald at Carolrhoda Lab, called GIRLS ON THE LINE a dystopian reality in our first chat.  I knew then that she truly understood the novel and why it could be relevant to readers outside China. Tradition and policy can have chilling social consequences, and often keep disadvantaged people trapped in their place. Even here in the States, plays are being made toward a dystopian reality—legislation aimed at blocking women’s right to make personal choices, discriminatory gerrymandering, pulling back on environmental protections in favor of business interests, etc, etc.

 

MARIE: In the face of these plays toward “dystopian reality,” what actions are you taking to build a more just society?

 

JENNIE: A large part of what makes me feel really engaged in the world is having chosen a career (my other one) in a helping profession that allows me to meet and interact with people from all walks of life. Outside of that, I’ve found volunteering in my immediate community best fits my need to address change. My friends and our children have a regular volunteer group and I like to focus on human-related issues such as homelessness and food insecurity. When one is distressed about the state of affairs, the mind is soothed by bagging food packs for children for three hours.

 

On the larger political level, besides donating money to organizations, this year I’ve been working on Postcard to Voters where I been writing friendly postcards to voters in close, key districts, by myself and in groups.  It’s been a quick and immediate way to deal with frustration and anxiety about the election.

 

MARIE: For readers who also want to take action, what’s your advice?

 

JENNIE: For students, I recommend doing volunteer work in your community where you can learn about local problems and issues. You’ll meet mentors who can teach you how to organize and help at the grassroots level. And of course, being counted is always important—as a voter, a body in a protest, a caller/writer to officials, and especially, encouraging friends who may be less inclined to vote or participate.

 

“Implications and Consequences”: Jennie’s excellent recommendations for learning more.

 

One Child: The story of China’s Most Radical Experiment by Mei Fong (You can hear her discuss the reason she wrote the book here.)

One Child

Leftover Women: The resurgence of Gender Inequality in China by Leta Hong Fincher

Leftover Women

The Common Secret: My Journey as an Abortion Doctor by Susan Wicklund

common secret

Trapped: A film by Dawn Porter an Independent Lens/PBS documentary about U.S. reproductive health clinics fighting to remain open.

trapped

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

 

half the sky

Want to take action? Jennie has some suggestions.

 

Half the Sky Movement- Inspired by the book, this movement aims to ignite the change needed to put an end to oppression of women and girls worldwide. Check out their documentary and interactive game, and learn how to get involved here.

download-2

Student United Way – local chapters make it easy to find volunteer projects that are meaningful to you.

 

NOW (National Organization for Women) and Planned Parenthood make it easy to keep abreast of issues and immediate political actions.

 

If you want to join Jennie in writing postcards to voters in the next election season, you can learn more about the movement and sign up to get involved here.

Postcards to Voters (1)

Win a copy of Girls on the Line, just off the presses!

This new release is certain to inspire readers to learn more and take action! Here’s a link to the giveaway. We’ll be announcing the winner on December 1!

 

Meet Marie Marquardt

Women’s March, January 21, 2017

Women’s March, January 21, 2017

Marie Marquardt is the author of three YA novels: The Radius of UsDream Things True, and Flight Season. A Scholar-in-Residence at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, Marie also has published several articles and co-authored two non-fiction books about Latin American immigration to the U.S. South. She is chair of El Refugio, a non-profit that serves detained immigrants and their families. She lives with her spouse, four kids, a dog and a bearded dragon in the book-lover’s mecca of Decatur, Georgia.

 

#ReadForChange: Women Conquer and Dragons Slay in Elana K. Arnold’s Damsel

 

ReadForChange copyTeen Librarian Toolbox is excited to be partnering with Marie Marquardt for her #ReadForChange project. Hop on over to this post to learn more about the initiative. Today, she and Elana K. Arnold join us for a conversation about fairy tales, rage, feminism, and Arnold’s 2018 book  Damsel

 

 

I’m always irritated by people who imply that writing fiction is an escape from reality. It is a plunge into reality, and it’s very shocking to the system.”

– Flannery O’Connor, Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose

 

Shocking the System with Damsels, Dragons, and Dashing Princes

 

damselThis month’s #ReadForChange is the first fantasy/ fairy tale I’ve chosen to feature. I know some of you readers out there might be wondering: How can the re-cast fairy tale of a fierce dragon, a conquering prince, and a “damsel” (that he, um, rescues?) plunge right into the heart of contemporary issues? If you’re one of those people wondering, then you haven’t yet had the chance to read Elana K. Arnold’s captivating novel, Damsel.

 

In Damsel, Elana returns us to the classic legends, found across many cultural traditions, of dragons in their lairs, protecting their most precious possessions, of privileged men living into their society’s expectations that they become conquerors, and of “damsels” – seemingly defenseless, often distressed, and appearing to be in need of rescue. I won’t ruin your experience of reading the story by sharing Damsel’s astonishing twists and turns. Suffice it to say that Elana works wonders with this classic tale, reshaping it into a powerful feminist narrative perfectly suited to our time.

 

I’ll offer only one example of the story’s contemporary relevance: Shortly after she’s been “rescued” by the dashing price, Ama, the story’s protagonist, takes a wild lynx kitten as a pet. Her prince has murdered the kitten’s mother, ostensibly to (again) rescue Ama. Ama feels both a responsibility for and a strange kinship with the orphaned wild animal. She names the lynx “Sorrow.” Although Sorrow longs to return to the wild, the kitten stays by Ama’s side as Ama moves into the prince’s castle and begins preparations to marry him. (Needless to say, no one has bothered to ask Ama whether she actually wants to marry the prince.) Shortly before the story comes to its shocking close, Ama decides to release Sorrow back into the wild, telling the now-grown cat: “Sorrow is no more your name. Now I call you Fury.”

 

In recent weeks, I’ve seen so many women – women who have, like Ama, felt trapped, confused, and overwhelmed – shift from Sorrow to Fury. Elena Arnold’s legendary tale of a dragon, a damsel, and a dashing prince might be just the story we need for motivation to transform that fury into action.

 

Before we move on: Here’s one action for all of you Readers-For-Change: if you’re over 18, please VOTE on November 6. If you’re under 18, I hope to bump into you out there on the streets, drumming up support for our favorite candidates!

 

“The creative water that filled my well was… rage.”: An Interview with Elana K. Arnold

 

imagesMARIE: There’s no doubt that Damsel is a novel with a powerful feminist message – one well-suited to our time. What made you decide to write such a bold, unflinching story of men abusing their power, and of abused women recovering their own power?

 

ELANA: Damsel, I think, is a natural extension of the work of my previous two novels, What Girls Are Made Of and Infandous, both of which deal with embodied female shame. I found, after working on those two books for close to five years, that the process of writing them was a cathartic means of healing myself from the shame I’d felt all my life—the shame of my body, the ways in which I’d fit myself into a form I felt was expected of me. What was left, when the shame was gone, was this clear, pure rage. That rage is what I drew from when writing Damsel. As a writer, I work with what I have, what I’ve been filled up with, what my personal experiences have been. In the past, the creative water that filled my well was shame, and so that was what I worked from. This time, it was rage—propelled by my own lived experience.

 

MARIE:  I have to admit, the fairy tale trope of the prince “rescuing” the damsel seems an odd place to begin a feminist tale. What compelled you to return to the classic legends of dragons, damsels, and dashing princes?

 

ELANA: Traditionally, fairy tales have been written by men who shaped the stories into commodities that could be sold, products that centered female bodies as consumable objects, morality lessons, and prizes to be won. These are the stories many of us were raised on, so they were some of the material that formed me. Revisiting them and reflecting on how they might be re-formed by centering the effects of making women into prizes rather than leaving the stories when the women are “won” felt like a meaty and interesting challenge.

 

MARIE: How do your concerns about such issues as abuse, toxic masculinity and a culture of conquest shape your actions in the real world? What actions are you taking to create the world you want to live in?

 

ELANA: My concerns about the issues you named shape all my actions. They inform the way I vote, the causes to which I donate time and money, the way I raise my children, how I have committed to speaking up in situations that feel unsafe to myself or others. I hope that my creative work helps give readers language for their lived experiences; by writing an alternate version of the damsel’s journey, maybe my work will light a fire in those who have felt powerless.

 

MARIE: I know that it will! For readers whose fires have been lit, what’s your advice?

 

ELANA: Don’t wait for later. You don’t need to wait for permission to make a change. In many states, you can pre-register to vote up to two years before you’re old enough to cast your first ballot. You can learn more here.

 

Come up with a plan. Many of us, when faced with scary situations, freeze up and do nothing, or “play possum,” just waiting for the bad thing to go away. But if you can decide ahead of time what your script will be in, for example, a situation in which you see someone acting in a racist or sexist manner, then you are more likely to do something.

 

“Wonderful, wise, work:” Elana’s excellent recommendations for learning more.

 

“There is so much wonderful, wise work being done, and there are many amazing resources.” Here are a few books Elana recommends:

 

Can We All Be Feminists? New Writing from Brit Bennett, Nicole Dennis-Benn, and 15 Others on Intersectionality, Identity, and the Way Forward for Feminism, edited by June Eric-Udorie

can we all

Nevertheless, We Persisted: 48 Voices of Defiance, Strength, and Courage (With a forward by Amy Klobuchar)

nevertheless

Our Stories, Our Voices: 21 YA Authors Get Real About Injustice, Empowerment, and Growing Up Female in America, Edited by Amy Reed

our stories

How I Resist: Activism and Hope for a New Generation, Edited by Maureen Johnson

how i resist

Elana’s also a fan of the work Teen Vogue is doing. Check it out here. 

teen vogue2

And, there’s a wonderful podcast called KidLit Women that she’s actively following.

 Kidkit women

Want to take action? Need to reach out for help? Elana has some suggestions.

 

Elana’s an active donor to Planned Parenthood. You can learn more about their work here.

 

DAMSEL deals with issues of sexual assault, rape culture, and gaslighting. Elana recommends RAINN as a wonderful resource if you need help.

 

Win a copy of Damsel, fiery hot off the presses!

This new release is such a great read, and it will get you fired up to take action! Here’s a link to the giveaway. We’ll be announcing the winner on Twitter @MarieFMarquardt and Instagram marie_marquardt November 1!

 

Meet Marie Marquardt

Women’s March, January 21, 2017

Women’s March, January 21, 2017

Marie Marquardt is the author of three YA novels: The Radius of UsDream Things True, and Flight Season. A Scholar-in-Residence at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, Marie also has published several articles and co-authored two non-fiction books about Latin American immigration to the U.S. South. She is chair of El Refugio, a non-profit that serves detained immigrants and their families. She lives with her spouse, four kids, a dog and a bearded dragon in the book-lover’s mecca of Decatur, Georgia.