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Writing Myself a New Story, a guest post by Jasmine Warga

I first met my uncle Abdalla when I was four-years-old. Up until the moment he got off the plane, walked straight toward me and picked me up off the ground with a twirl, whispering in rapid-fire Arabic to me, my uncle had only existed in stories that my father told me.

I didn’t understand most of what my uncle was saying when he greeted me—I was only familiar with a couple of Arabic phrases—but I also felt like I understood every word. That’s how it always was with Abdalla. I understood, and if I didn’t, he made sure that I did.

My parents had asked him to come to America to take care of me during the birth of my baby brother and the subsequent hectic weeks that would follow. I think their hope was that I’d be too distracted by my new uncle to resent the fact that I was no longer the baby of the family. It worked. My uncle and I spent the weeks leading up to my brother’s birth trading stories. He would tell me about Jordan—my great-aunt with a temper like a snake, my grandmother who believed deeply in otherworldly things, and a whole city made of a rose rock that he would show me when I visited. My uncle is the one who first taught me the true power of storytelling. He rendered Jordan so gorgeously and evocatively that I was desperate to visit.

I finally got the chance to visit when I was eight-years-old. My uncle greeted us at the airport, pulling me into a hug, and telling me, “Welcome home” in both Arabic and English. At first, Jordan didn’t feel at all like home. Jordan was people eyeing me with curiosity, confused that my name was Yasmine Nazek, but I didn’t speak smooth and confident Arabic. Jordan was hilly roads that made me slightly nauseous as we drove up and down them. Jordan was open windows at all times, and the sound of the call to prayer at dawn. It was pomegranates that exploded in my mouth. It was big family dinners of mansaf and crowded rooms filled with people I’d never met but who loved me and I loved them. It was playing soccer with local neighborhood children in an empty lot that would soon be filled with luxury condos.

One of the last nights of the trip, I sat with my uncle outside on his patio, and told him through tears that I was going to miss Jordan so much when I went home. That I didn’t want to go home because this was home, could be home. My uncle took my face in his hands, and told me that I could come visit whenever I wanted because, “Jordan belonged to me.”

Jordan belonged to me.

The thing about diaspora kids like me is that it is hard to believe that any place belongs to us.

Not our homes in America where we are othered, sidelined, and marginalized. And not the countries of our ethnic origin because how can you muster the audacity to lay to claim to a country—a culture—that still feels foreign to you, no matter how much you want it to be familiar.

I was always told how lucky I was to have two homes—and I know I am—but it’s also deeply lonely to feel like a stranger in both worlds.

When I got back from that first trip to Jordan, I did a presentation for my third-grade class about it. My dad came in to help. We served the class hummus. This was before everyone in America knew what hummus was. Most of my classmates were excited to try the strange dip in front of them, but you can probably imagine the look on some of their faces—a puckering of the lips, declarations of “weird!” and “ew!”

I remember going from a feeling of surging pride—having just shared an incredible photo of Petra—to deep shame. This is one of my first childhood memories of really feeling different from my classmates and wanting not to be. I’m sure I’d had those moments before—I’d must have—but none stand out to me as clearly as this one. Sweating in my hand-embroidered thobe that moments ago I’d been so delighted to wear. Running to the school bathroom to pull it off; and making excuses about why I needed to change that instant.

I was eight years old then. I never talked about Jordan at school again until I was seventeen.

As more and more people begin to read Other Words for Home, I’m being asked if Jude is a stand-in for me when I was twelve. I always pause at this question. The differences are obvious to me. They are almost as wide and daunting as the ocean that Jude crosses in the book. The most glaring of which is, while we are both Arab, Jude is Syrian-born, and I am American-born.

It is not lost on me that the character in the story who I most identify with is the novel’s main antagonist—Jude’s American-born cousin, Sarah. Sarah is hurting on the inside—feeling lost and lonely in a way that she doesn’t even have a vocabulary for—and so she lashes out at others.

I believe so much in positive representation. I used to parrot this idea that our job as writers was to write the world exactly as it is, exactly as we experience it—an academic idea I’d stolen from older white male authors who I’d seen talk about their books. I thought that repeating it would prove that I, too, was hip, educated, and literary. That I deserved my seat at the proverbial table.

But the older I get, the more I believe that books give birth to the world we live in. Media representation shapes actual perceptions, and so instead of writing sad, lonely brown girls, I decided to write a girl like Jude. A girl who has pride in her family, her culture. A girl who, of course, makes mistakes, but is sure of her heart. Growing up, I never saw a character like Jude. If I encountered a self-assured heroine, she was always white, and beautiful in a way that every media outlet had led me to believe was the only way to be beautiful—fair skin, light hair, a nose completely unlike mine.

Jude does not exist to help Sarah to grow. I want to make that very clear. She has her own story and agency. But one of my very favorite things about the book is the way in which Jude’s confidence in her identity begins to influence the way Sarah sees herself. We can all learn from one another, and the way Sarah learns from Jude, and in turn, the way Jude learns from Sarah, are particularly meaningful to me.

When I was sixteen, and visiting my uncle in Jordan for the summer, I remember whining to him that I didn’t want to be Arab or Muslim anymore. That everyone in the world hated Arabs and Muslims. When I told Abdalla this, memories from my childhood came flooding back to me—desperately wishing to look like my white American girl doll in fourth grade, lying and saying I was Italian instead of Arab in ninth grade, staying silent even though it turned my insides to acid when I heard ignorant things said about Islam. I also thought of the deep shame I felt about not posting a single picture from my visit on Facebook that showed one of my hijab-wearing relatives. Instead posting a series of photographs of the westernized cafes that had recently opened up in Amman.

My uncle didn’t get upset or angry at my declaration. He simply smiled at me in a knowing way. He told me that I only thought that because of the story the American media was telling me. “But Yasmine habibti, you’re a writer, yes? Write another story.”

My uncle Abdalla died before I finished the first draft of Other Words for Home. He never got to read it. But I still like to imagine that somewhere he’s smiling, knowing that I did write myself another story.

Meet Jasmine Warga

Photo credit: Braxton Black

Jasmine Warga is the author of the middle grade novel Other Words for Home (Balzer + Bray; May 28, 2019), as well as several teen books: Here We Are Now, and My Heart and Other Black Holes, which has been translated into over twenty languages. She lives and writes in Chicago, IL. You can visit Jasmine online at www.jasminewarga.com.

About Other Words for Home

A gorgeously written, hopeful middle grade novel in verse about a young girl who must leave Syria to move to the United States, perfect for fans of Jason Reynolds and Aisha Saeed.

Jude never thought she’d be leaving her beloved older brother and father behind, all the way across the ocean in Syria. But when things in her hometown start becoming volatile, Jude and her mother are sent to live in Cincinnati with relatives.

At first, everything in America seems too fast and too loud. The American movies that Jude has always loved haven’t quite prepared her for starting school in the US—and her new label of “Middle Eastern,” an identity she’s never known before.

But this life also brings unexpected surprises—there are new friends, a whole new family, and a school musical that Jude might just try out for. Maybe America, too, is a place where Jude can be seen as she really is.

This lyrical, life-affirming story is about losing and finding home and, most importantly, finding yourself.

ISBN-13: 9780062747808
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 05/28/2019

Dear Society: Sheltering Teenagers Helps No One (Thoughts from a Young Adult), a guest post by Zack Smedley


Hi! The following is a piece I wrote the night before my 20th birthday, almost four years ago. I’ve never posted it anywhere before, but I wanted to share it now. In hindsight, the only footnote I’ll add is that I say “teenagers” when I should really be saying “privileged white teenagers from middle-class families.” Forgive my far less developed cultural awareness from back then.

Without further adieu, I yield the stage to 19-almost-20-year-old me.

Today I wanted to discuss what it’s like to grow up as a teenager in today’s (American) society. Why? Because as I approach the hilariously old age of 20, I’ve finished developing a list of complaints I have about how the world handled teenager-me.

I should begin by saying I’ve grown up blessed with a plethora of good fortune. I have two happy and healthy parents who love me relentlessly, my family lives comfortably, and I’ve managed to get into college and survive as a Chemical Engineering major (so far, anyway). A good bulk of teens reading this are, I hope, fortunate in similar aspects. So why do I say we’re all getting screwed? Why have I, for years, been so fundamentally unhappy with my transition from childhood to adulthood?

Picture this! Growing up as a teenager twenty or thirty years ago, life was different. Kids got jobs at 16 to maintain their junk cars. As soon as they could drive, they were able to roam around with minimal supervision. They had to sweat a bit to make ends meet, but by the age of eighteen, they had gotten enough practice living as adults that they were ready to take off the training wheels.

(Or so I hear, anyway. I myself wasn’t a teen thirty years ago).

Here’s what inspired this post: today I was sitting in lecture when I realized I didn’t have a single idea how to do taxes. TAXES. The only thing you’re required to do on this earth apart from dropping dead.

Which leads me into a brief rant: why the hell didn’t any teacher in high school bother to sit down us wide-eyed little 16- and 17-year old selves and say “here’s all the information you need about mortgages and credit unions and taxes”? Is the point of high school not to prepare kids for the real world? Why is it that I—and every other peer of mine—has reached their twenties without having been taught a single strategy for managing credit lines or sketching out a plan for IRA’s?

BUT THANK THE LORD I KNOW THAT THE MITOCHONDRIA IS THE GODDAMN POWERHOUSE OF THE CELL.

That said, my gripes here extent past my ignorance towards the Internal Revenue Service. One quick YouTube tutorial can, and will, fix that issue. But let’s dive a bit deeper for a second.

I earned my driver’s license a few days before my senior year of high school. My parents, God bless them, weren’t comfortable with me taking the car past the driveway for another six weeks. (The ol’ “it’s not you we don’t trust, it’s everyone else.”) Several of my friends were in similar situations.

And I know what you’re thinking! Hey, why didn’t you just buy your own fixer-upper car with the money you had saved from your high school job? I would have loved to do that. Except that I—along with, once again, most of my friends—wasn’t allowed to have a job in high school. My parents and teachers must have rehearsed their lines together, because it was identical sound bytes from both: “school is your job.”

To be clear, I understand this pattern is no one’s fault. It’s not my teachers’ fault for assigning me the homework they’re required to give, and my parents didn’t do anything wrong by having me focus on school. But it’s gotten to the point where we’re sending kids off to college—and I was absolutely among this group—that have never had a job, never taken care of their own car, and never been allowed to make their own mistakes.

If you’d like to know what the powerhouse of the cell is, though, by God will I knock your socks right off.

Now. I’m thankful every day for my wonderful parents & teachers. And I realize that if my biggest problem is them caring about me too much, I probably shouldn’t be ranting at all. But I’m going to, because these issues I’m describing a) extend far, far beyond my own household, and b) are way too important to not talk about.

Our society is screwing teenagers by not letting them grow up sooner. Parents and schools say “oh, we just don’t want you to have to worry about working, or maintaining a car, or dealing with long nights” but that’s the stuff that turns kids into adults, man! We have to get our hands dirty sometime, and in my opinion, parents and schools of the modern day are shoving fundamental skills aside because, “worry about that when you’re 18.” It’s entirely understandable why they do this—after all, kids are coming home with six hours of homework a night. The answer isn’t to “power through it.” And I’m not here to propose any concrete solutions. But the first step to solving a problem is recognizing there is one, and Houston, we’ve got a big one here.

Parents—especially the great ones, like mine—are so driven to protect their kids from everything. But hardship, and mistakes, and pain…those things shape us to be stronger. And dealing with life experiences (such as jobs and cars) early on can help us teenagers learn how to overcome those challenges for when we’ve truly grown up.

And now here I am—finally filling out my own job applications, driving my own car, managing my own finances—and I couldn’t be happier. But I’ve had to spend a few years playing catch-up, and that was a heavy weight on my shoulders.

In short, to any parents with teenagers: I know how scary it can be letting your kids go, but it has to happen sooner or later. Just be mindful of when they’re really going to become adults, so you can make sure they’re ready to face the world when they step into it.

And high schools? If you’re going to make me sit through a class where I learn how to build a bridge out of popsicle sticks and craft glue, the least you could do is make sure I know what a goddamn FAFSA is.

Meet Zack Smedley

Photo credit: James Ferry

Zack Smedley is a chemical engineer who recently graduated from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. As a member of the LGBT community, his goal is to give a voice to marginalized young adults through gritty, morally complex narratives. Deposing Nathan is his first novel. Find him on Twitter @zack_smedley. Twitter @zack_smedley.   

About DEPOSING NATHAN by Zack Smedley

“A heartbreaking and important read.” —Caleb Roehrig, author of Last Seen Leaving

“[A] layered, complex depiction of questioning (bi)sexuality..A heartbreaking case worth revisiting again and again.” Kirkus Reviews, starred review

Nate never imagined that he would be attacked by his best friend.

For sixteen years, Nate was the perfect son—the product of a no-nonsense upbringing and deep spiritual faith. Then he met Cam, who pushed him to break rules, dream, and accept himself. Conflicted, Nate began to push back. With each push, the boys became more entangled in each others’ worlds…but they also spiraled closer to their breaking points. And now all of it has fallen apart after a fistfight-turned-near-fatal-incident—one that’s left Nate with a stab wound and Cam in jail.

Now Nate is being ordered to give a statement, under oath, that will send his best friend to prison. The problem is, the real story of what happened between them isn’t as simple as anyone thinks. With all eyes on him, Nate must make his confessions about what led up to that night with Cam…and in doing so, risk tearing both of their lives apart.

ISBN-13: 9781624147357
Publisher: Page Street Publishing
Publication date: 05/07/2019

Author Molly E. Lee stops by to talk about hackers, coding, gender bias, and her new book, ASK ME ANYTHING

Thank you for having me! I’m so excited to talk all things ASK ME ANYTHING!

 

The concept for ASK ME ANYTHING came about from a collaboration between my editor, Stacy Abrams, and myself. Given the current social climate, we were both craving a strong female lead and the idea for Amber being a kickass coder was born. The rest of the story developed naturally and the deeper we dove the more Amber had to say.

 

The hacking element is incredibly important in the book and I spent almost an entire year researching it so it would be as authentic as possible. Luckily, I have a super-secret source that helped me speak all things hacker and be true to the culture that it represents. And it was so fun and refreshing to highlight Amber’s skills in coding.

ask me anything2

The number of females in coding is finally increasing and I (much like Amber) hope to see those numbers continue to increase throughout the upcoming years. Coding is such an important skill to have, even in the most basic forms, because it’s the language of the future. Unfortunately, there are still girls discouraged from pursuing STEM courses or careers and I believe it’s important to feature female leads who are rocking out in these areas. But programs like Girls Who Code are doing amazing combatting those negative viewpoints.

 

Even when I was in school, I was told I shouldn’t join the after-school science program (not by my parents, thankfully) but by teachers and boys at school. I joined anyway because I loved creating science projects but I was the only girl in the club. And it was hard but worth every second.

 

And I hope Amber’s character—a coder who is as good or even better than the best boy hacker in the school—will inspire other girls who might be on the fence about joining coding programs. Or other, male dominated programs. Because there is absolutely no reason why women should be discouraged from any form of education or any program or any career field. Anyone who tells a girl that she can’t do something because of her sex is severely misguided.

 

Amber steps up to those kind of biases and gender stereotypes throughout the book and I hope young girls reading it will take that confidence if they’re ever put in a situation like that and use it to take a stand. Like the words stamped on Amber’s bracelet—prove them wrong. Prove to those who doubt with hard work, amazing innovation, and above all, don’t let them put you in a box.

 

I’m so grateful you had me over today to chat! I hope you’ll enjoy ASK ME ANYTHING when it releases on May 7th! Be sure to check out the EPIC giveaway I’m hosting in celebration of its release! Spoiler alert—there is a laptop up grabs!!!

ONE GRAND PRIZE WINNER WILL BE RANDOMLY CHOSEN TO RECEIVE

– Signed-copy of Ask Me Anything
– Microsoft Surface Pro 6 with keyboard and pen
– Amber’s Zox bracelet
– Arrow extra-large Book Beau
– Custom Ask Me Anything tumbler
– Two Disney ColorPop lipsticks
– Hackers Blu-ray

*If an international entrant is chosen they will receive a $1200 Amazon Gift Card in equal value of prize shown.

 

Meet Molly E. Lee

molly e lee picMolly E. Lee is an author best known for her romance novels, the Grad Night series and the Love on the Edge series. She is a 1001 Dark Nights Discovery Author for 2017. Molly writes Adult and Young Adult contemporary featuring strong female heroines who are unafraid to challenge their male counterparts, yet still vulnerable enough to have love sneak up on them. In addition to being a military spouse and mother of two + one stubborn English Bulldog, Molly loves watching storms from her back porch at her Midwest home, and digging for treasures in antique stores.

 

About ASK ME ANYTHING

I should’ve kept my mouth shut.

But Wilmont Academy’s been living in the Dark Ages when it comes to sex ed, and someone had to take matters into her own hands. Well, I’m a kick-ass coder, so I created a totally anonymous, totally untraceable blog where teens can come to get real, honest, nothing-is-off-limits sex advice.

And holy hell, the site went viral—and we’re talking way beyond Wilmont—overnight. Who knew this town was so hard up?

Except now the school administration is trying to shut me down, and they’ve forced Dean—my coding crush, aka the hottest guy in school—to try to uncover who I am. If he discovers my secret, I’ll lose him forever. And thousands of teens who need real advice won’t have anyone to turn to.

Ask me anything…except how to make things right.

ISBN-13: 9781640636583
Publisher: Entangled Publishing, LLC
Publication date: 05/07/2019

Let’s Talk About Sex…Positivity in YA, a guest post by Jenn Bennett

My latest YA contemporary, Serious Moonlight, is a book about Birdie and Daniel, two teens who meet one rainy afternoon in Seattle and impulsively decide to hook up. Unfortunately, the experience is bumbling and embarrassing. Birdie’s only solace is that she’ll never see him again, but alas, when she lands a job working the front desk at a historic hotel, Daniel is the hotel van driver. Awkward. Do they ignore each other? Pretend it never happened? What if they still like each other? What if they are both just bad at sex?

All of my YA contemporaries are romances; all of them include sex on the page. It’s by no means the driving force of my stories, which also include a lot of other big-ticket items—themes about non-traditional families, exploration of mental health issues, and the importance of self-expression. But when you write about two people falling in love, just like Real Life, that connection sometimes gets handsy.

Luckily for me, this is one of my favorite subjects to write about, because sex is such a complex and wonderous thing filled with weird emotions and meaningful conflict. How can something so simple go so wrong, so often? How can something so pleasurable be plagued with baggage, shame, and guilt?

I never once considered not including sex scenes in my YA books, nor did I want to “fade to black” during the kissing, or skim over the good parts. And by good parts, I don’t mean the actual sex—though that’s in there, too. (Three cheers for joyful female desire!) No, I mean the talking about it. Because my characters talk about sex a lot. They talk about birth control. Previous partners. Lack of experience. Pain. Rejection. Body image. Masturbation. Pregnancy.

My characters are curious. They ask permission and respect boundaries, but they also get confused and make mistakes. They know exactly what they want, and yet know nothing at all. Like all of us, really.

The subject of sex is strange when you’re a teen. It can be both alienating and blissful, both scary and alluring. It can change your life in terrifying ways (pregnancy, STDs) and in unexpected ways (establishing an intense, beautiful connection with another human). Sometimes it’s all of the above, and that’s a heady thing to explore when you’re trying to figure out who you are while also surviving the day-to-day pressures of finishing high school.

I’ve never once had a teen reader tell me they were upset with the sexual content in my books. Occasionally I see reviews from parents who like my books but warn other parents about “intimate situations,” like it’s something they can’t even bear to say out loud. It’s bizarre, really, that in America, sex is still one of the big taboos. We are A-Okay with violence in our fiction, on our televisions, in our streets. But when it comes to sex, we seem to be perpetually stuck in arrested development—censoring it, hiding it, shaming people who do it too much, laughing at people who don’t do it enough.

Sometimes writing these kinds of stories make me feel like everyone’s cool auntie, the person in who you feel safe confiding. My sister-in-law asked me if I thought it was okay if my nephew, who was twelve at the time, could read my YA. Was it? Did I want to be the person who taught this kid about sex? WAS THAT WEIRD? I recommended that she wait until the kid was thirteen, at least. I didn’t want to scar the kid, for the love of Pete. (Spoiler alert: he’s now almost fifteen and turned out just fine.)

Being a YA author comes with a certain amount of responsibility. I always tell my editor, when we’re both in doubt about a certain piece of dialogue or the direction a scene’s taking, that my personal philosophy as an author is much like a doctor’s oath: do no harm. That’s a lot of pressure, especially when I don’t have all the answers about sex, love, and relationships. But I think I’m okay with it. I do my best, and that’s all any of us can do.

Who knows? Maybe Birdie and Daniel’s journey in SERIOUS MOONLIGHT is not the experience you remember having with your first boyfriend or girlfriend. Maybe you’ll judge Birdie for having sex with someone she didn’t know very well. Maybe you’ll empathize with her. Fiction is part escapism, part mirror…and sometimes, it’s rebuilding the world how it should be. To that end, I hope that teens (and adults!) reading Birdie and Daniel’s story will see two people on the page who make a few mistakes but eventually get to know each other, talk frankly about their hopes and fears, and eventually build a stronger, lasting connection.

And what could be more positive than that?

Meet Jenn Bennett

Jenn Bennett is an award-winning author of several young adult books, including: ALEX, APPROXIMATELY; STARRY EYES; and SERIOUS MOONLIGHT. Her books have earned multiple starred reviews, won Romance Writers of America’s RITA® Award, and been included on Publishers Weekly Best Books annual list. She lives near Atlanta with one husband and two dogs. Find her online at Twitter: @Jenn_Benn, IG: @J3nn_Benn,and at her website http://www.jennbennett.net/

About SERIOUS MOONLIGHT

After an awkward first encounter, Birdie and Daniel are forced to work together in a Seattle hotel where a famous author leads a mysterious and secluded life in this romantic contemporary novel from the author of Alex, Approximately.

Mystery-book aficionado Birdie Lindberg has an overactive imagination. Raised in isolation and homeschooled by strict grandparents, she’s cultivated a whimsical fantasy life in which she plays the heroic detective and every stranger is a suspect. But her solitary world expands when she takes a job the summer before college, working the graveyard shift at a historic Seattle hotel.

In her new job, Birdie hopes to blossom from introverted dreamer to brave pioneer, and gregarious Daniel Aoki volunteers to be her guide. The hotel’s charismatic young van driver shares the same nocturnal shift and patronizes the waterfront Moonlight Diner where she waits for the early morning ferry after work. Daniel also shares her appetite for intrigue, and he’s stumbled upon a real-life mystery: a famous reclusive writer—never before seen in public—might be secretly meeting someone at the hotel.

To uncover the writer’s puzzling identity, Birdie must come out of her shell…discovering that most confounding mystery of all may be her growing feelings for the elusive riddle that is Daniel.

ISBN-13: 9781534445284
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication date: 04/16/2019


Author Heidi Daniele Guest Post: The House Children

Screen Shot 2019-03-27 at 9.16.40 AMI’d first heard about Irish Industrial Schools during a trip to Ireland. A book titled Fear of the Collar by Patrick Touher came up during a conversation at an event I was attending. The story was an account of his experience in the Artaine Industrial School, run by the Christian Brothers. I bought the book the following day and was both fascinated and appalled by what I read. As a parent of two children and a Catholic, it was difficult to believe that Irish children had been treated so badly in an institution run by the Catholic Church.

 

Shortly after I read Touher’s book, “The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse” was formed by the Irish Government to investigate abuse in childcare facilities, including industrial schools. While waiting for the findings of the Commission, I continued to search for information about industrial schools. I scoured the internet for articles, blogs and message board postings. Most of what I read was about the horrible experiences and abuse endured by many of the children.

 

Further research shed light on the Irish culture of that era. Many families were poor, unemployment was high, and an old brand of Catholicism heavily influenced government policies and the moral views of the majority of the Irish people.

 

While compiling my findings it occurred to me that others might also be intrigued with this topic, so I began to entertain the idea of writing a book.

 

My journey led me to conversations with five women who were raised in Saint Joseph’s Industrial School in Ballinasloe between 1930 and 1960. I was surprised at how different their experiences were. It was a relief to learn that in spite of their many difficulties, they also shared fond memories of friends they’d made, and even some of the nuns.

 

I began to appreciate that the industrials schools, although a terribly imperfect system, had also served their primary purpose of sheltering and feeding these children, many of whom might otherwise have endured worse fates.  

 

It became my mission to give a fair account of what happened in this particular institution. The characters in The House Children are based on these five women, and the story is based on actual events. There was one twist – the women asked to remain anonymous, so I was faced with the challenge of giving an authentic account of their experiences without revealing their identities. In some ways that limited what I could write, but it also gave me the freedom to use my creativity.

 

Originally, the story was almost double in size. I wanted to include every detail the women shared with me as a way of honoring their stories. The burden of shame they carried had kept them silent for many years. It was difficult deciding which elements of their stories would best give a fair account of life in the school.
The House Children is the end result of my mission to tell their stories honestly while also respecting their anonymity.

Screen Shot 2019-03-27 at 9.16.15 AMAbout the author:

Heidi Daniele’s passion for history and genealogy opened the door for The House Children, which is her debut novel. She has a degree in Communications and Media Arts and has worked on several short independent films. She earned the Learning in Progress Award for Excellence at a Dutchess Community College Film Festival for coproducing, writing, filming, and editing the film Final Decisions. She also volunteers at The Lisa Libraries, an organization that donates new children’s books and small libraries to organizations that work with kids in poor and underserved areas. An empty nester who lives in the Hudson Valley with her husband, Heidi enjoys gardening, photography, and exploring her family tree.

 

About the book:

During the 1930’s, Mary Margaret “Peg” Joyce was born to an unwed mother during a time in Irish history when single pregnant women were often sent to special homes to give birth and then forcibly separated from their children. At age five, she is sent to an industrial school, an institution set up to care for “neglected, orphaned and abandoned children” by giving them harsh rules to live by and teaching them a trade. The one thing getting her through her rigid routine of prayer, work and silence is the annual summer holiday she takes with a local family, the Hanleys. However, once she finds out that Norah Hanley is her birth mother, she is overcome with anger and feelings of abandonment. Meanwhile, Norah also has her own battle to face, fighting the feelings of shame and guilt that bubble up from her past.

 

For fans of The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz and Sold on a Monday by Kristina McMorris, this engaging YA debut The House Children is a compelling story of familial love that highlights the struggles of both mothers and their babies during this dark and difficult time in Irish history.

Kids Can Handle Big Decisions . . . If the Adults Get Out of the Way (But Also Don’t), a guest post by Kirstin Cronn-Mills

(CW: Assisted suicide.)

First, a million thanks to Teen Librarian Toolbox for hosting me. I appreciate your work so much!

(Important note: this blog post can’t tackle the social and legal issues around assisted suicide. Too much complexity for 900 words. We’re just gonna go with it.)

Lake Superior, Duluth, MN, where WRECK takes place. Photo credit: Kelly Tekler

Lake Superior, Duluth, MN, where WRECK takes place. Photo credit: Kelly Tekler

In Wreck, Tobin has a lot of choices to make—ones most high school juniors don’t generally make, thank goodness. She’s choosing what to do with her future, which is typical, but she also has to choose how to interact with her dad, Steve. Thanks to his ALS, which is complicated by frontotemporal dementia, he’s unpredictable on his best days and impossible on his worst. Is she going to be a crabby teenager, or will she show him compassion (or will she do both, which seems pretty traditional for a teenager, as well as what most humans would do)?

Eventually she also has to choose what to do (and how to feel) when Steve makes decisions about his own death. Steve’s choice is an awful thing for her to face—it’s an awful thing for a grown-up to face—but she legally becomes a criminal when she helps him carry out his wish to be free. That’s a heavy and unnecessary burden for a seventeen-year-old.

I can hear the outraged voices now: she’s too young for such a difficult choice! She can’t make such an adult decision! She has no idea what she’s doing!

Um. No, she’s not. Yes, she can. Yes, she does.

Yes, Tobin is young. No, human brains don’t mature until they’re in their mid-twenties. But Tobin understands a lot about two fundamental parts of being human: she knows about love, and she knows about loss.

Fundamentally, Tobin makes her decision to help her dad out of love, because they have loved each other fiercely for all of Tobin’s life, and she wants him to be out of both physical and mental pain. Her knowledge of loss is more of a mystery to the reader (and to her, really): she doesn’t acknowledge the large loss she’s already suffered, nor that it’s affected her in more ways than she’ll cop to. However, when it comes down to her decision to help Steve, she knows more than most of us because she’s lived with loss for much of her life. She knows she can cope.

Action figures are a part of WRECK, too!

Action figures are a part of WRECK, too!

What carries Tobin through all of her grief—including her decision—is the love of people older than her who help her make these big decisions. She has her great-uncle Paul, who clearly values her (and also understands loss), and she has Ike, a family friend who becomes a brother. Especially with Ike, Tobin can sort things out, feel her feelings, and figure out what’s next.

Tobin is also allowed to make decisions—which isn’t something all teens get to do. She isn’t forced into anything (with the exception of who will be her guardian, once Steve isn’t), and she isn’t sheltered from her dad’s choice. She has the knowledge she needs about the situation, and she responds to Steve out of love and understanding, rather than duty or a forced adherence to convention.

This is one of the ways kids become caring adults—first, they’re influenced by people who model both caring behavior and critical thinking, and second, they’re surrounded by safety. Tobin is safe to explore her thoughts and feelings with Steve, Paul, and Ike, and that safety allows her to come to her empathetic decision.

When I started writing for teens, I committed to giving my protagonists an older person they could rely on, because I had a couple in my high school years—a person who’s not a parent, usually. In Sky, Morgan has her grandma. In Beautiful Music, Gabe has his neighbor John. In Original Fake, Frankie has his boss and idol, Uncle Epic. Tobin has the same thing in Ike and Paul. Teenagers need to see evidence that not all grown-ups are assholes (if they are inclined to think they are), and that there are people interested in what they have to say. Some adults actually do recognize that yeah, teens are learning, but they’re pretty smart to start with.

If Tobin was a real person, she wouldn’t be able to recognize all the implications of her choice right away. A grown-up might not even be able to do that. But I don’t think she’d regret her choice, because she was helping someone she loves be free of pain. Hopefully Real Tobin would also have the support of those who love her, and they’d affirm her decision, even as they were sad about it. I know lots of teens and young adults who’ve been in really tough situations. Those who’ve come through it have been the ones with a circle of caring folks around them. Book Tobin does what she does, even though it will devastate her, because it’s the right thing to do, and because she’s got support.

There’s all the difference in the world between being forced into the fight and walking in with your head held high. Steve chooses. Tobin chooses. We all deserve that right.

Meet Kirstin Cronn-Mills

kirstinKirstin Cronn-Mills writes young adult novels and nonfiction for high school libraries. Her books have received both state and national recognition. She lives in southern Minnesota with her family, where she teaches and wishes she lived closer to Lake Superior.
Find her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

About WRECK

wreckSometimes loss has its own timetable.

Set on the shores of Lake Superior, Wreck follows high school junior Tobin Oliver as she navigates her father’s diagnosis of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).

Steve’s life as a paramedic and a runner comes to an abrupt halt just as Tobin is preparing her application for a scholarship to art school. With the help of Steve’s personal care assistant (and family friend) Ike, Tobin attends to both her photography and to Steve as his brain unexpectedly fails right along with his body.

Tobin struggles to find a “normal” life, especially as Steve makes choices about how his own will end, and though she fights hard, Tobin comes to realize that respecting her father’s decision is the ultimate act of love.

Wreck wrecked me. Kirstin Cronn-Mills has a singular way of getting inside characters heads and making their stories come to life. This book will make you cry.” —Bill Konigsberg, award-winning author of The Music of What Happens?

“A provocative, unflinching, and emotionally-complex deep dive into mortality and loss while Tobin and her father grapple with almost unfathomable decisions. A wrenching and empathetic look at the tumultuous waters and seemingly bottomless grief that can interrupt an otherwise placid life.” —Amanda MacGregor, Teen Librarian Toolbox

“This book has heart and empathy as vast and deep as the Great Lake on which it’s set.” —Geoff Herbach, award-winning author of Stupid Fast and Hooper

“Every so often a book comes along that is so sharp, so moving, so real, and so good, you want to press it into everyone’s hands and say, Read this! READ THIS!” —Courtney Summers, author of Cracked Up to Be, on Beautiful Music for Ugly Children

“A kind and satisfyingly executed portrait.” —Kirkus Reviews

ISBN-13: 9781510739031
Publisher: Sky Pony
Publication date: 04/16/2019

See Amanda’s review here

Feminist AF: Internal Revolutions: Books + Emotional Literacy a guest post by Emma Fernhout

feministMarch for Our Lives.  Youth Climate Strike. The Women’s March. The last several years have shown us that teenagers can, and will, lead or participate in resistance. They will study, discuss, and stand up, sometimes when adults hesitate. Should this surprise us? Teenagers and young adults lead revolutions as our books, written by adults who believe in them, have taught them to.

Sometimes this revolution is internal. This may be especially true when examining YA books’ impact covering current events. For example, in the age of University required consent classes, YA books covering movements such as #MeToo have power to equip readers for real life. I believe we are remembering books’ emotional political power, as we begin to discuss more openly the damage our society imparts.

Of course, I read and hear many critiques about over-emotional political rhetoric, but I’d like to note that this critique is often given to women, from the voice of men. Two articles to consult on this topic include Political Revisioning: How Men Police Women’s Anger in Writing Workshops and The History of Female Anger. Perhaps the truth is that we lack emotional literacy, tending to graze the surface of our feelings with less regard for the layers of emotions simmering beneath. Psychologist Hilary Jacobs Hendel calls this the “Change Triangle,” mapping the depth of our feelings. Without this self-awareness, we might misguidedly pin-point fears and thus act in ways that do little to resolve the root of the tension.

People experience the world through the lens of feeling, or lack thereof. This is especially true in the context of sexual assault. Mental health matters.

Yet when we open a book, we also are opened, within a safe environment of expression and experience. Books allow us to make sense of the world, and ourselves, whether by second hand experience or prompted thought and assessment.

Books as Vessels for Empathy

Books may open a cavity within readers for empathy, allowing readers to enter into a situation which they have recently heard much about, often via third party sources such as news outlets and social media. Books are a valuable and comparable method of immersion: Reading offers a safe venue in which to experience a reality, another world other people are forced to live within, complete with thoughts and sight. It allows a reader to steep within another’s mind, perspective, and world, while still offering the control to the reader: one may pause, put the book down, and return to their own reality if they so need.

But if we hear about sexual assault so often, why would we need books to help educate ourselves? Isn’t the knowledge assault exists enough? Perhaps, but we read to gain perspective. How many different points of view are offered, to best reflect our diverse world and complex situations (eg, perspectives such as survivor, bystander, and friends, not to mention within different cultural contexts?) The goal is not just to know an issue is occurring, but to truly hear and glimpse the emotional reality and gravity of these stories. What does the occurrence of an event actually mean to those it touches? We can hear the data all day, but the stories producing the data are just as important as the statistics. People- lives– are simply numbers. This fact needs to weigh on authors, reminding them of their responsibility to be careful, authentic, and vulnerable through their work.

Empathy Leads to Educated Guesses and Questions

Only after we are more knowledgeable may we be equipped to ask educated questions of authority, peers, and ourselves. Only then may we intelligently exponentially evolve in better directions. This requires bravery and discomfort, which is, again, why the safe venue of a book is so helpful. Fiction allows the reader to be present for a glimpse into the stories that are blasted across our screens.

Our emotional literacy is improved as we continually learn to understand- or simply respect- the emotional and situational complexity of situations that are so rarely very black and white as they seem.

For example, as we peek into the minds of sexual assault survivors, we may be less likely to ask, “Why didn’t she report the sexual assault sooner?” Books offer a window into messy situations, revealing consequences and complications. We see how multiple characters and situations affect a person. This may hopefully alleviate victim blaming, especially for situations that may occur within bubbles, such as sexual assault in the bubble of a high school, stranding individuals within its confines.

With increased understanding of the complex situations surrounding us, we are equipped to make better decisions, our respectful empathy increased. We may more easily pause and consider of ourselves, peers and authorities, “What energy am I bringing into this space? How might I be touching others, and what options are available to me?”

Question everything, always, gently employing rhetoric and emotional literacy.

Books as Methods for Both Validation and Catharsis

Last April, I listened to Lynda Barry tell a room full of teenagers and adults that catharsis is a biological state of reflection, intertwined with imagery:

I believe that the arts are like an external immune system. I believe that they have a biological function.

The fastest way I can explain it is that there is this brilliant neuroscientist named V. S. Ramachandran, who wrote a book called Phantoms in the Brain. He was very interested in people with phantom-limb pain, and he had one patient who had lost his hand from the wrist down, but the guy’s sensation was not only that the hand was still there, but that it was in a painful fist that kept clenching. Ramachandran built a box, with a mirror and two holes in one side. When the guy put his arms in, he saw the one hand reflected [as if he could see both of his hands]. When he opened the hand, he saw it open and it was like the missing hand was unclenching. It fixed his phantom-limb sensation. That’s what I think images do; that’s what the arts do. In the course of human life we have a million phantom-limb pains—losing a parent when you’re little, being in a war, even something as dumb as having a mean teacher—and seeing it somehow reflected, whether it’s in our own work or listening to a song, is a way to deal with it.

The Greeks knew about it. They called it catharsis, right? And without it we’re fucked. I think this is the thing that keeps our mental health or emotional health in balance, and we’re born with an impulse toward it.

// via The Paris Review

Stories of trauma, whether sexual assault, absent parents, disabilities, or subtle injuries, are important to make available. Suddenly, a reader is not alone within their possibly isolated world. Personal stories are physically validated, through a bundle of paper that one can hold in their hands, knowing that someone else thought through the complexity and thought it important enough to commit it to paper. They are believed in.

Books as Vehicles for Questioning Multiple Points of View

Complex subjects are infinitely more complex than we realize. A sexual assault narrative may have varying facets depending on characters and forms, such as realism, essay, poetry, history, comics, characters of color, lgbtq+ characters, and more. In addition, due to complex subject matters, books should also include a range of point of view, from, in the case of #MeToo, survivor, bystanders, and friends. Complex subjects cannot, and should not, be dumbed down to one point of view impacted.

It is also important to allow some attention for authors. Whose perspective are we investing in? For example, reading diverse characters primarily written by white, straight, cis, fully abled characters is not reading diversely. Read from the voices you seek to see. Their voices are authentic, and there is little risk of token inclusion for the sake of diversity trends.

Yes, this is slightly overwhelming, but perhaps it is the small work we need to embrace as we select our literature, especially if one is in the position to recommend work to others. I am afraid to become someone who wears the title of an open-hearted librarian, opening the doors for anyone who needs information, without doing the work of careful listening. I refuse to glean most of my ideals and ideas about other identities from voices that sound exactly like mine. This includes tough subjects such as sexual assault. If I’m going to read about this experience, to open myself up, hopefully I will not primarily hear my point of view, as culture does not treat everyone identically. Similarly, I need more queer writers. Disabled writers. Asian authors. Native writers. Who are the voices I have neglected to find, and when I do read them, who recommended them? Who is the expert for accuracy?

I want to be a better listener, and thus expand my capacity for empathy and educated opinions.
I want to continue to find myself reflected in works of all kinds and voices.
I too have stayed up late reading, crying into a book, and rushed to tell the author how they told my own story. I understand that sense of release, and it is priceless, and all people deserve this feeling.

My hope is that publishers value this feeling over marketability, especially if we consume these works. For example, whitewashing is an issue for all authors, whether white or AOC’s.
There is much to be said on the topic of diversity, and better voices to speak it. If you’re interested, I encourage you to continue research, perhaps beginning with these resources: We Need Diverse Books and OwnVoices: Why We Need Diverse Authors in Children’s Literature.

Feelings and Experience Matter, and I Hope We May Embrace Ourselves and Others.

I understand; Emotions are not necessarily measurable or standard. What hurts one person might not hurt everyone, but what does this say about our views of other people’s worth? How do we decide who matters? What is this measuring stick, and would any of us measure up on every measuring stick?

I don’t believe so.

We all have to exist inside ourselves, and feel.

Feelings are scary, but they matter. They are a lens on experience.

People matter. You matter. Others matter too.

Books help us remember. Keep reading.

 

 

unnamedEmma Fernhout is a youth librarian, poet, and MLIS student, armed with a yoga mat, and a BA in Creative Writing Poetry from UMKC.
Emma can be found on instagram at @hereistheend and sproutclubjournal.com

 

Monsters united can never be defeated: sentimental queer horror YA, a guest post by Hal Schrieve

The year I turned fourteen, I came out to my parents as transgender. In 2010, as a young teenager, with Gender Identity Disorder still written into the DSM as a disease, I knew that my eventual medical transition would require doctors’ notes and assessments in order to proceed. But my parents, wearing a look of inscrutable fear, initially took me to therapists with the stated hope that we as a family would work something out that didn’t involve me actually ever transitioning.

 

Eventually, all the doctors my parents took me to, even those most sympathetic to my parents, began to reach the consensus that I was in fact a transsexual. That, the doctors and therapists agreed, meant my parents had to move to the next healthy stage in raising a trans child: mourning my death.

 

This is standard advice, advice that the parents of trans children have gotten from well-meaning therapists for decades. My inexpert Cut Rite haircut, abbreviated name, the desire to to put testosterone into my body and surgically modify my chest, and, not least, my expression of my desire for romantic and sexual contact with gay men—meant that the child my parents had raised was dead. My parents had lost their shot at something. Therapists phrased it in different ways, describing the dead girl who I was not as a child of expectations, or dreams, as someone who had existed and as someone who had never existed. But again and again, the living teenager in front of my parents was ignored in favor of the theoretically dead girl I had replaced.  My parents were given permission to ignore my distress, the bullying I was facing, the discrimination I faced from my school, the lack of information I had about what my future might hold, so they could grieve and adapt slowly to life without their daughter—though I was alive, and their real daughter, my little sister, was right in front of them and living too. For a period of just over a year, and maybe long beyond that, I became undead, unknowable, invisible to the people who were supposed to protect me.

 

Caption: Intervening in each others' lives when we start believing we are dead or deserve death is more important than anything.

Intervening in each others’ lives when we start believing we are dead or deserve death is more important than anything.

 

Just as I died to my parents, my parents also disappeared to me. They were no longer role models, because they believed, at least for a while, that the me that existed should not exist. There were people who could see and understand me as alive, but they were not my parents. I still don’t know what I was to my parents during this time, exactly, but it’s safe to say I was something monstrous, a portent. For me, the result of being discussed and treated as dead was a temporary frozenness in my emotional development, a deep depression, and a lack of ability to fathom or connect to the cisgender and straight people around me. My sense of self esteem and empathy towards others ultimately grew enormously during my transition, but the things that prompted this had little to do with medical change in my own body. What replaced my family unit’s emotional ties was contact with punks and sex educators and old gay and trans people and young teens in my city and online who were like me and count see the beauty in one another. Over and over again, I watched small-town gay and trans people take care of each other, drive to one anothers’ houses late at night to intervene in suicide attempts, house each other, give one another jobs, get in professional hot water to protect each other, build up our mutual sense of safety in the face of horror. As my parents realized I was a monster, I was realizing I found their world monstrous.

I wanted to have a character like Mrs. Dunnigan, who sees and understands younger LGBT people who other adults fear.

I wanted to have a character like Mrs. Dunnigan, who sees and understands younger LGBT people who other adults fear.

 

I am white, which limits how I have been dehumanized in the settler-colonial state I was born in. My family is middle-class. My cognitive differences are such that I was never deemed disabled. I have a body which is able to navigate the ableist infrastructure of our society with relative ease. But I have always related to monsters. This is a trend, among queer people, even those of us who are lucky. We didn’t start it, though—monsters never start our own monstrosity.

 

 

I could theorize about when and how being gay or trans became a monstrous threat in European civilization, and others have certainly discussed how this belief was used as a tool of violent imperialism. But it would take a long time. Instead, here is a page from Alan Bray’s Homosexuality in Renaissance England.

I could theorize about when and how being gay or trans became a monstrous threat in European civilization, and others have certainly discussed how this belief was used as a tool of violent imperialism. But it would take a long time. Instead, here is a page from Alan Bray’s Homosexuality in Renaissance England.

 

 

I remember the first stories I ever wrote, at age four, being about Ursula from the Howard Ashman version of The Little Mermaid running away from persecutors, escaping and starting a new life at the bottom of a deep well. I didn’t know then that the original Hans Christian Andersen story, queer in its own way, regards the mermaid herself as a sort of monster, who nobly kills herself when she is wounded by her prince’s lack of ability to love her. I just knew I sympathized with something unlovable but charismatic, with tentacles, that shouldn’t have died. Further stories I wrote involved noble, ugly troll girls locked into mill-towers, werewolves on the lam, haggard witches and dwarves living under bridges and stealing scraps. I knew, reading fairy stories, that the witches, pirates, and dragons I read about rarely deserved persecution. When I read the story of St. George and the Dragon, the dragon was the only face I could compute as relatable. Nowadays, when I watch a horror movie about a traumatized ghost or psychic evil type monster wreaking havoc on a living straight white family, I only care about what happened to the vengeful spirit, and why it is so important to the filmmakers that the revenge be seen as more horrible than the original violence. I know that monsters are made, and that we usually are less scary than the people that made us. Traumatized people aren’t why the world is violent. Abusive people in power who want to stay in power and refuse to empathize or love others is why the world is violent.

 

The horror I see in the world is the systems of capitalism, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism and ecological destruction designed to divide and alienate us from our friends, our lovers, our children, and break us up so we are easier to break. This horror can come even from systems that are supposedly designed to help us, like doctors. Too many of my friends have been told that their physical or mental pain is imaginary, or given up parts of their lives to afford medical care. My own life has been shaped less than others’ by psychiatrists and their edicts, but I spent all of my adolescent years concealing the distress and mental illness that i knew might stop them from writing essential letters or mean they would disclose something that would cause my parents to institutionalize me. I have been helped by psychiatry. But it’s a strained affection. The closest friends I have have been abused by family members, police, psychiatrists, teachers. My best friend when I was eighteen, a trans boy named Sebastian, was killed by a combination of all these actors. All of whom were ostensibly supposed to protect him.

 

 

My characters Aysel, Z and Tommy are the kids you don't want to talk to at school who have a hard time relating to other people but who feel things really deeply.

My characters Aysel, Z and Tommy are the kids you don’t want to talk to at school who have a hard time relating to other people but who feel things really deeply.

 

In Out of Salem, I want to talk about the way that queer people and many others are seen as monsters acting as a threat to violent systems of control; I want to express as fully as possible the hope I have that we are in fact a threat, that we can break impossibly huge violent systems through survival and solidarity and love. I wanted to talk about the numbing horror of experiencing the world as marginalized, and how that makes it harder to trust people or show love. You have to talk about that in order to speak of the ways that we can survive the horror story that is our whole world by sticking together. My characters Chad, Elaine, Mrs. Dunnigan, Mr. Weber, Z, Tommy, Azra and Aysel are all at least mostly able to see one another’s personhood and personal dignity, even if people like abusive uncles or hostile teachers are unable to. Solidarity and contact between peers kept me and my friends alive during my high school years, as well as contact with sympathetic adults who couldn’t do everything for us we needed but could act as a model of long-term endurance of a hostile world.

 

Stonewall Youth, an LGBT youth organization in Olympia WA, helped me survive high school. Here is me (burgundy blazer) at age 15 in 2012 on their Pride float.

Stonewall Youth, an LGBT youth organization in Olympia WA, helped me survive high school. Here is me (burgundy blazer) at age 15 in 2012 on their Pride float.

 

When you are gay and trans and young, or marginalized in other ways, sometimes seeing the survival of your elders—your real elders, who are monstrous like you— is powerful. Touching someone like you is healing. Holding onto each other is hard but it is the only thing I know is good to do, which can help us survive.

 

 

Meet Hal Shrieve

Image credit: Micah Brown

Image credit: Micah Brown

Hal Schrieve grew up in Olympia, Washington, and is competent at making risotto and setting up a tent. Xie has worked as an after-school group leader, a summer camp counselor, a flower seller, a tutor, a grocer, and a babysitter. Hir current ambition is to become a librarian, and xie works as a trainee children’s librarian at New York Public Library. Xie has a BA in history with a minor in English from University of Washington and studies library science at Queens College, New York. Xie lives in Brooklyn, New York, and hir poetry has appeared in Vetch magazine.

Out of Salem is hir first novel.

Social Media links:
@howlremus on Instagram
https://soundcloud.com/haltalksmonsters (podcast about monster movies)

 

 

 

About Out of Salem

out of salem2The best Teen Zombie Werewolf Witchy Faerie fantasy murder mystery you’ve ever read—by debut author, Hal Schrieve.

Genderqueer fourteen-year-old Z Chilworth has to adjust quickly to their new status as a zombie after waking from death from a car crash that killed their parents and sisters. Always a talented witch, Z now can barely perform magic and is rapidly decaying. Faced with rejection from their remaining family members and old friends, Z moves in with their mother’s friend, Mrs. Dunnigan, and befriends Aysel, a loud would-be-goth classmate who is, like Z, a loner. As Z struggles to find a way to repair the broken magical seal holding their body together, Aysel fears that her classmates will discover her status as an unregistered werewolf. When a local psychiatrist is murdered by what seems to be werewolves, the town of Salem, Oregon, becomes even more hostile to “monsters,” and Z and Aysel are driven together in an attempt to survive a place where most people wish that neither of them existed.
Rarely has a first-time author created characters of such immediacy and power as Z, Aysel, Tommy (suspected fey) and Elaine (also a werewolf), or a world that parallels our own so clearly and disturbingly.

ISBN-13: 9781609809010
Publisher: Seven Stories Press
Publication date: 03/26/2019

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