Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Little Gangs, a guest post by Lauren McLaughlin

I was supposed to be on a book tour right now for my YA novel, Send Pics. But, like every other author with a book hitting the shelves right now, I’m in lock down. So instead of hanging out with librarians, booksellers and fellow book nerds, I’m hunkering down with my family. Instead of reading aloud to a classroom full of teenagers, I’m homeschooling my ten-year-old daughter (using the loosest possible definition of “homeschooling”).

One of the reasons I was looking forward to getting out into the world and talking about Send Pics was because at heart it’s a story about friendship. Not just one-on-one friendship, but group friendship. It’s about the little gangs we form and how they get pressed into service in surprising ways. Friend groups are often forged in good times through shared interests (choir, sports, partying, etc), but it’s when things go awry that a loose association of buddies becomes a life raft.

Throughout my life, I’ve had a handful of little gangs, from the the neighbourhood kids I played with as a child, to the mother’s group I meet up with for dinner—and mutual support—every month. Along the way, I’ve drifted into and out of little gangs that were of such intense connection and intimacy it seems odd that they’re not all still a part of my daily life. But time, circumstances, and the natural arc of life have their way. It’s not permanence that defines these little gangs, it’s intensity.

So it was interesting, but not really surprising, when, in the midst of a global pandemic, two of my former little gangs reached out for Zoom chats within a week of each other. The first was a group of singers from my high school choir. I’ve kept in loose contact with a few of them over the years, but I haven’t hung out with the whole gang since the eighties! We span three different countries and four time zones. Staring at these familiar faces arrayed in a grid on my laptop, it felt like I was back in the high school music room. I half expected our old choir master to step in and tap on her music stand. We got each other caught up on the basics—jobs, families, etc—but there was no formality,  no politeness. We got straight into the heart of the matter, sharing our fears and frustrations, and looking for ways we could help each other. Lockdown has strained all of us in different ways, and the urge to reach out (even when thousands of miles made it physically impossible) was overwhelming. 

We could have done this at any time over the past ten years. Video conferencing is not exactly new. I think there was something about the pandemic that made us yearn for that connection, for that sense of belonging. We are a social species. For all our talk of American individualism and our tendency to worship lone heroes, we need each other.

In Send Pics, varsity wrestling captain Tarkin Shaw drugs and photographs his classmate Suze Tilman then uses the nude pictures to blackmail her into a sexual relationship. It’s a fictional story, but the crime is common enough. The ubiquity of cell phone cameras, the influence of alcohol, and the illusory sense of invincibility conspire to put teenagers (especially teen girls) in a great deal of danger. When I first came up with the idea, I dove into the data on these types of crimes. Time and again, I found parents, teachers, coaches, even law enforcement, rallying around the perpetrators while the victims were blamed, disbelieved, and, in some cases, driven out of town. I wasn’t about to sugar coat my story. It wouldn’t have been realistic to portray the town rallying around the victim when the perpetrator was a popular all-state wrestling champion. But as soon as I decided to pit Suze against the whole town, I discovered that I couldn’t bring myself to leave her completely on her own. Maybe it was a subconscious attempt to protect my own psyche from a story that would have been too dark. But no sooner did I sketch out the foundations of the story, than a little gang emerged. Of course Suze wouldn’t be completely on her own. She’d have her friends. While everyone else is conspiring to discredit and shame her, she finds shelter in her little gang of four. They may be vastly outnumbered but the strength of their bond is equal and opposite to the forces working against them. “Shields up” is their motto, their defiant stance against an unfair, unjust world they’re only beginning to understand. 

As we all hunker down in our social isolation, trying to keep the virus at bay—a virus we still don’t fully understand—don’t we need our little gangs too? I’ve read about people forming Zoom meet ups and WhatsApp groups with neighbours they no longer pass on the street since lockdown began. They just need that sense of connection, of belonging. Last week I Zoomed with my old “Happy Hour” gang, a group of New Yorkers I haven’t hung out with since I moved to London ten years ago. We’ve added spouses and children and a grey hair or two, but for all that’s changed, the group dynamic was the same. We could have been sipping martinis in the East Village. This weekend, I’m Zooming with my choir friends again. Nothing has materially changed since our last Zoom. I doubt anyone will have much in the way of news. But that’s not the point. We’re here for each other. That’s what it’s about. And even if the forces working against us are a gazillion particles of virus we can’t even see, and even if our only defence is our isolation, at least for a little while we can slip back into our little gang and say, hey, shields up. I’ve got your back.

Meet Lauren McLaughlin

LAUREN MCLAUGHLIN is the author of Send PicsThe FreeScored, and Cycler. She has also written the children’s pictures books Wonderful You and Mitzi Tulane Preschool Detective, both of which feature adoptive families. She is an adoptive mother herself. Prior to her career in fiction, she spent ten years in the film business. She produced commercials and music videos for such artists as Nas, The B52’s, the Spin Doctors, and Monie Love, then went on to write several screenplays, including Prisoner of Love starring Naomi Campbell, Specimen starring Mark Paul Gosselaar, and Hypercube (the sequel to the cult favorite Cube). She also produced American PsychoBuffalo 66, and several other feature films. She is a member of the improv comedy troupe Amorphous Horse, which performs in a variety of venues in and around London, UK. 

You can follow Lauren at:

www.laurenmclaughlin.net

Twitter: @LaurenMcWoof

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lauren.mclaughlin.books

Instagram: @laurenmclaughlin3

About Send Pics

At Jonesville High, casual misogyny runs rampant, slut-shaming is a given, and school athletes are glorified above all else. Best friends Suze, Nikki, Ani, and Lydia swear they’ll always have each other’s backs against predatory guys—so when Suze suddenly starts dating wrestling star and toxic douchebag Tarkin Shaw, it’s a big betrayal.

Turns out, it’s not a relationship—it’s blackmail. At first, Suze feels like she has no choice but to go along with it, but when Tarkin starts demanding more, she enlists the help of intelligent misfits DeShawn and Marcus to beat Tarkin at his own game. As Marcus points out, what could possibly go wrong?

The answer: everything. And by the time the teens realize they’re fighting against forces much bigger than the Tarkin Shaws of the world, losing isn’t an option.

ISBN-13: 9781948340267
Publisher: Dottir Press
Publication date: 04/21/2020
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

Praise for Send Pics

“A gritty read for a woke generation” — Kirkus Reviews

A relentless and fierce thriller crossed with an incisive story of gender, class and race. It grabs and grabs and never lets go. —CORY DOCTOROW, author of Little Brother and Radicalized

McLaughlin has crafted a compelling novel that is somehow both timely and timeless: a perfect storm of topical issues affecting our society―and especially connected teens―today, but also an enduring lesson in empathy which reminds us that the truth behind the clickbait headlines often is hidden. —E.C. MYERS, author of the Andre Norton Award–winning Fair Coin, Quantum Coin, The Silence of Six, and more

A Moment of Radical Honesty and Talking Frankly about Modern Poverty in THE LIFE AND (MEDIEVAL) TIMES OF KIT SWEETLY, a guest post by Jamie Pacton

I think every writer puts a bit of themselves into the stories we tell and the characters we create. When writing my debut YA novel, THE LIFE AND (MEDIEVAL) TIMES OF KIT SWEETLY, I put a whole lot of myself into Kit. Her humor, her outlook on life, her flaws— all of these are mine. I based her love interest on my husband, and I even included embarrassing moments from my own life in the book (like that time I ended up inside a dumpster I very nearly couldn’t get out of; or, that time I yelled “I know CPR” when a stranger collapsed in a locker room and my friends went running for help). But, even with the amount of Jamie inside Kit’s story, there’s one element of my own life in the book that I struggle to be honest about: Kit’s poverty.

Like Kit, I’ve lived through some very lean times. Growing up, I was the oldest of ten kids, and although my parents both worked white-collar jobs (at least until I was a teenager and my dad lost his job), I’m sure feeding all of us, clothing us, and keeping the lights on was a stretch. I remember visits to food banks and a pantry full of cans long past their expiration dates. (Expiration dates were more of whimsical suggestions in my parents’ house, rather than guidelines for food safety). I also remember visiting friends’ houses and marveling at the toys, clothes, and bedroom space they had. It was all so nice and not second-hand, and I desperately wanted the same things. Even as early as elementary school, I used to beg my parents for a pair of Keds or a Guess t-shirt or every other silly material thing that seemed like it was the thing that would make me feel like I was as good as my friends.

Poverty followed me to college. Yes, I had a full scholarship, but I promptly lost it after my freshman year because I was working two jobs in order to have enough money to stay alive. After college, when I had a BA in English but no real professional skills, I worked sixteen-hour days across four jobs to pay the bills and make ends meet. I’d waitress the lunch shift at one restaurant; then, go nanny for a few hours after school; then, work a dinner shift at a different restaurant; and, finish my day by working overnight at K-Mart. I was perpetually exhausted, smoking too many cigarettes to stay awake, and somehow still poor. Even when I finally decided to go back to grad school, I couldn’t escape the shadow of poverty. I’m always embarrassed to admit this, but my husband and I were on food stamps in grad school because—thanks to the ridiculous notion that grad students can’t work outside jobs— we were both only working as TAs while supporting small children.

These days, although I’ve had many economic ups and downs in the years since my children were born, things are mostly much better. But, I wrote everything I know about being poor into THE LIFE AND (MEDIEVAL) TIMES OF KIT SWEETLY.

Credit: Vicky Chen (@VickyCBooks on Twitter)

My intimate knowledge of food scarcity comes out in the “Cooler of Doom” Kit’s family keeps for storing food when their power is cut off; and, it’s there in the way Kit relies on the food she can get at work to keep herself fed. My awareness of my own economic disparity in relation to my friends is apparent as Kit tries to hide her poverty from her best friends. My struggle with balancing too many jobs and still just barely scraping by lurks in the way Kit and her entire family pool their tips to pay bills. My very real knowledge of the emotional toll that working too much and always being on edge about money takes is present in Kit’s brother Chris, who is just barely an adult, but already weary of working all the time. Even the way I used stimulants like cigarettes to stay awake or to trick my body into feeling full is present in the way Kit’s mom smokes. (I read about this same impulse in Stephanie Land’s MAID and viscerally understood so much she talked about in relation to being part of the working poor).

Some of the praise I’ve gotten for THE LIFE AND (MEDIEVAL) TIMES OF KIT SWEETLY calls it a “frank look at modern poverty,” and that’s thrills me because that’s exactly what I wanted to do in the book. I wanted to be honest about poverty and show a character who might look like she’s economically okay—after all, Kit has a house, a job, her brother has a car, and she’s planning on going to college— but just beneath the surface lies a slippery economic slope that threatens to send Kit and her family toppling.

Even with that intention in mind, however, this is the first time I’ve written about how Kit’s poverty mirrors my own experience. In interviews, I’ve happily talked about the feminism, the romance, the friendships, and even the absurd moments from my life that I wrote into the story. But, as I mentioned above, I’m embarrassed to tell people that I’ve been as poor as Kit (or poorer, in fact). For the longest time, I didn’t want people to know that I’ve lived on the edge and that I’ve fallen off it before. I never tell people that I’ve had government assistance or that I’m always comparing what I have materially (and finding myself lacking) based on my own childhood insecurities.

But why is poverty so hard to talk about? Why is there shame associated with it? Why would I feel embarrassed to say that there have been times in my life when I needed help? Why does saying I couldn’t make ends meet feel like a dirty secret?

I think the answers to these questions lie in the way poverty is talked about in modern America and the discourse of shame surrounding the notion of being poor. Too often, poor people are seen as lazy or they’re treated like their poverty is their fault. Or, even worse, they’re viewed as worth less than others because they don’t have money/stuff/privilege. (This is something I tackle head on in my next book, LUCKY GIRL, where the main character wins the lotto jackpot and grapples with the questions of can money really bring happiness or does too much of it just make people terrible?)

While these myths about poverty abound, most of the poor people I know are working too many jobs, trying to keep their kids alive, and striving to make their lives better. But, they’re laboring within an unfair system that keeps them impoverished (and, it must be noted, this unfair system is consistently kinder to white and/or able bodied people like Kit and myself than others, and that privilege is not negligible). Healthcare is expensive; food is expensive; if you don’t have a car, you can’t get to work reliably; and, the list of ways to stay poor when you’re already there goes on and on. Many excellent non-fiction books have been written about the nearly impossible-to-break generational cycle of poverty in America, and I think it’s important to talk about this in YA fiction as well.

The notion of radical honesty contains many elements, but a core one is that you can bring about change by being honest. I try to be honest in my life and in my fiction, so, I’ll just come out and say it: I have been very, very poor at certain times in my life. I’ve taken back $10 worth of groceries so I could put gas in my car. I’ve not known where my children’s next meal was coming from or how I was going to keep the lights on. It’s okay to admit those things, and stories of modern poverty need to be told so we can battle the stigma surrounding it. I hope THE LIFE AND (MEDIEVAL) TIMES OF KIT SWEETLY contributes in some small way to removing this stigma, and I hope it finds a kid who is as poor as Kit is (or I was) and helps them feel better about their own life, their circumstances, and their prospects for the future.

Meet Jamie Pacton

Photo credit: Greg Pacton

Jamie Pacton is a Young Adult and Middle Grade author who grew up minutes away from the National Storytelling Center in the mountains of East Tennessee. She has a BA and MA in English Literature, and currently teaches English at the college level. While pursuing her dream of being an author, she worked as a waitress, pen salesperson, lab assistant, art museum guard, bookseller, pool attendant, nanny, and lots of other weird jobs in between. Her writing has appeared in national and local magazines, and she spent many years blogging for Parents.com. Currently, Jamie lives in Wisconsin with her family and a dog named Lego. The Life and (Medieval) Times of Kit Sweetly is her debut novel. Find Jamie online at www.jamiepacton.com and on Instagram and Twitter @JamiePacton.

About The Life and (Medieval) Times of Kit Sweetly

Moxie meets A Knight’s Tale as Kit Sweetly slays sexism, bad bosses, and bad luck to become a knight at a medieval-themed restaurant.

Working as a Wench—i.e. waitress—at a cheesy medieval-themed restaurant in the Chicago suburbs, Kit Sweetly dreams of being a Knight like her brother. She has the moves, is capable on a horse, and desperately needs the raise that comes with knighthood, so she can help her mom pay the mortgage and hold a spot at her dream college.

Company policy allows only guys to be Knights. So when Kit takes her brother’s place, clobbers the Green Knight, and reveals her identity at the end of the show, she rockets into internet fame and a whole lot of trouble with the management. But this Girl Knight won’t go down without a fight. As other Wenches and cast members join her quest, a protest forms. In a joust before Castle executives, they’ll prove that gender restrictions should stay medieval—if they don’t get fired first.

ISBN-13: 9781624149528
Publisher: Page Street Publishing
Publication date: 05/05/2020
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

How to Succeed as a Teen Writer, a guest post by Olivia Smit

The gift of writing and sharing stories is such a valuable one, but it can be incredibly difficult … especially if you’re young! Although I’m not a teenager anymore (I’m only 23, though, so I’m still pretty close), I still remember trying to figure out my writing journey in my teens. What was my process going to look like? What kinds of stories did I want to tell?

I am FAR from a perfect author, but over the years I’ve come up with a few pieces of advice that I think are especially useful for teen writers, and it’s a joy to share some of them with you today.

A storyboard.

Read. Often.

Maybe this seems too obvious. Maybe it seems too simple! But the best advice I can possibly give you – or any author, of any age! – is to keep reading. A lot of the time, especially if your schedule is crazy (Assignments! Social life! Part-time jobs!) it can be easy to prioritize your writing time above your reading time. Some authors stop reading altogether! The problem with this is while it may initially give you more time to write, eventually, if you close yourself off to all other words except your own, the quality of your writing will suffer.

Think about it this way: if you stop reading and just write all the time, you’re kind of putting yourself in a closed loop. After a while, you’ll be so used to your own words, style, and quirks, your creativity and originality will suffer. You need to keep reading so that your brain is forced to encounter and process ideas and words that are different than your own! The creative side of your brain is a muscle … don’t let it atrophy! Keep feeding it with the words of others so that it will stay strong enough to fuel your own writing.

Understand the two types of writer’s block.

Sometimes, when I’m writing, I get stuck. Everyone does! Some people call this “writer’s block” … and others insist that it doesn’t exist. I’m not here to argue about terms, but I will admit that sometimes when I’m writing, I lose motivation. Things get slow. My ideas seem to dry up. And this seems to happen for one of two reasons:

1. I’m not writing enough.

If I’ve been putting my writing at the bottom of the priority list, opening my Word document once or twice a week and half-heartedly putting down a few sentences, my lack of enthusiasm just breeds MORE un-enthusiastic writing. The best way to fix this is to put your writing back at the top of the priority list, set aside some serious time, and GET WRITING. At first it will be hard. Your writing will feel terrible. You’ll wonder if your entire career is over forever. But if you keep throwing words onto the page, eventually, you’ll find your stride. You’ll type something good – and then, your passion will start to return again.

2. Sometimes, I get stuck because I’m writing TOO MUCH.

If I’ve been spending hours a day on a manuscript, pouring all of my free time into my gloriously exciting story idea, sometimes I hit a point where I can’t think any more because I’m so tired. When this happens, I need to listen to my brain and take a break. Sometimes all I need is a day or two, and sometimes I need a week where I put my project away and consume other people’s words and stories again. I read books. I watch TV. I go for walks. I talk to my friends. And then, when my tank is feeling filled up and I have words in my head again, I go back to writing.

Pinterest board for inspiration.

Take yourself seriously!

One of the most frustrating parts about being a teen writer (or a teen in general) is feeling like adults don’t really take you seriously. And there will be people who underestimate you just because of your age! This is why it’s so important to take YOURSELF seriously. If you can show people that you’re not messing around – you’re serious and passionate about writing amazing stories, no matter your age – most people will respect that.

Here’s the truth: you are just as good as many adult authors (and probably better than some of them) regardless of how old you are! Your age doesn’t determine the quality of your writing. Your hard work, talent, and perseverance does.

Don’t worry too much about your resume.

I started trying to find a publisher for “Seeing Voices” when I was around 20 years old, and when I started doing research into the publishing process I was immediately discouraged by my lack of qualifications. I didn’t belong to any writing guilds or societies. I hadn’t gone to any conferences. I didn’t have stories published in journals or magazines. I hadn’t won any awards. For a little while, I wondered if this would bar me from the publishing world forever! However, as I met other authors and continued to pursue agents and publishers, I heard a number of people say that the quality of the writing is the MOST important thing – more than your publishing qualifications or the number of followers you have.

Don’t be discouraged – and don’t waste too much time stressing about your lack of experience, education, or previously published pieces. Take all that energy and time and use it to keep working on your own writing skills, instead!

Another board for inspiration.

Do your research.

Don’t rush into the publishing process! A lot of teen writers are so eager to make a name for themselves that they rush through writing, editing, and even publishing their novel – and then look back and wish they’d taken a little more time to make sure it was perfect. It took me four or five years to write and edit “Seeing Voices,” and another ten months of querying before I signed my publishing contract! Take your time – and take advantage of the resources that are out there! The Go Teen Writers website (www.goteenwriters.com) helped me so much as a teen writer, and I still often look back at their posts when I need advice!

Wherever you are in your writing journey, I wish you all the luck in the world! Teenagers today are doing incredible things and writing amazing, beautiful stories: I believe in you as a young author, and I can’t wait to see your book on shelves soon.

Meet Oliva Smit

Olivia Smit loves baking, visiting small towns, and writing stories that face hard truth with hope and encouragement. Olivia has an Honours Specialization in Creative Writing, English Language, and Literature and lives in Canada with her family. Seeing Voices is her first novel. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter, and at her website, oliviasmit.ca.

Oliva’s local indie bookstore is Type Books in Toronto.

About Seeing Voices

Skylar Brady has a for her life—until a car accident changes everything.

Skylar knows exactly what she wants, and getting in a car accident the summer before twelfth grade isn’t supposed to be part of the plan. Although she escapes mostly unharmed, the accident has stolen more than just her hearing from her: she’s also lost the close bond she used to have with her brother.

When her parents decide to take a house-sitting job halfway across the province, it’s just one more thing that isn’t going according to plan. As the summer progresses, Skylar begins to gain confidence in herself, but as she tries to mend her relationship with her brother, she stumbles upon another hidden trauma. Suddenly, she’s keeping as many secrets as she’s struggling to uncover and creating more problems than she could ever hope to solve.

ISBN-13: 9781946531629
Publisher: WhiteFire Publishing
Publication date: 04/15/2020
Age Range: 13 – 18 Years

The Healing Power of Fiction, a guest post by Nora Shalaway Carpenter

I am passionate and outspoken about authentic, non-stereotyped mental health representation in young adult literature. To explain why, let me tell you story.

When I was diagnosed with trauma-induced, severe obsessive compulsive disorder and PTSD, my husband and I confided in our immediate family. Here are some of their initial responses:

“Just think about happy things. You can do it!”

Blank stares and silence.

“You’re going to hurt the baby!” (I was carrying our first child at the time.)

“What you went through was for the best, in the long term. You’re lucky.” 

About a month later, a family member took me out to lunch. As I sat in the restaurant, barely holding myself together, she told me: “It’s time to stop this now. You have to snap of it.”

Let me translate that from the point of view of an individual suffering with mental health: You are behaving this way on purpose. You’re choosing to be miserable all the time. If you were stronger, you wouldn’t be like this.”

Although I still haven’t completely recovered from the emotional damage that statement caused, my relative is far from alone in that view. Her Appalachian culture (the culture I grew up in as well) instills a “yank yourself up by your own bootstraps” mentality almost from birth. Mental strength is a prized (and expected) attribute. If you’re not in tip top mental shape all the time, you bury that fact where it will never see the light of day because it’s a source of shame not only for you, but for your entire family.

Again, such mentality is not unique to Appalachian culture. Similar ideas cross myriad backgrounds, cultures, and socio-economic classes: that only “weak” or “insane” people suffer with mental health; that mental health struggles are imagined and not actually real; that medication to treat them is somehow shameful whereas medication for physical illnesses is a no-brainer.

After the disappointing reactions from my family, I tried one more lifeline: a close friend who was almost a second mom to me. And though she looked sad, she also looked bewildered, like I had spoken a different language. “Tell me what you need,” she said, trying to be helpful. And I know she was genuine, that she was asking because she truly didn’t know.

It turns out, people in crisis can rarely articulate what they need, but I didn’t know that at the time. Instead I felt stupid for not knowing and guilty for making her feel awkward. I left as soon as I could.   

Suffice it to say, I didn’t tell anyone else what was happening with me. If family members and a trusted confident couldn’t handle it, I reasoned my peers would probably ditch me immediately. Even with a diagnosis, it took a long time to get me on the correct treatment plan, so I spiraled into a very dark place. I couldn’t touch the dog I used to snuggle with every day because my brain told me he might carry germs that could hurt my unborn baby. I couldn’t use a public bathroom. I couldn’t handle raw meat anymore because what if I didn’t wash my hands well enough and I made someone sick? I checked and rechecked and checked again that the stove was off…and then I wasn’t sure if I’d checked. And once—one of my most vivid memories from that time—I literally couldn’t stop washing my hands and arms and had to call my husband downstairs to help me turn off the water.

I was terrified of getting out of bed each day because of all the triggers I’d endure while awake. I put all of my suffering focus into graduate school (it was low-residency, thank goodness, so mostly online) and I stopped hanging out with friends. 

One day, one of them asked me to grab tea with her, and because I hadn’t seen her in a while and was determined to overcome my horrible disease by sheer force of will, I agreed. As we sat sipping our drinks, she gently told me she knew something was wrong. That I could talk to her. I was mortified. I’d tried so hard to hide all my symptoms, to appear normal. But I couldn’t do it any longer. Everything spilled out—the trauma, the diagnosis, the way I couldn’t control the wild, spinning thoughts in my head that made me feel like I was slowly losing my mind.

As much as the “snap out of it” reaction is seared into my memory, so too is my friend’s response. She didn’t tell me I could fend off OCD with positive thoughts. She hugged me so that I felt in my bones she would never abandon me in this; she would never run away from this ugliness. She cried with me, right there in public. It was the first time someone (apart from my husband) didn’t imply that my OCD was in some shape or form my fault.

It is not an overstatement to say that proper treatment (for me, serotonin and cognitive behavioral therapy), both of which I never would have received or accepted without the support of important friends, saved my life.

I’m a writer, so as I began to heal, I knew that in order to process what I’d been through, I had to write about it—not the actual, real life details of my personal situation, but the feelings and emotions the experience brought out: the utter despair that I’d somehow brought this on myself and would never again be okay. That I wasn’t trying hard enough to get better. That despite having loving people around me like my husband, I was totally, horrifyingly alone.

I also wanted to explore the kind of friendship that could pull a person through such a hellish experience, and how such a friendship is established.

The Edge of Anything is the book I’d longed for during my own darkest days. It tells the dual narrative of two teenagers—one a shy photographer unknowingly suffering a mental health crisis, the other a popular volleyball star with her own devastating secret—and the unexpected friendship that saves them both. 

The book stars teenagers because I’m a young adult author, but also because teenagers are one of the most vulnerable populations when it comes to mental health. Sadly, according to recent statistics, one out of every five teenagers suffer from at least one mental health disorder per year[i], and the rate of depression in adolescents aged 12-17 has increased 63 percent since 2013[ii]. What’s more, seven-in-ten teens see anxiety and depression as “major problems among their peers.”[iii] When I think about how difficult it was for me, as an adult with health care and a supportive spouse, to figure out what was happening and find a health care specialist who understood what I was going through, the thought of undergoing a similar experience as a teen is devastating.

Today, I can tell people I have OCD. More than once someone has confided in me about their own struggles (or those of someone they care about) and I’ve been able to help them a tiny bit on their journey. Because communication matters. It can change and save lives.

It’s my hope that The Edge of Anything will function in a similar way for readers, both those all-too-familiar with mental health struggles and those with no personal experience. No one needs to be told life isn’t fair. But I think we do all need to hear that sometimes we are not okay, and that itself is okay and not something that should shame or devalue a person. We are all loveable and beautiful—just as we are, even if we are undergoing a serious, behavior-altering health condition. And we all need to hear that there’s hope.


[i] https://www.hhs.gov/ash/oah/adolescent-development/mental-health/adolescent-mental-health-basics/index.html

[ii] https://www.newportacademy.com/resources/mental-health/teen-depression-study/

[iii] https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2019/02/20/most-u-s-teens-see-anxiety-and-depression-as-a-major-problem-among-their-peers/

Meet Nora Shalaway Carpenter

A graduate of Vermont College of Fine Arts’ MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program, Nora Shalaway Carpenter is the author of THE EDGE OF ANYTHING, contributing editor of RURAL VOICES: 15 AUTHORS CHALLENGE ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT SMALL-TOWN AMERICA (Candlewick, Oct 13, 2020), and author of the picture book YOGA FROG (Running Press). Originally from rural West Virginia, she currently lives in Asheville, North Carolina with her husband, three young children, and the world’s most patient dog and cat. Learn more at noracarpenterwrites.com, @noracarpenterwrites on Instagram, and @norawritesbooks on Twitter.

Nora’s local indie is Malaprop’s Books in Asheville, NC. Order her book there!

About The Edge of Anything

A vibrant #ownvoices debut YA novel about grief, mental health, and the transformative power of friendship.

Len is a loner teen photographer haunted by a past that’s stagnated her work and left her terrified she’s losing her mind. Sage is a high school volleyball star desperate to find a way around her sudden medical disqualification. Both girls need college scholarships. After a chance encounter, the two develop an unlikely friendship that enables them to begin facing their inner demons.

But both Len and Sage are keeping secrets that, left hidden, could cost them everything, maybe even their lives.

Set in the North Carolina mountains, this dynamic #ownvoices novel explores grief, mental health, and the transformative power of friendship.

ISBN-13: 9780762467587
Publisher: Running Press Book Publishers
Publication date: 03/24/2020
Age Range: 13 – 18 Years

The Bad Man With the Nice Smile, a guest post by Victoria Lee

Content warning: discussion of sexual assault, rape, child abuse, and gaslighting.

In September 2019, Netflix released a new miniseries, Unbelievable. The show followed the true story of a young girl who claimed a stranger broke into her house at night and raped her. But when she reports what happened to the police, parts of her story don’t seem to match up. As the series unfolds, we become aware of all the ways the system—but also the girl’s friends and family—have become biased against her. She’s a resident in a group home, a former delinquent, a foster child with a history of acting out, who had made accusations of abuse before. Everyone seems to assume that she is lying for attention.

As you might have predicted by now, she wasn’t lying. But by the time her attacker was caught and brought to justice, the damage was done; the girl had already been abandoned by everyone she should have been able to trust, just because she didn’t match the vision of what a “real” victim looked like in their heads.

The idea of real victims is a pervasive and pernicious one. Turn on the news and you’ll hear a litany of all the things that real victims do: they wear the right clothes, they don’t go out at night, they report the crime to the police and they don’t wait to do it, they have never made these kinds of allegations before. We are told these things even though victims cannot control the behavior of their aggressors, even though being in foster care or having mental illness or having been previously victimized all substantially increase your likelihood of experiencing future violence. Even though externalizing behaviors like drug use and acting out are often symptoms of having survived abuse.

As a child, I was sexually abused for four years, from ages twelve to sixteen. The perpetrator—although maybe I should say the molester or the rapist or the abuser, all of which are less sanitized and therefore strike me as more accurate—was a close friend of the family. He was my neighbor, my triathlon coach, a man so enmeshed in our lives that I described him to other people as my uncle because any lesser word seemed inadequate to describe the relationship he had with my family. He was in his early thirties and looked like Orlando Bloom and every single one of my friends who came over to the house commented on how ungodly hot he was.

When I was thirteen, I even wrote a character in one of my stories to look just like Brian. (We will call him Brian, because that is, in fact, his actual name. F you, Brian.) The character was the love interest, and was also the protagonist’s teacher. As you can see, already I knew that my job as victim was to romanticize such things. That was the only way to survive.

Brian was not a man in the bushes, was not unshaven in a stained wifebeater; he had no substance abuse problems that I was aware of; he was just a guy. A tall, athletic, well-educated, charismatic, attractive guy. Kids loved him, and he loved kids. Me, on the other hand…I couldn’t be a victim.

I was not what a victim looked like. I was a problem child. I spent too much time on the internet, and listened to angry music, and skipped class and stole my parents’ credit card and shoplifted and screamed at teachers and once threatened to kill a boy who touched me wrong. I was the girl that other girls weren’t allowed to be friends with. I was the girl they prayed for at night. I was the girl who wore boys’ clothes, all black, and kissed other girls and insisted it wasn’t a phase.

Therefore, I was not believed. Not by my family, not by my therapist. I was believed by the crisis team that was called in to evaluate me when the staff at the psychiatric hospital I was later admitted to following a suicide attempt suspected abuse. But at that point the damage was done—I swore to the crisis team that nothing had happened, their suspicions were unfounded, anything I had to say to keep the past buried. I couldn’t deal with being told, once again, that I wasn’t a victim.

Eventually, other girls came forward about my abuser, and he was charged by the state, and ultimately convicted. But this isn’t the kind of trauma you move past. Not just the trauma of the abuse, but the trauma of being told you’re too villainous to ever be victim.

This is why I wrote The Fever King and The Electric Heir. In the series, Dara and Noam both experience abuse in different ways. Dara was physically and sexually abused by a father figure, whereas Noam became enmeshed in an unhealthy, manipulative, exploitative relationship with a much older and much more powerful mentor figure. Both characters are, ultimately, abused by the same man, but their experiences of that abuse are different. The books follow how each character comes to terms with what happened to him, and begins the process of healing. Their abuser, like mine, was charismatic and respected and good-looking—he wasn’t the rapist hiding in the bushes or the drunk frat bro, he was a pillar of the community. When people look for the bad guy, they aren’t looking for Brian. They aren’t looking for Calix Lehrer.

That’s why it was so important to me to write about abusers who don’t fit our vivid stereotype of what an abuser ought to look like—that makes it more difficult to recognize abusers in the real world. And equally so, not all victim/survivors fit the same mold. Some survivors withdraw from the world and become quiet and nervous and fear sex. Other survivors lash out, angry, furious, willing to burn down anything that tries to hurt them again. And still others seem oddly unbothered by what happened to them, numb to the pain or burying it so deep they no longer feel it anymore.

All of these reactions—and others—are okay. The only “right” way to respond to trauma is the way that helps you survive.

I don’t think that good and varied representation of victim/survivors and abusers in literature is a panacea. Abusers are very skilled, after all, at gaslighting their victims (and everyone else). But wide representation of survivors and perpetrators is one step toward chipping away their power and undermining the stories they try to tell about villains and victims and heroes.

Meet Victoria Lee

Victoria Lee 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 Pennsylvania with her partner.

www.victorialeewrites.com Facebook: @victorialeewrites, @amazonpublishing Instagram: @sosaidvictoria, @amazonpublishing, Twitter: @sosaidvictoria, @amazonpub

About The Electric Heir by Victoria Lee

In the sequel to The Fever King, Noam Álvaro seeks to end tyranny before he becomes a tyrant himself.

Six months after Noam Álvaro helped overthrow the despotic government of Carolinia, the Atlantians have gained citizenship, and Lehrer is chancellor. But despite Lehrer’s image as a progressive humanitarian leader, Noam has finally remembered the truth that Lehrer forced him to forget—that Lehrer is responsible for the deadly magic infection that ravaged Carolinia.

Now that Noam remembers the full extent of Lehrer’s crimes, he’s determined to use his influence with Lehrer to bring him down for good. If Lehrer realizes Noam has evaded his control—and that Noam is plotting against him—Noam’s dead. So he must keep playing the role of Lehrer’s protégé until he can steal enough vaccine to stop the virus.

Meanwhile Dara Shirazi returns to Carolinia, his magic stripped by the same vaccine that saved his life. But Dara’s attempts to ally himself with Noam prove that their methods for defeating Lehrer are violently misaligned. Dara fears Noam has only gotten himself more deeply entangled in Lehrer’s web. Sooner or later, playing double agent might cost Noam his life.

ISBN-13: 9781542005074
Publisher: Amazon Publishing
Publication date: 03/17/2020
Series: Feverwake Series #2

Ages 14-17

How Running a Marathon Helped Me Write My Debut Novel, a guest post by Sarah Watson

Writing often feels like an impossible journey. I’ve heard people say it’s a lot like running a marathon. It’s not. A marathon is a lot easier. Like, a lot easier. Which is probably why I’ve run so many of them.

I signed up for my first marathon when I was twenty-five. I was trying to make it as a television writer and my dream was starting to feel impossible. I’d gotten rejection after rejection and hit wall after wall. I’m a type-A person, so it was incredibly humbling for me to set a goal, work harder than I ever had in my entire life, and still not be able to achieve it. I thought about giving up.

But I decided to sign up for a marathon instead.  

Even at the time, I think part of me probably knew that I was only doing it because I was so desperate to succeed at something. Anything. I just needed to set a goal and meet it. But the training turned out to be more brutal than I expected. I hit walls. I cried. Everything hurt. I thought about giving up. I really believe I would have, except that I was running with a group of girlfriends, and they wouldn’t let me. Most of them had run marathons before and they knew what the journey was like. They also knew what victory felt like on the other side. So they guided me, coached me, pushed me (sometimes literally), and refused to listen when I said I needed to stop. They shouted encouraging things at me, sometimes rather forcefully, and told me I could do it. It turned out they were right. I crossed the finish line that year. I’d never felt prouder in my entire life.

I also never doubted my journey as a writer again.

Running has been a constant metaphor in my (now successful, well, mostly successful) television career. It’s also been an incredible escape and a wonderful chance to stay connected to my girlfriends. So I suppose it makes sense that the idea for my debut novel, Most Likely, came from running.  

I hadn’t run a marathon in years and wasn’t even running regularly anymore when my friend told me that it was time to sign up for our last marathon. Apparently during one of our first races together she’d said something about how she wanted to run her final marathon when she turned forty. She claims I enthusiastically told her I would do it with her. I have no recollection of this. (Though frankly I would argue that anything said during a 26.2-mile run is not legally binding anyway.) But that’s the thing about friends, when they tell you that you’re going to do something, you do it.

We persuaded another friend to join us and we started training. We always talk while we run. About our relationships, our careers, our struggles. During the really long runs we sort through our problems. We find solutions for some of them; other problems don’t have solutions. For those we simply listen. We laugh. We cry. Then we laugh some more.

I loved running with my friends again. But my body was starting to hurt. Running a marathon at forty is nothing like running a marathon at twenty-five. As our mileage climbed higher and higher, my doubts got bigger and bigger. The week before our eighteen-mile training run I was scared—really scared—that I wouldn’t be able to do it. My friends told me the same thing they always did; that I could.

That eighteen-miler turned out to be one of the best runs of my entire life. As we ran those miles and talked and talked, an idea popped into my head about a group of friends who push each other to go farther, to dream bigger, and to be the best possible versions of themselves. That idea turned into my book.

Most Likely follows the high school days of a future female president. But really, it’s a simple story about female friendship. It all goes back to what I realized on that eighteen-mile day. Running is great and crossing the finish line really is an incredible feeling. But the reason I love running—truly love it—is because of the women running on either side of me.

Meet Sarah Watson

Sarah Watson is the creator of the hit TV series The Bold Type, which the New York Times described as “Sex and the Single Girl for millennials.” Previously she was a writer and executive producer of the critically acclaimed NBC drama Parenthood. She lives in Santa Monica, California. Most Likely is her debut novel.

About Most Likely

From the creator of the hit TV series The Bold Type comes an empowering and heartfelt novel about a future female president’s senior year of high school.

Ava, CJ, Jordan, and Martha (listed in alphabetical order out of fairness) have been friends since kindergarten. Now they’re in their senior year, facing their biggest fears about growing up and growing apart. But there’s more than just college on the horizon. One of these girls is destined to become the president of the United States. The mystery, of course, is which girl gets the gig.

Is it Ava, the picture-perfect artist who’s secretly struggling to figure out where she belongs? Or could it be CJ, the one who’s got everything figured out…except how to fix her terrible SAT scores? Maybe it’s Jordan, the group’s resident journalist, who knows she’s ready for more than their small Ohio suburb can offer. And don’t overlook Martha, who will have to overcome all the obstacles that stand in the way of her dreams.

This is the story of four best friends who have one another’s backs through every new love, breakup, stumble, and success—proving that great friendships can help young women achieve anything…even a seat in the Oval Office.

ISBN-13: 9780316454834
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date: 03/10/2020
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years

Books and Libraries Can Strengthen the Superpowers of Teens With ADHD, a guest post by Kirsten Lambert

What would you do if your child’s ADHD and dyslexia meant he hated reading and writing so much that he would try every diversion possible to avoid it: sharpening pencils ten times, hiding under a table, and even crying? If you’re author Rick Riordan, you write stories in which the main character has those very same conditions — but also make that character a demigod.

The stories, with their mythical tapestry — which Riordan wove when he ran out of bedtime stories for his son, Haley — became the best-selling Percy Jackson series. Although the protagonist Percy calls himself “hyperactive,” he soon discovers that he is descended from a Greek god and must save the world. The series puts a spotlight on a few of the abilities that people with ADHD often possess: creativity, spontaneity, a sense of humor.

Of course, most children with ADHD don’t have parents who write bestsellers. According to a 2016 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study, more 6 million American children, ages 2–17, have an ADHD diagnosis; more than 3 million of them are adolescents. And unfortunately popular culture often perpetuates negative stereotypes, painting kids with ADHD as loud, unable to sit still, and even academically challenged. Not everyone fits that picture, though, and some teen and YA fiction portrays the condition with authenticity. Beyond that, many teens with ADHD gravitate toward libraries — not just because they love to read, but because the atmosphere often serves as the ideal place for them to shine.

One novel that rings true is Focused by Alyson Gerber, which tells the story of Clea, a seventh-grader who struggles to pay attention and discovers she has ADHD. She gets distracted when she should be doing homework, she can’t seem to stay organized, she blurts out comments without thinking. She also loves playing chess. The book’s author draws on her own experience to allow readers a glimpse inside the mind of a teen who is gifted but finds school and friendships challenging. 

The YA novel Playing Tyler by T.L. Costa is the story of 17-year-old Tyler, a boy who has ADHD. His condition forms an integral part of the novel, and his character’s narration reflects his state of mind. When he’s not medicated, Tyler speaks in run-on sentences without punctuation — a convention that some readers find compelling and some find jarring. But rather than dwelling on only the challenges of living with ADHD, the book shows how teens can succeed when they hone in on pursuits that can sustain their interest, such as video games.

Kat and Meg Conquer the World by Anna Priemaza introduces readers to two tenth-grade girls: Kat, who has anxiety, and Meg, who has ADHD. The story allows readers inside the characters’ heads, and the details resonate with readers who have ADHD or anxiety, which often coexist. The story also delves into the social challenges that ADHD can present while showing how empowering friendships can be. 

Unlike today’s teen and YA fiction, which puts ADHD front and center, classic novels often feature characters who have ADHD-like traits but don’t spell it out.

Consider Anne Shirley (in the Anne of Green Gables series by Lucy Maud Montgomery). She’s impetuous and dramatic, with an intense curiosity and a tendency to blurt out things before thinking. While she’s impulsive and talkative, Anne is also charismatic and resourceful.

Or take Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka, the eccentric recluse with a solitary nature. He’s clearly a visionary thinker with a taste for adventure — plus he loves candy, perhaps a nod to the fact that people with ADHD often enjoy the rush of a sugar high (maybe to compensate for the shortage of the “feel good” neurotransmitters of dopamine and serotonin in their brains).

The Calvin character in Bill Watterson’s much-loved Calvin and Hobbes comic strip shows the razor-sharp wit that can come with ADHD. Sure, Calvin has some fantastical daydreams and draws plenty of ire from his teachers. But he’s clearly intelligent, with a dazzling imagination that helps him get through the hum-drum days of school and home.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes epitomizes the brilliant yet absentminded professor: His apartment is full of unfinished projects; he has trouble remembering appointments. Yet he solves crimes by noticing details that neurotypical people — those without ADHD — miss.

Besides offering vivid portrayals of people with ADHD, books like these have a fascinating effect on teens who may find it challenging to sit still in class: they can focus for hours. What’s more, a library can actually serve as the perfect environment for teens with ADHD.

Jennifer Kelly Geddes outlines some tips for accommodating students with ADHD in a School Library Journal article titled “How Librarians Help Kids With ADHD Thrive.” Here are a few more ideas especially for teens.

Offer a variety of seating options. Some teens with ADHD have sensory issues, too (for example, they might not like tags on clothes or may complain that some socks are itchy). So if you can, include nontraditional seating options like recliners, swivel chairs, or standing desks. You may even want to consider offering sensory cushions.

Minimize clutter. Teens with ADHD have a hard time ignoring sensory input, including visual stimuli. So although reading and study spaces don’t need to have colorless blank walls, try to avoid having multiple things compete for a student’s attention. These updated versions of the study carrel offer privacy as well as enough space for, say, a laptop. 

Limit noise. Teens with ADHD don’t necessarily need complete silence to focus; some of them actually find that listening to music can help them study. But they may be easily distracted in an environment with lots of talking (or other background noise). Consider creating a designated “quiet zone” in your library.

Allow them to move. Teens with ADHD need movement breaks sometimes. (Don’t we all?) Having students help with physical tasks like shelving books or unpacking boxes can help them burn off some of their restless energy until they’re ready to sit down again.

Consider allowing gum and/or candy, Yes, they can be sticky, but mints and gum can help people with ADHD focus. (Just be sure to set some ground rules and have wastebaskets nearby.)

Offer different types of materials. Your library undoubtedly already includes e-books, audiobooks, and video, in addition to traditional printed materials. To engage students with ADHD, you may want to add an area that allows teens with ADHD to use their hands while on a “brain break”: jigsaw puzzles, Legos — even a maker lab, if you have the space and funds.

Making your library a welcoming space for students with ADHD — especially if they’re able to see accurate, positive, and even entertaining portrayals of characters like themselves — will not only help them become better readers. It may just bring out their superpowers.

To discover more characters with ADHD (or with ADHD-like characteristics), check out this list on the SMARTS Online Executive Function Curriculum page.

For more seating ideas (and other tips), check out “17 Ways to Help Students With ADHD Concentrate.”

Meet Kirsten Lambert

Photo credit: Doug Human

Kirsten Lambert is a Chicago-based writer who tackles topics such as health care, technology, music, and parenting. She’s a regular contributor to the Chicago Reader newspaper, and her essay “Signs in Bloom” appears in the 2019 Chicago Neighborhood Guidebook, which offers snapshots of 45 Chicago neighborhoods as told by the residents of those neighborhoods. To see more of her work, check out her website (watermarkcommunications.com), connect with her on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/kirstenslambert) or follow her on Twitter: @KirstenSLambert.

Writing Whiteness, a guest post by Kate Hattemer

In a racial justice training I did at the school where I teach, the facilitator asked us to cast our minds back to our early understandings of race. It made me think. I’m a white woman, and despite attending an elementary school that was majority Black, I grew up barely cognizant of my whiteness. I remember being reprimanded for announcing, “I’m not wearing no coat” — that was not how we spoke — and I remember noticing that my honors classes in high school were almost all white, counter to the demographics of the school. That’s about it.

Small Kate in soccer uniform; photo credit Charlie Hattemer

Yet from an early age, I was aware I was a girl and I would be treated differently because I was a girl. I remember a kindergarten classmate shoving me up against a door to kiss me. I remember noticing that the lists of presidents and astronauts and scientists in my children’s encyclopedia were all men. In high school, when I fell deep into the world of competitive trivia games, I remember my teachers and coaches casually posing theories as to why girls weren’t fast on the buzzer. (I was fast on the buzzer.)

I have a lot of childhood memories of being oppressed. I don’t remember so well the experience of being on top.

This is common, I think, and understandable. In a weird way, it can be a whole lot more comfortable to examine ways you’ve been hurt by oppressive systems than to reckon with the ways you’ve been complicit, and perhaps still are complicit, with systems that hurt others. My whiteness informed every day of my childhood — the way I was treated by teachers and shopkeepers and passersby, the places we lived, the jobs my parents had, and on, and on, and on, in many ways I’m sure I don’t know — yet I barely knew I was white. I was just, you know. The default. Not black, not brown. I knew I was Swiss. Did that count?

Unsurprisingly, this discomfort is mirrored in children’s literature. In the past few years, as white authors have felt the need (from both the industry and our own consciences) to diversify our books, I’ve seen — and, yes, I’ve written — a familiar pattern. There’s a white protagonist (WP) who has at least one friend of color (FOC). Maybe WP visits the FOC’s house and eats some authentic kimchi or tacos, or maybe WP notes that FOC has a different hair-care routine. Or maybe WP witnesses a microaggression visited upon the FOC; the WP doesn’t understand at first, but the FOC explains, and the WP comes to a greater understanding of what it’s like for the FOC to move through the world.

I’m not saying this is a problem. It’s certainly better than all-white casts, and it’s better than the colorblind casts of math textbooks, where Latosha has to calculate the chances that the six marbles Xiyuan drew from José’s bag would all be green. But I worry it’s skipping a step. It’s eliding over the fact that white characters, too, have a race. When race is only an issue for our characters of color, the story reinforces the idea that race is not a problem for white people. Yes, white characters should see the way their friends of color deal with race, but they too need to reflect upon and reckon with their whiteness, by the way that their worldview has been unknowingly shaped by their powerful position in the structures of white supremacy.

Poster at protest; credit/caption “Our Feminism Must Be Intersectional Rally/March Pittsburgh” by feral godmother is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 

Jemima Kincaid, the white, straight, and wealthy protagonist of my new novel, is a committed feminist. She believes in justice and equity. She deeply wants to change the problematic traditions and toxic masculinity that drive the culture of her private school. But Jemima has huge blind spots. Throughout the book, she works to scrape off that cruddy crust of white feminism and internalized misogyny, but it’s there, and it’s sticky. She learns some things. She remains totally clueless about others. She is eighteen years old.

I’ve learned some things too, and I know I remain totally clueless about others. So I’ll keep reading and listening. I’ll keep thinking about how my whiteness shapes my experience of the world, and I’ll keep thinking about my white characters. Do they grow? Do they learn? Do they change? I don’t believe they have to. Literature doesn’t need a moral. But I do believe that literature should be considered, every aspect of it. If we’re going to keep writing white protagonists, we need white protagonists to reckon with race — not as something they aren’t, but as something they are.

Meet Kate Hattemer

Photo credit: Emma Hattemer

Kate Hattemer is a native of Cincinnati, but now writes, reads, runs, and teaches high school in the DC metro area. She is the author of The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy, which received five starred reviews, The Land of 10,000 Madonnas, and Here Comes Trouble. Find her online at her website, www.katehattemer.com/, on Instagram @katehattemer, or on Twitter @katehattemer.

About THE FEMINIST AGENDA OF JEMIMA KINCAID

A novel about friendship, feminism, and the knotty complications of tradition and privilege, perfect for fans of Becky Albertalli and Stephanie Perkins.

Jemima Kincaid is a feminist, and she thinks you should be one, too. Her private school is laden with problematic traditions, but the worst of all is prom. The guys have all the agency; the girls have to wait around for “promposals” (she’s speaking heteronormatively because only the hetero kids even go). In Jemima’s (very opinionated) opinion, it’s positively medieval.

Then Jemima is named to Senior Triumvirate, alongside superstar athlete Andy and popular, manicured Gennifer, and the three must organize prom. Inspired by her feminist ideals and her desire to make a mark on the school, Jemima proposes a new structure. They’ll do a Last Chance Dance: every student privately submits a list of crushes to a website that pairs them with any mutual matches.

Meanwhile, Jemima finds herself embroiled in a secret romance that she craves and hates all at once. Her best friend, Jiyoon, has found romance of her own, but Jemima starts to suspect something else has caused the sudden rift between them. And is the new prom system really enough to extinguish the school’s raging dumpster fire of toxic masculinity?

Filled with Kate Hattemer’s signature banter, this is a fast-paced and thoughtful tale about the nostalgia of senior year, the muddle of modern relationships, and how to fight the patriarchy when you just might be part of the patriarchy yourself.

ISBN-13: 9781984849120
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Publication date: 02/18/2020
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

When Fairy Tales Meet Filipino Legends: The Stories That Shaped My Childhood, a guest post by Rin Chupeco

When I was a kid, I was convinced that fairy tales were an actual part of world history.

I wasn’t all that bright as a child.

It might surprise a lot of people who aren’t familiar with the Philippines or Filipino culture, but many of us grew up knowing Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, and Red Riding Hood before we learned about most Filipino myths and folklore. A lot of Filipinos understand and speak English, and the biggest bookstore chains back then carried English books front and center. It didn’t help that American movies were also popular here, and so Disney’s versions of classic fairytales were huge influences in our lives as well.

I didn’t learn about Maria Makiling until I was in middle grade as part of our school curriculum. It was her story that fascinated me the most among the other legends we were taught. Most stories surrounding her were not only always vague, but the telling varied from region to region. In all of them she was a mountain goddess who frequently takes the form of a beautiful young woman, who was kind and brought good harvest to the villages near her mountain. According to the myth – and here is where it starts changing – she fell in love with a handsome Filipino youth who either was eventually betrayed and killed by her American and Spanish suitors, or who had betrayed her himself, or who had unintentionally broke her trust due to some unfortunate miscommunication. The results were always the same; she would wreak her vengeance on the foreigners before vanishing back into her mountains, bringing with her the mountain harvest and luck that she had once bestowed on the villagers, never to be seen again.

We still consider Mt. Makiling a bespelled, enchanted place. Travelers who get lost there are said to have been bewitched by the goddess, and must go through certain rituals to ask her forgiveness, so the fog can lift and they can find their way home.

Journey to the West

It had always felt strange growing up with an assortment of fairytales with me never noticing the distinctions between tales until I was older. I’d assumed, in my naivete, that since it was easy enough for Western stories to reach the Philippines, that the reverse was the same. But soon enough, I was invested in other tales as well: Chinese wuxia legends, like The Romance of the Three Kingdoms or The Investiture of the Gods or The Journey to the West. Along with Japanese ghost stories and powerful Meiji swords forged by Muramasa and Masamune, as well as the strange European tales of sentient armor and strange curses surrounding the border at the end of the world.

Legendary Japanese swordsmiths Masamune and Muramasa

There was also the fact that I was in many ways often treated like an outsider, which I suppose is the curse of all those with biracial identities. I was too Filipino to be Chinese, too Chinese to be Filipino, and still too foreign for everyone else. I think that was the reason why I took very quickly to fairytales; most carried with them a strong sense of culture, of knowing where they came from. And that was something I wished I had.

That was the mindset I was on when I first started writing Wicked As You Wish. I wanted to take all the fairytales that I loved and make them a unifying factor in the story. And while my Filipina teen, Tala, and her Filipino family and culture drives the book, I made the conscious decision not to make it the only fairytale in the book, because it wouldn’t be my personal, authentic experience otherwise. I wanted to celebrate the outsiders, the people who grew up with varying cultures and influences and who sometimes felt like there wasn’t any place they completely belong. And I wanted to create a world in my book that reflected that wild mishmash and weird whimsies, where it feels like anything was possible.

Meet Rin Chupeco

Photo Credit: Eugene Siytiu

Despite uncanny resemblances to Japanese revenants, Rin Chupeco has always maintained her sense of humor. Raised in Manila, Philippines, she keeps four pets: a dog, two birds, and a husband. She’s been a technical writer and a travel blogger but now makes things up for a living. She is the author of The Girl from the WellThe Suffering, The Bone Witch trilogy, and the A Hundred Named for Magic trilogy. Connect with Rin at rinchupeco.com.

Links:

Author website – https://www.rinchupeco.com/

Author twitter – https://twitter.com/RinChupeco

Author Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/rinchupeco/

Sourcebooks Fire Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/sourcebooksfire/

Wicked As You Wish Preorder – https://books.sourcebooks.com/wickedasyouwish-preorder/

About WICKED AS YOU WISH

An unforgettable alternative history fairytale series from the author of The Bone Witch trilogy about found family, modern day magic, and finding the place you belong.

Many years ago, the magical Kingdom of Avalon was left desolate and encased in ice when the evil Snow Queen waged war on the powerful country. Its former citizens are now refugees in a world mostly devoid of magic. Which is why the crown prince and his protectors are stuck in…Arizona.

Prince Alexei, the sole survivor of the Avalon royal family, is in hiding in a town so boring, magic doesn’t even work there. Few know his secret identity, but his friend Tala is one of them. Tala doesn’t mind—she has secrets of her own. Namely, that she’s a spellbreaker, someone who negates magic.

Then hope for their abandoned homeland reignites when a famous creature of legend, and Avalon’s most powerful weapon, the Firebird, appears for the first time in decades. Alex and Tala unite with a ragtag group of new friends to journey back to Avalon for a showdown that will change the world as they know it.

ISBN-13: 9781492672661
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publication date: 03/03/2020
Series: A Hundred Names for Magic Series #1
Age Range: 14 – 18 Years

My Agenda for Middle Grade Books, a guest post by Greg Howard

“Never before have I thrown a book away, yours is the first.”

That’s how the email began.

It was last summer, about eight months after the release of my debut middle grade novel, The Whispers. I’d been riding pretty high on positive reviews from the likes of The New York Times Book Review, The Guardian, The Washington Post, Entertainment Weekly, and others. I’d received a number of emails from kids and parents the world over telling me how much they loved the book and how the story touched them deeply. But all that was momentarily overshadowed by this new website contact submission form in my inbox.

If you haven’t read The Whispers, trust me, it’s a sweet and pretty innocuous story. Riley, the eleven-year-old protagonist, is struggling to come to terms with the fact that he likes boys instead of girls (there is a crush on an older boy and chaste – even comical – kiss between two boys). But that’s not the main story, not even close. It just happens to be who Riley is and what he’s going through at that moment in his life.

I was Riley—a lonely kid growing up in the deep South knowing that I wasn’t like the other boys around me. I never saw myself represented in the books I read, or on the TV shows I watched and that made me feel like I was the only boy in the whole world who was desperately attracted to other boys. The glaring lack of representation in books, television, and movies only compounded my sense of isolation and loneliness, making me feel even more like a freak than I already did. I can’t imagine the anguish I would have been saved if I’d had access to even one book at that age in which I saw another boy like me. It would have given me something I severely lacked at that point in my life—hope.

The email I received last summer was from a father whose son was reading The Whispers. Apparently when he asked his son to talk about was going on in the book, the boy’s response sparked his curiosity, so he read “a chapter or two” only to find, in his words, “references that project your own sexuality onto the lives of others,” and “you couldn’t resist having this projected onto my boy.”

The man went on to say, “…the moment you cross into my world and suggest to my kids your sexuality – you are pushing your own homosexual agenda. Your story didn’t need this. Your story didn’t need to mention that the character was straight, or gay. Just tell your story and have kids enjoy it.”

To emphasize his disgust, he was also kind enough to send me a picture of my book in the trash.

A picture containing indoor, bed, white, sitting

Description automatically generated

The first thing I thought when I saw this picture was, if this man’s son is gay, he just saw his father reject him and throw him in the trash, and the mere possibility of that breaks my heart.

But what this father was clearly saying in his email was that the mere suggestion of my existence, and the existence of kids like Riley, was and affront to him, his family, and his beliefs. And that in simply living my truth and even “mentioning” that Riley was attracted to other boys, I was pushing my “homosexual agenda.” I suppose all those books I read as a kid in which the boys were attracted only to girls and girls were attracted only to boys were pushing a heterosexual agenda on me. No one asked me how I felt about that, or if I was offended to have to read about such things, but I digress.

After the initial shock and deflation from reading the man’s email, I became more motivated than ever to write stories for and about queer kids. I was in the process of writing my new book when I received the email. Middle School’s a Drag: You Better Werk! is a contemporary story set in Charleston, South Carolina, in which twelve-year-old Mikey—gay but not out publicly yet—starts a junior talent agency and signs a thirteen-year-old drag queen, Coco Caliente, Mistress of Madness and Mayhem, as his first client. (Drag kids exist, too! Google it.) The man’s email also motivated me to make Mikey’s parents overwhelmingly accepting and supportive—sometimes annoyingly so, in Mikey’s opinion. Mikey has a crush on another boy at school, but as in The Whispers, that’s not what the story is about it. It’s just a part of who Mikey is. Queer kids exist and (News Alert!) they have crushes just like straight, or cishet, kids do.

Other than a handful of homophobic bully characters in Middle School’s a Drag: You Better Werk! Mikey’s world is somewhat of a middle school gaytopia. I wrote it that way on purpose. Because even if that’s not the norm in some parts of the South or in other parts of the country, don’t queer kids deserve that kind of hope too? The hope that one day they can be themselves openly and without fear of backlash for simply existing. The hope that they won’t be marginalized and othered in their daily lives. And the hope that they’ll have access to a plethora of books in which they see themselves represented, accepted, and celebrated.

Having been gay for some time now (read: always), I have yet to discover this elusive and seemingly subversive “homosexual agenda” that I’ve heard so much about over the years and have been accused of “pushing” onto kids in my books. But this man’s email inspired me to create my own, simple as it is. So, I thank him for that.

GREG HOWARD’S HOMOSEXUAL AGENDA FOR MIDDLE GRADE NOVELS

Write good books in which queer kids feel seen and represented.

Give queer kids their happily ever afters.

And most importantly, give them hope.

That’s it.

Meet Greg Howard

Photo credit: Jamie Wright Images

Born and raised in the South Carolina Lowcountry, Greg Howard’s love of words and story blossomed at a young age. Originally set on becoming a famous songwriter and following that dream to the bright lights of Nashville, Tennessee, Greg spent years producing the music of others before eventually returning to his childhood passion of writing stories. Greg writes young adult and middle grade novels focusing on LGBTQ characters and issues. He has an unhealthy obsession with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and currently resides in Nashville with his three rescued fur babies–Molly, Toby, and Riley. Connect with Greg at www.greghowardbooks.com or on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter: @greghowardbooks

About Middle School’s a Drag, You Better Werk!

In this heartfelt and hilarious new novel from Greg Howard, an enterprising boy starts his own junior talent agency and signs a thirteen-year-old aspiring drag queen as his first client.

Twelve-year-old Mikey Pruitt—president, founder, and CEO of Anything, Inc.—has always been an entrepreneur at heart. Inspired by his grandfather Pap Pruitt, who successfully ran all sorts of businesses from a car wash to a roadside peanut stand, Mikey is still looking for his million-dollar idea. Unfortunately, most of his ideas so far have failed. A baby tornado ran off with his general store, and the kids in his neighborhood never did come back for their second croquet lesson. But Mikey is determined to keep at it.

It isn’t until kid drag queen Coco Caliente, Mistress of Madness and Mayhem (aka eighth grader Julian Vasquez) walks into his office (aka his family’s storage/laundry room) looking for an agent that Mikey thinks he’s finally found his million-dollar idea, and the Anything Talent and Pizzazz Agency is born!

Soon, Mikey has a whole roster of kid clients looking to hit it big or at least win the middle school talent show’s hundred-dollar prize. As newly out Mikey prepares Julian for the gig of a lifetime, he realizes there’s no rulebook for being gay—and if Julian can be openly gay at school, maybe Mikey can, too, and tell his crush, dreamy Colton Sanford, how he feels.

Full of laughs, sass, and hijinks, this hilarious, heartfelt story shows that with a little effort and a lot of love, anything is possible.

ISBN-13: 9780525517528
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 02/11/2020
Age Range: 10 – 12 Years