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

The #SVYALit Project Index

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

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

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

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

Which brings us to Bleed Like Me by Christa Desir

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take 5: My Favorite Friendships

I’m often struck by how beautifully written friendships are in YA. In fact, they are often much more important and detailed than any other personal relationships – dating or family. I suppose it makes sense, since the teen years are a time when we practice separating from our family and are only just learning how to date, that our friendships wold take on primary importance.

Far and away my favorite YA friendship is the one between (capital letters) Will Grayson and Tiny Cooper in John Green and David Levithan’s co-authored Will Grayson, Will Grayson. It is beautiful and sincere and touching as well as hilarious and full of mischief. Will and Tiny are in high school but have been best friends since elementary. It’s hard to explain what is so magical about this relationship. I can only sum it up by saying “Everyone should have a friend like Tiny Cooper.” It’s funny to me that this relationship is almost exclusively portrayed in the John Green written parts of the novel, since I think of David Levithan as being the master of the teenage friendship. Not that John Green is a slacker. Anyway, read it, will you please? Then come back and tell me your favorite part.


Speaking of David Levithan, I can’t leave out his amazing Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares. Dash, while described by everyone in the book who meets him as being ‘snarly,’ has a good number of close friends whose fondness for him bely his outward appearance. My favorite of his friendships is with his long-term friend Boomer. Yes, that’s a nickname, but it’s also a description of his personality. Boomer is described as being like a somewhat exciteable retriever. Always bouncing all over the place, and not quite the sharpest knife in the drawer. I love how, even though their paths have diverged widely since they became friends (to call Dash an intellectual would be putting it mildly) Dash regards his friend with the utmost warmth and respect. And you can tell that Boomer feels this deeply, though he only plays a minor role in the novel.

Hidden within the comedic genius of Sarah Rees Brennan’s trope-twisting gothic mystery, Unspoken, is one of the most beautiful, loving girl friendships I’ve ever read. Kami and Angela are almost polar opposites, drawn together by their outsider status, but kept together by their solid love and affection (and their willingness to not just put up with, but embrace, each others idiosyncrasies.) Even though it’s Jared with whom Kami has had a psychic bond since infancy, it’s Angela I can’t imagine her without. I’d expect nothing less from Brennan, however, who is a world-class champion of girl friendships.

Someone Like You may very well have been the first YA novel I read after my move from the elementary library to middle school. I know it was definitely one of the first, and it is the only one I remember from my first whirlwind year learning to cope with the broad span of readers in middle school. My students were somewhat more life savvy than I had been at that age, and were very ready for books involving teenage pregnancy. This is one of the best out there, even after all this time I look to it to appeal to some of my most dedicated non-readers, looking for a story that seems real to them. My favorite thing about it is that it is told through the lens of the friendship between pregnant Scarlett and her BFF Haley, who stands by her side throughout the most difficult experience of either of their young lives.

I hesitate a little to claim that the relationship between narrator Austin Szerba and his best friend Robby Brees is a simple friendship. If you’ve read the book, in Austin’s own words, “You know what I mean.” But, fundamentally, beneath everything else, there is the solid love and affection of friendship that Austin and Robby have for each other. Whether they are suffering the abuse of the brainless jocks who beat them up in the alley they refer to as Grasshopper Jungle, sharing smokes while they contemplate the disastrous lives of the adults they know, or defending the world from an invasion of six foot tall praying mantises, Robby and Austin depend on one another in a beautiful and compelling way.

I highly recommend each of these books for their individual merit, although I think probably only Dash & Lily is what I would refer to as an ‘almost everybody’ book. Each, however, is a beautiful example of the strong emphasis YA places on friendship.

Take 5: Tumblrs that Rock

I am obsessed with Tumblr.  Blame Robin.  Anyhow, as I see it, Tumblr (outside of Twitter, of course) is so easy to use and I love, love, love the way it handles graphics (which is where its bread and butter is).  So now I am all Tumblr obsessed.  Here are 5 Tumblrs to follow if you are new to the tumble.  If you are not new, share your favorites with me in the comments.  Feed my obsession.

And yes, for the record, every time I am on Tumblr I do in fact sing this song in my head . . .

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kwb9-OlQimc]

Diversity in YA

Diversity in YA was originally founded as a blog in 2011 by Cindy Pon and Malinda Lo.  They moved to Tumblr in 2013.  Here, they talk about Diversity in YA, hence the title.  It is a great resource not only highlighting titles, but giving real strong evidence that shows how little diversity there currently is.

Teenager Posts

Teenager Posts takes a standard format – a color block with a simple text statement, similar to Bookfessions – and allows teens to express themselves.  Often sad, sometimes witty, sometimes full of cusswords, this is a way for teens 

YA Book Quotes

 
Exactly what it sounds like – quotes from YA books. Great for reblogging and sharing.

Fishing Boat Proceeds, aka John Green’s Tumblr

John Green is kind of king of the Internet in Geek World, and Tumblr is no different.  It’s obviously heavy on self-promotion, especially with TFIOS movie being filmed, but he is usually the first to take to the Internet and speak up about things with heartfelt intelligence.

Looking for things to make and do?  DIY Fashion has you covered.

Maureen Johnson Books

If John Green is the King of the Internet, one could argue that Maureen Johnson is the Queen.  She speaks passionately about things.  She rants.  She answers questions.  In a word, she is kind of awesome.

Go Book Yourself

This site is your basic “If You Like . . . Try This . . .” site with some visual finesse.  Take a book – say The Fault in Our Stars by John Green – and it will recommend 4 readlikes.  In this case it recommends Ask the Passengers by A. S. King, Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell, The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson, and Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz.  These are great for sharing, though not always YA.

An Oldie but a Goodie: Bookfessions

More Info: 8 Inspirational Blogs from Huffington Post Teen ; 10 Top Tech related Tumblrs

World Book Night, or In Which I Fail at Library* (by Robin)


April 23rd was the second annual World Book Nightcelebration in the United States. Briefly, individuals sign up to receive a box of twenty copies of a single title to hand out to light readers and non-readers that evening. The publishers and authors of the titles available give up their royalties, and special copies are printed for distribution. Ideally, everyone takes his or her box out into the community on the evening of April 23rd and unleashes a flood of reading opportunity.
This was my second year participating. As a middle school librarian, I see the need for individuals to have more access to reading material on a daily basis. I also feel strongly that owning books and having a variety available in the home contributes powerfully to literacy outcomes. World Book Night is an opportunity for me to have a positive impact on a cause I believe in on both a personal and professional level.  
Christie reads Ender’s Game for the 1st time
Last year I signed up for Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. Regardless of my opinion of his personal politics, Ender’s Gameis the best science fiction novel I’ve ever read. It is the yardstick by which I measure all the others. Additionally, in my time working with middle schoolers, I’ve found it to be remarkably easy to ‘hand sell.’ I follow a brief summary of the plot with the warning, “But it’s pretty violent, so I wouldn’t read it if that will bother you.” It works every time. And even though it was cold and drizzling on the evening of April 23rd, 2012, I had no problem distributing my copies.
This year, as I read through the list of available titles my eyes landed on two likely candidates – The Lightning Thief and Looking for Alaska. After considering the age groupings of the youth in my neighborhood, I decided to go for Looking for Alaska. I am a huge fan of John Green and love his books. I’ve read all of his books and enjoyed them greatly. I was very excited when I found out I would be getting a box of Looking for Alaska to distribute!

I happily picked up my box for World Book Night at my local distribution center (my local, independent book store), and put the box in the trunk of my car. Over the next couple of days I began to feel uneasy, but couldn’t quite put my finger on the cause. As I began planning how I would distribute the books I remembered. Looking for Alaska is the one John Green book I didn’t finish. I’ve only read half of it. Those of you who have read it will know exactly where I stopped. If you haven’t read it…you should probably stop reading here. Approximately 6 months before I picked up Looking for AlaskaI lost my best friend to cancer. ‘Best friend’ doesn’t really cover it, but I don’t think we have a decent descriptor for what she was to me in our language. More like a sister, really. I never finished the book because I couldn’t see well enough to read through my tears. Each time I picked it up I began sobbing. It was more than I could handle. I put the book back on the shelf, and did a fairly good job of pushing it into the darkest recesses of my memory. Some of you might wonder how I could have so easily forgotten my response to it. My only answer is that grief does really weird things to your brain. There is a lot I can’t remember from the first two years after Shannon died.
Picture from IMGFAVE
April 23rd came and went. I walk by my box of books every morning on my way to work. Eventually I know I will find a library colleague who works with older teens who will be able to make good use of these books. Until then, they are a reminder of the fact that sometimes I fail at library, and I need to learn to forgive myself.
*This odd title comes from a Tweet I can no longer find (I think the author erased it.) When I read it, it struck a chord deep within my librarian’s heart. Sometimes we all feel like we’ve failed at library. You are not alone.

Booktalk This: The Geek edition

This quote has been circling the internet for a while, and as a life-long nerd and geek, I’ve worked to live up to the sentiment. This is not always easy, and it was especially difficult for me during high school, as I was torn between wanting to both appear “cool” AND to embrace that which I loved.  In remembering that time, I always enjoy discovering books about teens that are able to embrace their inner geeks or nerds and find happiness at the same time!

Would you rather be the nerd finding love? Or find love with a nerd?
If you’d rather embrace your nerdom while finding love, try Meant to Be by Lauren Morrill.  Julia’s thrilled to spend Spring Break on a school-sponsored, no-parents field trip to London, England, and with extra pencils and her pocket Shakespeare, she plans to get the most out of it. Unfortunately, most of her classmates see the trip as a license to party, and she ends up paired with the worst offender of them all, her nemesis, Jason. Can she keep him from getting into too much trouble? And can he help her woo her true love?

If you’re looking to find love with a nerd of your own, try Julia Halpern’s Into the Great Nerd Yonder. Jessie is the odd girl out at the start of sophomore year, when she comes back to school in a new skirt but her two best friends show up as new people: buzz-cuts, neon hair, and punk rock attitudes. Uninterested in joining their punk rebellion, Jessie spends her time sewing, listening to audiobooks (she has GREAT taste), and dips her toes into tabletop gaming. Can she find happiness over 20-sided dice?
Would you rather use your analytical skills to figure out how to avoid getting dumped? Or to fight the man?
As a former child prodigy and current dumpee, Colin is determined to create a theorem that will explain why nineteen Katherines in a row have dumped him, and enable him – and others – to avoid getting dumped in the future. In John Green’s An Abundance of Katherines, Colin and his best friend, Hassan, go on a summer road trip, chase down feral pigs, and find the grave of Franz Ferdinand in a town called Gutshot. Love, graphing, and anagramming will never be this fun again!  
  
Marcus is a computer genius…and a rule-breaker. So, when San Francisco is rocked by a terrorist attack and the government responds by cranking up their electronic surveillance, Marcus gets caught in the mix. Scared and angry after a brutal interrogation, he fights back as his hacker alter ego, w1n5t0n, against growing governmental control. Little Brother by Cory Doctorow is a scary and intense thrill ride you won’t want to miss!
And finally, do you limit yourself to one realm of nerdom or geekery? Or does it (like my own) span many areas and genres?
If you limit your geekery to one area, you may feel some camaraderie with Maddy, the heroine of both Mari Mancusi’s Gamer Girl AND of Maddy’s favorite online game, Fields of Fantasy. In the game, Maddy is beyond awesome, and her elfin alter-ego is beginning an online friendship/flirtation with another gamer, Sir Leo.   But, outside of the game, Maddy has no friends at her new school.  Can she be as brave as her manga-style gaming avatar and find love in the real world?
 
If your geekery knows no bounds, check out the wide-range of fun (for older teens) contained in Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd, an anthology celebrating all things nerd and geek, edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castelucci. Many awesome teen authors contributed, from Cassandra Clare to Scott Westerfeld, and it alternates between short stories and short, funny, how-to comics (my favorite geekdoms are represented in “How to Identify…the Living Dead” and “What to Remember When Going to a Convention”). There’s something here for any form of geekery!
Kearsten is the YA Librarian from the Glendale Public Library in Arizona and our resident Booktalk This column writer.  In short, she rocks.

Booktalk This: Teary Reads

As a teen (way back in the early 1990s), my friends and I sighed over a story about one our crushes when he was in 4th grade: that was the year his teacher read Where the Red Fern Grows to him and his classmates (including our storyteller). The whole class was overwhelmed by that books’ ending, including our crush, who put his head down on his desk to hide his tears. Sigh. Actually, I don’t know a single soul who has read (or been read) this book who hasn’t cried. Unless you are me, and have successfully avoided reading it simply because I don’t often want to sob through books if I can help it. I do know, however, that there are many readers out there who love a good book-induced cry, so this list is for you! 

My Sister’s Keeperby Jodi Picoult (Washington Square Press, 9780743454537). This book is an older read, but it’s a good one. Anna’s older sister, Kate, has leukemia, and as Anna was purposely born to be a genetic match to her sister, she’s spent all of her 13 years undergoing the same surgeries – when Kate needs bone marrow, Anna goes under the knife, too. But then, one day, Anna decides she’s had enough, hires a lawyer and sues her parents for control of her own body and any future medical procedures. But what does this mean for Kate’s health? Now, I sobbed through this book from a mother’s point-of-view, but making the sorts of decisions Anna does are pretty painful from a flat-out human being’s point-of-view. Fact: Picoult’s own son read this book, and was so devastated by the ending, he refused to talk to her for hours after. 
Anna is alive for one reason, to save her sister’s life.  Year after year she undergoes surgeries, tests, needles and more to save her sister’s life.  Until the day she decides she can’t do it any more and hires a lawyer.  If you knew that you could save your sister’s life, would you choose not to?
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness (Candlewick Press, 978-0763639310).  Todd is pretty miserable, living in his noisy, all-male town. When you can hear your neighbors’ thoughts, day and night, and quite a few of them seem to have gone more than a little crazy…it’s no wonder that Todd would rather wander the swamps with his annoying pup, Manchee, whose thoughts, unfortunately, are also audible. And then, one day he hears a pocket of nothing in the swamp. When he investigates, he discovers that pocket of silence is a girl. The Knife of Never Letting Go is one of those books that everyone everywhere seemed to be telling me to read, but I just didn’t. And then my book club read it. And I couldn’t put it down. And it made me SOB. It’ll make you cry, too, but it’ll also make you laugh, and make hold your breath with fear and tension. This one’s a keeper, for sure.
There are no girls. None.  And the men who live can hear one another’s thoughts.  The animals too.  One day Todd enters into the swamp and hears nothing, glorious silence.  It turns out this means only one thing: Todd has found a girl.
The Fault in our Stars by John Green (Dutton, 978-0525478812). Hazel is dying. She’s 16-years-old, she has cancer, and she is definitely going to die young. This she’s managed come to terms with, but it’s the people she’s leaving behind that weigh heaviest – how will her parents get through this? Her friends? That adorable new guy, Augustus? And, why, exactly, does she have to deal with all this? What good will a cancer support group do her, really? Why does she have to have cancer at all? Hazel is a completely lovely character, funny and heart-breaking, and the journey she takes you on WILL put a major dent in your Kleenex-fund.

Pretty much any book by Lurlene McDaniel (Delacorte Press). Lurlene McDaniel books have been around for a LONG time, and there’s a good reason for that: these books are depressing. Someone is dying of something in nearly every one of her books, and it’s often right after the main character falls deeply in love with his/her one true love. Now, I’m not spoiling any endings for you, since the point of her books isn’t necessarily the plot twist: it’s the very cathartic sob-inducing situations of the characters within. And I don’t have a particular title to suggest. I just recommend sitting down with a shelf of her books and reading the back cover blurbs to get a sense of which will make you cry the most. Just last week I asked one of our teen volunteers to pick out the saddest Lurlene McDaniel she could find. She came back with four.

And finally, Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls (Bantam Dell, 978-0-553-27429-5). Seriously. If what you’re looking for is a cry, and haven’t yet read this classic about a boy and his two beloved hunting dogs, do it. Just make sure you’re in a safe space with plenty of tissues for your tears.  It’s a book with a dog, you know what is probably going to happen.

Karen would add Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson and If I Stay by Gayle Forman to this list.

Note: for some reason the graphics button isn’t working at the moment on Blogger.  I will go in and add pictures when it is fixed.

My Emotional Soundtrack: What Keeps Me Sane

So the other day I talked about things that I just couldn’t go back to, even if I wanted to (if you missed it, go here).  Today, I thought that I’d share things that give me comfort.  It’s a rocky place out there, and while I consider myself a stable person, there are things that can rock you to your core- things that happen with your teens/tween, within your professional life, within your personal life, or within the world in general.  We, as teen advocates, should be embodying and modeling ways that are at least generally healthy ways to cope with whatever life throws at us, because you never know who’s watching.  We can (and do) break down in private, but we can’t exactly go screaming through the stacks to let off steam, as much as we would like to.  Someone, unfortunately, is bound to notice, whether it’s our teens, our patrons, or our boss.

So, I thought I’d share what keeps me as sane as I can be [which I’ve been told is up for doubt some days :) ], and please share yours in the comments below.  I think we’d all like to learn different ways to keep on keepin’ on.


Family and friends.  Even if they are over half a world away, and we only connect via social media, text or email, I can send out something and get something back within seconds to minutes.  I have a very expanded definition of family, very different than what most people (and probably those in my “family” would consider) but these are the people that if something happened, I know that they’d drop everything to get to me- and I would drop everything to get to them.  I can contact them with anything and no matter how trivial, or how silly, we can laugh or cry or share and it’ll be OK.  And I have been extremely blessed in that I have found people where ever I have landed throughout my life and have been able to keep adding to my family.

Music.  I really cannot live without music, and I am as bad as my tweens and teens with it- needs to be on constantly.  I listen to just about anything (save for most rap- that’s a whole different discussion), and you can rarely find me without my player.  I name them.  The current one is named Lilith after the Lilith Fair concert series, an ipod Touch, and has a speaker set in my office and has a port in my car.  Plato is quoted as saying, “Music is a moral law.  It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.”  I prefer Aldous Huxley, “After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.”  


Tea.  I’m not sure how I grew up with sweet tea in the middle of Illinois, but we always had sweet tea in the house.  I got out of the habit in college, but after I married That Guy, I got back into iced sweet tea, although the sugar got replaced with substitutes.  Now, I’ve gotten into hot teas at work and at bedtime, and oh, man, it is a comfort.  I haven’t gotten the hang of the spiced teas or fruit teas yet (always willing to try) and haven’t been brave enough to try a chai (they seem so expensive), but I’m addicted to black teas that have vanilla caramel or a good English Breakfast tea.  I even got a special cup from my last Disney trip that has Alice and the Mad Hatter having a tea party that I can microwave that has a sippy lid, instead of having to balance an open cup around my crazy kids.  Ah, simple joys.


Fluffy things.  I’ve always been lucky in my library career in that I’ve always had someplace with storage that was mine and mine alone, and I know enough about library worlds to know that my situation isn’t always the norm.  I’ve always been able to have something fluffy to take out to play with the kids, whether it’s a bear or a bunny dressed in different outfits (did you know that those Build-a-Bear animals fit in about size 3-6 month baby clothes?).  And as my space has expanded, so too has my collection of things, as you can see above.  I’ve gone from one teddy bear that was for baby story times to a bear and a bunny (who have been renamed for co-workers by the kids), a chef, two sock monkeys (a pirate and a ninja), a frog, a Dalek, and a Beaker, and there are a basket of Beanie Babies in the closet waiting for the appropriate time.  However, the toys aren’t just for the kids- they’re for me too.  They all mean something, and at times, I need the hugs that they’ve stored up from the kids who have dressed them and babysat them.

Books.  Always, constant, faithful companions are books.  My house is full of them, my work is full of them, and my life is full of them   If they weren’t, I am definitely in the wrong job. When I want comfort, I want the familiar, and I want familiar authors- ones that I know I like and will transport me away for a while.  I don’t want to take a chance on a book and be disappointed.  I take off the librarian and blogger hat, and I put on the consumer/patron hat, and read what makes me feel safe.  And yes, I know there are bloggers and librarians alike out there probably pulling hair out at the thought of using reading as an escape, but sometimes, for me, it is.  

My favorite YA and Adult authors are ones that I know will deliver me to other places and settings, give me a good story, and not jar me with inconsistencies.  I turn to the techno worlds of Cory Doctorow, to the realities Judy Blume (heaven help me if Summer Sisters or Superfudge goes out of print).  I go to the worlds of Anita Blake and Merry Gentry by Laurel K. Hamilton, and Rachel Morgan and Madison Avery from Kim Harrison.  I look for Maureen Johnson, David Levithan, John Green, Rachel Cohn, Jillian Larkin’s Flapper series and Anne Godberson’s Luxe series (all considered teen/young adult materials).  I look for Carrie Vaughn’s Kitty Norville series, or Patricia Brigg and Tanya Huff, or Eric Jerome Dickey (all considered adult materials).  I look for Mercedes Lackey (an author that can fall either teen or adult, depending on the reader).

So, those are my comforts.  What are your comfort reads, your comfort things?  Share in the comments below.
 

Shelf Talkers: The “C” Word in Teen Fiction

My Judy Blume fan.  Because Judy Blume “gets it”.

Several years ago my grandmother went to the ER and they opened her up and said they were sorry, but there was nothing they could do for her.  She had cancer and, because she didn’t know it was there, it was so advanced that in just a couple of months it took her from us.  It was quick and unexpected, but often cancer is not.  Sometimes it hangs over you for years

I met and began dating The Mr. when I was 18 years old.  On my 20th birthday we got engaged.  I met the man who would be my father-in-law exactly once.  He was at home in the midst of what would turn out to be an all to brief period of remission from lymphoma.  By the time we got engaged he had already passed away.

Many years later, my friend  (my mentor, my adopted mom) would call and tell me that she too had cancer.  Unlike the others in my life, she would survive (thank God and modern medicine).  She was fighting cancer at the same time that I laid on bed rest fighting HG and trying to make sure my baby made it into this world.  We would call each other and talk about what it was like to have fallen down the rabbit hole that our lives had become.  I am the librarian I am today, and the persona I am today, in large part because of what she taught me.  I am thankful every day that we both made it out of that rabbit hole.

These past few weeks I have spent wondering if cancer was once again going to touch my life.  The truth is, it touches all of our lives at one point or another.  Current statistics indicate that 1 out of 2 men and 1 out of 3 women will have cancer of some form.  Cancer touches us all.  I remember years ago watching the movie St. Elmo’s Fire and there was a scene around the dinner table where the mom whispered that another person had “cancer” (said in a tiny, tiny whisper).  And here we are just 20 years later and the word is so common, we no longer whisper it.  It is no longer the “C” word.  So today I thought I would share with you some of the best books out there about teens dealing with cancer in their lives.

As I was writing this post, my childhood favorite, Judy Blume, announced that she, too, was fighting cancer.  Thankfully, she is recovering well. All my good wishes go out to her.  Her books have touched millions of lives, including mine.  The other day I had a teen come in and ask where the Judy Blume books were.  She reads them, she says, because “Judy Blume gets it.”

Before I share some of the amazing works of teen fiction out there dealing with cancer, I want to encourage you to read this amazing piece of work by Katie1234 in Teen Ink called The Cancer Monolgue.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Hazel and Augustus are two teens struggling with cancer in a brilliant, touching story written in the master class by John Green.  Hazel and Augusts try to resist falling in love because they know what fate awaits them both, but sometimes the heart has its own ideas.  With snark, wit, wisdom and humor, Green tells their story and pulls at your heart strings in all the right ways.  This book has now spent months on the bestseller list so if you are one of the two people who hasn’t yet read it, you really should.

A Time for Dancing by Davida Wills Hurwin
Samantha and Julia have been best friends forever, bound together by their love of dance.  In the summer before their senior year they are poised for great things and ready to face the world head on.  But what they aren’t ready for is cancer.  Julia is diagnosed with incurable cancer.  A Time for Dancing is an older title, published in 1997, but it is a raw presentation of the anger and fear that comes from a cancer diagnosis.

Me, and Earl, and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

Me, and Earl, and the Dying Girl is a book that has done a very rare thing: made me laugh out loud. Literally.  And yes, it is indeed a book about cancer via “the dying girl”.  Greg and Earl end up spending time with Rachel, who has leukemia.  They are not really friends. but Greg’s mom wants him to help Rachel.  Greg is used to flying below the social radar at school, but suddenly finds himself the center of more attention then he ever wanted.  The guffaws come courtesy of some baked goods laced with marijuana and their unexpected eaters.

Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson
Second Chance Summer is one of my favorite summer books of all time.  Matson perfectly captures the essence of summer in this story of Taylor Edwards whose father has been diagnosed with cancer.  In addition to all the touchstones, including summer love and rekindled friendships, SCS is a beautiful story of a relationship between daughter and father.  As you know, these types of relationships are rare in teen fiction, but Matson presents a rich and deep look at what it is like to spend what may be your last moments with someone you love and adore.  You will sob.

Deadline by Chris Crutcher
What would you do if you knew you only have a year to live?  How would you spend that last year?  That is the question that Ben Wolf faces.  Told in a way that only Chris Crutcher can tell it, Ben spends his final year trying to find a way to make his mark on the world.

If you have titles to share, please add them in the comments.

Top 10 Tuesday: Top 10 Recs of the Week

Every week here at TLT we declare a book our REC OF THE WEEK.  These are our favorites that we recommend you check out ASAP.  And because I like to pretend I am an artist (“I’m not an artist, I just play one on my blog.”), I like to come up with a unique pic that somehow captures the spirit of the book. Or at least makes you want to look into it further.  For our first Top 10 Tuesday, we bring you our Top 10 Recs of the Week.

Join us each week to see what the new Rec of the Week is going to be and what original graphic we will create for it.  Want to learn more about the books mentioned above?  Just click on the picture and it will take you to our review.  Check in to TLT for new book reviews, library information, Why YA? posts and more.  Just because a book isn’t our rec of the week doesn’t mean we don’t love it.  Sadly, it turns out there are only 52 weeks in a year.  You can read all of our 2012 book reviews here and find more books we love and think you should read ASAP.

Harry Potter + The Fault in Our Stars = A fantastic Why YA? post by Leah Miller

As part of our ongoing Why YA? series, Leah Miller, author of The Summer I Became a Nerd, shares two titles that moved her and why everyone should read them.

Harry Potter is, as we all know, a beautifully written story. It will be with me for the rest of my life (not to mention my kids’ lives, if I have anything to say about it). Sometimes, I’m not sure how I ever lived without it. I know that might sound a bit dramatic, but it’s the truth. Rowling wove a story for us that could never be equaled. All sorts of topics are touched upon in the series; prejudice, love, hate, loyalty, and relationships between friends, family, and enemies, among tons of others. The way her brain works is spelled out on the page in plots, sub-plots, and even ghost plots (all my Pottermore people say, “Holla’!”). I doubt I’ll ever be as in love with a story as I am with Harry Potter and his many adventures.

Rowling’s writing is, well, it’s what I aspire to write. Her turns of phrases to suit the situation,  her characters who rip your heart out and lay them on a silver platter, the twists and turns, the gasps you make after just one sentence.
Harry Potter is one of those series I acknowledge as the reason I started writing in the first place. In my opinion, anything that makes one aspire to be better, to follow one’s dreams, is valid. Also, the fact that she has interwoven so much of herself into the books is wonderful. Who would Hermione be without Rowling’s own know-it-all spirit? As a writer, I pull from my own experiences and ideas about the world. I can only hope that one day I’ll be able to do it as subtly and ingeniously as Rowling.

Harry Potter also holds a place in my heart due a special connection with someone very important to me that was made because of it. I talked my father into reading the Harry Potter series back in 2001. I always knew he loved me and believed I could do anything, but up until that point, I never really knew he trusted my opinion.

Of course, he loved it. Here was this almost sixty-year-old man asking me for the next book only two days after I gave him the first. We even watched the first movie together in the theater. After Dumbledore said, “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live,” Daddy leaned over to me and whispered, “Remember that, Leah.” At the time, I brushed him off, sort of. “Yeah, Dad, watch the movie.” Unfortunately, he never got to finish the series. He died in 2002 from a stupid disease called pancreatic cancer. Which leads me to another book: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.

I don’t know about other people, but that book affected me in a very personal way. It made me analyze how I handled the news about my father. It made me remember what is was like to watch him die when I had only just turned twenty, still practically a teenager. TFIOS forced me to think about a part of my life that I considered a black spot, something I very rarely want to think about. I would hazard a guess and say we all have spots like that. But TFIOS also made me think about life and death, in general. And thinking is a good thing no matter what genre is causing you to do it (noticing a trend here?). I learned a lot about myself while reading that book that I don’t think I could have learned from reading anything else.

The fact that Harry Potter and The Fault in Our Stars are forever connected in my mind might seem a little odd, but that’s the thing about YA. Sometimes it can be heart wrenching. Sometimes it can be fun and make you laugh until you cry. Sometimes it can be both. Sometimes it can be all that and then teach you something about yourself you never knew was there. That’s what Harry Potter and TFIOS were for me. And I like to think Daddy would have felt the same way despite him being an almost sixty-year-old man.
Nothing I could ever say to J.K. Rowling could ever encompass my love for her series, but to John Green I’d like to say, “Thank you, Mr. Green, for giving the world that book.” I’m not as poetic as Mr. Green, so I’ll just say that, for me, The Fault in Our Stars was “heavenly in its hurtfulness”.
P.S. I hope John Green doesn’t take offense that I was able to put my feelings into words for his book, but was unable to do so with Harry Potter, but as Hank Green says, “No matter what I read, I think, ‘This is not Harry Potter.’”

P.P.S. I know at some point in this post I was supposed to say why these books appeal to teens. To that I say, “They appeal to teens because they’re really, really good.”
 

Mother, wife, and YA author living on a windy hill in Natchitoches, Louisiana. I love fuzzy socks, comic books, cherry coke, and brand new office supplies. THE SUMMER I BECAME A NERD by me coming Summer 2013 from Entangled Teen.  You can visit Leah Miller’s blog, Living the Dream, or follow her on Twitter (@LeahR_Miller).

You can also read our other Why YA? posts and learn how you can write your own here.