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#SVYALit Project: Bone Gap and Survivor Stories, a guest post by author Laura Ruby

One of the best books I have read in 2015 is the upcoming Bone Gap by Laura Ruby. It is a stunning and haunting look at a world where you can easily fall between the gaps. If hard pressed to come up with a if you like, I would say that this is reminiscent of the very best of Ray Bradbury, think Dandelion Wine and Something Wicked This Way Comes. Today I am honored to have Laura Ruby here guest posting for The #SVYALit Project about Survivor Stories.

I had numerous beta readers for my YA novel BONE GAP—some for their expertise on horses and farms, some for their expertise on myth and language, others simply because they know a good story when they read one and they’d tell me where mine needed work. Out of the dozen-plus people who read this book pre-pub, only one person asked a question that I still can’t get out of my head. Clearly my character Roza is a victim of some sort of sexual violence, he said, but the details are somewhat mysterious. What exactly happened to her?

Well, I told him, Roza didn’t exactly share the specifics with me.

Yeah, okay, maybe this is snotty answer to a perfectly reasonable question from a thoughtful person. And maybe my answer is also a little bit bananas; I wrote Roza’s story, how could she—a figment of my imagination!—choose to keep the gory details of something so terrible entirely to herself?  And wouldn’t it be better for readers to get the whole story in all its humiliating, awful detail?  Don’t we need it to understand her?

What exactly happened?

What exactly?

The idea we are somehow owed the stories of victims of sexual violence is pervasive, and to my mind, rather astonishing, considering our burning hostility toward such victims, our collective tendency toward creepy voyeurism. In one of the more bizarre book reviews I’ve ever read, a reviewer claimed she threw Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist across the room because Gay summed up her own gang rape at the age of twelve like this:

“They kept me there for hours. It was as bad as you might expect.”

The reviewer argues that the details of Gay’s rape are necessary, “Not because I think we need another graphic, sensational account of violence, we need a graphic, realistic account of violence that proves it needs to be taken seriously and stopped.”

And yet, graphic, realistic accounts of sexual violence are everywhere and we still don’t take them seriously. Even photographs and videos don’t stand as proof; we use the evidence to pick apart the stories, to explain away the violence, to discount and dismiss. To blame the victim who got in the car went to the dorm room went to the frat house went to the party went on the date went to the woods with someone she loved.

Even love is used against victims. Even that.

Underneath the belief that we’re owed victims’ stories is the more insidious belief that what the victim really owes us is her/his/their pain. That because you’ve been violated, you must put words to that violation, and through the telling suffer again and again for some greater societal good, or simply to satisfy our morbid curiosity — “OMG, did you hear about…?!”

After the Bad Feminist review appeared, Ms. Gay was moved to write her story in the graphic detail the reviewer had demanded.

I read the whole account with my hand over my mouth.

It was exactly as bad as I expected.

I support rape victims who come forward and bravely recount their stories, as Gay did.  And I support rape victims who choose not to. I’m not a cop or a lawyer, I will not be investigating or prosecuting any cases. I am not owed this kind of confidence. And we, as a culture, haven’t earned this kind of trust. Too often we prove ourselves entirely unworthy of it.

Gay says: “We don’t know how to hear stories about any kind of violence, because it is hard to accept that these things are complicated, that you can love someone who hurts you, that you can stay with someone who hurts you, that you can be hurt by someone who loves you, that you can be hurt by a complete stranger, that you can be hurt.”

In BONE GAP, I didn’t write about the specifics of Roza’s sexual violation because I was more interested in the toll that violation took on her: the all-encompassing shame that sapped her strength and her will, the horror at the string of sociopaths who somehow sensed the nature of her wound and reveled in it, the sheer terror she felt when she finally stumbled into a person she might be able to trust.  Mostly, though, I wanted to write about her refusal to be defined by what was done to her.

If it’s remotely appropriate to ask victims of sexual violence anything, let’s instead ask how the violence affected them, how they have coped since, how we can help.

What exactly happened is that they survived.

Meet our Guest Blogger

Raised in the wilds of suburban New Jersey, Laura Ruby now lives in Chicago with her family. Ruby is also the author of the Edgar-nominated children’s mystery LILY’S GHOSTS (8/03), the children’s fantasy THE WALL AND THE WING (3/06) and a sequel, THE CHAOS KING (5/07) all from Harpercollins. She writes for older teens as well, and her debut young adult novel, GOOD GIRLS (9/06), also from Harpercollins, was a Book Sense Pick for fall 2006 and an ALA Quick Pick for 2007.

Publisher’s Book Description

Everyone knows Bone Gap is full of gaps—gaps to trip you up, gaps to slide through so you can disappear forever. So when young, beautiful Roza went missing, the people of Bone Gap weren’t surprised. After all, it wasn’t the first time that someone had slipped away and left Finn and Sean O’Sullivan on their own. Just a few years before, their mother had high-tailed it to Oregon for a brand new guy, a brand new life. That’s just how things go, the people said. Who are you going to blame?

Finn knows that’s not what happened with Roza. He knows she was kidnapped, ripped from the cornfields by a dangerous man whose face he cannot remember. But the searches turned up nothing, and no one believes him anymore. Not even Sean, who has more reason to find Roza than anyone, and every reason to blame Finn for letting her go.

As we follow the stories of Finn, Roza, and the people of Bone Gap—their melancholy pasts, their terrifying presents, their uncertain futures—acclaimed author Laura Ruby weaves a heartbreaking tale of love and loss, magic and mystery, regret and forgiveness—a story about how the face the world sees is never the sum of who we are.

Publishes March 3rd, 2015 from Balzer & Bray/HarperTeen. ISBN: 9780062317605

The Distance Between Lost and Found, part 2: Sex, Power, Politics and The Church

It’s interesting how two people can read the same book and have two different experiences with it. When Ally Watkins and I began talking about The Distance Between Lost and Found it became evident that different parts, different themes, stood out to each of us. So whereas Ally talked a lot about the the faith aspects of DBLF, I’m going to talk about something very different, though definitely related to the idea of power in the church.

In order to have this conversation, I’m going to have to spill some big reveals. SO DO NOT READ THIS POST UNTIL AFTER YOU HAVE READ THE BOOK.

READ THE BOOK, COME BACK, AND LET’S TALK.

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When we first meet Hallie, she is at church camp and it is clear that she is being frozen out and bullied, and the freeze out is primarily being led by a boy named Luke Willis. Luke Willis happens to be the preacher’s son, which gives him a de facto position of power in the church youth group. He chooses to use this position of power not for good, but for personal gain. Like many people in positions of power, yes even people in positions of power in the church, he has power and that power is easily abused.

The basics of the story is that an event has happened between Hallie and Luke and when this event becomes known, Luke’s version of the story is automatically believed over Hallie’s. This is in part because of Luke’s position of power, but I would also argue that it is also in part because Luke is the male in this story and Hallie is the female; culturally we still tend to believe the males over the females, see any recent news headlines or read the comments of any column about feminist issues for ample evidence of this.

It’s also interesting to note that when this book was first recommended to me I asked if it was about sexual violence and I was told no, it was about bullying. But I would argue that there is indeed an element of sexual coercion involved as the events that happen between Luke and Hallie are not rape, per se, but neither are the fully consensual acts. Luke uses a variety of tactics to try and engage Hallie in a physical relationship with him, including some very real emotional coercion. What the event might have turned into we will never know because it is interrupted. But this event is a really strong example of emotional coercion and makes for a good discussion about enthusiastic consent. I would love to see church youth groups read and discuss this book together, I think it would make for a powerful discussion.

I found it interesting that this was presented to me as not a story about sexual violence, when it has many of the hallmarks including emotional manipulation (anger, threats), ignoring her no (he begins taking her bra off even though she has pulled away and expressed that she is not comfortable) and then, later, slut shaming. Because of the way Luke spins the story of what happened that night, Hallie becomes a victim of slut shaming in her youth group and in her home. Though culturally we are still very uncomfortable with female sexuality, this is magnified in the church to the nth degree, particularly when we discuss sex, sexuality, and sexual desires outside of marriage. Like most victims of slut shaming, Hallie goes through a journey of many emotions, including shame, doubt, self-blame, isolation and alienation, and a very understandable questioning of her faith.

In some ways this story reminds me of one of the storylines in Brutal Youth by Anthony Breznican. In the opening scene of BY a young man, hoping to cause a diversion away from a major event happening, runs up and grabs a teacher and kisses her. When the teacher tries to report that she has been the victim of sexual assault to the police they ridicule her, stating that it was merely a kiss and more important things are happening. In a culture that is still fuzzy on what constitutes “legitimate rape”, we do an even worse job of discussing other forms of sexual assault and coercion, which I maintain both of these stories provide examples of. When victims of rape come forward they still have an incredible problem getting the police to investigate the crimes against them, and we do an even worse job of talking about and protecting those who experience situations like those we see here in The Distance Between Lost and Found and Brutal Youth.

The other interesting thing we see happening is the power dynamics of the sexual abuse. Sexual coercion and sexual abuse are not only about sex, they are about power. And this is something Luke has. It’s something he knows will keep him safe. It’s something he knows he can use as a weapon not only to woo girls only to quickly discard them, but something he knows he can use to cover up his transgressions. These are the same power dynamics you see in the sport culture (see Canary by Rachele Alpine for example) and in books like the upcoming All the Rage by Courtney Summers and Every Last Promise by Kristin Hallbrook (both of which I highly recommend).

Sexual abuse in the church happens. It happens among teens in youth groups. It happens in the pulpits as youth pastors and Sunday school teachers and Priests use their power to abuse the people who trust them to not only guide their spiritual growth, but to keep them safe and guide them away from sin. One of the best books regarding this topic is The Gospel of Winter by Brendan Kiely, a book about the Catholic priest abuse scandal. But there are also elements of this in Faking Normal by Courtney C. Stevens.

The power that these perpetrators has comes not only from their position, but from our unwillingness to believe that these very people that we put our spiritual growth in the hands of are capable of this type of abuse. Surely that person is not capable of these things they have been accused of we think to ourselves, which is part of the reason why almost 30 women can come forward with claims of abuse against men like Bill Cosby and there are still people who think there is no possible way we should maybe, kind of believe that he is in fact capable of that which he has been accused of. And yet the truth is that it is people in positions of power who have not only the most opportunity to abuse, but have the most courage to abuse because they know that their position of power provides them protections that those without that power would have. With great power may come great responsibility, but it can also be said that with great power comes a greater temptation and ability to abuse that power. In the church and in popular culture we make people into idols and we hold onto those idols fiercely, even when they are destroying others around us.

Luke of course is not a pastor or a preacher or a teacher or a priest. He is a teenage boy. But he is, in fact, in a position of power. Even in high school and in church youth groups that proclaim love and acceptance for all there are hierarchies of power. Whatever our intentions may be inside the walls of our churches, we are still a group of fallible human beings gathered together. This is one of the things I loved most about The Distance Between Lost and Found, it highlighted so eloquently that struggle between our human nature and our desire born out of faith to be better. Holmes doesn’t shy away from the idea that even in a church youth group real world dynamics are at play and horrible things happen. These teens grapple with the very same things that non-churched teens grapple with in a high school setting, they just happen to be doing it while on a church camping trip. But these questions are universal: Who am I? What do I believe? What’s my place in this universe? Or in this group? Or in this moment?

Two of my college friends were raped in the church by their Sunday school teachers. Different friends, different churches, different experiences. But in both of these cases, just like in the public school, a person that was entrusted with their care and growth violated that trust in horrific ways. They abused their power. They altered the landscape of their lives, they changed the trajectory of their paths. Things happen in the church and in church youth groups. Sometimes they are indisputable, as my friend’s stories are. Sometimes there is more nuance, as I would argue The Distance Between Lost and Found presents us with. But it is a real reminder that even in our church youth groups, we need to be talking with our teens about what real consent is and what it isn’t. Sexual education makes adults uncomfortable. We don’t want teens to be having sex so we think if we don’t talk about sex with them then they won’t have sex. But the truth is, some teens have sex. All teens think about sex. Even teens who practice any of the various religions out there. The best thing we can do for our teens, even the teens in our churches, is to talk to them about healthy sex and consent. We are losing far too many of our young people to sexual violence, and sometimes that sexual violence is occurring in our churches.

For more on Faith and Spiritulaity in YA Lit, check out our discussion hub here.

For more on Sexual Violence and Teens in YA Lit, check out the #SVYALit Project index here.

On the BBC’s Sherlock: A Study in Character, a guest post by author Carrie Mesrobian


Sherlock holds a sweet spot in my heart and not just I’m flooded with animated GIFs on my Tumblr feed of Sherlock and John kissing (I AM JOHN-LOCKED, etc.). And not just because it’s a brilliantly written and acted show.

I love Sherlock because my daughter Matilda, age 10, also loves it. So it’s one of the rare times my husband and my daughter can join me in one of my television obsessions. (Read what she wrote about her other television obsession, The Walking Dead, here)
Because we don’t have cable, we have to wait until January 19th, when season 3 premieres on PBS. I’m fairly DYING, because I have to avoid Tumblr (and I do love my Tumblr, you know) and because my family is full of predictions about Sherlock’s faked death and how he pulled it off.

BBC

 “I think he cloned himself; he just killed one of the extra bodies,” said Matilda.

“How did he clone himself?  Did the Baskerville lab scientists help him?” I asked.
“No, he probably just made Molly do it in her lab or whatever,” she replied.
Meanwhile, my husband is sure that Moriarty isn’t dead.
“If he’s dead, they’ll have to make up another villain,” Adrian said. “And who could be a better villain than Moriarty?”
Adrian’s also confident that The Woman – Irene Adler – will return. I think his confidence is partly wishful, due to Irene Adler’s tendency to appear on the show naked, but I also find her character riveting as well.
Irene Adler brings me to the real point I want to discuss, however: the beguiling character of Sherlock himself.
To sum him up, again, here’s Matilda: “Sherlock is an amazing person, but sometimes he’s kind of a dick.”

Editor’s note: Sherlock apparently needs to read this book from Zest Books

Indeed, this is what we’ve been learning, through John Watson’s viewpoint. Sherlock, though he’s a deductive genius, is extremely socially inept. He even claims to be a sociopath at one point, correcting a member of the police who calls him a psychopath. Truly, he is a character obsessed with solving mysteries, at times appearing not to care about the lives he might save or the good he might do – only the work, solving the puzzle, is alluring to him.

So, in a time when everyone wants characters who are “likeable,” why do we fascinate on Sherlock?
I think it’s because Sherlock himself is a mystery. The world reveals much to him at a mere glance but he himself, his own internal life and emotions, remain opaque to us. His relationships are minimal; he can’t get along with his brother Mycroft, and it’s a big step when he tells John in The Hounds of Baskerville that he doesn’t have “friends” but rather “one friend” – John himself, who is a relatively recent acquaintance.
Irene Adler is a character we enjoy watching for many reasons. But the key one is that she manages to reveal more about Sherlock – A Scandal in Belgravia features both of them literally naked as well –  as we see the effect she has on him, even as Sherlock strives to hide it. As viewers we are hoping she will give us more clues about Sherlock’s emotional capacity.

Source: Tumblr

Jim Moriarty also offers slight suggestive glimpses to the existence of any sense of morality in Sherlock’s precise, scientific brain. As foils and rivals, Moriarty presents a crucial question: what is the difference between him and Sherlock? We want to assume Sherlock has a conscience while Moriarty does not, but so far we don’t have much clear evidence on this fact.

So while we all are fascinated at the idea of being someone like Sherlock, having a mind that functions as his does, the mystery of him — and the show itself —  is how a person whose thought processes work in such vivid, amazing ways actually experiences the world in terms of emotions and morals and ethics and instincts. Does Sherlock not possess any of those things? Or does he suppress them in order to let his mind do its fantastic feats? Is it possible to truly know him as a person? Will John Watson succeed in becoming his true confidant and not just a sounding board and companion on adventures?
I look forward to journeying through these mysteries on January 19th, though I can’t live-tweet, as I need to pay full attention to everything (also no commercials makes it harder) and hope to offer up a recap/response on the premiere on my own blog.

About Carrie Mesrobian

Carrie Mesrobian is a native Minnesotan. A former high school Spanish instructor, Carrie currently teaches at The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. Her writing has appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Brain, Child magazine, and Calyx. Her debut young adult novel, Sex & Violence(Carolrhoda LAB) received stars from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly. Her second novel, Perfectly Good White Boy, will be released in fall of 2014. She currently lives with her husband (Adrian), daughter (Matilda) and dog (Pablo), all of whom are pretty excellent.

Sex and Violence: An Unlikely Coming to Be (guest post by author Carrie Mesrobian)


I didn’t set out to write a book about a sex-focused boy who gets nearly killed in a vicious assault.

I didn’t set out to write about a boy at all.
This book started with me being annoyed. Annoyed at the female heroines in lots of YA books.
I was tired of the YA girl who:
          Didn’t know she was beautiful
          Was saving her first sex for ‘the right boy’ or ‘true love’
          Was quirky or an outsider
          Thought sex, drugs and other risk-taking was a big giant hairy deal
          Wore combat boots and thrift store clothes
          Had sidekick friends who were more interesting than she was
So the story started with a girl named Baker Trieste. Originally, she was going to be on some kind of quest, defeat something supernatural. Only, I don’t believe in anything supernatural, though I love reading stories about that stuff. I sucked at imagining another paranormal world or whatever. So the story just became about these kids kicking around a lake the last summer before college.
Baker Trieste is a smart girl. She’s pretty. She’s an extrovert.  She’s girly. She wears clothes from the mall and bikinis.
But. Baker Trieste also smokes pot, drinks to get drunk, loves history, and doesn’t entertain too many dreams about being with her high school boyfriend after they both set off for different colleges. She’s implemented an open relationship, in fact, to deal with their eventual break-up, thinking this will make things easier. And in tandem with that, she decides it will be a Summer Of Last Chances, where she and her friends will all get to do all the things they’ve never done before. Her dream? To explore Story Island, in the middle of Pearl Lake.
So, why did Evan Carter, serial pervert and man-whore, come to barge into the story and knock Baker out as narrator?
It was an accident. I wanted to a new-comer to the Pearl Lake setting and I wanted to get to know him. So I wrote in his first-person POV for a while and it was unbelievably fun. I have never imagined myself into a guy’s brain before and it was such a juicy set of problems to solve. Being in a guy’s head when I was a teenager would have been so damn helpful, you know? My friends and I spent way too much time trying to figure guys out: Did they like us? Did they only like us when they were drunk? Did they only want sex or did they really like us as people? Did they just need a ride to a party? Were they flirting or just being nice? Was it our outfits? Our hair? Our too-small or too-big boobs? 
Being Evan for me was like being given the key to a car I’d always wanted to drive. Or a door I’d always wanted to open. And putting him next to Baker, a girl who embodied many of my own teenage qualities as well as ones I’d love girls her age to have, was a pleasure. He was so lucky to know her, to get to be in her company. 
If I want to be really dorky and analytical about it, Baker is Sex. Sex the way I’d want it to be. Good, and fun, and important, yes, but also just another experience in life. And Evan? He might think he’s Sex, but really, he’s Violence. He’s a victim of violence, he’s an inheritor of a violent family history, and he even tries to become a perpetrator of violence. One might argue that the pain he’s caused the girls he has sex with and then deletes from his phone is another kind of violence, emotional violence, a kind of dehumanizing objectification.
Now it sounds like I’ve written a tacky love story; that Sex meets Violence and they live happily ever after. I could have very well done that. This is why we have editors, after all. Thank you, Universe, for creating Andrew Karre.
In many ways, for me, this book is not just Evan’s story, or a boy’s story about sex and violence. It’s also the story of young women, how they come of age, how they contend with sex and violence, too, in different ways. For a character as obtuse and clueless and shitty as Evan Carter is, at least at the story’s opening, I couldn’t bear for him to meet up with girls that were weak, clichéd, or fantastical representations of Womanhood. I needed for him to see women as complex and dazzling and broken and brilliant, all in one. He needed that, as a character, and I needed that, as his creator.
And I think we all need that, as readers.
 
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About Carrie Mesrobian
Carrie Mesrobian is a native Minnesotan. A former high school Spanish instructor, Carrie currently teaches at The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. Her writing has appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Brain, Child magazine, and Calyx. Her debut young adult novel, Sex & Violence (Carolrhoda LAB) received stars from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly. Her second novel, Perfectly Good White Boy, will be released in fall of 2014. She currently lives with her husband (Adrian), daughter (Matilda) and dog (Pablo), all of whom are pretty excellent.  Find out more than you probably want to know here: www.carriemesrobian.com