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#SJYALit: Discussing GLORY O’BRIEN’S HISTORY OF THE FUTURE with A. S. King

Glory O'Brien's History of the Future

Last night we had the pleasure of talking with author A. S. King as part of our #SJYALit Project. We talked feminism, politics and bats. The Twitter conversation is Storified for you below.


  1. My 1st Question for @AS_King is where did the inspiration for GLORY come from? #SJYALit


  2. .@AS_King We chose this book for our #SJYALit discussion because of its discussion of women's rights & bodies. What does it mean to you now?


  3. .@AS_King How did the mummified bat powder taste when you drank it? Clearly you were able to see into 2017 pretty well. #SJYALit



  4. @TLT16 #SJYALit Hoo boy. Well, people would ask me where I came up with the future parts of the book and I'd be like: Um, look around. 1/?


  5. #sjyalit @AS_King After seeing the power of the #womensmarch, do u feel this is a good time or bad time for women? Wish I could see future!


  6. @TLT16 #SJYALit I didn't try to write about those things, but those things are important to me--so that's what comes out when I write.


  7. @TLT16 #SJYALit What it means to me now is: Come on. I'm still protesting for the same shit? Still?


  8. When I heard that the OK rep called women "hosts", a scene from GLORY came immediately to mind. It's eerie. @AS_King #SJYALit  https://twitter.com/zachjpayne/status/834920334469914624 …


  9. @AS_King I have been in a couple of marches recently and I saw a lot of older women carrying signs that said exactly this. #SJYALIt


  10. @shelfemployed #SJYALit The #womensmarch was amazing. Shows our strength. But our rights are being whittled once again. We must keep going.


  11. @shelfemployed #SJYALit I think things get better for women slowly. And none of us are safe if even one of us isn't.


  12. @TLT16 @AS_King #SJYALit just wanted to say I think your books are terrific, really great. You knock it out of the park!


  13. @ZachJPayne @TLT16 #SJYALit Believe me, Zach, I wish Nedrick and DJT were figments of my imagination. Neither are. Sad! (Sorry. Had to.)



  14. @TLT16 Yes. Hosts. Incubators. Eggshells, in a sense. I could poke holes in these theories all day long. #sjyalit


  15. @MizCrozet @TLT16 #SJYALit Thank you so much! I do try. I know I'm a bit weird, but then again, I always did.


  16. It's weird because they sexualize women, call us hosts, romanticize pregnancy, but don't want insurance to have to cover it. #SJYALit  https://twitter.com/AS_King/status/834922145725759488 …


  17. @shelfemployed #SJYALit Yes. I was a non-consumerist for 10 years as I lived self sufficiently on a farm in Ireland. Now, minimalist.



  18. @shelfemployed #SJYALit I just can't stand how we're all bought and sold. It was, in a way, how we ended up in the political sit we're in.



  19. I really appreciated the look at complicated friendships and not knowing what to do post-high school. #SJYALit


  20. #sjyalit @CiteSomething I never drank it, though. I do now have an impressive collection of bats people send me. But no drinking them.


  21. @TLT16 And it wasn't scary as much as it was disorienting. For years after that, I wondered WTAF I was doing on the planet. #SJYALit



  22. @AS_King If you figured it out, please tell me the secret. I still haven't. #SJYALit



  23. #sjyalit @AS_King With so much happening so quickly, what do you feel is the most urgent issue facing U.S. women and girls today?


  24. We are trying to be more experience focused vs. stuff focused here. But it's hard because teens & peer pressure and stuff. #SJYALit  https://twitter.com/AS_King/status/834925525026111488 …


  25. @TLT16 #sjyalit I think it's a daily thing. One day I'm here to be the best mother I can be. Next, a writer. Next, I'm back to WTAF.


  26. I find that teen readers are drawn to friendship stories because they are trying to navigate those just as much as romantic ones. #SJYALit  https://twitter.com/AS_King/status/834925656685314049 …



  27. As a mother, how open should we be raising teen daughters I wonder? I find that I am very. I want my kid to know she's normal. #SJYALIt  https://twitter.com/AS_King/status/834925903130034177 …


  28. @TLT16 I don't know. For me it changes every day with my teen. Honesty is good. Love is best. Understanding is key. But I HATE that our...


  29. @TLT16 I don't know. For me it changes every day with my teen. Honesty is good. Love is best. Understanding is key. But I HATE that our...


  30. @TLT16 ...girls don't feel normal. I think it's causing the rise in teen mood disorders and it's time to pay attention, not shame, you know?


  31. @TLT16 ...girls don't feel normal. I think it's causing the rise in teen mood disorders and it's time to pay attention, not shame, you know?


  32. @TLT16 Peer pressure is a bitch. That, I know...now that I have seen the interior of the principal's office one too many times this year.


  33. @TLT16 Peer pressure is a bitch. That, I know...now that I have seen the interior of the principal's office one too many times this year.


  34. I can't imagine how current political discussion are affecting both girl & boy perceptions of women. And they read it. #SJYALit  https://twitter.com/as_king/status/834927470402908160 …


  35. @TLT16 Glory is a feminist. But so is Ellie. People mis-define it. Skew it. They take its power away bc women scare the shit out of them.


  36. @TLT16 Glory is a feminist. But so is Ellie. People mis-define it. Skew it. They take its power away bc women scare the shit out of them.


  37. Like what must it feel like to be a 14yrold girl & hear policy makers say you are a host, not a person. #SJYALit  https://twitter.com/as_king/status/834927470402908160 …


  38. @TLT16 I'm a feminist, so all of my books are feminist. ANTS had the V. Monologues. Vera had...Vera. Crawl had So many things. Tornado...


  39. @TLT16 I'm a feminist, so all of my books are feminist. ANTS had the V. Monologues. Vera had...Vera. Crawl had So many things. Tornado...




  40. @TLT16 Also, I've never dreaded that word. The opposite is a proud denial of equal rights. Any definition that denies that is incorrect.


  41. @TLT16 Also, I've never dreaded that word. The opposite is a proud denial of equal rights. Any definition that denies that is incorrect.



  42. @TLT16 IDK. I can tell you what my 14yo said when I told her about the vagina glue story yesterday. "Did these get out of health class or??"


  43. @TLT16 IDK. I can tell you what my 14yo said when I told her about the vagina glue story yesterday. "Did these get out of health class or??"


  44. @TLT16 :) Thank you. I appreciate that as I toil away on the next YA.


  45. "We form. We shine. We burn. Kapow" may be my favorite words in YA ever. Says it all. So thanks for those. @AS_King #SJYALit



  46. @TLT16 I would v much love one of those buttons. And so would my mother.


  47. @CiteSomething Thank you. I was just talking to an astronomer this week and we geeked out about Sagan and I told her those words. She smiled


  48. @CiteSomething Thank you. I was just talking to an astronomer this week and we geeked out about Sagan and I told her those words. She smiled


  49. @indubitablyzara @CiteSomething Oh indeed. I have bats. Quite a few. They creep me out, but remind me that death and life are a second apart


  50. @indubitablyzara @CiteSomething Oh indeed. I have bats. Quite a few. They creep me out, but remind me that death and life are a second apart



  51. @TLT16 I love it. I've also been out of the loop the last 2 or so weeks--not out of choice but out of family crises. So I haven't seen many


  52. @TLT16 I love it. I've also been out of the loop the last 2 or so weeks--not out of choice but out of family crises. So I haven't seen many


  53. @shelfemployed In the works: A book. For 2018 all going well. Not quite sure how to explain it @ this point. It's weird. (As if.)


  54. @shelfemployed In the works: A book. For 2018 all going well. Not quite sure how to explain it @ this point. It's weird. (As if.)


  55. @TLT16 Glory O'Brien is a serious girl. She thinks seriously and isn't caught up in the consumerist world. She was the girl I wrote for me.


  56. @TLT16 Glory O'Brien is a serious girl. She thinks seriously and isn't caught up in the consumerist world. She was the girl I wrote for me.


  57. @TLT16 I'd never seen me in a book before. But she's there for you all, too, because you are not your hymen or your wardrobe. You are your..


  58. @TLT16 I'd never seen me in a book before. But she's there for you all, too, because you are not your hymen or your wardrobe. You are your..



  59. @TLT16 BRAIN and your heart and your sense of humor. Do what you want to do. In make up. Or not. In heels. Or not. Just be comfortable.


  60. @TLT16 BRAIN and your heart and your sense of humor. Do what you want to do. In make up. Or not. In heels. Or not. Just be comfortable.


  61. @TLT16 Because the world makes it uncomfortable for us every day, so at least be comfortable in yourself. (And smash the patriarchy.)


  62. @TLT16 Because the world makes it uncomfortable for us every day, so at least be comfortable in yourself. (And smash the patriarchy.)


  63. @AS_King I can't wait! #SJYALIT That's why I never wrote a review of GLORY.Too hard to explain. In the #library, it's usually "hand-sold." 🙂


  64. @TLT16 Thank you so much for having this chat with me. I appreciate your support.


  65. @TLT16 Thank you so much for having this chat with me. I appreciate your support.


  66. I love @AS_King and thank you so much for your time tonight! Everyone read GLORY O'BRIEN if you haven't'. Thank you for your time! #SJYALit



  67. I will storify the #SJYALit chat with @AS_King Tomorrow and I'll put it on TLT

    Publisher's Book Description:

    In this masterpiece about freedom, feminism, and destiny, Printz Honor author A.S. King tells the epic story of a girl coping with devastating loss at long last–a girl who has no idea that the future needs her, and that the present needs her even more.
    Graduating from high school is a time of limitless possibilities–but not for Glory, who has no plan for what’s next. Her mother committed suicide when Glory was only four years old, and she’s never stopped wondering if she will eventually go the same way…until a transformative night when she begins to experience an astonishing new power to see a person’s infinite past and future. From ancient ancestors to many generations forward, Glory is bombarded with visions–and what she sees ahead of her is terrifying: A tyrannical new leader raises an army. Women’s rights disappear. A violent second civil war breaks out. And young girls vanish daily, sold off or interned in camps. Glory makes it her mission to record everything she sees, hoping her notes will somehow make a difference. She may not see a future for herself, but she’ll do anything to make sure this one doesn’t come to pass.

 

“Not for Everyone”: The continuing marginalization of LGBTQ literature for kids, a guest post by M.G. Hennessey

sjyalitToday we are happy to share this post from author M.G. Hennessey as part of our Social Justice in YA Lit Project. Her book, The Other Boy, came out in 2016 and is about 12-year-old Shane, who is transgender. You can find out more about the #SJYALit Project here or by searching the hashtag here at TLT.

 

 

 

RUN“The story contains many references to Bo being bisexual and an abundance of bad language, so it is recommended for mature junior and senior high readers.”

 

This dire warning was part of a review for Kody Keplinger’s book Run. Bad language aside, the implication in the review is that the mere presence of a bisexual character is reason enough to steer clear. On Tumblr, author Tristina Wright summarized it nicely by saying, “When you tell children that mentions of bisexuality in a YA book require[s] a content warning, you tell them they are something Other. That their orientation is something to be ashamed of, to warn others about, that they’re not good. That they’re wrong and unacceptable.”

 

I read a wide range of young adult literature, and never once have I been warned off a book because of heterosexual characters behaving in a heterosexual manner. This disparity exists because of the mistaken perception that LGBTQ themed books are really about sex, not personal identity. There seems to be a double standard when it comes to LGBTQ themed literature. Consider this: Wonder was not specifically marketed toward kids with mandibulofacial dysostosis, and The Crossover wasn’t simply intended for African-American children. So why are stories about LGBTQ children often treated differently?

 

Books like Run aspire to achieve the sort of mainstream acceptance that Wonder and The Crossover have. Yet all too frequently, they end up on the LGBTQ shelf in libraries and bookstores. That’s not to say that they don’t belong there, but they should also be shelved with other new releases. And that’s still rarely the case. After all, you don’t see many “People of Color” or “Differently-Abled Character” themed tables in the same stores. And the sad truth is that many cisgender, heterosexual children do not gravitate toward the LGBTQ table, because they simply don’t think it applies to them. So essentially, these books are being held back from most of the population.

 

While in the past couple of years there has been a positive move toward publishing more diverse books for kids, on a wider range of themes, this type of ghettoization remains a problem. The “We Need Diverse Books” movement has nudged the industry in the right direction, but until reviewers and other gatekeepers catch up, it remains a partial victory.

 

other boyI experienced something similar with The Other Boy, the story of a transgender boy who gets outed after living stealth. Kirkus concluded their review with, “This is the story with a triumphant-but-realistic ending that trans kids haven’t had enough of.” Frankly, I cringed. It was exactly what I’d been afraid of; that a book about a transgender boy’s struggles would be regarded as only appropriate for kids exactly like him. While I’m delighted that transgender and gender expansive kids can see themselves reflected in my main character, that’s not the primary reason I wrote the book. My larger hope was that it would provide a window into the life of a transgender boy for all kids; after all, the bullying he suffers as a result is something most of them can relate to. And being transgender is not the only challenge he confronts over the course of the story; he also has to navigate divorced parents, his first crush, and issues with his best friend. These are all struggles that should speak to the vast majority of tweens.

 

The assumption seems to be that the mainstream population isn’t interested in these types of stories; that despite the merits of a book, it doesn’t deserve a widespread audience sheerly because of its content.

 

I’d hoped we’d be past this by now, but the Run incident and my own personal experience have proven otherwise. I’d recommend that book reviewers take a moment to replace “bisexual” or “transgender” with “hetero” or “African American,” and see if it reads as offensive. If our goal is to open kids’ eyes to the wider world, to help them to understand and empathize with characters whose lives and experiences might differ from their own, then books that deal thoughtfully with those themes should be accorded the same level of respect and treatment as Wonder. “Try kindness” is not something that’s limited to one particular group; it’s something we should all aspire to. And until books with LGBTQ characters receive the same treatment as the Dork Diaries, we will not have achieved full equality.

 

Meet M.G. Hennessey

M.G. Hennessey is the author of The Other Boy, an upper middle grade debut about a 12 yo transgender boy who is living stealth after his transition. Described by Transparent creator Jill Soloway as, “A terrific read for all ages,” The Other Boy won a spot on the Rainbow List as one of the best LGBTQ-themed novels of 2017. M.G. is an ally and supporter of the Transgender Law Center, Gender Spectrum, and the Human Rights Campaign; she also volunteers at the Los Angeles LGBT Center. She lives in Los Angeles. (She/Her)

#SJYALIt: Socio-Economic Diversity in YA Lit

As part of our Social Justice in YA Lit Project, we are inviting guest bloggers to share their thoughts, feelings, books, programs and more. Today, Rachael Allen and Sarah Lemon are discussing socio-economic diversity in YA lit.

I remember sitting in sophomore English and hating Holden Caufield. This kid had every advantage, but he was failing out of some fancy prep school, and we had to listen to him whine about it for 214 pages, while we jumped through academic hoops and wondered if we’d ever be able to scrape together enough for college and a ticket to a new life*. In a sea of books with middle and upper middle class main characters, I desperately wanted books about kids like me.

I still want those books.

sjyalit

So, I was really excited when Sarah Lemon agreed to write a list of “Favorite YA’s with Socioeconomic Diversity” with me. Here are our recs:

Rachael’s Recs:

socio1DREAM THINGS TRUE by Marie Marquardt

Evan and Alma are from two different worlds, but you can’t read this book without rooting for them to be together. My favorite parts were Alma’s big, warm Mexican family, seeing her life juxtaposed against Evan’s privileged one, and the intersection of living in a lower income family and being an undocumented immigrant. I’m embarrassed to admit how little I knew about immigration before reading this book, and it’s clear Marie Marquardt is an expert. She’s also an expert at weaving all of this information into the narrative effortlessly – it’s rare to find a book that you devour that also opens your mind with every page.

socio2NO PLACE TO FALL by Jaye Robin Brown

This book has stunningly beautiful descriptions of Appalachia and characters that you won’t be able to get out of your head, but my absolute favorite part is Amber’s spirit. Sometimes it seems like all the kids who don’t have a lot of money are hard and angry and cynical – and sometimes that’s true to life, but sometimes it isn’t. Some people remain dreamers no matter the situation, and that’s why Amber was such a breath of fresh air. She’s a girl who brings brownies to travelers on the Appalachian Trail so she can hear their stories, who keeps a map tacked to her bedroom wall, who’s going to sing her way out of her small town. And I love her for it.

socio5ELEANOR AND PARK by Rainbow Rowell

The first time I read this book, I ugly cried at lunch. The second time, I knew better than to read it in public.

I love this book for so many reasons. Because Rainbow Rowell can make you feel like holding someone’s hand on the bus is everything. Because this was the first time I saw my childhood mirrored in a book, and it meant so much it made me cry. And because poor kids and misfits deserve epic love stories too.

Things that were particularly well done: Never having quite enough of anything (food, clothes, etc.). Eleanor keeps a wooden crate with fancy markers and things in the top of her closet. The idea that a crate that fruit came in is an item to be treasured is something I really connected with. Also, the idea of not wanting to share something because it’s your only nice thing. The idea that a song or a comic or a book can be the thing that gets you through because it helps you escape, even for a minute. Also, bad stepdads, and moms who sacrifice their children for a guy they just met, and wanting to get out of your house so badly, and founding members, and feeling like you carry the burden of your parents’ mistakes directly on your shoulders.

Note: For another perspective, see Ellen Oh’s critique of this book.

socio6THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN by Sherman Alexie

This book is hilarious. And very sad. Often at the same time. I loved Alexie’s voice and wit, his portrayal of life on a reservation, and the way he challenges stereotypes. Arnold such a smart, funny kid, and it was really fun to spend a book inside his head. I really liked that he wanted to use school as a vehicle to get someplace else (he gets his parents to allow him to attend a school outside the reservation). I thought the parts of the book where Arnold acclimates to the fancy high school in the next town over, feeling like you have to hide your poor, the flack he catches back home, were very well done. Also, Arnold’s thoughts about tribes and belonging and life make me want to read this book again and again and again.

morehappythannotMORE HAPPY THAN NOT by Adam Silvera

I know the Bronx is a far cry from a small Georgia town, but I feel like Adam Silvera captured a piece of my childhood with this book – the parts about spending hours and hours outside with the neighborhood kids playing games you made up (and, yeah, maybe it’s because you don’t have a lot of money, but it’s also because it’s really freaking fun). And then there’s the part where Aaron can’t afford to buy the comic. I full on sobbed reading this scene. I wanted to reach through the pages and hug him and say, “I’ve been there, buddy. It’ll be okay, I promise.” This book has important things to say about being gay in a poor community. It also has a love story that will squeeze your heart, and a twist that totally punched me in the face (I was legit embarrassed I didn’t see it coming – I am usually so good at guessing twists).

My favorite part, though, was the love between Aaron and his mother. She’s a nurse, and she works her butt off, and she’s an amazing mom. I just loved that. Because here’s a thing – good people, smart people, loving people can still be poor. I get so frustrated when the media makes all the stories with poverty have parents who are alcoholics and drug addicts and bad people who make worse decisions. And it’s not that you won’t find people like that out there in real life, but when those are the only stories we tell, it gets so easy to imagine that every person who lives their life below middle class deserves to be there because of their own bad choices, and that simply isn’t true. So, yeah, I loved Aaron’s mom quite a lot.

socio7WHEN WE COLLIDED by Emery Lord

Jonah’s story is different from the others on my list. When his dad died, his family was plunged into a completely different financial situation. This happens to lots of families for lots of reasons – divorce, death, family illness and mounting medical bills. I think it’s important to show that having a low income is not always a permanent state. I think Lord does an excellent job of painting a picture of what this change is like for Jonah and his family. Everyone had to make sacrifices. Everyone had to grow up a little faster. Jonah and his two older siblings have to become insta-adults overnight. This is a reality for so many kids – having to be an adult before your time – and I loved the portrayal of it here. Also, Jonah has a heart of gold, and the love story is amazing, and this book has beautiful and important things to say about mental health, so. Read it.

socio8SHINE by Lauren Myracle

Myracle does the South like nobody else, and SHINE is no exception. This book captures every good and every gritty piece that makes up Cat and Patrick’s rural North Carolina town – small mindedness and homophobia, moonshine, church ladies, small town politics, grandmothers who can make almost anything better, sweeping class differences, gossip, meth, and the hate crime that Cat is desperate to solve. I love that the characters are so complex – never all good or all bad – even for the characters you expect to be completely unredeemable. I also loved Cat and Patrick’s friendship.

socio9JUST VISITING by Dahlia Adler

I have a special love for books with friendships that have all the power of a love story. This is one of those books. Reagan and Victoria mean everything to each other – they’re each other’s support system in their small town. And for Reagan, who lives in a trailer park and is fighting like anything to go to college, their friendship is the thing that refills her well, that feeds her toughness. Sometimes one person believing in you is the thing that changes all the other things, and I loved how Adler painted these two girls and their relationship. I ship them harder than any star-crossed lovers.

Sarah’s Recs:

socio10SUCH A RUSH by Jennifer Echols

It’s a principal of poverty—if you want to do something cool, you must try and weasel your way into a job that gives you access. For Leah Jones it means a job at a small, private airport until she works her way into flying advertising banners over her beach town. Leah’s home and economic situation have an impact on her life, but it’s not the story. The story is Leah gets to have a hot angsty romance. That is genuinely precious when we’re talking about books with kids in poverty. I highlighted this particular title, but many of Echol’s books involve lower to middle class protagonists. They’re smart, diverse, hilarious, and everyone gets to have hot romances. Teenage me, needed that.

socio11THE SMELL OF OTHER PEOPLE’S HOUSES by Bonnie Sue Hitchcock

This book surprised me. It has a beautiful, but sort-of snoozy cover. A beautiful, but sort-of snoozy title. I got it from the library and it sat around. Once I started reading it, I was hooked. This is an Alaskan book. Oh-so-Alaskan. Centering on four very different teens in the 1970’s, the book captures Alaska’s unique perspective by capturing the unique diversity and commonalities of the character’s experiences as Alaskans. My sister lives in Alaska, so I’m familiar with this difference every time I have to listen forty minutes of talk about the salmon run. The Native representation (“I’m Athabascan!”) is not to be devalued here, in my opinion, because it shows a broad range of families and a nuanced portrayal of non mono-lithic indigenous culture. Not just the stereotype, and not just the ideal minority. It shows modern Native families, in the minutiae of living as modern Alaskan natives. Again, poverty is depicted throughout (both white and non-white families) without being the focal point.

Note: For another perspective, see Debbie Reese’s critique of this book.

socio13THE SERPENT KING by Jeff Zentner

Being poor and religious is often like getting beat with two bats at once. As a child, having religious parents means you might not have access to things like supplemental food stamps, WIC assistance, or school lunches. It can also mean, if you are disenfranchised from your religious community, you have no alternative means of support. This is Dill’s situation. And the grace and care with which Zentner handles Dill’s situation is one that will always remain special to me. Poverty and religious issues are things easily exploited for plot gains, and Zentner resists that pitfall.

Note: Rachael jumping in to say I am in love with this book too and wholeheartedly recommend it! Even if it did break me.

socio14AFTER THE FALL by Kate Hart

I was so excited to read this book by a fellow 2017 debut author. One of my favorite things is how Raychel “on paper” is a stereotype (white, poor, southern, has a “reputation”, child of a single mother, also with a reputation, living in a trailer) and through Hart’s excellent storytelling and prose, we see a complex, dynamic individual that I recognize immediately as being of my own kind. That Raychel’s survival is not exploited is doubly important when talking about this book, due to the content of sexual assault.

socio12SALVAGE THE BONES by Jesmyn Ward

This is not a YA book, but I feel like teenage me would have needed this book, would have been broken over this book in a way all the Sarah Dessen novels in the world could have never broken me (no offense to Sarah Dessen! All the love for Sarah Dessen! How many times can I say Sarah Dessen?). The plot of this book follows a teenage girl who is grappling with the knowledge she is pregnant, while keeping track of her family (which includes their pitbull who just had puppies), as Hurricane Katrina forms and moves into their Louisiana existence. The language of this books is the language I speak—the flip between country talk and words you’ve read, can use, and can’t pronounce. There are SO. MANY. INDICATORS of authentic rural poverty here—the ramen (if you know what I’m talking about seriously, we’re friends for life), the outdoors, the boys, the relationship with your animals, and the recognition of kinship between girl and bitch. The thing that truly makes me want to classify this as crossover YA, is that it doesn’t carry the hopelessness and despair adult books often carry. Hope remains. Hope that does not depend on a change of circumstances. This book maintains that hope even until the last pages, where fate is left still unknown, the way it truly is to a fifteen-year-old girl, regardless of her present circumstances.

socio15CRAZY HORSE’S EX-GIRLFRIEND by Erika T. Wurth

My personal opinion is that this is actually darker than SALVAGE THE BONES, but this one is categorized as YA. (I know why, I just…………*shrug*). This book follows Margaritte, a seventeen-year-old Native American (Apache, Chickasaw, Cherokee, and white) looking at the cycle of poverty, abuse, despair and drug abuse without necessarily being able to escape it. The level of nuance here—in both recognizing the cycle, repeating the cycle, condemning the cycle and condoning the cycle—is so authentically real. Even when poverty itself is removed from a teen or an adult, the cycle of poverty (or abuse, etc.) is not and this book depicts that cycle so vividly, without ever quite losing hope for Margaritte. In the end, the circumstances worsen but the hope rises, which again….real for days, man. REAL. FOR. DAYS.

Given the current state of our nation, I think it’s more important than ever for us to read diverse and #ownvoices books, to plunk ourselves into the worlds of marginalized people so we can decrease our ignorance and increase our empathy. I think socioeconomic diversity is a type of diversity that is often overlooked, and my hope is that there will be more and more stories that feature these characters, stories that show a range of the spectrum of life that is not middle and upper class, and stories that show class intersected with other types of marginalization.

What books are you reading that show socioeconomic diversity? What are you hoping to see in the future?

*Before everyone gets mad, I have read THE CATCHER IN THE RYE as a grown up, and I realize I missed a few things.

Meet Our Guest Bloggers

Rachael Allen
Rachael Allen lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband, two children, and two sled dogs. In addition to being a YA writer, she’s a mad scientist, a rabid Falcons fan, an expert dare list maker, and a hugger. Rachael is the author of THE REVENGE PLAYBOOK and 17 FIRST KISSES (HarperTeen).
Sarah Nicole Lemon
Born and raised in the Appalachians, Sarah Nicole Lemon spent the first fifteen years of her life doing nothing but reading and playing outside, and has yet to outgrow either. When not writing, you can find her drinking iced coffee in a half-submerged beach chair near her home in southern Maryland. Sarah is the author of the forthcoming DONE DIRT CHEAP (Amulet, March 2017).

 

More on Hunger and Poverty at TLT

Hunger and Poverty

Additional Sources:

Social Mobility:

Cycles of Poverty:

How Poverty Affects Schools:

#SJYALit Hello, I’m Your Social Justice Librarian, a guest post by Perlita Payne

sjyalitI became the Social Justice Librarian at Alameda County Library in September. I had gotten my MLIS the year before while working for many years at a health center in an urban high school. After graduation, I was an hourly Reference Librarian at a couple of public library systems including the one that I now work for full-time. I have always worked to create safe and welcoming spaces for those at the intersections of marginalized communities be they young people, those who have been incarcerated or detained, people of color, immigrants, women, LGBTQ, and people with disabilities. I am also a proud member of these communities.

Alameda County is the seventh largest county in the State of California with 14 incorporated and unincorporated cities and a population of 1.5 million (“About”). At Social Justice Services (SJS), we provide library services and programs at the adult jails (Santa Rita and Glenn Dyer), Juvenile Justice Center (JJC), Camp Sweeney (minimum security residential program for young men), and three social services sites that are part of our Pop-Up Library Services for Everyone (PULSE) Program. At the adult jails, right now, we have bookcarts and/or bookshelves at each housing units that we replenish throughout the month. Inmates can also fill out request forms for books and magazines that they would like and we fulfill them as appropriate. We also have a family program called “Start With a Story” (SWAS) during visitations on the weekends. Our SWAS volunteers give brand new picture books to and do storytimes with the children waiting to visit their incarcerated parents and/or guardians. At juvenile hall and Camp Sweeney, we have a library at each of these sites with a Librarian on duty providing scheduled services every week. Similar to the adult jails, we also have bookshelves at each of the housing units that the Librarian replenishes. We also have a poetry writing program at Camp Sweeney run by library staff.  At each of our Pop-Up Library Services (PULSE) sites, we have a book vending machine that holds over 200 books at any given time and these are replenished by staff throughout the month. Our PULSE patrons suffer from chronic homelessness and for many reasons they find it challenging to get to a brick-and-mortar library and sign up for traditional library services, and so we bring the library to them via our book vending machines.

I am charged with creating programs and events for all of our sites. For the sake of TLT, I will just talk about my work with teens.

The Juvenile Justice Center (JJC) is a detention center for up to 358 minors. Camp Sweeney is a rehabilitative, minimum security, residential program for up to 50 young men 15-19 years old (“Probation”). With changes in sentencing laws and options other than detention (e.g., electronic monitoring), the number of teens have gone down at each of these sites.

At JJC, I meet monthly with the probation officer in charge of programs and our embedded Librarian to discuss programs and needs. We are very fortunate to be located in the San Francisco Bay Area, where there are many organizations and individuals who volunteer at JJC to carry out programs ranging from yoga to beats-making classes. There is a school at JJC and the teens attend classes during the week. The probation officer in charge of programs has access to the school calendar and I work closely with her to schedule the programs during the school day.

In December, she had requested a program during intersession. Using a vendor from the County Art Commission, I was able to bring a pop-up greeting card program to JJC. Although the date that the art vendor had available was after Christmas, the skills that the teens picked up can still be used to make other kinds of greeting cards throughout the year. Every performer and artists need to fill out a Visitor’s Request form that get processed by JJC. For the art vendor, I also needed to get her materials approved. She sent me a list of the items that she would like to bring. I also asked her to hold on to this same list and check it when the class ends to make sure she has all of them. If there’s anything missing, of course, there will be a search and that’s never anything we would want. For card making, we were allowed to bring kids scissors with rounded ends, colored pens, ink stamps, and a selection of shape punches. The vendor put in a last minute request to bring one pair of scissors with a pointed edge for her personal use only. I emailed the probation officer with fingers crossed and thankfully, this was approved.

Crafting was a big hit for the teens and also the officers assisting that day. Outside of shadowing Andrew, our embedded Librarian, while he made the rounds through the housing units, this was the first time I had been with the teens for an extended amount of time.  And you know what? Teens are teens wherever they might be. They came shuffling in looking uninterested, bored and left with finished pieces that I almost mistook for the art vendor’s samples. They crowded around the punches to make shapes like stars, horses, and crowns, all the while exclaiming how “tight” their pieces were going to be. For an hour and a half we were all in an art class and their creativity was limitless. I heard much laughter and banter among the teens. Of course, when class was over, we were back to reality: we had to count the materials to make sure what we had was exactly what we came in with. Everything counted out right and the teens left after we thanked them for participating. I heard from the probation officer that the teens were really proud of the cards they made and some of the officers who were there that day showed the teens in the housing units that didn’t get to attend how to make the cards. All of these were heartening to hear. And I have since booked the art vendor to come back for three more classes! We need more opportunities for art everywhere but especially at JJC.

In February, at JJC, we will be celebrating Black History Month by having Kirk Waller, a local storyteller, to perform to four housing units which can mean up to 80 teens attending. I also have scheduled Aya De Leon, a spoken word artist and Dr. Joseph Marshall, an author who’s been at the forefront of violence prevention conversations in the San Francisco Bay Area. In the Summer, we will be working with Dave Egger’s non-profit, Voice of Witness and 826 Valencia on a memoir writing workshop at all of our sites as a way to give space to and amplify marginalized voices. I am currently taking a MakerSpace workshop class and I have plans on creating a MakerSpace at JJC. I don’t know what our MakerSpace will look like yet but Andrew and I have been talking about teaching podcasting and starting a podcast with the teens. I’m also looking at bringing in Girls Who Code because they rock and why not? I have a lot cooking here at JJC and I’m so very excited about every bit of it.

I’ve been thinking about books that might be helpful for folks who do not work with patrons who are in detention. The truth is, many of our patrons may have been in detention when they were young or know someone who is or has been in detention. Their stories have been made invisible because of shame and the stigma of having been incarcerated or detained. When I accepted my position, I read Jimmy Santiago Baca’s autobiography “A Place to Stand”. Growing up, Baca was in and out of jail and spent 5 years in prison for drug charges. His accounting of life in prison as a young Latino is harrowing. I have noticed that many juvenile hall libraries carry this book because it is inspiring that during Baca’s time in prison, he was able to teach himself how to read and became the great poet that he is now. I also read Richard Ross’s “Girls in Justice” which is a photo book focused on young women in detention around the country (the County that I work for is featured in it). It is a sobering, heartbreaking book with pictures that are meant to be pored over slowly so as to be respectful of the teen in detention brave enough to be part of the project. I’ve also read “Pushed Out” by Monique Morris which is focused on the effects of the school to prison pipeline on African-American girls. This book goes well with Marc Lamont Hill’s “Nobody” which covers police shootings in Ferguson and the Black Lives Matter movement. And I have to include Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Between The World & Me” because the author wrote it with so much sincerity to his teenage son. It is a kind of manual on how to thrive as a Black Man in American in spite of racism and State violence. I also found books about queer and trans people in prison, one is by Dean Spade’s “Normal Life” and the other is “Captive Genders” edited by Eric Stanley. I found particularly powerful Wesley Ware’s article about the struggles of queer and trans youth in juvenile halls in Louisiana. It is such a great time for publishing right now and so many excellent books are coming out. These are just mere starting points.

IMG_1307References

“About Alameda County ” https://www.acgov.org/about/

“Probation Department” http://www.acgov.org/probation/ji.htm

“Social Justice Services” http://www.aclibrary.org/content/social-justice-services

Dr. Bully, a guest post by M.G. Hennessey

sjyalitToday we are happy to share this post from author M.G. Hennessey as part of our Social Justice in YA Lit Project. Her book, The Other Boy, came out in 2016 and is about 12-year-old Shane, who is transgender. You can find out more about the #SJYALit Project here or by searching the hashtag here at TLT.

 

 

Kyler Prescott’s mother Katharine did everything right. When her thirteen-year-old child came out to her, announcing that he was a boy, not a girl, she said, “You know what? I love you no matter what. Whatever we need to do, I will always support you.” She took him for a haircut, bought him boys’ clothes, and helped legally change his name and gender marker on his birth certificate.

 

A little more than a year later, her son was dead. Despite her support, Kyler suffered from body dysphoria, a common condition in transgender children, where a person feels a mismatch between the body they were born with and their personal identity. Medical intervention can help, in the form of hormone blockers and injections; Kyler was on blockers for a few months, but had yet to start his testosterone injections.

 

After some painful experiences, her son was in crisis, so Katharine checked him into the psychiatry unit at Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego on a 72-hour hold.

 

Unfortunately, at the hospital, Kyler was traumatized rather than helped. Despite the gender markers on his medical records, and Katharine’s insistence that he be referred to with male pronouns, nurses and other hospital employees persistently misgendered Kyler during his stay. One employee even said, “Honey, I would call you a ‘he,’ but you’re such a pretty girl.” Katharine became so alarmed that after only twenty-four hours she asked the hospital to release Kyler.

 

Sadly, stories like these are all too common for the parents of transgender children. Karena * in Missouri was shocked when their pediatrician, who had been treating her eight-year-old affirmed boy since he was a toddler, announced during a check-up, “You’re going to grow girl parts because that’s what God wants, and there’s nothing you can do.” This is patently untrue: with hormone blockers and hormone therapy, a transgender child can safely undergo the puberty of their affirmed gender; all that doctor had to do was turn on the television to see trans teen Jazz Jennings doing just that. And yet instead she attempted to shame an eight-year-old into thinking there was something wrong with his sense of self.

 

We’ve been taught to put our faith in medical professionals: after all, they’ve spent years studying and training for their job. We tell our children to trust them. But what happens when that trust is misplaced, especially when the consequences can be fatal? A study by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Williams Institute found that 41 percent of transgender people try to kill themselves at some point in their lives, compared to 4.6 percent of the population as a whole. Imagine facing that statistic as a parent: nearly a fifty-fifty chance that your child might attempt suicide. Now imagine doing everything right, and still losing your child because people in respected positions, people your child was supposed to be able to trust, undermined your efforts.

 

The Hippocratic Oath states, “First, do no harm.” But the doctor who shamed Karen’s son, and the nurse who intentionally used the wrong pronouns with Kyler, were clearly not following that oath.

 

Even less glaring cases are potentially damaging. “When I told our pediatrician that our daughter was actually our son,” said Sarah*, “Her face lit up and she said, ‘You’re my first!’ ‘First what?’ my seven-year-old asked, puzzled. ‘First…y’know,’ she said, looking flustered. Then she basically fumbled through the rest of the exam, and asked if we were doing a surgery anytime soon. My son left the office terrified. I was shocked that she had so little information. And apparently her staff hadn’t told her that he was transgender, even though I’d called in advance.”

 

Statistics on how many transgender and gender variant children currently live in the United States remain elusive, but the best estimate is that around one percent of adolescents don’t fully identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. While that sounds like a small percentage of the population, it’s almost the same as the number of redheads in the United States. Or, to frame it medically, about one in a hundred kids has celiac disease; in the last few decades, though, most doctors have learned to discuss and treat gluten allergies without belittling, embarrassing or stigmatizing their patients. The transgender/gender variant population is particularly vulnerable, though, with a heightened risk of self-harm. So it’s critical that the medical professionals who treat these children be aware of the unique issues confronting them. Bridging that gap is literally a matter of life and death.

 

There are an increasing number of clinics that specialize in treating transgender and gender variant children: Childrens’ Hospital of Los Angeles has one of the most prominent ones, led by Dr. Johanna Olson-Kennedy. But for every one of those, there are hundreds of doctors with little or no experience with treating transgender children, and a dearth of resources for parents who are trying to get the best care for their children. A knowledgeable, informed doctor is a critical part of the equation.

 

In a conversation with Caitlyn Jenner on her show, “I Am Cait,” Katharine Prescott said that many people assume Kyler was bullied by other children. But that wasn’t really the case. “Really, where he had the most problems was with adults not understanding.” We ask our children not to bully and victimize their peers; should we ask any less of the caregivers who treat them?

 

*Name changed per the request of the interviewee

 

Meet M.G. Hennessey

M.G. Hennessey is the author of The Other Boy, an upper middle grade debut about a 12 yo transgender boy who is living stealth after his transition. Described by Transparent creator Jill Soloway as, “A terrific read for all ages,” The Other Boy won a spot on the Rainbow List as one of the best LGBTQ-themed novels of 2017. M.G. is an ally and supporter of the Transgender Law Center, Gender Spectrum, and the Human Rights Campaign; she also volunteers at the Los Angeles LGBT Center. She lives in Los Angeles. (She/Her)

“Nevertheless, She Persisted” A Take 5 List, plus 1

IMG_4145Last night, Senator Elizabeth Warren was warned, then given an explanation, but neverthelessshe persisted in reading the words of another woman who was warned, given an explanation, and persisted: Coretta Scott King. In honor and in recognition of these and other women who, despite warning and explanation, persist in their efforts, we offer you this list of persistent young women.

 

 

 

Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith

Book cover: against the backdrop of a cloudy sky with planes overhead, a young woman in pilot garb faces forward with her eyes looking skyward

Ida Mae Jones dreams of flight. Her daddy was a pilot and being black didn’t stop him from fulfilling his dreams. But her daddy’s gone now, and being a woman, and being black, are two strikes against her.

When America enters the war with Germany and Japan, the Army creates the WASP, the Women Airforce Service Pilots – and Ida suddenly sees a way to fly as well as do something significant to help her brother stationed in the Pacific. But even the WASP won’t accept her as a black woman, forcing Ida Mae to make a difficult choice of “passing,” of pretending to be white to be accepted into the program. Hiding one’s racial heritage, denying one’s family, denying one’s self is a heavy burden. And while Ida Mae chases her dream, she must also decide who it is she really wants to be. (Publisher description)

Dime by E.R. Frank

Book cover: black bricks in the shape of a D over a red background reveal the profile of a young girl looking resolutely aheadLost in Newark, New Jersey’s foster care system, Dime is persuaded into sexual slavery by a sweet talking older man. The family-like dynamic of their home is appealing for a time, and the services she is forced to perform seem the understandable price to pay for such safety and security. But her eyes are opened to the grave reality of her situation when Lollipop, a new, younger girl is brought in and the incomprehensibly awful truth of her situation is revealed. Dime takes solace and strength in the written word and stops at nothing to seek safety and justice for Lollipop, even as she understands that there might not be a way out for herself.

 

 

Evolution, Me, and Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande

Book cover: spiral bound notebook paper shows the book title in loopy scriptSpeaking up is hard. It’s even harder when speaking up for what you know is right loses you friends, family, and your church. Mena starts school as a pariah after standing up to the minister of her church in defense of a gay peer. She knows she did the right thing, but everyone around her is telling her it’s wrong.

Ten Days a Madwoman by Deborah Noyes

Book cover: a photograph of Nellie Bly wearing a high necked lace collar and looking forward, stylized in a deep teal

Young Nellie Bly had ambitious goals, especially for a woman at the end of the nineteenth century, when the few female journalists were relegated to writing columns about cleaning or fashion. But fresh off a train from Pittsburgh, Nellie knew she was destined for more and pulled a major journalistic stunt that skyrocketed her to fame: feigning insanity, being committed to the notorious asylum on Blackwell’s Island, and writing a shocking exposé of the clinic’s horrific treatment of its patients.

Nellie Bly became a household name as the world followed her enthralling career in “stunt” journalism that raised awareness of political corruption, poverty, and abuses of human rights. (Publisher’s description)

I Am Malala
Book cover: Malala Yousafzai wears a magenta hijab and looks at the camera with an expression that is peaceful and resolute

Do we even need to explain this one?

 

And because we just can’t get enough women who persist…

Rad Women Worldwide

Book cover: Black and white illustrations in front of bold swaths of red, teal, and orange, depict a soccer player with a ponytail, Malala Yousafzai, and Frida Kahlo

From the authors of the New York Times bestselling book Rad American Women A-Z, comes a bold new collection of 40 biographical profiles, each accompanied by a striking illustrated portrait, showcasing extraordinary women from around the world.

In Rad Women Worldwide, writer Kate Schatz and artist Miriam Klein Stahl tell fresh, engaging, and inspiring tales of perseverance and radical success by pairing well researched and riveting biographies with powerful and expressive cut-paper portraits. Featuring an array of diverse figures from Hatshepsut (the great female king who ruled Egypt peacefully for two decades) and Malala Yousafzi (the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize) to Poly Styrene (legendary teenage punk and lead singer of X-Ray Spex) and Liv Arnesen and Ann Bancroft (polar explorers and the first women to cross Antarctica), this progressive and visually arresting book is a compelling addition to women’s history.

Love and Justice: What I’ve learned from those seeking refuge in the U.S., a guest post by author Marie Marquardt

Today we are very honored to be talking with author Marie Marquardt about her work with Latin American immigrant families for the Social Justice in YA Lit Project. Her book, The Radius of Us, is very timely given recent events happening here in the United States. You can find out more about the #SJYALit Project here or by searching the hashtag here at TLT.

sjyalit

Justice lives in my neck of the woods.

I have the great honor of being a resident of Georgia’s Fifth Congressional District, currently represented by the beloved Civil Rights hero and U.S. Congressman John Lewis.

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In Atlanta, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was born, spent much of his life, and was buried, we take our national Civil Rights heroes very seriously. I can barely contain my pride in going to the ballot box to vote for Rep. Lewis.  Every time I tick off his name, which I have done in many elections, it makes me almost giddy. One of our family’s great treasures is a photograph of my family with Rep. Lewis at the Martin Luther King National Memorial. A few years ago, Rep. Lewis showed up unannounced on MLK day to meet those who had come to honor and remember his friend. We were among them.

Like many proud Americans, I often feel betrayed, disgusted and dismayed by our current political climate. When I learned that our new president made disparaging comments about Rep. Lewis and his commitment to my district, I wanted to throw things, hit someone, kick and scream and fight and, well, hate.

But, dang. That would be about the worst possible approach to honoring and carrying forward the example of John Lewis, a consistent advocate for the philosophy of nonviolence.

Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate.

Nonviolence loves without ceasing – which is at the heart of justice. In the vision of the Beloved Community, which Rep. Lewis works so hard to build, justice is understood as an expression of love. This love is not physical desire, not the affection between friends who share a great deal in common, but the unselfish, unmotivated, spontaneous self-giving love that springs forth from recognizing the spark of the divine, which is present in each one of us.

For the past twenty years I worked with immigrants in Georgia. Most are undocumented, and some are asylum-seekers who have made incredibly difficult journeys to the United States. They all made these journeys because they believed America is a place of refuge, a peaceful nation guided by such enduring values as fairness, equality, and the rule of law. Even in the face of clear injustices – blatant discrimination, inconsistent treatment in the courts – they have astounded me with their steadfast desire to participate in American life, to become American.  In fact, they have taught me to see my own nation through new eyes, to affirm and celebrate our core values.

During this time, not only have I written academic books and articles about these immigrants, I also have advocated alongside them, served them, and – most importantly – developed deep and lasting friendships with them.  These days, I spend a good deal of time visiting immigrants and asylum seekers in detention. This work is difficult and heartbreaking, but it’s some of the most important and life-affirming work that I do. In our visits, and in my work with their families and friends, we build profound connections grounded in love.

I share my stories and they share theirs. We cry together, celebrate together, fear and rage together. We connect across vast, power-laden differences. And by connecting, we do not erase those differences. We gather the courage to face them, to ask questions about them, to understand them.  We learn together that, with love and trust, we can begin to recognize the insidious systems like racism and xenophobia that work to keep us apart. We know that, once we recognize these systems, we can begin the difficult work of exposing them, of tearing them down.

Over many years, I developed love for my friends, and out of that love came a deep desire for justice.  My desire for justice drove me to the podium. I’ve stood in front of audiences, armed with data slides and a microphone, unleashing a torrent of statistics, facts, information. I have struggled mightily to engage the minds of Americans, to share information that will help them to understand how very much we misunderstand about undocumented immigrants and asylum-seekers. I believe that this information is crucially important, as the foundation for good decisions, for policies that will bring about a more just and humane society in the United States.

I also have come to believe that good information is not enough.

In our media-saturated world, we are bombarded with information and misinformation (which some call “alternative facts”). We are adrift in them. What we need — what most of us long for — is connection. We long for the opportunity to see that spark in another person, to recognize something of ourselves in the other. We also desperately need to cultivate that profound virtue of empathy. We need the opportunity to dwell for a while in the experience of another person, to dive in deep and swim around in it for a while.

Where might we find the chance to develop that profound empathy, to recognize what we have in common with those very people that we are constantly told are irreconcilably, overwhelmingly different from us? Stories. And, what better stories than love stories, stories that celebrate those deep, intimate connections that bind us together, that surprise us with their intensity, that open our hearts to new ways of knowing.

Justice is the expression of love.

Where we find, experience and nurture love, we begin to know justice.

This is why I write love stories.

About Marie Marquardt and THE RADIUS OF US

Marie Marquardt Photo Credit: Kenzi Tainow

Marie Marquardt
Photo Credit: Kenzi Tainow

Marie Marquardt has spent two decades working with Latin American immigrant families in the South and runs a non-profit called El Refugio that serves immigrants and asylum-seekers in detention. This work inspired both her books. To research The Radius of Us, she traveled to El Salvador and to detention facilities across the U.S., where she met with teenagers fleeing gang violence and seeking asylum.  

Told in alternating first person points of view, The Radius of Us is about a boy from El Salvador, who ran from a city torn-through with violence, looking for a safe place to call home. And it’s about an American girl who no longer feels safe anywhere, except maybe when she’s with him. And most importantly, the novel is about two people working together to overcome trauma and find healing in love.

The Radius of Us is available for purchase now from St. Martin’s Griffin

“…this is a compelling story that delivers profound messages through engaging, accessible prose. Both a page-turning romance and a comprehensive view of a young immigrant’s experience, this novel is sure to encourage empathy and perspective… VERDICT A must-have for all YA collections.” –School Library Journal (Starred Review)

Book Review: Our Own Private Universe by Robin Talley

Publisher’s description

our-ownFifteen-year-old Aki Simon has a theory. And it’s mostly about sex.

No, it isn’t that kind of theory. Aki already knows she’s bisexual—even if, until now, it’s mostly been in the hypothetical sense. Aki has dated only guys so far, and her best friend, Lori, is the only person who knows she likes girls, too.

Actually, Aki’s theory is that she’s got only one shot at living an interesting life—and that means she’s got to stop sitting around and thinking so much. It’s time for her to actually do something. Or at least try.

So when Aki and Lori set off on a church youth-group trip to a small Mexican town for the summer and Aki meets Christa—slightly older, far more experienced—it seems her theory is prime for the testing.

But it’s not going to be easy. For one thing, how exactly do two girls have sex, anyway? And more important, how can you tell if you’re in love? It’s going to be a summer of testing theories—and the result may just be love.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Maryland 15-year-olds Aki, who is black, and her white best friend, Lori, are spending a month in a teeny town far outside of Tijuana. They’re there on a mission trip with their church, helping to build a new church, along with groups from two other churches (from Maryland and West Virginia). Aki’s dad, the youth minister, is on the trip, as is Lori’s aunt, as a chaperone. Lori’s excited about the chance to meet some new boys and hopefully have a summer fling. Aki is apprehensively excited to maybe finally start feeling like she’s living her life. She feels like everything is hypothetical, just ideas, and that she never actually lives out anything, instead stuck endlessly debating everything in her head. Last year, Aki told Lori she thinks she might be bisexual—but Aki feels that her identity, like everything else in her life, is only hypothetical. This all changes when she meets cute white, pansexual Christa, who is a year older and seems far bolder and more experienced than Aki. The girls start hooking up, deciding that what they are having is just a summer fling. After all, Christa has a boyfriend back home, though they decided to be on a break for the summer and see other people. Christa has heard that Aki is a talented musician, and Aki, who gave up music a while back for complicated reasons, allows Christa to continue to think she’s still actively playing and composing. It’s just a fling—there’s no harm in some little lies, is there? Before long, the two are sneaking away every chance they get, despite being worried about being found out. Christa has always hidden her sexuality from her very conservative parents and is worried it would somehow get back to them that she’s hooking up with Aki. Aki’s brother, also on the trip, says their parents wouldn’t be okay with Aki being queer. So they keep it a secret. Or try to.

 

Meanwhile, Aki’s relationship with Lori is falling apart, as she’s pretty much completely bailed on her to be with Christa. The two get in a major fight when Lori reveals who she has been secretly hooking up with—someone that is such a bad choice, Aki thinks they should turn to an adult for some guidance. And while Aki is pretty obsessed with Christa, she’s also working on the things they went to Mexico to do—painting, building a fence, working with children—and growing more interested and involved in some of the social justice issues the national convention will be voting on. She and Jake, a bi boy from another church, start some petitions and work on putting together a debate to educate their group about the issues.

 

A big part of Aki’s story is trying to figure out exactly what her identity is and what it means for her. She spends a lot of time thinking about what it means to be bisexual. She knows she is “not straight.” She knows she is attracted to girls–or at least to Christa. She has a lot of questions and thoughts about the fluid nature of sexuality, about labels, about identities shifting, about what it means to be bisexual. I think these thoughts and questions make this an especially valuable book for teens. Aki is young, just starting to figure out her identity, and completely open to asking herself questions. She is just starting to meet other queer teenagers (closeted Christa, possibly-soon-to-be-out Jake, and openly queer Madison). She is starting to reveal her identity (whatever it is or may become) to people in her life. She is also learning a lot about sex—not just from first-person experience, but from research. As she and Christa grow closer, Aki spends some time researching safer sex options. She tracks down what she needs while the youth group is at a college for two days for a conference. She’s informed and takes charge.

 

It’s a big month for Aki, one where her life finally starts to feel real and not just hypothetical. The underlying themes of changing people’s minds, truth, honesty, and love are reinforced through multiple storylines with Aki and many secondary characters. This exploration of love, sex, and identity is thoughtfully told. Aki’s interest in and thoughts on both religion and social justice issues help show just how much growing she is doing while taking a more active role in her own life. Talley has a knack for writing really complicated, authentic characters. Readers will appreciate the obvious respect for teenagers as smart, thoughtful, complex, sexual, and politically-aware beings. A great story about first love and a growing awareness of both self and the greater world. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780373211982

Publisher: Harlequin

Publication date: 01/31/2017

Still Learning Every Day: HERE WE ARE editor Kelly Jensen interviews contributor Sarah McCarry

It’s the final day in our week celebrating the release of Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World edited by Kelly Jensen. Today, Kelly joins us as she interviews one of the contributors, Sarah McCarry. Be sure to visit our post from day one to enter to win a Feminist t-shirt!

“I’m Still Learning Every Day”: Sarah McCarry on Feminism

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hereweare

 Sarah McCarry’s essay in Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World is about relationships. More specifically, her piece conveys the hard lessons that so many girls learn and experience when it comes to finding and making true friendships. Where do you let yourself stand out? Where do you make yourself fit in? And at what point do you have to confront the roles you’re playing to do one and not the other?

Here’s a short excerpt from her essay:

You make yourself superior. Superior in your silence, your lack of want. You take up no space. You quit eating and do not name aloud the hunger that rages every day in your belly. You are not like other girls. You are not like other girls (“You are not like other girls,” the boys you run with will tell you, and you will try not to let them see you preen under the glancing light of their approval). You learn their books and their language. You laugh at their jokes. You listen to their stories, sit blank-eyed on their couches while they play video games, pass them your English notes. You keep their secrets. You use the words they use about other girls in order to assure yourself that they will never use those words about you. You make yourself into nothingness, a ghost conjured into being only through the desires of boys, the rules of boys, the ideas of boys. You’re not like other girls. If you turn sideways, you are so thin, you can almost disappear. If you are good enough at this, you will be safe.                                                           

You are never quite good enough at it, as it turns out. You were never, in their company, safe.                                                           

It will take you long, lonely years, but one day you will grow tired. Tired of boys, tired of contempt, and then where will you be? All these girls around you with their stories and their lives, the solace of one another, and you will be as far away from them as an anthropologist among a foreign people, curious but unable to make contact. Have faith: you will learn.

sarahmccarry

Sarah McCarry (and a bear)

The ways this essay talks about how we judge girls, as well as how those who identify as girls judge ourselves against other girls, is a gut-punch. It forces the reader through painful “ah ha” moments to get to those powerful, self-affirming moments. It’s an essay that defines so much of what social justice means: standing up for yourself and standing up for those who are disadvantaged by social, cultural, and political beliefs.

Kelly Jensen: If you had to pick a moment that really defined you as a feminist, where you felt like owning the term, what was that moment?

Sarah McCarry: Mmmm, that’s a good question. I can think immediately of a moment in my senior year of high school. I was in a study group with these guys from my physics class and it was important to me that they like me, that they think I was tough and cool and hot and not like other girls and all that other bullshit. They weren’t popular, exactly, but people liked them, they were rich and confident and they moved around in the world with this absolute ease that I wanted to be a part of. They sexually harassed me all the time; they harassed other girls in the class all the time; they said what, in retrospect, were horrific things about other girls in our class all the time, one of them had at that point sexually assaulted me; but I thought, then, that the way to deal with that was to be really cool. I didn’t think the issue was them or the culture that enabled them or the teacher who thought they were funny; I thought I just needed to be skinnier and meaner and more quiet and prettier but not girly and tell the right jokes and not take up any space and then I would have achieved that magical state of being one of them, of being, basically, human.

So this had been going on all year and their behavior was finally starting to trouble me in a way I couldn’t write off as my own hysteria. I will never forget a moment when we were all studying together in the café of a Barnes and Noble—this was a very small town, only goths and smokers went to the coffee shop—and they started talking about a girl in our class, saying things like she’d given dudes blow jobs to get them to do her homework for her, she was such a slut, she was trash. This girl was a thousand times smarter than all of them put together, I think she’s literally a neurosurgeon now. They were pissed because she knew better than to study with them and she did better than them by far in the class and had the audacity to be better at science than them while female and having sex with people who weren’t them. And suddenly something connected in me that had never sparked before; I understood in that moment that what they were saying was really fucked up, that what they’d done to me and to other women all year was really fucked up, that what I’d enabled them to say about other women was really fucked up, that they had never, at any point, thought of me as anything like an equal, that that was a battle I was never, ever going to win, and that I didn’t care whether or not they liked me anymore because I didn’t like a single one of them. I felt it through my whole body: I. Don’t. Care. Anymore. Just like that: I was free of them. And I stood up so fast I knocked my chair over and said, very loud, “Fuck all of you,” and walked out of there, and pretty much didn’t talk to them again after that. It was one of the more cathartic moments in my life, for sure.

But my feminism is also an organic, constantly evolving thing. For years after that moment with those dudes I still thought and said a lot of dumb things about race and class and sexuality and gender and how they operate together. I thought and said a lot of transphobic and racist and ableist and classist and just generally very stupid shit. It was a long time after that, when I had been doing social work for years, and organizing and working with a lot of incredible women of color who taught me so much—and were (god bless every one of you, you know who you are) incredibly patient and generous with me, which was a huge gift that of course I took for granted at the time—anyway, it was a long time after that before I would call my feminism anything resembling intersectional or committed to real social justice and transformation, and if my feminism is a useful tool now it’s entirely because of the work and ongoing work of women of color and trans women of color and because of the decades upon decades of work—again, in huge part by trans women of color and women of color and queer women of color—of women who came before me. I’m still learning every day.

Kelly: Your essay, while personal, is told entirely through second person. Talk about that choice and what you hope it is that readers feel as they go through the painful experiences associated with “fitting in.”

Sarah: I think that experience of internalized misogyny, of trying to transform yourself into the girl who’s not like other girls and ultimately failing—because that girl doesn’t exist, the girl who’s cool enough to be safe and respected and valued in a patriarchal system, no one has ever been that girl no matter how hard she worked or how many women she cut down or how many men approved of her—is a very common one for a lot of young (and not so young) women. I spent a long time working through shame about that experience: I wanted people who sexually assaulted me to like me, I spent a big chunk of my life putting myself into situations that I knew were physically and emotionally unsafe, I said shitty things to and about other women, and for years I thought that meant there was something fundamentally wrong with me or that I deserved what I’d been through. And of course that’s not true. I learned, working with survivors of extreme trauma, that surviving can often mean making choices that look—and often are—pretty terrible and part of moving out of trauma, of moving toward a life where trauma doesn’t define your existence, is forgiving yourself for making them in the first place. Like a lot of people, I was able to apply those lessons to others long before I realized I also got to apply them to myself. And I think the more easily you are able to be generous with yourself, the more easily you can extend that compassion to other people and see them in all their messy complicated beautiful infuriating human-ness, and hold yourself and other people accountable for your shitty choices in productive ways, and work together to move toward a world populated with the opportunities to make better ones.

The second person in the essay wasn’t a conscious choice but I think in some ways it manifested as a reminder to myself to extend the same kindness to the person I used to be as I do to other people. And for readers—I hope, wherever you’re at, that that’s useful to you.

Kelly: In what ways have you incorporated social justice/feminism into your everyday life?

Sarah: I don’t think you can separate those things, honestly. The lens of social justice isn’t something you can put away once you start looking at the world through it. It can make going to the movies a real pain in the ass, I tell you what. Once you see how power works in a system, you can’t ever unsee it again, even if you just want to watch dopey space battles on the IMAX screen.

Kelly: What are some of your favorite books and/or resources that would benefit all readers eager and curious about social justice/feminism?

Sarah: SO MANY!!!!! Mariame Kaba’s website (http://www.usprisonculture.com/blog/) is an incredible resource and so is all of the work she does—she is an extraordinary organizer who works a lot with young people around transformative justice. Everything Jenny Zhang has ever written, especially her essays and stories for Rookie. Read Audre Lorde, bell hooks, Leslie Marmon Silko, Sandra Cisneros, Gloria Anzaldúa, Maxine Hong Kingston, Sandra Cisneros, Joy Harjo, Toni Morrison (fiction and non!), June Jordan. I am a big fan of Walida Imarisha’s work, Natalie Diaz and Aracelis Girmay’s poetry, Rahawa Haile’s essays, everything Topside Press publishes… I could make this answer forty pages long, tbh. I use my twitter (@therejectionist) to flag particularly fabulous books I’m reading, you can keep an eye on that as well.

I will say that I think we have a responsibility to know our history, to know how long we’ve been fighting the exact same battles, the incredible transformative work that’s come before us; that’s something I wish I’d figured out way earlier. Read about the Black Panthers, read about ACT UP, read about Stonewall and SDS and the Combahee River Collective (http://circuitous.org/scraps/combahee.html) and AIM, read Sojourner Truth and Ida B. Wells and Angela Davis and Assata Shakur and Leslie Feinberg and David Wojnarowicz and Ronald Takaki and Cherríe Moraga. People have been thinking about—and doing a really good job of thinking about—this stuff for a long, long time.

Kelly: How can young readers and those who advocate on their behalf better prepare themselves to be actively engaged with social justice and feminism? Perhaps more specifically, how can girls help other girls so that they don’t have to learn so many of these “Girl Lessons” the hard way?

Sarah: Honestly, I think the kids are all right these days—I mean, Teen Vogue is doing some of the best, most intersectional journalism in media. This book exists. I am constantly inspired by the energy and awareness and activism of young people; I feel like I learn a lot more from them than they can possibly learn from me.

As far as people who advocate for young readers, I think one of the best things we can do is ask young people what they need most from us and then shut up and listen when they answer.

Kelly: What is the biggest thing you hope readers take away from your essay in Here We Are?

Sarah: One thing I wish I had known when I was younger was that becoming the person you want to be is a lifelong process. You don’t have to—you’re not going to—get it right straight out of the gate. If readers take away a little more compassion for themselves and for the other people around them who are struggling too, then my work here is done. For the most part, we’re all doing the best we can to thrive within a system that doesn’t want to see us flourish, and we’ll do a much better job of taking care of each other as part of a community of loving dreamers and empathetic activists than we will trying to go it on our own.

Meet Sarah McCarry

Sarah McCarry (therejectionist.com/@therejectionist) is the author of the novels All Our Pretty Songs, Dirty Wings, and About a Girl, and the editor and publisher of the chapbook series Guillotine. Her books have been nominated for the Norton Award, been a finalist for the Lambda Literary Awards, and shortlisted for the Tiptree Award, and she is the recipient of a fellowship from the MacDowell Colony. She has written for the New York Times Book Review, Glamour, Book Riot, Tor.com, and others.

Feminism is for Everyone: HERE WE ARE editor Kelly Jensen interviews contributor Daniel Jose Older

It’s day three of our week celebrating the release of Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World edited by Kelly Jensen. Today, Kelly joins us as she interviews one of the contributors, Daniel Jose Older. Be sure to visit our post from day one to enter to win a Feminist t-shirt!

“In our activism, it’s important we celebrate”: Daniel José Older on Feminism and Social Justice

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hereweare

Daniel José Older’s essay in Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World tackles the topic of the journey; he explores how he envisions feminism as a big, beautiful room where people of all strokes are dancing and enjoying themselves—taking turns showing off their moves when they feel so inspired—and how every individual in that room got there in their own way. From there, his essay expands to discuss how he himself found feminism and how it was art that really made it click.

Here’s a short excerpt from his essay:

Patriarchy has sharp teeth. The borders it draws around our identities and hearts are unforgiving and lined with broken glass and barbed wire. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie calls masculinity “a hard, small cage.” Our patriarchal gender norms, the rules that tell us how to fit into pre-assigned boxes labeled “man” and “woman,” have nothing to do with love and everything to do with power. They guide our steps and demolish our lives, our sense of self, our relationships. Because we have subscribed to them as a society, because they are normalized, they seep into our hearts and minds from our earliest contact with the world around us. They take root there, then metastasize.                                                           

My own journey to feminism required looking both outward and inward. It is an ongoing process that means learning and relearning how to listen, when to shut up, when to speak up. There is no map for the work of undoing that trauma within us—like all the great journeys, it is a road we make by walking. This is terrifying at first; there’s a false comfort in the sense that if we just follow these simple steps, we will get where we need to go.                                                           

But the harder truth contains its own truer joy—the beautiful struggle.

Daniel is no stranger to social justice, just as much as he’s no stranger to feminism. His work in protest, his work as a paramedic, and his work as a creative writer have all intersected to form his beliefs and guide his actions for doing right. His essay shows how no single path is the correct one; what matters is that the journey leads to this room full of people eager to advocate for equal rights and equal access for all.

Kelly Jensen: Your essay is about the moment when you came to understand “feminism” and owned the term and system of beliefs for yourself. Your vision of feminism as a giant party, full of those taking turns with their own moves, is one that really captures not just feminism, but social justice more broadly. Where did this sort of grand vision emerge in relation to your understanding of feminism?

Daniel J. Oseolder

Daniel Jose Older

 

Daniel José Older: In our activism, it’s so important that we celebrate. It gets really easy to be overwhelmed, particularly these days, with all the terrible things happening and feel like we’ve already lost before the struggle has even begun. But part of being alive and part of resistance is celebration. This also means we honor our different paths, our different voices — we can’t privilege one path or voice over another, as we have in the past. That will destroy us. So I believe in this great, celebratory room, and I think in order to really manifest that vision we have to be very self-aware, very accountable, very real with ourselves about where we are and where we’ve been and that means having some of the difficult conversations we’ve seen pop up in the past couple years especially.

Kelly: How and where do you see art, be it visual or verbal or written, as intersecting with social justice? What might be a couple great contemporary examples?

Daniel: We have to approach our work in the world, whether it’s organizing a rally or running workshops or political activism, with the same creativity we approach our artwork. There’s long been this idea that activism is this one cookie-cutter thing: do A then B then C and that’s activism. No! We have to be as interconnected and audacious and outrageous and most of all creative in our approach as possible, in part because oppression is itself quite interconnected and creative in thinking up ways to keep folks down and turn us against each other. Art and activism are not only not opposing elements, they are in fact one.

Kelly : In what ways have you incorporated social justice/feminism into your everyday life?

Daniel: I believe if we’re not approaching life in general, whether it’s how we live, how we love, how we work, how we make art, from a feminist or womanist perspective, we are by default doing it from a sexist perspective. That is the status quo, it’s what we’re taught. To move beyond patriarchy we have to actively engage ourselves to think critically about what we’re doing and how we do it. So for me, being a cis/straight male, that means I have to both check in and check myself regularly to make sure I’m not enacting the violent behavior that is a part of our legacy. It means I have to be able to listen and step back, whether that’s in a social space or an activist one or an artist one.

Kelly: What are some of your favorite books and/or resources that would benefit all readers eager and curious about social justice/feminism?

Daniel: Both Twitter and Tumblr are tremendous gathering places of brilliant feminist thinkers. Yes there are trolls, there are downsides, there are disputes, but over all, when we step back, what we’re seeing is an amazing, global conversation about feminism and patriarchy and its intersections with race and class that is very needed. I’ve also learned a lot from great books like Joan Morgan’s When Chickenheads Come Home To Roost, bell hooks, the anthology This Bridge Called My Back, Beyoncé’s Lemonade.

Kelly: How can young readers and those who advocate on their behalf better prepare themselves to be actively engaged with social justice and feminism? You came to your understanding in your mid-20s; we’re seeing teens today standing their ground and fighting for the causes they believe in (including the protest walkouts and more in the aftermath of the election). Do you think today’s teens are more engaged with the movement? Any idea why that might be and how it can be actively cultivated and encouraged?

Daniel: They are much more engaged and it’s amazing to behold. It gives hope, to be honest. I see the way young folks are being badass and unstoppable and real with each other and the world and I feel like somehow, we’re gonna be alright. I give a lot of credit to social media for that, it’s allowed access to this conversation in a way that we’ve never seen before. It’s an exciting time to be alive and be a feminist.

Kelly: What is the biggest thing you hope readers take away from your essay in Here We Are?

Daniel: I hope they see that feminism, as bell hooks said years ago, is indeed for everybody. That there are many, many ways to jump into the conversation and change the world.

Meet Daniel Jose Older

Daniel José Older is the author of the young adult novel Shadowshaper (Scholastic, 2015), a New York Times Notable Book of 2015, which was shortlisted for the Kirkus Prize in Young Readers’ Literature and the Andre Norton Award, and named one of Esquire’s 80 Books Every Person Should Read. He also writes the Bone Street Rumba urban fantasy series. You can explore his thoughts on writing, read dispatches from his decade-long career as an NYC paramedic, hear his music at danieljoseolder.net, and find him on Twitter at @djolder.