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Here We Are: Feminism & Social Justice In Action by Kelly Jensen (#SJYALit: Social Justice in YA Lit)

Tomorrow, Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World edited by Kelly Jensen is released out into the world. This week, as part of our Social Justice in YA Lit Project, we will have a new piece about this book each day. We’re also doing a t-shirt giveaway (see below!). It’s exciting to see this book launch just days after somewhere around 3 million people marched in protests organized and promoted by women around the world. Today, we are honored to have Kelly Jensen here to talk with us about how and why this book came about.


I believe feminism and, by extension, social justice are more than words we share. They’re about actions, too.


Here We Are: Feminism For The Real World began with a tweet. There’s been rich conversation online about feminism for a long time, and because of how social media allows those whose voices have been marginalized to have a space to share, the importance of intersectionality became more and more a conscious part of my personal feminism. It wasn’t new to me. I’d worked with people — teenagers, especially — of all shapes and colors and backgrounds since I started my career in librarianship. But reading and listening to the words coming from voices unlike mine made something inside me click.

I tweeted about my dream to make an anthology of feminist essays for teens and the responses to that tweet were incredible. That tweet stream is a riot to read now; I didn’t know the hows or the ways to make it happen. One person who tweeted in response ended up being part of the anthology; another who tweeted sarcastically in response made me laugh because of course, girls are angry and “what about the boys?” A couple of responses were from women who, just a few months later, would become trustworthy allies standing with me, speaking out against blatant sexism in the YA world.

But the response you don’t see is the one that made my dream a reality.


Shortly after tweeting, I was asked to be in touch with Elise Howard at Algonquin Young Readers and she, along with Krestyna Lypen, became my editors for this anthology. We began talking about what it could look like and feel like, what sorts of stories could be told, the kind of art that could be included in a project like this. We were all in agreement that making this happen needed to happen.

Putting this collection together meant thinking long and hard about the stories that not only should be told, but also the ones that many might not necessarily connect with “feminism.” It was imperative to include not just young adult authors — many of whom YA readers would be familiar with — but to also broaden the circle and bring in varied voices outside of the YA and writing community. Because as much as social media has allowed many to raise their voices and be heard, it’s also an echo chamber. Yelling into the void to see the same trends play out again and again becomes repetitive and boring and ineffective.

My last library job, the one where I’d been the most professionally prepared, was the one that opened my eyes and my mind the most. I worked in a poor, semi-urban community, and it wasn’t unusual for me to be the only white person in a program with teens. It wasn’t unusual for me to see some of the kids coming and asking for more and more food at events not because they were greedy, but because it might be the only thing they ate until free meals at school the next day. I’ll never forget an event where a young girl shared, with a room full of teens and adults, a poem she wrote about her friend who’d committed suicide the day before.

The weight of these things sat in my mind as I thought about the reader for Here We Are. It would be for these teens. I thought about the teens I worked with in the library every time I reached out to a potential contributor. I thought about the teens I worked with in the library each time I edited an essay. I thought about the teens I worked with in the library each time I considered how I wanted the anthology to come together.

It’s easy to take for granted that in an “everything’s online” world, there are huge swaths of the population that don’t regularly, if ever, access the internet beyond what’s necessary for their survival. I saw those teens in libraries. I watched as they figured out stealth ways to get extra time each day to do something or begged to let me break the policy on having their time extended “just this once” so they could finish a homework project (or play a game — it wasn’t my job to judge).

These same teens deserve to see themselves and know that they, too, are seen.

Here We Are: Feminism For The Real World is my attempt at offering something for young readers who haven’t seen their stories told or who don’t know what feminism is or how it might benefit them. It’s my attempt to take the rich conversations so many of us see and engage with day-to-day out of the digital world and into a format that teens can pick up at the library or in a bookstore. It’s my attempt to show them that they are seen, that their stories matter, and that others are listening. That they have allies and advocates in the world around them who, like them, come in all shapes and sizes and colors and genders and sexualities and from all backgrounds and experiences.

The 44 pieces in this book are actions. They are actions of love. They are actions of seeing. They are acts of social justice. And every action is an invitation to one of the most life-changing parties around: feminism.

Meet Kelly Jensen


Kelly Jensen is a former librarian-turned-editor for Book Riot and Stacked. She’s author of It Happens: A Guide to Contemporary Realistic Fiction for the YA Reader. She loves black licorice and debating genre. Follow her on Twitter @veronikellymars.



U.S. residents can do the Rafflecopter thingy below by Saturday, January 28th at Midnight and we will select a winner. Shirts will be mailed out by Algonquin. Special thank you to Algonquin for the shirt giveaway.


a Rafflecopter giveaway

January 24th 2017 by Algonquin BFYR

#MHYALit: How books and being a librarian help me cope with anxiety, a guest post by Erin

MHYALitlogoofficfialHi, I’m Erin. I’m a teen librarian, a wife, a daughter, a best friend, a mom, and an anxiety warrior. Notice how I put that at the very end. There was a reason for that.  The anxiety is the “least of my worries” for lack of a better phrase (insert uncomfortable laughter here). What I’m trying to say is that the anxiety is so much smaller than my other life roles. Yes, sometimes it can become all-encompassing, but, on a good day, one where my other human interactions, my meds, and my to-do list all live in perfect harmony, I might forget that I have anxiety. Crazy, right, but true!


Having anxiety has helped me in many facets of my life. Because of the constant drive to succeed, I have become incredibly efficient, and can adjust to the various paces that a day can take working in a library. I know that at 3:25 pm Monday – Friday the teens will come streaming in from school – they drop their backpack, pull up a seat to play a board game, plop down on the couch for a nap, drop into a beanbag chair for some screen time, or roll a chair over to my desk to share the gossip of the day. I can’t guarantee how many teens will show up each day, how much energy will emanate from the room or how much noise will filter out of the doors. Sometimes they come in and we all sit in complete silence, everyone with their heads down and their earbuds in. It’s days filled with uncertainty. Not unlike my anxiety.


In researching books for the collection, I commonly come across ones concerning mental health – specifically fiction novels. In doing my job every day I also encounter teens who may or may not share their stories with me. I find books that match teens and excitedly share the book with them in hopes that they will find a piece of them in the story, in the characters.


everylastwordAnd then I found a book for me. A book that spoke to me like no other in its genre.


That book was Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone.


As I read it, I wondered how the author was able to get into my head. The words, the surroundings, the main character and her situations were so real, so vivid, so ALIVE in my own mind. I want to share this book with the world. I want to thank Tamara Ireland Stone for writing it. I am humbled that I am able to select such wonderful works for a thriving Teen Department. To put books like these into the hands of those who need them the most, and of those who don’t know they need them.


Being a librarian includes so much more than reading and researching. It includes getting to know your patrons, the good and the bad in their lives if they choose to share. It means giving them the right book, using the right words in conversations, and even exposing your own vulnerability, because in being able to relate to you and all of your facets, a whisper of trust is established. They are not alone; you are not alone; I am not alone.


In this journey, we all encounter things that we wish we didn’t have to deal with but we do. Find your librarian; get him or her to give you that one book. Read it, talk about it, embody it, and show the world your strength even on your weakest days.


As librarians, we are warriors, fighting for our patrons, fighting simultaneously for our voices and our patrons’ voices to be heard above the roar of the world.


So speak up, share, be proud of who you are, and find that one book that speaks to your mind.


Meet Erin

In addition to being a teen librarian, Erin is a mother of two and  enjoys researching, reading, writing and social media.

Talking ALL AMERICAN BOYS with Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely for the Social Justice in YA Lit (#SJYALit) Project

Yesterday we had an online Twitter chat with authors Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, as well as many readers, as part of the #SJYALit Project. I storified that discussion so that you can read it here in case you missed it.


Talking ALL AMERICAN BOYS with Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely for Social Justice in YA Lit (#SJYALit)

  1. Let me take this moment to mention that THE HATE U GIVE is a really powerful companion to ALL AMERICAN BOYS #SJYALit

  2. It's not officially a companion, I should clarify, just a good read that goes along with the themes of AAB #SJYALit

  3. I'm curious to know about their discussions with teens/teachers & librarians on their tour for this book. #SJYALit

  4. Also, have you read ALL AMERICAN BOYS with teens? What has their reaction been? Tell us at #SJYALIt

  5. I just had a teen say they didn't understand why we even had yesterday off. Made me sad. #SJYALit @CiteSomething

  6. I kind of can't get over the RASHAD IS ABSENT AGAIN TODAY tag/movement. So powerful. And that roll call at the end. Whoa. #SJYALit

  7. I think once you are out of elementary school days like yesterdays are not explained anymore @TLT16 @CiteSomething. #SJYALit

  8. Inclusion of social media as a tool for social justice is brilliant. (look at us here) How do you feel that will evolve for teens? #SJYALIt

  9. I thought the hashtag was powerful. And such a good way to incorporate social media & make a statement. #SJYALit …

  10. HOW IT WENT DOWN by Kekla Magoon would also be a really great companion read, especially given HIWD's multiple community POVs. #SJYALit …

  11. I feel like if I were still in grad school, I could've written a 10 page paper on the decision to leave the hyphen out of the title #SJYALit

  12. Do you hear your teens talking about these types of shootings, Black Lives Matter? #SJYALIt

  13. I think authors will have to stay current on WHAT social media teens are using. But I think it connects. #SJYALIt …

  14. .@TLT16 At book club meetings, we would talk about race/profiling/police violence/BLM etc. V. diverse and politically aware group. #SJYALit

  15. You have astoundingly amazing book club groups and great discussions. They always impress me. #SJYALit …

  16. I think it is interesting that Rashad was in the in the JROTC. An effort to show how All American/Patriotic he was maybe? #SJYALIt …

  17. We are having more discussions of race/racism in my library of late. In ways we didn't used to. #SJYALit …

  18. I liked seeing the diversity of teacher/coach/admin responses at school and the diff ways they address (or don't) what's happening. #SJYALit

  19. The effects of neutrality are major here. How do you show teens that opinions and actions are important? #SJYALit

  20. The math teacher who wrote stats on the board, the history teacher helping organize, the Eng teacher etc. #SJYALit

  21. .@TLT16 Right--and making us think about uniforms in various ways, and perceptions, and profiling. #SJYALit

  22. This question comes up again in the forthcoming THE HATE U GIVE. It's another interesting look at that. #SJYALIt …

  23. @TLT16 I think it can be scary for many teens to take a stance. Especially if it is different from their family/peer group. #SJYALit

  24. @StorytimeCrabb Yes! I loved seeing Quinn's awakening and understanding of how he was complicit and what he could do. #SJYALit

  25. It was scary for me as an adult. I lost a lot of friends. Would be even more so for teens, who are often dependent on. #SJYALit …

  26. I finished the book feeling like it was such a powerful call to action without needing to list any ideas/resources at the end. #SJYALit

  27. @TLT16: Some pretty heavy stuff gets discussed in and around convos on books & anime; in a downtown branch, big city #sjyalit

  28. It seemed like Rashad should have been afforded a different perspective because he is JROTC, but then he wasn't & its eye opening #SJYALit …

  29. I also think the different ways that Rashad's family/community responded was interesting. Some wanted to protest, not all. #SJYALit …

  30. #SJYALit I want to hand every teen and many adults this novel. It made me realize again how lucky I am to have the privilege I do.

  31. I'm always a fan of intertexuality and hope the bits included about Ellison's INVISIBLE MAN lead some teens to reading it. #SJYALit

  32. My husband was recently pulled over & I was very aware of how differently he was treated vs. stories I read about poc. #SJYALit …

  33. @JasonReynolds83 said the Mike Brown case was the 'last straw'. How do we get teens to take action before a penultimate event? #sjyalit

  34. Is anyone aware if there have been any challenges to ALL AMERICAN BOYS? @JasonReynolds83 @KielyBrendan #SJYALit

  35. I liked that Q had Jill to talk to about his thoughts/actions,that there wasn't a POC "teaching" him to understand racism/whiteness #SJYALit

  36. His journey to understanding felt very real and powerful w/o making it feel parallel to what was happening w/ Rashad. #SJYALit

  37. I'll have to catch up on the rest of this later tonight. Gotta feed my kid and take him back to school. Sorry to disappear! #SJYALit

  38. @KielyBrendan @JasonReynolds83 I have a question: how did it come to be that Rashad would be in the JROTC? We talked about this. #SJYALIt

  39. @KielyBrendan @JasonReynolds83 People also wanted to know what kind of teen reactions you have gotten to the book? #SJYALit

  40. @KielyBrendan @JasonReynolds83 Have you guys read THE HATE U GIVE yet? (though I think I saw Jason blurbed it, I have e-arc) #SJYALit

  41. @TLT16 @JasonReynolds83 #SJYALit teens everywhere want to dive in. We've spoken to over 35K students and young folks everywhere want to talk

  42. I wonder if now, after so many events/discussions, there are things you'd change/add/emphasize etc @KielyBrendan @JasonReynolds83 #SJYAlit

  43. @TLT16 @JasonReynolds83 #SJYALit students asking us adults to help them navigate the problems we have created for them. (1/2)

  44. @TLT16 @KielyBrendan I chose the JROTC because I think when we think about “victims” we tend to see a “Certain kind of kid.” #SJYALit

  45. @TLT16 @KielyBrendan but truthfully, more times than not they’re “regular” kids. artists and rotc kids. playground kids. #SJYALit

  46. @TLT16 @JasonReynolds83 #SJYALit (2/2) Racism is what we perpetuate and impose on all young folks. We owe them the courage to talk about it

  47. @TLT16 @KielyBrendan As far as THE HATE U GIVE, yes I’ve read it, and blurbed, and I’m excited for it to come out! #SJYALit

  48. @TLT16 @KielyBrendan we need as many of these kinds of books as poss. to get a full picture. Shouts to Nic Stone’s DEAR MARTIN too. #SJYALit

  49. @TLT16 @JasonReynolds83 #SJYALit & I'd add that adults are often in the way-kids see injustice, but look for a language to understand it

  50. @EMKokie @KielyBrendan our talk has definitely changed over time, but the one thing that hasn’t is the sharing of PERSONAL stories. #SJYALit

  51. @TLT16 @JasonReynolds83 #SJYALit and we owe it to them to have the courage (especially white folks) to talk about it in ourselves

  52. I meant in the book itself. Now that you've discussed it so many times, are there things you'd change/add, etc @JasonReynolds83 #SJYAlit

  53. @EMKokie @JasonReynolds83 @TLT16 #SJYALit I'd add a lot more conversation about the intersectional discussion of race & gender.

  54. @EMKokie Ahhhh. Hmm. I think we would’ve given Tiffany, the black girl, a voice. That’s one of our biggest regrets. #SJYALit

  55. @TLT16 @JasonReynolds83 #SJYALit so sad. But the models are out there. Too many voices amplifying that hate. Too many in major media

  56. @JasonReynolds83 @EMKokie #SJYALit absolutely -- that's key. Accountability and experiential truth are the cornerstones of our project

  57. @TLT16 @JasonReynolds83 #SJYALit that's important-accountability. Then bold public outrage at those who perpetuate racism and hate

  58. @TLT16 @JasonReynolds83 @EMKokie #SJYALit, as Walt Whitman said: I contain multitudes. Let's look at how they are connected :)

  59. @TLT16 @JasonReynolds83 #SJYALit agreed, although which churches? I think some remain on the front lines, but too many hide behind privilege

  60. @KielyBrendan @TLT16 @JasonReynolds83 Teens also start to understand the small acts of prejudice that we are silent about. #SJYALit

  61. @TLT16 @EMKokie @JasonReynolds83 #SJYALit i learned the term at my Catholic high school twenty years ago--we need do so better

  62. @KielyBrendan @TLT16 @JasonReynolds83 #SJYALit It's really hard to explain or define small insidious acts of racism to some teens/kids (1/2)

  63. @TLT16 @EMKokie @JasonReynolds83 #SJYALit I think there has been a 20 year hostile takeover by social conservatives & this affects the 🌎

  64. @KielyBrendan @TLT16 @JasonReynolds83 #SJYALit Many don't see the harm in "just joking"/"teasing a friend" when "they're cool" w/ someone2/2

  65. @KielyBrendan @TLT16 @JasonReynolds83 #SJYALit Many don't see the harm in "just joking"/"teasing a friend" when "they're cool" w/ someone2/2

  66. @TLT16 @EMKokie @JasonReynolds83 #SJYALit also back to the book: kids read AAB and look for and see connections. Masculinity can be toxic

  67. @XineLively @KielyBrendan @TLT16 Brendan talks about this in our lecture. how those jokes metastasize as they get older #SJYALit

  68. @KielyBrendan @TLT16 @JasonReynolds83 #SJYALit We need books that show real interactions and real consequences to open those discussions.

  69. @lkeochgerien @KielyBrendan @TLT16 @EMKokie Agreed. I’ve tried to address them in every single one of my books. Both of us do. #SJYALit

  70. @lkeochgerien @JasonReynolds83 @TLT16 @EMKokie #SJYALit absolutely. That's part of Officer G's problem. Part of many men's problem in AAB

  71. @JasonReynolds83 @lkeochgerien @TLT16 @EMKokie #SJYALit Jason tackles "man-ness" in all his books. Powerfully. We share that mission.

  72. @JasonReynolds83 Also, about Rashad, most of his story arc post beating is internal. Did you consider having him take more action? #SJYAlit

  73. I think consent & masculinity go ✋️ in🤚 @TLT16 @JasonReynolds83 @KielyBrendan @EMKokie. You're a man when you respect not demand. #SJYAlit

  74. I love that you both do @JasonReynolds83 @KielyBrendan @TLT16 @EMKokie. It is something I try to understand as well everyday. #SJYAlit

  75. @TLT16 @JasonReynolds83 @lkeochgerien @EMKokie #SJYALit social justice requires those w/ power to deconstruct it. Men, white folks etc (1/2)

  76. @EMKokie protest stories aren’t new. but to get into the interior of trauma, humanizes people in a necessary way. #SJYALit

  77. @TLT16 @JasonReynolds83 @lkeochgerien @EMKokie #SJYALit (2/2) social justice requires those in power to relinquish in small and big ways

  78. @EMKokie His story, his truth of doubt and fear is far more common than the story of upheaval. #SJYALit

  79. Esp fear @JasonReynolds83 @EMKokie. That emotion is more & more common everyday. We have to learn how to analyze it. Deal w it. #SJYAlit

  80. Absolutely @JasonReynolds83 @EMKokie. Fear never does go away. It is part of the human condition. Motivates us for good/bad. #SJYAlit

  81. @lkeochgerien @TLT16 @JasonReynolds83 @EMKokie #SJYALit it's called Florence in Ecstasy--novel about eating disorder and saints in Italy :)


#SJYALit: How does real life and research fit with LGBT young adult lit? A guest post by Alex B

As a young teen, I went to my local bookstore with my family and chose books like Alex Sánchez’s Rainbow Road, David Levithan’s Boy Meets Boy, and Julie Anne Peters’ Keeping You a Secret for my parents to buy with no thought to self-censor; in a weird twist that I won’t go into here, I actually became more closeted as I got older. I soaked up the stories, and the representation of LGBT characters was immensely satisfying. Despite my love and gratitude for these books, I still searched for books with LGBT characters that (1) had less drama, (2) had less romance, and (3) were not fictional. Leap forward and in a little over a decade…more books! There are new twists, new styles, and new angles galore. It is clear that many people are working to help teens find LGBT representation in what they read.


IMG_2554I am here to argue for more inclusivity and more diversity in style and content, however, which is not a new argument but one that fermented for me on a recent trip to San Francisco. Beyond being able to explore the Castro, I also spent time researching at the GLBT Historical Society archives and visiting their museum. It got me thinking. I see a need for diverse literature in the same way that they have a specific context and specific gaps in their collection development. In an email message titled “Fight LGBT Discrimination with Education,” they write, “The GLBT Historical Society focuses its collections on gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer life in the wider San Francisco Bay area and Northern California. Currently, we are seeking accessions to fill particular gaps in our holdings. We seek materials documenting LGBT life prior to the 1970s, as well as LGBT people of color, lesbian and bisexual women of all social/cultural backgrounds, LGBT working class communities, and bisexual and transgender people.” Can we give teens LGBTQ literature that mixes with geography in the same way? I read Nina LaCour and David Levithan’s You Know Me Well on the flight to and from San Fran – where the story is set – which made it even more special. But I wish I had more stories set in my corner of the world when I was growing up, and more stories with true settings that helped make the triumphs and tribulations feel real.


If there are any takers, I’ll gladly throw out some ideas or queries that aspiring or established authors could consider, and knowledgeable teen librarians can answer in their collection, clubs, or services.


So, in addition to geography, and in this post-election world with Donald Trump as president, teens may need more than fictional books with LGBT characters that deal with first love – they need books that provide a roadmap for strength, role models to emulate, and reading that fits educational goals such as a history curriculum that may legitimize it in broader circles. It is important to have books that deal with resiliency and empathy, and books that appeal to a wide range of people connected to the LGBT spectrum from a variety of paths, such as siblings of gay teens, children of gay parents, allies, and those who have no visible connections to the community and may have mixed or negative feelings about it.


Other people bring up diversity and inclusivity in LGBTQ lit for teens and provide ideas of what it could or should look like; Dahlia Adler (2016) states, “where it used to be like searching for a needle in a haystack to find queer characters outside of contemp, now you can find queer superheroes and royals and brujas. Where intersectionality used to be an impossible find, now it’s…a fairly difficult find.”


So what am I envisioning?


Image from

Image from

Let me go back to telling you about my trip. After taking BART to my stop, I ran through a torrential rain shower to a building that also houses Buzzfeed offices, signed in at the front desk, and headed to the basement location. In the archives, I looked at primary documents on Tom Ammiano, Peninsula Gay and Lesbian Youth Group and the facilitator, Rhio Hiersch, Quatrefoil Library’s The Gay Bookworm newsletters, and Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network’s (GLSEN) BlackBoard newsletters.  Some of the material I looked at, such as that on education expert Mary Greer and the group OLOC (Old Lesbians Organizing for Change), may not interest teens as much as others, but hey, it would have interested me! From the staff at the GLBT Historical Society Archives, I learned that Tom Ammiano – who has worn many hats as an out public school teacher, politician, LGBT activist, and comedian – is friendly and approachable, so I think it could be possible for someone to write a teen-friendly bio.  I also think library events that allow teens to see primary documents related to LGBTQ life and history could be helpful, or representations of key primary documents could be included in non-fiction books. I am all about blending genres, crossing traditional boundaries of how events are run or what is included, and I think there are so many ways we can help teens connect with LGBTQ material in fun and meaningful ways. Can a library help teens understand research and experience LGBTQ artifacts by facilitating a Skype conference with the archives staff? Can teachers add a(nother) book with LGBTQ characters – fiction or nonfiction – to their curriculum? Can more schools incorporate positive LGBTQ experiences not only in their reading material but in their lessons and policies too? In my research, I found a 1993 NYT article that is actually available online now as well; it states, “at a time when other school districts are including material on homosexuality in their multicultural curriculum, so too is Mr. Ammiano seeing that homosexuality is addressed in the classroom here. Sixth-graders learn how hurtful it is to label people and call them names; seventh-graders learn about different kinds of families, and eighth-graders learn about myths and stereotypes surrounding homosexuality.” I would love to have this kind of curriculum widespread and uniform across the country and even internationally recognized, and teen librarians and educators can be instrumental in advocating for them.


While it poured in San Francisco, I dried off in the archives as I read, and I was interested in learning about the history of gay educators’ experiences with being closeted or out. I also hoped to find anecdotes and people involved in teen programming, services, and especially LGBT literature in schools or gay-straight alliances. In the Spring 1997 issue of The Newsletter of the Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Teachers’ Network ( “Teaching Respect for All”), I found the promotion of a good idea:

Make your Librarian’s Day. Does your school or community library have what it needs to provide adequate information and support to young people who need it on issues of sexual orientation? Drop by and check out their collection to see if they do. If they don’t, buy a suitable book, make a time to talk to the librarian, and present it to him or her, using your gift as a chance to educate them on the need to have more such books. (p. 10).


Let’s keep doing this, but also look toward how we can help shape the future of Social Justice in YA Lit, adding to what LGBTQ looks like in lit or programming for teens. My research trip helped me feel connected to history and to other LGBTQ people, empowering me to come out here, and teens deserve similar opportunities to experience archival material and powerful primary documents, diverse books, and supportive programming and policies in their schools and libraries.


Stay tuned for another guest post on LGBTQ YA lit in the 90s/00s versus now, from my own experience, in late February. I’m off to read Flying Lessons & Other Stories, edited by Ellen Oh! Thank you for reading.




Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Teachers’ Network. (1997). Get involved: Do your homework! The Newsletter of the Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Teachers’ Network. 6(3), 10.

GLBT Historical Society Archives & Museum. (2017).

GLBT Historical Society Archives & Museum. (2016). Fight LGBT discrimination with education

The New York Times. (1993). A gay comedian with a school shtick. 


Meet Alex

Alex B is an aspiring librarian in a Master’s of Library and Information Science + K-12 program. She’s gay and has a goofy sense of humor. She can read, is testing her ability to write, and is so-so at talking. She does love to listen, so you can connect with her via email (absjyalit at or comment here with your stories or thoughts!

Book Review: History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

Publisher’s description

history-twoFrom the New York Times bestselling author of More Happy Than Not comes an explosive examination of grief, mental illness, and the devastating consequences of refusing to let go of the past.

When Griffin’s first love and ex-boyfriend, Theo, dies in a drowning accident, his universe implodes. Even though Theo had moved to California for college and started seeing Jackson, Griffin never doubted Theo would come back to him when the time was right. But now, the future he’s been imagining for himself has gone far off course.

To make things worse, the only person who truly understands his heartache is Jackson. But no matter how much they open up to each other, Griffin’s downward spiral continues. He’s losing himself in his obsessive compulsions and destructive choices, and the secrets he’s been keeping are tearing him apart.

If Griffin is ever to rebuild his future, he must first confront his history, every last heartbreaking piece in the puzzle of his life.


Amanda’s thoughts

There are not enough positive words in the universe (this one or alternate ones) to convey how I feel about this book. I was torn between burning through it, so I could see what happens, and forcing myself to slow down, so I could be sure to read every single beautiful word. I absolutely loved More Happy Than Not, but I think it’s possible that I love this book more.


The novel begins with Griffin gearing up to go to Theo’s funeral. Theo is his ex-boyfriend, one of his best friends, and his first love. In an act of self-sabotage (or self-preservation), Griffin broke up with Theo when he moved to California over a year ago for college, but they’ve remained in each other’s lives. Griffin thinks of Theo as his once and future love. He figures Theo will find his way back to him at some point. That theory is obliterated when Theo drowns. Griffin unravels. Toggling between their history and the present (where Griffin is directly addressing Theo, who he believes is with him even in death and observing him), Griffin fills in every detail of their relationship and everything that happened after they broke up (though it’s a slow reveal).


As I read, I kept thinking of that Stevie Smith poem, “Not Waving but Drowning,” specifically the lines “I was much further out than you thought/And not waving but drowning.” I was thinking of it not in the context of what happened to Theo, but what’s happening with Griffin. As we get to learn more of Griffin’s story, both the history and what he’s currently experiencing, we learn that he’s a real mess. He’s keeping a lot back from everyone (including the reader). He’s doing worse than anyone realizes, for so many reasons. Even when it seems like he’s letting people in, coping a little, trying to process and heal, he’s not. And who can blame him?


Both the history and the present are riveting, unexpected storylines. Griffin and Theo’s relationship is powerful and complicated, especially once they break up. I loved seeing them get together and watching their close friendship morph into intense first love. They have loving, supportive families. The third member of their squad, Wade, barely blinks when the two start dating—he just doesn’t want to feel like a third wheel with his longtime best friends. When Theo begins to date Jackson while in California, Griffin tries to keep his cool, jealous, but figuring the relationship won’t last. After Theo dies, Griffin has the love and support of his family, Theo’s, and Wade, but it’s through Jackson that Griffin tries to seek solace. Though at first not really excited to get to know Jackson at all, Griffin realizes that he’s really the only person who can understand exactly how he feels. Plus, he believes Theo is watching him, and he thinks Theo would like to see him working so hard to get along with Jackson and to understand what they had.


Predictably, growing closer to Jackson and learning more about his time with Theo is agonizing for Griffin. It’s all hard to hear and pretty heartbreaking. Through this entire grieving process, Griffin is growing more and more heartbroken, learning things about Theo that hurt him and avoiding pretty enormous things that need to be dealt with. One of those things is Griffin’s “quirks,” as he thinks of them—really OCD and depression and the whole thinking Theo is currently with him somehow thing. Though surrounded by love and support, Griffin is hellbent on forging his own way through the quagmire of grief.


This profoundly devastating, heartbreaking, and brilliantly rendered look at love and grief will captivate readers. An absolute must-read. Bump this to the top of your TBR lists and be ready to not move until you finish it.


Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781616956929

Publisher: Soho Press, Incorporated

Publication date: 01/17/2017

Sunday Reflections: Greater words than ours


This week, TLT is taking a break from its usual Sunday Reflections. Instead of reading our words, please spend a moment reading or listening to words from The Honorable John Lewis’s long career.

Here is his  “Speech at the March on Washington” from August 28, 1963 when he was 23 years old.

You can view the speech below.

We invite our readership to share favorite words from or thoughts on John Lewis in the comments.

You may also like:

Book Review: March Against Fear

Making a Social Justice Book Display that Engages Teens

Screening Ava DuVernay’s The 13th

Thinking About Ferguson

Book Review: The March Against Fear: The Last Great Walk of the Civil Rights Movement and the Emergence of Black Power by Ann Bausum

Publisher’s description

march-againstJames Meredith’s 1966 march in Mississippi began as one man’s peaceful protest for voter registration and became one of the South’s most important demonstrations of the civil rights movement. It brought together leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Stokely Carmichael, who formed an unlikely alliance that resulted in the Black Power movement, which ushered in a new era in the fight for equality.

The retelling of Meredith’s story opens on the day of his assassination attempt and goes back in time to recount the moments leading up to that event and its aftermath. Readers learn about the powerful figures and emerging leaders who joined the over 200-mile walk that became known as the “March Against Fear.”

Thoughtfully presented by award-winning author Ann Bausum, this book helps readers understand the complex issues of fear, injustice, and the challenges of change. It is a history lesson that’s as important and relevant today as it was 50 years ago.


Amanda’s thoughts

This powerful book examines one of the greatest civil rights protests and the last great march of that era—a march that is often forgotten, was fraught with complexity, and led to divisions in the civil rights groups and leaders of the time.


Bausum begins with the shooting of James Meredith, who was the first African American to earn a degree at Ole Miss, among the first to integrate the Air Force, and felt he had a “divine responsibility” to be a leader for his race. Meredith’s walk across Mississippi was for a simple reason: he was tired of being afraid of white people and he wanted black people to stop being afraid. He felt that if he could walk through his state like this, he might inspire people to be less afraid and get them out to vote. His plan was cut short when he was shot. However, his walk was then taken up by Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights activists and groups. Their focus was on voter registration and civil rights bills. They created a document calling on President Johnson to enforce legal rights of African Americans, provide increased economic opportunities, improve voting access, and have great representation by black people on juries and police forces. Meredith’s Walk Against Fear morphs into the March Against Fear, an undertaking that lasts most of June 1966 and eventually involves thousands of people bringing attention to segregation and the legacy of slavery. It is at this march that Willie Ricks and Stokely Carmichael first use and encourage the phrase “black power,” changing the call and response from “What do you want?” “Freedom!” to “What do you want?” “Black power!” for many in the march. Bausum’s book looks at the role of the news media and of the governments and police forces of the areas during the march as well as the unity and divisions of the civil rights groups during the march and effects after.


With plenty of source material, including many pictures from the march, this book is both well-written and well-researched. A large appendix details Bausum’s source material, including personal conversations with Meredith. Civil rights and social justice will always be relevant topics, and contemporary readers will be struck by just how little has been done to really move our country forward and how the topics important to the leaders during the march remain just as significant today. An important look at racism, protest, and the slow move toward progress. 


Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781426326653

Publisher: National Geographic Society

Publication date: 01/03/2017

Book Review: Factory Girl by Josanne La Valley

Publisher’s description

factoryIn order to save her family’s farm, Roshen, sixteen, must leave her rural home to work in a factory in the south of China. There she finds arduous and degrading conditions and contempt for her minority (Uyghur) background. Sustained by her bond with other Uyghur girls, Roshen is resolved to endure all to help her family and ultimately her people. A workplace survival story, this gritty, poignant account focuses on a courageous teen and illuminates the value—and cost—of freedom.




Amanda’s thoughts

Sixteen-year-old Roshen intends to continue her schooling to become a teacher. Her plans are changed for her when she is sent away to work in a factory in southern China. Roshen is devastated to have to leave her Muslim Uyghur family, who live near the Taklamakan Desert in northwest China. In addition to leaving behind her plans for school and her family, she leaves Ahmat, the boy she shares a special connection with and who it seems likely she will soon be engaged to. Roshen’s family isn’t told exactly where she will be taken, only that she will be gone for a year and is not allowed any devices or contact with her family. She and Ahmat set up a secret email address for her and devise a code, hoping she will be able to find internet stations and at least get a little information back to him. They expect that Roshen will be mistreated at the factory and discuss how she shouldn’t fight back. There may be spies and traitors among the girls, too.


Roshen and eleven other Uyghur girls are taken on the long journey to their factory. They’re led by Ushi, who is not only mean, but unfortunately also one of their bosses. They arrive to learn they will cut, sew, and finish work wear. It’s grueling work that’s hard on their bodies. The girls work very long hours, are hit with a rod if appearing unsatisfactory, are forced to speak Mandarin only (and penalized  if they speak Uyghur), aren’t allowed to wear their headscarves, and are often served meals with pork in them. They’re served tea with a drug in it to keep them awake so they can work longer hours. Many of the Chinese girls use clothespins to keep their eyes open. Additionally, the girls don’t even make money for many months as they are forced to pay for their trip from home to the factory, their meals, their uniforms, and the many unfair penalties they are assessed.


The twelve Uyghur girls are isolated from the rest of the workers and though they don’t all get along, and Roshen can’t stop wondering is someone is a spy, they bond together to help and protect one another. Roshen becomes a leader and learns how to work the system and avoid punishment as best she can. Roshen’s closest friend, Mikray, is defiant and determined to escape. Young Zuwida is in very poor health and only getting worse. Proud and haughty Hawa is selected to help the bosses by looking beautiful and being available to help placate clients. Eventually, Roshen, who speaks English in addition to Mandarin and Uyghur, is forced to go out with the boss and some clients. She is horrified by what is expected of her and receives some very unexpected (and heartbreaking) help. After returning to the factory, she is determined to allow herself to become gaunt, unwashed, and unappealing to avoid further assignments like this. Her decision has unintended consequences that leave her feeling incredibly guilty but also move her to further action.


Throughout all of her time at the factory, Roshen tries to remember the power of words. She clings to the songs and poems she has been taught and formulates her own. Her experience as a factory girl changes her forever. Roshen knows now that she will write, that she will tell the story of the factory girls. Generally well-written, the story’s one real downfall is the lack of development of many of the Uyghur girls, who don’t feel necessary beyond showing they are part of the block of girls isolated and most abused. At the same time, it’s the development of the girls who do carry pieces of the story, and their friendships and support, that make this story especially interesting and powerful. My ARC didn’t include the afterword, which apparently provides more context for the story and how La Valley came to tell it.  This harrowing story of exploitation, abuse, and forced labor is a compelling (and horrifying) look at a story (and a setting) not often seen in YA. 


Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780544699472

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Publication date: 01/10/2017

Book Review: Love and First Sight by Josh Sundquist

Publisher’s description

love-and-firstIn his debut novel, YouTube personality and author of We Should Hang Out Sometime Josh Sundquist explores the nature of love, trust, and romantic attraction.

On his first day at a new school, blind sixteen-year-old Will Porter accidentally groped a girl on the stairs, sat on another student in the cafeteria, and somehow drove a classmate to tears. High school can only go up from here, right?

As Will starts to find his footing, he develops a crush on a charming, quiet girl named Cecily. Then an unprecedented opportunity arises: an experimental surgery that could give Will eyesight for the first time in his life. But learning to see is more difficult than Will ever imagined, and he soon discovers that the sighted world has been keeping secrets. It turns out Cecily doesn’t meet traditional definitions of beauty–in fact, everything he’d heard about her appearance was a lie engineered by their so-called friends to get the two of them together. Does it matter what Cecily looks like? No, not really. But then why does Will feel so betrayed?

Told with humor and breathtaking poignancy, Love and First Sight is a story about how we related to each other and the world around us.


Amanda’s thoughts

First things first: I really would like to see some reviews of this book from people who are blind. Because I don’t know just how “right” Sundquist gets the many feelings about and experiences of being blind. That is not to say that that there is any one universal way to feel or one universal experience, obviously. Or that I think Sundquist is getting it “wrong.” After I read/review a book, I look for other reviews, especially when the subject matter is far out of my realm of experience and I’d really like to see reviews by people who share an identity with the main characters in the book. So, own voices reviews. After I wrote up my thoughts on this book, I poked around online and didn’t see any reviews yet that are from people who are fully or partially blind. Hoping once the book officially is out and the ebook and audiobook are out, that will change.


Will, 16, has started at a traditional school (or been “mainstreamed”) for the first time in his life, after spending all of his years in school being surrounded by other blind and visually-impaired people. He doesn’t want an aide (nor does he need one); he just wants to be as independent as possible. He doesn’t want people to feel sorry for him or feel that his life is any less full because he is blind. He encounters various attitudes, from his overly “helpful” principal who clearly has no clue how to interact with him and makes sure to point out that he’s “special” and “different,” to his great English and journalism teacher who makes it clear that she will hold him to all of the same expectations as the rest of the class. After a few initial embarrassing moments, Will gets into the swing of things and adjusts well to the change. He makes friends quickly—Nick, Ion, Whitford, and Cecily, all members of the quiz team. He grows particularly close with Cecily, whom he has journalism class with and ends up auditioning for the schools news with. They work on assignments together and hang out and Will is pretty sure he’s falling for Cecily. We get little hints that something may be up with her. We find out she’s been bullied most of her life. What we don’t find out, until later, is that Cecily has a rather large birthmark covering the top half of her face—a purple kind of “mask” that leads her classmates to have called her “Batgirl” for years. No one tells Will about this, though.


Will undergoes an experimental operation (retinal stem cell transplant) in the hopes of gaining full eyesight. The surgery is very risky, and not just for the reasons you might think. If successful, Will will have eyesight for the first time in his life. The visual cortex of his brain has developed differently than that of someone with eyesight and the learning curve (and adjustment to the flood of new information) will be steep. Fewer than 20 people have gone from total blindness to sight (an actual statistic, which we see in the author’s extensive note on his research). Will’s dad, a doctor, warns Will against the surgery, worried what it will do to him, mentally, if he can suddenly see. But he goes ahead with the surgery, which is successful. Before long, Will can see that Cecily has a birthmark, but he doesn’t think anything of it, really, other than noting her face looks different from other faces he’s seeing. For Will, who has never seen anything before, he just kind of catalogs her face as unlike others, but doesn’t judge her. He still feels she’s beautiful, which was his impression of her before he could see her. He certainly doesn’t see it as a “disfigurement,” which is his mother’s word. He calls it her beauty mark. But, even though he doesn’t suddenly want nothing to do with Cecily because of how she looks, he does feel completely lied to by Cecily and all of their friends. He feels he can’t trust them now. As he notes, everyone is always anxious to describe every single detail of everything to him. So why did they leave out Cecily’s birthmark?


Here’s the obvious discussion about this part of the book: Does the author make it feel like Will the only one who can find Cecily beautiful because he can’t see her (or doesn’t see her until quite late in their relationship)? Or that Will is the only one who can like her because he doesn’t know to think of her birthmark as offputting? Or that Will is the only one who can like her because he can “see beyond” her birthmark? Etc etc. I think Sundquist does a pretty good job of not making this storyline feel cliched, but there’s definitely room for discussion. I did spend a fair amount of time feeling sad that Cecily has such low self-esteem and obviously sees very little value in herself (she doesn’t think she’ll ever have a relationship, she doesn’t like pictures of herself, she worries she’ll hold Will back from winning as news anchor because no one will want her on the TV screen). I also spent a fair amount of time being SUPER irritated at Will’s cheerfully (and naively) optimistic mother, who seems to have ZERO clue about the process of going from being blind to having eyesight. You would think she would have educated herself more (especially given he’s been blind his whole life–she seems to have a fundamental misunderstanding of how his brain works and what his frames of reference may or may not include) or listened for two seconds to her doctor-husband who understands, and explains, the very complicated process Will’s brain is now undergoing.


Though the writing can be a little heavy-handed at times, overall this is an engaging story that seemed to avoid the pitfalls I worried about just based on reading the flap copy. It’s not often a YA book features a blind main character, and Will’s unique story of going from being blind to having eyesight may make readers consider this idea from a new perspective (if they think, as many do, that a blind person would of course want to be able to see). A humorous and thought-provoking read. 



Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780316305358

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Publication date: 01/03/2017

Book Review: The Truth of Right Now by Kara Lee Corthron

Publisher’s description

truthTwo isolated teens struggle against their complicated lives to find a true connection in this heartwrenching debut novel about first love and the wreckage of growing up.

Lily is returning to her privileged Manhattan high school after a harrowing end to her sophomore year and it’s not pretty. She hates chemistry and her spiteful lab partner, her friends are either not speaking to her or suffocating her with concerned glances, and nothing seems to give her joy anymore. Worst of all, she can’t escape her own thoughts about what drove her away from everyone in the first place.

Enter Dari (short for Dariomauritius), the artistic and mysterious transfer student, adept at cutting class. Not that he’d rather be at home with his domineering Trinidadian father. Dari is everything that Lily needs: bright, creative, honest, and unpredictable. And in a school where no one really stands out, Dari finds Lily’s sensitivity and openness magnetic. Their attraction ignites immediately, and for the first time in what feels like forever, Lily and Dari find happiness in each other.

In twenty-first-century New York City, the fact that Lily is white and Dari is black shouldn’t matter that much, but nothing’s as simple as it seems. When tragedy becomes reality, can friendship survive even if romance cannot?


Amanda’s thoughts

This was my first 2017 read and it was a great one to kick off the new year. You know how last year I was in a horrible reading slump and kept saying that the only stories grabbing me were ones that felt fresh and new, stories that felt like ones we just weren’t seeing enough of? That’s still holding true. And this one roped me in right away because Dari and Lily’s stories are so important. Any story that addresses race as much as this one does is always going to be relevant, not to mention still relatively rare.


Lily is not excited for another school year to start. We know she tried to kill herself and we know stories are swirling about her that have made her an outcast/shamed, but the reader doesn’t know right away what happened. I’ll leave it up to you to read that part of her story, but suffice it to say it’s pretty horrific and infuriating. Other than being the object of her classmates’ derision, she’s basically invisible. Her few friends weren’t there for her when she needed them and now Lily can’t really see the point of pretending to get along with anyone–that is, until she meets Dari.


Dari generally has his head stuck in his sketchbook or is ditching what he feels are classes that don’t challenge him. Their friendship initially is very much that of two kids who don’t have anyone else but seem content to be kind of quiet and distantly friends in school. But that doesn’t last long, especially for Lily, who pretty quickly develops more intense feelings for Dari. Dari holds her at a bit of a distance. He’s recently broken up with his older girlfriend and spends most of his time at home trying not to piss off his abusive father. After his sister leaves home to move in with her girlfriend, Dari decides to start to push back against his father’s violence, and that’s when the story really takes off. Dari’s father changes the locks to their apartment and Dari temporarily moves in with Lily and her mother. Lily and Dari grow closer and slowly reveal more of their pasts to each other, though there is still much held back and that leads to confusion and hurt feelings.


Lily is still reeling over the incidents of the past year and not particularly addressing her mental health needs. She’s tried therapy before and has very negative feelings about therapy and being medicated for her depression. She agrees to see a new therapist for a month and, while still reluctant to talk or get help, has some success. It’s through therapy that we learn more of Lily’s past as her therapist has her keep a journal where she can tell her story. Lily’s mom desperately wants to be a “cool mom” and is part of the problem. She’s a self-help writer trying to work on her second book, after an extremely successful first book, but rather oblivious how to actually help her own kid (or herself, as we see later in the story when she makes a particularly bad choice). Things at school get worse for Lily when a lewd picture of her begins to circulate.


Dari is trying to figure out what he will do now that he left home. He figures he can’t crash at Lily’s forever. He’s into Lily, but things just feel too complicated to start dating her, especially now that he’s living with her and her mom. That doesn’t stop Dari and Lily from hooking up, but he’s upfront all the time about how he feels (much to Lily’s dismay). Both Lily and Dari reveal that they are quick to get upset over things and both have violent tendencies. Their lives get pretty tangled up, with Lily looking to Dari for some sense of belonging and happiness and Dari trying to be careful of her feelings as he tries to work out his own stuff. Despite often holding back (and in some cases lying) with each other, they have many honest conversations about their personal lives, particularly about race. Lily is white and Jewish and Dari is black. We see Dari get stopped and frisked at one point for no reason. There are just some things that Lily doesn’t understand about Dari’s life. This comes to a head when they have a public argument and police show up. A pissed off Lily walks away and makes a thoughtless remark to the cops—one that has enormous consequences for Dari.


This intense story does not shy away from looking hard at racism, mental illness, the thing from Lily’s past that I’m not spoiling, and people making really horrible choices. Alternating viewpoints give the reader more of a peek into Dari and Lily’s minds and help keep the emotional tension high. This was one of those books where I read it as a nearly 40-year-old adult and just keep thinking about how *young* these characters are. They go through so much–things no one should have to go through at any age.  I have already flipped back a couple of times to read the very end, where Corthron gives the reader one last harsh truth. This isn’t always an easy read, but it’s absolutely an important one. Read this one and be ready to talk about racism, violence, sexual choices, and the many ways adults in this story screw up and damage the children in this book. 


Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss 

ISBN-13: 9781481459471

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Publication date: 01/03/2017