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On MOXIE, THE NOWHERE GIRLS, Current Events and the Power of Books

There has been a lot of very important discussion in the news this past couple of weeks about sexual harassment and abuse by men in positions of power, in no small part thanks to the revelations regarding Harvey Weinstein. Of course women know and have known for years that type of culture and abuse isn’t rare and isn’t limited to Hollywood, it’s everywhere. Yes, it’s even in our public school perpetrated by both teachers and students.

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This year there are two really good books that discuss this very topic and The Teen has read them both.
She has also already enthusiastically passed them on to friends with the note that they need to read these books right now. After she finished reading the second book, The Nowhere Girls, she came and told me that she was going to put up boundaries! It turns out there is a male student at school who keeps touching her, not in obviously inappropriate ways but in ways that still made her feel uncomfortable and she felt like she couldn’t say anything about it because it was just her being “weird”. But the truth is that she hated it and wanted it to stop. She has since told him that he is not allowed to touch her without her permission. To be honest, I believe there were threats like, “if you touch me again without my permission I will break your arm.”

As a parent, it was amazing to watch her read these two books and apply them to her real life experiences. Without a doubt, they made her think and gave her a sense of empowerment that she needed for a real life situation. As a librarian, it just reinforced for me that yes, what we do is important. Access to stories are important and powerful and although I see it in action every day, it doubly meaningful to see it in action with my daughter.

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I am the survivor of sexual abuse. The first time that a man ever touched my breast without my permission was when I was in the 6th grade. It was not the last time. I have been sexually harassed at work, and once a male colleague reported that HE was uncomfortable having witnessed it yet nothing happened. When these stories come out, women are not surprised. They know. And we are not surprised by the silence of women, because we understand how and why that happens as well. When we tell, we are doubted, condemned, and sometimes suffer great losses, like family, friendships and yes, jobs and reputation. Victims of sexual violence are never in a position of power, which is what men accused of sexual abuse like Harvey Weinstein and even Donald Trump are counting on (adding allegedly here to protect myself legally).

It would be nice to think that reactions this week mean the tide is finally turning, but at the same time our current president is on tape talking about how he can get away with this very thing because “they let you” because he’s famous. So while men are saying things like this ends now, women in the know recognize that it needed to end decades ago – and this will still probably not be the things that makes it end. But books can help. Book reveal what we try to keep hidden in the dark, they enlighten, and they empower. It’s not the only thing that is needed, but we definitely need them.


  1. So speaking of creepy dudes and sexual harassment, let me share a story about The Teen and events of this week. A thread.


  2. So The Teen recently read both MOXIE by @jenmathieu and THE NOWHERE GIRLS by Amy Reed. She loved them both. AND she told me


  3. @jenmathieu there is a boy at school who always touches her in creepy ways. Massaging her shoulders. Poking her belly. And it made her uncomfortable


  4. @jenmathieu but she thought it was just her being weird. But she read the books and declared, I'M DRAWING PERSONAL BOUNDARIES and telling this guy


  5. @jenmathieu that he can't touch me without my permission. Which, hell yes! And these important books helped her realize this & empowered her. Thank you!


  6. @jenmathieu Also, every girl. Every. Single. One. Will deal with this at some point. And speaking up is hard & can be costly. Careers, reputation, etc


  7. @jenmathieu And they always try to make it seem innocent but they are definitely not. They are trying to satisfy personal needs - power, thrills - at


  8. @jenmathieu the expense and comfort of another. And when girls speak up, they are ungrateful bitches, or manipulative, or vindictive. We as a society


  9. @jenmathieu need to change the narrative and call it what it is and recognize it as a non consensual violation of another person.


  10. @jenmathieu It's so normalized for girls she - who tells me everything - didn't even think to come talk to me about this. It's just the way things are.


  11. @jenmathieu And I obviously think every collection should have and everyone should read BOTH Moxie and The Nowhere Girls. Yes, both of them. We need


  12. @jenmathieu the message repeated and reinforced in multiple ways to help break down rape culture and change the discourse. Get them both. The end.

About Moxie

Moxie girls fight back!

Vivian Carter is fed up. Fed up with her small-town Texas high school that thinks the football team can do no wrong. Fed up with sexist dress codes and hallway harassment. But most of all, Viv Carter is fed up with always following the rules.

Viv’s mom was a punk rock Riot Grrrl in the ’90s, so now Viv takes a page from her mother’s past and creates a feminist zine that she distributes anonymously to her classmates. She’s just blowing off steam, but other girls respond. Pretty soon Viv is forging friendships with other young women across the divides of cliques and popularity rankings, and she realizes that what she has started is nothing short of a girl revolution.

About The Nowhere Girls

Three misfits come together to avenge the rape of a fellow classmate and in the process trigger a change in the misogynist culture at their high school transforming the lives of everyone around them in this searing and timely story.

Who are the Nowhere Girls?

They’re everygirl. But they start with just three:

Grace Salter is the new girl in town, whose family was run out of their former community after her southern Baptist preacher mom turned into a radical liberal after falling off a horse and bumping her head.

Rosina Suarez is the queer punk girl in a conservative Mexican immigrant family, who dreams of a life playing music instead of babysitting her gaggle of cousins and waitressing at her uncle’s restaurant.

Erin Delillo is obsessed with two things: marine biology and Star Trek: The Next Generation, but they aren’t enough to distract her from her suspicion that she may in fact be an android.

When Grace learns that Lucy Moynihan, the former occupant of her new home, was run out of town for having accused the popular guys at school of gang rape, she’s incensed that Lucy never had justice. For their own personal reasons, Rosina and Erin feel equally deeply about Lucy’s tragedy, so they form an anonymous group of girls at Prescott High to resist the sexist culture at their school, which includes boycotting sex of any kind with the male students.

Told in alternating perspectives, this groundbreaking novel is an indictment of rape culture and explores with bold honesty the deepest questions about teen girls and sexuality.

Take 5: Some of the Best Feminist YA on Rape Culture in Quotes

Sometimes there are books that I finish and I immediately think, I want my teenage daughter to read this book right away. Today I am sharing 5 of those books that are specifically about sexual violence, rape culture, and the ways we talk about and view women’s bodies. Some of them talk about female friendship, which is also important to to me. Some of them breakdown stereotypes, such as two of the titles (Exit, Pursued by a Bear and Moxie) which look at cheerleader stereotypes. This list is by no means an exhaustive list, as I had to keep it trimmed down to just five titles. So I put some parameters on myself: It had to be contemporary, which means books like Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future could not be included. It had to specifically speak towards the topic of sexual violence and rape culture, which leaves off a lot of other powerful and important feminist novels. I wanted the titles to be newer, which means that Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson is not on this particular list, but it is definitely on expanded lists and for good reasons.

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If you want to add a book to this list in the comments, please share a quote from the book, the title and the author. Why in quotes? Sometimes, I like to share some of my favorite quotes so that the power of the novel can speak to you itself.

feminist1All the Rage by Courtney Summers

Quote

“My dad used to say makeup was a shallow girl’s sport, but it’s not. It’s armor.”

Publisher’s Book Description

The sheriff’s son, Kellan Turner, is not the golden boy everyone thinks he is, and Romy Grey knows that for a fact. Because no one wants to believe a girl from the wrong side of town, the truth about him has cost her everything—friends, family, and her community. Branded a liar and bullied relentlessly by a group of kids she used to hang out with, Romy’s only refuge is the diner where she works outside of town. No one knows her name or her past there; she can finally be anonymous. But when a girl with ties to both Romy and Kellan goes missing after a party, and news of him assaulting another girl in a town close by gets out, Romy must decide whether she wants to fight or carry the burden of knowing more girls could get hurt if she doesn’t speak up. Nobody believed her the first time—and they certainly won’t now — but the cost of her silence might be more than she can bear.

With a shocking conclusion and writing that will absolutely knock you out, All the Rage examines the shame and silence inflicted upon young women after an act of sexual violence, forcing us to ask ourselves: In a culture that refuses to protect its young girls, how can they survive?

exit-pursuedExit, Pursued by a Bear by E. K. Johnston

Quote

“If you think I’m going to apologize for being drugged and raped, you have another thing coming.”

Publisher’s Book Description

Hermione Winters is captain of her cheerleading team, and in tiny Palermo Heights, this doesn’t mean what you think it means. At PHHS, the cheerleaders don’t cheer for the sports teams; they are the sports team—the pride and joy of a tiny town. The team’s summer training camp is Hermione’s last and marks the beginning of the end of… she’s not sure what. She does know this season could make her a legend. But during a camp party, someone slips something in her drink. And it all goes black.

In every class, there’s a star cheerleader and a pariah pregnant girl. They’re never supposed to be the same person. Hermione struggles to regain the control she’s always had and faces a wrenching decision about how to move on. The assault wasn’t the beginning of Hermione Winter’s story and she’s not going to let it be the end. She won’t be anyone’s cautionary tale.

feminist2The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis

Quote

“But boys will be boys, our favorite phrase that excuses so many things, while the only thing we have for the opposite gender is women, said with disdain and punctuated with an eye roll.”

Publisher’s Book Description

Alex Craft knows how to kill someone. And she doesn’t feel bad about it. When her older sister, Anna, was murdered three years ago and the killer walked free, Alex uncaged the language she knows best. The language of violence.

While her crime goes unpunished, Alex knows she can’t be trusted among other people, even in her small hometown. She relegates herself to the shadows, a girl who goes unseen in plain sight, unremarkable in the high school hallways.

But Jack Fisher sees her. He’s the guy all other guys want to be: the star athlete gunning for valedictorian with the prom queen on his arm. Guilt over the role he played the night Anna’s body was discovered hasn’t let him forget Alex over the years, and now her green eyes amid a constellation of freckles have his attention. He doesn’t want to only see Alex Craft; he wants to know her.

moxieMoxie by Jennifer Mathieu

Quote

“This is what it means to be a feminist. Not a humanist or an equalist or whatever. But a feminist. It’s not a bad word. After today it might be my favorite word. Because really all it is is girls supporting each other and wanting to be treated like human beings in a world that’s always finding ways to tell them they’re not.”

Publisher’s Book Description

An unlikely teenager starts a feminist revolution at a small-town Texan high school in the new novel from Jennifer Matheiu, author of The Truth About Alice.

MOXIE GIRLS FIGHT BACK!

Vivian Carter is fed up. Fed up with a school administration at her small-town Texas high school that thinks the football team can do no wrong. Fed up with sexist dress codes, hallway harassment, and gross comments from guys during class. But most of all, Viv Carter is fed up with always following the rules.

Viv’s mom was a tough-as-nails, punk rock Riot Grrrl in the ’90s, and now Viv takes a page from her mother’s past and creates a feminist zine that she distributes anonymously to her classmates. She’s just blowing off steam, but other girls respond. As Viv forges friendships with other young women across the divides of cliques and popularity rankings, she realizes that what she has started is nothing short of a girl revolution.

Moxie is a book about high school life that will make you wanna riot!

nowheregirlsThe Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed

Quote

“‘The thing is,’ Rosina says, ‘people don’t want to hear something that’ll make their lives more difficult, even if it’s the truth. People hate having to change the way they see things. So instead of admitting the world is ugly, they shit on the messenger for telling them about it.”

Publisher’s Book Description

Three misfits come together to avenge the rape of a fellow classmate and in the process trigger a change in the misogynist culture at their high school transforming the lives of everyone around them in this searing and timely story.

Who are the Nowhere Girls?

They’re everygirl. But they start with just three:

Grace Salter is the new girl in town, whose family was run out of their former community after her southern Baptist preacher mom turned into a radical liberal after falling off a horse and bumping her head.

Rosina Suarez is the queer punk girl in a conservative Mexican immigrant family, who dreams of a life playing music instead of babysitting her gaggle of cousins and waitressing at her uncle’s restaurant.

Erin Delillo is obsessed with two things: marine biology and Star Trek: The Next Generation, but they aren’t enough to distract her from her suspicion that she may in fact be an android.

When Grace learns that Lucy Moynihan, the former occupant of her new home, was run out of town for having accused the popular guys at school of gang rape, she’s incensed that Lucy never had justice. For their own personal reasons, Rosina and Erin feel equally deeply about Lucy’s tragedy, so they form an anonymous group of girls at Prescott High to resist the sexist culture at their school, which includes boycotting sex of any kind with the male students.

Told in alternating perspectives, this groundbreaking novel is an indictment of rape culture and explores with bold honesty the deepest questions about teen girls and sexuality.

Other Feminist YA Lists You Should Definitely Check Out

50 Crucial Feminist YA Novels – The B&N Teen Blog

34 Young Adult Books Every Feminist Will Love – BuzzFeed

100 Young Adult Books for the Feminist Reader | Bitch Media

Booklist: Sexual Assault, Rape, and Dating Violence in Young Adult

YA Books About Rape Culture, Fight Against Sexual Assualt | Teen.com

When Talking About Sexual Consent, YA Books Can Be A Parent’s Best Friend

You may also want to check out our complete index for the Sexual Violence in YA Literature Project:

SVYALit Project Index

 

 

Book Review: The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed and What You Need to Know About MRAs

nowheregirlsPublisher’s Book Description

Three misfits come together to avenge the rape of a fellow classmate and in the process trigger a change in the misogynist culture at their high school transforming the lives of everyone around them in this searing and timely story.

Who are the Nowhere Girls?

They’re everygirl. But they start with just three:

Grace Salter is the new girl in town, whose family was run out of their former community after her southern Baptist preacher mom turned into a radical liberal after falling off a horse and bumping her head.

Rosina Suarez is the queer punk girl in a conservative Mexican immigrant family, who dreams of a life playing music instead of babysitting her gaggle of cousins and waitressing at her uncle’s restaurant.

Erin Delillo is obsessed with two things: marine biology and Star Trek: The Next Generation, but they aren’t enough to distract her from her suspicion that she may in fact be an android.

When Grace learns that Lucy Moynihan, the former occupant of her new home, was run out of town for having accused the popular guys at school of gang rape, she’s incensed that Lucy never had justice. For their own personal reasons, Rosina and Erin feel equally deeply about Lucy’s tragedy, so they form an anonymous group of girls at Prescott High to resist the sexist culture at their school, which includes boycotting sex of any kind with the male students.

Told in alternating perspectives, this groundbreaking novel is an indictment of rape culture and explores with bold honesty the deepest questions about teen girls and sexuality.

Karen’s Thoughts

Yes, in the title of this post I mention MRAs, which we will get to in a minute, but make no mistake: this is a powerful feminist story about teenage girls. Like Moxie by Jennifer Matthieu (which comes out tomorrow), it sets its sights on rape culture in our public high schools and sends readers the important and powerful reminder that they can and should actively stand up against sexual harassment and violence. In the midst of those big themes, there are also reminders about the importance of and power of female friendship, intersectional feminism, faith of all kinds, and more.

When The Nowhere Girls get together in private places, they have what many perceive to be forbidden (and graphic) discussions about sex, sexuality, rape and more. These are frank conversations that many characters note they wish adults would have with them so that they could work on sorting it all out. In fact, some of the girls mention that they wish someone had told them they had the right to say no and other mention that they wish someone told them that it was okay to enjoy sex. As an adult reader I wish that someone had these discussions with me. Reed does a really good job in these conversations and throughout the book in presenting a wide variety of points of view on the topics without condemning any one point of view to lift up another.

The Nowhere Girls also does a really good job of giving us some good character diversity. One of the main girls is a progressive Christian with a pastor mother (which was a refreshing representation in every way even if the girl’s name is Grace), one is a Latina girl, and the other has Asperger’s. At times I wondered if the characters didn’t fall too broadly into stereotypes – the Latina character, Rosina, for example, has a big family that runs the local Mexican restaurant and she is constantly being forced to either work in the restaurant or watch her large number of cousins. Erin, the girl with Asperger’s, sticks to a rigid schedule and is obsessed with Star Trek: The Next Generation, looking to the android Data as a source of inspiration. Then throughout the book we get glimpses into many of the other girls in short vignettes. In fact, I originally stopped reading this book because of the number of voices and points of view that came up, but I picked it back up and I am so very glad that I did.

If it only ever gave us The Nowhere Girls stories and points of view, this would still be a profoundly powerful must-read, but it goes an important step further and acknowledges the very real and very toxic men’s right advocate/activist culture (MRAs). If you are not familiar with the MRA culture, it is a deep online culture (though less hidden more lately in part due to terrifying cultural and political shifts) where men discuss how to pick up and yes, how to rape, women. There are some MRAs who are fighting for things like father’s rights after divorce and an end to alimony and child support, but if you go deeper into the culture you see the types of posts that are highlighted in The Nowhere Girls.

Here are some posts to help get you started in understanding MRAs and what you read about in The Nowhere Girls:

Mad Men: Inside the Men’s Rights Movement (Mother Jones)

The 8 Biggest Lies Men’s Rights Activists Spread About Women (MIC)

I Spent a Week Hanging Out On a Men’s Rights Activist Forum – VICE

5 Uncomfortable Truths Behind the Men’s Rights Movement

There’s a better way to talk about men’s rights activism (VOX)

And right there in the pages of The Nowhere Girls author Amy Reed shares posts from an online blog called The Real Men of Prescott where they talk about things like the only role of a woman is for sex and sandwich making, how women should be submissive, and how if girls don’t give you sex, then you might just have to take it. They talk about how they get girls so drunk they can’t say no, and this is rape. These blog posts are a very real look into some of the darker parts of the online MRA movement and this is the first book I have read that talks about this part of our culture. It’s disgusting and uncomfortable, but it is oh so very necessary to talk about because it’s real and it’s happening and I want us all to acknowledge it’s existence and understand the impact it has on the world we live in.

And because this is a book review, I want to let you know that this is powerful storytelling with someone beautiful phrasing and imagery. And the ending moved me to the extreme and I hope that when girls come and tell us their stories of being a victim of sexual violence, we will believe them and move with them through life in the ways that these girls do. And sometimes, not often enough but sometimes, there is justice.

The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed is a must read by everyone 14 and older. It’s dark and graphic, but it’s also inspiring and empowering. Combined with Moxie by Jennifer Matthieu, I think this is powerful one-two punch on rape culture and feminism in our high schools that everyone should read and discuss. And never has there been a more timely book release than these two books coming out right as Betsy Devos is talking about walking back Title IX in our schools at the same time that women’s rights are once again under fierce attack by our current administration and legislators. These are the right books at the right times, and they are powerfully good book at that.

The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed releases October 10th from Simon Pulse

I happen to have a spare copy of The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed in ARC form that I picked up at ALA and I think this book is good and important, I’m doing a give away. If you live in the U.S. do the Rafflecopter thingy by Friday.


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sunday Reflections: Colonel Mustard in the Library with the Lead Pipe, aka on “Due Process” in Literature and Yes, Another Discussion of MOXIE

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A teen stumbles on a body in a field. Or their best friend is missing. Or they get a mysterious package in the mail. What do they do? They almost never call the police. Never. In the great tradition of Scooby Doo, they investigate themselves, because of course they do. In fact, if they didn’t, there would be no novel.

While investigating they touch everything. They move important information. They don’t talk to each other about what they find, let alone the authorities. Yet I have never read a review that suggested a mystery novel was a problem because the main characters didn’t follow due process.

In case you are wondering what I am talking about, a recent Kirkus review of Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu complained that this novel was a problem because it embraced vigilante justice and ignored due process. I have already written my thoughts about this book and this review earlier this week, but I can’t help continuing to think about the concept of due process. (See Let’s Talk about MOXIE by Jennifer Mathieu)

If we demanded that our main characters followed the letter of the law in every novel that we read the entire mystery, thriller and horror genres would cease to exist immediately. Poof, they are gone.

We read about teen crime fighters, teen spies, teen hackers and more, but a teen girl sharing with others that she was the victim of an attempted rape is a line you can not cross?

Sexual crimes are largely under-reported. Do you know why? It’s because of the ways that we treat victims who come forward. They will be questioned about what they wore, what they drank, where they were, their sexual history and more. They will be treated as if it is all their fault. Due process does not favor those who come forward and ask for justice for the sexual crimes committed against them.

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The fact that this reviewer insists upon due process in a FICTIONAL NOVEL meant to empower young women highlights how loathe we are to give a voice to the victims of sexual violence. I have never seen this insistence of due process in any other type of novel, nor have I seen a fear of vigilante justice, even in novels that actually include vigilante justice. Because we understand that novels are, well, fiction.

So here I am days later still grappling with this review but not because of the review itself, but because of what it reinforces about rape culture. We don’t believe victims. We hold conversations about sexual violence to a different standard then any other discussions about criminal behavior. We ask things of the survivors of sexual violence that we don’t ask the survivors of any other crime.

But this review is written by a woman? Yes, yes it is. And women are raised in the same patriarchal society that teaches us that the voice of men and the concerns about men’s futures are more important than the voices of the victims of sexual violence. It’s hard work breaking down that internalized misogyny. It’s work that even the most feminist of feminists are still doing. News, media, churches, our own families – they reinforce the patriarchy from the moment we are born and it is hard and constant work to break that down and to choose to give women equal footing. That is, by the way, what Moxie is doing, it’s doing the hard work of breaking that down and empowering teen girls by reminding them that they deserve to have a voice. But even in a book designed to empower and give teen girls a voice, many are asking but what about the men? It’s hard to center the female voice because we have been taught that we can’t, that we shouldn’t.

For another great discussion of Moxie, check out this Booklist review: Girls to the Front: Jennifer Mathieu’s MOXIE

And that refusal to listen to and center the female voice – even on occasion – is part of the reason why there is a group of 12 male senators writing a secret healthcare bill that will dramatically impact women’s healthcare choices and costs. It’s why male senators continue to ask female senators to be quiet or “less hysterical”, despite the fact that the data continues to show us that even when women speak less than men, they are perceived as dominating the conversation.

It’s why we have a review demanding that a fictional novel become a how-to-manual when it involves a female main character accusing a male character of rape (actually, attempted rape if we are going to precise).

I was a middle school child who tried to tell the adults around me that I was the victim of sexual violence. I followed “due process” and nothing ever came of it. It was swept under the rug, as these things often are, and my voice was taken from me. I never got justice. In fact, I have spent the rest of my life trying to navigate and juggle family situations in a way that keeps me safe from having to be around the person who violated me. The work was put on me, a child, because every adult around me – including law enforcement – failed me. I now talk about what happened to me in coded ways so as to protect myself from any legal repercussions from the person who violated me as a child. If you have read this blog long enough you will realize that I never say who or what relationship I have with this person; I do this so that this person can never come back and sue me for character assassination. Now I protect him even though no one protected me. That’s what it is like being the victim of sexual violence and trying to follow due process.

I imagine what it would have been like for me if I had read a book like Moxie during the time that I was being abused. If I would have felt more empowered to ask for help sooner, to demand justice more fully, to give myself a voice instead of growing old in shameful silence. I wonder what it would be like to have had people stand up with me and walk out of a school in a show of solidarity and support instead of having a family that complained that I was being unfair to my abuser and making the family uncomfortable and strained. Moxie is not supposed to be a how-to-manual, because no novel is by definition, but it is an empowering and inspiring one. And for that I am forever grateful. Teenage me is glad that today’s teens will have this book that reminds them that they don’t have to be silent, that they don’t have to center men, and that they can choose to be advocates and activists.

If you can read a mystery novel and not complain about the lack of due process then you should be able to read a novel about female empowerment and not complain about the lack of due process. If not, you should probably take some time to reflect and ask yourself why.

Let’s Talk about MOXIE by Jennifer Mathieu

moxieTrigger Warning: Sexual Violence

This past year was a rough one for The Teen. I got repeated texts from my daughter asking me to please come pick her up at school because she didn’t feel safe. She came home and talked about boys touching her and her friends in the hallways, catcalling, asking them to send naked pics and telling them to suck their d*cks. As a mother and a sexual abuse survivor, it was so hard to watch my daughter go through this year.

During the last few weeks of school 15 girls were sent home for wearing school spirit t-shirts as opposed to the uniform polo shirts. Fifteen. But during an assembly where they were being taught CPR nothing happened to the boys who yelled out to the instructor crude comments about sucking and blowing. Absolutely nothing.

I called the school. I wrote to the admin. I asked them to address their sexual abuse policy and how it was being implemented. I shared with them stories about what was happening to my daughter and her friends.

And in the midst of all of this, I read Moxie.

Moxie is the story of a high school where the girls are going exactly through what my daughter was going through. This book was personal. So I after I read the book, I ran into The Teen’s room and said, “you need to read this right now.”

In Moxie, our main character, Vivian, begins a revolution to call out and raise awareness of harassment and injustice the girls in her high school face. It begins when she finds some old zines in her mother’s closet. She posts her own zine and asks her fellow students to show up on a specified date with stars on their hands to raise awareness. And several do. Over time, the movement evolves. Others post their own zines. Many of the girls hold a bake sale to raise funds for new uniforms for a female sport that isn’t supported in the same way that the HS football team is. When the bake sale is banned on campus, they hold an event off campus. They go from supporting one female sport to all female sports. Their advocacy is a work in progress as they learn, grown, regroup and figure out what it means to be involved and an advocate. I found this process to be incredibly realistic, that is the nature of waking up to injustice and choosing to be vocal. No one is a perfect advocate, ally or activist; we are all learning as we go. So of course these teenage girls are imperfect in their attempts. In fact, I appreciated the way the girls talked and worked out the kinks as they went along in their journey. Character growth is an awesome thing.

In a recent review by Kirkus, there were some harsh criticisms leveled again Moxie and the way these girls approach speaking out about their experiences. The reviewer complained that boys weren’t given a voice and that the book didn’t really address the issue of due process vs. vigilante justice. I disagree with this review.

Kirkus Quote: Vivian’s incensed reaction when her boyfriend suggests the anonymous accuser might be lying ignores the American judicial system’s core tenet of due process.

For one, Vivian has a boyfriend with whom she has many important conversations about these issues, including that of believing the victim. In fact, they have a very good discussion when one of the football players is accused of rape regarding false accusations and the important of believing the victim. It’s also important for us to note that false accusations are incredibly rare, in large part because of the harsh realities that victims must face when they do come out and share their story. We as a culture are quick to blame victims while even convicted offenders like Brock Turner will receive very little jail time as we are more worried about what happens to men who rape as compared to what happens to the girls that they rape. Vivian’s message is believe the victim, and that’s an important message. Victims are re-harmed time and time again because no one will believe them.

Kirkus Quote: But there are troubling moments when Vivian excludes willing male participants, seemingly suggesting that achieving female empowerment requires gender separation.

First, I’m not sure I view this quote as entirely accurate. For example, towards the end of the book, I felt that the girls were in fact thankful for the guy’s who participated in their walk out. As for the criticism that this book doesn’t embrace the activism of feminist men, I reply with this thought: why can’t a book about female empowerment be a book about female empowerment? One of the things I am learning as an ally is that my voice should never rise above that of the group or persons I am trying to be an ally for. In the work of feminism, this is true of the male voice. I appreciate the allyship and support of men when it comes to fighting for equal rights and sexual safety, but the male voice should not be louder than the female voice in this discussion because then nothing about the dynamics have changed. We currently have an all male leadership working to make laws about women’s healthcare and reproductive choices and male senators keep telling female senators to be quiet and sit down – now is the time to raise and amplify the female voice in the discussion of female rights and safety. Men do not lack a platform or a voice, so just this once maybe we can agree to empower our daughters and give them a voice and let men take a back seat. Is that too much to ask? I don’t think it is. I think it is the only way that the dynamics will change. It’s time to listen to women when we talk about women’s rights and bodies and experiences. This is a book that amplifies the female voice in the discussion of female experiences of oppression and sexual violence.

Kirkus Review: Further, the novel fails to educate readers that qualified police investigators, not school officials, must be alerted in accusations of criminal behaviors.

This quote is of particular interest to me because this what not actually the experience of some of the girls and their parents at our school this year. In fact, when a teen girl was held down in class as a boy tried to touch her and another boy tried to video tape it, her mother called the police to report the incident. She was told it was a school and not a police matter. Schools are required by Title IX to protect all students, including to protect them in instances of sexual violence. Unfortunately, schools are failing our students in this regard every single day. 1 in 4 of our daughters will be the victim of some type of sexual violence before they graduate high school. Much of this will take place in our schools. In fact, the police, schools and the judicial system keep failing them.  There are far more guilty Brock Turners who will serve zero to little time after being found guilty.

As the mother of a teenage daughter who went through the exact experiences shown is this book, I feel Moxie is a powerful and important and relevant and inspiring story of how girls can join together to fight for their rights and safety. It’s a novel, not a hand book, but it’s definitely an inspiring starting point that says to girls, you can change the dynamics. What a powerful message that is to receive when you live in a world where you don’t feel safe at your school.

There are other powerful messages and discussions in this book. The characters change their minds about a lot of things as they learn and grow. They come to regard each other differently as they see each other as complex and dynamic people. There is, in fact, a powerful story about a cheerleader and how their stereotypical views of this person change when they receive new information.

I loved this book. It is the book that my teenage daughter and I needed in the midst of this school year. And I know, because I have worked with teens for 23+ years, that her experience was not unique. The first time a boy ever reached out and grabbed my breast was when I was walking through the hallways of my middle school. It was not the only time. Go ask any woman and they will probably be able to share similar stories as the stories that you read about in Moxie. And that’s why this book matters.

I highly recommend it. I’m buying it for every teenager I know.

Publisher’s Book Description

An unlikely teenager starts a feminist revolution at a small-town Texan high school in the new novel from Jennifer Matheiu, author of The Truth About Alice.

MOXIE GIRLS FIGHT BACK!

Vivian Carter is fed up. Fed up with a school administration at her small-town Texas high school that thinks the football team can do no wrong. Fed up with sexist dress codes, hallway harassment, and gross comments from guys during class. But most of all, Viv Carter is fed up with always following the rules.

Viv’s mom was a tough-as-nails, punk rock Riot Grrrl in the ’90s, and now Viv takes a page from her mother’s past and creates a feminist zine that she distributes anonymously to her classmates. She’s just blowing off steam, but other girls respond. As Viv forges friendships with other young women across the divides of cliques and popularity rankings, she realizes that what she has started is nothing short of a girl revolution.

Moxie is a book about high school life that will make you wanna riot!

This book comes out in September 2017

Sunday Reflections: That’s Me in the Corner . . .

TRIGGER WARNING: SEXUAL VIOLENCE

svyalit

This year was more triggering for me then I ever could have imagined. 8th grade, the worst year of my life. The year of betrayal at the hands of a man who swore to keep me safe, a man I trusted. The year my teenage daughter was now entering into. This was the year I dreaded since learning I would become a mother, and to daughters.

I thought at the beginning of the year, if I can just keep her safe this year then everything will be okay. If we just can make it through the 8t grade, she’ll be safe.

It turns out, that is a lie.

That’s me in the corner
That’s me in the spotlight
Losing my religion
Trying to keep up with you
And I don’t know if I can do it
Oh no I’ve said too much
I haven’t said enough

This election peeled off the scab that had formed over the wounds of my own experience with sexual violence. As election night drew near, my heart sank. I drove through my town and watched as more and more signs for Donald Trump went up, despite the fact that we had all heard the audio of this man openly boasting about sexual violence. I heard pundits and friends and family dismissing this behavior as locker room talk. I read the letter sent out by my church from Franklin Graham assuring me that the only right way to vote was for the sanctity of life.

But whose life?

You see that’s what this election has made clear, we do not value the sanctity of all lives equally. We made that clear when we put a man in the White House who is on record as saying that he can grab any woman he wants by the pussy. A man who filled his cabinet with at least 3 men who have been accused of domestic violence. A man whose first act as president was to sign a piece of paper in a room full of men that rescinded some of the rights of women both in healthcare and in the workplace.

Every whisper
Of every waking hour
I’m choosing my confessions
Trying to keep an eye on you
Like a hurt, lost and blinded fool, fool
Oh no, I’ve said too much
I set it up

So I look at my daughter and I realize, even if I get her safely through this 8th grade year, if she can get through this year without being touched by a man against her will, she still isn’t safe. Not really.

Last year, as the election drew to a close and it was announced that Donald Trump would be the 45th president, I wrote a letter on my FB page to the church universal. I poured out my heart to the universe about how I would not be able to go to church the following Sunday knowing that the church didn’t care about me, a survivor of sexual violence. It was me pouring out my pain and my fear and the rejection I felt from my safe place, my faith, because they had just voted a man into the highest office who said out loud the very things victims of sexual violence have to live with. It was angry, it was real, and it was raw.

My best friend unfriended me. My church abandoned me. I was told I was a sinner who needed to get right with God. I was left standing, alone, in my despair as I realized that power, a Supreme Court judge, and a few key issues were more important than the safety of women, the safety of my daughters. It was in this moment that I truly I understood my place in the Christian faith, and my sorrow knew no bounds. I was an outsider in this place I was supposed to call my home, my family.

That’s me in the corner
That’s me in the spotlight
Losing my religion
Trying to keep up with you
And I don’t know if I can do it
Oh no, I’ve said too much
I haven’t said enough

All of those feelings came surging back again this week as more and more news came out about Bill O’Reilly. I have never personally been a big viewer of Fox News, but I know that it is the channel endorsed by my church and most of my Christian friends. I also knew about the sexual harassment accusations and ousting of Roger Ailes. And now comes news of Bill O’Reilly. And I am reminded again, many people are willing to sacrifice the safety of women for whatever it is they perceive they gain by propping up these men, by looking the other way. For Bill O’Reilly, it’s rating and money. For Donald Trump, it’s power and money. The safety of women, it appears, can be easily bought.

What do I tell me daughter as she reads, once again, about the sexual harassment of women? Brock Turner. Bill Cosby. Donald Trump. The Baylor football team. Bill O’Reilly. It’s everywhere. A new name comes up before the old name is even able to leave fully formed from our lips. The list grows longer. The world grows less safe as we become more aware of how prevalent sexual harassment, abuse and violence really is.

This world feels fundamentally unsafe for women. We’re willing to look past crimes against them because we want comfort, power, a conservative Supreme Court judge . . . We are willing to sacrifice women at the altar of male power. The truth of it burns deep into the core of me; I am a fire that can not be quenched any longer with platitudes and niceties. I am rage. I am despair. I feel like I might finally understand what it means when we describe God as a vengeful God, as a heartbroken parent, as a rejected bridegroom . . . I feel cast aside, and I alternate between despair and a need for vengeance. I want to rain down a cleansing fire and hold our daughters in our hearts and whisper to them, you are loved, you are valued, you are safe.

How do I help my daughter feel like she is precious in the eyes of God when the church is willing to sacrifice her to the wolves? How do I make her feel valuable in this world when men in power call her a host and pass laws that make her powerless over her body? How do I make her feel safe when legislators and judges try to explain away rape by trying to say it’s not legitimate rape? How do I make her feel confident and motivated and worthy of an education when schools punish girls for having bodies and put the responsibility of boys education on them somehow by calling girls distractions? How, how, how . . .

How do I raise a daughter who is whole and healthy and confident and chosen when everything about this world seems designed to tell her that she is none of those things, and doesn’t deserve to be?

The Vice President of the United States recently revealed that he can’t have dinner alone with a woman, preventing women from being involved in business and government as his equal. We are lesser objects, temptresses, bodies to be feared, not minds and heart and voices to be included and respected.

When I was twenty, I was engaged to the man who is now my husband. We have been married 22 years this year. But at the time, I was living in Southern California, renting a room from a family in my church. They called me their daughter. Their children called me sister. This arrangement was made because I wasn’t safe in the house I was living in. For two years, I called their house my home and I called them family.

One day, the mother came to me and told me that she and the kids were going on a two week vacation and I would have to find somewhere else to live while they were gone. It was then that I knew that it was all a lie. I was not family, I was not a fellow Christian, I was as I have always been a female body that couldn’t be seen as anything more than a sexual object, a temptation, a lesser being. I packed up my belongings and went to the only place that was open to me, the place that they had supposedly been keeping me safe from for the last two years.

That was 24 years ago and the world feels less safe now than it did then. Then the church universal still pretended to care about the sanctity and safety of women, but now the curtain has torn and the sheep have taken off their costumes to reveal the wolves underneath. The church no longer feels like a sanctuary but a pit of vipers thriving off of my fear.

I close my eyes at night and I see the leaders of the church as monsters, gnashing their teeth at the tether of female safety, willing to sacrifice us all for power. The 44-year-old sexual assault survivor, the 8th grader whose mom just wants her to be safe, the 8-year-old who doesn’t yet understand what it means to have wolves in office. Women are all on the sacrificial altar when it comes to maintaining money and power.

svyalitgraphic

In this lifetime, 1 in 4 women will be the victims of sexual violence of one kind or another. Many of us have been fighting hard to raise awareness and to help lower these statistics. But now, we have put a predator in office who has surrounded himself by others who appear to hate women, and most days it feels like we have lost the fight. How do we tell the current generation of boys growing up how to treat a woman when we have contradicted ourselves by the men we put in power? How do we tell them we value consent and respect when they can go on YouTube and hear their president speaking the way he does about women? We have legitimized the very thing I have been fighting again.

I recently started going to another church. I listen every week waiting to hear someone say that what is happening in our world is not okay. I’m waiting for a man – any man –  to stand at the pulpit and say, without hesitation or doubt, but in the boldness that comes from speaking the truth, that sexual violence against women is not under any circumstances okay. That women shouldn’t be given a numeric value, that women’s health matters, that consent is the only acceptable option.

I’m waiting for the letter from Frankly Graham that says the only right way to vote is for the candidate that values the sanctity and safety of women. That it is never acceptable to have a sexual predator in our highest government office.

I’m waiting for the world to tell me that my daughters deserve to be safe and loved and respected.

I’m desperately waiting.

faith and Spirituality

I need to know that my church, that my faith, values me. Values my daughters.

I need to know that moving forward, we will no longer continue to tolerate propping up men who abuse women – not for ratings, not for profit, and not for power. Not for a Supreme Court justice. Not for a majority in Congress. Not for the power to make laws that make men richer.

That’s me in the corner, sitting on a pew, waiting for my church to tell me that I am safe among them. But slowly, so slowly, I am losing my religion. Because I refuse to take my daughters to a place of worship that thinks their value and safety is something that can be sacrificed.

And now, I finally understand the song. I’m losing my religion, though I am trying desperately to hang on to my faith.

Title and quoted lyrics are from LOSING MY RELIGION by R.E.M.

#SVYALit (2014)

The Sexual Violence in YA Project, using YA literature to discussion sexual violence in the life of teens

#FSYALit (2015)

The Faith and Spirituality in YA Lit Discussion, using YA literature to discussion a diversity of faiths in the life of teens

#SVYALit: No, It’s Not Normal Locker Room Talk and Yes It’s Important That We Say That (Out Loud Even)

TRIGGER WARNING:

THIS POST IS ABOUT SEXUAL VIOLENCE

svyalit

“Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”

“Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”

2016 Presidential candidate Donald Trump was recorded saying the words above. Since the tape was released, many, many people have excused the words and declared them “Locker Room Talk”.

To be fair, I have never been inside a male locker room. Not once.

But I do know a man who talked like this. He was the man who spent my 8th grade year molesting me. Like Donald Trump, he held a position of power. And like Donald Trump, he felt that he could say and do whatever he wanted. He did not view women as fully human. He viewed them as beneath men. They were objects placed upon this Earth for his sexual pleasure and personal amusement.

Someone I follow on Twitter recently said, “I can not respect a person who does not recognize my humanity.

That’s what this is about, respecting the humanity of another person. In this case, men recognizing, respecting and valuing the humanity of women.

We know that many men – though yes, not all men – don’t respect and value and recognize the humanity of women. We know this because the sexual abuse statistics affirm it. Approximately 1 in 4 women will be sexually abused in their lifetime. Their perpetrator is 5 times more likely to be a man. 90% of the time it will be someone they have some type of relationship with; someone they know and trust.

Words matter. They reveal our character. They also shape and influence culture. Our young people today are listening to what’s happening around them. For example, did you know that hate crimes have risen since the 2016 election have started? “A new report published by Georgetown University’s Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding has documented an upsurge in violence against Muslims in the United States coinciding with the 2016 election campaign.” (Source)

And now, we are forced to grapple with a wide variety of people very publicly trying to rationalize and explain away sexual violence as if it is less important than issue, a, b, or c, whatever that issue may be.

But here’s the deal. Every time you try and defend or downplay these casual remarks about sexual violence, you are contributing to a culture which has made sexual violence possible. You are saying that the worth and safety of each and every sexual violence victim is less important than whatever your key issue is. The economy? The Supreme Court?

What’s more, every victim/survivor of sexual violence is now forced to listen to people try and justify what happened to them instead of hearing the people around them – the adults that make policy that determine their fate and well being – disavowing sexual violence. They need to know you care; they need to hear you say that this is not okay. They need you to stand up against sexual violence.

That means that the 14-year-old I know who was raped at knife point is forced to hear over and over and over again that what happened to her can be rationalized or justified.

That means that my neighbor who is forced to live across the street from the man who molested her is forced to hear over and over and over again that what happened to her can be rationalized or justified.

That means that the 1 in 4 teen girls who live in your neighborhoods, go to your churches, bag your groceries, and walk the halls of your schools are forced to hear over and over and over again that what happened to them can be rationalized or justified.

They hear you saying that what happened to them is just locker room talk.

And our teenage boys are listening. They hear you say that this is normal “alpha male” or “locker room” talk.

They hear you, our leaders, our policy makers, our spiritual advisors, our adult mentors, saying it is perfectly normal and acceptable for a man to talk like this. So now they will.

They will walk into the locker room and talk like this.

They will walk down the school hallways and grab their classmates by the pussy.

Every 109 seconds, another person experiences sexual assault. – RAINN

Because they hear you saying it is okay. They hear you trying to rationalize it. They are listening.

Because that is what we’re saying. When we won’t stand up and say that this type of speech and behavior is unacceptable, we are saying that it is, in fact, acceptable. We are normalizing sexual violence. Is that what we want our history books to say about the 2016 election? That this is the year where we normalized and rationalized sexual violence for the next generations of our children and children’s children’s children.

Not me. I stand against normalizing sexual violence.

Sexual violence is never okay.

If you or someone you know has been the victim of sexual violence, please contact RAINN for support.

TLT, along with many authors, librarians, and sexual abuse survivors, has been committed to raising awareness about sexual violence in the life of teens through the #SVYALit Project. You can read those posts here.

Rural Poverty and THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES by Mindy McGinnis

Sometimes, it is indeed a small world after all. Shortly after moving to Texas, I learned that author Mindy McGinnis lived just 10 minutes from the very library I had spent the last 10 years working at in the state of Ohio. This town was my home, the place where my children were born. It was also, at the time, the county with the highest poverty rate in all of Ohio. So while there were many aspects about Mindy McGinnis’ THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES that stood out to me, one that stood out most vividly is the depiction of rural poverty. THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES is set in a small, Midwestern town that is ravished by poverty and in my mind’s eye I could picture the very places around this small town that I thought Mindy might be talking about. And while all poverty is bad, each type of poverty has its unique challenges. For example, one of the greatest challenges in rural poverty is transportation. Rural communities are often spread out and don’t have public transportation systems, which makes things like going to a grocery story or doctor’s appointment quite challenging. There are usually fewer options in rural communities, and less options means less competition and less price choices.

Although I currently live in Texas, I work in a public library in another rural Ohio community that is also fighting high poverty. Many of my patrons don’t have the money to buy current technology, and even if they did have the money the truth is, there are still parts of my community that have no providers offering wireless or DSL Internet. Like many other places experiences high rural poverty rates, drug use and drug related deaths are reaching epidemic proportions. So as I mentioned, THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES resonated with me in ways that I can not even begin to describe.

Today, I am honored to host author Mindy McGinni who talks about rural poverty and the part it plays in her newest release, THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES.

thefemaleofthespecies

The Female of the Species addresses many issues within its pages; rape culture and vigilante justice being the most prevalent. A quieter issue raises it’s head though, one that is easy to overlook, shadowed as it is by the more controversial topics.

Rural poverty.poverty2Much of the time poverty is associated with urban life and that is certainly a truth that cannot go ignored. However, there is another face to poverty, one that looks picturesque. Farms with collapsed barns. Homes where no one lives anymore.

I was born and raised in a rurally impoverished area and now I live and work in one. For fourteen years I have been employed as a library aide at a local school where nearly forty percent of our student body receive free and reduced lunch.

During deer hunting season our attendance list shows double digits of our students are excused for the day to participate… and in most cases it’s not a leisure activity for them. They’re putting much-needed food on the family table.

Food pantry lines are long, faces are pinched, and during the summer months many of our students go without lunch because they depended on the school to provide it. Because it is a sprawling, rural community, people who have to weigh the cost of gas for the drive to the pantry against the food they will get there.

None of the characters in my book suffer the indignity of hunger, because I feel it’s an issue that deserves more space than there was room for within this particular story. But hunger breeds a specific type of desperation that calls for an escape, and this can open the door to darker things.

poverty1

Upper and middle classes know the need for a vacation. We all feel the cycle of our daily lives triggering stress, causing irritation and anger, and even pushing us towards exhaustion. So we take a “mental health day,” call off work for little or no reason, or we cash in those vacation days and just “get away from it all.”

We have that luxury.

Many of the jobs available to the working poor pay by the hour, and to take a day off means to take a pay cut – one that the budget doesn’t allow for. Vacation time may be possible, but the idea of affording to actually leave is laughable. Escapes from reality are sometimes sought not in a getaway, but in drug use.

There is a major heroin epidemic in my area. We have lost students in my small school district to it. One Twitter user already thanked me for mentioning the epidemic in The Female of the Species, saying that she hopes it may draw more attention to the issue. If it doesn’t, this should; last weekend alone multiple people OD’d, two of them in a mini-van with a four year old.

It’s easy to point fingers, lay blame, criticize and judge. What kind of people do this?

The desperate. The addicted. The hopeless.

Such descriptions aren’t solely the realm of the poor, but there are correlations that can’t be denied.

On my worst days – and we all have bad ones, no matter who we are – I can get upset, feel like giving up or just ducking out of reality for awhile. Stress is present in all our lives, no matter our socioeconomic standing.

But on these days I remind myself that I have food. I have clothes. I have a working car that I can drive to my next school visit, library appearance, or book club talk. I can fill the gas tank and go to work without having to worry about paying for that stop.

The small luxuries of our lives are something that most of us take for granted until they are taken away from us – a cracked phone that doesn’t work, the car being in this shop for a few days, the heat and electric always being on.

When you do have one of those days, think about those who can’t afford a phone at all, and are literally holding their cars together with duct tape. In the past I’ve had students that heat their home with the kitchen stove, and the children sleep with the pets to share body heat.

Spare a thought for them on your bad days, and if you can spare more than that, please do.

Publisher’s Book Description

Alex Craft knows how to kill someone. And she doesn’t feel bad about it. When her older sister, Anna, was murdered three years ago and the killer walked free, Alex uncaged the language she knows best. The language of violence.

While her crime goes unpunished, Alex knows she can’t be trusted among other people, even in her small hometown. She relegates herself to the shadows, a girl who goes unseen in plain sight, unremarkable in the high school hallways.

But Jack Fisher sees her. He’s the guy all other guys want to be: the star athlete gunning for valedictorian with the prom queen on his arm. Guilt over the role he played the night Anna’s body was discovered hasn’t let him forget Alex over the years, and now her green eyes amid a constellation of freckles have his attention. He doesn’t want to only see Alex Craft; he wants to know her.

So does Peekay, the preacher’s kid, a girl whose identity is entangled with her dad’s job, though that does not stop her from knowing the taste of beer or missing the touch of her ex-boyfriend. When Peekay and Alex start working together at the animal shelter, a friendship forms and Alex’s protective nature extends to more than just the dogs and cats they care for.

Circumstances bring Alex, Jack, and Peekay together as their senior year unfolds. While partying one night, Alex’s darker nature breaks out, setting the teens on a collision course that will change their lives forever. (Katherine Tegen Books, September 2016)

More on Rural Poverty and America’s Rural Drug Crisis

Understanding the Epidemic | Drug Overdose | CDC Injury Center

Opioid Addiction 2016 Facts & Figures

About the Epidemic | HHS.gov

5 Charts That Show How Bad America’s Drug Problem Is | TIME

Rural Poverty Portal: Home

Why the Left Isn’t Talking About Rural American Poverty – Rural America

Child Poverty Higher and More Persistent in Rural America

Who’s Afraid of Rural Poverty? The Story Behind America’s Invisible

Hunger and Poverty

Additional Sources:

Social Mobility:

Cycles of Poverty:

How Poverty Affects Schools:

Karen’s Thoughts on THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES: Highly Recommended

femaleofthespecies femaleofthespecies2 femaleofthespecies3 femaleofthespecies4More From Mindy McGinnis

THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES 9.20.16 HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Books
GIVEN TO THE SEA 4.11.17 Putnam Children’s Books
Available Now:

Sunday Reflections: Wrestling with Nate Parker and the Narrative of Forgiveness

sundayreflections1When I started high school, I completely had to cut myself off from a part of my family in order to protect myself from the man who had spent the previous year molesting me. I was not universally supported in this decision. Many people considered it an inconvenience to the family. Many others remarked that I was hurting this person. Very few people were concerned about my safety or well being, which is often the case with sexual violence.

We live in a world where we still care more about the ramifications of sexual violence charges on the perpetrator then on the results of sexual violence on the victim. Judges, for example, give lenient or almost non-existent sentences because they are worried about how it will impact these lives of these young men. Brock Turner will serve little to no time. And he is but just one example.

I have thought about this a lot this week as I have wrestled with the news of Nate Parker and reading IRREVERSIBLE by Chris Lynch.

In the interest of full disclosure, let me say this: the man who abused me when I was in the 8th grade is now a part of my life. He went to therapy. I went to therapy. I have chosen to forgive him and have a relationship with him. But it was my choice. And it is not always an easy relationship. It’s been 30 years, but I still wrestle with many of the effects of being sexually abused. And there are both spoken and unspoken rules to our relationship. He doesn’t get to pretend that my childhood was okay, because it wasn’t. He doesn’t get to act like nothing happened because it did. He knows that I talk openly about being a victim of sexual violence and he doesn’t get to complain about that because this is the truth of my life.

So if I have forgiven and chosen to have a relationship with my abuser, why am I so hesitant to easily forgive public figures for their crimes of sexual violence? The answer is because of this: in the public discourse, we still focus to much on dismissing and coddling the perpetrators of sexual violence and this is a huge problem for victims everywhere. Our focus on perpetrators as opposed to victims continues to support rape culture and victim blaming, making it harder for victims to come forward and get the legal and emotional help that they need to survive.

Also, I think that we need evidence that perpetrators have done the work necessary to understand their crimes and seek true forgiveness. It’s one thing to say your sorry because you got caught and need to save public face, it’s quite another to understand that you have truly harmed your fellow human beings and contributed to a culture that makes it harder for victims of sexual violence to get justice and support. I’m sorry I got caught is not the same thing as I did an evil thing.

How we discuss and handle sexual violence publicly is incredibly important. It defines our culture. It can make it easier or harder for victims. Traditionally, our culture has made it incredibly hard for victims. And even though there is more discussion about sexual violence, we are still wrestling with victim blame and perpetrator supporting. How we talk about these issues in the media sends both explicit and implicit messages to everyone about how we should respond to accusations and victims of sexual violence, and right now we are still not doing a very good job with this.

Nate Parker’s charges of sexual violence occurred in 1999. Do they matter today? We don’t get to decide that. Unfortunately, the only person who does get to decide that took her own life because of the many ways she suffered as a victim of sexual violence. But now that this information is public, we very much have a responsibility to all past and future victims to discuss the ways in which we publicly wrestle with sexual violence. How we talk about what happened then now matters because it can either reinforce or dismantle rape culture.

When we talk about Woody Allen, Nate Parker, Bill Cosby and more, we’re not just talking about individual cases. We’re talking about about sexual violence as a whole and how we can change our culture so that victims can get the justice and the support that they need. Because Nate Parker’s case has become public it is no longer a private matter, but it’s a part of a larger discussion that helps us define as a culture how we are going to respond to sexual violence. It sets the tone for the next victim who comes forward seeking justice and support. We have failed victim after victim after victim. It’s time that we change the conversation and start supporting them, which is why I can’t separate the art from the artist. It’s not just about the art, it’s about our culture.

The Book I DNFed: IRREVERSIBLE by Chris Lynch

irreversibleToday I want to talk with you about IRREVERSIBLE by Chris Lynch. I am currently 50% done reading this book and I am going to do something that I have seldom done before and not only DNF this book but discuss with you why I am choosing to do so. As a librarian and a professional book reviewer, I am actually very uncomfortable with DNFing a book. I am even more uncomfortable with talking about a book that I have chosen to DNF. I have traditionally been a huge proponent of you can’t judge a book that you haven’t fully read, that is also probably true of this book. And yet, here I am wrestling with what to do about this book.

Before we begin, let’s discuss the controversy surrounding this book. This is the companion book to INEXCUSABLE by Chris Lynch. In Inexcusable, we meet Keir on the morning after he has raped a girl named Gigi. The story then is told in flashbacks as Keir tries to convince us that he is a “good guy” and that what she says has happened can’t be what really happened. Keir is an unreliable narrator, meaning that you can’t trust his perspective. Inexcusable is an award winning book that I feel does a really good job of making it’s point and asking readers to think about the topic of consent. In fact, I spoke with Chris Lynch about this book as part of the #SVYALit Project.

Ten years later, Lynch has written this follow up book, IRREVERSIBLE, which many people have already claimed they will not read or cover based on the book description. See, for example, We Will Not Cover Irreversible by YA Interrobang.

Here is the publisher’s book description:

The accused date rapist from the “finely crafted and thought-provoking” (School Library Journal) National Book Award Finalist, Inexcusable, must confront the kind of person he really is and come to terms with his past actions, in this stunning sequel from Printz Honor–winning author Chris Lynch.

Keir Sarafian insists he did nothing wrong. But no one will believe that he’s the good guy he knows he is—no one except his father, Ray. And Ray is just the person Keir has to leave in order to have the fresh start he deserves.

Now at Carnegie College, Keir’s life isn’t what he thought it would be. Two soccer players are poised to take his spot as kicker. Ray keeps calling, and Joyce, his guiding light on campus, seems to be avoiding him. When tragedy strikes, will Keir finally be able to confront his past actions and realize his potential?

What the Reviews are Saying:

As an unreliable narrator with a disturbing sense of entitlement and lack of self-awareness, Keir will have readers dying for justice or radical growth. But his shift in perspective is too little and comes too late. Those who found the previous chapter of Keir’s story fascinating will find little new territory to explore here.

An exhausting run with a protagonist seemingly incapable of growth. (Source: Kirkus)

 

Keir’s growth is minimal, and many plot devices, including the death of someone close to Keir, are jarring and forced. With little character growth and a meandering plot, this sequel misfires. (Source: Publisher’s Weekly)

And yes, the description is a huge red flag, particularly the way it ends: When tragedy strikes, will Keir finally be able to confront his past actions and realize his potential? We are dealing here with a young man that has just committed rape, who fails to acknowledge or atone for the fact that he has committed rape, and you want me to be invested in whether or not this young man “realizes his potential”? I have a hard time with this concept. Whatever potential he may have had, he threw it away when he sexually assaulted another human being. I am tired of us, the universal us here, worrying about the impact of rape on rapists and not enough time worrying about the impact of rape on its victims. We do that enough. That’s what we are doing when we worry about how the conviction of rape will ruin the football and college careers of the rapists in Steubenville and not how it will affect the girl he raped. That’s what we are doing when we suggest that the fact that Brock Turner has real skill as a swimmer is more important then the fact that he raped an unconscious girl behind a dumpster, an act he was caught in by witnesses. That’s what this judge was doing when she wondered whether or not a convicted rapist could be rehabilitated and sentenced him to no jail time. We spend too much time worrying about whether or not rapists can fulfill their potential and not enough time worrying about the effects of rape on girls who have been raped. Why are our rape statistics so high? Maybe it’s because there are still too little consequences for raping.

My Thoughts (with Spoilers!)

I am half way through this book and I hate it. With every fiber of my being. An intense, searing, burning hate that burns like the setting sun that seems to be setting the surrounding trees on fire. Let me tell you why. Please note, there will be spoilers. Sorry, but I can’t discuss this title without them and I feel like it is a title that warrants discussion. Proceed at your own risk.

IRREVERSIBLE opens right after Gigi has left. Carl immediately comes into the room where Keir is still trying to tell himself that he has not in fact raped Gigi and that this is just a misunderstanding that will soon be sorted out and beats the snot out of Keir. Keir is then picked up and taken home where he is recuperating from his physical injuries, which are substantial. His father is protecting him from many things, including the fact that every day people leave protest notes and “gifts” outside their house. There are hints that both of them have some basic understanding that everything is bad and wrong, but the two continue to live in extreme denial. It’s maddening to read, especially since this book is written from Keir’s perspective and he continually wants you to feel sorry for him. I hated spending time in his head and, more importantly, I felt that the attempt to humanize and breed sympathy for this character is contemptible. So much of the focus after a rape is on how the perpetrators of rape suffer – remember how the press lamented how the Steubenville rapist’s lives were now ruined – that this is not in any way helpful to the world wide discourse we are currently trying to have about sexual violence. I’m sure that being a rapist does have a lot of affects on the people who commit rape, I do not care. Whatever those effects may be, they made a decision that will have life long consequences for another human being and it is the effects of that crime on those people that we should focus on. I’m tired of victim blaming and I’m tired of rapist sympathizing.

I am halfway through this book and we have met 4 female characters.  The first two are Kier’s sister, both of whom flat out tell him that he is not welcome at Norfolk university, not just by them but by their fellow students. If you read the first book you will recall that this is where Keir raped Gigi. Mary, in particular, makes a point of reminding their sister that if the accused was anyone other then their brother, they would 100% be supporting the female. Mary I liked; Mary spoke a truth that needed to be spoken in a way that was clear and on message.

However, Keir then leaves to go to a different college across the map hoping that he can run from his troubles and start his life over. It is here that we encounter the first female that Keir is not related to, and there is so much wrong with everything that happens here. First, it is very clear that she is a young (possibly teenage) mother who is in an abusive relationship. So now in this world we know 4 women, one of whom is kind of supporting her brother an accused rapist, one of whom is the victim of rape, and this young woman who is a cliche in every way. It gets worse. She has two kids with her, one of whom takes Keir’s seat on the bus. When he protests, the mother is dismissive in ways that would not really be socially acceptable. And when he complains that her kids are eating his food, she not only doesn’t care but calls him a crybaby. It’s hard to believe not only that she would act the way that she does, but that nobody on the bus would call her out for her behavior which, again, is completely socially unacceptable. And just when you think, well at least she’s confident and standing up to a man, she is picked up at the bus terminal by a man who is clearly controlling her. Keir tries to tell her that this man is a “bad man” – rich irony coming from this character – but she begs him please just to leave. The problem is, of course, that Keir is an unreliable narrator, so it’s not clear what parts of this interaction are more true than others. But this is the first woman we have spent actual time with in this story and this is the interactions that we get. Many people will understand the subtleties of reading a book from the point of view of an unreliable narrator, but many won’t and this story line leaves me filled with concern and contempt for the way it feeds into many of the cliches and stereotypes that I hear men’s rights activists expressing about women and I’m not sure that the author successfully writes this part of the story nor do I feel it was a necessary part of the story.

Keir then finally arrives at college and is in basic training. There he meets his teammates, which we don’t learn a lot about at this point. He also meets the fourth female, a campus tour guide that seems at times to be fearful and repulsed by Keir – she refers to him as a “charmer” in a way that makes it clear that she knows his type and won’t fall for any of his bullshit, but then she agrees to meet him for a private tour where she takes him by the hand and takes him to her most favorite and secluded spot on campus. Again, unreliable narrator, but again thanks for depicting women as wishy-washy stereotypes who don’t know what they want and come across as teases. This is 100% not helpful in the discussion of sexual violence.

But here’s the deal, I am reading this book with the full knowledge that Keir is an unreliable narrator and that if history serves based on my reading of Inexcusable, then Lynch might successfully flip the script and make it clear by the end that all of these things were not truth and Keir is in fact a complete insert expletive of your choice here. If that happens, that means that readers would 1) have to finish the entire book to experience this catharsis and 2) be a sophisticated reader who can go beyond any initial biases or preconceived notions to reach this conclusion, and 3) be familiar with the idea of an unreliable narrator and how it works in order to reach the proper conclusions about rape, consent, sexual violence, women and Keir. This is a lot to ask of readers given such an important topic; that’s too many ifs that need to happen to make this book successful.

I have never wanted to DNF a book so badly in my life. Reading this book is equal parts depressing, discouraging and enraging. Some readers may still be giving Lynch the benefit of the doubt because he was successful with INEXCUSABLE, I am not that reader and this is a personal choice I have chosen to make. This book reads as rape apology and I do not want to finish it and I do not recommend it. It is harmful to victims and it is harmful to our intent to discuss consent and healthy sexual relationships with teens. I feel it is unfortunate that Lynch didn’t understand what he had accomplished with INEXCUSABLE and leave it at that.