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YA is Ultimately for Teens, and That’s Okay

The Teen spending time in the Teen MakerSpace

The Teen spending time in the Teen MakerSpace

The other day a parent came up to me and we engaged in some good old fashioned Reader’s Advisory. Her daughter was 11, a young 11. And she wanted some recommendations for some YA titles, but she was very worried about content. In the end I told her that after talking with her, I thought she would be comfortable with her daughter reading a variety of really excellent middle grade titles. What I heard her saying was that she wasn’t really comfortable with her daughter reading YA, and that’s okay.

At the same time, there has been a variety of conversations online about adults reading – and reviewing – YA. It’s especially an issue when adults continue to criticize main characters in YA literature for acting like, well, teenagers. The truth is, the best YA are those titles that feature authentic teen main characters. That means they have to feature teens that are reckless, impulsive, inconsistent, and changing. Because that’s who teens are.

Don’t get me wrong. I read YA literature. I don’t just read it because I’m a Teen Librarian or for TLT, I read it because I enjoy reading it. I have favorite authors. I have favorite titles, series, and genres. I am an avid YA reader. But I also recongize that ultimately, YA is not written FOR me. I enjoy it, but part of what I enjoy about it is that it is written for and about teens – and that’s very important.

We live in a culture that has strong negative feelings about teens. Local malls put up signs dis-inviting groups of teens from their properties. We enact curfews. We scoff, side eye and demean normal teenage behavior. We joke about how we would never want to go back to middle or high school (and to be honest, I wouldn’t). Every day in so many ways we communicate to teenagers that we loathe and judge them for who they are. Which is part of the reason why authentic, well written YA literature is so important. It communicates a very different and positive message to teens: we see you, we value you, we respect you, we hear you. That’s an important message that teens need to hear.

So what makes YA literature good? rireading2

A YA book has to respect the teen reader

Trust that teens can and do have the ability to read and understand a book. They don’t need to be talked down to. They don’t need your message telegraphed to them. If you assume your readers are unintelligent and write in ways that make that clear, you’ve already lost your audience. Teens know when we are talking down to them, and they resent it. If you don’t respect teens, don’t write or work for/with them.

A YA book has to reference things teens know

I grew up watching Doogie Howser, MD. I’m 44 years old. Your book should probably not have a teen character that references Doogie Howser without some really good reason for doing so. For example, in The Downside of Being Charlie by Jenny Torres Sanchez one of the supporting characters is obsessed with the Rat Pack. This character explains to you why they are invested in the Rat Pack, who the Rat Pack are, and what they know about them. It’s an obscure reference that teens won’t know, but it is given in a context. Without that context, teens don’t understand what is being said or why. If you name drop obscure references from your own teenage life, you are no longer writing for teens but are writing for yourself or author adults your same age.

See also: Slang. Pay attention to the terms you use and slang you reference.

A YA book has to have teens that act in authentically teen ways

Teens are not mini-adults. Brain science tells us that the teen brain is functionally different than that of an adult. They are often bad at decision making, impulsive, and emotional. Yes, they absolutely are submerged into a world of incredible hormonal influx and wrestling with what those hormones mean. Like adults, many teens are unlikable. That’s just human nature. They should be complex, richly developed, and well-rounded. If you are an adult who complained because Harry Potter acted like a moody, entitled, emotional teen in the later HP books, then you probably don’t remember or don’t respect teenagers. I was a moody, entitled teenager who slammed down the phone, slammed doors, rolled my eyes and both raged and bawled my eyes out. It’s all normal teenage behavior. PS, many adults still do all of these same things. I mean, even I am prone to rolling my eyes.

There are always outliers, and they deserve to be reflected in YA literature too. But old soul teens who speak like college professors or act like mini-adults should also be outliers in YA literature, not the norm.

A YA book has to reflect the diverse world of teens

My teenage daughter is a cis-white female who has just finished the 8th grade. She knows and is friends with 4 trans people, many other GLBTQ people, people with disabilities, and a wide variety of people of color. Her white best friend is dating a black boy. She goes to church every Sunday and then goes to school on Monday and talks about her weekend with her Muslim friends. She does not live in an all white, all straight, all Christian world. Even in the community that I work, which is 96% white, my teens live with and want diversity. They are aware that they are a small part of the world. In fact, I find daily that teens are much more open and kind and craving of authentic diversity then previous generations have been.

A YA book has to reflect the diverse interests of teens

The Bestie is a cheerleader who plays volleyball and goes to book festivals. The Teen is a black belt in Tae Kwon Do who also loves musical theater and science; she is also an avid reader. The teens I know are interested in comics and anime and sports and art and movies and . . . . well, a little bit of everything. And not a single teen I know is defined by any one thing, just as adults are not. I am a wife and a mother and a librarian and a friend that loves science fiction and sharks and dinosaurs and robots and the water and cake. We are all multitudes, as are teens. Stop writing about jocks and cheerleaders and nerds and band geeks and loners and stoners in stereotypical ways. And stop writing one-dimensional characters. Again, respect the teen reader and respect their complexity.

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YA is not for everyone, and that’s okay. Younger readers can read YA, but there is also lots of glorious middle grade out there for them to read. I love and read MG, too. Adults can read YA, but there are also lots of glorious adult fiction out there for adults to read. And in the middle there is YA, which can and should be ultimately for teens. Teens need good, quality YA written for and about them by authors who understand, respect and value them.

If you are an adult who reads YA and finds yourself complaining about the teens in YA literature, YA literature may not be for you. And that’s okay.

YA is Ultimately for Teens, and That's Okay//


YA is Ultimately for Teens, and That's Okay



  1. Walk into any bk store or library. See all the adult fiction? Read YA if you like, but it should be for & about teens. Adults don't lack rep


  2. And yes, teens often read adult fic. But man, when teens connect with a YA book that represents them in some way or they connect with it.


  3. That's priceless.
    And important and profound.
    And life changing.


  4. We tell teens in so many ways that we loathe them or find them a burden or a nuisance. To have sections of YA in bk stores & libraries


  5. sends a much needed affirming message. It lets them know that we do value them. That we do respect them. That was do want them here.


  6. I am an adult who reads YA. But I do so as someone who works with teens so I get how good YA has characters who act like teens.


  7. If the MC in YA annoy you because they act like teenagers, please remember what being a teen is really like. Spend time with teens.


  8. Or, you could always read adult fiction. That's okay too. There is a lot of great adult fiction out there.


  9. And if you can't handle teen characters in Ya lit acting like teens, please don't be a teen librarian. They need us on their side.


  10. And for the love of pete, please let YA continue to be authentically about and for teens. They deserve that respect.

 

Take 5: YA Lit with Great Female Friendships

friendshipYesterday I shared with you a little bit about my feelings about people telling The Teen that she is “too sensitive”. It’s something that we obviously talk about a lot because I want to remind her that she can and should be able to express her feelings and stand up for herself. The other part of the equation is that I also share YA books that have strong female friendships in them with her. It’s important to keep in mind that these are not romanticized ideals of friendship; in fact, I love books that are just the opposite, that model friendships going through turbulent times and how the girls in the stories figure out ways to work out their issues. Sometimes the friends will spend a large part of the story apart as they figure out how they feel and why. Here are a few of the recent ones that she has read and loved. Please share your recommendations in the comments, we’re always looking for more to read.

Kissing in America by Margo Rabb

friendship6About the Book: In the two years since her father died, sixteen-year-old Eva has found comfort in reading romance novels—118 of them, to be exact—to dull the pain of her loss that’s still so present. Her romantic fantasies become a reality when she meets Will, who seems to truly understand Eva’s grief. Unfortunately, after Eva falls head-over-heels for him, he picks up and moves to California without any warning. Not wanting to lose the only person who has been able to pull her out of sadness—and, perhaps, her shot at real love—Eva and her best friend, Annie, concoct a plan to travel to the west coast to see Will again. As they road trip across America, Eva and Annie confront the complex truth about love.

In this honest and emotional journey that National Book Award finalist Sara Zarr calls “gorgeous, funny, and joyous,” readers will experience the highs of infatuation and the lows of heartache as Eva contends with love in all of its forms.

Karen’s Thoughts: This is not just a great book about the friendship between two girls – and it is in fact that – but it is a great book about female relationships in a lot of different directions, including mothers and daughters. The trip brings Eva and Annie together and tears them apart, but it’s what they learn along the way that really matters.

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

friendship4About the Book: Self-proclaimed fat girl Willowdean Dickson (dubbed “Dumplin’” by her former beauty queen mom) has always been at home in her own skin. Her thoughts on having the ultimate bikini body? Put a bikini on your body. With her all-American beauty best friend, Ellen, by her side, things have always worked…until Will takes a job at Harpy’s, the local fast-food joint. There she meets Private School Bo, a hot former jock. Will isn’t surprised to find herself attracted to Bo. But she is surprised when he seems to like her back.

Instead of finding new heights of self-assurance in her relationship with Bo, Will starts to doubt herself. So she sets out to take back her confidence by doing the most horrifying thing she can imagine: entering the Miss Clover City beauty pageant—along with several other unlikely candidates—to show the world that she deserves to be up there as much as any twiggy girl does. Along the way, she’ll shock the hell out of Clover City—and maybe herself most of all.

With starry Texas nights, red candy suckers, Dolly Parton songs, and a wildly unforgettable heroine—Dumplin’ is guaranteed to steal your heart.

Karen’s Thoughts: Look, this book is glorious and if you haven’t read it you should rectify that right away. Like Kissing in America, this is a great book about a variety of different types of relationships, including mothers and daughters and girls and their favorite aunts. It’s a book about grief and healing. It’s a book about self acceptance. It’s a book about falling in love. But it is a book about old friendships and new, about loving friends, about hurting friends, about forgiving friends – and that is one of the most amazing parts of Dumplin’s story.

Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

friendship1About the Book: Peyton, Sydney’s charismatic older brother, has always been the star of the family, receiving the lion’s share of their parents’ attention and—lately—concern. When Peyton’s increasingly reckless behavior culminates in an accident, a drunk driving conviction, and a jail sentence, Sydney is cast adrift, searching for her place in the family and the world. When everyone else is so worried about Peyton, is she the only one concerned about the victim of the accident?

Enter the Chathams, a warm, chaotic family who run a pizza parlor, play bluegrass on weekends, and pitch in to care for their mother, who has multiple sclerosis. Here Sydney experiences unquestioning acceptance. And here she meets Mac, gentle, watchful, and protective, who makes Sydney feel seen, really seen, for the first time.

The uber-popular Sarah Dessen explores her signature themes of family, self-discovery, and change in her twelfth novel, sure to delight her legions of fans.

Karen’s Thoughts: This is a book we both read this year in preparation of meeting author Sarah Dessen, one of my long time favorites. Sydney finds herself adrift after her older brother is sent to jail and her family dynamics are totally changed. She is taken in by a new family, where she meets Mac and Layla. Although there is some good romance stuff happening with Mac, it is the friendship with Layla that I found to be the most compelling part of this book.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

friendship3About the Book: I have two weeks. You’ll shoot me at the end no matter what I do.

That’s what you do to enemy agents. It’s what we do to enemy agents. But I look at all the dark and twisted roads ahead and cooperation is the easy way out. Possibly the only way out for a girl caught red-handed doing dirty work like mine – and I will do anything, anything to avoid SS-Hauptsturmführer von Linden interrogating me again.

He has said that I can have as much paper as I need. All I have to do is cough up everything I can remember about the British War Effort. And I’m going to. But the story of how I came to be here starts with my friend Maddie. She is the pilot who flew me into France – an Allied Invasion of Two.

We are a sensational team

Karen’s Thoughts: This is one of the most profound and glorious examples of female friendships I have every read. It’s historical fiction and shows our two main characters engaged in activities that were very unusual for girls at that time – flying a plane! So that’s an additional bonus element to Verity. But man, this friendship is just amazing.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares

friendship5About the Book: Carmen got the jeans at a thrift shop. They didn’t look all that great: they were worn, dirty, and speckled with bleach. On the night before she and her friends part for the summer, Carmen decides to toss them. But Tibby says they’re great. She’d love to have them. Lena and Bridget also think they’re fabulous. Lena decides that they should all try them on. Whoever they fit best will get them. Nobody knows why, but the pants fit everyone perfectly. Even Carmen (who never thinks she looks good in anything) thinks she looks good in the pants. Over a few bags of cheese puffs, they decide to form a sisterhood and take the vow of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants . . . the next morning, they say good-bye. And then the journey of the pants — and the most memorable summer of their lives — begins

Karen’s Thoughts: It pains me to note that at this point, this is a classic. And of all the titles this one is perhaps the most romanticized, in part because the magical pants bring that element into the story. And, of course, in this story the girls actually spend a great amount of time apart going on their own separate journeys. But it is the coming back together again that reminds us all that friends can spend time apart, learn and grow and change, and still be friends in the end.

And a Bonus TV Show: Girl Meets World

friendship8I am not ashamed to say that I love this show. Yes, it’s very preachy and heavy handed, but it also features two very fleshed out and strong female leads that I just enjoy. Maya is my favorite, in part because she has more dimensionality to her. But they have also done a really good job in recent episodes of giving more depth and conflict to Riley. I’ve been a little worried with the Texas series about the plot device of having a boy come between them, though this is a very real world scenario for this age group. I just worry over making this strong story of two girls now become about a boy, at least about a boy’s role in their lives and their friendship. But I’m trying to keep an open mind and hope that they don’t screw things up.

As we go into this new year, I have been thinking a lot about friendship. The Teen likes to read romance, which I understand because I remember being in middle school. But I hate the way girls reach a certain age and all the sudden everything becomes about boys. It’s not a thing that just happens, it is in fact a message that we send to girls culturally over and over again. So I love a good book that reminds us all that friendships are not only as important but sometimes even more important than the boyfriends that can highlight the middle and high school years. I am personally not in contact with any of the boys I dated during these years, but I still talk to some of my best friends and I am grateful to have those relationships all these years later. So here’s to female friendships in YA literature!

Karen’s Top 15 Reads of 2015

Earlier this month Amanda shared her Favorite 15 reads of 2015. Today it is my turn. Since we try to cover as many books as possible here, we often don’t read the same books, though that is not a hard and fast rule. Sometimes I will read a book and want to talk to Amanda or some of the other TLTers about it. Sometimes Amanda will rave so much about a book that I have to read it too. Sometimes we just love the same authors. For example, Robin and I are currently fighting over an ARC of the 2016 release from Sarah Rees Brennan because we love her (for the record, I think Robin won). So my list is purposely much different than Amanda’s list.

This is how I went about making my list: I didn’t go back and read reviews. In fact, I didn’t even look up book titles. What I did was sit down and write down a list of the books that I could think about off of the top of my head first. These are the books that were so memorable to me that I still think about them, talk about them, etc. A couple of the titles I didn’t actually even write a review for. Only one of the titles appears on both mine and Amanda’s list, though I love Amanda’s list and all the books on it and could just as easily have written that list. And if I wrote this list a month from now, some of the titles would change.

So, now that you know a little bit more about how this list came to be, here are some of my favorite reads of 2015 . . .

My Favorite 15 Reads of 2015

 

Because Girls Matter, Too, and So Do Their Stories

top1Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

This book is amazing in every way. I love how the characters are all so well developed; not just the main characters, but all of the characters. I love the various ways it looks at female relationships, including various levels of friendships and the mother/daughter relationship. But what I love most about this book is the profound impact it had on my daughter who also read it and the conversations it helped us to have. Dumplin’ is well written, inspiring, and it also has a lot of sass and fun. Dumplin’ may or may not win the local beauty pageant, but she is sure to win your heart.

 

 

top12All the Rage by Courtney Summers

Everyone should read this book which takes a hard look at what life is like for girls. It’s like Summers set out to write a book that highlighted everything that’s wrong with rape culture and asked us to look deeply into the dark ways in which we discount and blame victims for their rapes. PS, that is in fact exactly what she has done. In a year in which the topic of sexual violence has taken over a large portion of our national headlines, this is a must read that helps put some of what we hear into perspective. It’s a very difficult read, but it is so well done and so very important.

 

 

top6The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes

Because of the Faith and Spirituality in the Lives of Teens series, I read a lot of books this year that dealt with the topic of faith. Minnow Bly was shocking from page one and never really stopped shocking me. But it also spoke to the very core of me about the female experience; even though this story is not my story, I recognized so many of the universal truths presented here. And at the end of the day, after being told time and time again who to be, how to dress, and what to believe, Minnow Bly is finally put in a position where she can begin to answer those questions about herself, for herself. Every part of this journey is challenging and yet moving.

 

top4Making Pretty by Corey Ann Haydu

This is another title that spoke to the heart of me about what it means to be a girl in our world. I was so moved by this book that I wrote the author, Corey Ann Haydu, a very personal letter explaining my upbringing and how much I related to this book. This is a very realistic look at the pressure we put on young girls to look a certain way and the impact it has on their sense of self and worth. I would love for all high school students to have to do a study on the female experience which would include reading this book, All the Rage, Dumplin‘, Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, and the Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly, to name just a few.

 

top8Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

In the early days of my YA librarian career, there were far less YA titles and authors to choose from. They consisted primarily of Judy Blume, Chris Crutcher, Robert Cormier, R. L. Stine and Christopher Pike. Horror, in fact, made up the largest part of my collection. And then there was Sarah Dessen. Dessen has consistently written YA books that are insightful, engaging, and yes, heartwarming. Saint Anything is a moving story about friendships of many kinds, falling in and out of love, family, and self.

 





Because Politics are Interesting

top13The Fixer by Jennifer Lynne Barnes

As a nation, the United States is in a polarizing and important election. One of the things that I liked most about the Fixer is the behind the scenes looks it gave readers into the world of politics and power plays. As someone who has been saying for a long time that money buys elections, it was interesting to read about it in the pages of a YA thriller. I also love that this book features a strong and confident yet flawed female in a role that would traditionally be occupied by a male protagonist. It’s also a fun thriller; sometimes it’s nice just to read something fun.





top14The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow

The Scorpion Rules is a thought provoking dystopian that also gives us an interesting glimpse into the world of politics. Here, major political heads are asked to send their children to a remote colony where they will be sacrificed in the event of war. The theory is that this will prevent world leaders from initiating acts of war; after all, what parent wants to sacrifice their child for power? There are lots of twists and turns and power plays and sacrifices here. And you are reading the story of isolated children and teens who have no one but each other to befriend or even date, knowing that at any moment they could be mortal enemies where one life is pitted against the other. It’s intense, unique, and compelling.

 

Because a Good Twist is a Good Twist

top15Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

This book is mesmerizing. I hate to compare and author to another author, but in this case I think the comparison is both warranted and one of the biggest compliments I can give to another author: This book always makes me think of Ray Bradbury. I think it is the haunting way that the small town with the gaps is described and the things that happen in those gaps, which are chilling. The descriptions, the tone, the atmosphere, the melancholy of it all brings to mind Dandelion Wine and the haunting tale itself always makes me thing Something Wicked This Way Comes. But make no mistake, it is by no means derivative, it is unique in the story it tells and the ways that it haunts.

 

top16The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough

What if the characters of Love and Death played a game? What if that game involved characters falling in and out of love? And what if that game took place in the 1930s where one of the characters was white and the other was black? And what if we added in the background amazing jazz music, gender stereotype breaking women, and just continued to raise the stakes and defy convention? The Game of Love and Death is this amazingly crafted story of true love against all odds. This book isn’t just on my list, it’s on The Teen’s list of her top 5 books of 2015.

 

top9More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

I love this profoundly trippy and moving book for some many reasons. First, it kept me guessing every step of the way and kept surprising. Second, it was one of the few books I read this year that realistically portrayed the life of a profoundly poor teen. Third, it is a spot on depiction of the roller coaster ride that grief and guilt are. And fourth, it is a humanizing look at the life of a young man who is wrestling in very real and immediate ways with identity.

 

Because Relevant and Timely Still Matter

top10I Crawl Through It by A. S. King

This is probably the book I have wrestled with most as a reader. Not just with what it has to say, but how it has to say it. This is the book I have most asked other people to read and discuss with me. To be completely honest, there are still parts of the story that I am trying to figure out. But there is no denying that A. S. King hands down captures that very real anxiety that today’s teens are living with and the various reasons why. Characters that walk around inside out, characters that are growing up in a culture (a home) obsessed with mass shootings, characters that attend a school that keeps being cancelled because yet another bomb threat has been called in . . . this is the reality of the world our teens are living in and King captures the stress and uncertainty of it with pitch perfect brilliance.

top5All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds are both amazing writers who approach a timely story with sensitivity and compassion yet brutal honesty. Told in two points of view, Reynolds and Kiely ask us to consider what it is like for a black boy to be approached by the police and what it’s like to stand up for justice in a world that is very much divided on what justice may look like.

 

Because Not Every Teen Lives in a Gated Community or Goes to a Boarding School

top7The Truth About Us by Janet Gurtler

The Truth About Us is a very accessible romance that also highlights socio-economic disparity and the conflict it can cause. I love, however, that this book flips the genders – growing up it always seemed like it was a rich boy/poor girls story like Pretty in Pink. There is a lot of good stuff happening here as we get an inside look at the life of a teenaged boy who works and eats at a local homeless shelter. He is not, technically, homeless like the teens in No Parking at the End Times by Bryan Bliss (another good read), but he is very much worried about where his next meal is going to come from.


top2The Hit by Delilah S. Dawson

This book combines a lot of my favorite elements into one awesome story: dystopian, politics, and socioeconomic inequality. The premise of this first book is unique and fascinating. In this future, you may be conscripted by a firm to perform a certain number of assassinations for them in order to get your freedom. That’s right, they make people kill for them in order to pay off your debt. It’s an interesting premise and a thrilling read. In a world where the income gap grows larger every day, it’s interesting to take an absurd look at where we might be headed to force ourselves to ask the very relevant questions we need to be asking about where we might be headed if we continue to let our fellow citizens slide further and further into poverty.

Because Sometimes a Book Just Makes Your Spirit Soar

top11Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

This book is glorious. But it is also gut-wrenching. Madeline lives her life inside a bubble, quite literally: she is allergic to everything. But when she takes a chance on the new boy across the street, everything changes. This book makes my soul sing. And it made my eyes leak a little bit here and there. And this is another title that is not only on my top of list for 2015, it’s on The Teen’s.

 How about you? What’s on your list and why?

#MHYALit Update and January 2016 Launch Schedule

It’s almost 2016. Wait – what? IT’S ALMOST 2016! How did that happen? This month we have been busily plugging away at putting together a January launch schedule for the #MHYALit Discussion. So here’s a little look at what we have coming in 2016.

project2

So far, we have about 40 authors, librarians, parents of teens, former teens and teens themselves joining us to discuss mental health in YA lit and the life of teens. We will be sharing posts all year long, though to kick off our discussion we are aiming for a post every day we post in January. Here’s what the current schedule looks like (though it is subject to change because life happens).

4th – Annie Cardi, author of The Chance You Won’t Return, shares her first of 3 posts

5th – Tom Leveen, author of Shackled, shares his first of 2 posts

6th – Tom Leveen shares his second post

7th – Librarian Erinn Salge discusses how librarians can help struggling teens

8th – Kimberly Bradly, author of The War That Saved My Life, discusses PTSD

11th – Robison Wells, author of the Variant series

12th – Christa Desir, author of Other Broken Things, discusses addiction

13th – The first of many book lists appears. Today’s topic is Schizophrenia. RA list compiled by Natalie Korsavidis (who is doing multiple RA lists for the discussion).

14th – Carrie Mesrobian, author of Cuts Both Ways, discusses the books of Melina Marchetta

15th – In the works, TBA

18th – Librarian Danielle Masterson

19th – Jackie Lea Sommers, author of Truest

20th – Aspiring author and amazing former teen who is now technically an adult Bryson McCrone

21st – Ann Jacobus, author of Romancing the Dark in the City of Light

22nd – Jessica Sankiewizc, author of the New Adult novella This Night

25th – Librarian Dawn Abron on working with teens in the library

26th – The Green Bean Teen Queen Sarah

27th – Tamara Ireland Stone, author of Every Last Word, shares a first of two posts on OCD, depression and anxiety

28th – Tamara Ireland Stone shares post two

29th – Stephanie Khuen, author of Complicit

As I mentioned, there are lots of others posts coming throughout the year. We will be joined by authors like Lois Metzger, Emery Lord, J. J. Johnson, Clare LeGrand, Mia Siegert, Jessica Spotswood, Nita Tyndall, Jolene Siana, Kathleen Glasgow, Evan Roskos, Myra McEntire, and Corey Ann Haydu, to name just a few. There are also more librarians, former teens and actual teens lined up to share their thoughts, experiences and insight.

You can find an index of the project and all posts here.

The Faith of The Girl of Fire and Thorns, a #FSYALit guest post with author interview

Today as part of our ongoing discussion on Faith and Spirituality in YA Lit (#FSYALit) guest Catherine Posey is discussing The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson. She even reached out to author Rae Carson who was kind enough to answer some questions for this post. You can find all the #FSYALit posts here.

girloffireandthornsWhen I first encountered Rae Carson’s The Girl of Fire and Thorns trilogy, it’s needless to say I was intrigued. A heroine with a “Godstone” embedded in her body? A girl destined to become a leader in the land who doesn’t necessarily fit the bill of the perfect looking, size 0 young woman? A high fantasy with a unique magical system and feminist dimension? Yes, please! Then, to make things even better, once I dove into the books, I discovered that the novels featured a rich faith dimension that didn’t feel preachy. This, more than anything else, solidified my love of the novels, considering my own interest in the realm of faith and spirituality in both literature and readers.

Of course, there’s a lot to say about the topic of faith in Carson’s trilogy, and I obviously can’t cover it all here. But I can highlight several aspects I think are worth mentioning.

The Will of God

The religious culture of the books reflects multiple faith aspects, but one overarching theme is the notion of the “will of God” or the “plans of God.” For example, Elisa’s struggle with the fact that she is the bearer of the Godstone is apparent throughout the trilogy. Since she was born with the Godstone, obviously it is God’s will for her to play a unique role in her country’s history. Right? In the second book, The Crown of Embers, Elisa’s Godstone reminds her that “God has plans” for her, and that she hasn’t fulfilled them all. The way she comes to term with this part of her identity invites discussion about how sometimes we feel a desire to do something significant, but actually doing it feels impossible. We can sense a “calling” to do something, but we don’t feel adequate. Both of these sentiments are explored in the trilogy, making it something that some religious readers may be able to relate to. It isn’t necessarily easy for Elisa to come to terms with what she is “destined” to do—nor does she understand exactly what she is supposed to do.

God’s will. How many times have I heard someone declare their understanding of this thing I find so indefinable?” [Girl of Fire and Thorns]

Her grappling with questions while still holding on to her faith is apparent in all three books. The bumps along the way in Elisa’s journey reinforce this idea that the road ahead for all of us will not always be clear or make sense, but as the saying goes, it’s often not about the destination, but about the journey.

“It’s nice to consider that God many not count imperfection as an obstacle to working out his will in the world.” [Crown of Embers]

Appealing to a Higher Power

It is clear that for Elisa, her “Godstone” is a source of power for her, and symbolizes her connection to a higher power. She often taps into the Godstone and begins “praying” when she needs peace or is in danger. This is another example of how her spirituality plays a role in her life. But, it might be helpful to note that it is usually when Elisa is in trouble or in need of power that she appeals to God. Some of the phrases Elisa says to herself in the midst of stressful situations resemble Biblical scripture, but this in no way turns the story into anything stuffy or too religious. It does, however, create parallels with readers whose religion is focused, in some way, on a holy book.

“Aloud I say, ‘The gate that leads to life is narrow and small so that few find it.’ My Godstone lurches, and the force inside me begins a slow spin.” [Crown of Embers]

A Destructive Spirituality

Though the trilogy includes references to “God’s plans” and the notion of “destiny” through Elisa’s journey to become a powerful and important leader in the land of Joya d’Arena, the books don’t shy away from illuminating how the idea of “God’s will” can manifest negatively. For example, the animagus in the beginning of The Crown of Embers at first threatens to send fire into the crowd unless Elisa gives in to his demands and turns herself in. However, he burns himself up instead, becoming “a living torch,” and screaming, “It is God’s will!” This is a clear example in the series of how people’s faith and religious beliefs can have a negative effect on themselves and/or others. This is something else I appreciated about how Carson wove faith elements throughout her trilogy—she doesn’t shy away from depicting the way faith and religious beliefs can be destructive, in some cases. At the same time, the faith aspects of the trilogy were overall more positive to me than they were negative.

A Spirituality of Connectedness

Many of the relationships in the story communicate ideas that appearances can be deceiving, and that compassion and kindness should be offered, even if undeserved. If someone betrays a friend, can that relationship ever be redeemed? These are some of the issues and questions the books bring up, reinforcing yet another spiritual dimension of the story. Elisa grows in love and compassion for those she encounters; her ability to help those close to her heal from life threatening wounds illuminates the notion of making sacrifices for people.

“I will do anything. I’d give my own life and heath if I could. He’s a good man, the best man…I imagine pouring my life force out of my body, through our clasped hands, filling Hector, knitting his wound. The Godstone becomes a fire.” [Crown of Embers]

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It’s clear that The Girl of Fire and Thorns trilogy illuminates important aspects of faith and spirituality, whether it’s through Elisa’s raw honesty about her struggle to understand her purpose or her willingness to forgive those who have wronged her. I would also argue that Rae Carson’s fantasy series effectively portrays faith dimensions that have the potential to appeal to readers of various faiths.

Rae was kind enough to answer some of my questions around this topic of faith and spirituality in teen literature, and I’m extremely excited to share with you those questions and answers!

The religious/spiritual aspect of The Girl of Fire and Thorns trilogy is such a rich dimension of the narrative—what led you to include this aspect of the story? Or did it just emerge organically?

Thank you. I was a deeply religious teen who never saw myself represented in books. This was baffling to me. In the U.S., the vast majority affiliate with some kind of religious faith, which makes religion a huge part of the coming-of-age experience. So where was my story? Why didn’t anyone write about my experience?

Growing up religious comes with a lot of confusion: Why do all these churches teach things that are so vastly different? What happens when you realize that your beliefs are diverging from those of your parents and peers? Why do people do such horrible things in the name of religion, while others derive such comfort and peace from their faith?

I wanted to explore all of those hard questions, and I wanted to write stories that reflected the reality of so many teens who grow up in a faith environment.

Do you think your own spirituality affects your writing? Any thoughts on how that happens or any thoughts about this with other books?

Not even a little. I gave up religion a long time ago.

However, being nonreligious does not prevent me from empathizing with people who hold different beliefs than I do. In fact, as an author, it’s my job. I worked very hard to make my treatment of faith respectful, empathetic, and even affectionate. Many people assume that I’m religious because of my books, and I’m delighted that readers found the faith elements in the trilogy so convincing.

Are there any books you read as a young reader (teen or younger) that really affected you in a profound or meaningful way?

I loved Judy Blume’s brilliant Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret. I probably read that book five times at the age of ten. I was also profoundly impacted by the original Star Wars trilogy, which is as unsubtle and fond a commentary on spirituality as I’ve ever seen in fiction, particularly in regards to the power of belief and the dichotomy of good and evil.

Any books for teens (fantasy or other genres) that you would recommend for readers looking for an engaging and creative plot, but maybe are also interested in faith aspects as well?

I strongly recommend Aaron Hartzler’s Rapture Practice and John Corey Whaley’s Where Things Come Back. Both explore religious themes with humor, affection, and honesty. Teens who, for one reason or another, must deal with stringent “content” restrictions can safely enjoy anything by Ted Dekker or Lisa T. Bergren.

Thank you, Rae, for taking the time to answer these questions! It’s a pleasure to have you participate in this post!
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About The Girl of Fire and Thorns

Once a century, one person is chosen for greatness.
Elisa is the chosen one.But she is also the younger of two princesses, the one who has never done anything remarkable. She can’t see how she ever will.

Now, on her sixteenth birthday, she has become the secret wife of a handsome and worldly king—a king whose country is in turmoil. A king who needs the chosen one, not a failure of a princess.

And he’s not the only one who seeks her. Savage enemies seething with dark magic are hunting her. A daring, determined revolutionary thinks she could be his people’s savior. And he looks at her in a way that no man has ever looked at her before. Soon it is not just her life, but her very heart that is at stake.

Elisa could be everything to those who need her most. If the prophecy is fulfilled. If she finds the power deep within herself. If she doesn’t die young.

Most of the chosen do. (Publisher’s Book Description)

Meet Our Guest Blogger:

Catherine Posey has a Ph.D in Curriculum & Instruction (Emphasis: Children’s Literature). She is a blogger at Bookish Illuminations. You can find Catherine on Twitter: @KatePoseyPhD

Take 5: Books Christie is Judging by the Blurb

I have finished my term as Rainbow Project Chair, and find myself off of book committees for the FIRST time since 2004, first as a member and then co-chair of the Amelia Bloomer Project, then as a member then chair of the Rainbow Project.

If you count, that’s 10 YEARS of reading specifically themed books on top of pleasure reading, work reading, and blog reading.

Which means, a lot of reading.

And now, I get to read what I want, and I am like

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So I’ve been going through e-Arc site, and here are 5 that have caught my eye. I haven’t read them yet, I’ve only seen the publisher’s blurb (which is below the cover) but oh, man, I am so waiting to devour them.

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Divided by Elsie Chapman (sequel to Dualed, out May 27, 2014)
How far will the Board go to keep their secrets safe? And how far will West go to save those she loves? With nonstop action and surprising twists, Elsie Chapman’s intoxicating sequel to Dualed reveals everything.


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Torn Away by Jenifer Brown (May 6, 2014)
In an unfamiliar place, Jersey faces a reality she’s never considered before — one in which her mother wasn’t perfect, and neither were her grandparents, but they all loved her just the same. Together, they create a new definition of family. And that’s something no tornado can touch.

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Deliver Me by Kate Jarvik Birch (April 29, 2014)
As Odessa slips deeper and deeper into the role of Carrier, Wynne begins to see the Union for what it really is: a society that criminalizes the notion of love, and forbids words like mother and family.
For the first time in her life, Wynne is faced with a choice: submit to the will of the Union, or find a way to escape and save Odessa before she is lost forever

Tabula Rasa by Kristen Lippert-Martin (September 2014)
Sarah starts a crazy battle for her life within the walls of her hospital-turned-prison when a procedure to eliminate her memory goes awry and she starts to remember snatches of her past. Was she an urban terrorist or vigilante? Has the procedure been her salvation or her destruction? The answers lie trapped within her mind. To access them, she’ll need the help of the teen computer hacker who’s trying to bring the hospital down for his own reasons, and a pill that’s blocked by an army of mercenary soldiers poised to eliminate her for good. If only she knew why…

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V is for Villain by Peter Moore (May 2014)
When Brad makes friends who are more into political action than weight lifting, he’s happy to join a new crew-especially since it means spending more time with Layla, a girl who may or may not have a totally illegal, totally secret super-power. And with her help, Brad begins to hone a dangerous new power of his own. But when they’re pulled into a web of nefarious criminals, high-stakes battles, and startling family secrets, Brad must choose which side he’s on. And once he does, there’s no turning back.

Talking Teen Fiction with Victoria Scott

This week many libraries across the nation will be celebrating Teen Read Week, a YALSA initiative designed to remind teens to read for the fun of it – even in the middle of the school year.  Yesterday we announced that this week we were doing a fun contest sponsored by YA author Victoria Scott.  Don’t know what I am talking about, check it out here!  Since Victoria is our host for the week, let’s ask her what she thinks about the state of teen fiction today and its future.

Why do you think having teen fiction is important?
I think it’s important because it eliminates reading gaps during formative years. I read a lot when I was younger, but when I reached my teenage years, I strayed from books. Adult books seemed too distant from what I was going through, and middle grade books were too childish. Teen fiction gives teens a category so their literature can grow along with them.
Do you have any lines you won’t cross while writing for teens?

Yes, only one. If I include sex scenes, I always have them fade to black. There’s no need to be graphic. Everything else: cursing, drugs, alcohol, light sexual content—I’m not afraid to include those things. I don’t believe in sugar-coating the choices teens face.
Do you read YA? It seems a lot of adults buy books packaged for teens.
Yes, I read YA almost exclusively. I think adults enjoy them because many times the pacing is faster, and some of the more mundane subjects—mortgages, children, keeping a marriage healthy—aren’t visible. It’s just about reliving raw emotions at a critical time in your life.
Why would you say to adults who think YA has gotten too “heavy.”
I’d say if it’s gotten heavy, it’s because that’s what’s selling, which means that is what teens want to read. Sometimes it’s difficult for teens to speak with parents or teachers about what they’re dealing with, and in literature they can explore these heavier subjects in a safe place. 
What do you think lies ahead for teen fiction?
I think we’ll see the cost of ebooks fall. I think you’ll see fewer divisions at bookstores (paranormal romance, teen thriller, teen science fiction), and a more generic teen fiction area. And I think we’ll see more GLBT and racial minorities as lead characters, which is great! 
About Victoria Scott:
I’m a YA writer with a die-hard affection for dark and humorous books. My work is represented by Sara Crowe of Harvey Klinger literary agency. I have a master’s degree in marketing, and currently live in Dallas with my husband, Ryan.
 
My first YA book, THE COLLECTOR, will be published by Entangled Teen, April 2013. It is the first book in a trilogy. My second YA series will begin with FIRE & FLOOD and is being published by Scholastic in spring 2014.

Victoria is deathly afraid of monkeys.  Find out more at her webpage.  


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


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

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

Win This: 5 From Merit Press (Giveaway)

Earlier this year, Merit Press launched.  It is a new YA imprint started by New York Times best selling author Jacquelyn Mitchard.  Their focus is on “riveting and relevant real world novels for young adults” (via their Facebook page).  Today we had a guest blog post from author Julie Anne Lindsey, a Merit Press author.  I happen to have right here in my hand five FINISHED HARDBACK books from Merit Press for you to win.  You can keep them, use them as prizes, or add them to your library collection if you are a librarian.  This giveaway will be open until Midnight on Saturday, September 7th.  Complete details at the end of this post.

Exposure by Kim Askew and Amy Helmes

 “The minute you think you can outsmart life, that’s when life will outsmart you.”


A modern day homage to Macbeth.  The captain of the hockey team, Duncan, turns up dead.  And senior Skye finds herself caught in a love triangle.  She may be the only one who knows what really happened to Duncan.  To tell or not to tell, that is the question.

Tempestuous by Kim Askew and Amy Helmes

“I shuddered, remembering the similar crown of condescension I wore back when I stook perched on a higher rung of the social statrum.”

Miranda Prsopero has found herself banished from the popular crowd (say not banished).  She now finds herself working at the Hot-Dog-Kabob (think Hot Dog on a Stick with awesome uniforms and tall hats).  A huge storm sweeps through and they are all trapped in the mall, creating the perfect opportunity for revenge against her former clique.  Like Exposure, Temptestous is a part of the Twited Lit series, this one a take on The Tempest.

The Girl in the Wall by Daphne Benedis-Grab

“The one thhing even more dangerous than being in a hostage situation has to be being in a hostage situation that’s gone wrong.”

Rich, powerful people often make powerful enemies.  And they can seek revenge at the most unfortunate times.  Ariel is in the midst of a mega birthday party when they show up, guns in hand.  Everyone is now being held hostage, except Ariel who has escaped into secret tunnels.  Sera was forced to attend the party by her father.  As terrorists take over the party, Ariel and Sera may be everyone’s only chance for survival.

The After Girls by Leah Konen

“How could she have spent week after week with her friend, her best friend, and not known that she wanted to leave? The guilt ripped at her, enveloped her, drowned her.  If only she could find what it was that she’d missed. If only she could see how she’d failed her friend.”

Ella, Astrid and Sydney find their summer plans shattered when Astrid takes her own life.  Ella and Sydney are left reeling: they had no idea anything was wrong, shouldn’t they have seen this coming?  Ella hunts for the truth while Sydney tries to escape the pain, often in destructive ways.  And is it possible that Astrid is trying to communicate with her friends from beyond?  The answers may just change their lives forever.

Louder Than Words by Laurie Plissner

“Every night it’s the same thing. Screeching brakes. Crunching steel. A rush of cold, wet air as the glass crumbles, letting in the snowy night.”

Her entire family was killed in a car crash that left Sasha unable to speak without the assistance of a voice box.  Ben, an empath, seems able to read Sasha’s mind and tries to help her heal from the trauma of the accident.  Soon it becomes clear: Sasha’s family did not die in an accident, and her life is in danger.

Reproductive Rights in YA Lit: Christie’s Take

If you follow me on Twitter, you definitely know where I stand on this issue, and personally I am scared for where this country is headed. I realize that the issue is completely tied up to everyone’s personal beliefs, and I have close friends who fall on both sides of the lines- we just agree to disagree on this subject.

However, I know a lot of people across the country who feel the same way, who were activists before and after Roe vs Wade became law, and fear we’re headed down the same road as before abortion became legal, and access to women’s clinics (whether they perform abortions or not) were available to all. I do feel that the way “pro-life” is marketed is wrong- I feel that my viewpoints should be considered pro-life even though I consider abortion an option- just as I consider birth control an option, and federal and state care after birth options.

I remember the scene in Fast Times at Ridgemont High that Karen writes about, but that wasn’t the first movie I saw that deal with abortion. The first one I saw was the horrible botched abortion in Dirty Dancing, when abortion was illegal. I didn’t understand the whole situation, and I didn’t ask my parents about it (I didn’t see it in theaters, I saw it at a friend’s house a few years later)- instead, I went and researched it at the bigger city library nearby (no way could I go to the library in my small town- would everyone have gossip then, even if they would have had information about the subject). When I understood what was going on, and why it was going on, I thanked the powers that be (fill in whatever God/Goddess/Deity you like) that we (women) didn’t have to go through that now. That was when I decided I was going to be a feminist and an activist- I finally had a title to how I felt. However, I now have the scary feeling we’re headed backwards to that time.



Like Karen, I don’t know of any 11-15 year old ready to be a parent (boy or girl or inbetween), and like Karen, I have worked with teens in that age range who have had to deal with that issue.


In previous work experiences it was usually the girl alone who was having to deal with her parents and the decision as the boy was long gone or denying responsibility (and leading a campaign of slut shaming along with his *new* girlfriend), in my current one it has been more of a mix which I think is due to the culture more than anything else. However, they are still struggling with options, and to have one option taken away means that they are left with two: adoption (which while may be the best case has stigma attached in a lot of cultures) and keeping the baby (which may not be the best case for the child or parent/parents). This is why we have trends in libraries of grandparents as parents collections, and grandparents as parents programming- because adoption was not a viable option in anyone’s mind (for whatever reason) and the baby ended up with grandparents.


16 and Pregnant : MTV


We, as teen service specialists (which I use to encompass all of us who work with teens) are always advocating for books that reflect teen life- because teens turn to YA fiction to find themselves, and to help know that they are not alone. Abortion in YA fiction is a subject that is extremely hard to find, and needs to be written about more, in a compassionate way- not just in a sentence or two that it was a consideration before moving on to other options. When we have television shows that glorify and make stars of teen moms acting badly and abusing their kids (yes, I’m looking at you, MTV), and media that can’t honestly deal with the issue except on the margins we need a counterbalance somewhere.